The Spy Who Took Cover
Hello Agents and fellow C.O.U.N.T.E.R conspirators! Agent Claymore (aka David Nottingham) here.
With E3 behind us and our Gold Master fast approaching, it felt like we were past due a blog post update.
I wanted to take some time to talk about an aspect of the game we think people will enjoy getting hands on with, the cover combat mechanic in the game.
The game started out as a side-scroller, inspired by our irrational love and countless childhood hours playing those games. We wanted to bring our own hook to the genre though, and thought about what elements of modern gaming could be interesting in this context. We’d been playing a lot of cover shooters, and felt like there was something there that we had not seen yet in this genre.
Although the game is a side-scroller, the world is all fully built in 3D. We realized that we could take advantage of this to open up the combat space in certain circumstances. And so the cover combat mechanic was born.
As the player stealthily moves through levels, you will encounter many strategically placed cover objects. One thing these military superpowers really like to do is leave conveniently placed, well marked crates and other objects in the world that make for good hiding spots.
With a button press, the player can go into cover, and from there, the view turns from side on into a full 3D view, opening up the combat space for the player. So as well as staying hidden and scoping out areas ahead, the player can pop out and shoot at enemies. You’ll find this essential as the challenge ramps up, and especially when you are in the final combat rooms of a level, where enemy resistance is at its highest.
For advanced stealth players, a fun way to use cover combat, is with an equipped stealth weapon such as the ‘Diplomatic Pistol’ (a silencer is sometimes the best version of soft diplomacy) by taking time to quietly pop off enemies one by one. If you are skillful enough, you can clear a room without alerting anyone. This also is a great way to goose your score, as you can watch your stealth combo multiply with each new silent kill.
One of my favorite weapons for clearing a room is the ‘Dart Persuader’. This is one of the advanced C.O.U.N.T.E.R weapons that you unlock later in the game. With a single well placed shot, you can turn a guard against his fellow men, then sit back unseen and watch the bullet show commence!
As we put the finishing touches to the game, we hope you are as excited to jump into the diabolical world of C.O.U.N.T.E.R as we are to share it with you. We will share more soon!
Join Dynamighty devs giving an introduction to the gameplay & world of CounterSpy, talking with Ludwig Kietzmann from Joystiq
E3 2014 Report - CounterSpy mission engaged
Hello covert agents….Here’s a quick writeup from David, sharing our experience of showing CounterSpy at E3 this year. Enjoy!…
So CounterSpy was at E3…and E3 was nuts.
That’s a simple way to sum up the experience we had this year!
To give more context…
As you have have noticed (or NOT noticed more to the point) Dynamighty has been ‘deep undercover’ for a while now on CounterSpy.
Periodically, we’ve emerged to make a small announcement (such as bringing the game to PS4, yay!) and if you follow this tumblr you will have seen some small nuggets of info such as this awesome Jesse Harlin post about the games original musical score.
But overall, we’ve stayed true to the spirit of our game by operating ‘covertly’ as we apply final touches, polish, bug fixes to prep the game for launch.
Because of this going into E3, we didn’t have much sense for what response we were going to get to the game.
Thanks to our friends at Sony, the game was fully playable on the Sony booth. We also managed to land a spot over on the IndieCade Showcase area.
The game was being let out into the wild!
Over the course of the next 3 days, I ran around from booth to booth, talked myself hoarse about the game, met super cool fellow developers showing their own games (shoutout to 17-bit!) met up with beloved old friends and generally reflected on the last 2 years of development that started with John and I wanting to form an independent games studio to now being on the cusp of releasing our first game.
The show begun with a really nice treat for us. John & I got to attend the Sony Press Conference and see all the great games we’d be sharing the floor with over the next few days.
One of the highlights for us, was seeing a dear friend and old colleague Dominic Robilliard, get up on stage and share the game, Entwined, from a brand new Sony studio called Pixelopus.
Dom was a member of our team at LucasArts and now works at Sony as part of the same group that we’ve been working with on CounterSpy.
It was a very poignant and happy moment because we had all shared a lot of hopes and dreams for our team at Lucas and here we all were, years later, building on those dreams with Sony!
In fact a side note about the experience of working with Sony, that has been really gratifying for us, has been meeting all the fellow talented developers working with the San Mateo group that we have worked with to publish CounterSpy.
