Modding has been a sta­ple of PC gam­ing for decades, and the ever grow­ing tech­nol­o­gy avail­able to the mass­es makes it eas­i­er than ever to cre­ate your own ex­pe­ri­ences or build off ex­ist­ing prop­er­ties to cre­ate new ex­pe­ri­ences with­in ex­ist­ing IPs.

In the past, some of these mods even got the at­ten­tion of a de­vel­op­er and en­tire­ly new games were built from them. Games like Counter‐Strike: Global Offensive and Team Fortress 2 have these hum­ble ori­gins, as do en­tire gen­res of games like MOBAs that have had dom­i­nate play­er bases for years now. Games with avid mod­der sup­port have been able to in­crease the longevi­ty of a game’s pres­ence in the mar­ket as well, with Neverwinter Nights be­ing a prime ex­am­ple.

So it’s a bit easy to call me a ad­vo­cate for mod­ding sup­port in games. I’m a fan of prop­er­ties I in­ter­act with be­ing more open in the first place, and pas­sion­ate mod­ders have al­lowed me per­son­al­ly to have an ex­tra di­men­sion of fun with cer­tain ti­tles that would have nev­er been pos­si­ble with the games in a vanil­la state.

That’s why projects like Dragonpunk for XCOM 2 had me very ex­cit­ed. This is the ded­i­cat­ed team that start­ed to bring Co‐Op to that game, a fea­ture that seemed like it should have been a no brain­er to have in the first place. Nothing is as easy as that on pa­per though, and the Dragonpunk team worked with the pas­sion­ate fan base for XCOM 2 to help bring this fea­ture to fruition — with just a few caveats and re­quire­ments.

It’s also why it was dou­bly dis­ap­point­ing for me to hear that they would not be able to bring their big­ger plans to light due to a cease and de­sist from Take Two Interactive. One lay­er of dis­ap­point­ment stem­ming from the fact Take Two had re­cent­ly worked with the de­vel­op­ers of Long War 2. Much like the Dragonpunk team thought, I had fig­ured that bring­ing oth­er ded­i­cat­ed mod de­vel­op­ment teams like them into the fold, so to speak, would be the next log­i­cal step.

The way in which Take Two han­dled the sit­u­a­tion adds that ex­tra lay­er of dis­ap­point­ment. It’s of note that from all in­di­ca­tions Firaxis had noth­ing to do with the time­line of how things went down. As for those de­tails, I will let the Dragonpunk team speak for them­selves on that be­low.

Thankfully the work that has been done so far on Dragonpunk is still avail­able on the Steam Workshop, and they have re­leased the code for their Co‐Op work for those want­i­ng to push it for­ward.

They are cur­rent­ly just chang­ing course to strike out on their own to push their dream for­ward in a new en­gine. They have also part­nered with, a vir­tu­al gaming‐rig stream­ing ser­vice, and are work­ing with the Lumberyard game en­gine, Amazon’s CryEngine fork, and it’s cloud based sys­tems to open games to a wider au­di­ence by not re­ly­ing on as many lo­cal hard­ware re­sources for a fu­ture demo.

We re­cent­ly got to talk to Daniel Connery from Dragonpunk to get some in­sight from the team on what it was like work­ing on XCOM 2, and what the fu­ture holds as they work to­wards a new cre­ation in Amazon’s Lumberyard game en­gine.

I hope you en­joy read­ing the an­swers as much as we did!

For folks who may not be in the know, can you tell us a lit­tle about Dragonpunk and the team be­hind it?

Team Dragonpunk is a group of new mod­ders and Games Industry vet­er­ans from Sony, Bungie, and Bethesda Softworks. Dragonpunk was born from the frus­tra­tion of fans not hav­ing a AAA Co‐Op Shadowrun game. In fact, I’ve been cor­re­spond­ing with Microsoft with­out suc­cess for two years now to get the rights to Shadowrun. This ini­tia­tive start­ed when my fa­ther was fa­tal­ly shot in Texas in May 2015. We didn’t get along par­tic­u­lar­ly well, but we both shared a love of Shadowrun. Whenever he’d call, he’d start the con­ver­sa­tion with, “So… what about that Shadowrun game we’re go­ing to make?” I hon­est­ly can’t even re­mem­ber what I was do­ing the last time he called me, but I told him I was busy and rather abrupt­ly hung up. A few days lat­er he had been shot, and those were the last words he said to me. After that, I quit my Cloud Consulting job with the Chief Information Officer of the Army in Washington DC, sold every­thing I had, and start­ed de­sign­ing the XCOM 2 Shadowrun mods that would be­come Dragonpunk.

