Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Medieval Engineers


Today is one of the best days of my life. I believe that my colleagues feel it the same way.

The days when we release a major feature or announce a new game are the leading motivations of why we keep developing games. On days such as today, when we present something new and await feedback from our fans and community – that’s when we feel our bond with you increases :)

2014 was an exciting and challenging year, and that’s a combination we seek at Keen Software House. We were able to develop Space Engineers to a much more mature  level, while also prototyping Medieval Engineers to be ready for today’s announcement. 2015 will be even more challenging (...developing two games in parallel...). That is how we like it :)

In this blog post I will talk about Medieval Engineers, why we decided to develop it and a little insight into its development history.

About Medieval Engineers

Medieval Engineers is our second game about engineering and construction. The first one was Space Engineers and it is still doing very well.

Medieval Engineers is inspired by real medieval technology and the way people built architectural works and mechanical equipment using medieval technology. Medieval Engineers strives to follow the laws of physics and real history and doesn't use technologies that were not available in the 5th to 15th century. Players build cities, castles and fortifications; construct mechanical devices and engines; perform landscaping and underground mining.

Medieval Engineers brings three major upgrades to our VRAGE engine: structural integrity, natural landscape and Physically Based Rendering.

Web: www.MedievalEngineers.com

Why Medieval Engineers when Space Engineers is still not finished?

We were expecting that many people would ask “why are they developing a new game when Space Engineers is still in development and not finished”?

First let me assure you that the development of Medieval Engineers hasn't had a negative impact on the development rate of Space Engineers - you can see this from the frequency of our weekly updates – culminating in major updates at the end of 2014: super-large worlds, procedural asteroids, exploration, in-game programming, modding SDK and API.

We didn't want to keep creating space games only. Instead we wanted to have a game where you get to experience life and nature.

By creating a second engineering game, we are leveraging our existing technology and experience

The thought that we should postpone the development of Medieval Engineers for years was a no-go. We had to find a better solution.

We started to hire new people so that we would have the resources to develop both games in parallel without sacrificing any of them. The size of our team is nearing 40 people and we are still growing. There are separate teams for Space Engineers, Medieval Engineers and our secret AI project.

Very early we realized that even Space Engineers could actually benefit from the development of Medieval Engineers. A medieval setting has different requirements for volumetric environments and it forces us to look at the engineering genre from a different angle. To be more specific, these are the things that Space Engineers earned (or may receive in the future) thanks to Medieval Engineers:
  • Compound blocks – multiple blocks being positioned into one grid cell; this will allow better ship designs
  • Mechanical blocks
  • Auto-generated details for some blocks (e.g. roof endings in Medieval Engineers, armor edges in Space Engineers)
  • Voxel hand – a tool for modifying terrains (asteroids); you can alter shape and material
  • Structural integrity
  • Natural landscape
  • Procedural terrain generator (this is why we were able to easily add procedural asteroids to Space Engineers)
  • DirectX 11 (we decided to add PBR - Physically Based Rendering)

On the other hand, Medieval Engineers inherited (or will get) these features:
  • Multi-player
  • Physics, rendering and all 'core engine' stuff
  • Steam Workshop
  • Modding SDK and API

Developing two early access games with the same theme (Engineering) at the same time will be beneficial for both of them.  As happened with Space Engineers, many of the features that were released later on were inspired and suggested by our players. Now we are expecting that player’s suggestions for one game might give us new ideas for other games – ideas that we might have missed due to the limitations of the environment of each title. Now everyone will have more options and possibilities!

In a certain way, the development of the prototype of Medieval Engineers was more challenging than the development of Space Engineers. In Space Engineers we could invent new types of blocks. In Medieval Engineers we couldn't invent something that wasn't present in the Middle Ages or something that one person in single-player mode wouldn't be able to operate. On the other hand, the possibilities of survival/realistic mode in Medieval Engineers are fantastic - just imagine starting the game with Stone Age technology and slowly building your way up to the Iron Age.

Announcement video

Until now the medieval team focused only on preparing the announcement video. First we selected features that had to be finished prior to recording. Then we wrote a simple story script, crafting what we wanted to show in each individual section. Together with this we started composing a draft version of the music, which got re-recorded later by a live orchestra. We hope you will enjoy the video and get the feel of what's coming in Medieval Engineers.

