Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Struggle Bear

I've discovered something today. I've discovered that my work of the last month is, well, gone. The Lazarus Drive is corrupted. Either from just being old, or it was somehow twisted by its visit with the Vista OS. Either way, it's cooked. I could probably reformat it and have a working drive, but really, that was never the point.
So, let's take stock of what it is that I've lost. The screen cap function, gone. The Stitch function that never quite worked right, also gone. The AI pathfinding Algorithms, unfortunately gone also. The first two are tools, they don't have to work great, just good enough. They're easily rebuilt. The Pathfinding however, was on its merry way to being finished workable game code. The difference? One is something that only the developer will ever see, the other has to work every time. It has to be bullet proof and free of bugs. That, of course, is a lot harder. Let me put it another way, if a game was released in the same state as the tools used to make it, people would claim it is buggy and it sucks.
So, yeah, that's going to take a few days to get back to a state that it was. At the very least, I know how it works (worked) so I should be able to put it back together a lot faster than it took me to put it together the first time.

-In not-news I've discovered the message boards at Gamasutra are especially fun if you disagree with most of the people there. I've recently both defended Crunch as a means to an end (but damned Grinding) and argued in a forum that is all art people and designers, that games are not art. Of course, saying that in a forum like Gamasutra, full of industry types is like saying kittens are ugly and puppies are made for kicking. At least my Sugar Bear icon is there with each post. His sweater clad smirk giving my thoughts additional, well, smugness.
I have noticed something though, and this is why I feel free to share an opinion, nobody has ever said that I'm wrong. They disagree, they offer alternatives, but they never say that I don't know what I'm talking about and they seem to respect my opinion. I wish XBOX Live were so polite. Who knew? You can have an intelligent conversation with people on internet.

EDIT: Son of a bitch. It's gone. The Object Code is gone. The code that puts cute animated shit on the screen is history. Sayonara. No little candles, no adorable little torches. God damn everything. The newest shiniest thing. Forget the AI, it was only halfway done. The Object code was finished. Why? Why is it gone? What sin did it commit? I want it back. I...it...maybe I...maybe indeed. I might have it somewhere. I really, really do not what to recode the most complex bit of syntax in the library.

For the Love of the Game

The plan, if there ever was one, was to make a game and give it out for free. There was this idea, this concept, that the game could maybe be released on Live Community Games and maybe we would be able to find some funding to help push the project through. A way to do this for a living. A new article on Gamasutra kind of killed that idea. In it were the quarterly sales of 20 of the Community Games, and needless to say, the sales are terrible.
Granted, the few games I've played on the service are also terrible. I would wager that The Thief's Tale as it is, right now, are better than 90% of the games already on the service. But even the 10% that I feel are of quality do not have the numbers to support a lone developer, let alone a team.
The highest seller on the list made something to the effect of $5000.00 in sales or so, before the 30% publisher cut from Microsoft. Mind you, this is per quarter. So over the course of the year, making the inherently flawed assumption that sales are static that would give you $14,000 per year. To put that in perspective, at 40 hours a week that would be $6.73 per hour. But since sales work on curves, the truth would be substantially lower.
So, like I said, releasing on XBLCG doesn't make a whole lot of financial sense, especially considering the amount of effort that would be required to get it to work. Further, I cannot build a studio from it. So what I have to look into is other methods; other concepts of distribution: Impulse, Steam, the site. Then I need to make people see it, play it, want to own it.

I often find myself ahead of myself. The simple fact of the matter is this - the is no money. That was never the point. I'm finding that as much as I want it, it is unlikely to be a possibility in the near future. I need to go big to have that and the scope was never intended to be as such. So, let's return to the focus. The point is to make a game to show people that we, as a team, can do it. We could give it away if we wanted to. The big idea, was to say, "Hey, look at what we did. Now hire us." I got wrapped up in this idea that I could do this as a living that it clouded my other judgements and made me lose sight of the goal.

