About Past Future Entertainment


Past Future Entertainment is an independent game developer specializing in (video) game design and the creation of realistic 3D environments, with a focus on quality, innovation and creativity.

An example of the translation of a 2D design into an interactive 3D terrain, at correct scale.

Would you notice the character and forest assets shown in the video above were purchased and licensed for commercial use, it it was not written here? Would you create generic assets like rocks or trees by yourself, or pay for their creation, while you can license quality assets for a price? You would waste precious development time and money, which can now instead be used to focus on what makes a game stand out: the content, the gameplay and the unique assets that truly make the difference in your project. Possibilities have changed a lot and will continue to evolve. It has not become easier however: leveraging these options mean that you now have to curate and adapt stuff, and follow up on updates. But can you achieve more these days as an independent developer? A big yes is the answer!

Mission

Past Future Entertainment’s mission is to move the boundaries on what’s possible with minimal resources, by realizing and sharing new, ambitious projects through innovative, different approaches.

This includes leveraging newly developed and tested atypical workflows, combined with new options, opportunities, tools, and an attitude to embrace continuous education, change and adaptation.

A Different approach

For video games, Past Future Entertainment specializes in level/world design and the 3D environment creation based on those designs. The environments are seen as the main pillars of own productions. At Past Future Entertainment, the game world terrains and environments are created prior to the implementation of most game functionalities and mechanics.

This is approached with a proper planning and testing phase first though, keeping functional and technical designs in constant consideration. Most functional development is added only after the main, desired ambient look and feel for the game’s intended vision are already achieved: the environment where all will take place must feel like “Yes, this is it!”.

Building further on top of that with implementing functional features guards this established “feel”. All interaction, functionality, and graphical user interface elements should either fit with this or improve it. Otherwise, they must be adapted. It is Past Future Entertainment’s choice to work in a different order.

Imported and stitched terrain, with a basic “clay” material applied for a better view during manual polishing.

Yes, this approach is atypical. Games are usually developed with an initial focus on functional development. Why Past Future Entertainment chooses to work like this? Because the game environment literally “sets the scene” for the games worked on. On top of that, it is also easier to adapt functionalities in later stages of development than changing a terrain or removing part of an environment where everything in the game is taking place on. Of course – depending on the game and genre, this approach can be irrelevant in some cases. We are focusing on 3rd person (A)RPG projects with a realistic art style in this article.

An empty piece of polished terrain with a basic material setup applied.

This take on the order of development is only one part of Past Future Entertainment’s overall workflow and approach. The creative vision and feel of a game design is carefully guarded at all stages and enhanced with fitting sound design and in-house crafted ambient music productions, also adding more “feel” to the “looks”. Found out what works? Great! Then it’s possible to continue to the next stages of development, after making sure the environment runs within the desired frame rate for a project. As you might know, game graphics are rendered in real-time by the computer hardware – they are not prerecorded like movies – and thus need to be optimized to run smoothly on the targeted platforms at intended quality settings. Most of a game’s performance optimization actually happens on the visuals – read: the environments. A minimum of 30 to ideally 60 frames per second on target hardware is desired for a smooth user experience.

3D environment blockout of a 16th-century European city – click for full resolution

The business plan for Past Future Entertainment won an award as a top-6 finalist in the category “small” of the yearly business plan contest of Flanders (Belgium), organised by Bizidee in 2018. This edition of the contest had some 110 applicants. This was the year before the company was founded (2019): also new businesses need strong plans and designs, a mission and vision, along with goals on both short and long term. Also, what if plan X fails, or Y happens? If you decide to take the risk of starting a new business, a strong plan is a good aid, but reality never turns out as planned. It can be worth it to be a bit prepared for this and think of alternative scenarios to fall back to, in a world where the word “change” seems to be one of the most important “constants”.

Pitching the startup plan for a business plan contest’s jury members during the finale.

The value of game design

A strong and flexible design proves to be an invaluable foundation for new games and entertainment creations to get them to efficient realization.

Dialog window example. Graphical User Interfaces are faster to design in editing software like Photoshop, on top of prototype screenshots of their situational use cases. This goes much faster than working in a game engine. When a design decision is made outside of the engine, it is easier to stick to during implementation.

(Video) game design encompasses game (world) design, spanning from crafting believable fictional settings, game world maps and lore to inventing convincing characters, stories, quests, systems, rules, items, player motivations and rewards up to manuals, game design documents and visual overview charts. All those things and even more parts – depending on the project – together form the instructions for the whole rest of the production.

Click here to see an example on (secondary) quest design for an in-house project.
The quest ratings in the right top are scores from 0-3 given by multiple proofreaders, to determine which quests need extra work, which ones are the strongest and need more attention, and which ones don’t really add a lot of value to the overall design and are better removed to keep the overall quality high.

Here you see a piece of a final 2D world map design. One pixel translates to exactly 4 meters in the final terrain for the 3D environment, and each square equals 1km² in the game. A layer with colored reference numbers for landmarks and relevant points of interest is not shown here but is highly advised to keep track of your content.

Ideally, the game design also includes a one-pager and a clear visual overview scheme of all relevant building blocks and stages of the whole project. Not only the project manager and producer, but also marketing people and people in other roles in a game’s production pipeline or team can benefit from the insights coming with such an overview of the big picture .

Manual terrain adjustments were required to fix some river elevations, as they should always stream down.
A black & white image mask created from the 2D world map to use as a stencil for reference in Unreal Engine.

