August 28, 2018
It all started with the movie Gladiator. Film has always been the number one inspiration for my creativity. That movie introduced me to the life of a Roman Gladiator. Ever since then I have always been fascinated by ancient Roman culture.
Rewind to 2009, when I designed Aries Revenge for the iPhone and iPad. I started writing that game while I was still in school. My goal with Aries Revenge was to show my peers that I have a strong drive to be a part of the gaming industry, and that i’m willing to go the extra mile to get the job done. Aries Revenge released in 2010 and sold around 900 units. Even though that was nothing to brag about especially since it didn’t break even it was still a success in my eyes. I set out to design a game, build a team, execute a plan, and deliver a final product. And I did. I also got one more thing out of it, probably the most important thing of all. I figured out what i really wanted to do in life, make games! I had the design fever!
That’s when I began to brainstorm my next game. I didn’t want to make another mobile game, I wanted to make a PC game. I asked myself “What do you love more than anything?” I immediately knew I wanted to make a Roman Gladiator game. Now that I had an idea of what I wanted my game to be about I had to figure out what kind of game I would make. Would it be a 2D side-scroller? A top-down MOBA? A third-person MMO? Again I began to brainstorm, referencing other games that I have played and enjoyed.
I was playing Assassin’s Creed one day and was going through some of the combat training missions that kept spawning NPCs to attack. And then it hit me, I had my eureka moment! I remember pausing and saying to myself “It would be awesome to have this combat style for a Gladiator game!” The combat system has always amazed me. I loved how smooth the attacks were, and how epic the kills felt. I asked myself “What made this combat system so fun? Why do I like it so much more than other games?” It was the cinematic camera movements, the slow motion on killing blows, the amazing variety of animations, and having to time your attacks and counters just right. All those combined made for an extremely satisfying combat system. It definitely wasn’t a Hack and Slash game.
After that everything quickly began to fall into place. I now knew the basic style of what I wanted for a game. Third-person with a cinematic combat system. But I still didn’t know what type of gameplay mechanics I wanted to include. I began to brainstorm again and asked myself “What gameplay mechanics do I find fun in other games?” I liked multiplayer games with teamwork, but also liked being the lone hero sometimes. I also enjoyed MMORPGs for their story driven content, character stats, weapon and armor options, and PvP.
At this point I began researching business models of other games, and started to develop my own. This was very important to get right for the simple fact that my game would have to sustain itself or there would be no point in making it. A fun game will always sells itself but even those games have a business model created for financial success. I needed to have a strong focus and understanding of the business model side of things. Such as points of revenue, which sales models worked for other games, which ones didn’t, do I want a free-to-play game, or a one time purchase game.
I decided to go with the free-to-play business model because this was an indie development project that probably won’t have a huge marketing campaign budget, and would have to mainly rely on reviews and word of mouth. I needed to provide a path of least resistance for a user to download and try the game with no financial risks. I didn’t want a pay-to-win game though, and would need to remain vigilant throughout the entire design process to avoid that. I also didn’t want to create a free-to-play game with unfair points of revenue that would give a user an advantage over another, or just simply cost too much to obtain something. It would have to be a fine balance of properly priced items to sustain the game, while at the same time being a fair price for the user. At the time League of Legends was everywhere and their free-to-play business model was a big factor in my decision making. They were clearly doing something right, and I needed to adapt their business model to fit with my game. I referenced the League of legends business model throughout the entire design process.
It didn’t take long before I knew exactly what I wanted this game to be about. I wanted to make a third-person Gladiator game that had the cinematic combat system similar to Assassin’s Creed, with specific aspects of MMORPGs. Such as PvP, character profiles with stats, weapons, armor, quests, achievements, and story driven content and progression for each gladiator. All with the pure focus of solo and team oriented competitive combat. I thought to myself “Now that’s an esport!”
Now that I knew what type of game I want to make I had to come up with a name. Most people will probably tell you to just give the project a working title, but to me everything in this game needed to have a meaning and purpose. This was one of the hardest parts so far, as the name usually can be. Again I asked myself “What is a Gladiator? What do they stand for? What was their purpose?”
A Gladiator is someone who fights for glory. I quickly knew the word ‘Glory’ had to be in the title. It needed more though, one word wasn’t enough. The Gladiator games were much like a modern day sport, it was entertainment. Gladiators were idolized. They all shared the same common goals which were to fight for glory, survive, win their freedom, and leave a legacy. What were once great warriors are now shadows of a long and bloody history. Their story continues to live on as a reminder of their achievements, and ancient Roman culture. And there it was, I found my name! They were the ‘Shadows of Glory’!