So, the goal. Finish by PAX. Release on the site. Make people play it. Tell everybody. Get a job. Get more experience. Create more fantastic games. Create a Company. Live the Dream.

Having said that, we could put the game in front of a lot more eyes if it was on XBLCG. Provided it isn't as difficult to port as I had previously thought. If it is easy, heck even if it is moderately difficult and would take a month, I think that would be a month well spent. Failing that, the plan stands.

-In actual game development news (as opposed to production woes) I'm the in the process of trying to balance another Thief move. I've found that when I play I have a tendency to use the Double Jump all the time, even when I'm just hopping up onto a higher platform. This in turn has a nasty tendency to ruin my further moves. The Double Jump doesn't reset when you hop to a hand hold, so if I habitually Double Jump to them, even if I do not need them, it prevents a second double jump that may be required to complete the puzzle.
So, the idea I had was a wall hop. Basically if you do a regular jump into a wall while you are standing next to it, The Thief will kick off the wall to get a little higher. Not quite Double Jump height, but maybe 1-1/2 a regular jump height. I think that may solve it, but I worry that about ruining the platforming already built. There are 2 levels in the can already. I don't want the new move to break them. My thought is that as long as the move can only be done when you are right next to a wall, it should be okay.
I'll add that to a big list of things that need doing after the new AI.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Warp(ed) Drive

Got the Lazarus drive installed into a brand new case yesterday. When I ripped it out of the laptop I felt a little like the priest from The Temple of Doom. The new case actually fits too, so now I should be able to get my data out. Yet, I can't and I blame Vista.
Once again, that operating system makes a nuisance of itself. Or it's me, it might be me. Does Vista have a My Computer? I ask, because yesterday's computing went a little like this:

Me : "Hey computer, here's a new drive in the USB port."
Computer :" Found it."
Me: " Great! Now where is it?"
Computer: "Where is what?"
Me: "The New Drive"
Computer: "The New Drive What?"
Me: "Where is the new drive?"
Computer: "First base."

Grrr....it's a damned Abbot and Costello skit. So, I'm trying the drive on my computer at work and we'll see if that works. Then, it's all XP for both the drive and the system and maybe, just maybe it'll work again. Then maybe, just maybe, I can get back to work again.

-In other not news, I haven't received anything back from the independent contractors that I sent resumes to. I'm thinking that it isn't the fertile ground of employment that I thought it could be. Seems like it's time to try something else. Back to Monster for me. Well, that and get my Vertical Slice finished. Then I can hire me.

-Since my data is locked away inside my old drive, and my level design for the cliffs needs some revision, I find myself wasting time playing Ninja Gaiden II. After beating NG Black, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. It's a badge of honor as far as I'm concerned. "Yep, beat it and many of the missions. What? You only got to the second level? HAHAHA!"
So imagine my surprise when I get hacked down by chumps in the first level and fight the first boss half a dozen times. I didn't remember the last game being that hard. Or rather, I remember being a lot more agile and deadly.
Yesterday, for some reason, it clicked again. The internal mechanics of the game and my own internal clock lined up again. Like the planets or something. Blocks, counters, throws, things were happening faster than I thought about them. I found myself ripping through enemies like a Ninja Cuisinart. I see a room of 50 enemies and now all I think is, "Bad day to be them." It's F-ing sweet.

EDIT: I'm retarded. I mean, I went full retard on this one. The Lazarus Drive works, it was me, I was the problem.
An ATA Connector has two rows of little places to put pins. Something that would plug also has 2 sets of pins, so they connect all pretty like. So, when I pulled the drive out of the case to have a look, I had the idea to turn over the drive and, you know, look at the other side. I saw pins sticking out as only 1 row of little pins was connected correctly. Fixed it by connecting it correctly and now my drive works. I can get to my precious data. It's much quieter now too. Which leads me back to thinking that a broken fan is what ultimately killed Lazarus.