How many peo­ple worked on Dragonpunk, and how long have you all been to­geth­er?

15 to­tal mem­bers (vol­un­teers, free­lancers, and core team) for over 1.5 years, plus over 8,000 amaz­ing Twitter sup­port­ers and 17,000 to­tal play­ers.

What was some of the more dif­fi­cult as­pects of bring­ing co‐op to Xcom 2?

Developing in Unreal 3! Our bril­liant Lead Developer, Elad, had the net­work code fin­ished over 6 months ago. Since then, we’ve been rewrit­ing en­tire sec­tions of XCOM 2 to be Co‐Op friend­ly. So many lit­tle things you wouldn’t even think of, like Hacking, had to be rewrit­ten. Of course, every XCOM 2 set‐up is dif­fer­ent, so we’ve played over 200 Co‐Op games with the com­mu­ni­ty to try and re­pro­duce “edge‐cases” that we nev­er ex­pe­ri­enced in our test en­vi­ron­ments.

What are some of the ac­com­plish­ments the team are most proud of?

Of all the great art and in­no­v­a­tive code, we’re most proud of the rap­port we built with the XCOM 2 play­er base. We’d con­tin­u­al­ly get thanked for our re­spon­sive­ness and will­ing­ness to play a tu­to­r­i­al round of Co‐Op. Considering that most of us are work­ing 2 jobs just to make ends meet, the fact that our com­mit­ment to our play­ers ri­valled that of a pro­fes­sion­al AAA launch was in­cred­i­bly im­pres­sive. Many play­ers would ask us their ba­sic XCOM 2 ques­tions, since we were seem­ing­ly the only cus­tomer sup­port they avail­able.

If you had to de­scribe your team in as few words as pos­si­ble, what would they be?

Dogged, ide­al­is­tic, and at the mo­ment, per­haps just a bit war‐weary. Elad says that he feels a bit light head­ed from all the lack of sleep, send cof­fee!

What had it been like talk­ing with Firaxis and Take‐Two re­gard­ing Dragonpunk? Any Firaxis devs who are fans?

Unfortunately, we nev­er even got to pitch our idea. The ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship from both Firaxis and Take Two were com­plete­ly un­reach­able, both through the of­fi­cial 3rd par­ty re­la­tions chan­nel and al­ter­na­tive means liked Linkedin.

We had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with many of the Firaxis de­vel­op­ers, and they were all great. Many had want­ed to in­clude Co‐Op as a fea­ture in XCOM 2, but un­for­tu­nate­ly weren’t able to in­clude Co‐Op with­in the bud­get.

When you were de­nied by Take‐Two/Firaxis, how did that go down? Did they give any spe­cif­ic rea­sons?

Here is how our Cease and Desist (C&D) was han­dled:

A few weeks ago, Team Dragonpunk ex­cit­ed­ly opened an email from Take Two, Firaxis’ par­ent com­pa­ny. The email sim­ply read that Take Two fi­nal­ly want­ed to speak with us about our pro­posed Dragonpunk Kickstarter. With a signed pe­ti­tion of over 1,200 play­ers sup­port­ing a Kickstarter for Dragonpunk and the rest of the XCOM 2 mod com­mu­ni­ty, we’d fi­nal­ly been no­ticed! In the pe­ti­tion and pro­posed Kickstarter page, we ex­plic­it­ly wrote that all funds would go to Firaxis to fur­ther trust in the cam­paign. We’d con­tin­ue to be self‐financed, but would fi­nal­ly be able to af­ford the art as­sets need­ed to bring our vi­sion to life!

We felt like Charlie find­ing the Golden Ticket. This was the mo­ment we’d spent a year and a half and over $50,000 for. Design doc­u­ments, pre‐production art, and our ac­claimed Co‐Op mod all near­ing com­ple­tion, we dared to hope of be­ing “dis­cov­ered” by a AAA pub­lish­er like Take Two. A nag­ging thought crept for­ward, “Shouldn’t this email have come from some­one in Business Development, not Legal Counsel?” Yet, the email asked for us to choose an avail­able time slot for the fol­low­ing Monday, and sound­ed ex­treme­ly pos­i­tive. I thought, “Surely, if this is a C&D, they would just email it to us, and not make us choose an ap­point­ment for our own C&D, right?”

