October Recap for Reactor Interactive!

March 5th play session 3

The month of October for Sector 13:October 2014 was a bit of a milestone for Reactor Interactive - for the first time ever, we have begun to actively market Sector 13. Stefanie Clark has come on-board as our marketing and community manager, and our efforts to evangelize the game began in earnest. We first focused on Twitter and Facebook, starting to share our daily development activities, artwork, milestones, and most importantly, our playtesting sessions and Twitch.tv broadcasts (streaming live every Thursday at 10pm EST!)

The results were immediately impactful. Sector 13 won the Image of Day contest on Gamedev.net twice in the first three attempts at entering the screenshot showdown. We had interviews and features posted in and on Indie Game Mag and PunkandLizard.com. Our Twitter followers quadrupled in three weeks. This was all from a few weeks of finally putting ourselves out there.

In the past, we always hesitated to do any active marketing. We know we are very early in development. We know that first impressions are absolutely critical and that Sector 13 is no where near a finished, polished product. However, we all agreed that it is time to start finding our audience because Sector 13 IS two very important things: it is a beautiful game that we believe all fans of indie games, indie game art, and the game development process could enjoy following. It is also, even at this very early stage, an incredibly fun game to play.

Speaking of fun to play, our weekly Twitch.tv broadcasts where we invite people to come play test alongside the developers have been a blast. Our multiplayer deathmatches are every bit as fun as we always dreamed they would be, full of those "holy cow!" moments we loved in the games that inspired us. Most of the development work through the month of October was aimed at making these multiplayer sessions more fun, more stable, and more bug-free. We are adding new arenas, new weapons, and new starfighters to keep making it even more fun to test week after week.

Speaking of new arenas, our other major accomplishment in October was the finishing of a major "showpiece" asset for our next arena, the Shipyards of Hell's Porch. We started to play test this arena the first week of November, and we're excited to finally add another locale for the action to take place in during our weekly tests.

Along with finishing some major work on a new arena, work towards a third new arena - the Ice Fields of Kamma Doré - began in earnest in October as well. This arena was inspired by one of our great cult loves of the 90's, the movie Titan A.E. Our art team is at work creating new arena assets like ice crystal formations, research outposts, skybox textures and custom shader effects to pull this new locale together.

October was a great, fun-filled month for Sector 13, and we can't wait to see what November brings. We hope you'll take a moment to follow us on Twitter @LifeInSector13 and give our Facebook page a like at http://facebook.com/sector13game - thanks for reading!

Wings in Space?

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The starfighters in Sector 13 look a lot like real-world jet fighters. This is completely intentional and part of a carefully designed "look and feel" for the game. It does seem to come up fairly frequently when discussing the game's design, especially the art, that wings aren't needed in space. Well, I love the chance to explain the decisions behind the game's art design and the history of the game, so please allow me to indulge a little bit of story time: Sector 13 has been around as a concept for a very long time. Going back 10+ years ago, the starfighters in the game looked very different than they do now. The overall "feel" for each faction, including iconography, colors, and even the naming conventions have remained from the very first iteration of the game. However, the design of the starfighters and ships in the game have evolved as those early days showed us a lot about what people say they think is cool, and what people actually like and enjoy playing.

The early versions of Sector 13 featured fighter designs that I was very proud of for how "clever" and "unique" they were, while still conforming to the very strict low-poly constraints we were under. I received a lot of praise for the designs, and on how well they complemented the "look and feel" philosophy for the factions they represented. However, when it came time to play the game, we noticed a constant trend: two factions in the game featured fighter designs that were very relate-able, based on real-world fighter jets with wings and familiar silhouettes. These two factions were what players chose to fly when testing the game almost every time. The factions featuring "clever" designs were very rarely picked.

why_wings_2Over the course of the years as we demo'd various builds of Sector 13 at shows and events, we learned more and more about how our minds are drawn to design that is relate-able, familiar, and easily understood. It held true for every part of the game, from our fighter designs to our arena designs - the arenas that were instantly recognizable without the need to analyze what the environment was meant to be, these seemed to be the ones that players chose to play in the majority of the time.

So, the "clever" designs were cool and all, but in the end, fun is what matters and the fun seemed to be in the starfighters that "felt" right to the players. I saw this as my chance to create designs that would show off my favorite inspirations from my own life: shows I loved as a kid like Macross/Robotech, Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato and Battlestar Galactica. These shows featured designs grounded in "real world" fighter jets that were relateable while also inspiring the imagination.