-Yes, I use the term retarded in only the most inappropriate way. You could send emails and complain, but before you do let me share something that I saw on internet.
"Arguring on the internet is like the Special Olympics : even if you win, you're still retarded."
I get the impression I'll regret writing that one day. But remember, it's all in good fun and nobody reads this anyway.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

PAX and The Summer of Love

I was wandering the wide breadth of internet, waiting for inspiration to hit me about my issue with the Cliffs (see below - although I think I've got it) and I wandered into the PAX site. It looks like you can get a booth there, like at Comic-Con, if you have something to show. I think that would rock personally, but that would give us all a collective deadline of 9-4-2009 - the first day. Granted, polishing and what not could still be done before the IGF competition, but I think showing at PAX, especially if we plan to release to Live Arcade would be huge. If we show well at PAX, then finding funding will not be a problem anymore.

Further, we show there, I could sign up to be a Speaker. You know, like Ender. I could actually get to speak at a panel. I sign up, tell them what it is I do around here and why I think I have something useful to say that people may want to hear. Maybe provide a counterpoint to the "Indie Movement" or be a worst case scenario for "So, you want a game job." I think I'm at a place that lots of people would want to be at in some way, but don't know how to get there. I know, the panel could be called, "How to get halfway there - Jobs in the game industry." Either way, that would Rock.

So, I went ahead and contacted my team to see if that deadline is possible. Currently, work has stalled up a bit due to school mostly. But I think that since September is on the tail end of summer, we could get it done in those long days with nothing else to do. I think it's possible. I think we can do it. I'll plan out the schedule. I know we can.

- In other crap, I think I'll download the XNA software this weekend and see how the compressions system works. I've heard two competing theories about it. One says that I write in C# code or no soup for me. The other says that I can do what I want as long as the code is Windows compiled. At which point, I do not need to port. Of course, that is best case scenario. I'll play with it this weekend and see what I can see.

-Speaking of which, on tap after the new enemy AI (which is still locked away inside Lazarus) is gamepad support. I'll go purchase one and get that rocking. I get the impression that playing with a gamepad is the next great "It" moment. Like when I installed the game for the first time using an installer or saw my game appear on one of my feed sites. One more thing I never though could be possible. Again, it may be stupid to somebody that's done it before, but to somebody that hasn't - it's the reason why.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nostalgia Induced Stupidity

I'm in the process of building more of the Cliffs level, and the more that I play with it, the less that I like it. There are parts of it I am fond of and play really well, but as a rule the level seems to be missing something. I could cut it and start right at the bottom of The Wall, but I like the idea of the level and think it could be quite good.
So, my thinking is that I need to add something, and that's a big damn shame. In effect, I'm finding that when the core platforming gameplay is all by itself, it doesn't stand up. The whole game could not be the platforming and not be terrible. The combat does have the great effect of breaking the gameplay up a bit and makes it more interesting. Especially when the combat and the platforming are combined in clever ways, or the enemies present an additional challenge for the platforming.
But no matter, the something that I need is there someplace and I think the level needs a puzzle. Nothing terribly fancy, just an excuse to force the player to backtrack a bit and figure out some puzzle in advance a few steps. In other words, a Reason for bothering. Yes, the story says we go back into the Castle now, but that's no reason for the player to climb a big assed hill. It borders on the assinine. Breaking it up into smaller segments to conquer, well, that seems like it would work better. Give the player a bonus, a gift, a carrot frequently and then give out big stuff for big stuff. A cardinal rule of game design is thus : Do not make your player wait for acknowledgement.
Now, I just need to figure out what that is exactly. What can I put into seaside cliffs that would require some kind of puzzle to be solved? I already got the puzzles for The Wall figured out. Heck, The Castle level itself is almost all built in my head, but what to do with Cliffs. I'll ponder and figure it out, although I'm considering having the puzzle destroy large chunks of the level to work. Although, that would drive the artists crazy. "What do you mean there's two versions of the level? There's no workable map? What the hell?" I can already see the emails floating in. When they play the demo though, I think they'll see what I going for and agree it's worth it.

