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Blaze Sky: Solo Indie Developer creates animatable 3D characters for Space Opera RPG game

Will Iverson – Game Developer

Will Iverson

Will Iverson has been working in the computer and information technology field professionally since 1990. His diverse background includes developing statistical applications to analyze data from the NASA Space Shuttle, product management for Apple, and developer relations for Symantec’s Visual Cafe.

Clients over the last two decades include Sun, BEA, Canal+ Technologies, AT&T, T-Mobile, the State of Washington, and many, many more. From 2010-2016, Will grew Dev9, a premier Seattle-based consulting company focused on continuous delivery solutions for a wide range of enterprises, including the backend for many large entertainment firms.

Starting in 2017, Will transitioned to independent game development, with a new company, Double Robot where he used iClone and Character Creator to complete his game.

I simply couldn’t have those animated characters without CC3 and iClone, full stop. I was able to build characters from my story bible and animate them in just a few days.

Will Iverson / Unity Game Developer

Q: Hello Will, good to have you on our Feature Story. Kindly introduce yourself, your studio and your journey into game development.

Hi – and thanks for taking the time! My name is Will Iverson, and I’m the founder, owner, lead… well, everything… for Double Robot. I have some folks helping me out with social media and promotion, but otherwise it’s just me.

I’ve been programming since I was a kid – I actually got started because I wanted to make games. I spent a long career in tech, starting with C/C++/Java development tools and eventually a long stint doing consulting. A couple years ago I decided to pivot into games.

After a few prototypes I eventually settled on an “Asteroids the RPG” concept. I showed that to a bunch of platform people at GDC in 2019, got a favorable response, and here we are.

Q: Your game BlazeSky is a Space Opera RPG, you are a solo developer. How on Earth (or space… chuckle), did you manage to create an RPG game by yourself ? And how long did it take?

Yeah, it’s kind of a running industry joke that indies (and especially solo devs) shouldn’t make RPGs. Ignoring all the design and prep work, the first commit to GitHub for this game was August 1st, 2019.

The biggest thing that helped was building all of the RPG systems – quests, inventory, locations, stats, monster spawning, etc. all in a headless C# project first. That let’s me write automated tests for all of the guts of the game – for example, I can run through all of the quests to make sure they are all valid in about a second. All of the visuals in Unity are just a view layer. The game ran solid for four days straight on a not particularly powerful gaming laptop at PAX East without a single crash – I’m pretty proud of that.

It’s not done yet – the game should be out in early access this summer 2020. I just finished writing the entire main story line – about 13,000 words of dialog and player responses – last week. I’m pretty happy with it, and I think I’m going to be able to hire voice actors.

I’ve written several books on software development, so I had some idea of what was involved in writing that kind of volume, although that was non-fiction. I knew I could write thousands of words a week with no problem, although it’s more like script writing, so it’s less about word count and more about picking just the *right* words. I have a really clear idea of scope, including a long list of things that *aren’t* in the game. That’s the only thing keeping me sane.

Q: BlazeSky’s visuals are pretty good. It reminds me of a Space RTS I enjoyed in the 90’s (Homeworld). What would you say is the hard part when creating a nice looking game? 

Homeworld is great – they put out a great remaster recently! My main inspiration was another classic 90s game, Escape Velocity.

Escape Velocity
Publisher: Ambrosia Software

Visual arts very, very complicated. Color theory, framing, animation, sound… so many things. It’s just so much to learn, especially when also thinking about the software development side. I’ve always been really interested in the production and craft of film, so that’s a big help. Stuff like just knowing and caring about flipping ACES on for color grading in Unity.

The biggest challenge I’m having right now is lighting and brightness. Now I know why so many AAA games start with a brightness setting – every single monitor I test on seems to be different.

I would strongly recommend that anyone looking to make a nice looking 3D game really think about the camera system. I’m using a Unity package called Cinemachine – it simulates body weight for the camera, which really helps sell the velocity in the game.  One thing that’s not immediately clear from the trailers is that the game is actually a 2D game with a 3D camera system – the controls are really easy, pick up and play. I wanted the pretty visuals of a modern 3D game, but something my son and his friends could pick up and play. We had a five year old happily blowing up asteroids at PAX East, which was really cool.

Q: BlazeSky has animated characters which you created with Character Creator 3 and iClone. How did these tools benefit you?

I simply couldn’t have those animated characters without CC3 and iClone, full stop. I’m still learning the tools, but I was able to build characters from my story bible and animate them in just a few days. I am able to pick out the precise body shapes, clothes, and animation I need.

Will Iverson / Unity Game Developer

The current characters are a first stab – it only took me a couple of days to build, animate, and export them into Unity. Considering how quickly I’m building this title, that’s incredible. I’m going to go back and do another pass before release – I want to go back and work on lighting and add some additional accessories.

It looks like I’ve got enough memory room to bump up the textures I’m exporting from what I’m doing now, which will make things like the faces look nicer. I’m adding some additional characters, including creepy aliens. I need to tweak some of the animation controllers in Unity to smooth out the transitions.

Honestly, working in CC3 and iClone is so fun it kind of feels like playing hooky compared to a lot of the other stuff I’m doing.

Will Iverson / Unity Game Developer

I watch video tutorials in the evening after my son goes to bed. I’m still exploring things like facial animation mapped to dialog. It’s really clear to me the only limit is my time – these are powerful tools.

Q: As a solo indie developer, what advice would you give to someone that has a game concept, but no idea how to get started? 

If you have no idea where to get started, just pick something and start building. There’s a saying for writers that everyone has to get a few bad books out of them before they can write a good one. Pick one tiny ludom or game loop to build, and then another. Try tying them together in interesting ways. Once you’ve done that, eventually you’d outgrow the tool and move to another, but you’ll know enough to understand *why* you are picking another tool.

For folks who want a more detailed answer – if you are ok with starting with 2D, use something like Construct or GDevelop. If you really want to do 3D, Unity and Unreal are both fine. If something in the middle works, like Godot or Coppercube, that’s fine too. Just pick one and start going through tutorials. Keep in mind that these are all huge, powerful tools. Start by just trying to recreate the old Atari 2600 classics. Start with a simple recreation, then maybe try turning them into techno remix versions with lots of juice, or making them multiplayer, or whatever scratches that itch. Maybe make it really cute, like Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime, or gory, or whatever. Just learning how to do a consistent visual and audio theme is powerful.

My background is mainly Java. I started with libGDX and then moved to Unity. It still took years to get comfortable with everything – shaders, meshes, textures, animations, lighting, physics… it’s a lot. I’m a book reader, so it was hard to switch to watching video tutorials. Just breathe, give yourself permission to take time and have fun!

Twitter: @DoubleRobotComSteam Page:



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