Tea ‘n’ Cake


A Variety Of Things That Were Done!

Hi Everybody. Sure. It’s a lazy title given that almost every week I do a variety of coding, designing, animating, and arting… Why is “arting” not a word? Is art supposed to be too metaphysical to be a verb or something? meh. Nevermind that, I need to get on talking about nothing in particular including some non-dev stuff.

Since last week I was being specific and made a long post with a video and some potentially very helpful information, I thought I’d be unhelpful and blog about what I’ve been up to this week since I spent three days tidying my house and doing some DIY.  Basically I took 3 days off to gut a room and build a wall. No! It wasn’t for keeping the immigrants out. It was just a partition to give my kids their own space without technically forcing them into their own rooms. Also unlike ‘that wall’ there was good support for it and it got built on schedule. Furthermore, you can’t just climb over it with a ladder, as there is a roof in the way.

Wall

How to build a wall in 3 easy steps. The easy steps are not the 3 images seen here. The easy steps are. Plan and measure carefully, do your research on the internet, then decide if you can do it or need to get someone else in and pay them a huge some of money because it’s really expensive. Too expensive for me obviously because I had to build it myself.  As you’d guess, the part that takes the longest is tidying and clearing the damn room in the first place.

Moving swiftly on.. As soon as I typed that I realized I’d also tidied that I’d also started tidying the office and finally got round to taking down the infamous Taylor Swift wall montage/stalker shrine. Even though Chantelle hasn’t been here for months I’m pretty sure she would have still felt it being taken down from afar and will be sending me a strongly worded letter.

TaeWall

I do want to stress that while I mentioned I did some tidying. I did not by any stretched of the imagination get the office actually tidy, just a little less messy.

Let’s move on to something more game related and talk about Ben’s endeavors in the art world. Ben has made a nice space ship that is stylistically quite different from the original one, being half way between the U.S.S Enterprise, and a space car from the Jetsons. I’ll pop a picture below showing the new ship exterior and interior, compared the the first pass standard ship.

BothShips

Yes. It is orange, and no, I don’t know why he made it orange. It still has sections that change to the team color so it gets some ‘interesting’ colour combos going on. It’s quite nice though. Ben still struggles with various things as you’d expect, such as sticking to any kind of reasonable poly count, and learning to use the tools for a job rather than complaining that the metaphorical hammer does not screw in the metaphorical screw.  He also has a keen interest in detail which can get in the way of finishing the job, as he likes to put detail in places where it will literally never been seen except in screen grabs like this. Still, he’s getting there and I look forward to seeing his continued improvement. He on the other hand, looks forward to me taking a look at it in game and finding out why it explodes as soon as its paint gets scratched. My guess would be the cheap Italian bodywork, but I suppose it could be an incorrect data value or code bug. I’m not as fussed about that right now since I have other stuff to do, and he’s going to have to change some things with both the interior and exterior anyway to accommodate a few features that aren’t in the game yet. By that time I’m hoping he will have gained the skill to manage his polycounts a bit better too.

I’ve been working on making the basic characters for the game. I’m on their second iteration now and still haven’t decided how far along the stylized route I want to take them. Originally they had no feet but even when tiny, feet help to make a moving character more readable. I do want to still keep them low polygon though: hundreds rather than thousands of polys, so fingers and all the muscle definition of base male and female models has to go. I’ll probably talk about it a bit more next week. The last thing I have been involved with is my ongoing battle to sort out my end of year taxes. Business paperwork is something I truly despise doing, so I will not be talking about it in more detail next week, or at any time. In fact I’m pretty sure that the only time I will mention it is to complain about how much I dislike doing it.

Right. We are done here unless you do the social media thing on TwitterFacebook, and Youtube. Bye for now.

 

 

 

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The Complexity of Simplicity

Screenshot (274)

See the picture above. That is an explosion which could be used to demonstrate the concepts that I’ll be talking about this week, but instead I’m just going to leave it there, completely detached from this weeks dev diary except by happenstance to demonstrate that the inside of a ship blows up when the outside does. Perhaps after the reading of this post some thinkers amongst you might retroactively manage to attribute the title concept to this image, but I’m not doing the work for you. Right!. Onwards with the danger of being somewhat serious and even potentially useful.. If you are interested in game design, that is. If you aren’t then… erm.. “I’m halfway through making the the front end. Thank you for stopping by. See you next week”

This image is the very first menu that was in the game.

