Introducing: Esther Drifters

Looking Back

Some time in late 2016, Project Ant began to run out of steam, as is traditional for pretty much any project that I work on. After over four hundred commits, development came to a halt and the project slowly gathered dust and faded into the background.

Despite it’s rather unceremonious end, I actually consider the project to have been a resounding success. I learned an incredible amount about Unity and game development in general, and proved to myself that I’m capable of producing at least rudimentary artwork suitable for prototype video games. I really enjoyed working on Project Ant, and might come back to it one day.

However, I’m happy to say that I’ve not been entirely idle. In January 2018, I started a new project.

The big one.

I’m here today to introduce “Esther Drifters“.

Esther Drifters

All the best stories start with a crash landing

Esther Drifters is a 3D Real Time Tactics Sci-Fi game where the player takes control of the crew of the Esther Drift, a former mining ship turned freelancer, as they get swept up in a planet-hopping adventure.

The Drifters are mercenaries who will take any job that crosses their path, be it from The Guild (the mining communities on the edge of the system who have risen up against their oppressors) or The Confederation of Planets (the system’s central governing body who wish to unite everyone under a single banner).

The four-person crew will each have their own play style and abilities, and the gameplay is focused on moving from cover to cover, suppressing and flanking the enemy who will be trying to do the same to you!

Shooting from cover

This project is my most ambitious by far. It’s my first attempt at a 3D game. I’m an absolute beginner when it comes to 3D artwork – modelling, texturing, and animating. I’ve never built a linear story-driven game with scripted events and distinct levels.

As with Project Ant, the goal is to step outside of my comfort zone, and push myself to see exactly what I can achieve.

Looking Forward

So where do things stand right now?

I’m just over two years into the project now, and have committed over two hundred individual pieces of work, and at this point I’m getting close to finishing the first level of the game.

The long term goal is to have ten levels. The maths on that doesn’t quite add up, I know – at this rate it’ll take over twenty years to complete the project. However, the entire first year of the project was building up the initial systems, and I started over at least twice.

At the start of 2019, the game was a white-box prototype arena-style level, but over the course of the last year, I have:

  • Built most of a level, including all the systems needed to drive scripted events and cutscenes.
  • Modelled, rigged, skinned and animated the four main crew-members and an enemy soldier model.
  • Modelled and textured terrain, trees, logs, boxes, and two spaceships.
  • Built a new arena level for rapid prototyping of new mechanics.
  • Built an ability system supporting different abilities per-character either as cooldown-based or pickup-based.
  • Re-worked the enemy AI at least twice – and there are plenty more changes to come!

So, I’m hoping that now that I’m getting the hang of it, things might move at a slightly brisker pace.

Things don’t end well for this dropship

Currently due to the global Coronavirus pandemic and due to the birth of my daughter Sophie, the project is on a brief hiatus. I moved my desk and most of my computer equipment into a spare bedroom to make a home office, but left my PC behind. If I had brought that with me, I’d never get any real work done!

A Mexican Forest Moon standoff

So, in the meantime, to keep the project fresh in my mind, and to keep my own motivation and excitement up, I’m planning on writing a number of blog posts showcasing how the game is coming along so far, with a mixture of my thoughts on game design, and a couple of dives into some of the technical aspects of the game.

Hopefully someone out there may find some inspiration in the blog, and will realise that if someone like me can build something that looks like a game, then maybe they can too.

‘Til next time.