Unfortunately, that is ex­act­ly what hap­pened.

We worked through the Super Bowl, and as the week­end closed, I re­hearsed my “el­e­va­tor pitch”; a pro­ject­ed $30 mil­lion in ad­di­tion­al XCOM 2 sales alone (based on met­rics from com­pa­ra­ble games and mods), and that’s not even in­clud­ing the sales of Dragonpunk DLC to non back­ers. On Monday how­ev­er, we re­ceived an­oth­er email ask­ing to resched­ule the ap­point­ment on ac­count of the Attorney call­ing in sick. “Well, we’ve wait­ed this long hadn’t we? What’s one more day?”

Now we had to resched­ule our ap­point­ment for our own C&D.

As my phone rang the next day, I was con­fi­dent. “This is it,” I thought, “Take Two and Firaxis wait­ed this long to test our re­solve and pro­mote Long War 2, right? That’s smart. Signing Dragonpunk now would bol­ster the quick­ly di­min­ish­ing XCOM 2 play­er base and mod com­mu­ni­ty un­til the re­lease of XCOM 3. This has to be it!”

The Attorney got right to the point.

Firaxis asked us to call you be­cause your Kickstarter cam­paign is so­lic­it­ing mon­ey from play­ers.”

Actually, our ‘pro­posed’ Kickstarter AND pe­ti­tion very clear­ly state that all funds would go di­rect­ly to Firaxis”

Hmm… Well, we just can’t let you prof­it off our IP!”

There is no prof­it in­volved. We’re just try­ing to raise enough for art as­sets. The rest of the XCOM 2 mod­ders re­quest art help as well.”

After go­ing back and forth like this for an­oth­er few min­utes, I re­al­ized that they hadn’t even read the pro­posed Kickstarter and pe­ti­tion. After a year and half of de­vel­op­ment, they couldn’t be both­ered to take 5 min­utes to read a pro­pos­al that only stood to ben­e­fit them.

Well… We can’t let you keep the Kickstarter up, but we’re still hap­py to let you mod for free!”

(Paraphrased be­cause I fi­nal­ly burst out laugh­ing)

I’m sor­ry, but I can’t let my team con­tin­ue as free la­bor for a mega­corp worth over a bil­lion dol­lars if there is no po­ten­tial for a fu­ture. Have a good day.”

The call was ex­act­ly 6 min­utes, 27 sec­onds. The call hard­ly ne­ces­si­tat­ed the en­tire 30 minute ap­point­ment, and could have been eas­i­ly ac­com­plished on the pre­vi­ous Friday.

Here is how I would have han­dled it:

While the ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship of a game stu­dio cer­tain­ly can’t meet with every fan with a busi­ness pro­pos­al, mod­ders cov­ered in PC Gamer, Game Spot, and just about every ma­jor gam­ing pub­li­ca­tion should have earned a 15 minute Skype call. Even if Take Two had no in­ten­tion of ap­prov­ing the Kickstarter, it’s pro­fes­sion­al cour­tesy. After pre­sent­ing our pitch, they should have at least said, “While there is cer­tain­ly a lot of mer­it to your pro­pos­al, we’re un­for­tu­nate­ly un­able to al­lo­cate the re­sources at this time to ac­com­mo­date your Kickstarter. We’re in­cred­i­bly grate­ful for our mod­ding com­mu­ni­ty, and would be will­ing to re­vis­it this is­sue in a year or two if you con­tin­ue to build a player‐base, though we still can’t guar­an­tee any­thing then.”

That’s all that had to hap­pen. Honestly, for most mod­ders, just a “thank you” on a Skype call is more than enough mo­ti­va­tion to con­tin­ue de­vel­op­ing for an­oth­er 2 years, even if a pro­posed Kickstarter is de­clined. I know we cer­tain­ly would have!

Was this the fi­nal straw when it came to de­cid­ing to go your own way af­ter all this? Or had there al­ways been a con­tin­gency to make your own game if you hit a wall with what could be done with mod­ding?