Right then, back to the title. The GDC is going on right now, like as I write this and all day I keep getting feeds in from my feed sites. I could have gone. Heck, I'm an IGDA Member (in San Diego, and they never meet. I think I may try to be organize something in the future) But regardless, I am in a position where I could go, and that makes me a little happy inside. What also made me happy inside was that I got to vote on for the GDC Awards (The Gamies - I know that isn't what it's called, but I don't care). I explicitly did not vote for Fable II, mostly because of the tragedy that befell The Scarlett Sparrow.
But again, I seem to be getting off topic. On the feed forums I find that people continue to beat the horse over a Final Fantasy 7 remake. Here's what I have to say about that : Get Over It. Remakes, in all of their glory merely attempt to imitate. The people claim that it would be great to see all of the favortie characters and settings in newer shinier versions. They forget that it isn't the damn point of a video game. The point is to give you an experience. This is what the people want, they want to play it again and feel that sense of wonder that they got. Mind you, I am not saying that FF7 isn't a great game (certainly not the best though. That would be Bubble Bobble), but that feeling you got the first time you played it? You will never have that particular feeling again. Instead, nostalgia will fog it. In effect, the act of having seen it, has destroyed its mystery. So yeah, play the original again. You can do that without demanding that game creators re-do work that they have already done.
Me? I hope that they never remake another game, ever.

- I take that back, slightly. Mega Man 9 is what a remake is trying to be. It did everything right. It gave me new Mega Man. I made me feel what it was like to play that game for the first time in a way the a remake would never be able to. I'm also glad to know that I'm not the only one that felt young again playing it.

- In a similar vein, Nintendo announced another Zelda. I'm getting over it at this point. Trains? Really? But that's not what I'm here to talk about. You can get all of your news about the GDC from a million other places. My point is about the story of Zelda. No, no sarcasm. The meta-story of the Zelda games in the most entertaining piece of fiction in the medium. No, I haven't lost my mind. The meta fiction works thusly - there is no story. Nothing connects. The story plays out the same way because it is the same story. In effect, the "Legend" is already set in stone. Green clad youth ventures forth, goes through 8 trials, saves princess, Triforce thingy. But each time it's told, it's different. If you remove the specifics, you have Hercules, Jason, Neo. You have the mono-myth. You can tell that story as many times as you want, or as is the case in the Zelda games, in whatever way serves the gameplay. So each time I load a Zelda game, I know what is going to happen. The destination isn't the point. The point is the way that it gets there.
So why the vitriol? Why am I over it? Like I said before, I'm really just searching for Ocarina again. Wind Waker came really close but I want the new. I want the next thing. I don't have the energy to do it again.
But I say that, and you know, I'll be in line anyway. When you love cheesecake, you look for the next way to get it.

- Speaking of something totally off topic, I have a theory about James Bond. This has to do with Zelda, almost, in that he is a different guy each time. The basis is that, in spite of being a spy, he gives out his name to everybody. Mission Impossible showed us tha a spy's name, his or her real name is a very valuble thing. Giving it out to whomever asks is dumb, possibly criminally so. Stupidity that severe should be painful. Yet, he does.
So, I think that the name "James Bond" is a cover name. It goes with the agent currently assigned the 007 designation. It also explains why that all look different in the movies, and yet M is still, well, M and doesn't say, "My Mr. Bond, you've gotten taller and blonder since the last time we met. Didn't you used to be Scottish?" Think about it.

- Finally, Bubble Bobble is the world's best game and here's why - you can always play it. If it was the only game you had in your entire house, it would be okay. You can play with a friend, while drunk, and/or while drunk with a friend. It also has the greatest music to be produced by man, period. It's the music that plays in the waiting room to Heaven. The characters are both iconic and ironic and are cool without trying. The Most Interesting Man in the World has been known to say, "I don't always play video games, but when I do, I prefer Bubble Bobble."
If you can argue with that twisted logic, post something and please, be sure to include whatever game you think is the best ever.

