Invasion is probably one of NSR’s most tired projects. The premise involved a peaceful race of aliens, known as the Arzenokians, being suddenly and ruthlessly invaded by the brutal Human Space Navy on a cruise control crusade to control the universe – which was the result of what was later to be known as “A Huge Mistake”. Gameplay has always had a large focus on dogfights taking place both in space and on the surface of planets, broken up by periods of other vehicle control and first person/third person shooter firefights. The game has seen many different iterations of play from the Human side, Arzenokian perspective, and combined.

Invasion – Origins

Invasion 2142 was the second concept devised between Sean Edwards and Myself for the 2004 DarkBasic Alienware competition (the first was “Aliens Versus Romans”). Invasion 2142 was originally a top-down, 2D shooter in which the player took the form of Commander Cassus: a veteran Skyjumper Pilot from WWIII, as he battled through various alien enemies between choose-your-own-adventure comic book-styled “cutscenes”.

After the competition ended, Invasion 2142 was dumped into the archives for several years…
The Resurface

Much time passed. High School ended and the summer of 2007 found the three of us: Sean Edwards, Alex Karantza and Myself working at IDEXX laboratories together. We wanted to try out making a larger-scale, complex game of industry standards.

Alex, in light of the original attempts made to develop String (known as The SubQuantum 7 Project at the time) suggested we revive Invasion 2142 because it was easier to convey to players because it was a shooter. The idea caught on because we were all fans of the Battlefield series (except the BF 2142 one…for some reason we just didn’t like that they chose the same year as us…), and we wanted to make something bith a bit more to it.
Invasion Engine – Part 1

I was put in charge of redesigning the 2D adventure game into the form of a large-scale multiplayer game. I ended up taking over the entire project and became head of the story, character design, world design, gameplay and everything else. I wrote the script for half of Part One that summer, and made plans to hire local actors for voice-acting and motion capture for animation while Sean and Alex did their parts. Invasion was slowly evolving into a Squad-Based Shooter with a heavy focus on strategic dogfights in air and space.

Here’s some of the earliest screenshots of Alex’s landscape tests, including my earliest, un-animated version of the Arzanokian Alien Model:

During our lunchbreaks we discussed plans for many kinds of solutions to problems we soon found had been solved by other developers. A great amount of research was put into finding the right type of Engine to use for each component: Ogre was ultimately decided on, as was Bullet. We were in the throes of a massive Linux/Open Source phase at the time as well, paying for the “Man’s” tools was out of the question.

The following screenshots were taken during development of the Gravity Zones. Alex and I experimented with many variations of radial and directional gravity, often throwing physics meshes into low orbits around the small mace-like space station in the images.

The Station had a large, radial gravity zone that brought objects to Earth-like gravity, and in the middle of the Station was a room that had another zone that negated the first, and instead had a directional gravity zone going downwards. Alex also added a smaller radial gravity zone in the very center for added experimentation.

More experiments, but this time with “characters”. Alex added about a hundred dudes who could walk in straight lines and bump into each other.

Look! Animations (however awkward and horrible) and proper shading! Finally!

Upon returning to develpment of Invasion in 2007, I began working on the varying styles of the Arzanokians and Humans. I wanted to make the Arzanokians a silly kind of retro-cartoon, something reminiscent of a Marvin the Martian style universe. Their technology revolved around floating CRT screens, egg and disk-shaped forms that might as well have been grown instead of constructed (which turned out to be a major plot point in the story) and analog inputs such as buttons, hand-cranks and levers.

The Arzanokians were, in the strictest sense, STUPID. Blissfully unaware of their own history or the fact that their technology was thousands of years more advanced than any other race of creatures within the galaxy, let alone the universe. They never actually built any of this stuff, or at least didn’t remember if they had. It all just worked as far as they were concerned, and if anything “broke” they would be able to find a replacement nearby just convenient enough to be handy…but not convenient enough to raise suspicions.

In harsh contrast, the Humans were designed to be hyper-detailed, futuristic versions of ourselves today, with a few World Wars thrown in the middle to make things interesting. Commanded by a collection of leaders known as the General Order and the details of every transaction of every kind of material (animal, vegetable or mineral alike) was organized, optimized and monitored by the Control And Domination System (a networked computer system known as CADS), the Human Threat was meant to be a frightening vision of universal control.

