Last Update: April 2013

A tablespoon of syndicate, a pinch of tron, giving a taste like populous, dungeon keeper and darwinia cooked in a full 3D world. This was meant to be something like a tech demo for a engine that can simulate a living world (plants and characters grow and die, natural disasters such as volcanoes and floods, trade based economy system, base building, combat and wild critters etc (such systems were not as common around 2013 so it was somewhat ambitious)

We managed to implement almost all features planned but unfortunately it got canned as it demanded too much time and effort to turn into something polished but it was a good run. It looks shit but it has some pretty cool ideas hidden inside.

Developed By - Grinning Lizzard

- Altera is an ambitious project that is in development for quite some time and is currently in early beta stage. It is playable but may things are missing and most of the assets are temp. In the current state there is a random world generator that creates a continent where the player can roam freely as plants grow, volcanoes erupt to form landmarks, and various monoliths spawn critters for the player to shoot.

I pasted everything into a single p

Early Concepts

In the beginning Altera was to be similar to Syndicate (the 1993 version), it was going to take place inside a computer program so i did some rough sketches resembling syndicate agents in glowing tron suits to get a feel.  

Mixing Tron's neon glowing tights with the bulky coats of syndicate. In the world of Altera everyone wears a glowing, skin-tight jumpsuit, keeps them hot, keeps them warm, waterproof, high mobility, high fashion also helps people not to get hit by cars at night and all that stuff.

An agent's coat (usually sleeveless) is worn on top of the tight for extra protection and badass cyberpunk looks. Some coats can come with high collar and masks. All coats have straps, symbolizing the fact that agents have no free will. Bit rough for now but hopefully things will get better as things start to settle.

And lets see how the dress codes can be implement to the game. As you can see most stuff is just scrapped (such as the straps on the coat) and will be used only in loading screens, story related art and so on...

concepts about death animations

Tossing some ideas about how the models can be if they look like lego mini-figures. I do like the current "temp" stick models but chunky figures can also give a nice feel. Chunky always seems to be futuristic to me.

Concepts about recruiting units

The player's avatar needs fools to do its bidding, but how to find them? There can be two options

a) servants can be classified as fighter, builder and so on. each class can only perform specific duties (builders cant fight and such)

b) there can be single type of worker unit that deals with all sorts of support stuff, fighting when needed, researching when sent to a lab etc.

types of recruitment can be as follows:

avatar collects resources and builds it's own servants using mix and match of resources (these can be considered as codes used to write programs), produced servants can build, guard or work depending on their proficiency. each unit type needs different mixture of resource. the players would need a minimum of 3 intelligence resources (codes) to create a researcher but if the player wants to make it a researcher and a fighter at the same time they may mix 3 int and 2 str making the unit stronger then a regular researcher. there should be a limit to resources per unit so the players wont be able to create uber units. this system also allows dual class units (builder fighter, researcher builder etc)

avatar uses mana (energy, code snippets whatever you name it) to produce servants. mana replenishes over time depending on domain power. weak at start, stronger as game progresses. This system is simple and probably best used if mana is the only resource in the game. building training researching and probably maintaining an active domain would require mana.

avatar constructs a building (single structure that produces and researches everything, acting as the main control center) or multiple (like housing, barracks, repair shop)  that each produce different units and have different purposes. population limit may be used depending on domain size.

avatar recruits wondering civilians (some good at building, some good at fighting, differing from civ to civ and the visitors that arrive from the portal (usually much better stats than cvis but more expensive to recruit. Sending spies for bribing or persuading enemy units depending on their loyalty may add some strategy to the game.

avatar finds and trains primitive denizens (non human creatures, robots, apes or aliens which can be considered as snippets of code or tools in the cyber world) so the unclaimed idle units can also be considered as resource. a denizen can do a single job and has to be retrained to be able to do other jobs. would take time to train a denizen again and again to do different tasks, adding strategy to the game.

Random Face Generation

The Player's avatar or any playable characters in Altera were to have a randomly generated face while heroes or any other story related / important characters were to have unique portraits.

