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.