Postmortem: Decadence

By Filip Coulianos [04.15.10]

Decadence was a project developed by eight students at the University of Skövde in Sweden during the period August 2007 to March 2009. The project was a total conversion, which means all art, animations and sound was developed by the Decadence team. The mod was built upon the Source engine.

Here's a short introduction to Decadence:

This postmortem will first go through a project overview, telling the story of Decadence from the project as a whole, where we have dedicated one chapter for each discipline where we discuss how we solved different issues, what problems we had, and finally discuss what we learned from each discipline's perspective.

A shot of the coolest of the coolest team members of Decadence. From left to right; Pontus Karlsson, Filip Coulianos, Claes Engdal and Björn Claesson.

The postmortem ends with a "final words" chapter, which we dedicated to those who stayed with us and sent us the lovely e-mails and such.

Project Overview: Background

Decadence was developed during a two year period, in which the team went through different development stages along the way. In this chapter we will give you an overall view of how the mod was developed, from the very first idea to release.

Pre-production - The Dark Ages

In the late spring of 2007 Henrik Alfredsson, designer, artist and level designer of Decadence, was contacted by a friend, a concept artist for the commercial title "The Ship" who had a few weeks to spare and wondered whether Henrik had a project going on that he could contribute some artwork for. Henrik immediately sat down and started brainstorming ideas for a game that could be developed by a small team and during a relatively small time frame. The result was half page of high-concept text that laid the foundations for Decadence.

Core values such as a 2 vs 2 shooter in which players had to move from cover to cover in order to capture an objective and use tactics rather than brute force in order to win, the arena system, unique and vivid characters, focus on storyline and set in a science fiction environment were all there from the very beginning. The original document was also very influenced by Gears of War, the hottest shooter out on the market at the time.

Henrik then pitched the idea to Filip Coulianos, Pontus Karlsson and Johan Bernhardsson, all of which studied different disciplines of game development at the same university. The Source engine became the engine of choice simply because of Henrik and Filip’s previous experience with the engine, as well as the fact that Unreal Engine 3.0 wasn’t readily available yet. Ironically, the concept artist quickly disappeared from the face of the Internet shortly after he offered to help out and never did any artwork.

Filip and Pontus started to dig into how the engine handled animations, model export ing and the like while Johan got his hands dirty with coding. Henrik focused on fleshing out the design document. During this time we had a couple of small developer LANs in which we combined research and development with long hours of gaming and fun. After a short while Claes Engdahl and Tobias Mollstam also joined the project. Claes started out as responsible for developing the visual theme of Decadence due to his concept art skills and Tobias contributed with his skills in web-development while also helping out with game design and management.

It was now August of 2007 and school started again. The Decadence team decided to put up its first milestone; to have a visual vertical slice of Decadence done by September 30th. We also had deadlines regarding the code, and the capture system for the objectives was also to be done at the same date. It would also be the date where the Decadence website would be launched stuffed with cool concept art and pretty in-game shots of the environment we had created.

The deadline was really tough. We had no art in-game and 30 days to do it. During this time period we also recruited Mike Pelletier to write a story introduction to the world of Decadence, which was to be posted on the website together with everything else. On top of crazy work hours (30 hours/week) aside from the studies at the university, we decided to arrange a big Decadence developer LAN the last weekend to cope with the deadline.

During this LAN everyone in the team worked really intense. The team also got help from Björn Claesson and Jonas Aronsson, two art students who helped out with props and texture art at the time. The deadline was met by a few minutes and the website got launched. News was spread over the Internet, Decadence had officially been born.

A time lapse video of the developer LAN

The first screenshots weren’t very polished, but the fact that the team managed to pull it off was a huge boost to morale. The coming month was spent to polish the dummy scene (or The Zoo as it was called) with better textures, more models and better lighting and then re-release the screenshots on the website.

[To read the full version of Filip Coulianos' postmortem of Decadence, you can download the PDF version here or view the web version here.]

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