Over the course of E3, we got to hang out, eat sushi & play classic arcade games with Arrowhead Games. They are a super nice Swedish team creating a game called Helldivers that is SO much fun.
Hanging out with them at the show and seeing Dom’s success, made us feel a bit like part of a growing extended family of like-minded developers all working to make awesome games!
I also have to say, this was one of my favorite E3’s ever and one of the reasons was the diverse amount of interesting games on the show floor.
All the major Publisher’s & console players have been making such a push to support smaller games, to expand beyond just the traditional blockbusters that would typically dominate past E3s.
I still love my big AAA games but something about the smaller games that I love is that they embody so much of the personality of the small team that makes them.
But enough about everyone else, we were here to show CounterSpy! We kicked off the first day with a live demo on Gamespot.
We’d done this last year and got hit with some funky technical issues live on stage, with a controller that stopped working. It was a good exercise in improv but not ideal for your first time ever doing something live. So imagine our surprise when the same thing happened this year!
Gaaah, must be some kind of Dynamighty/Gamespot curse? Or maybe we’ve started a new tradition!
Either way, we figured it out a lot quicker this year and so it did end up being a good start to the show.
Unfortunately, Ed (our Lead Designer) had to go off-stage to conclude his live play-through so we missed out on a full session of his game-face. But you can enjoy this photo to see how intensely he focuses when playing our game! :)
From this point on, the rest of the show was a blast. Press were getting hands on with the game and we were seeing really positive feedback.
The thing that was so satisfying for us was that people were really enjoying the gameplay. We always felt good about the strong visuals for the game but the two other elements we’d been working so hard on were the playful tone/humor of the game (a ‘playful’ game about the Cold War!) and the gameplay. The fact that people were so positive on both made us super happy and made all those late nights worthwhile!
Here is just a selection of the great coverage for CounterSpy:
"Counter-Spy is a sneakily addictive retro-delight."
"Dynamighty’s stylish, side-scrolling stealth game has personality for miles, switching between Mark of the Ninja-style sneaking to 2.5D shooting segments"
”..the environments are deftly detailed and the whole game oozes style…Creeping up behind enemies before blowing their heads off looked like fantastic fun, and it’s clear the developers have been careful not to take themselves too seriously.”
"CounterSpy’s striking art direction will instantly draw your attention. Influences in the art design include 1950s propaganda posters, the work of Saul Bass and Pixar’s The Incredibles."
throws in a dash of stealth combat, a soundtrack full of twangy guitars and a tone that vaguely mocks the Cold War–enough to look like the game Rolling Thunder might have become if it hadn’t been forgotten.
"CounterSpy is a triple-threat. It has great art, unique gameplay, and a fun story"
To cap it all off, we also ended up with a nomination from the Games Critic Awards!
After such a positive experience at E3, we have a full head of steam as we put the final finishing touches to the game.
At this point, we are down to final bug fixes, getting the game ready for all PlayStation platforms (as well as the mobile versions!) ready to launch this summer.
We are super excited that soon, you too will be able to get your hands on and play our creation. We really hope you love it and enjoy the world of CounterSpy as much as we have enjoyed the journey of making it for you!
A Song of Sneaks
If there’s a musical equivalent to black and white film, it’s 1960s era spy music. You know it when you hear it. It’s a sound that instantly brings to mind film grain, exotic locales, and impeccably tailored suits.
When David Nottingham asked me to write the music for CounterSpy, I jumped at the chance to reunite with him. I’d written music for him on Lucidity when we both worked at LucasArts and it remains one of my favorite creative experiences.
“All I need,” David told me in his typical understated style, “is a main theme that stands up as instantly iconic and memorable as the greatest spy themes of the ‘60s. That’s all.”
No small task.
But what is it that makes spy music sound so iconic? There’s a musical language that evolved in the 1960s from the works of composers like Lalo Schifrin, John Barry, and Henry Mancini. The first thing I did when starting the score for CounterSpy was to steep myself in the musical vocabulary of espionage.
In a way, it’s almost formulaic. Start with a jazzy guitar, bass, and drum rhythm section. Add some unusual melodic instruments, usually ethnic stringed instruments, alto flute, or an organ. Pepper with beatnik percussion like bongos. Then add a healthy heaping of half-steps, the smallest interval between notes in Western music.
