Monday, December 29, 2008

Proto R-Type

Err, Proto R-Type was the only thing I could think for with "proto" in it when I entered the title in the box. Now I'm thinking protoplasm or Protoman. Right, so anyway I went in and made some new changes, and then promptly got rid of them. The Idea was to install the bits that control if the pages turn when you get to the edge of the screen or not, as part of the book conceit. So I got a prototype working and started playing with it. There were two outcomes. The first was that I made it really slow, but then that killed any sense of rhythm that you'd established with the platforming. In other words it just didn't flow. It struck me almost like I was trying to hide a loading screen or something like that. So I sped it up. Then it was too fast and whizzed by so quickly as to produce a sense of disorientation. So too slow and it was crap and too fast it was epileptic. Maybe, the page turning in a finished state would provide a different experience, but I still think that the rhythm would be ruined. If the game was slower paced then I could see it. But you can get through the game quick and if you're playing correctly you probably will be.
So I discarded that, but realized that I had the option of modifying the code that I'd created to do a screen scroll like in Zelda. After all, the levels and the art match up, so it should be seamless. So I started tweaking and it just didn't work either. I mean, the code worked and it looks great, but the same issue is still present - the groove was compromised as a result. I took it out again.
Maybe, just maybe I'm used to looking at the game a certain way and maybe I'm thinking that any changes to the rhythm will be bad by default. But this is a platforming game. If the timing doesn't feel good, if you never get "into" it, then it just stops working. Mario has a certain rhythm, Sonic games (the good ones) have a different rhythm, PoP has a different one altogether, but that feel is part of the core gameplay and something that I am very remiss to want to change too much. Of course I will keep that little code snippet for the next thing - which will be slower paced. I think it would work really well there.

- In Porting news, I've sent the Source to The Programmer so he can get started. After looking at the Source (yes, it's Capitalized like the Source in the Matrix) it dawned on me what an undertaking the port would be. It is Huge and will take a good long time. I originally had trepidation about sending the Source to somebody else. I mean, it could be stolen now for all I know. But then again, why would a Programmer want to show off my admittedly crappy code and sloppy syntax? If nothing else that would preclude them from any kind of programming work. One the other hand, doing a cross language port and doing optimizations is just the kind of thing a Programmer could be really proud of. I think that's the case here. Besides, I get the feeling that a finished C# port would be cleaner than my code, so when it is up to spec I think I'll end up using that version as the shipped version anyway. Then I can say that all of the code was done by the Programmer - which would then be true.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Paradigm Shift

We've reached some kind of milestone now. After stumbling blindly through the dark in an attempt to define the look of the game I think that we got it now. The new Artist posed the idea originally. When I told him that I wanted the game to have a story book kind of feel he asked, "What, with turning pages?" To which I said, "No, that's not quite right for the look that I'm going for." Skip ahead a week later and I began to look at the idea again. Originally thinking that the idea wasn't right, I tried thinking about why it wasn't. After all, there is no defined look yet is there? Not in any real sense at least.
Then the ideas started coming. First the look of the game itself. I envisioned the central visual conceit of the game being that it literally takes place inside a story book. So the pages turn at the edges of the screen. The backgrounds are drawn on ancient looking pages that show the clear passage of time. The art, well, in my mind the art looks as worn as the pages themselves, with thick outlines of ink and bleeding like the book got wet once. So the level of detail could be as much or as little as the artist would like. Heck, the pages themselves could even be missing pieces or have parts of the background art faded from age.
From a game perspective the book idea could work too. The Animator had the idea of breaking the fourth wall. Personally, I'm not feeling it, mostly due to the engine tweaking required. But I do like the idea of using the book for many of the other pieces. The Pause menu could be its own page that is flipped to. The Saves could be represented as bookmarks in the book and flipped to as well. The stage select drawn like a Table of Contents. The conceit could be pushed along very far indeed and give the entire game the artistic center to really bring it all together.
Of course, this idea is just a wrapper for the core gameplay, but it would be some very delicious candy.

-So, the plan for today is to build a function that will simulate the turning of the pages. Not the final one yet, since I'm thinking that the pages would have the art on them somehow as they turn, but as test to see if the turning thing will screw up the gameplay.

-Also got my Post Mortem done. I'd post it here, but much of it is just a summary of the things I complained about in the diary itself. Redundancy is redundant. So I'll get that proofread by a few people and get that out. Maybe I could have an article published. That would be cool I think.

- Oh, and another random thing has happened. The download limit has been reached. So I'll repost the IGF version of the game again. This means that 10 different people have downloaded it and/or enjoyed it. That's kind of cool.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Opposite of Failure

Joys. Joys in every direction of every flavour. Right now I'm a massive Glee Robot rampaging through Tokyo destroying everything with my face mounted Happy Rockets (provided by the fine people over at Happy Happy Joy Joy Demolitions Inc). "Why?" somebody could ask. "For what reason is Tokyo being leveled once again? What god has cursed us with this un-saddness that has wrought doom upon these fine folks?" I just got my final grade in the last class that I needed to get my first degree and I passed. Like I said before, it wasn't pretty or anything, but I did it. This is a good, if eventful year. First I get Thief in for IGF and now, I've gotten my A.A. Degree. It's one more thing, and now new jobs should open up, new vistas are available and new opportunities to do what I love are mine for the taking.

-It almost makes my want to Riverdance. Almost, wait for it. Ah, no, it's passed now.

-Ah, I was wrong! *Riverdances*

- I'm good now...lies! *Riverdances...again*

- Ah, right. I do have game news today too. Kevin found me a programmer. Now here's the issue I have. The first is that, I already built the engine. I could hand it over and then help debug as necessary, but I built it so I already know, or can quickly figure out, bugs. So I would love a programmer, but what the heck would I do with one? Jeez, even the scripting isn't something that I need a programmer for, as it's all either A) Super basic or B) going to me a movie. The one thing I got, is to port the engine to C#. That would put the game into a language that can be put on XNA and Creator Clubbed (like a seal). Putting our game in as front of as many people as possible is kind of the whole point after all.

-CID does not regret the seal clubbing joke. CID does regret dragging the Glee Robot analogy out past where is was still clever and/or amusing.

"Joygasm", noun, totally made up word. Def : A pleasurable, yet explosive discharge of joy.
antonym : self, killing

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Art House, in the Middle of the Street...

Yesterday I met Ron, and today there are decent odds he is reading this. I always find it hard to point people here about the project, and then talk about them in the third person, but ce la vie. So I went in not knowing what to expect. Some part of me thought I was going to meet some 14 year old wunderkind, but I was pleasantly surprised instead. He's seems like he knows what he's talking about and the often awkward way that I meet new people didn't seem to immediately put him off. He also caught the whole point of the project right off the bat - that it's a portfolio for the members to showcase their work. So that's cool. What I was expecting was for him to do the character renders and designs, which he has agreed to to. What surprised me and what I wasn't prepared for was for Ron's interest in doing the backgrounds. Turns out he is an illustrator at heart and the idea of getting almost free reign to do the kind of work on the backgrounds that he likes is very appealing. So I'm optimistic, even though I have no title for him yet. The Background Artist? The Character Artist? I have no idea.

-What we need in the meantime is some kind of schedule, and that falls on me as The Producer to create. The main problem is this : if we get picked up for IGF, then the whole plan goes right out the window as we all go into Defcon 5. Further exacerbating the problem is that we're all up ended on the schedule. Pre-Production was non-existent for the IGF build and assets were created as fast as they could be and approved on the spot. Now, we need to go back and re-do some artwork. But, I'm already way, way ahead on creating levels and am in the middle of the 3rd level or about Chapter 5 (The Cliffs) and almost to 6 (The Castle Wall). So for right now, the schedule is based on getting everybody up to date with the work so a decent workflow can be established. Hopefully the last 2 Chapters will be easier than the first 2.

-Right, so the tentative (non-IGF) Schedule.

For The Illustrator
Character Designs for :
The Castle Guards
The Royal Guard (Fencers)
The Grand Skeleton (Boss Skeleton Character)
The General (Lead Knight)
The Guard Captain (Lead Guard)
The Princess

Concept Art for:
The Prison
The Warehouse
The Cavern
The Crypt

Target Art screens.

-For the Target Screens what I'm looking for are some finished backgrounds that can be used as a kind of template. Once we have some of those we can really zero in on what the game will eventually look like, plus we'll be able to show other artists what the game will/does look like later down the line. Depending on how quick you turn out to be, maybe the character art can have a tentative target date of the 3rd Week of January, the Level Concept Art for the stages above of 1-1 and the Target Art at around 1-8-09. Of course, with Concept art, I expect that it will slowly evolve over the course of the project which is why, A) No Concept art for the later stages yet. I think that what those look like may change as the first levels are worked out. B) No character renders yet. The ones in the game are fine for now, and then we can more quickly get caught up with the level art.