During the course of the story, Human technology was always changing and evolving. Due to the combined networking power of all computers on the planet, CADS was able to redesign, test and conduct research on every kind of Human technology thousands of times a day. At the beginning of the game the humans started with sharp, angled forms of dull metal, guns that fired bullets and machinery was primarily gas and electrical-based. About halfway through the story miles of redesign had passed and tech evolved to a polished-white ceramics and pumping blue fluids sort of look and weaponry was semi-hacked-together reverse-engineered Arzanokian technology. Finally, at the crescendo of the game, the Human Threat was characterized by massive black complex, crystalline, skeletal structures with elements of fully incorporated Arzanokian technology.

Sean and Alex began discussing what was to later become the Invasion Engine: a generic game engine combining other Opensource Engines in C++ with Lua as the platform for game logic. The flagship game would be Invasion itself: a multiplayer Squad-based third-person tactical shooter set in the year 2142.

It was rewritten about three times before we could make the tech demo below demonstrating our first new Gametype: Stations.

In the video, Alex demonstrates how Stations worked: the Player controlled an Arzenokian in one of three teams competing over control of a central “Powercell” that was the key to damaging the other team’s “Stations” located in a triangle around the center.

Note, I did NOT make the first gun you see the Player using. That was ALL Alex. …But the horrid animation of the Arzanokian who looks like he has a pole stuck up his butt was all me. Prototype animations look a lot better than nothing, right?.

Players would have to simultaneously attack the “Husk” (generated every two minutes if no other Husk is present) while defending their Station from the other teams. Destruction of the Husk would reveal the “powercell” which would fall upwards in a vertical beam of gravity and Players would have to catch it and bring it to the Enemy Stations to Damage them. Damaging other stations had some effect on the Station to the right, which would allow the next team over to gain points, motivating the team on the left to stop the damage from occuring. Gravity was a large part of this gametype, as the Husk would be generated within a radial gravity source that would suck you inwards, while the stations pushed players away so they could walk around the hollow insides.

The next three images were specially raytraced renders for the sake of defining for Alex where specific gravity zones would be located later.

The following images were the only screenshots taken of the meshes after they were imported into the game. For some reason they weren’t usable for the tech demo above. I think the problem was that they weren’t manifold, so physics errors broke the Character’s ability to climb on them.

We never got to the point where we could playtest it, as the Engine had to be rewritted again for some reason (probably the networking code, that was always a problem…).

Once Engine development settled down again, we decided to focus more on the Campaign for a while until a breakthrough was made with networking. Up through the fall and into the winter we focused on smaller aspects of the game and played around with the fact that “We can go upside-down!” – a big issue at the time and a major request of mine to the game.

At around this time I was taking a project design class for New Media and one of our assignments was something called “Code Art”. I was intent on making something new, so I created a bit of a meaningless gravity game called: StarSim3D. The Player could spawn hundreds of little spheres that emitted large sources of gravity and left behind ribbon trails. The resulting screen shots of the game were beautiful and really cool:

If you look really closely at some of them, you can see the Arzanokian character in the center of the screen, occasionally standing on the bigger spheres.

Approaching the summer of 2008, focus for the game was all over the place as the engine was going through iteration after iteration of reconstruction.
Invasion Engine – Part 2

Ultimately Multiplayer was just too much to handle for a while, so we moved away from that. Instead, in the fall of 2008, we decided to start with Part 1 of the Arzanokian Campaign, and began working out the actual game logic. Most of the functionality of the Player and a couple weapons were constructed, even a space-faring vehicle was full modeled, animated and had some basic function. But to get there, a much larger portion of the engine had to be completed.

The following videos demonstrated some of the technology Alex had been working on at the time:

Notice two things a: the hovering vehicles in the background were fully animated FighterDisks, complete enough to fly in, and b: Alex’s personal copyright infringment part of the game, a fully working Stargate.
Client-Side Lua Scripting

Combat! A single AI bot would run over to a gun, pick it up, and fire it repeatedly while facing the Player. Either Player could die and be respawned in a “Rehab Station” located nearby.

Basic Combat

Check out this pixel shader effect. Arzanokian doorways were intended to be advanced beyond anything of human comprehension, so naturally we used them again in REN.

Pixel Shaders for Doors

The Tutorial Level

We got through the very first section of Level 1, where the player learned how movement and basic actions worked. Here’s some conceptual drawings:

Images 1, 2, 4 and 5 were drawn during the period of High School when we weren’t actually working on Invasion 2142. When we returned to the project with the intention of utilizing a large amount of gameplay aread, Image #3 was created as a reconstruction of the entire 3-levels into one world.

