We speak to Modern Dream and Autodesk about how the two are working together on the studio's promising indie title

Modern Dream’s LA Cops: Behind the scenes

Ollie Clarke, director, Modern Dream

Modern Dream has been operating for more than a year now. How has this period compared to your time at larger studios?
We’ve been pushed harder and worked harder than ever before. We’ve learnt so much about areas of development we hadn’t had the chance to try before such as marketing, finance, business affairs and developing a game with players. We’ve met so many of the great people that make this industry the best place to work. We’ve been able to learn and grow at a much faster rate than was ever possible at a larger studio.

What are the biggest differences with independent development? What are the advantages of working like this?
The biggest advantage to the way we’re working now is our adaptability. With a market that is changing literally every six months and technology that is radically different on a yearly basis our adaptability is our key advantage and one we do our best to maximise.

Without a doubt, one of the greatest joys of independent development has been meeting so many new, interesting and successful people and forming relationships with them. Game making used to be such a lonely road. Now we get to bounce ideas and go on that journey with amazing people which is so rewarding.

The beauty of a small team is the ability to develop a clear vision and stick to it. Where there are problems we are adaptable enough and creative enough to find a solution to that problem and effectively implement it.

New software and hardware technologies have enabled us to be extremely productive whilst mobile enough to work from pretty much anywhere.

This year our intention was to prove out our production theories and pipelines to have a solid foundation upon which to produce our ambitious games of the future. We have so many more aspects of game development to cover and that means we need to grow in the right ways both in skills and team size. Importantly we need to find the right partners to work with, people who love making games as much as we do and want to be supremely ambitious.

We need to be on top of our game in many areas of game development to find the success we’re looking for and we’re grateful to have the chance to have a go and just do it.

Are there any disadvantages? What’s missing compared to your previous placements?
As a smaller studio the clear disadvantage for us has been the limit on resources to take on challenges and tackle big features. Specific examples of key features in LA Cops include multiplayer and social features.

These features and aspects are vital to our future success and we’re working on plans to enable us to deliver them in our future games whilst maintaining our ability to be adaptable in the face of constant changes in the games market and the tech used to make games.

During this year we worked with friends and colleagues to setup a games co-working space called Arch Creatives. We set out to create a smart place for smart people and allow smart things to happen. The smart things are now happening and the disadvantages we face as small independent teams we believe we can tackle together whilst still maintaining the advantages we get from being agile teams.

How has work on LA Cops differed to how it would have been handled at a larger, less-independent studio?
With LA Cops we’ve been able to work in a fully agile way. We can quickly try something out, if it works great, if it doesn’t, we can quickly kill it and try another idea.

We’ve also been able to work with newer hardware and software technologies that larger studios wouldn’t consider. LA Cops is based on a foundation of new ideas and production methods that increased our productivity whilst increasing quality.

Having said that, marketing and publishing are immense challenges that we weren’t able to meet on our own. We’ve been extremely lucky to have partnered with Team 17 who get what it is to be an independent developer trying to produce a game for consoles. They have the ability to really give the game the presence it needs to succeed on multiple platforms.

How is work on the game progressing? 
One of our main challenges in completing the game is AI balancing. What seems like a simple challenge is more akin to balancing algebra equations. One change in the formula has a dramatic effect on the way the game plays. Luckily we’re getting great feedback from the guys at Team 17 and the players themselves on the Steam forums. We’re listening and working hard to achieve a fun game that players love.

We’re also working hard on Xbox One and PS4 versions that pass submission. We’ve had plenty of experience on passing their requirements in the past however due to the very nature of game development it’s always a challenge to produce a game that is a robust and solid experience for all players on all platforms.

We’ve got to thank the QA Production team at Team 17 for the amazing work they do. It’s really making the game feel like the experience it promised to be. 

What technology have you used to make this game? How has this helped you achieve the vision you were aiming for?
LA Cops is in development on Unity which we simply love working on. We’re focused on making great experiences and Unity allows us to do just that.

The other big benefit to working on Unity is the community. Whatever the problem you can do a google search and more often than not, find guidelines towards a solution. When a solution can’t be found the team at Unity are fantastic. It helps when the people you work with love games too.

The art assets for the game have all been produced in MayaLT from Autodesk. I think MayaLT had a hard time on launch because developers thought it was a stripped down Maya for hobbyists. That’s far from the case. If you compare feature for feature what MayaLT actually does it’s clear that all that’s missing is the ability to produce feature films.

What has been added to MayaLT is a raft of tools that enabled us to produce assets and rapidly prototype the gameplay so that we could iterate on it and make a fun experience over time. The modelling toolset, UV tools and character animation tools are second to none. I think that secret is getting out now as MayaLT has matured into a great piece of game making software.