For The Animator:

Since many of the animations are already done for the first 2 levels, and the new character modeler will be busy with other stuff, I think we should focus on getting some of the scenes put together. So, as a test, please get the first scene in the game done. If you don't have the script, let me know and I'll get that to you. The Game itself has the first scene scripted (using the engine) out and will give you a decent idea of how the scene works.

For the Programmer / Designer:

I know, no work for me right? Wrong.

I still need to playtest the heck out of the 2nd Level and make sure it works, correct some of the bugs and...
-Update the Combat animation system so the enemies have more than 4 frames for the attacks - but still not break the system. I think it may be reasonably easy to install the animations since the current animations run on off frames. So I just have to add the frames for the in-betweens.
- Look into gamepad support.
- Tweak the jump to be a little more user friendly without breaking the game already built without changing the fundamental nature of the jump. For example, if I add a "float" at the top, it may change the total distance of the jump, which would be bad.
-Write my Post-Mortem submission. This or course, has the highest priority for game stuff as far as I am concerned. Getting that going will put all of our work in front of a lot of people that may not have even seen it. That's some good exposure and really the whole point of the project.
- Add some more members. Now I need to find a Composer, and I talked to someone yesterday (who also wants to be a Lead Designer) but who is also interested in doing some level design work. As far as I am concerned, the more Level Designers and artists, the better. The more Level ideas and designs we get the better the whole game will be.
I'm smart enough to know that I cannot do everything myself and finding people that want to do these things will make the game the best it can be. I mean, I can do levels (obviously) but I haven't studied the subject, or made mods or anything like that. I have to believe that someone who has will bring ideas to the table that I hadn't considered before.

-Oh, about re-doing work. I liked what the Environmental Artist did, and (if he still wants) I plan to keep him on doing Level Designs. Since that's really what he wants to do for a living, I'm more than happy to let him. Although I do need to work out some kind of vocabulary to talk about level concepts...hmm.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

101st Airborne Post

Yay, 101 of these things. That puts me way behind other, far more prolific, keepers of online compedums of useless information (like Wikipedia or Wesley Crusher).
Right, so right now I'm up to one of my upper, torso based, body parts in schoolwork. I just finished off the final work for my internet classes and now I need to finish up the project for my Game Creation / Engine Usage class. It has a technical term, but basically we're learning to use a 3D engine and make it do things. This has taught me 3 things:
1) I like building my own engines. It may be faster to use an off the shelf one, but I can do anything I want if I built my own. With an off the shelf I'm converting something else to try to approximate what I want.
2) I hate the Lisp programming language. It's all backwards and silly. For example, if I want to say this in Lisp:

if variable1 > variable2
Do Stuff

It is written as:

(if ( > (variable1 variable 2)) (progn
Do stuff

...and I'm not sure if that is even correct. It gives me the rage.

3) I hate computers. Let me rephrase that, I hate my computer and by "my computer" I mean my graphics card. "Why?" you ask (I ask rhetorically. A "you" would mean that somebody is reading this, and that is just not the case - nobody reads this). It has to do with my Engine class. The Engine will not run on my computer, and neither will the editor. The reason it gave was the DirectX was configured incorrectly, so I went to the Microsoft site to get all updated. "Sorry," they say, "but according to our records you are a bloody pirate. Bad pirate, no update soup for you!" This of course came as a shock to me. I have a license taped to the bottom of the laptop...a license for XP Home, not the XP Pro installed. Dammit.
So yesterday I went ahead and found a redistribution of DirectX 9.0c thinking that not everybody has an internet connection to update with, so an offline installer must be available somewhere. Turns out I was right and I will have some update soup now. Installed, great and wonderful, and the engine still didn't work. Now, the drivers in the computer are old, and do not support DirectX 9. No worry, I'll just go to the Trident Graphics card website and...what's that? They don't exist? Right, so I'll go to the Toshiba website and...what's that? The last driver was written in 2003?
After running a few diagnostics both official (the damn 3D box spins in the tests) and unofficial (but the Engine, Spore Creature Creator and Microsoft Telescope don't) I came to the conclusion that it wasn't going to work. No soup after all.
The worst part is that I can't do anything about it. I have work to do and projects to finish and I can't do them. With the Thief Engine, there is always a solution. There is always something that I can do, I just have to think about it and be clever. Short of writing a new driver (which I do not know how to do) there is nothing I can do. There is no workaround, no way to do the work in a different way, there is no way to work period. So I'm going to class and I plan to try to finish while other people show their projects. It will suck, but I got to do what I got to do.

- Other classes make me worry to for a wide variety of reasons, most of them having to do with updates on grades not being as forthcoming as I would like. The not knowing is driving me mad. This is the last semester, and then I have my degrees, but I don't know what is going on. I know for a fact that my grades aren't decent this semester and I'm fighting for C's. I understand that. The 4th class that is The Thief's Tale almost guaranteed that at one point. I realize that's I'm not Superman, but now, no matter the outcome I will be bloodied by the conflict. I just need to win.

- In game news, the artist has found someone that is known only as "Ron." Or in keeping with naming conventions will be referred to as either The Modeler or if I'm feeling cheeky, The Ron. I'll probably end up meeting this person later and I'll have impressions then. According to the story I was told he decided he wanted in after playing the Demo. So that's pretty cool. The work being good enough for people to say, "Hey, that's an enjoyable/ not broken experience that I would like to be a part of in some way."

- For other goodness, I'm on page 3 for just "Indie Confessions" without quotes and the term "Star Frog Games" now comes up as a suggestion in Google, like "Bungie" or "Rockstar Games" or "Wesley Crusher."

- "Stress" noun English Root. Def : 1) To feel overwhelmed and under prepared. 2) Extreme anxiety. 3) Knowing that the next 7 hours will decide if the last year was even worth it. See also "Out, Freaking"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Through the Middle

So, I'm feeling good today. Really very good. Back from vacation and back on track ready to jump back into doing some really good work and get The Thief's Tale finished off. It's like standing in the middle of a field, with pieces all strewn about and thinking, "Yeah, I can do something with this." Being rested, getting a little time off and away is brilliant. I'm thinking in my own company, that after some serious crunch, that a week away from the office for all of the team will work some serious dividends in the long run. I know I feel good.
-Speaking of which, the term "Star Frog Games" without quotes even, comes up in Google right on the first page. It seems a link from Gamasutra will do that for you. One day I'm a blog that nobody reads or can find and the next I'm a blog that just nobody reads, but they could if they wanted to. Sweet.
- Right, but before I get back to my labours of love, I need to fix the school stuff I've been ignoring. Well, that's not quite the right word, but I've certainly been focused on other stuff. Something that they don't tell you in Student Game Development Class is that you can either have a project that works, or you can have grades that don't suck. I had a 3.5 going into this semester, but now I'll be lucky to swing C's or B's for the classes that I'm taking. So now I really need to hunker down and get some stuff done in that regard. I know, that's crappy advice but think about it. I could say, "Yeah, totally did that thing for IGF, but then I failed all my classes." Or I can say, "Yeah, did a game for IGF, it was awesome. Oh, and look at my Shiny New Degree!" The "Student" part of being a "Student Game Developer" is the part where you have to be able to do more than 1 thing well. It's the hardest part, but it can be even more rewarding when you get there. So you, yes you, finals week is coming up. Stop reading this (again, I kid nobody but myself - nobody reads this) and get back to your homework. It's good for you.
-Ah, one more thing. I have something cooking up in the stew pot that I can't talk about right now, but will soon. Maybe. Hopefully.
-Cryptic messages about future projects and things "cooking." I sound like a Game Designer now. I don't think I like all of the opacity. Hmm, I'll think about it.

Friday, November 28, 2008


So, today I had a few hours. Turns out the day after Thanksgiving everybody just wants to sleep. Well, everybody else just wants to sleep. So I made some new changes to make the game better. So the new enemy attack animations are put in and work, I corrected some enemy placement issues and added the little pictures for when the characters talk. The new install file is also a lot smaller since I got rid of the extra files that I don't need.

In case you ever feel like you want to download The Thief's Tale, the link is:

YAY! Please play it and let me know what you think. Feel free to by brutal. I can take it. After testers tell you, "Um, yeah, the first levels sucks, you should re-do it" you develop a thick skin. Or you cry. I think I did both at the time.

Anyway, the site says I get 10 free downloads, so get them while there's hot and/or available.