Finally, I had a basic concept of what I wanted to make and an awesome title. It was time to start writing. But first I needed to learn everything I could about Roman culture and Gladiators. I wanted this game to have real meaning and have as much history as possible, while also exercising the ‘Rule of Cool’. This research project quickly turned into a real history lesson. After months of research I had dozens of pages of notes with bullet points of things that I liked and wanted to incorporate into the game. These notes ranged from terminology to gameplay mechanics. The history was so amazing the game began to write itself. It had Gladiators, horses, chariots, armor, weapons, heroism, forgiveness and compassion, multiple different styles of combat, different animals within the arenas, and different arenas of various sizes. This was quickly turning into a full-blown video game.
Now that I had all these notes I needed to break them down into gameplay mechanics, story, and simply speaking ‘a game’. So I grabbed a stack of plain white paper and began to sketch rough layouts of what I wanted. These sketches ranged from lore to gameplay and UI elements. After a few months of sketching I had hundreds of pages and a rough draft for my game. However in its current state I was the only one who could understand the concept. The sketches and ideas were still all over the place and would be impossible for a development team to follow. There was so much information I needed to streamline my design and make it as simple as possible for my future development team to easily understand.
Photoshop time! This was by far the most tedious part of the entire process, taking around 6 months to complete. Every sketch had to be translated into a color image with as much development information as possible. This was extremely time consuming since every aspect of the game needed to be included in these images. All of the page needed to be uniform which meant that I had to solidify my style and UI layout early on for each element. If I didn’t do this in the beginning for each major UI element it would have become extremely difficult to manage changes later on for multiple pages with sometimes hundreds of Photoshop layers. Every page needed to display all the visual gameplay information as if it were a screenshot from within the game. It also needed to include critical development notes and information, such as fundamental gameplay mechanics, and asset descriptions. Providing as much information as I can on these pages will result in less confusion during development from unanswered questions. 458 pages later I was finished and I had my first real Game Design Document!
But that’s not the end of the story, we’re just getting started now. All the real challenges are ahead. Now I have this giant design document for a game that I think is really cool, but have no idea what to do with, or what my next step is. I reached out to my good friend and mentor Rob Warren and shared my design document with him to get feedback and advice on what to do next. He thought it was a cool concept and encouraged me to continue pushing forward. It was a huge relief hearing that he liked it. He explained that my next step was to create my ‘Pitch Deck’ which is a presentation of my project. This once again needed to include as much information as possible.
I then created the business plan and detailed every penny of the development timeline, as well as all in-game points of revenue for Shadows of Glory to succeed. It had price points for everything I could possibly think of that would be needed. This took quite a bit of research and calling around for quotes to get as close to accurate as I could with all my expenses, such as the facility, staff, equipment, and cloud servers with growth options. It even had the miscellaneous stuff like basic office supplies, trash cans, and even the bags for the trash cans. While this probably sounds like a silly thing to add to the business plan it’s 100% necessary. All these small costs add up extremely fast when you have to multiply them by 15 or more, especially when it’s a recurring expense. You’re always going to have to resupply certain items and they will quickly turn into a noticeable percentage on your overall budget. I even ran the numbers on a Keurig Coffee Machine. For just a few cups a day for each staff member it ended up being well over $10,000 dollars for the entire development timeline, and obviously did not make the final list of must have items to complete this project. That unfortunately was a luxury, so be sure to thank your boss if you have a Keurig Coffee Machine in your office!
After 5 1/2 years of concepting, designing, and prototyping, the Pitch Deck was finally complete. It ended up including my 458 page game design document, a 34 page business plan, a prototype that I made in Unity, 2 prototype trailers and 2 concept trailers. It was time to actually pitch Shadows of Glory to someone. I reached out to another good friend and mentor Jesse James Allen and asked if he would be interested in seeing my video game concept. He agreed to hear my pitch over Skype. I was nervous to say the least. Even though I knew him, he had worked on some of my favorite video games of all time, and I was getting ready to show this to one of the top guys in the industry. I started from the beginning, explained the very basics of what Shadows of Glory was, and then we began to dive into the design document. It was not a short pitch and he was incredibly patient with me while I went over everything. He also thought it was a cool project, which again was a big relief to hear. After my presentation he gave me great insight and feedback, and also encouraged me to continue pursuing this dream of making Shadows of Glory a reality.
— Benjie Freund