Business is all about tak­ing a se­ries of cal­cu­lat­ed risks, and mit­i­gat­ing those risks when­ev­er pos­si­ble. While the StartUp Acqui‐hire busi­ness mod­el is used suc­cess­ful­ly in every oth­er in­dus­try, the Games Industry is still rel­a­tive­ly new, and hasn’t yet reached that lev­el of ma­tu­ri­ty. Across the Industry, we’re all try­ing to fig­ure out a way to em­pow­er mod­ders as the mid­dle mar­ket with fund­ing to re­al­ize their vi­sion. Paid mods for Skyrim didn’t seem to work, so it was worth try­ing a pro­posed Kickstarter.

As a way to mit­i­gate the risk of Take Two de­clin­ing our pro­posed Kickstarter, we de­vel­oped all our as­sets for (re)use in a mod­ern game en­gine. We’ve also been de­vel­op­ing for Amazon Lumberyard since their ma­jor 1.7 up­date, which re­leased about the same time Robert’s Industries an­nounced they would be “mov­ing” Star Citizen to Lumberyard.

Even with all that’s hap­pened, I still think mak­ing a full Dragonpunk game as a to­tal con­ver­sion at 10% of the cost was worth the risk. We prob­a­bly would have kept mod­ding for the next cou­ple years, had Take‐Two not stopped us. This sum­mer we were set to re­lease a Co‐Op ver­sion of Long War 2 that would al­low 4 play­ers in the same strat­e­gy cam­paign at the same time with the abil­i­ty to split up the tac­ti­cal mis­sion amongst the 4 play­ers. With just a few more months need­ed for de­vel­op­ment, we’re con­tem­plat­ing fin­ish­ing it, but we’ve just all been put off by how this whole sit­u­a­tion was han­dled.

Any hard feel­ings left for Firaxis or Take‐Two af­ter all this?

The ac­tu­al devs at Firaxis were won­der­ful, and will con­tin­ue to serve as my in­spi­ra­tion. Imagine work­ing the typ­i­cal game dev week, 60 – 80 hours, only to vol­un­teer ex­tra hours to help mod­ders. They are as bril­liant as they were help­ful. As a Software Lead at Lockheed Martin, I’d like to think I’m pro­fi­cient at cod­ing, yet the de­vel­op­ers at Firaxis con­sis­tent­ly hum­bled me with their vast in­sight into game de­vel­op­ment.

Take‐Two? Well, let’s just say this has made me more ap­pre­cia­tive of the pro­fes­sion­al­ism I see at Lockheed Martin on a dai­ly ba­sis. I’m cur­rent­ly co­or­di­nat­ing a team of 65 soft­ware, net­work, and sys­tem en­gi­neers, and we’re grow­ing to over 200 in the next year. I have an “open door” pol­i­cy, and wouldn’t dream of dis­cour­ag­ing a ju­nior en­gi­neer that want­ed to pitch an idea. Great ideas can come from any­where!

We see the team has been work­ing with, can you tell us about that part­ner­ship?

It’s been great work­ing with sim­play, They have been great at com­mu­ni­ca­tions and we are grate­ful to have them as part­ners in this jour­ney to­wards af­ford­able cloud gam­ing, their plat­form keeps get­ting bet­ter every­day and we’ve been pro­vid­ing a lot of feed­back in or­der to help them as much as pos­si­ble, as far as we see it we are in this ship to­geth­er so if one suc­ceeds we all do. As far as their beta — we’ve been able to run games at 1080P and at  30 – 60 FPS with min­i­mal over­head via their use of Amazon servers and great client op­ti­miza­tion.

Noticing that you are look­ing to get small busi­ness loans and every­thing to re­al­ly pro­pel Team Dragonpunk. That has to be pret­ty scary, but also damn ex­cit­ing. How are you and the team feel­ing about strik­ing out on your own?

US Army vet­er­ans are el­i­gi­ble for up to $500,000 in small busi­ness loans. As a dis­abled two‐war vet, I’ve been work­ing with Wells Fargo and M&T bank to se­cure that loan. As a busi­ness en­ti­ty, Dragonpunk will turn 2 years old this June. That’s con­sid­ered the ide­al time for lend­ing by small busi­ness in­vestors, be­cause the own­er has demon­strat­ed their re­solve and built brand val­ue.