MenuOriginal

It’s very simple, and suits the purposes of the game fine… except it doesn’t. Nowhere near in fact. It was perhaps fine when there was a single level and each avatar was a single ship, on a different team,  but the game is more complex than that and we wanted to offer more options for how a group might want to play. We’d also like to make it look a little nicer… maybe.

SpaceTimeFirstTimerPlayers3

Here we go. Now We can level select, and in some fairly unclear way we can see some kind of team selection, but the difficulty here is multidimensional. That isn’t me being metaphorical, there are literally more than two dimensions needed for the setup of a ship if I want players to be able to choose all the things I want them to. Each player, needs to be able to choose a team, and a ship, so the only possible way to do this is to have a two stage process or work with a more complex selection system that can be understood and used. I realized early on that what I was really looking for was a three dimensional menu rather than a layered one, and that is how we moved onto the placeholder 3D menu.

NewFrontEnd01

From this menu the player can do almost all of the things they need to (but not level select). They can bring ships into the game, select which ship they are going to get onto, and also select the team colour of each ship involved in the fray, or not have them in the game at all. The current issue is that it’s almost completely static so while the functionally is there, none of it is even in the slightest bit obvious. It’s also ugly as sin…

HangarDeck

OK. Reasonable visual improvement.  The perspective change was created so that we weren’t messing around with scales. In the previous menu system the ships were half their actual size, and the characters were four times their actual size. It not only looked a little weird, but also caused a few problems since these characters are the same ones used inside the game i.e. speeds and distances could not be consistent so I had to either hack them for the menu, or create a separate prefab that would need to be updated every time the characters changed.  This was now the direction that we wanted to go. The level select layer still needed to be added and I’m confident I know how that is going to be handled, and you might even spot where it’s built into the design already. Next came the real challenge which is what the title of this post refers to. Conveying information to the player. Ben’s idea was simple.

HangarDeckUpdating

The main reason I’m including this image is because Ben spent a fair bit of time putting this together. When I told him it was all wrong and it goes against my design, he said he thought that I was intending to let my original design choices fall by the wayside. I was not. I fully understand why he might have thought that since implementing my intentions, while making the game simpler to the user, was going to be a significant challenge. Even if I’m completely wrong and have to redo it all (which is always a possibility I have to bear in mind), I’m determined to follow through on my design principles rather than leaving the ‘how to play’ aspect until later in development and then just shoehorning in a solution that mostly works. This time I really want a solution that sits as part of the gaming experience.

FrontEnd02

I can use my past successes/failures to explain this situation. For the most part, the Living Dungeon was a great game, and those who spent time playing it, by and large got to understand it and thrive on the challenges and opportunists the game allowed,  but understanding those mechanics was a significant barrier to entry and the first thirty minutes of the game was effectively a long tutorial that didn’t truly let the player just have fun until afterwards. Strangely, you can expect that kind of thing,  and be fine with it, in a huge triple-A title where you mostly already know what you are doing, but in a no name title you can afford to impulse buy, you usually want to just pick it up and have fun right? (That’s partly getting in to my failures as a marketer and how I failed to get my game to it’s intended audience. so I’m going to get back on track now). My point is that some players will invest the time in your game to figure it out and put up with any pacing issues or confusions you create, but they don’t owe that to you.

