Now that Scottish Games Week is over, we want to give some special coverage to the worthy winners in the first-ever Scottish Games Awards. Today we’ll be looking at Brilliant Skies Ltd., the developer behind From the Depths, winner of the Technical Achievement Award.
We sat down with their Director and Lead Developer, Nick Smart, to discuss his journey from defence engineer to game developer, and the community From the Depths has helped him build along the way.
Laying the Foundations
The story of From the Depths begins with Nick Smart, and it begins around a decade ago, when he decided to pivot from a 10-year career in electro-optical engineering for a defence company in Glasgow, to the world of game development.
“I was inspired primarily by Minecraft and wanted to make a vehicular version of the game where the primary purpose of blocks was more functional rather than aesthetic, and the focus of the game was combat.” said Smart. “From the Depths was greenlit and went into early access, where it had a lot of success.”
Smart began the project as a one-man endeavour, but as the game grew in popularity and a community began to form around it, he implemented a unique hiring strategy to expand the development team.
“The community contributed so much to the game that many of the key contributors became developers on the game. Every developer has been recruited that way, with most of them doing it part time whilst continuing with their lives outside of From the Depths.”
It’s a novel approach, certainly, but one that makes a lot of sense, and even one that has precedent in the industry following Sega’s decision to hire fans and modders to work on Sonic Mania.
“Our team members live all over the world. Over the years the team has grown to approximately 10 people at its peak, and is now smaller as the game has left early access and all the features we want to add are added.”
The Best Offense
While Smart did move away from his previous career in the defence industry, he didn’t forget the lessons it taught him. In fact, in addition to Minecraft, the core inspirations behind From the Depths were drawn from his past life.
“Minecraft was a big part of the inspiration but so was my time in the defence industry. I spent 10 years working as an electro-optical engineer for a large defence contractor and became familiar with all kinds of military equipment. The military technology, as well as a focus on “engineering”, have both become prominent features in From the Depths.”
It may not sound, on the surface, like the kind of subject matter that can be easily translated into an appealing game, but thanks to some granular thinking, Smart managed to make it happen.
“Most of the mechanics come from a decision to break systems (like engines, guns, missiles) down into multiple different “blocks” that are individually placed and contribute to the larger system. Adding customisable ammunition on top of that, and lots of active and passive countermeasure systems has resulted in a very interesting game with lots of different tactics and design considerations.”
It’s this technical angle, and the depth it brings to gameplay, that forms the heart of From the Depths’ appeal; this is a complex game with a lot going on, and it’s the kind of game that can totally consume a specific type of player.
“From the Depths has a depth and breadth of mechanics and features that cannot be found anywhere else. In particular the customisation of vehicles is very granular. Vehicles could be as large as 20,000 components with each component having multiple settings and many components forming up larger systems that change their behaviour/stats based on the combination, placement and settings of their components.”
Spoils of War
The depth, complexity and, most importantly, the highly engaging gameplay of From the Depths, are what led it to victory in the Technical Achievement category in the first Scottish Games awards. It was an honour, and a welcome nod of recognition, for the hard-working team at Brilliant Skies. “Many members of the team are very proud of their contributions to winning the Technical Achievement award. It is nice to have the game recognised closer to home.”
Beyond claiming their award, and the associated glory, however, Brilliant Skies also managed to take in some of the other great stuff happening over the course of the first Scottish Games Week.
“We attended the conference in Dundee on Thursday and Friday, and enjoyed the talks and the prize giving and the chance to meet new people working in the industry. We will definitely attend next year as well. Many thanks to everyone involved in arranging it.”
A game conceived in Scotland with a team that spans the globe; a hardocre military simulation engine that manages to appeal to a wide audience of players; and a well-deserved award that serves as a gleaming crown on top of it all. For the developers of From the Depths, contrary to their game’s title, the only way it makes sense to look now is up; where the Skies are very Brilliant indeed.