The video was shot in creative mode (no survival) and shows a blue player building a castle, block by block (of course we skip through most of this), then a red player comes and builds a trebuchet and attacks the castle, after which the blue player escapes through a secret passage.

Our motivation: why we keep doing these things

We believe that one of the strongest forces in the universe is the “need to create”: every time you build something out of nothing, every time you give a shape and organization to something that has no structure – you are creating a miracle. 

Add a team of people who don’t want to settle for the easy but strive for the challenging and impossible – and you will understand why we do what we do.

We have a strong need to create and we take pride in completing unachievable goals.

This is Keen Software House in a nutshell :)

Development of Medieval Engineers

We wanted to bring Medieval Engineers to a presentable state as soon as possible (sacrificing the number of features that could be shown on day one – therefore only focusing on core and must-have mechanics). Getting real feedback from you was our topmost priority. Working on a game behind the veil isn’t fun and is altogether much less effective. Real people with real needs and real voices you can listen to are the heart of game development.

Early prototype screenshots:

Note: these images are old development screenshots and don’t represent the actual state of the game

You can download more development screenshots from here: http://mirror.keenswh.com/Pics/Development_screenshots.rar

  • 6/2013 – this was some  time around the day we started preparing the trailer for Space Engineers. We realized that the volumetric-block idea could be used for another game as well and that we did'n need to stick to space forever.
  • 1/2014 – new programmers were coming to the team and we started to consider working on Medieval Engineers. We bought tons of books about medieval and ancient technology and discussed the subject with various medieval fans and experts
  • 4/2014 – the first real work on block designs had started, but things were progressing slowly because there had been a lot of work on Space Engineers
  • 9/2014 – fulltime work on music composition had started
  • 9/2014 – real work on Medieval Engineers had started, new artists and programmers joined the team, and we started experimenting with structural integrity and destruction. We set our topmost milestone: prepare the game for an announcement trailer on Jan 13, 2015
  • 1/13/2015 – today: Medieval Engineers announcement
  • ?/2015 – release on Steam Early Access

Space Engineers and Medieval Engineers share the same code base.

Designing blocks that fit well together and occupy exactly the required area and provide the needed functionality was a very big task and we spent several months iterating through the options.

Two different approaches to destruction and structural integrity were tried before we agreed on using Havok  Destruction and writing our own structural integrity algorithm (that runs well in real-time and handles majority of situation properly and could support voxels/terrain in future). We are still trying to perfect this approach.

The music for Medieval Engineers is being composed by Karel Antonin - who already worked on music for Miner Wars (later used in Space Engineers). We analyzed various medieval musical instruments and styles from different countries and then applied this when composing songs to produce something that’s modern yet medieval, heroic and inspiring. I am very happy with the results and I hope you will like the music too.

What's next

In regards to Space Engineers, we are preparing a few major updates within the next months – just a hint: AI, real campaigns and goals, more optimizations and fixes. There is nothing to be afraid of that will affect or change our development plan.

We will keep Thursday releases for Space Engineers. Once we release Medieval Engineers on Steam Early Access and get our first real feedback, we will try to keep updating it as well – probably every Tuesday - but it’s hard to make a promise here, because having one update per week is challenging enough and two updates will be total overkill – on the other side, we don’t want to have easy life :)

We are still working on the Xbox One port of Space Engineers.

The first release of Medieval Engineers will “probably” feature:
  • Creative mode
  • Steam Workshop (SDK + API)
  • 'Heightmap to terrain' conversion tool
  • Special gift for all space engineers players :-)
  • Multi-player and survival will come later

We hope that the community of space engineers will welcome the medieval engineers’ community and that these two groups will join into one community of “engineers”. We are very much looking forward to the things you will create in Medieval Engineers and what you will surprise us with (just like you surprise us with what you keep accomplishing in Space Engineers).

The future looks bright and there’s a lot of work in front of us. This is good :)

Please let all your friends who may be interested in engineering games know about what are we creating. Thanks!

Thank you for reading this! For the latest news on our games, follow us on Facebook or on Twitter.
Medieval Engineers on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MedievalEngineers
Medieval Engineers on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MedievalEng
Space Engineers on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SpaceEngineers
Space Engineers on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SpaceEngineersG