We couldn’t be hap­pi­er about strik­ing out on our own. We’re re­vamp­ing our web­site and open­ing a new stu­dio in Boulder, Colorado. Once we’ve se­cured this loan, we’ll be of­fer­ing 1 year con­tracts for mul­ti­ple po­si­tions: Sr Character Artist, Sr Environment Artist, Technical Director, Animator, etc., as well as of­fer­ing paid in­tern­ships for CU Boulder stu­dents. As part of my com­mit­ment to ethics in game de­vel­op­ment, I refuse to let any­one work for free. Many ma­jors stu­dios have a re­quire­ment of 3 years of ex­pe­ri­ence for en­try lev­el jobs, and use this to jus­ti­fy years of un­paid in­tern­ships. We want to show the world that great games can still be made eth­i­cal­ly.

How has it been work­ing with Amazon’s Lumberyard? Any par­tic­u­lar rea­sons why you picked it over oth­er en­gines?

Amazon has been in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive, and Garnett Lee, Amazon Developer Support, has al­ready been im­mense­ly help­ful. There was some ini­tial con­cern in the Game Dev com­mu­ni­ty about Amazon Lumberyard’s longevi­ty, but Amazon has con­tin­u­al­ly proved it­self as the next big con­tender in gam­ing.

While it’s true that the en­gine is still at it’s in­fan­cy we see great fea­tures be­ing added on a reg­u­lar ba­sis (403 in the lat­est re­lease alone) and a bright fu­ture for the en­gine. So far Amazon has re­vi­tal­ized sev­er­al in­dus­tries, and there is no rea­son to ex­pect the games in­dus­try will be dif­fer­ent. Both play­ers and de­vel­op­ers alike have been wait­ing for just such a change!

Did you plan on tak­ing a nice lit­tle break be­fore start­ing on the new project? I know I would!

Absolutely not. Amazon Lumberyard 1.7 came out January 27th, and we’ve been hav­ing a great time work­ing through all the new fea­tures. We have a lot of work to do in Amazon Lumberyard be­fore we start hir­ing this sum­mer. While most cloud gam­ing plat­forms sim­ply host ex­ist­ing games, we’ve al­ready be­gun de­vel­op­ing Lumberyard com­po­nents to stream the graph­ics di­rect­ly to the play­er. Essentially, we’re op­ti­miz­ing the en­gine at it’s very core for cloud gam­ing to even fur­ther re­duce band­width re­quire­ments.

What are the kinds of things you would like to do in a new game now that you on a new en­gine that you couldn’t when mod­ding an ex­ist­ing game?

Scope” is where most game devs get in trou­ble, be­cause we be­gin to imag­ine “what could be”, as op­posed to “what the fund­ing al­lows”. Because mak­ing an XCOM 2 to­tal con­ver­sion would have only cost $1 mil­lion, the Dragonpunk mods would have been more feature‐rich than our up­com­ing Dragonpunk demo in Amazon Lumberyard. Next‐Gen games eas­i­ly cost $10-$20 mil­lion, so a $500,000 demo is go­ing to have a very nar­row scope. Essentially, this Dragonpunk demo will high­light the ca­pa­bil­i­ty for ad­vanced graph­ics on Amazon Cloud that are years be­yond con­soles, lever­age the in­sane amount of com­put­ing pow­er on Amazon Cloud (more civil­ians and a more “alive” world), and be­gin to com­mu­ni­cate the tone and lore of the Dragonpunk Universe. If we are able to find full fund­ing af­ter the com­ple­tion of the demo, well, the sky’s the lim­it!

Any part­ing words for your fans, fol­low­ers, and any new­com­ers?

Thank you all your sup­port on Twitter in the past, and for play­ing our XCOM 2 mods. Thank you for your pa­tience now while we switch­ing game en­gines! Thank you in ad­vance check­ing out Dragonpunk on Amazon Cloud in the fu­ture!

Last, and ar­guably most im­por­tant… who would win? Pirates or Ninjas?  

If the Nassau mem­o­ries from Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag have taught me any­thing, it’s the pi­rates can’t be de­feat­ed in a straight fight; not by the East India Company and not by Ninjas (though his­to­ry may dis­agree). So pi­rates in a straight fight, and nin­jas if they wait long enough for the Pirates to pass out from too much rum.

Google Has Been Under Investigation For Labor Practices In the US For Over Two Years
SAG‐AFTRA Strike Negotiations and the December 1st Deadline
The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent be­low.
Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor‐in‐Chief and do‐er of tech things at SuperNerdLand