Right, then I uploaded the newish version to the IGF FTP so that makes me feel good. I had some lingering nagging doubts about the project like :Do the enemies all line up correctly? Did I
turn off the debugging stuff? Does the install file even work? Now I don't have these. Joys!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Wow, just wow. I'm having a total rockstar moment. My game, The Thief's Tale, is listed in the official entries for the IGF competition. If you happened to get here through there, please have a look around. I've kept a log of the entire experience and hope that the lessons that I've learned and the battles that I've fought (and sometimes lost) along the way can be of a help to other people. Especially if you are thinking of doing something like this yourself.
It looks like the the competition is pretty. I'm not saying one thing or the other about the gamplay since I haven't played any of the competitors submissions. Granted, the screen shots of the other games look, well, better, I'm hoping that a tuned and polished gameplay experience will win the day. Either way, I'm happy to have an entry in the competition and I'm hoping for the best.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Idea Tsunami

I made a mistake. I thought that I could step back from the project for a bit and all would be good. I was wrong. Mere hours after I decided to take a week or so off 2 things happened. First, the Team wanted to know what we are doing next and how I want things done. Of course this requires me to think about the project some more. It's like when an Ex and you have all the same friends - she's bound to come up. That's not such a bad thing. After all, I'm not walking away, just taking a week (well, now it's 5 days - probably less since I have an entire evening tomorrow with nothing to do) off.
The Second thing is the Thought Bomb that slammed my unsuspecting brain as soon as I walked outside the fallout mind shelter that is The Thief's Tale. Ideas, good, bad, indifferent, indecent, and excellent stampeded in. I've not been so excited by the prospects since, well, I started this project. All kinds of ideas, all kinds of things that I couldn't do before, things I didn't know how to do, things that were holding me back before are now surmountable. The vistas available are awesome and frightening.
So I thought of the next project and have a design doc in my head for what it will be. It is nothing like the current project. Oddly, the thought was to make a different kind of platform puzzler, but the mechanics really, really want a faster yet more cerebral kind of gameplay focusing on multiple input controls and improvisation. Thief was built out of love, but I think the next thing, it's going to be the thing. Not just to get me the job, but maybe to get me the Company. I think it's that good.
-Still though, I want to finish what I've started and give it the attention that it deserves. The Brain Bomb didn't leave anything alone. The fallout sprinkled down like radioactive, idea fairy dust onto all the little projects gestating in my head like face hugger larvae. Thief is no different. So here's some of the ideas:
- Lots of new traps. I want to do more, a lot more with the moving rectangles and timing based puzzles.
- Animation system overhaul. The Character Artist really wants to have more frames and more stuff. After seeing the animations he gave me, I'm really inclined to agree.
-Gamepad support. The game works with a keyboard, but the neo-retro cool of the design really begs for a gamepad. I think that will change the dynamic of the gameplay for the better.
-The Skeletons are not depressed anymore. Now they eat skin. (Simpson's did it!)
- Enemy types will have different skill levels. So I'll have 2 kinds of Guard and 2 kinds of Skeleton and 2 kinds of Knight and 2 kinds of Fencers and the bosses. Instead of just one each. The next few levels will be bigger and will need more variation in enemies.
- More animations, maybe even fully rendered scenes. I mean, from a game perspective I was using individual sprites and animating stuff by hand, which sucks. I'm thinking that since the animations are already in Maya, the whole scene can be rendered using custom animations and so on. Then played back like the current animations are, but on a scene frame level. So in other words, just make a sprite 600X800 and then play them over the scripted bits. It'll be smooth and easier and look a hell of a lot better. This will also allow me to make script changes and have more awesome and action oriented scenes. Plus, this will give the Character Artist something else to do after the main animations are all done.
-More level scripting. Not specific stuff, more incidental stuff like they have in Metal Slug. It makes the world feel more alive.
Right, and a bunch of other things that are just minor. But once again, I feel that The Thief's Tale really can be great. I know what I have, and I know what I want, and now I know how to get there.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Independent Games Festival

At 5:30 AM on 11-15 I called it. The game was done. I had to cut the second level of the Demo and the Skeleton type enemy. But at the end of the day (morning) there was too much left to do with too little sleep I had to make the decision to put up the keyboard and lay down the mouse. I had done all that I could do.
At first, I thought about all the things that I didn't have that I was supposed to have. The game was supposed to have 12 chapters, then 5, then 4, but it was submitted with only 2. It was supposed have more sounds, more voices, more music, more story,
But then I took a step back for a moment and considered what I had done. What I had actually, truly, been able to accomplish. I had built a Game Engine. Most people can't even set the timer on their VCR, and I built a Game Engine with animations, and animated scenes, and gameplay that works and sound effects and a way to fight and things to find and... Well, I did a lot.
I built a game from scratch, from a blank page in my IDE to a built thing that plays. I have literally created something from nothing, and I feel for the first time that I own and deserve the title of Game Developer. Lots of people claim that it isn't hard, that it isn't work, or that they can do it if they wanted to and whine that they don't get the chance. I may have been that once, and played at being a developer. But until you're up to the wee hours in the front lines fighting a losing battle to sleep and deadlines, you don't know what being a Developer means. When what you have done is filled with equal parts obsessive love and hateful loathing then you'll understand.
At the end of the day, it wasn't as much as I wanted. But I think even the Designers for Halo 3 think to themselves, "I could've had more." To paraphrase George "Big G" Lucas, A game is never really finished, it is abandoned. Of course as far as I am concerned, I'm not there yet. I still have 10 more chapters to finish, and make available. Now I have the time to finish at my pace, with a nebulous, Blizzard-esqe deadline of "When it's finished."
Then again, maybe a deadline is a good thing. I'll look to see what other competitions I can enter and those can be my milestones. Maybe for Slamdance Guerrilla Games I can have chapters 1-6 ready to go and next year, the whole thing for IGF again. Hmm...But right now I want a break. I want to step back and come back with fresh eyes and new ideas. Maybe put something small and easy together that I can share with people that I know, or the internet. Right now, The Thief's Tale is like an ex-girlfriend who wants to get back together with you - you adore them, but you've been too close and too many hurtful things have been said to want to jump right back in that boat so quickly. So I'll install some art and get some stuff put together and keep it going. But no all nighters for a while. Okay?

-So, to sum up what I learned from this in some kind of easily digestible and impersonal list.
1) Having good people to work with makes all the difference. If the people that I worked with didn't care as much as they do, then I probably would not have been able to do it. I would have realized the deadline was impossible and I would have quit. Even better, they all seem to want to finish the game. Like the whole thing. I'm consistently impressed at every turn by the whole team.
2) A game is never like you envisioned it. I mean, it's never what you want, it's only even what you have time to finish. With enough time, yeah, I could see it being exactly like I want. But I do not believe that is the rule, but the exception (damn Valve, making us all look bad). So, games have to be, what do I want? What makes this great? What Features do I need and can't live without? Then build to that. In other words, get the part of that makes the project special (let's call them "The Requirements") first before a ton of time is spent doing other things. The rest as I say, is just glass and candy.
3)Deadlines hurt. My biggest mistake is not having a deadline sooner. 3 months or so ago, I decided to do this for IGF. Granted I had built an engine and everything, but then saying, "No problem, I can make 3 hours worth of content in 3 months that doesn't suck. No problem." Make no mistake - content is hard. Damn hard. Giving myself so little time was stupid. If I had planned at the beginning of the year for IGF, maybe I could have done something and made milestones for myself and focused the development when it needed to be (see #2). Getting it done at all was a Heroic Struggle and I'm proud beyond measure that we did it, but with better planning maybe it could have just been a regular (lowercase) struggle.

-Right then. Now the short term goals are like this:
-Update the art colors - I made a mistake with the attack colors, so they aren't correct. Of course, regular people wouldn't notice, but I do. (The low attack is supposed to be RED! Not GREEN!)
-Try to see if I can write a Post-Mortem for Gamasutra. That would be awesome.
-Get the skeletons in there. If not to play yet, at least get them in the right folsers.
-Learn to spell "Folders" correctly.
-Then after I go on vacation, I'll open up ThiefEd and get cracking. Utah is calling.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Judgement Day / Hurry Up and Wait

This is the last day. Just like the crazy guy on the corner with the cardboard sign (no, the real homeless guy, not that shill standing next to him pretending) the Last Days are here.