Ideas on a random face generator. My initial idea was to have black and white portraits with scanlines, a digital ID screen kind of thing.

Testing the generator with few faces and basic colours. They all look like convicts and murderers but I guess no game hero ever smiles anyways.

An error with the colour channels of the shader made them look like holograms which somehow made them closer to my initial digital id photo concepts without the scanlines. Have to say the blue ones look more classy compared to the regular faces.

Weapon Concepts

The players arsenal will probably include a melee ring and a pistol. Both of these weapons would probably have upgrade slots.

The top one is your average human disc. easy to hold during melee due to finger holes and comfy grip.

The second is a D shaped disc. Can be considered more primitive or maybe reverse engineered from a human disc by breaking some parts and adding steel bits to it. Probably the heaviest of all discs. Requires a strong unit to operate properly.

The last one is a light but aggressive frame, something similar to an assassins weapon. Seems light enough to be thrown with high accuracy but can be problematic when it engages in melee against stronger weapons.

Here is a preview from the random melee ring generator which works in a similar fashion as the random face generator. I draw the ring patterns and the program mixes and matches them to create random looking melee rings.

This is just a tiny sample of random melee rings that can be produced.
trying to find the iconic handgun look for Altera. some basic rules to take note;

- all weapons in game are handguns or at least one handed (even the long range...)
- weapons should be chunky or double barrel
- pistol blaster, assault blaster, shotgun, long range / sniper blaster

not much of an glowing laser/plasma weapon fan. I prefer the good old bullet stuff maybe due to the fact that ejecting brass seem so cool.

Energy weapons are battery powered stuff that use fancy lights as projectiles. these have somewhat round frames with softer lines compared to bullet weapons, maybe few clips can be placed at the same time to increase power (not ammo count) or maybe a single powerful burst after multiple clips can break the weapon (similar to a single rocket with splash damage that hurts the target and the user).

Finally decided to settle on the 3 main types of ranged weapons, their projectiles and how they can look in game.

Upgrade idea for weapons

Animals and Creatures

There will be strange lifeforms populating the world of Altera. Some will mind their own business and some will be hostile.

I did some sketches  on various strange native creatures. Some could give stuff when killed, some can be used for other things (like resources or farming) some can be left alone etc. Day and night cycle is also planned to affect the abilities and motives of the critters. A creature can hunt during daytime and return to its lair to sleep during night time.

the floating egg vermin's poison gas and the cyborg sword flies sting may cause negative buffs on the player. The robot mantis can use the burrow ability to regenerate its health or maybe it goes into sleep mode and regenerates that way during night times.

Half-man (later renamed to Gob-Man) are small, hunch creatures who terrorize the civilians by conducting random raids to the domains. It's your typical raze, rape, pillage stuff. Usually the smart or strong one rules the mob, they live in scrap metal heaps and remains of other domains found in the wild.

The zombie making helmet thingy is (who makes up sick stuff like that?) a type of alien parasite who enjoys jumping on human heads and turns them into zombies. These things can make small jumps using the jet packs on their helmet. Once it integrates itself to its host, the parasites legs stick to the torso of the host so tight that it can give the host a flying / leap ability using the same jetpacks on the helmet. If the host is killed the parasite can de-attach itself using a quick jetpack burst (leaping somewhere safe to look for a new host. (or it can jump to the nearest human if in jetpack range)

From the previous list, the gob-man were added to the roadmap so i decided to work bit more on their concepts. Lore is easy once the mechanics are fixed but until then here are some basic info on the "Gob" race. (previously named as half-man or goblin)

I really liked the parasite helmet idea.

The "Gob-man" is the generic type of gob, they tend to stick together and follow any other strong or intelligent gobs, forming hordes named as Gob-Mobs.

Few gifted gobman tend to be smarter then others. These smart ones become shamans that worship "Old-Gob-God" the ancient patron of nature. They show their intelligence, leadership and loyalty by wearing mantis shaped masks and wielding mantis shaped gob staffs. Faithful shamans are gifted with the ability to control mantis and other low level critters.

