Mike Dolan of Badger Head Games
Mike Dolan, a 6th grade teacher by day and an indie developer by night, used to build games on a monthly basis. And I’m talking about an actual game per month campaign that he used to participate in, producing time killing simple concept games. You might have caught some of his work on the onegameamonth website. One of his early apps you can get on Google Play.
However, all that previous work that Mike did wasn’t the reason why BadgerHeadGames caught my eye, although it is impressive. It is his latest creation, which is still under development, that looks stunning and it is definitely the type of game that we like to talk about here at FistsofHeaven. Introducing…
Space Warfare Infinite
Hearing the term “space dogfight” is quite enough to get me interested; but after finding out that players will be able to command massive ships, fighters and even combat entire fleets on maps (which they will also be able to create by themselves), I was ‘freaking out man’! It seems that the basic idea behind SWI is to combine all of our favorite concepts into one unique experience. How cool is that?!
Mike Dolan isn’t hiding his inspiration. On the contrary. The influence of Elite on SWI is evident, and Mike references it on the regular. If you are reading his BadgerHeadGames Dev Log you can find out which games inspired this, which ones he admires and plays. As he stated himself, playing space games inspired him to build his own. And a feature that will set SWI apart from any other similar game on the market is exactly that – Mike is building a complete battle editor as well, that will allow players to alter almost every aspect of the game. Now imagine that concept in a procedurally generated galaxy – and tell me that you’re not impressed.
The game is built with Unity and Blender, but instead of reading about my misconceptions of how 3D models are made we have a special guest that will shed some light over this and few other topics. Badger Head Games’ very own, the man behind Space Warfare Infinite – Mike Dolan.
BHG Dev Video Log
Thank you for your time Mike, we’ve been waiting a while to get the new build of the game, so let’s use this opportunity to ask this vital question: when will we get the chance to experience firsthand this amazing game of yours?
I am hoping to have another playable build by this summer. The main focus of the build will be a demo campaign and quick battle mode. At that time I am going to launch a Steam Greenlight campaign. I grew up playing Shareware games like Doom, so I imagine some sort of ‘Episode 1’ for Space Warfare: Infinite either for free or at a reduced cost during Early Access with a full game after that and then further updates on some of the more ambitious features. That said, I am hoping to get an earlier preview out to Fists of Heaven and some other streamers who have asked.
You’ve been very thorough in your records, and I feel like your profession is actually expressing itself through your game development as well. Your SWI Dev Log is so thorough and broad that I feel like I could build the game myself. It is certainly a learning experience.
I do like explaining my thinking process for solving some of the issues that come with game design and space games in particular. I’ve been toying with the idea of making some more tutorials for beginner game devs interested in space game design! However, I am trying not to get distracted from the task at hand.
While you’ve presented some impressive material and covered your development and design in depth, I found very little info about the story behind the game. So let’s use this opportunity to find out a little bit more about SWI. What’s the story thus far?
For a long time the story has been – you are in space, look at the nebula clouds, look lasers and explosions! Pew! Pew! One of my students recently remarked: “That’s all great Mr. Dolan, but you are going to need a story someday.” That said, I do have the start of the story for the beginning of the campaign – You are a pilot rising through the ranks of the Inner Systems Coalition navy. You are part of an elite battle group called the Omega Battle Group – a tested flotilla of ships sent in to end the toughest conflicts. While dealing with internal strife plaguing the ever expanding ISC territory, your squadron encounters the scout of an invading enemy that hadn’t been seen in centuries. Before this discovery can even be discussed, a full scale invasion is underway and the Omega Group must fight a series of daring missions to put a stop to the Coalition’s destruction. As the game unfolds, the background on the attacking alien race is revealed. A war on multiple fronts breaks out for the coalition when some factions within the coalition use the opportunity to seize control. As the government’s go-to problem solvers, your battle group takes part in a bunch of these conflicts, seeing the war unfold in different ways. Allies are sought. Things explode. Lasers are fired. The plan is to make the story line branch based on performance so the campaign will be dynamic with a few tracts towards a few endings.
While I love a good sci-fi story, I realize I am making this game so that I can make up my own space battle stories. I think players would also love the chance to have a tool set to tell their own stories or make their own scenes of giant battles. The battle editor I am designing allows players to place ships around a sector of a procedurally generated system or one they can put together themselves. Briefing screens, comms dialogues, triggered events will all help the would-be designers build their own campaigns and stories. Or, if they just want to see a bunch of space explosions they can just drop a bunch of ships in and press play.
One aspect of the game really caught my attention, and that is the Free Play mode which will allow players to move across a procedurally generated galaxy. So I mentioned that that is sort of the No Man’s Sky and Limit Theory concept, but you’ve disagreed. Could you please explain how your version differs and what will the Free Play mode actually include?