So here's what I have left to do - Install Animations and Backgrounds. That's it. Once I have those I can finalize stuff, like the scenes. Until then though, I can't really do anything. So I have stress. Lots of it. It's not like I can stay up super late and get this done, because last night I was actually just playing the game over and over looking for bugs, waiting for art.
The Character Artist is doing great. I get new frames every hour or so, so that leaves me with 40 minutes in between with nothing to do, yet stuff I want to fix. Like the scenes. The placement is all over the place (HA! A Pun!) but I can't fix it because I don't have final stuff with specific heights so I'd end up doing the work again anyway. That's just wasteful.

The Environmental Artist is also giving me stress. I've seen his work and it's really good and he seems to have a firm grasp of what I want. Further he tells me yesterday that he's practically finished, but I do not have anything yet. Once I do get art from him it should be as easy and saving the files in the right places, but the lack of in game assets at this point is worrisome.

Of course, this is my fault too. I didn't get the artists until super late in the process and I realize that they are doing the best they can given the circumstances. This is defiantly a "What Went Wrong" in terms of the development. Yet in spite of that I still think (that's right not "Hope" or "Feel" - which are irrational, but "Think") that we can get this done.

I hope that I'm right.

- By the way, Rockstar Energy Drink come in a giant 24 ounce crunch time size. There are the only things keeping me up right now. Oh, and they are yummy.

- I wonder if the Google Ad will pick up on that and try to sell you, good reader (I'm fooling nobody - no one reads this) energy drinks now. I wonder if you can buy those online?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Judgement Day -1

Thursday the 13th. One real day of work left.

Last night I finished the programming. The bugs that I know about are worked out and the whole thing is pretty smooth. I like it. I also installed the new animations for The Thief. Now he runs and stands there and draws his sword. He does these things in 2 directions too, since he is actually a flat render of a 3D model. So he has about 50 percent of the animations he needs and I just got a new batch for a few of the rest of them. I do have a worry though, I do not know what the status is on the rest of the animations for everything else, like, at all. *stresses*

I did have a "Dammit" moment yesterday. The first frames I got from the animator came through with transparent backgrounds that resolved themselves into the flat black that I need for masking. The new set didn't do that, and I considered calling the Character Artist to whine. Then I remembered a management thing : "Always be an asset" and "Don't make people that work with you think you are a retard a-hole that can't do anything for themselves." Then I went in and made a Script in Paint Shop Pro to take a frame, add a layer, make that layer black, put that layer in the back, flatten the image and save it. In mere minutes I had the color that I needed and got the animations started and didn't have to call somebody at 10:00 PM.

-Got a continue system going. Now if you die it puts you back at the beginning of the Chapter and gives you 3 more lives. So with persistence you can get through the whole game.

-Sent an email to the IGF Chairman about my music. Originally I was having somebody make all original music for the game, but they dropped out and I never got around to finding another. "Bad Producer! No Cookie!" So instead I trolled (like in fishing, not like in D&D) and found appropriate music for the levels from both obscure titles and less obscure (what? FF Tactics has some good music). They're just placeholders for the most part, as the final release will have all original music, but I worry that the music is A) Not owned by me and worse B) Isn't Student created. I hope it's okay as long as I use it as a Free Use thing (like 8Bit Theatre uses FF1 sprites and doesn't catch a bad case of being sued). But I do not want to get disqualified over something like that so I emailed and asked.

-Stayed up late working and waiting for more animations. Finally crashed at 2:30 AM. Animations arrived at 6:00 AM.

-Yesterday when I ran the game through, I realized that I really like the chapter titles. Just wanted to share.

-I got the installer system to work. The installer lovingly packs the giant Thief file into a single setup file that can be moved around and whatnot. Then it installs. I mean, last night through the haze and the sleeplessness I had an honest to goodness Rockstar moment when I saw a windows installer say "Star Frog Games Installation Wizard" and "We are now installing The Thief's Tale, please wait as this may take a few minutes." You know, it's like I made it. It may be stupid and it may be naive, but it means something to me to see that for something that I did. Others may say, "It's just an installer, so what?" but they are missing the point. The point is it is my installer installing my Game. Then, it appears in the Program Files menu like a real game. It's right there, next to The Spore Creature Creator and Age of Empires 3 and the joy on that is glorious. Maybe it's just the lack of sleep, but I hope not because this feels good.

-Sorry if this and/or the last few posts ramble and make no sense. Let's see how well you can keep a coherent thought with 4 hours of sleep a night for 4 days.

35 Minutes

35 Minutes! Over a half an hour! When I do it! I assume maybe 60 minutes for other, slower people. Sweet!

Up late again, waiting for the Animator, err, Character Artist to send me more frames. I got the first batch installed and they look great. So that's all cool and whatnot.

Got us officially submitted to IGF, so this is IT! The Thief's Tale is an entry! Woo Hoo! Well, on the books, still have until the 15th for the FTP upload.

Now I'm going to go pull a down-loadable from the magical aether of internet.

So, so tired.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


It's the 12th! The Bloody 12th! I still have 3 days left! Yesterday I was up late. Really late, so I'm a little loopy today. =P

Yesterday I finished the List:
Enemies now have 150% of their previous health and the Bosses have 400% and 500% respectively.

Drop Down Bug has been corrected since I removed the non-essential ability.

Scripting for the 1st and 2nd Level are finished and work.

Each Chapter has different music. So does the title screen.

Common SFX have SFX, like running, attacking and getting hit.

GUI and Chapter Titles are finalized and installed. They look really nice I think.

Team Credits are installed with the appropriate web presences given.

Still to do:

Install the Final Animations and other art and correct the placements. Right now the placeholders are all installed (with 1 exception). After I get the art I still need to install it and then go through the Scripts and make sure everything still works and do the final script animations. So that's why I can't get everything on Friday night.

Build the Final Compile and get the installer to work. (The Free one from internets).

Do the Icon.

IGF Submission and FTP Information

Maybe, just maybe give a Chapter Select on the Title Screen. I'll do that last, after everything else. Of if I find myself waiting with 30 minutes to spare.

Get a useful build to the Tester.

-Why doesn't the Tester have a new build yet? Well, there's a cute story to that. My email crashed yesterday. Let me repeat that with more incredulity. The online email that comes as part of my high speed internet that I pay through the ass for stopped working at the worst possible time in the history of anything. First it tells me, "Sorry, no email sending for you," like some kind of Seinfeldian Email Nazi and then afterwards I only get an error that says, "We're sorry, the links are broken." The Links are broken!? Are you dicking with me? Not only that, but the Animator, err, Character Artist was supposed to send me the frames through my email. Through the email. There was/is rage, but I'm too tired at this point to feel more than a mild seething. Besides, I got the email this morning.

-Speaking of which, I noticed something that made me feel good. The Character Artist sent me the first batch of animations last night and I got them this morning. I got that lonely feeling last night at around 12:30. The feeling that I was the only person doing anything. This morning I got an email, and the time on it was listed as 2:11 AM - an hour after I went to bed. So it seems that somebody else cares too. It's good to be wrong sometimes.

- The game works. It really does. Yesterday I ran the whole thing a few times to work out some bugs that were spaced pretty far apart, and you know, I can feel a little something about it. Some underlying joy from the way it works. The best part is when I don't remember something that I built and I have to solve the puzzle with fresh eyes. There's some gameplay in there.

-Oh, and the team agrees, the Cave in Sequence is a good ending for the IGF Build, and is widely considered to be "Awesome" and/or "Intense"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Captain's Log - Suplimental

This is for The Animator, err, Character Artist. This the what the current largest frame is for both the character attack animation and both kinds of enemy attacks as they are now.

Oh, and I only got 1 frame, I'm not sure if you sent them yet. But please again. The first one looks great.

Also, remember the backgrounds need to be flat black for masking.

Why be Sweet when you can be Crunchy?

Crunch time is upon us. It has reared its ugly head. I always knew that it would be tight, even with scheduling and trying to plan with some extra time. It's never just enough. Soon the days and nights blur together into animations and code, the brain never getting free of the Project. Always thinking, always wanting. The reflex is to work more so it is finished, so you can stop, so you can have control of your brain again. It becomes all consuming, it becomes precious. Then, the madness sets in.

-I thought of this earlier:
Crunch time is waking up wondering if you build will compile.
Crunch time is having your A-Hole of a Producer insist that you stay up past midnight to work in spite of your migraine.
Crunch time is trying to sneak in a few minutes before you go to work.
Crunch time is dreaming electric dreams of electric sheep and Matrix code.
Crunch time sucks.

-After reading the Blog of my Animator, it's good to know it's not just me. =D

- For that electric dreams whine, no really, last night I had a dream and in that dream I was fucking working.

- One more : Crunch time is seeing "=D" and not thinking it's a smiley, but thinking, "Equals what? That's so going to crash."

