FortressCraft Evolved

The original FortressCraft, released in 2011, quickly became one of the best-selling downloadable games on the Xbox 360. It is a bold and ambitious voxel world-building game that has produced a lot of buzz and excitement already. FortressCraft Evolved is the new ground-up Unity rebuild of that original game. Its developers, ProjectorGames, have bought the game to Steam as an early-access title, which will be updated and built-on as the team move toward its full release.

With its bigger, bolder and more intuitive world-building style, FortressCraft Evolved is shaping up to be something quite spectacular. We hope you enjoy our interview with ProjectorGames’ Adam Sawkins.

OnlySP: The original FortressCraft came out in 2011. For those of us who don’t know, can you explain what the game is and how it works?

Sawkins: FortressChapter 1 was the first Vox game available on the Xbox 360, and over it’s lifetime became one of the Xbox’s best-selling digital download titles of all time. We had a very clear focus for the game – we always said that Minecraft did Minecraft very well, so there was no point in attempting to copy its gameplay. So as opposed to a medieval melee combat game, we devoted our energies to making the most powerful and best-looking Creative game we could on the Xbox’s somewhat, er, dated hardware. We introduced high-resolution ‘Detail’ blocks, so builders could truly make their worlds unique, as well as a number of mini-games that people could design their worlds to utilise – we also managed to get 32 players support in, and all this on a machine with only 512 megs of ram.

We pushed the Xbox to its very limits of transform and vertex rates, and we really only gave up updating and patching the game once Microsoft dropped XNA support. At that point, we realized that every line of code we wrote for it had a shelflife, so we moved on to Unity.

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OnlySP: How is FortressCraft Evolved different from the original. In other words, how has it “evolved”?

Sawkins: The ‘PC Master Race’ meme that’s doing the rounds isn’t joking – in fact, one of our Steam emoticon unlocks for collecting Trading Cards pays homage to this fact! I have a 3 year-old gaming laptop here, and it’s in the region of 30-40 TIMES faster than the Xbox 360. If you take a modern high-end gaming PC, you’re looking at a machine that is literally hundreds of times faster than the machines we released Chapter 1 on. We’ve taken full advantage of 64-bit addressing, giving us a target draw distance of 2.5km (!), and a world that is 1,000 light years across – AND deep. The deepest any other game goes is 2014 metres (Total Miner), and Minecraft itself only manages 128 metres on a default world – ours is 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 metres deep. And wide. This makes us the biggest world in ANY game, EVER. If you were to take every single Minecraft world created since the beginning on Minecraft’s inception, it would fit into one tiny, TINY corner of a single FortressCraft world!

How much room do I have left for this question?

The high resolution Detail blocks have returned, only this time you can make them in any size from 2x2x2 up to 8x8x8, we’ve introduced a PaintGun that allows people to colourise blocks in any colour they want, we’ve got a full day/night cycle, a full weather cycle with seasons, players can create schematics to automatically customise their world (and these schematics and user worlds will be shareable across the Steam Workshop), there’s extensive copy-paste-transform capabilities, a SuperBuild system that lets players create the basic outline of epic-sized structures in a few seconds… I could go on. But I won’t. But I could. Oh, and you can summon meteorites.

OnlySP: The voxel world-building and sandbox genres are as popular as ever. For you, what is the appeal in developing, as well as playing, games in this genre?

Sawkins: If you ask this question specifically about Creative, then the answer is as simple as a link:

http://cloud-4.steampowered.com/ugc/721997070382569869/DB8B41151DE23F40B741EE139A83753D5283B8C0/

The things people did on the Xbox amazed me. The things people are already doing in FortressCraft: Evolved just blow me away.

As for developing it, well – I’m a huge nerd at heart. Writing a voxel engine is just one of those things that CompSci students do – I’ll wager that almost every geeky coder out there has written A*, a raycast engine (ie Doom) and a Voxel engine – I wrote my first one in about 1995! Part of me is happy when I’ve allocated 14 gigabytes of ram, filled those with a procedurally generated landscape, when I know that 10 of the 12 cores in the PC are humming to keep the game running, and it’s clipping along at a silky-smooth 120fps.