By investing in a strong game design, Past Future Entertainment believes all subsequent parts of the production can be better and more efficiently planned, required assets, skills, technical approaches, and functionalities get more clearly defined, and all relevant information can easily be communicated to other or future team members, developers, testers or other future stakeholders. If the production needs a pitch deck to raise funding, these resources can prove to be of invaluable help. Proofreaders and their feedback are invaluable to improve on designs: removing the weakest points, clarifying what is not clear to the readers.

Paper prints make it easy for proofreaders to draw remarks, and read your design when offline (thus, less distracted by other stuff). Digital documents do have the advantage of annotations. For this particular project, a physical version was delivered to keep control over the order of the information: proofreaders won’t scroll from here to there, and specific feedback documents with questions were put in place after each relevant subject and chapter.

For both video games and tabletop projects, the design phase continues during the creation of functional prototypes and is iterated upon to improve the products based on findings, feedback and gained insights. Depending on the project, some elements of game design can be translated and reused into product media, information pages on the game’s website and in other (social) media and marketing: you don’t have to start from scratch for any of those tasks.

To solve complex design problems, sometimes even multiple monitors do not suffice. While usually avoiding printouts, it did help to connect the final dots of this particular challenge: deciding on the end of a main quest.

During all phases of game design and development, the project scope, budget, technical requirements, implementation workflows, tools, game engine and other software updates, optimizations, end-user hard-and software, unavoidable unexpected changes and new opportunities are taken into constant evaluation.


It is very important to dedicate some time thinking about those things, evaluating them in the context of your project and then making clear decisions before moving further. Evaluating a horde of options is a process that can seem daunting but can actually be quite fun. Milestones, external deadlines and timed goal setting can help here, as it is possible to get stuck in this process for long.

References are divided into pieces to create reusable modular 3D assets from, used for multiple building variations.
Modular approach on creating historical bridges for 3D environments.

Example of the old way of 3D, modeling buildings in one piece.

While when working with sets of carefully curated modular parts, fitting a defined grid size – much like LEGO bricks – you can create virtually endless, instanced combinations and variations.

Tabletop projects

In close collaboration with Erik De Vis, Past Future Entertainment started a tabletop project with the goal to invent and create new tabletop games.

We started with inviting people we knew that we thought could be interested, but soon we had to stop invitations because too much people were interested.

At the time, COVID regulations were still in effect: we hired a venue but spacing and mouth masks was still an obligation in public places. So we were only able to fit fourteen people in the room.

Due to COVID measures at the time, we could only fit fourteen people in the hired venue for the info session.

All 14 participants of the info session were interested to join the project’s first run.
We had to decide on a monthly date, and that was no easy decision. We had to choose the weekday most people were able to join in, and settled for eight participants who were able to attend the sessions at the same time slots.

We recorded the presentation for the info session about the trajectory for people who could not attend.

The first session, a brainstorm, brought a long list of ideas, of which a short list was selected using a voting system with all participants. When we arrived to only a few remaining concepts, teams of four people were formed. Over a period of two years, once per month, a session with a different focus was organized. Mostly this were physical sessions, as this was required for development and testing.

Brainstorm
Brainstorm session with participants of “Table TOP“, Past Future Entertainment’s “from idea to game” trajectory.

For tabletop projects, game designs mostly translate into paper and cardboard prototypes for testing & iteration. A 3D printers can also come in handy for crafting some custom required objects. The games were tweaked and adapted until the point both the test players and the creators were satisfied.
Then, an art style was defined, and the game rules and content finalized.

Once per month, a session with a different focus was organized.

The fact that two teams participated in the trajectory made it so that both teams were challenged to present a new version or preparations for a new milestone to the other team for testing and feedback during a following session. This helped to accelerate the projects forward, and not to remain stuck on making decisions.

Why

Past Future Entertainment was founded by Wouter De Block. He ended as finalist in Larian studio’s “design your own game” contest back in 2011 and is designing (video) games since childhood. After studying film for a year, finishing a bachelor’s degree in applied informatics and following one year of digital arts and entertainment at Howest in Kortrijk, he worked for five years as an IT-consultant. He continued to study game development by himself on the side, designing one particular game concept during many evenings, nights, weekends and vacations. More news on this game project will be announced when the time is right.

Ready for the next move! – 3D render of a chess set made in one of many courses during a long learning journey.

While looking for a new challenge to fit this creative drive, there seemed to be no open vacancies for game design or game development jobs in the wide area.
So, the decision was made to start a company to go for this dream, to be able to do this: creating the opportunity itself. After diving into tens of online courses, business starter guides, a whole trajectory of seminars, and gathering answers to some hundreds of questions, Past Future Entertainment saw the light.

Past Future Entertainment

So here we are now, working on a passion game project and a few other creative endeavors. It was far from a walk in the park in the past, and it won’t be in the future. But, overcoming challenges comes with growth, and ultimately there will be fun products to share with the world. Hopefully, you will enjoy the results.

Past Future Entertainment is 100% privately funded. This choice enables the company to keep 100% control over all creative productions, and the execution of the mission and vision. That does include some risks, but reflects the firm belief in a successful outcome. Daily, consistent action propels the creations forward.

If you want to support this endeavor and boost the chances for these projects to succeed, you can do that here: https://ko-fi.com/pastfutureentertainment

Written by Wouter De Block.

The sky's not the limit!
Past Future Entertainment’s name comes from the fact that the video game projects within own IP are usually inspired by the past, but created for the future.