- Precious

-Anyway, the second level is done. Still no chapter titles, but those are on the way. Everything from the opening fall to the cave in (with falling ROCKS!) works. The scripting animation trick works too. It is looking really good and as polished as can be with the placeholders. So that's finished. Now I can focus on finishing up the Front End and the Credits, Bug fixes (of which there are few) and finalizing the animations and scenes. It's looking possible. I think we can do it. I think we can.

- My Precious

-On bugs, with a few exceptions there are very few. I think the reason for that is twofold. The first is that the game mechanics are pretty simple so there are few places to have bugs. The other is that I built the engine from scratch and regression tested the hell out of it. Every new piece got tested and retested. So that's not to say that there's aren't still bugs, but while I built the engine and designed the gameplay it was run so many times that it came out pretty decent. Of course, I think that the Tester's second report is coming today, so I'll get to find out how wrong I am.

- hurtses us it does...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mach 5

Yeah, I had to do it.With 5 days left, Mach 5 was just begging to be the title. That or maybe some kind of Voltron title. Anyway, I get ever closer to 11-15 and the tension is beginning to really build. One the one hand, I know what I have to do, and I am confident that I can finish all of it. What stresses me out, I mean, what stresses me the hell out, is I have no idea if any of the rest of it will be finished. I don't know if I have backgrounds, I don't know how many animations I'll have, I don't know how long any of that will take to install into the system and get working correctly. That's the stress. So I find myself staying up late working and hoping that the other parts will come together as promised. Even if I finish and the other parts aren't, then I cannot submit. So I guess the real issue is this : Once I gave responsibility, I gave up control. Now I cannot do all of it myself and must rely on my Team to come through for me.

-Anyway, yesterday I finished off the first level scripting. So that's nice. The scenes work out really well. They look just like they are supposed to. Which is to say they look like those old in game cinematics that old Super Nintendo games have. The trick I figured out works really well, so I'm confident that the 2nd level scripting (on tap for tonight) will be even faster and better. What I don't have are real animations in the scenes yet. I don't want to do the work for animations and then have to re do the work after I get different animations. So right now it's all placeholder stuff.
In the meantime I figured out how to have really nice animations. It occurred to me that I already have an animation controller built into the engine. I think that I may be able to use that. So I'll set a state, update the real position of the PC and then call the DrawZero() function (Or DrawEnemies() Function). If I do that on a loop and then change the frame like the engine does I should get the smooth animations of the Game Engine instead of the jilted animations of the Scripting Engine.

-As far as that goes, I've noticed the script isn't doing what I want. The lines were all written to be spoken, and in fact that is still the plan for the finished game. However, the timing is a little off as text, so some of the jokes fall just a little flat. Also, The Thief talks too damn much. Again, the lines are written to be read at a pretty quick cadence, but having to push the (next) key 3 times for one sentence is a little much. Thankfully, in the Demo there aren't very many of these bits of glass anyway.

-Still to do:
1) Tweak the damage system after I get combat animations. Right now Zero hits too hard, so enemies drop in only 2 or 3 hits. They should be a little more resilient. So either I can make Zero do less damage or give the Enemies more health (I think I'll do that) then balance it again after the animations are in.
2) Credits
3) Chapter Titles. I'm going to have these float by in the right screens (like in Heroes). They'll say stuff like : "Chapter 1 : The Great Escape" "Chapter 2 : Guards! Guards!" "Chapter 3 : Buried Alive" and "Chapter 4 : Crypt Raider"
4) Second Level Scripting, namely the first Skeleton encounter and the boss' two scenes.
Today I'm planning to finish the scripting and get those titles installed. The actual titles may change depending on my mood.
5) Install the new animations and background. *sigh* Hopefully tomorrow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Long Way Gone

The title doesn't make any sense. I am fully aware of that. I need to put something up there since an empty box is an unhappy box. That's the best I got, especially considering I feel an urge to make a bad Race / Time metaphor be the title for the rest of the project and there aren't any good titles that I could think of with the the number 9 (the number of days left).
Right, so yesterday I was doing scripting and I ran into a wonderful idea. Well, not wonderful but certainly smart. The scripting is set up to deal with single screens and text bubbles. So every frame I have to tell it to draw the background, draw the characters and draw the text boxes. This isn't really hard as long as the characters don't do anything. Otherwise I have to hand animate what they are doing. Each frame I would tell the computer what character and what animation frame to use at what position. As one could see, that sucks. That sucks like a Hoover powered by a jet turbine that happens to also be the number 3 prostitute in all Khazakstan.
Yesterday I figured out a different method for doing the scripted animations. If I have a variable for the scripting that I can use as a counter and reference as one, then I can do animations by variable like the rest of the bloody game. For example, the opening scene as originally written had The Thief talking to another criminal in the Prison before escaping. After the Environmental Artist pointed out that The Thief is armed I had to rewrite that. So now a Guard enters the scene, has his sword stolen and is tossed into The Thief's cell. Issue is, that is a lot of animated bits and would take forever to script the old way. Now I can do that is far less time and make it look a hell of a lot better.
I wished that I had run across this trick a little earlier, since I could have planned more interesting scenes. But this will be used to good effect for the "action" scenes with lots of characters and what not all around. So it'll be faster and better in every way. That's a good days work.
As far as the scripting is concerned I managed to do quite a bit on the first level already. I just need to pad out the rest of the first level for pacing - namely the "search" for The Thief. The second level will have less since it isn't a Plot Centric level. I think it only has a couple of scenes in it. Unfortunately, it also has the most complex scenes in the demo. We'll see how that goes.

- For those of you at home (who am I kidding, nobody reads this) neither CID or Star Frog Games feels sorry for the hoover joke, even though it was better in theory.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

T-Minus 10...

Hmm, I wonder if I can keep up the Race and Time metaphorical titles going for the next 10 days? Had a good meeting yesterday with the Team. They all still think they can get their pieces done on time. The Environmental Artist did have this to say yesterday, "Oh, wait, we have 11 days? Oh, well that's good. If we only had 10 days left we'd be screwed."
With the new targets for what we want I think we should be okay. The Animator thinks he can finish the animations for the Thief and 2 kinds of enemies. He plans to use the rig that he's built for The Thief for the other enemies which should save him a whole lot of time. So, he seems sure that he can do it, so I'm going to believe that.
Now I'm going to go ahead an finish the story scripting as written. That and bug testing should keep me busy until 11-9 at the very least. I want to give myself a bit of leeway for tweaking art assets after I install them. This was always going to be close, but this is getting a little crazy. I wonder if other IGF Student Teams are in the same boat? Or have they been done for months? I hope not. I really hope that they're in the same position. It's good for them, it builds character.

-If The Animator is reading this, yes you, you right there, I believe you can do it.

-If the Environmental Artist is reading this, hello, and I think you can too.

-So what happens in 11 days? Afterwards? I have a fear. The fear is that the small team I've gathered will disband after basking in the glory of the finished IGF project. I hope that they don't. I really do want to finish the whole thing. To make the game complete and try to put it out digitally. Maybe on Steam or Greenhouse or through Stardock's Service (who's name escapes me at the moment) or gods help me, XBox Live Arcade. I know we can finish the demo for IGF, I hope that we can finish and publish the rest.

- "Schadenfreude" noun German Root. Def : 1) To take please in the misery or misfortune of someone else.
2) To hope that someone else is having your same problems.
3) A word that can only exist in the German language.
See also "Dick, Being a"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


11 Days. Still on track, I think. Yesterday I created and debugged the Front End Menu and it's, well, very Pro. I like it quite a bit. I need to make some minor modifications (like the Italicised font I used is a little hard to read with the background it is on) but overall it works well. I also adjusted the Pause menu so that it kicks you to the front end when you quit instead of straight out of the program, a feature that I like. Again, going for polish and making it look Pro.
Today I'm meeting with my team to get a general progress report and see where we are. Then I can make the decisions on how to continue with the scripting. I'll see how that goes.

-One issue, I totally blanked on making a new compile of the current build. So now I get to run home before class, compile the build and run off. I might, might, find a minute to disable the drop down code for climbing. However, I fear that making that change and then not testing it might make the build totally unplayable.