- I am so getting either no response (since nobody reads this) or 500 "I think the FF7 remake is the world's best game..."

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Vistas

I hate Vista. I really do. So much. Like, if it was hanging from a cliff and I was the only one around that could help it up, I would kick it down just to watch it die. Don't get me wrong, it is a very pretty operating system and is all glassy and candy.
The most generally grievous affront to my subtle sensibilities is that it refused to compile my damn code. I'll repeat that and add some emphasis. It refused to compile my damn code. Try as I might, nada.
So I got a reply back from the fine people that built Blitz. Who replied quickly by the way, in spite of being in New Zealand. I love internet, much faster than pigeons. Right then, they asked the important question, "Do you have the new version?" "The What?" I replied to myself, since I was staring at an email that clearly wasn't going to reply. At least not today. So I went ahead and got the new version and now my program both runs and compiles on my new Vista saddled lap top computing machine.
In doing so, I've discovered that the game runs a little quicker on the new system. While this isn't entirely unexpected, I did think that I fixed that particular bug. Ah well, programming for another day.
Since my data is still in the husk of old laptop, I can't really continue the AI protocols yet. I can get to building some more levels and writing some documentation for the tools, so I'll do that tonight instead.

-No, I have no regret for the Star Wars pun. I would, and probably will, do it again.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

...error message...

The computer is still in a coma. It still won't load. I tried uninstalling the memory and putting it back in and trying to start it with only one of the chips in case the other is bad. So either memory chips are bad, or there is something else wrong. If the something else wrong is what it is, the general consensus is to reinstall XP and format the system. Since, you know, The Thief's Tale lives in there, that's really not an option that I want to do. Like, at all.

-Went to Fry's, got new memory, installed it even. I'm sad to say, that Lazarus is dead. Still no working. The computer that has come this far, the computer that stayed up late, that drew me into the world of my own programming, that was my constant companion throughout the last 2 years, the sixth team member, has passed on. It loads no longer, it will play no more games.

Let us take a moment of silence for the recently deceased.

But all is not lost friends, while death can be viewed as a end, it is also considered a beginning in some circles. Well, not mine generally, but I'm a rotten heretic. In any event, the data, the still warm heart (the hard drive really) can be transplanted into another and life can continue. I discovered at Fry's that I can pull my old drive out, install it into a case and run it as an external hard drive, moving my data, my sweet delicious data, to the new laptop that hasn't earned a name yet.
Star Frog Games is like Project Mayhem in that regard. In death, a laptop get's a name. It's name was Lazarus.

In the meantime I've got to figure out why the hell Blitz Plus refuses to run in the Vista environment. Yes, I could install XP on the new system, but I don't want to. It's full of apps that I do not have XP versions of. Bloody thing. I could also dual boot the system, but I'd rather not add stuff to it beyond it's regular spec. I could, and in a desktop I would, but my new laptop still has new computer smell on it. I should be able to get Blitz to work correctly. I've sent an email to the Blitz people to see what the hell.

-No, there was no reason that "should" needed to be accented in that last section. But after "could" and "would" were, it seemed appropriate.

-Right, this kind of crap is what makes Indie gaming hardcore. Big developers don't have production shut down for a week because a computer goes down. Developers with their fancy paychecks don't worry about silly things like, "Burning Power Cords" or "Crashed Dev Stations" and nonsense like that. It frustrates. Well, I suppose that they also don't get to play XBOX while code compiles (or maybe they do). I read an article in which Tim Schafer said that they had a toilet that would explode periodically when people up the block would flush. He didn't tell new hires because, "Oh, and we have feces," wasn't a selling point. Yeah, I respect a man that makes Psychonauts while the basement is full of unspeakable Golgathan-esque horror.
It all makes me a little angry. All I want to do is work. That's a basic want. I would like the ability to do this work without all the other, well, crap. I know that I'm asking a lot from the great beyond here, but really, can't a man sit down and do some code? I think that there are enough things that can go wrong at any given moment. Functions that don't work, bugs that don't get squashed, people that don't always have time, meetings to be scheduled, projects to be done and maybe, just maybe, a job or a venture capital advance or something. I do not need the hardware issues too.
Yet, you know, I'm still going on. I'm still standing.


