Puny Human Games Interview – Blade Symphony

I’ve recently reviewed Blade Symphony for the source engine. The mod was so intriguing to me, I had to interview them. Blade Symphony is definitely one of the most unique mods out there, and it has the gameplay to back it up. Making it, a needle in the haystack.

Modinformer – Deadrawkstar -

First off, How are you guys doing?

Puny Human Games – Alex “Ansob” Norris – Public Relations Lead

We’re doing fine; thanks for asking! We’re busy adding more features to Blade Symphony. In fact, we’re so busy adding new features to Blade Symphony that we’ve gone on a small recruitment drive (snagging a new animator and a new programmer, as well as calling back old contributors out of retirement), which puts Puny Human just above 30 team members. Of course, not all of them work on Blade Symphony…

MI – Deadrawkstar

Who started Blade Symphony?

PHG – Michael “mflux” Chang – Lead Designer

I asked my friend Jason Balanza (JKupo) back in 2006 why no one has created a JK2-like sword fighting game with an emphasis on duels. Most sword fighting games we’ve played were pretty shallow, with the mechanics that boiled down to Counterstrike knife fights. We thought JK2 had something really special, but years had passed since that game was released and no company has really done anything with that idea. So we thought to ourselves what the hell, why not just do it ourselves. We can program, animate, model, etc. so why not?

MI – Deadrawkstar

You said “We can program, animate, model, etc.” so, i’m guessing you had some experience before Blade Symphony?

PHG – mflux

Yeah, I graduated as a design student (as in, media arts) and then picked up programming along the way. Throughout school I also picked up a bunch of random skills like 3D modeling, animation, rigging, etc, so working with 3D is pretty natural to me. The idea of animating and programming a game seemed challenging but not something totally out of reach. That, and Jason and I wanted to start the team small and attempt to do everything ourselves from the get go.

MI – Dr. Doozer

Your previous work on Dystopia shows that you like working in the cyber setting. Did you have any problems trying to adapt that setting for Blade Symphony and its characters?

PHG – mflux

I never worked on Dystopia, but when the initial Blade Symphony team (then called Berimbau) scouted around for what mods ought to look like, we referenced Dystopia as something that we wanted to strive towards. Very little did we know we would work with them!
MI – Dr. Doozer -

Your models are highly detailed. On average, how many polys went into the character models? The weapon models?

PHG – mflux -
The characters are about 6000 triangles (or roughly 3000 polys) with normal maps to fill in most of the detail. I’m not actually sure about the weapons. Sam can answer that.
PHG – Spire -

As Flux said, we have used about 6,000 triangles on each of the characters. Not only does this give us room to include a lot of detail, but it also gives enough flexibility in our character models to pull of the kind of animations we wanted to put into the game. As for the weapon models, we are keeping a maximum budget of about 2,000 triangles (1,000 polys) for each sword model to allow them to be highly detailed, although right now none of our sword models actually reach that amount. The swords are a very important part of Blade Symphony’s gameplay, as well as something that players are going to be working towards as a goal, so we wanted to make sure they looked good and contained enough detail.

MI – Deadrawkstar -

Whats your favorite mod? (Other than your own)

PHG – mflux -
I really enjoyed Natural Selection.
MI – Dr. Doozer -

And what is your least favorite mod?

PHG – mflux -
I don’t know! I haven’t played very many mods in recent years. Most of my mod playing experience was from Quake 1 and ofcourse, Natural Selection and Counterstrike.
MI – Deadrawkstar -
That has to be one of my favorite mods, so many great memories, cant wait for the second one :D

What Got you interested in mods?

PHG – mflux -
To be honest, I’m not. I’m interested in games! There’s certainly a gradient that follows from mods all the way to games, but I’m mostly interested in gameplay itself. Right now I’m really interested in if Mojang’s going to include the piston mod.

MI – Deadrawkstar

So, you say Team Berimbau and team Dystopia weren’t together initially? How did you guys come together?

PHG – Samuel “Spire” Rice -Lead Artist

When we were getting towards our final release of Dystopia, we all wanted to get started on something new. Coming out of what turned out to be a massive development project (Dystopia), many of us were trying to come up with some smaller and more clever ideas for a game, rather than trying to do another multiplayer shooter. There were of course some ideas of our own floating around the team, but being a team that consisted primarily of artists we knew that we no longer had the people we needed to really move forward with anything on our own, so we started searching. Meanwhile, Ninja Workshop was working on this neat new sword fighting game known at the time as Berimbau, and just happened to be looking into building up an art team to create detailed levels and content for their game.At the time it just really seemed like they had exactly the sort of small game project we were looking for (or at least, at the time we thought it would be small), and we had the art talent that they needed to design and develop detailed levels for their game, as well as a full test team and bug tracking system already in-place which they also needed. So really, bringing the two teams together was an opportunity that neither team could afford to pass up. We were pretty cautious about doing a development team merger at first, we didn’t personally know how they worked, what kind of personalities we would be dealing with, and how they stay motivated; and likewise they didn’t know us. So we agreed on a 3-week period of development where team Dystopia wouldn’t hold any ownership over Berimbau and we would act as an outsource for their project. At the end of this period, both teams evaluated how things went, and we held some meetings between the two teams to address the many questions and concerns that we had about moving forward with a full merger. Needless to say, this merger turned out to be a pretty big success, and has resulted in the wonderful game that we have today.