-Pro? What is this "Pro" I speak of? It's retard Southern Californian slang for "Professional" in that something is well put together and doesn't reek of amateurism. So in how I use it here, I mean the game has features that one would expect from a professionally produced game with much, much, much higher production values.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Forward Progress

First things first. Now when I look for Star Frog Games or The Thief's Tale I come up at the Top of the search results. About damn time considering the amount of content on this page and the fact that "Star Frog Games" was a crypto search once.
Anyway enough of that, over the weekend I started with finishing the user interface and the make the game a little more well put together. At this point the content isn't going to suddenly expand like at the Beginning of Time, so now it's all about polish and presentability. So this weekend I went ahead and installed a Pause Screen which allows the player to continue or quit and I'll reuse the code for the front end screen too. I also went in and installed the 4 collectible dolls that populate the levels that I have.
Finally, I updated the GUI with new shiny Health and Dash Bars (which are smaller now too) and made some modifications to make the whole thing take up less screen space. I also made a tweak to make the GUI not appear if the character would stand in front of it. So it gets out of the way which I find really nice. Now it's there when you want it but it's never in the way, like a good GUI.
I did run into a problem though. The 4th Doll is hidden at the upper Right of a level. So if you just walked in and didn't design the level you would have no idea that it was even up there, let alone how to get to it. So a small modification to the level and the doll placement and it's good now.

-Also ran into a first level Environmental Bug. It's the second and third screens. First, the ceiling doesn't match, which does some, interesting things. Second, one of the platforms needs to be 10 pixels taller. This wouldn't be an issue but I already told the Environment Artist that the first level was finished, so get started on art. I think I may cut a "feature" to fix the bug. Right now, when you climb it turns off the collision system (a bug I fixed last week). The unintended side effect of that is that now when climbing a short box you can press down to drop and stop climbing. Issue is that you can drop into another rectangle which, um, kills you. It kills like a 3 named presidential assassin (I'm looking at you David Hyde Pierce). So I think if I turn off the ability to drop down when climbing the problem will be fixed. Yeah, I'll do that.
-I'm noticing that as the project continues the fixing of bugs requires a little more improvisation.
- What, no scripting you ask? Well, no. The reasons are two fold. I wanted to get the smaller things out of the way quickly, so I can focus on the scripting afterwards (like today). Other than that, I do not have characters yet. I don't want to create scenes with characters that I might not have art for by the 15th. I'll have a better idea tomorrow and can get that going ASAP. Like, the second (now 3rd and 4th) levels are written in the script to have skeletons in them. I can go ahead and create the scripting for those scenes, but I don't know if the skeleton models and animations will be done in time. If it's just Guards, then I have to rewrite the script for the demo. Argh.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Seven things on the list, already got 1 knocked off - I've stopped level building. Now I'm into considering something terrible - making further cuts. Not for time (although that is always a factor) but for pacing. You see the third level (the Cliffs) is designed to be a slower more cerebral experience, especially right after the combat oriented Crypt and the twitch based Cave In Sequence. However, as a last level it sucks. There is no oomph.
I'm thinking that if I cut game at the end of the Cave In it'll go out on the high of one of the better set pieces. As it is, it would be like the last level of Devil May Cry being a flying shooter. Wait, crappy example. Better would be comparing it to the last level of Viewtiful Joe being platforming based. Yeah, that makes more sense and isn't true for the purposes of analogy.
So I think I may do that then. 4 levels. We'll have 4 levels. Certainly not the most possible or what I really want from a gameplay perspective, but I think that it'll work and give a really good idea of the concept of the game.
-Um, yeah. The ESRB is expensive. So instead what i'm going to have at the beginning of the game during the title screen load is a TIGRS rating. It's an independent gaming system of classification. Granted, it means probably less than Zero but I think it will make the game look that much better put together. At least, that's the hope. The logo I will use is :

Isn't it cute?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

100 Meter Marathon

Almost done. Almost. After yesterday's, let use the term "outburst" I have some renewed enthusiasm and focus. I also went ahead and wrote down the specific things that actually need doing, not just what I want. I no longer have time for everything I want. I may have just enough time for everything I need. Here presented in an easy list form.

1) Stop Building. That's it. I can't keep creating content and then expect the Artists to just keep up. That is unrealistic. So the levels that I have are the levels that I have. There are 2-1/2 levels, which I'll break up a little into 5 smaller levels (they'll be different because they'll have different music and backgrounds). The game will have "Demo" on the title screen, or "Chapters 1-5" or whatever. This will also give me time to finish the rest of the things on the list.

2) Title Screen, which Studio Logo, the Title and options for Game Start, Exit, and Team Credits. This should actually not take long to do, maybe an afternoon, probably less. As a random thought I think the Credits will be listed as I refer to them here in the Diary. For example, "The Designer : Eric Carr" etc.

3) Finish the Scripting. With fewer levels I can get this done, but this is the biggest item on the list by far. It's just so many different things. The good thing is that I won't have many switches and doors. Even though I like them the Stages that were to make extensive use of them will not be in the IGF Build.

4) Install the new Animations. This is an odd one. It may not take long at all. Or if they are all different sizes than the current animations then it may take a good long time to get them so that they look good. I won't know until I do it, and that stresses me slightly. I'll tell The Animator to give the pictures to me at 60X60 pixels with The Thief centered- like what I have now. That should help.

5) Install the new Backgrounds. This may also be fast when I get the Backgrounds. I don't have any yet, and it's stressing me out just a wee bit. Since the Environmental Artist has a copy of ThiefEd the levels should be as easy as sticking the correct art assets in the right places.

6) Pause Menu, with a "Continue" and an "Exit" option. For ease of use. It'll give the whole thing a bit of class that may not be in most shoestring projects and will help the final IGF score I think. This is the same category as the Front Page, and I might even use the same code bits.

7) Play the Game 100 times and fix anything else the Tester finds.

8) Installer Program. Well, I found a free one online. So that should be good. Just need to figure out how to use it correctly. That is actually low on the list of worries.

That's it. It almost seems possible from this angle. Almost.

-After writing this it struck me that I'm making a game about a character called "The Thief" fighting "The General," "The Captain" and "The Princess" and with a team I refer to by their titles (here at least) of "The Animator," "The Tester," "The Environmental Artist" and "The Designer."

-I wonder what title I should take for the project. Lead Designer? Producer? Programmer? Or should I just list myself a bunch of times. That seems a little wanky. I don't know. I'll think about it.

- "Wanky" adj. English Root. Def : 1) An activity of one considered to be a Wanker.
2) To behave in a way a Wanker would.
See also "Wankish"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pyrric Workaholic

I wonder if this is even possible sometimes. Not just the project, but the whole prospect of this as a profession. I wonder, is it worth it. Long hours, hard work (that's right I said it - anybody who disagrees that Game Design and Programming isn't hard work had better be prepared to box). and less time doing the more important things.
The Fear that I have is really that - the loss of doing "important" things. When does this stop being a job and start being the important things? When does a goal become an obsession? At what point is the cost too much?
I have a problem, a flaw in my character. By nature, I feel that a person is what they do. By doing well at what they do, then they are doing well at what they are. Failure is not something that I consider. This is clearly a failing.
However, I feel that a person does not live for the sole purpose of working. Life is more than that. It is what happens in all the in-between pieces, and it is something that I take very seriously. For example, by nature I am not a lazy person (some would disagree, but they haven't seen me working) but there is practically nothing that could get me to come into work on a weekend. Those are the days I work for, the time that I have earned to do what I want to do.
This is the dichotomy of character that is causing strife. I work for a living, and I go to school. Then when I have free time I work on the project. All I do is work, and if I want to get this done in time, for myself and the Team, that's what I have to do.
But, the more important things want my attention too. Things with thoughts and feelings. Things that don't understand that in 2 weeks I'll be as done as I can be. Maybe I don't understand either, since all I really want to do is sit, watch Clone Wars and maybe play a little Fable and Mega Man 9 and be with the people that I care about. But then the other half of my brain says, "No, we have to do this. This is important too."
So to live the Dream, do I have to forgo the waking world? So I keep telling myself, in 2 weeks I can relax. With no looming deadline I can slow down. But will that happen? Can I slow down? If I do this for a living, will I get the chance to go slow and enjoy the important things? Or will I become that job? Will I stop being a person with a profession and just Live to Work? I don't know. I think this is the part where you realize that being in games may not be all roses and flowers. I shudder to think of the stress involved if I own my own studio. I think I understand now why my former Professor decided to stop working on AAA titles and instead started working on children's games for a larger publisher. Then it could just be a job, like everybody else has. Not a lifestyle.
I can see the person that I could become, where that's all I do. My Dream corrupted into a fevered Nightmare. Living to work because it's all I have left. The more important things left behind. The Dark Side is always there. The Shadow will always follow me letting me know to Slow Down. Forcing me to stop and look around and realize that work is just that - work. It will always be there when I come back. The Life that I have, may not be.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2 Week Notice

2 Weeks. 14 days to get finished, feature complete and get polished. That's it. I'm screwed.

Hmm, other people on the team may read this and hearing (?) the Producer say such a thing may make them think bad things or make them think that they work for Acclaim (ZING!).

