with Greg Micek
[dropcap]V[/dropcap]oxel this, voxel that. It seems the damned things are everything there days, to the point that just hearing that a game uses voxels makes me groan a bit. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised with Voxel Quest, an expansive RPG meets Roguelike meets Sandbox hybrid from Gavan Woolery. Far from being some kid with a dream, Gavan is an experienced developer with a dream. To learn more about him, his inspirations, and his plans for Voxel Quest, we tossed some questions Gavan’s way.
Gavan Woolery : Sure thing! I grew up in the mountains outside of Napa, California (some say I was raised by wolves; I may or may not have the scars to prove it). I was born in 81, IMO this was a critical decade to be born if you are a game developer. It means I got to grow up in a short span of time in which arcade cabinets were popular, where I had to travel to a physical store and pick up a physical copy of a game to get an idea of what it was like. It means I saw the popularization of the BBS and internet, and watched things progress from 4 color graphics to 16, 256, 16 bit, and true color. I got to experience classic adventure games where you had a text parser, in addition to all the early Lucas Arts games. I got to use the most popular computer in the world (a Commodore 64), which many game devs say is a rite of passage. It was a time in which there were no AAA titles – everyone was indie technically. I got to buy the first 3D accelerator that went on the consumer market.
I moved in and out of San Diego 3 times, but I will likely be staying here for the foreseeable future. San Diego has a rising indie scene and also birthed some interesting companies like FTL, which made Dungeon Master (which is among my favorite games). We have big company branches like Sony, Disney, Zynga, and Rockstar, and also smaller companies like Pocketwatch Games, The Behemoth, and NimbleBit.
Most programming was just messing around in my teens, and when I turned 22 I started working heavily on my first engine, which started as a “pure” voxel engine but then progressed to be polygon-based voxels. It was one of the earlier voxel engines to follow Novalogic. It was called “Genesis” and was to be an MMO (yes, I was that naive, still am, just less so). I launched the tech demo on Digg in 2006 – this was when dig was huge and Reddit was small. I was ranked the #1 story that day on the front page, and by the end of the week I had 600,000 hits to my website. I was also covered by Kotaku, Joystiq, and others at that point. I was hoping to survive off of donations but this was also pre-Kickstarter and I raised a few hundred dollars, mostly from family. Naturally, it was not enough to turn it into a full time job so I had to go out and get a “real” job (where I worked double time), and the project became vaporware instantly. Between that time and now, I worked all I could in my spare time, even developed a small game for Ouya’s SDK for the contracting company I worked at during the time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vr1zyE7ny5A
Cliqist : What is Voxel Quest? What makes it special?
Gavan Woolery : Voxel Quest is two things: a game and an engine. Most people would say “pick one” but I am just building a game and the engine is a side-effect. It is a fairly unique engine so it would be a shame not to open it up and share it with others. Most of all, I am only one person and I probably cannot build anything nearly as cool as other people might be able to with the engine. Keep in mind many games were conceived as mods, including Portal, DoTA, Team Fortress, Counterstrike, Gary’s Mod, etc.
On the game side, the simplest comparison I can make is Dwarf Fortress. But it has a few game modes, including a sandbox/ruleless mode designed for people who want to easily implement their favorite tabletop game, where you can play a virtual dungeon master and spawn items / enemies / events, place characters, place buildings, and so forth. These two modes are pretty closely tied together as the tools I use to test are the same tools used in the sandbox. The primary difference between the game and sandbox mode is that you are passing some control to the AI when you play in game-mode.
Cliqist : Without using the any math or programming terms, describe what a voxel is in less than 30 seconds.
Gavan Woolery : A voxel is like a pixel, but in three dimensions (I guess?) – definitions vary.
Cliqist : Why voxels for the game? Why not sprites or polys? Other than the fact that Polygon Quest doesn’t sound as cool, of course.
Gavan Woolery : Voxels are better for procedural generation. You can evaluate the world at every point, versus having to determine the location of a surface, then correctly mesh it and paint textures on it (in VQ, the voxels ARE the texture). The procedural generation is a large draw for the crowd that likes to tinker, because you don’t have to open up some complex external program like Maya or 3DS Max.