The very first level of Invasion consisted of Mike (the Main Character: an Arzanokian who has lived under cover on Earth for several hundred years as a high school latin teacher – originally based off an actual latin teacher Sean and I had during our years in HS. Sorry Mike! The name and idea stuck!) and his Team of fellow Arzanokians as they are sent on a suicide mission to discover why three Space Stations were not…working in an area of space named Something System. Turns out there is a very high infestation of Space Squid in the area, but after a few battles it’s discovered that this is not the culprit: Humans! -have invaded the last of the three stations and are planning to overtake Sity Station 01 situated in orbit above Something Planet.

The following image was a basic map of Something System

The following drawings depict recreations of the original designs for the three Stations in the Tutorial Level.

These pages are a combination of general problem solving, character functionality design, and the initial sketches of the beginning of the Tutorial Level.

The Tutorial Level had three main parts: Character, Team and Vehicle. In the beginning of the Character, Mike is teleported to a random room onboard a Rehab-Disk (a type of Arzanokian space ship specifically built to teleport injured Arzanokians and Humans alike for flash-healing) by accident. The only way to get out is to unlock a door linked to a ring of circles that turn on for a short period of time when he walks over them. The Player (helped by some audio cues from one of the other members of the Team) would soon learn that they must run around the ring fast enough so that at some point, all the circles would be activated at the same time and the door would be unlocked – the function of the room was to open the door if it because overfilled with some mined material.

After exiting the room, Mike would find himself in a tunnel that would slowly get smaller and smaller, he would be forced to Crouch, and finally crawl prone before he could go any further. At the end of the tunnel was an object that blocked his way, and he would need to press a button for it to move out of his way, allow Mike to jump into Room 2

Room 2 contained the first Jumping Puzzle of the game. Arzanokians can jump great distances like crickets and cling to surfaces like insects/geckos – a major part of the game was this concept of having different gravity “Zones” and combat situations spread across surfaces at strange angles to each other. After Mike jumped far enough, he was able to reach a Room 3.

The following images show a couple different iterations of Room 2:

Room 3 had the Player begin learning the strategic aspect of the game: many puzzles to come would involve resource gathering and management. PlaZma was the primary form of energy a lot of Arzanokian technology relied on, and in this case Mike needed to power a couple of devices in order to teleport the Team (spread throughout the Rehab Disk) to his location. Here the Player learned how to pick up and drop PlaZma Nodes – little spheres that would arc to eachother to send currents of PlaZma Energy from Batteries or Generators to devices that needed them: such as the Teleporters in the room. Once the Teleporters were online, the rest of Mike’s Team were to teleport into the room.

The other members of the team were: Jeff, Steve, Nick, Max, Zack and Rick – Names that were introduced to Earth from Arzanokian culture in the early 19th century.

Now with the whole team there, the Player learned how to command them to go over to another machine that would produce PlaZma Pistols and pick them up. The Team was now Armed. Mike would also be able to command them to follow his basic actions in some different “Team States” and Formation styles.

Finally, the player had enough resources to open another locked door back in Room 2, a door that required more PlaZma power, but the Nodes wouldn’t reach that far from Room 3. This was PlaZma Puzzle No. 2. The interesting thing about PlaZma Pistols is that they weren’t originally weapons, but merely portable batteries. This door had another PlaZma Resource System component to it: A Socket, which when recieving enough PlaZma energy at one time would activate whatever device it was attached to. The Player was required to drag the Team to jump down from the top of Room 2 and then command them to simultaneously fire their PlaZma Pistols at the Socket to unlock the door and they would be allowed to travel to Room 4.

Room 4 was only a lesson in Rehab Stations and how the mechanics of Respawning worked within the bounds of the game, most of this was taught in a cutscene of Arzanokians shooting each other only to return to perfect health. There was also a puzzle that taught the Player how to command a single unit of his team to perform a very specific task (I don’t entirely remember, but I think it involved ordering Steve to walk through a bolt of arcing PlaZma over and over again…)

After this the Team would find their small, personal fleet of FighterDisks, the Player would learn how to Pilot one and they would go off to complete their mission by fighting Space Squid, completing more complex PlaZma Puzzles and finally being captured by the Human Fleet.

Here’s the entire level rendered in Blender and overlaid with some helpful arrows to show the progression of the Tutorial and the directions of Gravity. On the top is the first room that you run around in, the middle is Room 2 with the jumping puzzle, on the left is the PlaZma Test Room, and on the upper-right is the room where you ordered Steve to do terrible things to himself and learned how respawning worked.

And that was just level 1 of around 10 levels in Part 1 alone…
So What Happened?

Finally, in the end, between school, our social lives and basic human needs we agreed together that Invasion was too big a project to start off with for just the three of us. And we dropped it for something smaller in the spring of 2009: Combat 4.