Spy music is full of half-steps and it’s this constant movement to and from important melodic notes by way of adjacent half-steps that gives spy music its bluesy, cool feel. They’re the key to the hooky riffs of “Mission: Impossible”, “Peter Gunn”, “Get Smart” and the rest of the spy music oeuvre.
David was a big fan of the sound of a Hungarian instrument called a cimbalom, one featured in some of the spy-score sampled tracks of British trip hop band Portishead. Its exotic string sound fit perfectly with the vibe of the era.
With the formula in place and some processing to make it sound like the track was being played off of old analog tape, my first demo of a theme landed close to the mark.
The vibe was right, but the tempo was too slow and the melody wasn’t strong enough.
Dynamighty at GDC 2014
It’s Grace again, here with a post-GDC recap!
The 2014 Game Developers Conference (GDC) was a big event for Dynamighty. We were so excited to finally share CounterSpy with a wider audience for the first time, and our Lead Designer, Ed Kay, also gave a talk at the conference about the design process on CounterSpy.
We had hands-on demo stations at both the PlayStation and the Unity booths. Over at the Unity booth, animator Chris Magovern and myself were around to chat about CounterSpy and show people how to play the game.
— Eddie Lee (@eddietree)March 20, 2014
Big news we are so excited to finally be sharing. CounterSpy is confirmed for PlayStation 4! This means it will be available in the summer for ALL your Sony gaming devices. :)
Enjoy the new trailer, for more info and new screenshots we have a post up on the PlayStation blog.
Stay tuned for more exciting bulletins on C.O.U.N.T.E.R operations soon!
Cooking with Gas - Level building with CounterSpy’s Procedural Generation System
Hello, C.O.U.N.T.E.R agents in waiting!
I’m Grace Morales Lingad, a Designer at Dynamighty. My duties around the studio involve wearing many hats: designing gameplay spaces, scripting, setting up interactive props, and creating the “recipes” for our procedurally generated levels. I’ve also been known to literally wear hats!
As Bob mentioned in his previous post, levels in CounterSpy are composed of individually handcrafted rooms, picked out and stuck together according to defined rules. Since we like food so much at Dynamighty, we call these rulesets “recipes”.
I didn’t write the code for the procedural system – credit goes to the engineering crew, particularly John Elliot, Pete Demoreuille, and Devin Kelly-Sneed.
As a designer, it is my job to use the procedural system to define the player experience. Just as a chef designs a multicourse menu – picking which dishes go in what order – part of my job is to define the progression of rooms that make a meal, er, level.
First off, all the rooms in the game are tagged. Tags like “Start”, “End”, were obvious starting points. There are bite-sized combat spaces (“Snack” rooms), and larger rooms with multiple stories to navigate up or down (“Nav” rooms). There are also rooms that serve as a breather between combat encounters: connecting corridors (“Conn” rooms, for short), sometimes with elevators (“Elev”) that lead to optional areas.
With all the rooms tagged, it’s time to make a recipe!
Building Worlds in CounterSpy
My name is Bob Archibald, and i’m a Senior 3D Artist at Dynamighty.
I’ve been responsible for building and lighting all of CounterSpy’s levels in which you’ll soon be covertly neutralizing enemy threats. My job puts me right at the nexus of art and design… where the magic happens. I work closely with designers to create spaces that serve as a stage for exciting gameplay opportunities, while ensuring that the setting also tells a story, and maintains consistency with the established art direction.
Most of my day has me pushing polygons around in Maya (our 3d modeling package), arranging spaces in Unity (our level editor), and painting textures in Photoshop. It’s really fun stuff!
So, today I wanted talk you through a bit of our process for creating these spaces, and also some challenges we’ve faced when creating levels…
We have been operating fairly deep undercover on the Dynamighty front recently and we thought it past due that we share an update on what we have been doing.
Well the good news is, we are starting to emerge from the covert phase of the game’s development and you will start to see a steady flow of information, starting with a weekly blog post update from the team here.
Every week, a different person on the team will be sharing a bit about their part of the project, so you can get a taste of what it takes for a small team like us to make a game like CounterSpy.
When John and I started Dynamighty, one of the most important values we held dear for the studio, was to build a sustainable, awesome place where everyone who was part of the team, loved what they do, looked forward to coming to work every day, and felt like true collaborators on the project.