Cliqist : Of the games you list as inspirations; which one has had the largest impact on you, and how?
Gavan Woolery : By far, Ultima. It was a game that consumed my childhood, and probably had the most reinstalls of any game I’ve played. I started the series on 5, but probably most enjoyed 7 (Part 1). The thing I enjoyed about 7 Part 1 is that it did not force you on a linear path (in Part 2, you were restricted to certain areas at a time). Ultima was a game far ahead of its time, that had far more interactivity than many modern games.
Cliqist : Your Kickstarter broke a number of general accepted campaign rules; a long video, no gameplay shown, large amounts of text, no bio, etc. However, it’s still doing very well, why is that?
Gavan Woolery : Yes, to tell the truth none of this was intentional – I’m just horrible at marketing (and putting together a campaign). 🙂 I learned Adobe Premier basics the day before putting together the video.
One thing I did want to do was run an honest campaign. I could have slapped together a bunch of concept art and test animations to show what people might perceive as “gameplay” – but my rule was that if it did not actually exist in the engine, I was not going to show it. The reason I avoided this is because I think it is misleading people. There are many campaigns that have done this; I typically point to Yogventures as a shining example – maybe their intentions were good but the results were not. They whipped up some animations in Unity or something (not sure what, but I know it was placeholder because the engine they ultimately produced was completely different). This gives people the impression that you can make a game, and that you have something cool in place, but neither are necessarily true.
That said, attempting to be honest certainly has not helped my cause! I’m not going to tell people to be dishonest, but I just want to warn those who strive to be: you will fight an uphill battle. This applies to the rest of life as well. 🙂
Cliqist : Are you actually Adam Levine just using an alias?
Gavan Woolery : I’ve received many comparisons, but never Adam Levine. From the side, I look like Paul Rudd apparently, because people have asked me about 100 times if I am related. One person even asked for my autograph once, thinking I was him.
Cliqist : There are a lot of scams and broken promises on Kickstarter. What kind of assurances can you give backers that you can deliver on your commitments?
Gavan Woolery : Good question! Well, so far three investors have offered (some more than once), and a few licensing deals were proposed. I have been featured as the #1 story on Hacker News three times now (a site run by Y-Combinator, the biggest startup incubator), so a lot of investor eyeballs have been on the project. Two billionaires have even expressed interest at this point (I won’t disclose what type of interest, but each was different and neither were for traditional investment). With the Minecraft and Oculus acquisitions, 3D tech and voxels are naturally becoming heated territory.
Unless one of my proposed investors wants to step forward and reveal themselves, I cannot prove to people that anyone has actually offered (for the sake of their privacy). But, like I said, being in hot territory and at the top of HN makes most offers a no-brainer, so it is not that hard to fathom.
Voxel Quest will likely be made one way or another. I have to decide what makes sense – to take investor money or to tough it out on the Kickstarter funds I will raise. I would heavily prefer not to do both. In the end, I am going to see how far the campaign goes and what makes the most sense. If people are ok with me doing both (I will run a survey to my backers), then I will. Additionally, my initial investor, who is not wealthy, does have enough in savings to support me for quite a bit longer if needed. Last of all, I have been Greenlit, so I can sell early access copies at any time, but I’d prefer to hold off on that until there is more gameplay implemented obviously. I would prefer to retain full control of the company, since I don’t care about money as much, I can look out more for my community interest (whereas investors expect a return, and will usually do what it takes to monetize something quickly enough, including go for an acquisition).
I explicitly warn backers nonetheless that this is a risky project. One thing I usually tell people is that 90+ percent of startups fail, so when I back something it is usually not with the expectation that it will succeed,
but with the expectation that it has a small chance at success and the candidate will put in a good effort.
Cliqist : Can you close us out with a Voxel Quest inspired haiku?
Gavan Woolery :
Thanks to Gavan for taking the time to answer our questions about Voxel Quest! Be sure to head over to the Voxel Quest Kickstarter for more info. You can track the progress of the Voxel Quest Kickstarter by heading over to our Campaign Calendar.