Team_Colours_On

To Avoid that incredibly slow start on our next niche and hugely complicated title, “Dead Exit” we gave the player a very quick and fleeting tutorial, with multiple additional, optional methods of learning more about how to play. First there was a basic tutorial, then a basic, how to play video, then a full written list of the rules that the players could go over at their leisure. If they wanted some further understanding there were even some youtube videos demonstrating synergies, and some more advanced tactics. Again, for many players this was all good and time after time high scoring reviews would comes and say “Once you start to understand the game it’s a lot of fun and very deep”. That’s high praise and we are grateful for it, but it still meant that plenty of players would pick up the game, not be able to understand it, and just chuck it to the side in favour of something simpler or even just more familiar. There are many good reasons that most big digital card battle games just follow one of a couple of formulas. Familiarity with a little bit of novelty is often far more appealing than something completely alien. Combine familiar gameplay with a recognizable brand name and you have a no risk sizable audience. Only an idiot like me would try and do something completely different, deliberately keep it looking very much like a physical card game, and have no brand identity to speak of. I would have been far smarter trying to get a licensing deal with absolutely any zombie franchise just to have a small built in audience to allow my game mechanics to grow naturally from that. Now I am getting into my failures as a businessman, but I promise that both my weaknesses in both marketing and business are relevant to this post. I’m no good at either, and while I hope to improve one day, in the mean time I must try to find design solutions to compensate. As stupid as that sounds, it’s what I’m attempting.

Screenshot (116)

By the game’s completion (still hopeful I will be able to complete this game), there will be no words at all. Front end, tutorials, missions, weapons etc, etc. None of these things will have text explaining what to do. Nor will their be voice overs or videos. The players will need to figure out everything as they go. There will be hints, lights, psychological triggers, and even some little animations that infuse the player with understanding. They will learn by doing, and they will do what they want. The plan is to put some design understanding into guiding the player to do what they want out of curiosity or desire. I realize to most people this might sound like nonsense, but to designers and authors this should make sense. The idea of “giving people the choice to do what you would like them to, and have them thinking it’s their choice” is not a new one, and even though the front end is far from finished, the principle can be demonstrated by what we have already done in this badly put together video where I also go over some of the things I already mentioned in this post (for the illiterate among you who missed it).

As Always, feel free to get in touch via the usual thingummies. Those being TwitterFacebook, and Youtube. Bye for now.

 

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Social Mediocraty… And Explosions

MiningDrone02

There was no blog last week and I don’t even feel guilty about it. That’s because… well, it’s a blog. I didn’t kill anyone or steal someones lunch. Geeeeez, get off your moral 15 blogs a week high horse. OK. Take a minute to get over your ‘lack of blog’ rage… There we go, just breath, it’ll all be fine. There are a few other things you can find on the internet that are entertaining, such as other game dev blogs, and the constant cultural battle that runs across the internet wherever there aren’t gifs of cute animals and people falling over.

First things first. The week before that we had James in doing stuff. He was a 14 year old that we used for child labour, or at least we would have used him for child labour if what we did wasn’t technical and required years of training. We actually only made him do testing for one morning. Every other day he was getting a crash course in one of the various aspects of game development. Turns out he’d rather slit his wrists than spend any more time doing iterative concept art/design, but on the bright side he was able to pick up some of the basics of coding pretty well. So much so in fact, that by the end of the week we had him do a simple little script for the game.

The mining bot you see above was what I built based on his concepts.  I’m trying to keep things pretty low poly, with decent color blocking. The reasons for this are simple. 1: objects in the game are generally small on screen so that the gameplay comes first, so objects need to be clear and identifiable from a distance wherever possible, and 2: Low polygon stuff takes relatively very little time to make compared to high detail sculpts. I could put some nice detail in the textures, but a lot of that can be done using modern smart materials to avoid every object becoming a time sink of attempted artistic perfection. These are the kinds of choices indies often face. You can make a lot of simple stuff, or a small amount of really high detail stuff… or you can develop your game for the best part of a decade.  I’m a designer so if I don’t create something original at least once every couple of years my brain would squirt out of my ears like a  double ended strawberry super soaker.

As for James, he’s off to live the rest of his life and hopefully (assuming he doesn’t get kidnapped by aliens and drafted into an interstellar war,) keep up with what he started doing on his work experience. At the very least he managed to do a little bit of code that moves the bot around some points randomly and turn to face the next one. It’s a small step. The first steps always are.

 

MiningDrone

That was the week before last. Last week was something different. While all my fellow local devs were headed down to Brighton for some wheeling and dealing (or often just partying in the sunshine), I decided to go in the opposite direction. That isn’t a metaphor or anything. I literally just went North for the 1Up North Gaming Expo. It wasn’t the biggest or fanciest show but it was a very honest one and could very well be the start of something much larger and more exciting for the future of gaming in the North. It was just a few rooms of enthusiastic volunteers and some of us local devs showing off a few of our creations, but as I said earlier, the first steps are always small.