It's going to take a lot more than a martyred laptop to get me to give up. Been through too much already. What else do you got?

Friday, March 20, 2009

C:\ Surgery.exe

Something is rotten in the house that Thief built. My Laptop, my $1 Laptop, has crashed out. It will not boot. It will not load. It does not dream.

I have The Fear.

I know that the hard drive is okay. The system almost boots when I tell it to start in DOS mode. It shows me the drivers it's trying to load from the hard drive and I can hear it spinning. The heart beats still. The processor works. The motherboard is okay. I can load BIOS and it stays working. It does not fail there. XP will not boot though. It just restarts after a quick flash of, "We are shutting down the system to protect your crap."

This weekend, I have to do surgery on my computer. I've taken them apart before. Built them. Destroyed them without thought to their components and their innards. But never a laptop and now, it matters. My work of the last 2 Years is in that system, trapped within it's ill electronic guts. If I fail. If I cannot raise the dead, then I'm screwed. There is no polite way to say it. I do have an archive from a month ago, so all would not be lost. But I do not know how I would continue working.

If I can do it, then my computer will be christened Lazarus. Songs will be sung. Feasts will be had. Triumphs will be paraded.

I've done research and it seems my system has faulty RAM chips. If I pull them out and put them back, they should reset. If that does it, then well, dancing happens. Then, since my Laptop will be in a dozen pieces on my coffee table, I'll install new, bigger RAM. Transfer my data my flash drives and stick in a new hard drive. Then, I shouldn't have to worry about anything like this happening again. I hope that my patient doesn't die on the table.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Frustration Unleashed

I'll preface this post by saying this - I had to hard boot my computer, and I'm thinking that a lot of the "issues" stemmed from that.

Right then, yesterday sucked, both for working and for play. As I had in the previous post, it turns out that the restart didn't matter after all, the script was broken. It's supposed to be simple really, draw stuff and save it. I've done both before, and compared to say, the new AI, the process isn't hard. The one piece, the only piece that is different this time, is drawing to an image buffer instead of the screen buffer.

Ah, I'm using new terms. I'll explain. When a computer draws graphics, it draws them one at a time. So it draws the background, then each thing on the foreground, then GUI graphics (for example). That looks nice, but as far as doing work, it sucks. So, what a computer does is use something called a "Screen Buffer." It draws everything to an imaginary screen, then when it's done, it shows that screen and starts drawing the next.

An Image Buffer is almost the same thing, except instead of drawing everything to a screen to be shown, it draws it to a blank image. This image can then be displayed or saved. It's how my Screen Capture function works. I draw everything to an Image Buffer and then save the image as the Level number. That works.

Yet, when I tell it to go fetch the little pictures of the levels and stitch them together, it falls down and gives me crap. By "Crap" I mean pixel junk. Nonsense. It's what white noise would look like if you drew it, while on acid. It seems that the picture has gone to another place, a new dimension between space and time, like it took a ride on the Event Horizon.

For the life of me I do not know why. The sorcery involved with the Image Buffer seems just outside of my comprehension and knowing it, like reading the Necronomicon, will drive a man mad. When I went ahead and had it draw the script as a regular Screen Buffer, it worked. It bloody worked. Same thing with the Image Buffer and well, see above.