Right, back to the point. I feel that we can finish and reach the (new) goals that we set as far as content is concerned. Over the weekend I fixed 2 system bugs and last night I opened up the Debug Mode for my Tester, so that may make polishing easier.

-For the Debug Mode, I realized that when I test I turn on a bunch of stuff in the code by uncommenting it. Obviously this doesn't work with a compiled version. So I put all of that stuff into a function I called "Debug()" because I'm clever that way and gave it a toggle by pressing the "D" key. So that should be helpful. I also put in a Wire Frame mode (like in ThiefEd) to help with collision debugging. So that's cool.

-For the bugs, my Tester discovered an Environment Bug which led me to run all over the game (in my new wire frame mode) looking for similar bugs and fixing them. Basically, if the top of a rectangle is flush with another, Zero will climb up onto the flush one. The climbing code sees if you are higher (even slightly) than the top of a box and then for collision. So if you hit the corner, Zero climbs up onto the bottom rectangle (and into the top rectangle) and then the collision routine of the top rectangle would tigger and throw him off of the stage and end his short, miserable life. So that's betterish now and I'll have to be more diligent in the future when building levels.

- I found a similar bug that is a System Bug over the weekend. Basically, when you jump just right into a corner, it kills you. Like, outright. As if the corner was filled with invisible spikes dripping with Hepatitis A,B,C and V. Turns out the Squishy Code was to blame. The Moving Rectangles (of which there are very few in the completed levels...odd) have the ability to squish you, so the system detects if you are touching a rectangle with your head - the roof, and with your feet - the ground. If both are, then it's bad luck to be you. The bug happened because it didn't specify the rectangles had to be moving. The Corner then triggered both, um, triggers, and killed like a member of the Family.

-Finally, another System Bug. When climbing a short box, the collision would get all confused and move the player. Turns out that the "Climbing" animation puts Zero down a little bit and sometimes into another rectangle. The collision would then trigger for that lower one and push you off to the side of that rectangle. So now I go ahead and skip some of the collisions if you are climbing. As a nice side effect, Zero can now climb out of water a little. I mean, you can now jump to a low platform on top of a Death Rectangle and climb it and still be okay. Previously, just touching the Death Rectangle at all would be lethal. This helps from a level building perspective.

-Right, on bugs. I see there being 3 kinds of "bugs." The first is a Environment Bug. These are flaws in the Level or the construction of the Level or Scripting. These are easy enough to fix once the problem is identified.
The Second are System Bugs. These are Logic Flaws in the Engine Code and are a Pain in the Ass. The main issue is that once these are fixed you have to Regression Test a bunch of stuff to make sure it still works. Earlier I would have gone through and deduced the Logic and tried to find the root cause. With 2 Weeks, Band-Aids work. Just as long as it works I don't care.
The Third are "Features" or Known Bugs. Like the black cloud around Zero. Yes, I can see that, no it's not a bug, no it won't be there in the Final Build.
Either way, I want the Tester to find as many of these as possible.

-I really shouldn't call what I'm finishing the Final Build, as the game as I want it will not be complete. The Final Build will have the full story and characters. For the time being I'll call the one we're working on the IGF Build. Yeah, that has a certain kind of charm to it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fable Too

I got Fable II for my birthday. It's turning out to be the biggest boon the game project may have ever received since it is the biggest time waster I've deigned to put hands upon since MGS3. But here's the key - I'm not wasting that much time with it, the wife is.
Fable II has one of the best RPG additions ever - drop in/out co-op play. So the wife will play the game, run around, buy loot, buy a house and open Demon Doors. Then she'll summon up me, the loyal henchman, when she runs into a dungeon or something like that. I play with her through these parts and then she's back to screwing around the world of Albion for another 2 hours, while I drop out and get back to building levels and debugging code.

Every game needs this addition. If you want to talk "Casual Play" this goes a long way towards it. Hey Nintendo? Are you listening? What to get the Casual Gamer to play? Put a Drop In/Out Co-Op option in the next Zelda. Let Mom wander the world and collect the Skulltulas or gems or whatever other chotchkies you want to have her fetch and then let her summon her kid for a little help with the bosses. Since She is fighting the bosses, not just handing off the controller, She will feel like she's done it. Then who knows? Maybe next time she'll do it all by herself. I call that a hell of a lot better than trying to push Nintendogs on her unsuspecting "Casual" ass.

-I read an interesting article recently regarding game art. Not being an artist myself (instead being able to draw well enough to let a "Real Artist" know what I wanted/was going for) I can't comment on the specifics, but I do have a point from a Production perspective. As games get more and more advanced and the graphics get progressively more shiny, we will get to a point where the cost of creating said graphics becomes cost prohibitive. Then we'll see less of a trend of life-like or pseudo life-like and I think that the natural reaction will be to create super expressionist art. Okami comes to mind, so does Wind Waker and anything by Suda 51. Eventually making something look as realistic as possible isn't the point - it will be about making something memorable that doesn't break the suspension of disbelief.
You can go to far though with the abstract. I think the myriad of shooters on Live that use some kind a vector graphic are stupid. "Vector Graphics" are not art and adding particle effects does not help.

-Oh, in Fable II you can get married. The wife built a heroine and then wandered the world to find the best looking lesbian in the game to open a Demon Door. They are very happy in their alternative lifestyle living in the in-between spaces inside a Demon Door. I feel like a weirdo, but I think I like watching the wife's virtual avatar seduce her virtual life partner. This is a strange new world indeed.

-Yes, Fable "II" like in the promotional materials and on the box. It gets to keep the "II" because I like it enough to not refer to it as "2" and since it is "old-timey" it works. Unlike in the Rocky movies.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The 66% Solution

Yes, that is Sherlock Holmes reference in the title. Or a reference to an 80's direct to TV movie called The Peanut Butter Solution that nobody else in the world has ever seen before. Anyway, the issue goes like this - collectively the project is behind schedule. So I made an Executive Decision (another movie that nobody else in the world has seen - and if you say you have, you're a damn liar) and called a meeting.
The crux was thus, we could either push on ahead full speed and get the content done, but have very little polish and/or testing done to it. OR we could focus on the levels that we have (and the Cliffs/Castle Rooftops level I'm building now) and really try to get those all spit and polish in time for 11-15. So now we are making the first half or so (and now the title makes sense, hmm?). Of course, it is a little depressing to not have the finished project on time, but hard decisions had to be made and I think that this will be right one in the long run.

-"The crux was thus," man I sound pretentious sometimes. Quick, need a nonsense immature word, uh, dookie.

-Finally got the compile to the Tester. With 3 weeks left I think this may be a "Thing that went wrong" in the Post Mortem. Anyway, I have to refer to the Tester with a Capital T. So he loaded up the game and was playing, and as the Designer I of course wanted to watch. I think the first time a player lays hands on a project says a lot about how well the game works. So he starts jumping around and off of things and doing a lot of really silly stuff. I have 2 thoughts cross my mind, the first of which is that I have a tester that doesn't know how to play games. The second was that my game is really hard or something.
So I continue to watch him and I realize what he is doing - he is trying to break it. He's not playing to play, he's playing to Test. That's why I refer to him with a Capital T. Once I realized that (and saw the Animator across from me realizing the same thing) we knew we had someone that would test every wall and floor and enemy and probably every script and our hopes of a polished game increased exponentially. Invariably when the Tester does find something and he then proceeds to try again and again to repeat the error before managing to repeat it 3 more times. The Tester then writes me a note explaining what happened. Then he drew a bloody Map to show me exactly where it happened so that I can fix it. So, yeah that's cool.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Top Down Design / Toys in the Attic