It’s safe to say I had a really good time, and as you’d expect from me I took no pictures for social media at all. Instead, I played some fun games and met some other great indie devs such as the talented team from the fabulously named High Tea Frog. If you like combining beautiful video games with angry faced tasty cupcakes, then look no  further.  We have several things in common such as, we don’t update our website anywhere nearly as often as we should do and neither of us have an official page for our current games. So you’ll have to just follow them on twitter instead @highteafrog. If they happen to read this silly blog they must now reply on twitter with a nice picture of one of their cakes. I mentioned a favourite on Sunday so let’s test their memory too. The challenge has been laid before you Froggies!

HighTeaFrog

Also of note: The above is their logo. It’s cute and shows that they are either carefree people who didn’t think much about their logo, or have a dark sense of humour and thought about it too much, making their logo a metaphor suggesting indie development may be a lot like the old slow boiling frog fable: everything seems fine and you just don’t realise you’re being boiled alive until it’s too late. Who knows, you’d have to ask them.

I should probably mention at some point that we were in fact  showing off Space Time! at the event. The response to the game was expected to be positive, but the sheer lunatic level enthusiasm of some of the kids was fantastic to witness, especially since we’d been working on it locked in a room for weeks with no feedback. Our usual testing audience is whichever random students we can grab from the university, but this was a great event that saw the game tested by 5 year old boys and their mums alike… and then saw those 5 year old boys show absolutely no mercy in dispatching their mothers with tactical nuclear weaponry, but isn’t that just how it always goes.

I’ll expand more on what we learned and the changes we made to the game during the week, but for now I just want to once again thank the whole team at the 1Up North Gaming Expo for a great week and I absolutely wish them the best in taking the ideas and the event forward. The industry, and the community, can only benefit from their hard work and dedication.

On a less serious note, mid way through UV mapping the mining bot the unwrap looked like a bunny.

bunnyrabbit

And now for a seamless segway into a social media plug. Why not follow us on  TwitterFacebook, and Youtube. Bye for now.

 

 

 

 

 

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Spool Up The Jump Drive!

Welcome back to another episode of me just talking crap. From the title of this week’s blog you might have guessed I’m a Battlestar Gallactica Fan. I did enjoy it very much overall, and especially loved the very reality grounded look and feel of the tech. I wasn’t big into the spiritual side of things […]

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What’s the Verb for Boundary?

Clank! Clank! Bink! Bink! That’s the noise of things being tinkered with and “mostly” being fixed. Still a lot to get through in the next few weeks but at least there are some visual changes as you can see in the image above. You may also notice that there is an obvious collision bug. Specifically, the […]

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Things Divided by 2

Lots of little things have been happening, although admittedly, the blog being updated hasn’t been one of them. The most amusing thing that has happened is that the world has been properly scaled. All the ships and particle effects and various other things have been shrunk to undo when they were made twice the size […]

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How Do You Steer This Thing?!?

Hey everyone. It’s been a while. Part of that was unavoidable and part of that has been a series of failures on my part. There’s nothing particularly comforting to admit when a problem becomes insurmountable, but it’s worse when you have to admit to yourself that it never was, and only seemed that way because internally […]

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Droning On

This week the accompanied video was recorded on Ben’s machine rather than mine. He was also kind enough to do the editing which is why the video is of vastly superior quality to the usual bare bones rubbish I upload. The reason for this is that the game is currently in pieces on my machine […]

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And Then It Turned on Me!

I talked about the entity controller last week, and this week I’m going to talk about it again. Specifically I’m going to talk about thirty lines of code and a public boolean. That boolean is named “Is Human” The result is shown in the video above, and despite being very rudimentary it was surprisingly effective […]

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Talking Ship

I may go off the rails a little this week, because I’m struggling emotionally to do some things. I’m not having a problem working hard at all, just having a problem bringing myself to stop working on Space Time to do a few other things that need done such as dev diaries/ social media, and continuing […]

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