At the very least, each time I ran the damn thing it took 6 minutes. Usually, it would be a lot faster, but courtesy of a hard boot, everything took longer yesterday. This gave me some time to find that I enjoy STFU a little less than I thought I did. As I was fighting a giant rock monster looking thing, I kept getting killed, hard. I'm not bad at these games, but that damn boss-ish enemy kept putting the hurt on me. Again, not so bad, except I kept having to play through a section of game each time I went to go fight the stupid thing.
So, here's how development went yesterday: Change code, compile code, let process run, restart STFU section, finish half of a puzzle, fight a boss, die and not know why, find that my code still isn't working, repeat. Eventually, I gave up on the Image Buffer problem and just played XBOX instead.
After finally finishing the level I was stuck on I got the privilege of moving on, and here's the part I don't like so much. The only way to fight and not suck is to use the Force tossing move. You can't rush in and swing a lightsaber and ruin some chumps because they will kill you. A Sith Lord can apparently be taken out by some tribal aliens. WTF? In all fairness, they did attack from off screen and the block button is is more of a suggestion. What that you say? My reflexes suck? Don't blame the button? Ah, but the block button works in Ninja Gaiden Black, every time. STFU, not so much.
So, yeah. Get the demo. It has all the good parts of the game in it and is free. Me, I'm going back to playing Fallout and getting back to the AI.

- Just realized that I like peppering the blog with links. It makes it look all official and whatnot.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dr. Frankenstein

Yeah, that's right. I got it. One of those things that has been requested day after day, and was, until about 20 minutes ago, beyond my grasp. Yep, Go-Go Gadget arms and booya, I can print the screen from a hot key. But wait, there's more! I then built a script to do all of them at the same time. Then, egads, I built a script to stitch them all together like some kind of freakin Frankenstein monster, only instead of being built out of cadaver parts, it's made out of awesome level designs. So, yeah, I'm felling good about myself at 11:00 PM on a Sunday night.
I'll be getting that to my artist sooner, rather than later. I'm thinking a big map that's drawn to scale and all of the screens all ready to go is, "More Art-ie, Less Tech-ie." At least, I hope so.

Right then. Now I can go back to designing and implementing my new Combat System. Tomorrow. It is 11:00 PM.

EDIT: Funny story about Windows this morning. Yesterday, I set the system to build the monster, clicked the Compile button and declared, "Thundercats are GO!"...and nothing. I realized I had set no way for the system to let me know how far along it was. Oh well. I gave it 40 minutes and then found that my computer had locked down tighter than a chastity belt on a frog. So, I gave it the grace of a hard boot and tried again. After adding a method to let me know what was, you know, going on I let it run and went to bed. The previous process had taken 20 minutes or so, and I was expecting something similar.
When I awoke, the computer was off. Perplexed and still in my early morning haze, I made sure the computer was still plugged in, as the battery lasts all of 4 minutes. Finding that the plug was still in the wall like a good little plug, I restarted my system. A few minutes later the desktop appeared along with a message, "Congratulations, your updates are installed." Generally speaking, The Rage would have commenced, but my day was only 5 minutes old, and I lacked the energy. I'll try a smaller set later and see if that works better.

-In Not-News, I'm playing The Force Unleashed or as the cool kids call it, TFU or as it would be known if it was released on Super Nintendo, Super The Force Unleashed, or STFU. In any event, I'm getting a niggling feeling that the game is broken. The point is to walk around and lay waste with the sheer power of your Sith machismo. I get that, and when I get to do it, I enjoy it immensely. I especially like using some Force Lightning on Jawas - they make the cutest noises. What I also like is dressing up my little characters in a game. I think it's because I'm a boy and didn't get to play dress up with dolls when I was a kid. Yet, STFU makes me run all over the damn levels exploring to find the cute little outfits I can, um, outfit my wee lil Sith in. This of course highlights the terrible assed platforming design and keeps me away from the killing.
This seems contrary to the point. The game is obstinately about murder in the name of awesomeness and the platforming exists only as a way to get from Massacre A to Massacre B. Why not give me goodies for being badass? Why make somebody with the power of the cosmos at their disposal look around a scrap heap for some old robes? So, since I don't want to miss the next thing that will make me look cooler, I enter an area, murder everything that is or could be alive, and then spend the next 3-7 minutes looking around the arena to make sure I didn't miss anything. This ruins the flow a bit. I wish that I could either get over wanting to dress up my little dudes in these games or be given a damn code to unlock the outfits at the start. Maybe the lightsaber colors too. Especially that black one.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Left Brain / Right Brain