Hmm, no posts since the 13th eh? That brings 2 thoughts to mind. 1 being that I'm lazy (which isn't exactly true - just too busy to update which is odd considering). 2 - That I'm sure that 80% of blog posts begin with "I know, no update. I'll try harder I promise." Which is also the last post for that particular blog since people stop updating it at some point.
So, what have I been doing? Well, working...and having a birthday. So now I'm 26, and I feel a few (new) weird urges. The first of which, I suddenly feel the need to update my Halo 3 guy and change his call sign from E25 to E26. The second of which is to buy a skateboard before I become too old to try to start. That way, I'm that cool guy that knows how to skate. Finally, at what point do I become too old to be the plucky young upstart? When do I stop being the bull headed rebel and start being the respected Revolutionary? Or even worse, when does it get to the point where it's just a sad thing, like that 50 year old guy at the Comic-Con with the sketches binder hoping that this year will be the year that gets him signed?
Right, but that has nothing to do with anything. Back to the work and the whole point of this in the first place and the point of the Title. I finished the layout for the Cliffs Level and started going on the Wall+Rooftop which is going to be a lot shorter than originally planned (damned deadlines). For the Cliffs I tried something different from a level design perspective. I drew out what the level would look like before I started building the level itself. With the previous levels I worked out a basic floor plan, but there was no overall plot to the levels, instead each existed as a series of puzzles.
This is perfectly fine, but it does lead to making the individual levels a lot less special from a layout standpoint. Case in point - the second half of the prison level was supposed to be a sewer, but after designing the layout I realized that it didn't look anything like a sewer. So I thought about it for a bit and now it's a Storehouse with crates and things like that.
With the Cliffs I first designed what the cliffs look like and decided that having a sheer wall is not very interesting from a platforming perspective. So now it's more of a large area cleared out by the sea with rocky overhangs and all that. So I drew that on my graph paper and then started going in and designing puzzles around the geometry that I had made. After doing this I realized that since the level wasn't designed to be a series of puzzles, the puzzles that are there are not as difficult as previous puzzles, but they link better. For example, there is a series involving climbing more or less sheer walls. The puzzles are not that hard, but there the sequence has to be done right the first time, since a single mistake will make the player fall. Linking the puzzles to do that from a puzzle first perspective is actually quite hard, but it occurred naturally from the Top Down Design approach.

-So what does that mean? Top Down Design? It's the process of creating the "Big" picture and working down from there. So visualize what you want and then figure out the steps to get that. This is in contrast with Bottom Up Design in which the Designer begins with a system and rule and then extrapolates and builds the game around that (which is what I prefer since I like rule systems). So an example : A Top Down guy thinks, "I want to have epic battles with X weapons. With Y types of monsters." The Bottom Up guy thinks, "I think a Repeating Crossbow can be used for some cool stuff, like climbing walls or fighting monsters." Both with eventually lead to some good stuff, but I find that Bottom Up often has better gameplay mechanics, since an entire game can then be built out of a few mechanics. Unlike say, GTA4, which I believe is a Top Down design, where there are a lot of things with very limited depth. On the other side is something like Ninja Gaiden Black, where it seems to have a Bottom Up design focusing on the combat which lead to a very deep Combat system and a more focused title (which I like more).

-Anyway, enough of that ramble and on to something else. I was looking at some previous IGF winners and a thought sprung to mind, "These aren't games, they're toys." WTF? I'll explain. Games and Toys are both fundamentally a system of rules. The difference is scope. The systems of a Game allows it to be expanded with little effort. It's very easy (comparatively) to make new levels for Super Mario because the rule set allows for expansion. Or, the rules exist to allow the exploration of content.
Toys on the other hand exist only as an end to their own means. A Rubick's Cube is a toy. It has well defined rules, but they are only there to deride pleasure from the Cube itself. The Cube will never have long term compelling gameplay and cannot be easily expanded. That's not to say that Toys are not fun. Sim City is a Toy, and it's a very fun one at that. So is Spore.
The point is when I see Crayon Physics Deluxe winning anything at IGF other than the Tech Award it gives me The Rage. If you want to show me good mechanics show me something that can be expanded to a full game that I will play for 20 hours. Do not give me a 20 minute diversion and try to pass it off as something groundbreaking.
So, with The Thief's Tale I'm giving a more basic gameplay (I want to use the non term "Neo-Retro") but then showing to what lengths that gameplay can be spread. I didn't agree with many of the design decisions in Braid, but based on the amount of content, it deserved to win.
-Yes, "The Rage" is capitalized, like "The Fear." If you think that's a MGS3 reference, go read something by Hunter S Thompson. Pleeb.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Sound of Silence / The Notebook

Got a new notebook. It has graph paper in it. That's it, just though it was cool. I'm wondering if anybody else would ever care in a million years what my notes for the project look like. As least enough to include it in the game as some kind of extra (after IGF of course). Or maybe it's just a super wank thing. Yeah, I think it's that.

Anyway, back to the point. I broke the sound somehow. Now the music doesn't work and I can't put it back. I went ahead and tried to modify the code a little so that different music would play on the different levels, and now no music plays at all. I really hate the sound code that Blitz Basic uses. It's not broken per se, it's just totally unlike the rest of the language. It's like the programmer for the sound code was all by himself in their own little room and never saw, talked to, or pondered the existence of, any of the other programmers. It's called a meeting people. Schedule one and then little ole Eric doesn't want to punt a kitten over your silly concepts of sound variables.

-As a side note, CID neither condones nor endorses the punting of kittens.

-All done. Even better now the music plays with different volumes and everything.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Totally Rotten

I discovered a bug that brought game development to a grinding halt. The moving platforms don't work anymore. Here's the issue: The original platforms had coordinates (a great Scrabble word by the way), dimensions, their own modifier for where they were drawn, and a movement amount. The modifier is a non-variable, since is it set when the engine is running. However, a flippant thought that I had regarding ThiefEd was that all of the rectangles would move the same speed, so no need to add a way to change the Movement Speed to the Editor. It turns out that I was wrong. In the Engine the Moving Rectangles need said movement work, as it is not specified by the Engine.
This brought me to my first solution- just add a static movement speed. Sorry sports fans, that's a big Epic Fail on that. Since the Editor only creates Moving Rectangles in one direction, there is no boundary to let the other bloody movement variable to ever change. So no matter what, the Rectangles would float around as they pleased without giving much thought to what they were supposed to be doing.
So, this ran me to my second solution, which would be to add the function to the level editor and move along, without issue. That, I thought, would be great. Except for one tiny issue - it would corrupt all of the level data. Adding unknown variables would: A) Cause a runtime error when they are loaded. Since the original files do not have that data, calling it is a crash to the desktop type of bug that would be fixable, but not in a time frame that I have. I do not have a "B" at this time.
So, here I am at the final solution that I ran into and plan to`install today before I finish up the second stage and lay out the 3rd like the no talent flyweight that it is. What I will do is add a quick bit to the loading code where it will specify the Movement Speeds as being 0 or not. If there is a boundary for either the X or Y boundary, then the speed of the other will be made to be zero. That's it. Then, as a workaround, I will code the actual speeds using scripting on a level by level basis (a thought I had before also). So we'll see how that goes.

-For those of you at home, a "FlyWeight" is the smallest class of pro-boxer. These guys are like, 110 pounds. Assume that they go down easy for the purposes of the analogy above.

-Hmm, pretty heavy on the sports metaphors today. In kind of an odd mood.

-That rocks so cool. It works, thank the bloody gods. Plus, now I have the option to make the cave in really awesome from a gameplay standpoint.

-Yep, the Cave In is everything I thought it could be. Discovered something interesting though. Doing scripted stages are more difficult. I find myself having to test and re-test them before I can even make the stages possible let alone passable by most people. I mean, if I can't even do it without getting killed then there probably will not be anybody else. I'll really find out when I have the tester(s) get a piece of it. But I do worry about context though, as from a story perspective this is a Cave In of the Crypt and Cavern. Without the context, the testers will not know what to expect for the first time, so they will not be accurate in their criticism since the test itself will be flawed. *sigh*
-Anyhow, from a design standpoint I have to make sure they are passable, but I do want them to be dangerous. The moving collisionables will kill the player if they get squished. I need to find the middle ground between making them challenging while still making it possible for a player to complete them on the first try, without trial and error. I think I have, but the proof is in the testing pudding, so to speak.

-Do internet people still do that? I mean, put actions inside little stars? *wonders* I probably shouldn't either, especially considering that I think the little *'s look like a sphincter.

-I wonder what kind of things the Google Ad at the corner will give me, now that I've used the word "Sphincter" twice in the same post. I bet they'll be gross.
- In development news, I've had not 1 but 2 different people ask to be testers for the project and/or do other work. This is in stark contrast to wandering internet looking for people. I guess I was just looking in the wrong places. In the future, if I want to find people that want to be game _____ (that's a blank) I should troll the classes where people are learning to be _____.

-What that means is that now I need to keep a constantly updated compile of the project and assets so that other people can play it. This of course means that I have to simplify my file structures so that I can give a playable form of the project without giving away the farm so to speak. Have an odd conversation about NDA's (which I feel are an anathema to the industry {I don't think I spelled that right}) and oddly, now I feel all protective of my work. That's not a feeling I like really.

-Was going to plot out the Cliff/ Castle Walls level today, but it's almost midnight now, so I'll do it on Monday. In total, I'm about a week behind on my schedule, and that stresses me out a little bit. going forward, the levels should come along more easily. Unless I run into something really stupid.