MI – Dr. Doozer

How long does it take to make a single model for a swordsman? How do you all keep in touch?

PHG – Spire -
Each of our character models have been worked on by multiple artists at different stages of development, which means we don’t have any record of exactly how many man-hours have been put into them, but you can be sure it was definitely a lot. To help give you an idea of just how many hands these character models have passed through, I’ll walk you through their development:

The character models were initially designed via some amazing concept art by David Boyle (aka dmbdesign), based on some backstory that had been prepared for the characters in advance. We then had the models themselves created by Audrius Caplikas (aka Audi), who also detailed them in ZBrush and created the initial textures as well. From there, Christopher Carson (aka CRCJax) skins the model to the skeleton, which allow us to apply the animations created by both Eric Harden (aka Rabid Penguin) and Rikard Lund (aka Misfortune) and bring them in-game. Once in-game, I take the model and add that little bit of spit and polish with jigglebones and shader effects to give it the finished look you see in-game today.

That may seem like a pretty crazy work flow to go by, but coordinating all of this actually came pretty naturally to our team, and I think things went very smoothly. During the design phases, we had a lot of discussions about it among the team over IRC and in our private development forum which helped shaped the look that we eventually ended up with. And during development, we use an svn repository to store our source files and original work, and transfer original assets between different members of the team who may need access to them – this way we have all of our original work accessible before it gets compiled and compressed for use in the source engine, and we are all in touch with whats going on during the development of each character.

MI – Deadrawkstar

When you started Blade Symphony (Berimbau), did you think it would be
as successful as it is?

PHG – Ansob

We certainly hoped it would be! We had no way of knowing for sure, of course, but we were really hoping that Blade Symphony would get noticed, and it worked – people have been drawn to its relative uniqueness. Not that I’m claiming we’ve invented the wheel or anything like that – we’ve never made it a secret that Jedi Knight II is a huge influence on Blade Symphony – but there are so few Source mods that do anything other than FPS that we at least have the advantage of breaking new ground in our field.

And of course, making any kind of mod is a labour of love, especially a total conversion – so we’re really glad that people are liking what they see. We’ve had nothing but positive reception to every new feature we’ve added, which does leave us with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Most of us are driven to work on Blade Symphony because we want to put out the best possible mod for people to enjoy, and that sort of doesn’t work if people aren’t enjoying it. And it works better the more people there are to enjoy it, so the more people following our progress, the better!

MI – Deadrawkstar -

Will there be any sort of single player modes?

PHG – mflux -
Unfortunately, no. Blade Symphony has been designed from the ground up as a multiplayer game (it’s a duelling game after all), and a single-player campaign just isn’t something we can afford to do. That said, we’re looking at the possibility of coding some bots for practice, but it’s something we’re not sure is feasible. I wouldn’t count on it any time soon but it’s something we’d definitely like to investigate if possible.
MI – Deadrawkstar -

For the whole team – What are your favorite features in Blade Symphony?

Jeff “mindstormmaster” Wong – Lead Statistics Engineer and Database Administrator

I’m a bit biased, but my favorite is the persistent stats system and the new possibilities that it opens for the game (ie. buying swords, stealing capes, etc).

Anton “es_Mothra” Schnurer – Senior Tester

nothing beats when your carefully planned attack hits at the exact right moment giving you the opportunity for a follow up!

PHG – mflux

impossible for me to pick. Probably the sword selector, right now.

Charles “charlestheoaf” Elwonger – Senior Artist

I like the symmetry of the combat system. All players have the same abilities, so your focus is on the mind-game between you and your opponent. Matches between similarly skilled opponents come down to strategy, technique, and a little trickery.

Mike “urinal-cake” Sanders – Lead Producer and Business Development Lead

Sword selector, fo’ sho’. It spells out what the rest of the game will be like – character selector, stats, etc. – and I get all giddy.

Andrew “KindredPhantom” Taylor – Lead Tester

sword selection seems like a good choice of answer.

Michael “twincannon” Zenich – Lead Designer

the artwork – it’s such a clear display of how much we’ve grown and learned as a team.

Tim “termi” Grant – Lead Level Designer for Blade Symphony, Lead Designer

Jeff stole mine, so I’ll fall back on my biased answer and say the absolute beauty and atmosphere of the maps we made.

Nick “Cyanide” Young – Studio Tester

I’m pretty impressed with the community so far. It’s rare to find a server where people don’t bow, and it’s amazing how readily experienced players will help the new guys.

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