When we signed the partnership deal with Sony back at the beginning of 2013, Dynamighty was still just David Nottingham (Creative Director), John Elliot (Tech Director), Mark Holmes (Art Director) & Mark Erman (BizMarkie because he handles the business side).
It’s crazy to look back and see how far we’ve come since then. We are now a team of 10 full-time people and some amazing key contractors that have all come together to help us make our first game.
We want to give a little roll-call shoutout here to some of the amazing people that you will be hearing more from in the weeks ahead. These are the people that make it all work and its thanks to them that we are starting to get close to releasing CounterSpy.
Bob Archibald/Environment Artist - Bob was someone at LucasArts that John and Dave had not worked with, but was so talented & passionate yet with such a sweet disposition, We were determined to one day work with him. Bob is our 3D Environment Artist and as such has been responsible for taking all the grey box level design from us designers, and the amazing visual development from Mark, and turning it into the levels you see in the game.
Grace Morales-Lingad/Designer - Grace was another former LucasArts alum. She came to us as a designer that had worked most recently on the Sly Cooper game that came out last year. Grace is a multi-purpose designer that does level design, systems, scripting and helped me keep my sanity on the project when things seem like they are about to tip over.
Chris MaGovern/Animator - All the kick ass moves of our spy, all the enemy moves, as well as the various humorous animations we have ‘hidden’ in the game, all thanks to Chris!
Devin Kelly-Sneed/Lead Gameplay Engineer - John and I had worked with Devin at LucasArts and was one of the people that I had always hoped to work with again. What engineers do in coding is like a mystical art to me. Devin has been a major force on the coding side and along with David Swift has been largely responsible for all the gameplay systems and code that supports the game.
David Swift/Gameplay Programmer (Japan Division) - David was another member of the old LucasArts family. David is based in Japan and spends his time rewriting animation systems when we break them.
We’ve also made a few key more recent hires to round out our crack squad here at Dynamighty.
One that has really helped me, was Ed Kay, who joined us as Lead Designer. Ed filled a huge gap in my own design background. My strength is being a big vision guy. I’m super optimistic and excited about the possibilities of what a game can be. Someone like me needs the balance of a design partner that loves the details and compliments those big ideas with the technical and system design chops to go right to the metal of the games design. That person is Ed. I love working with him because we can really balance each other out. Just the right amount of ambition paired with the rational implementation for how to make something work.
If you are at GDC this year Ed will be giving a talk on the design process for CounterSpy (which he joined midway) called ‘Designing within Constraints on CounterSpy’
We have also brought on Jeff Morris as a Producer. Jeff is a shipaholic. He loves the challenge of getting games through that final few months to finish! He has brought structure, detail and taken over a lot of the day to day responsibilities that John and I had been grappling with in addition to our own project tasks. If there is one lesson I would pass on to any other developer of 10 people or above, definitely hire a good Producer! Because you need to free up your own time as much as possible to be doing what you are best at, which is whatever your core speciality is. You know, the thing you loved to do that got you into games in the first place!
We’ve also added some coding heavyweights in Ryan Medeiros, Jamie Culpon, Chris Georges, who have all joined us more recently and we are excited for what their future contributions will bring to the project.
Finally I have to give mad shoutout to some of the various contractors that have helped bring the game to life.
Jesse Harlin, for all the incredible music composed for the game. We wanted CounterSpy to have the feel of a 60s espionage TV show and the music is SUCH a signature part of that. I had worked with Jesse at LucasArts where he created the beautiful music for Lucidity. I knew he was the person to nail that cool espionage vibe we wanted. Watch this space for a future post from Jesse on his process composing for CounterSpy.
Jean Moreno, who has created all the VFX for the game. Jean was someone we found via him selling his own VFX assets in the Unity Store. Jean has been kicking ass on the project, its his first major commercial project to be involved in but he has the work ethic and talent of an experienced pro (without the grizzled curmudgeonly of the rest of us!)
Thanks for your support! Going forward, we will be updating here with a series of weekly posts. Next week Mark Holmes is going to share a bit about his process on the Art side, and how he brought 16 years of experience from Pixar to the visual development process at Dynamighty.
In the mean-time, we hope you enjoy this new screenshot of the game just to show you we have not been sitting idle! Making this game is a life’s dream for all of us at Dynamighty. Lots more info will be coming soon and we can’t wait to start sharing more :)
Creative Director (CounterSpy)