We chat to the Guildford team about Greenlight, crowdfunding and voxels

How UK studio Wonderstruck is setting Steam records with Oort Online

Oort Online is a brand new in-development, crowdfunded MMO built by Guildford-based studio Wonderstruck, and it’s just sprinted through Steam Greenlight in joint-record time. Five days in fact.

The colourful, ambitious looking title is set in a persistent sandbox universe of connected voxel worlds, which its creators say will be shaped and ruled by the players.

Develop spoke to Wonderstruck director of product development Yota Wada to find out why the game’s Greenlight campaign was such a success, and how it’s using voxels and procedural generation to build new worlds.

Why do you think the project passed through Steam Greenlight in record time?
We believe that there are three reasons.

One is that our PR campaign went well. We launched our crowdfunding site at oortonline.com few weeks before submitting the game to Steam Greenlight. We contacted various sites and journalists. We also directly communicated with our growing fans via our forum, our game portal ga.me, Twitter, Twitch and Facebook. This produced overwhelming responses from gamers, game sites, YouTubers and journalists.

Second is that there is still a huge demand for voxel-based games but gamers are looking for voxel titles with more depth, which we are offering.

Third is that we had a beautiful looking prototype which we used to create our videos for Steam Greenlight.

What advice would you give to other developers looking to take their own games to Steam Greenlight?
We believe that it is important to do as much outreach as possible, and to start building your community and create awareness about your game before going to Steam Greenlight. It is also very important to have a solid pitch and a professional, good looking video to demonstrate your game concepts.

Why are you crowdfunding the game, and why through your own website?
We’ve already invested a significant amount of time and money in the Oort Online game to get it up and running with the multiplayer infrastructure, procedural world generator and building mechanics.

We didn’t want to work in a vacuum. We want to build the game with the community in order to stay close to the pulse of the gamer and make sure we are always on the right track with our design and development. Using crowdfunding or pre-purchased packages is increasingly becoming a way of directly involving the community in game development projects rather than going through a publisher. When a player has backed a game they usually become more of an active participant in the process of creation.

We used our own website rather than Kickstarter or other sites in order to have the most flexibility. We’re funding each feature separately and allowing backers to vote on which feature they think should be up for funding next. We’re also looking at a longer-term model of funding rather than a fixed period in which to generate the majority of the financing to develop the game. Lots of Kickstarter projects start out there to gauge interest and generate buzz and then continue their funding on their own site over the longer period.

What is your overall funding target?
We’re not using a typical method of funding. Every feature is funded separately and we’re continuing to elicit feedback to see what changes or additional features players would like to see. Future features will be organically changed over time. So, there isn’t really any overall funding target. Ideally we’d like to see the game continue to be funded over the long term, gradually adding more and more features. The more packages that we sell, the more features we can add and the better the game will be.

The other point is that there is always a fun, good looking game available for a certain level of backers to play, so players don’t need to wait for the overall funding target to be reached to experience the game. We will continually add more and more players to have access to the current game as we get closer to Alpha and Beta.

Is it really possible to crowdfund an MMO?
We’ll let you know in a few months. In all seriousness, if you have a good game with features that are desirable to players, there’s no reason why you can’t fund any type of game. While we are a massively multiplayer game, the nature of the sandbox game means that a great deal of content is procedural or player-created and so we don’t have as much of a giant content creation issue as traditional MMOs have.

Could you tell us about the Beautiful Voxel Engine, what it does, and why you chose it over third-party tools?
We built the Beautiful Voxel Engine in house according to our specific requirements for Oort Online. Building our own custom engine allows us to make a game with next generation visuals while maintaining the simplicity of the ‘blocky’ nature of most voxel games.

It has allowed us implement real-time reflections, ambient occlusion, a sophisticated level of detail system to allow for huge draw distances and much more. Writing our own engine rather than using third party tools has allowed us a lot more flexibility and power to achieve exactly what we want in Oort Online.

How do you plan to create such a vast universe? Will you be adopting procedural generation somewhat similar to that seen in No Man’s Sky?
Absolutely. Our world editor allows us to tweak various settings when we’re looking to create specific types of planets but the creation of the world is all done using a procedural method. We’re intending on releasing the editor to the public so they can create their own types of worlds – within the Oort Online rules – and upload them for possible inclusion in the Oort universe.

When you use the editor you can select the types of biomes you want to be included in your world, create new biomes, select tree and other flora types, the colour of the grass and other blocks, how much ocean the planet should have and hundreds of other settings.

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