Not all gobs are gifted with intelligence, some just tend to be bigger and stronger. Being big and strong in a race full of weaklings comes with its advantages. These stronger Gobs who prove themselves on the battlefield get the chance to rule weaker Gobs. Some follow them because of fear while some follow with the hope of finding untold riches and legendary glory. Finally there are the few who follow because of respect. Gob-bos-man can use any human weapons they find.

This thing was initially called the Minotaur but was later renamed to Cyclops due to its single eyed design.

These behemoths can be controlled by a weaker race who dwell inside them (It's like a knights armour but something lives inside it rather than just wearing it. Once the creature is killed the weak master who lives inside will eject using the head of the cyclops and attempt to escape danger. The master itself is actually the diamond head with tentacles or spider legs and is harmless on its own. can be killed or collected as a resource.

Troll Concept and model suggestion, tried to stay away from a fantasy troll (apart from the skin colour) and focus on internet trolls. thats the excuse for drawing this silly costume. 

Trying to give lego like details to the troll's costume. 

and Lee's modified (probably final) look of the troll with glow. Awesome

Model suggestions for a scorpion... kind of hard to make a scorpion from bricks...

Now that we have some creatures to inhabit Altera I couldn't stop myself from asking where did these creatures live. My call was;
  • Every creature has a lair somewhere on the map, a lair can house unlimited creatures
  • Lairs spawn a creature every x minutes
  • Spawned creature walks around the lair looking for something to do, if none goes back inside
  • Lairs of hostile creatures spawn raiding parties every x minutes
  • Raiding parties attack player domains until every party member dies or target is destroyed
  • Creatures regenerate when sleeping in or wandering near their lairs.
  • Lairs can be destroyed to stop creature production or loot for xp / items / fun
But where do lairs come from?
  • Placement of lairs is random every game start. (amount depending on difficulty etc)
  • Every x minutes the game can check for a specific creature type on map. if none of the type exist a creature will be summoned off map and will find a spot to build a new lair thus start reproduction. 

Every once in a while i add posts about Altera's development. Altera still seems more like an tech demo rather than a game so im waiting it to shape up before i post a complete page. (or maybe im just feeling lazy to go through my previous posts and arrange stuff)

Altera keeps changing with every build. At first it felt like an ambitious mix of couple of games but now it feels more like an open world game where you build an economy (or a base) make sure it functions properly and start to explore the map to find various things to do.

Couple of  screenshots from more or less current state (click to enlarge)

Couple of structure models

Concepts for the character / inventory screen

shortcuts to follower's inventories on the left (4 max similar to syndicate), gold and other resources are clearly visible on top, xp needed for next level is shown beneath the hero name, equip and drop slots for easy inventory management, kill counter on the side to allow more space to the list.

Stats for selected item and current equipped item are shown next to each other for easy comparison.

concepts for a simple in game hud 

Below are my rants about how the exploration aspect of Altera can be:

- World and mini map is covered with fog, revealed as player walks around

- The world can have random placed regions / zones with different themes such as memorials, ruins or other places of interest.

- Regions / zones can be divided into 3 main types:

Landmarks / Monuments: These are stuff left behind by previous users of the altera system. Single tile decorations like crumbled structures or statues of elder beings, ruins that keep artifacts etc.

Places of Interest: These are places that some how require players interaction. Examples such as camp sites or gatherings of denizens minding their own business, mercenary camps where you could purchase services from denizens etc. These regions do not need unique visuals. Some can be made by recycling generic art (like a gobman village by placing 3-5 gobmen lairs together) but it will be nice if most had at least a 1×1 unique tile to show the regions theme

Special: These can be random out of place stuff like a xenowar ufo crash site, a gobmen being cooked inside a cauldron or a group of mantis running circles around an obelisk.  Special regions should be unique (There cannot be two instances of the same special zone in a single game) and should be sparsely placed (Two special zones cannot be too close to each other)

- When the player discovers a region for the first time a text message will be shown on screen giving the location name and xp earned. Giving xp for discovering locations can be used as rewards to encourage the player to keep exploring.

