Hello! My name is Sean Bentzen, and I’m one of the co-founders here at Digital Meatloaf. I’m also the creative director of our first game, code-named Project: Black Raven. These diaries are meant to give you a glimpse into members of the team, our development and thought processes, priorities, and general project progress.
Each week a developer diary will be posted in a regular rotation of team members. As the project and creative director for Black Raven, I’m starting it off.
Where it began
The idea for the project has been rattling around in my head for years. Originally, my brother and I, both avid gamers, would play the multiplayer skirmish mode of Star Wars X-Wing Alliance and come up with a little narrative that would focus our play for hours at a time. I’d draw a map on a piece of paper in the style of Risk, with territories that we’d control. We’d have a point system of sorts that would partially result from territory control but also battle results. This way, we basically had a hybrid board-video game. It was a lot of fun with just our limited head canon back then- but head canon just isn’t enough over time, especially when our little game was something we craved from actual game developers.
I’ve been a gamer since the early 1990s with Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt on NES and my first ‘big’ game, The Legend of Zelda – A Link to the Past on SNES as a birthday present. As I got older, I was exposed to the legendary Wing Commander and X-Wing games, anything with Craft in its name, and saw the rise and fall of awesome genres. One thing I noticed getting older, though, is that the bigger the games got, seemingly the fewer risks they seemed to take. Many games just got derivative – and worse, my two favorite genres: strategy and space flight sims, either died or fell into decline.
The head canon games of X-Wing Alliance that my brother and I played was a fantasy project in the real world. No one seemed interested in combining two genres that, as far as I know, was only attempted once in the early ‘90s, in the form of Wing Commander Armada. That game, if you’re familiar with it, had some great ideas- but suffered from being extremely rough and limited by the technology of the time. Today, those restrictions don’t really exist anymore. Still, no one has bothered to make it.
The closest we’ve come to realizing the dream of a game of this kind was in the old (Non-EA) Battlefront 2 or something in the Total War series. The former’s galactic conquest mode was easily my favorite mode in practically any game I played. Yes, I realized that it was a tack-on mode with some light strategy elements, but it was one thing that people tend to forget: it was fun. It was stupidly fun. I spent hundreds of hours in galactic conquest mode solo and with friends. It was and still is tremendous fun, despite the admitted flaws of the primary shooter elements that the game had.
Fast forward to EA’s Battlefront games and I thought that they might try to tackle something similar to what I’d been craving since the early 2000s. It was not to be. So, come late 2016 I get the idea that if none of the big boys were willing to make this game – I would. Thankfully, I had befriended a technical guru, my eventual co-founder Schalk van der Merwe, who looked at the totality of my creative and design ideas and was able to frame it within the reality of actual game development. It was at this point that we decided to form Digital Meatloaf, in early February of 2017, and begin our first project; the seed of which was planted nearly two decades ago.
Project: Black Raven
In the beginning, I had few applicable skills to the project beyond my extensive creative and technical writing experience. I’m a political science professor by training, author by choice, and gamer by lifestyle. For the first two months of the project I designed, in broad strokes and in intricate detail, the game that I had envisioned for so long. It was ambitious, but not fantastically so. The game itself is straight forward: two layers, a strategy layer and an action layer. One hearkens to the strategic greats like Total War, Civilization, or Galactic Civilizations, and the other the golden era of space flight sims, with the Wing Commander, X-Wing, and FreeSpace series as the penultimate achievements. It is not impossible to make.
Between Schalk and I, we had most of the skills required to get the work done. Then, reality set in. I’m not one to sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to make my vision. I want to contribute to it constantly. I was the guy in school that made dozens of maps for WarCraft 2, 3, StarCraft 1 and 2, and contributed to the FreeSpace 2 modding community. I loved making missions and campaigns for FS2 and, alongside a basic understanding of coding, decided that I’d learn something on the artistic side of game making: 3D modeling.
I signed up for a course in modeling and never looked back. I went from struggling how to make something that vaguely represented a fork to making dozens of starships, space stations, a fluffy bunny (because why not?), and more. To keep myself from stagnating, I offer modeling services on a bartering website where I’ve expanded my portfolio even further for other people and their projects. I dove in head first and love it to death, even on bad days.
All that said, Schalk and I realized that to truly make the game the best it could be, we needed more help. I’m incredibly pleased with the team we’ve put together and all they bring to the table. Together we’ll make this game a reality.
The Project Today
As of today, almost 100% of the game is fully designed, two (2) of the five (5) factions are completely modeled, a third (3) is just about finished, and work has begun in earnest on the fourth (4). We’re on our third iteration of code for the game itself, and this iteration is the satisfactory bedrock that we’ll build the rest of the game upon.
Our projected internal timeline is for a functional alpha within the next two months. After this time, we’ll iterate and polish on balance, presentation, and gameplay until we’re satisfied that the game itself is in a state worth pitching to you, the outside world. To be blunt: we’re in a pre-funding stage of development. All of us are doing this because we believe in the game that we want to see made- we want to play it, and hope you will too. That’s why, once we’re satisfied with the presentation of the game, we’re going to open it for crowd funding.
A Final Note
Given my background in writing, both creative and technical, I’ll be releasing a companion novel alongside this game to immerse you all into the lore of our universe. We haven’t decided, yet, on the method of distribution for the novel, but as the novel reaches completion (it’s over half-way done, now) I’ll release more information.
Stay tuned for more information on the exciting new hybrid space strategy-action game, code-named Project: Black Raven!
A little glimpse inside the mind of the developers.
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