Theseis: Post-mortem – Part 1: Early Steps

Theseis – The beginning and early steps.

Theseis was a 3rd person action adventure game developed by Track7, an indie game development team based in Athens, Greece. Development lasted approx. 5 years. Starting in 2004 and ending completely during August 2009.

A small team was assembled under the lead of Sakis Kaleas (3D) in order to create the game. Funding was provided by a very supportive and inspiring gentleman Kyriakos Raptopoulos, he supported the project until the very end and we owe him so much.

Stefanos Koromilas (3D/Video) was instrumental in putting the very first people together, including Sakis Kaleas (3D), George Markou (Programming), Iosif Kefalas (Music) and Apostolos Zaharopoulos (Script). Concept Artists Theodoros Kyritsopoulos (Concept/3D) and Nektarios Chionis (Concept/Textures)  and Chris Tripkos (IT) were also added to the team, as well as some of Saki’s former students Nikos Natsios (3D), Antonis Fylladitis (3D) and Andreas Zelhs (3D), followed by the youngest of the group, yours truly, Kostas Yiatilis MacFarlane (3D).

The project started out as a point ‘n click adventure similar to Syberia. Development was both troubled and groundbreaking, especially in the context of 2004-2009 Greece.

There were a few good things that happened at the beginning of development which allowed it to get so far and enjoy great support. Some of these include:

– the assembly of a powerful and talented team,

– the vision of the game, though not exactly clear, was based on Greek mythology and how mythological creatures still exist in contemporary Greece,

– the aim for high production values,

I can honestly credit at least a great part of these to Sakis Kaleas and it’s important to understand what he did well for the project, because it’s important to give credit, when credit is due.

There were a few problems with the project planning initially, which caused the team to restructure and re-group, as well as change the scope of the game. Some of these were:

– unrealistic deadline, even for the point ‘n click version of the game,

– unfinished script/game-play descriptions,

– focusing on a promotional cinematic that ate up the first 8 months of development.

Of course there are others, but for the sake of keeping this understandable I will focus on main issues.

Nevertheless this led to our first successful E3 appearance in 2005, with a somewhat impressive cg trailer.

E3 2005 Theseis Trailer:

Some team workload imbalances during this initial stage, plus some differing opinions in terms of graphics styles and team management*, led to retiring Sakis from the position of Team Leader and structuring the team in a more open manner, in which more team members were aware of the progress and had expanded responsibilities. The management of the team shifted to Chris Tripkos (Manager)

This also led to a change in the scope of the game, in order to further affirm their resolution on leading the game in a different manner, a small group of the team made the case that a point ‘n click game would hinder our prospects, based on the feedback from E3 and the market trends visible throughout the gaming industry. In order to successfully change course the team made a “weekend prototype” that displayed high quality real-time 3d graphics (mainly created by Nikos Natsios and George Markou).

This led to the decision to create a real prototype that would work as the template for the rest of the game. This happened during the summer of 2005 and we also made some finishing touches to the cinematic in order to consider it complete and usable in the future.

To understand how far off the schedule was, the initial plan was to get a game ready within the first year (worst case scenario a year and a half). We were working out of a home office (Saki’s house during this time). Here we were almost a year later and we had a video and a room.

We worked on the prototype for a month and completed a demo that displayed a character in a room, walking around, with baked lighting and shadows. This convinced the team that it was possible to do amazing things.

The script at this point was handled by Apostolos Zaharopoulos, some discussion was made and some initial worries were expressed. Another programmer was added to the team: John Tsiompikas (Programming), but had to leave a few months later for a few months due to academic obligations.

The summer ended and we were gearing up for production, the decision was made that we would attend the next E3 (2006) with a playable real-time 3D demo. We moved into our offices in Monastiraki Athens and the team worked literally day and night for 13 weeks to produce an action adventure demo worthy of a high quality production. John Tsiompikas left and another programmer was added to the team: Michael Georgoulopoulos (Programming).

Track7 main dev room

The majority of the team focused on the 5-6 areas that made up the demo, creating high resolution textures, reliefs, items and characters. A two man team handled the majority of the character work.

View from Track7

E3 2006 Making of:

We went to E3 2006 with a demo showing off top notch graphics, playable at our booth, with simple platforming mechanics, combination/inventory puzzles and a small clue based puzzle. We also had a number of videos up for display showing off characters, the process, the story etc. Even though we were recording DVDs minutes before leaving for the airport we had a successful E3, garnering attention from all major sites and a number of the top publishers.

Gameplay Video #1:

The team was dedicated enough to push out 3 small patches during the 3 day expo. The last one wasn’t used.

Armed with amazing feedback from both publishers, media and users we got back to Greece in order to continue making what we considered an awesome game with courage and energy.

E3 2006 Aftermath:

This concludes the first part of the post-mortem. The second part will focus on the ‘after E3 2006 era’ and the 3rd on the months before closing and the final attempts at keeping Theseis alive.

* it was pointed out to me that these were also issues that applied heavily to the situation, enough to include with an edit.

** I initially left out the person who provided the funding, as well as our IT and interim manager, because I have less contact with them and didn’t know how they would feel about something like this, my mind has since changed, it is only fair, since they also put in a tremendous amount of effort, even though they were not part of the production team.

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