A Closer Look at the Design Behind ‘Primal Carnage’
Obviously Primal Carnage is a multiplayer only title, so why are we covering it here you ask? Well, because we’ve gotten a few emails over the past few months by gamers interested in game development and design. So, as we’ve been trying to learn more about Lukewarm’s Primal Carnage: Genesis, one of the first indie titles revealed for the PS4, Aaron Pollack of Lukewarm Media called us up and asked if we’d feature a development spotlight on their current project, Primal Carnage. So, for those of you looking into game development and want to learn more, keep on reading. Primal Carnage: Genesis is currently in an unknown state to us here at OnlySP, so hopefully we’ll hear more on the project sooner or later. We’ll have some keys to giveaway for Primal Carnage soon, so stay tuned.
Diving Deep into the Marsh
We mentioned in our last update that one of the main components of the recode of Primal
Carnage is an overhaul of graphics and performance for the entire game. A large part of this includes
improving shaders, optimizing models, and configuring our graphics pipeline to yield a better gameplay
experience. These optimizations have allowed us to include significantly more detail while maximizing
However, graphics aren’t the only thing we’ve invested time into improving; in fact, gameplay
and flow in a level should never take a backseat graphical fidelity. So alongside graphics and
performance upgrades, we’ve been redesigning all of our original maps to allow for better balance and
flow. In this article, we will outline a bit of that process as we explore the changes made to Marsh.
Marsh is a Team Deathmatch map containing a lush swamp at the center of the map flanked by
raised terrain and a thick jungle. The original revision of Marsh suffered from some design decisions that
we’ve been working to improve upon with our complete overhaul, and as a result, we feel that makes
Marsh a prime candidate to discuss in the context of our recode project.
Disorientation by Design
When we first set out making Primal Carnage we designed our jungles to be intentionally
disorienting to players. The theory was that this sense of disorientation would add to the tension and
immersion into the game. These dense jungles were intended to provide cover for dinosaurs so that
they could easily stalk humans making them generally afraid to explore the dense environments by
themselves. The unintended effect of this design was that human players primarily congregated around
central buildings and other landmarks that were more easily defensible, and ultimately players
neglected the outskirts of most maps. In turn this drove most of the action of the game toward the
center of the map; all of the work invested in designing these dense jungle environments felt wasted.
The Marsh was designed to counteract this effect by making the center of the map an open
swamp area that would feel more vulnerable than the jungle surrounding it. This map fully embraced the
concept of disorientation using thick fog, low visibility, and a lack of visible landmarks on the horizon.
Almost immediately player feedback directed us to the major flaw in our design philosophy: the
disorienting design made it difficult for players to navigate the map and to find other members of their
team. Ultimately the immersion we were striving to create for the jungles was easily broken if players
generally felt lost. Players continued to congregate in the center of the map, and the absence of
buildings or trees in this area often made it even more difficult for the dinosaurs.
We reapproached our environment design paradigm to minimize player frustration and
create more immersive environments. We have taken steps to improve navigation, across all maps,
by giving players more landmarks to use in order to orient themselves within the environment as well as
reworking our foliage to create paths to key areas of the map. Notable on Marsh is the introduction of
the Atrium-C dome residing on the edge of the map. The imposing dome provides players with a spatial
reference during play without completely sacrificing the denseness of the deepest sections of the
We also noted that spawn location and placement of health and ammo boxes had a greater
impact on the flow of gameplay than our intended disorientation. With the redesign of Marsh, we’ve
relocated health boxes and ammo boxes to the dense jungle segment of the map in order to create a
need for human players to face danger in order to resupply. These health and ammo lures, in addition to
the environmental changes, serve to help balance gameplay and prevent players from having an
inordinate advantage by exploiting supply placements.
Creating a More Immersive Environment
During the course of the recode, we have been working to improve the quality of our ingame
foliage in order to create better ambient environments. A key element of this foliage overhaul is the
introduction of more color into environments which were once very homogeneous. With Marsh, we’ve
created an environment which seamlessly blends wetlands with dense and vibrant surrounding jungle to
create a varied gameplay experience and reward players who use the environment to their advantage.
These detail-oriented improvements ultimately lead players to explore the environment and leverage
the terrain to their benefit. We’ve discovered that this type of immersion is better suited for the
team-oriented gameplay of Primal Carnage than the tension and disorientation that we initially tried to
Introducing Data into the Development Process
Core to our improvements on the new maps is the integration of Unreal Engine 3’s data
collection tools. With ingame analytics collected from player matches we can analyze player movement
patterns, visualize health box and ammo box utilization, optimize spawning patterns, and benefit from a
myriad of gameplay statistics. By collecting match data we can better act upon community feedback and
improve gameplay. This topic will be further explored in another article as we get closer to the release
of the recode.
The recode of Primal Carnage has been a very ambitious project for Lukewarm Media. We’re
essentially completely rebuilding the game from the ground up in order to build a better experience for
both our existing players and for new players. Leading up to the recode release our site will be
releasing development diaries providing insight into the development process as well as more
information regarding the improvements. We hope that you will follow our progress and continue to
offer us your feedback.