As an artist, I still love and admire the "clever", unique and ground-breaking vehicle designs that I see when browsing my favorite sites on art and design. What is paramount to me though, as art director on a game like Sector 13, is the concept of visual story-telling. The ability for the art to explain itself - its purpose, function, abilities - without the need for any additional analysis on the part of the player.

why_wings_1 I also wear my influences on my sleeve and take it as a great compliment when people notice that the "look and feel" for Sector 13 was inspired by my love of Japanese-imported 80s cartoons, TV shows and movies. Those scenes from Macross as the pilots grab the controls in the cockpit and launch down the runway of the SDF-1; the pilots in Battlestar Galactica being flung back into their seats while blasting out of the launch tubes and into battle; these felt real, exciting, and inspiring because they were based on real experiences that our minds could quickly relate to without the need for exposition around the "why" of how these things worked. That to me has always been visual story-telling at its finest - something I hope to emulate in Sector 13 in all aspects of the game.

Oh, and Sector 13 will feature some in-atmosphere arenas as well to bring the practical side of wings on starfighters into play. In fact, the entire design of the ACMCs (Atmosphere-Capable Micro-Carriers) is based on the need for atmosphere-capable ship design even with space flight-capable vehicles... but really, let's be honest here, it's because it looks cool and feels right.

Why I Dream of Making Games

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I've always dreamed of making games. As far back as 5th grade I can remember dreaming of designing, building, testing and playing my ideas as I discovered and enjoyed some of my favorite NES games of the era. I would read opinions in gaming magazines and think about how I would have done it better, how new technologies (like 16 bit graphics! Parallax scrolling!) could change the experience and make it even more fun and immersive. Games brought me joy, and even as a child I dreamed of bringing that joyous experience to other people. Now, as an adult, I still dream of making games and the joy that games bring is still the greatest reason that drives me.

Sector 13 is the game I wanted to play back when I was buying any magazine with Wing Commander or X-Wing on the cover. Even as far back as my days of playing Gradius and Life Force on my NES I dreamed of being in a starfighter cockpit, lasers blasting and missiles flying. Almost 30 years later, I'm seeing the joy I experienced of imagination and discovery all over again with my son and now beginning with my 4-year-old daughter too.

My son was 4 years old when he discovered the joy of a great game. I decided that year, in 2008, that I was going to buy a Wii console so that I could play the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The Zelda series was my favorite from childhood, and I hated to miss out on any of the major titles in the series. I also purchased a copy of Super Mario Galaxy at the same time, because why not? I was enjoying Twilight Princess and my son seemed to enjoy watching me play it, but not much held his attention for very long at that age.

One day, he handed me the box for Super Mario Galaxy and said, "Daddy, let's play this one!" When I put the disc in the Wii and the title screen came up as the music rang out through my surround sound system, I swear I saw a light come down from heaven as a chorus of angels sang and my son's life changed forever. He fell in love in that moment, and there was no looking back. We played Super Mario Galaxy together for hours and hours, collecting star after star, just spending time together and sharing the joy of a great game.

Connor MarioOver the next few years, my son's Mario obsession continued with toys, posters, magazines, even candy and bed blankets and pillows - all Super Mario. For at least 3 years my son owned a stuffed Super Mario toy that went everywhere with him, comforting him on the way to school, playing with him while on vacation, even being featured in family photographs as it was always in his hands. Then, one day in early 2010, we found out that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was coming later that year.

As much fun as my son and I were having with our Wii and discovering all the great game franchises in Nintendo's lineup together, I still feel that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was the game forever cemented my son's destiny in life to follow in my footsteps as someone who would forever find joy in games. We counted down the days to the game's release on a calendar. We followed news articles on gaming websites. We devoured any previews, videos, snippets of information, anything we could find about the game. This was the game for which he had the entire hardcore experience, and at only 6 years old.

To this day, I believe Super Mario Galaxy 2 to be the best game Nintendo has ever released. Maybe I am biased due to many happy memories of playing this game with my son, but everything about that game was magic - the flawless level design, the fantastic soundtrack (which we will still often listen to while in the car, even 4+ years later); the entire experience was one of celebrating the joy of games. Countless hours later and 251 stars collected (we never could finish that "Perfect Run" stage) I realized that my son was better at this game than I was. This was a special moment for me.

To this day, I can't listen to the Super Mario Galaxy 2 soundtrack without finding myself overwhelmed with emotion from the memories of time spent with my son, just experiencing the joy of a great game. This entire concept of joy is summed up for me in the ending to the game: an interactive celebration of gaming joy as Mario searches for his hat through parties taking place in highlighted levels from the game, as some of the best music ever composed for the medium plays a melody of the game's fantastic themes. Go ahead and see for yourself:

I can only dream of someday sharing this kind of joy with other people through the games I create. My son is older now, and is starting to enjoy an even bigger variety of gaming experiences. It brings such joy to my heart when I see him getting excited as he follows the progress of Sector 13. I dream of him playing with Sector 13 starfighter toys the way I used to play with my Star Blazers and Battlestar Galactica toys. I dream of a Sector 13 starfighter poster on his wall the way I used to have an X-Wing poster on mine. I dream of him handing down a legacy of imagination and joy to his kids one day the way I am living one with him.

He doesn't know it yet, but he has given me a whole new set of treasured memories to keep in my heart, all from the joy of sharing a great game.