MarZ: Making a RTS with the Asset Store
Indie devs doorfortyfour used the Asset Store’s Script Inspector, Amplify Shader Editor, and Volumetric Fog and Mist heavily to streamline production and fill in skill gaps for their game MarZ: Tactical Base Defense. Read more about how this two-person team made use of these assets to create the game.
MarZ: Tactical Base Defense is a game of strategy and tactical defense where you must carefully manage your crew and resources as you protect your base from undead hordes, while also uncovering the hidden history of the Red Planet. Classic real-time strategy and the focus of tower defense. Soviet-era secrecy and space tech. Zombies on Mars.
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From student projects to world-class AAA games like Hearthstone, the Asset Store saves developers time. Indie devs doorfortyfour used the Asset Store’s Script Inspector, Amplify Shader Editor, and Volumetric Fog and Mist heavily to streamline production and fill in skill gaps for their game MarZ: Tactical Base Defense.
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Now’s the time to get the assets you’ll be using in 2020 at a steep discount. Do your future self a solid by shaving weeks or months off of your production time, and read on for insight into how assets can help you level up your project.
Miriam and Marc Egli are doorfortyfour, and MarZ is their brainchild. They’re married, and together they worked on MarZ for four years. As a team of two, they were realistic about their aspirations – no need for multiplayer complexities, just a single player game with a strong campaign. They both love strategy games, especially real-time strategy games like Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, StarCraft, and Caesar III. But they enjoy tower defense games too. So it wasn’t a stretch for them to combine these two genres.
The tactical strategy genre allows for a lot of experimentation; doorfortyfour was interested in adding new gameplay mechanics, which makes it difficult to describe MarZ in terms of other games. Their prototype didn’t even have a story. Their main focus was gameplay and art direction.
Blending technical and artistic skills
Miriam previously worked as an architect. When MarZ was conceived, Miriam was readily convinced to make the leap to game development. Her training as an architect was quickly brought to bear on 2D and 3D graphics. Her attention to detail and project planning skills were invaluable too.
Marc, on the other hand, has been in the game industry for more than 10 years. As a senior 3D artist in an outsourcing company, he contributed to several AAA games, such as Forza Horizon, The Crew, Split/Second, Crackdown 2, and Test Drive Unlimited, to name a few.
Marc’s first job was creating websites, specializing in Flash, but he aspired to work in the film or game industry. His work on music video projects and studies at the German Film School led him to an internship at Rabcat doing 3D art. As a web designer, much of his free time was spent on projects that combine art and tech.
Trying out Unity was a logical next step. Marc was struck by the simplicity of Unity and how easy it was to create something that is both 3D and interactive.
Finding the right values
The biggest challenge of MarZ development was balancing. Balancing the movement and speed took weeks, even months. Twice they overworked the balancing during the Early Access phase due to player feedback. What started as a simple spreadsheet became increasingly complex, but they dropped it – the values just didn’t feel good during play.
Marc then created a simple in-game editor UI that allowed them to change values on the fly, so Miriam could playtest a build without using the Unity Editor and make her changes directly. Later Marc implemented an upload system in the development build to upload the new values to the server, ensuring the latest build always had the newest values.
Working together, playing together
Marc and Miriam have always loved gaming, but it was Marc who pulled the former architect into the game industry. Miriam could clearly see parallels between these two career tracks. The goal of building their own game was an easy sell. Above all, they wanted to create the kind of game they’d love to play. Before diving in deep on MarZ, the couple tested the waters to make sure they could work together and stay married. They made flavourit, a mobile cookbook app where users can create their own intuitive recipes with an easy-to-use editor, made entirely with Unity, proving its versatility. They work from home, and although their schedule is flexible, a daily routine is important for maintaining work-life balance and their relationship. “Working as a married couple is quite an adventure but we love it.” As a two-person team, doorfortyfour can move twice as fast, so it can be immensely productive and satisfying to try out new prototypes or features. A simple idea can grow into something new and fun very quickly.
Speeding up productivity
But it’s impossible for a small team to cover all aspects of game development. Although doorfortyfour built some of their own tools along the way, several assets were already available on the Asset Store, which eased production and filled their skills gaps. “It saved us a lot of time and headaches.” They used Script Inspector, which has tight integration with Unity, for coding. And not having a lot of shader programming knowledge, they used Amplify Shader Editor to create their own triplanar terrain shader. One of the biggest technical challenges was achieving MarZ’s fog of war. At first, Marc used a simple mesh plane and some textures, but the camera angles were off. When he came across Volumetric Fog & Mist, suddenly it was simple to create the right effect. “Thanks to the runtime fog of war and vertex color feature, it was quite easy to integrate it into our Marsform map editor.” The fog is a major part of the game visually, adding a lot of atmosphere and depth.
Among the Unity editor tools doorfortyfour made to support the development of MarZ, one standout is a flexible flow graph node tool. It started as a simple tool for in-game dialog, but quickly expanded to all actions, tutorials and menus. Unity is extremely versatile in terms of creating your own tools, which can speed up your productivity significantly. They want to polish this tool before releasing it on the Unity Asset Store.
Check out the tools published by doorfortyfour on the Asset Store. With TileWorldCreator you can create stunning islands or dungeons for your game or quickly build a level for your prototype. And Particle ProFX One gives you high-quality particle prefabs. Meanwhile, several ideas are brewing regarding producing for the Asset Store, MarZ, or a new game in the base-building/management strategy genre. Stay tuned.
You can get MarZ: Tactical Base Defense on Steam.