I hate to compare myself to these games mostly because I see how awesome they are and how much smarter than me those guys are. I’ve watched every video and read every blog post Josh of Limit Theory ever made. His game definitely helped inspire mine in some ways. The beauty of his universe-for one. Some of the things he is seeking to accomplish are beyond the scope of what I hope to create, but the look and feel of his procedural universe and his system AIs are really cool to watch. Whenever I need some inspiration I put on one of his developer updates. No Man Sky also looks like it will be amazing – I love how they figured out how to make cool looking procedural ships–something I’d like to do.
Where I think my game diverges from those games is that Space Warfare: Infinite is focused more on battles and less on exploration. Truly I came to my game idea from a different angle. I love the space action of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, and I wanted to recreate those epic battles with a player right in the middle. For a long time I described the game as Gratuitous Space Battles from the cockpit perspective. I wanted to play that game, but be able to control all the ships for real and zip around the action as a fighter pilot. I loved how everything in GSB explodes as well. I am working on that in 3D. So the procedural galaxy is a way to provide an expansive battle field for big fleet encounters. It will allow the player to conquer new places each time they play the game and will provide them with unique locations to craft their own space operas if they choose. The plan is that in the freeplay mode, the player can jump from system to system attacking the enemy and gaining control of new terrain for their faction. As I develop the game one of the design decisions will be whether to place the campaigns within the freeplay universe and let the player come and go as they choose. I haven’t figured out if I will go that way yet. I am not trying to compete with exploration sims or even the trading elements of Elite, but if I get the time and energy, those types of game play might get added iteratively -after the core game launches.
So, you are a single developer, building a game about space combats with editable missions and an ever-expanding galaxy. How much time do you really have to invest in this game in order to honor this ambitious concept, and how much time do you spend on developing SWI in general?
That’s the challenge of being a one guy studio with a full time job and a family. While I do view game development as a side business, it’s first and foremost a passion and a type of art for me. It’s my creative outlet that I enjoy working on. I spend a couple hours a day usually working on coding, art or research for the game–after work or in the early morning. When I get really focused I might work on the game from 3 ’til 10 PM and then get up extra early and keep working. I spend more time on weekends if I don’t have plans. As a teacher with summers off, game design can become a full-time job of sorts when school is not in session. The things that take the longest is teaching myself something new like Substance Designer or Blender or a new way to code AI, but all that is what makes being an indie game developer so fun!
How much time do you actually need to build one of those ‘time killer’ games that you have plenty of on your website? I assume you’re a fast coder, seeing as you were making one per month!
Well, almost every game took maximum of a month for the #1GAM challenge. Some turned out to be less games than others, but some came out pretty well. Tap Invasion was created in a month, but then I polished it more afterwards so that I could release it on mobile. Some of the games took less time like a week or two. Creating game that randomly generate waves of enemies or infinite mazes helps make the games feel more complete than they are. I made the Laser Star shooter in a weekend. There is actually a more polished version waiting for me to port it to mobile. It has bosses and is a little more balanced than the weekend version. Again, I am trying not to get distracted from the main project, but I’d like to get that out there.
Now for a few generic questions – when did you decide to start developing space games?
The first game I ever made was a text adventure on the Commodore 64. It was a dungeon adventure game. From there I tooled around with QBasic as a kid, and then C++ but mostly focused on RPG type games.
And what drew you to space games in general?
I’ve always loved sci-fi. I’ve been doodling Star Wars space battles ever since I was a kid. I probably didn’t really start creating space games until recently though. I think I was drawn to the traditional arcade aspects of space games at first, but I love space combat movies and TV, and I have tried to read every space combat book around especially the Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell and the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi. I loved playing Privateer when I was a teenager- flying from place to place and getting in dogfights with pirates – memories of that game are a big motivation.
And which space game are you playing these days?
These days there are so many cool games to choose from! I love playing Strike Suit Zero, Angels Fall First, Homeworld Remastered, Mass Effect 2, and Elite. I also keep going back to Freespace 2 – which does everything pretty much right so it’s good to keep playing it to make sure I am grounded. Probably all those games would be considered influences for Space Warfare: Infinite. I also love seeing what my contemporaries are working on even when I can’t play their games yet!
If you would have that sort of funding and luxury – what type of a game would you build?
Space Warfare: Infinite! With funding, I’d probably hire some 3D artists to really make the ship designs shine as well as get some nice custom music. Beyond that I’d expand the game to have elements of Angels Fall First or the opening scene of Quake II with the drop ships and smooth transitions from space to ground (or boarding action) FPS combat. Having fleet and ground combat would make for far more complex campaigns and missions and could add a lot more sci-fi tropes to the mix. I’d like to be able to capture the vast rich feeling of Skyrim, but I think I am just going to have to wait for Bethesda to make that space game for me.
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