- A semi transparent Minimap (that can be toggled into a full screen travel map) with tiny icons representing the types of regions and their colour coded threat levels. Each zone should have two states such as visited and discovered.

- fast travel between zones using roads (conveyor belts) by clicking on hotspot locations on the travel map.

couple of ruins to decorate the map

Not much of a grinding fan myself but there are many people who enjoy it and it does make games catchy in a strange way. A simple way to merge exploration with grinding can be to "tightly seed" the map with grind locations so players can explore to find more combat and loot.
Each location can have a resource, item or reward that can be collected once all the guardians around it are defeated.

There would be waves of monsters one after another and sometimes the player would have to run back to base and heal a couple of times before being able to completely clear a zone. Such zones can also spawn raiding parties depending on their threat levels. Spawned monsters from a different zone will attack the player's core while the player is busy trying to clear another zone.

However such mechanic will force the player into combat most the time, it may make the game feel monotonous or tiresome for people who enjoy casual exploration game play. Difficulty settings in the main menu to set the amount of combat, frequency of enemies spawned, number of regions and landmass size etc can allow players to fine tune the game as they would like.


Sketches about plants that will be populating the world.

Structures and Domains

Very early structure concepts. Trying to find a distinguishing look for each of the major structures. Now looking back I think they are too round compared to Altera's "blocky" visuals.

altera content kiosk concepts

Some mish-mash about structure model scale compared to human model scale. I am the one who drew this but even I find it hard to understand :)

Concepts and suggested model of the vault structure. I intended this to occupy a single tile but a 4 tile width makes it look much better. Probably only the content kiosks (screens, speakers, billboards etc.) will suit a single tile due to slimness. A way around keeping structure size small to a single tile can be to use dungeon keeper style rooms with walls covering around the structure and resources so each structure will look like a control panel, not a building. Colours or model is not final. 

altera vault concepts

Some concepts on a worker drone. Its a tiny floating unit that wobbles as it floats, can have smoke coming out of its rear part as it "works". Im not real happy with how the drones face ended up to be. It looks too robotic, rather heartless. Maybe should have went with the pig face to give it a slightly organic cute or pitiful feel. In game model should have less colours and more glow

altera drone concepts

Nothing special, its a power plant that provide the necessary power to run domains. Almost every strategy game from the 90's had one of these :)

Altera power plant concept

 Weapons Factory / kiosk where visitors or locals of the domain spend money to buy weapons. This thing is like a tiny vending machine or micro wave oven where you place your order and it produces it in a few seconds.

Altera weapon factory concept

Character / Inventory screen

Altera has evolved quite a lot from a tech demo into an almost playable game with poor presentation. Its current state is (more or less) a crudely presented game were you could do a couple of cool things while workers run around following your errands, denizens defend your domain, eat, sleep and look for adventure, mysterious visitors in robes bring power to your base while seeking refuge from trolls, various mobs raid settlements looking for prey  and so on. Still there are many things that need to be implemented and many to be replaced / fixed.

So what was that image all about? Let me walk you through a quick session of Altera's current alpha state while describing what each structure does.

You start the game with a "Core", a round platform with floating screens that allows you to control the domain around it and a humanoid form that acts as your avatar. Its an empty map with a grid dividing it into zones but with each passing minute the map evolves with growing plants and volcanoes that shape the land. There are also mysterious visitors wearing robes who travel this land using a transit system that resemble conveyors. These figures represent users who search the system for "content".  

You begin the game with very low resources so first thing to do is to wander around looking for things to kill and loot. Luckily there are always other domains nearby with easy to kill pests that give enough gold (its not actually gold but its a yellow coloured triangle so I call it gold) it acts as the basic resource which you use in construction of structures. Different colours like red can be used for fire based weapons.