Primal Carnage is available now at Steam and on sale for 75% off June 1st. For more information visit
www.PrimalCarnage.com, ‘Like’ Primal Carnage on Facebook, and follow the game on Twitter for all the
latest updates and news.
Phil Wlodarczyk who wrote the above article also sent over some questions and answers about himself as a developer. You can read the QA just below.
SO PHIL, OR WINDIEBIESTE, TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF.
I have lived in Australia my entire life and spent all that time in and around Melbourne specifically. For the past 2 decades, the incredibly beautiful and picturesque Yarra Valley has been my home; and yes, I do like Vegemite but no, I do not own a pet kangaroo.
WHAT GOT YOU INTO VIDEO GAMES?
I studied electrical engineering and architecture in the 1980’s and was involved on some of Melbourne’s largest construction projects of that time. I’ve been interested in video games since I first played ‘Space Invaders’ in local arcade halls and at the occasional pub of my youth. That’s a long time ago so I have gained a lot of exposure to video games over the years. There’s a handful of titles I absolutely love and return to frequently. These include, ‘Dungeon Keeper’, ‘S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’ series, ‘ALIENS vs PREDATOR 2′ and more recently the Modern Classic ‘Dark Souls’ has captured my attention. The original ‘Quake’ would be my all time favourite title. It brought together so many ideas, aesthetics and technical achievements into a single title and consolidated them like nothing else in its time to influence modern 3D gaming as we know it today.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH PRIMAL CARNAGE?
I’ve been participating in the development of ‘Primal Carnage’ in varying capacities since February 2010 when it was first publicly announced. My involvement was an incremental rise through the ranks. From forum goer, to lead forum moderator, to lead QA tester to finally being accepted to directly be involved with hands on development as a level designer. I’ve been modding games for 2 decades now. Yes. That’s 20 years of pushing polygons around my monitor. I started making maps for ‘Doom’ and followed that up with ‘Quake’ and then made some ‘Halflife’ maps so I’ve been doing this for a long time. Soon thereafter I spent no less than 8 years creating custom content for ‘ALIENS vs PREDATOR 2′. This latter and significant body of fan work lead to my first contract position on a commercial title, ‘Spend the Night’, an online dating game that unfortunately did not see completion. Well, so be it. I learned that not all things go as planned in this industry but I did get paid for my work. So with that experience under my belt I entered the extremely demanding world video game design.
So, with other than a large body of previously released fan work, some contract work, personal stamina and the preparedness to step up to honor my commitment I advanced my interest in level design. While experienced in facets of engineering, I didn’t have any serious academic qualifications relevant to game design. Nonetheless, I can assure you from my experience on Primal Carnage and other life endeavors, that it is more than possible to achieve a lot without a university degree if your heart is in what you’re pursuing. Just be prepared to do the hard yards and go the full distance to compensate for the shortfall in disciplined education. It can be done.
WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING ON A LARGELY REMOTE TEAM?
Working on a video game is challenging enough when the entire team is present on site but working as part of a remote team, dealing with different time zones and maintaining up to date communication with everyone else’s progress just amplifies that difficulty. Efficiently performing tasks, meeting goals and keeping in touch with fellow team members can be awkward when you have to ask someone across the globe to be online at weird hours. But when things get rough (and they do) it’s important to keep in mind everyone is working towards common goals. I know that one of Lukewarm’s goals is to eventually get more of its international team members on site and I look forward to that.
The upside of being part of a large team is that I don’t have to do all the work. Which is nice. I just need to stay focused on my little corner where I can sit and build the stuff necessary for people to run around in and bite and shoot each other to their heart’s content. That is enough for me
YOU’RE ONE OF THE PEOPLE WHO’S BEEN ON THE PROJECT THE LONGEST. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CHANGES YOU’VE SEEN TO THE GAME AND THE DEVELOPMENT TEAM?
As I said before, working on this project presents a very broad set of challenges and naturally people will come and go, for different reasons, and the naturally evolves over time. It’s great to find new people who bring fresh ideas, new vibrancy and their own set of work skills with them. In some cases a new member to the team will bring with them the skills to solve a long outstanding problem. At other times we’ve seen the addition of a number of new team members change direction of the game as a whole.
The recode, for instance, began many months ago alongside the transition of roughly half the team away from the project. With several new people at the helm we were able to look at the roadblocks that had hindered previous patches with fresh eyes and new ideas. Hopefully the recent articles we’ve put out has given our fans a window into that.
Primal Carnage is evolving and everybody contributes something different to that end. Getting to grips with this can also be a challenge as changes are to be expected – and will occur. I’m more than happy to see the new team embrace the difficult task of making ‘Primal Carnage’ a better title. On a most fundamental level I see change as a good thing. Sometimes, though, yeah… I still find it challenging to find my place in these altered conditions and circumstances.
One thing hasn’t changed for me, though. I do like Vegemite. But Tim Tams are much better.
– Phil Wlodarczyk