I’ve had a few people tell me that FortressCraft is the first game to actually make their PC’s fans spin up – this is definitely a reputation I want to garner, not “does it run Crysis?” but “does it run FortressCraft at max detail?” Just to cover myself, though, we’ve focused super-hard on the low end, and people are playing the game on some tiny netbooks from 6 years ago – we’ve just got a massively scalable game in the way that little else is!

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OnlySP: How will players be able to interact in the game, as well as beyond it? Will this be very different from the single-player experience?

Sawkins: The basic experience is unlikely to change; there’s little fundamental difference between being a solo musician, and being in a band – you just get people to help you through the difficult parts, and you get people to help you grind away the boring parts. We’re heavily encouraging large teams of builders – many hands do make light work! – but I think where the multiplayer experience really shines is looking at the FortressCraft as a sort of virtual art gallery. There’s already been enough world generated to fill our entire Galaxy up a thousand times over – you’ll never find a lack of things to explore!

OnlySP: You’ve recently released a new “survival mode”. What is this, and how will it change the gameplay?

Sawkins: We’ve had plans for a Survival mode for a very long time, stretching back 3 years at least. I always said I wanted to write ‘Transport Tycoon meets Dwarf Fortress meets Dungeon Keeper’. I’ve changed my mind, and want to add in ‘Total Annihilation’ into that mix! Basically, you’re tasked with creating a mining operation, and managing power, processing and distribution of resources, all in a hostile landscape. It’s very early days, but you can already place down Ore Extractors, burn extracted coal or place Solar Panels to generate further power, manage that power down from the surface, utilize robots or teleporters to move those resources to processing areas. To be quite frank, it’s brilliant, and I’m finding myself spending way too much time playing it!

If this sounds like Feed the Beast, IC2 or Tekkit, I think that’s because they had exactly the same idea – I always thought of FTB as ‘Total Annihilation in Minecraft’. To stave off the ‘So what’s the difference between FortressCraft’s Survival and Feed the Beast, the answer is simple – we’re a single team with a clear and focused goal. We have plans for the end game, a reason to be building all of this stuff, a way of measuring player’s performance. Feed The Beast *is* amazing, but it’s just a collection of disparate mods with no coherency or goals. I’m also trying to make sure we’re much more accessible than other games of this ilk. I don’t believe people should have to read a Wiki page to be able to play a game.

OnlySP: Can you give us an idea of what the full release might look like, when it will be, and what other features you’ll be working into it? 

Sawkins: Amusingly, no. When ButcherBoyToma showed me the picture of the train, I was all “cool”. It took me a little while to realize that he hadn’t Photoshopped the train onto a FortressCraft landscape! Our main foci are Multiplayer and Survival right now. But what tends to happen is that one of the team has a brainwave, and something cool appears – the Caverns that appear at -600 meters – which, incidentally are bigger than an entire Minecraft world! – and the PaintGun were implemented by Korenn without any plans, and the Build2Me feature was suggested by Andy. That’s the best part about Indie dev – we can just put things in without having to go through 3 levels of managers and writing a 5 page feasibility doc. We’ve been quite shockingly organized though, and put together a roadmap and made it public! I’m not sure how we accidentally did that. Possibly alcohol was to blame.

OnlySP: FortressCraft Evolved is currently available on early access for Steam. Will it be coming to other platforms in the future?

Sawkins: Currently we’re focusing very hard on PC, with Mac and Linux as secondary platforms. Because we’re on Unity, it should ‘just work’ if we decide to bring it to Xbox/Playstation/iOS/Android/Wii in the future. So, short answer, no, but if you ask me again in a year, I bet you that I give you a different answer.

OnlySP: Are there any other details or information you’d like to share with us?

Sawkins: Here’s some stats! People have built 2.57 billion blocks since the game was released, and have summoned over 200,000 meteors. On a more personal note, I’m very pleased to get to the end of this interview, as I have a metric ton of Lego I received over Christmas that needs building!

Thanks to Adam for his time and sharing his thoughts.