With enough gold you build a couple of worker bots who wander about, ready to do your footwork. These bots are the ones who will construct structures. Its usually a good idea to build a vault first as workers are weak in combat but there are times they get to kill an enemy and take its loot or stumble across some resources to collect. The vault allows them a safe place to pile resources for the player to use.

altera - tech temples

The mysterious visitors with robes give tech bonus to the player. In order to attract visitors couple of kiosks need to be built. These kiosks produce content (news, social etc. ). The more visitors you get the higher tech bonus they give you. The bonus can be stored inside tech pyramids that act as a symbol of your "tech" cult. However these visitors also bring the trolls that stalk them. These trolls act as nuisance, destroying workers and killing visitors, causing various problems in your domain.

Sleeping Pods provide living space for other humanoid denizens in your base. These denizens have a mind of their own and require food, socialising, energy and morale to continue living in the domain. They also help the player defend the domain against trolls and raids from other mobs when they are not adventuring by themselves.

Altera - overhead icons

Luckily you dont have to guess what the denizens are thinking as their thoughts and status are presented as tiny speech bubbles above their heads.

altera - solar panel

The solar panels allow the plants in a certain radius around them to provide the food required to feed the denizens of the domain. Food is collected by workers and brought to a distillery where it is tuned into elixir. A type of drink (or food) that is sold in bars to act as a much more powerful item to satisfy hunger needs as long as the customers have enough money.

altera - distillery
The Forge allows you to construct items such as pistols, melee rings and shields. When building stuff you get a couple of different parts to add / remove to the weapon. If you want to build a pistol, you pick a basic chassis that will lay down its basic stats. Later you can choose to add a scope for increased range or add a larger clip for extra ammo, you can even pick the type of projectile it will shoot (flame, shock, explosive etc). Each customization requires more money and tech level to build.

Every part you add has a visible effect on the gun model itself. (as long as you play zoomed in) so if you have a keen eye, familiar with the parts you can identify (more or less) what each weapon can do before picking it up.

altera - pistol skin proposal
Crafted items can be used, given to denizens who live in the domain or sold to a market for money, where other denizens with enough credits would attempt to buy them, contributing to the domains economy.

Additional Items
Currently the items are limited to various ranged weapons, shields and melee discs which are all combat related. The item list can be increased by adding various sorts of consumables and items that boost stats when carried in the inventory. The inventory space is very limited so there wont be too much concerns about someone filling their pockets to make a ultra powerful character. The players will still need to leave some items behind and those items will most definitely be found by another creature and end up somewhere totally unexpected.

Consumables (single use per item)
ration - fills food bar when consumed
medkit (auto patching systems) - fills health bar when consumed
battery - fills shield bar when consumed
holodiscs or rubic cubes - fills fun bar when consumed
maybe morale should not be recovered by the aid of items. Various other consumables can be added to boost the users skills for a limited time. (melee, speed, accuracy etc)

Artefacts (items that provide bonus to skills as long as they are carried, can be sold for a good price)
Flame ammo, extra clip, melee gauntlets, targeting visors etc...

These stuff should be found in the wild, in ruins, in containers scattered around the map etc. The main reasons for their existence;

a) adventuring denizens find them without paying for them. so they can focus spending their money on food and other consumables while grinding for loot and improving their stats using the items they found, this feels like it would allowing a more stable economy.

b) makes the surrounding world worth exploring.

c) discovering new loot is always fun.

Economy Model
The economy model was added recently so there are still some flaws in it. There was a talk of adding a tax system. I came up with this system for shops (and maybe sleeping pods and kiosks too due to the limited number of shops)

Couple of key structures should produce tax (maybe a low percentage of sales, 1/4 gold of each sale?) and every 10 minutes a tax collecting bot should visit them to take money back to the vault. If it dies the money is dropped, waiting for someone to pick it up. Greedy / unhappy denizens (crime) or trolls (glowing stuff takes their fancy) can target these guys for easy picking. It would not be an enormous loss for the player if the tax money is dropped so you wouldnt need to guard them personally but adding a few guard posts around their path can make a fun economy mechanic and an automated way to earn / loose money.