Hello, Brandonman here. I’m here today with Flavien Brebion, creator of Infinity: The Quest for Earth, which is in development, over email. Let’s get started!
1 ) Let’s start with some background information. Where in the world are you from, what do you do for a living, etc?
Hi Brandon. I’m 30, living and working in Belgium ( Brussels to be more exact ), although I’m French ( so no, don’t try to contact me in Flemish.. I don’t speak a word! ). I work as an engine programmer in the visualization industry, for virtual reality. I’m more specialized into graphics programming, although I’m also a general programmer, so I get to work on animation systems, scripting, sound, networking, user interfaces, all this sort of stuff..
2 ) What inspired you to start Infinity: The Quest for Earth?
The lack of ambitious space games ! While a lot of sci-fi space-based games were released in the past decade, the genre is now pretty much dead ( or at best, a niche market ) and most of them were dedicated to a single aspect. For example, Freelancer was very action / storyline based, X3: Reunion more economy oriented, and Eve Online more strategic / player-versus-player. I’ve also been disappointed by the fact that many of those games didn’t respect the scales or forced you to play in tiny areas connected by jumpgates, the last straw for a space setting..
More than 10 years ago, Elite ( and particularly its sequel, Frontier ) proposed a procedural, sandbox universe where it was possible to land seamlessly on millions of planets, and I’ve always found it incredible that no game since then dared to propose a similar concept.
3 ) Where did you learn all of the programming skills required for the game? A college course, internet articles, forums, or picking it up? If possible, could you share a few of the best with us?
Most of it is self-taught. I started programming on an Amstrad CPC at 11, and later on an ATARI ST in GFA Basic and assembly 68K. Back then, Internet wasn’t available, so I took most of my information from magazines and books. Later on I switched to the PC world on a 486, and started to learn C. At the same time I entered at university, studying computing science and design.
Of course, during all this time, I worked on various little programs and games all by myself or with a few friends.
4 ) What other games have you done or been a part of?
My two first “serious” projects started on the ATARI ST. The first one was a fantasy RPG with an isometric view and a graphical style similar to Ultima 7. I worked on it with 2 other friends, who were respectively handling the graphical design and the gameplay / world design, while I was doing the programming. We worked on it during many years, and surprisingly, it evolved into a semi-playable state, where we had a couple of maps ready with NPCs wandering in town, combat, interaction with items, skills and many spells, and even some dungeons with monsters. We got stuck the day we reached the memory limits of the ATARI ST ( at that time, 1 MB of RAM ), and so we had to abandon the project.
Another project was a humoristic sci-fi point & click adventure game that also achieved a semi-playable state. Unfortunately, at that time my friends and I took different paths for our studies, and we started to loose sight of each other and the game slowly died.
More recently, I’ve been involved in a fantasy MMO ( Archaean ) that encountered severe content problems ( lack of 3D art ), in an antique / historical tactical game ( Terra Alterna ) that encountered severe development problems ( lack of programmers ), in a futuristic racing game ( LightSpeed ) that again failed due to lack of content / artwork, and into the Minas Tirith project, that aimed at recreating the city from Lord of the Rings in a high-polycount and visualize it in real time. This was a moderate success, as the viewer part was completed, but the art team stopped the project before texturing the whole city.
I also worked on other minor games ( some successful, other failures ) and published a chapter about real time shadowing in the book “ShaderX2”.
You might notice a trend on this serie of failures, it’s that content is really one of the main bottlenecks. That’s one of the things I’ve been trying to escape at all costs in Infinity, by choosing the space setting ( less content to develop ), the procedural approach ( less world design ) and the public contributions model ( anybody can participate in content development ). That’s no coincidence 🙂
5 ) Do you have any other hobbies besides game programming?
I’m a big fan of sci-fi books ( particularly Isaac Asimov ), astrophysics/astronomy and TV/anime series such as Dr. House or BSG Galactica.
And of course, I play video games, although not as much as I’d like to, recently.. but I still play regularly to Starcraft and Ennemy Territory ( the original one ).
6 ) A question we all want to know, how do you get past coder’s block?
The trick is, coder’s block is usually temporary. So my solution is to go and do something else to relax, do some shopping, or if you’re really into programming, work on something else, maybe more challenging / quickly rewarding. Trying to force yourself doesn’t work too well, at least for me.. often, I get the solutions to my problems during the night when I’m sleeping ( or trying to.. ).
7 ) Could you tell us a little about Infinity? Some background on the project, what it’s all about, the goal time for Alpha, and any other info?
Infinity is a sci-fi massively multiplayer online game inside which players control their own ship and adventure through the galaxy to explore brand new worlds, do some trading, fill missions.. or fight against pirates or each other. I started development on Infinity’s engine back in 2004 and opened the website in end 2005 once the first planetary prototype was complete. At this point I knew I had the basics for an interesting concept. So far the game is still in development, I usually spend 30-40 hours a week on it, almost like a second job. There are 7 other people in the dev team, who are working on content ( 2D, 3D, texturing ) and storyline/background. Finally, there are many contributors – I lost count, probably tens – who work on various aspects of the game, usually modeling or texturing.
We are planning to start a private alpha test in end 2008, with maybe an open beta during 2009, but there’s no set date, really, as it’s really hard to give accurate estimations when you work in your spare time and make an irregular progress.
8 ) How did you get into game programming?
When I was young, one of my uncle had a computer. I was fascinated by it, and always spent as much time as I could to play on it. Later when I grew a bit, my parents offered me my first computer as a present for christmas. I discovered source codes published in magazines that you had to re-type on your computer to be able to play a game, but after a while I got as much interested in understanding the program’s source, than playing with the game itself.
9 ) Do you have any tips for aspiring game developers out there?
If your goal is to work on an amateur project and complete it on your own, my main advice here would be to avoid relying on others too much, and to know your own limits. Don’t aim for too unrealistic goals. Try to reduce the amount of content / work required as much as possible. Give yourself precise goals, and advance step-by-step. Find the good tools for the job, and once you take decisions, stick to it, don’t change your mind on fundamental choices every year or so. If you are aspiring to enter into the gaming industry, my advice would be to build a good programmer’s “portfolio”. Work on as many games as you can during your spare time, and show your talent and your motivation.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, and I hope everyone enjoyed this, as well as learned something. Thanks a bunch, and good luck with Infinity, and I’ll be one of the first customers!
Thanks to you and have a good day !