Review Fix chats with Florian Frankenberger, who discusses the inspiration and development behind his upcoming game “Exotic Matter,” which is set for release later this year. Inspired by System Shock and Minecraft, it’s a unique Voxel-infused experience that’s all about exploration and self-exploration.
Review Fix: How was this game born?
Florian Frankenberger: Do you know the phenomenon when you realize you have to do something very important, and suddenly everything else starts to look so much more interesting? That happened to me back in 2011 when I started writing my diploma thesis. That was the time when I stumbled upon Minecraft. Man, I loved that game. Must have played it for weeks. While I was thrilled at first with all the possibilities and things that I could explore it sadly became quite dull after I managed to craft diamond armor.
I remember thinking “what is my mission in this game?” and after the disappointing discovery that there is, in fact, no real mission apart from building a fortress and killing MOB’s… It was then; I started to think about how great it would be to have a voxel game with all the cool mechanics of Minecraft but with a real mission. Maybe even with some storyline and a lot of procedurally generated dungeons that await exploration. That’s when the idea for Exotic Matter was born.
Review Fix: What has development been like so far?
Frankenberger: It’s been a tough one so far. Not only have I never developed a 3D game before Exotic Matter, but I also haven’t developed any video game since I was ten years old. Not that I didn’t want to develop games, but I just didn’t get around to.
You see, I started developing on a Commodore C64 when I was ten years old, and many of the things I programmed back then were in fact games. But for some reason, I left the path of game development and started developing applications, websites, and tools. So when I came back to developing games in 2011, I was quite capable of developing software, but I lacked the skills for developing games on a modern platform. So it took a lot of effort to learn all cool things like shaders, creating and manipulating meshes on-the-fly, working with Quaternions and Matrices, playing with the scene graph, … It was a lot of new stuff to learn but also a lot of fun!
One of the more challenging things was the voxel tesselation part of the game. As you might know in Exotic Matter, the player uses a laser to drill holes into the planet’s surface. That drilling requires that the engine can update the surface mesh of the planet as quickly as possible while still keeping things optimized in memory so that the game does not crash because it uses up too much RAM. It turns out that this tricky to implement. By now I must have rewritten that part around six times, but I think I now have an elegant solution that works quite well.
Also, when I began to develop Exotic Matter one of my main goals was to make the game as moddable as possible. So I ended up not only creating a game but also an engine for games like Exotic Matter. Anything you see in the game is moddable. Matter of fact, anything you see in the game IS already a mod for the engine. Nearly nothing is hardcoded. That made development sometimes really hard as it continually requires to think about not only the things I want to do but also about the things that modders might potentially want to do.
Review Fix: What makes this game special?
Frankenberger: Exotic Matter is a game of exploration. You are stranded in an alien world and need to find your way back home. I say “your” as it is truly your very own way, your very own mission. As many things in the game are procedurally generated no two players will ever play the same game and even if you choose to play on the same world (which you can, by the way) there are many different ways to solve the puzzles along your way. You can choose the straightforward approach to solve a puzzle, or you can force your way by using explosives, or dig a tunnel, or hack into the logic circuits, etc.… it’s all up to you!
Another thing that is unique is that you have an actual mission inside the game. In most voxel games your goal is merely to survive. In Exotic Matter survival is only one part of your mission – the other one is finding your way back home to Earth. And though many clues throughout the game and will help you along the way – how you accomplish this goal is again entirely up to you!
And finally, there is Exotic Matter’s unique engine – it has been custom built to create all kinds of voxel games. You’ll not only be able to design your very own custom items, blocks, weapons, and NPCs but entire planets! And you can share them via Steam Workshop with other players all around the world!
Review Fix: What games influenced this one the most?
Frankenberger: Two games influenced Exotic Matter: One is obviously Minecraft, and I don’t want to hide the fact that it affected the basic gameplay a lot. The other one is System Shock 2. In System Shock, you are on that abandoned spaceship where some horrible things have happened, and you have to investigate what’s going on. I always liked the dark feeling of being somewhere wholly alone not knowing what you are up against, so I tried to bring that aspect into Exotic Matter as well. Also, the idea that obstacles can be overcome using a variety of approaches comes partly from System Shock.
Apart from these two games, I draw a lot of inspiration from one of my favorite science fiction books: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. This book revolves around a mysterious planet. A planet on which the only inhabitant seems to be a vast ocean that covers the whole surface. The core part of the story is about the exploration of that mysterious planet, and that sense of exploration is also something that you’ll recover in Exotic Matter. And because Solaris has two suns, a red one, and a blue one, the surface has a lot of purple colors – that inspired me to have the planet in Exotic Matter also use a lot of purple tones.
Review Fix: As an indie studio, what do you think you guys do differently than the big studios?
Frankenberger: It’s nice to hear people calling Moebiusgames a studio when it is in fact mostly me and sometimes some friends and freelancers. So you are asking me what I do differently than big studios? To answer that question, I think the most critical difference is that I design games that I’d like to play myself – but my gues are that this holds true for most indies. But not only do I create games that I want to play, but I also like to add some randomness and procedural to my games. You see I don’t like to design levels because that would defeat the purpose. I want to play that game as well when it is finished, so if I designed the levels, it would just be boring. So I instead develop some sophisticated algorithm, some AI or leave some things open for the community to design so that the game is always a new experience – even for me!
Review Fix: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
It’s always fun when something goes wrong – that happened a lot with the tessellation algorithm that would create the terrain. One time it went so haywire that the terrain consisted only of needle formed triangles. And because the physics engine is also dependent on the terrain tesselation it was a lot of fun to walk around that world. Here is a screenshot of that bug that I pulled out of my Twitter timeline:
Review Fix: Why do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics like the ones in Classic games in new games is important?
Frankenberger: I think both are important: to preserve old gameplay mechanics but also to come up with new ones. But the advantage of old mechanics is that they are proven – they just work and bring a lot of fun, so why should we abandon them?
Review Fix: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Frankenberger: One of my favorite memories is playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on our SNES back in the days. I put a lot of time into that game trying to master every dungeon and to find every heart container hidden in the game. And I can still hear the pleasant background music that was playing in a constant loop in the game. I also think that it is one of the best games ever created – so much love to detail and so many things to explore!
Review Fix: How does this game disrupt the video game landscape?
Frankenberger: I don’t know if it will disrupt the video game landscape, but I’m hoping that an ecosystem will form around the game with a lot of wonderful worlds created by the community. That way Exotic Matter would have its very own universe that players can explore for years to come. I think that could maybe disrupt the video game landscape a little as it might change the way people see video games. Video games can be so much more than the thing that has precisely x hours of gameplay that always stays the same no matter how often you play it.
Review Fix: Who will enjoy this game the most?
Frankenberger: I think the gamers that will enjoy Exotic Matter the most are gamers that love to explore, played a lot of Minecraft and have a fable for science-fiction. I think it will also very much appeal to people that love solving puzzles in a non-linear way. Exotic Matter is not for players that enjoy quick action games where they just follow a predefined path.
Review Fix: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Frankenberger: I hope players will remember it through the fun they had with it and through the unique experience of walking on a planet where indeed no one has ever been before.
Review Fix: What are your goals for the game?
Frankenberger: For now, I’m working hard on getting all the things into the game that I have planned to include up until the release in May 2018 on Steam. Then the next goal will be to add a lot more features that I have on my list but didn’t have the time to add to the game yet and all the cool things that people from the community will hopefully suggest.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Frankenberger: I already have an idea for a new game that might follow the development of Exotic Matter one day. This new game is a lot of community created content and competition – that’s all I can reveal for now- stay tuned.