Due to the style of the art in LA Cops, a vector program was vital for creating assets. We use Xara which is a low cost but very powerful vector art program. Personally I much prefer it to illustrator. It’s got all the features and its UI is utterly intuitive.

I can’t stress how much the cloud has revolutionised how we work with software like Bitbucket, Dropbox and Google Docs.

What support have you received from Autodesk?
To be honest, very little, not much was required. MayaLT does as advertised and that’s one of the reasons why we chose it. It’s been good to see them support and update it with new features and we’ve got some great ideas on how we can use that to make some beautiful experiences.

What advice would you give to people using these tools for the first time?
Work out what it is that you want these tools to do first. They are incredibly powerful. It’s no longer a question of whether the tools or hardware can do it. It really isn’t. It’s a question of what do you want to do with them. And that’s defined by a strong vision.

So work it out. What’s going to be a great experience that players will enjoy? How can you deliver it most effectively? Then get the tools to do that.

With LA Cops we’ve been able to work in a fully agile way. We can quickly try something out, if it works great, if it doesn’t, we can quickly kill it and try another idea.

Ollie Clarke, Modern Dream

Wesley Adams, games industry marketing, Autodesk

What support have you offered Modern Dream and other studios like it?
Making games is about so much more than just creating a product or service. The indie space is about telling new stories and creating new game experiences through collaboration, sharing knowledge, and helping each other to succeed. We’re trying to help more game makers tell their stories and make connections. We thought Modern Dream had a great story, so we approached them to see if they’d be interested in being a part of our larger documentary-style series profiling indies and small studios. We flew to Leamington Spa in the UK for a week to get to know the team, interview them, and shoot video that we’ll use to tell their story. 

We can’t use an approach that extensive with everybody, so we’ve also been experimenting with shooting smaller scale videos at trade shows and meetup events. These days it’s so much easier to shoot a quick video at a tradeshow or a meetup event, and then put that video on YouTube so others can see it. We’ve already done this with a bunch of studios this year, and it’s something we plan to continue.

Still, we can’t meet and share all the stories or hope to help every single studio, but we’re working on something better than that. So, in addition to projects like the documentary series, we recently launched a new website for indies. That is focused on helping people connect with each other, and learning the steps of game-making that they might not be as familiar with. It was a soft launch, and we know we’ve got so much that we can add to it over time, and by gauging feedback from the people visiting. 

Why is it important to support independent studios like this?
We love people who are working hard to do something super creative and we definitely love games, from indies to triple-A. So for us, it’s important to support both these types of game makers. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to gaming or a 20 year veteran, we believe it’s a continuous learning process and offer online tutorials to the new website I just mentioned. However, we do believe the indie scene is a great combination of those two things, and it has brought a massive creative push to our industry where people aren’t afraid of painting outside the lines to try to make something amazingly fun and new. That’s why we have to be there supporting indie developers, because they are going to continue to be a bigger and bigger part of growth and maturation of the games industry. 

How many independent studios do you work with? 
It’s hard to put an exact number on how many studios we work with. We have a lot of people all over the world using our tools, from students just starting out to massive triple-A studios. We try to tell as many stories as we can in a lot of different ways be it through videos or social media or attending meetup groups. We’ve definitely seen a massive shift in the size of studios we meet up with. But in terms of studios we’ve done videos with, Modern Dream is actually the third studio in our series. We featured on Barking Mouse, a great team of two who made their very first game called Lost Toys, and Cupcakes & Critters, a dedicated team based in New York.

What are you doing to raise awareness of Autodesk and its offering among indies studios?
The best way to raise awareness for us has been to engage with people online. We still try to get to trade shows when we can, and we especially love smaller, indie-focused events that are super local; we have teams in different cities who try to attend smaller shows when we can, like tech meetups in New York City or IGDA meetings in Montreal, but there’s no question that making cool videos like our documentary series, or making a tutorial is a better way to get in front of lots of indies. Many of these people are just starting out, and they are shoe-strapping their development. They don’t have extra money to fly to a tradeshow, so we need to try to engage with them online as much as we can.

In terms of software access, Autodesk offers free software licenses to students, educators, and institutions to make it easier to learn professional tools. We’ve also brought Maya LT to Steam, which is a platform game developers are already familiar with, that makes it easier for them to buy and use the tool. 


About MCV Staff

Check Also

Blockchain and NFT games are banned on Steam, but not the Epic Games Store

Valve and Epic are taking drastically different approaches to blockchain and NFT games on their storefronts, as Valve has moved to remove them from its platform.