Video games are a strange beast I'm finding. When people hear the term "Game Developer" they generally may think about Programmers and maybe if I'm lucky, Designers. They envision men with glasses and ill lit rooms with the colors of the screen dancing on the wall. Like an Indian spirit walk in 5.1 surround sound. Some people do miss the other part of that - the art. It doesn't occur to them that every level, every model, every picture is built, modeled or drawn by somebody. In real game development these artists are most of the team. The reason the Programmers and Designers are in a small little room is because the Artists are taking up all of the rest of the room in the building, their mouse/brush/tablet wielding Legions filling the rooms to the rafters.

To wit - My team has 4 people in it. Two of them are Artists. I still think they're overworked. If you add me, then we have 2-1/3 artists or almost 60% of the team.

Of course, they're important. Some could argue that a good game is made 0f mechanics, and technically, those could be done by Programmer alone. But they're missing the point. Adventure looks like ass. Oblivion looks like what meth must feel like - amazing. One some level, they're similar, but with one, you pretend you're looking at something awesome, the other you are actually looking at something awesome. The artists are doing all of that. The art is always the part that people see.

However, I'm finding that they are a totally different breed than other developers. They're like the Programmers and yet totally unlike them. They both have jargon and etiquette I don't always understand. But even worse, they can almost not communicate with each other. Or at least, I can't.

I've been trying for the last few days to see how my artists are doing, and the generally, they seem confused by the level layout. When I did it, I used the editor and clicked around and found the levels and knew how they connected and all that. I figured that everybody could do that. What I'm finding is that isn't always the case. I'll rephrase - I used the Editor that I programmed and I designed to get the work I needed to do. It didn't occur to me that the process was convoluted, and my lack of documentation (I feel a "What Went Wrong" coming on) for the tools means that only somebody with either first hand experience or hard core technical knowledge would be in a position to easily do work that way. In other words, the tools were not built for Artists, they were built for Programmers.

One of the artists said, and I paraphrase, "Less Tech-ie, more Art-ie."

So, it may have been unfair to assume that the problem isn't mine. I think I'm onto a way to help and do something bordering on the cool, but I think that this is always an issue. These differences between what is needed and what expected, between ways to work, the Left Brain and the Right. I think that I, as the Designer, as the Director, need to be able to communicate to both. I have to live in both worlds and be able to translate and coordinate. Grr...I'm not a Designer, I'm a freakin' Bard.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So What?

I'm hunting today. I'm trekking through the thick underbrush that is Internet seeking the most elusive of prey, indie contractors. I know they're there, maybe to the left, maybe to the right. San Diego is full of them I find. Even more so than Los Angeles. Not big studios, heck, maybe not even consistent paychecks, but places to work really hard and make something good. I've found 3, in my area even. Resumes are already in transit.
I did find a few things in my hunt. Several of the websites I meandered into were no longer up. Meaning that the company that once held it up is no more. I've found that with a few studios too. They have job postings from 2005 and their site isn't updated anymore. Maybe there is someone there, but they don't answer when I call out. A ghost town of the internet. You can almost hear the echoes of the people that worked there, and probably now work someplace else. I wonder that one day, this site will go dark, the servers will stop supporting it, the kipple will overwhelm it.
I wonder about the context of such a thing. Have I moved on to a place where my thoughts need not be recorded? Probably not, heck, I could be building Halo 4 and I'd still post about my issues making the Grunt's AI behave itself. I would probably refer to everything as some kind of code though.
Would I have given up? Nope. Not happening. I've put up with too much, conquered so many challenges. Staying up to 5:00AM for a week straight working is hard. Finding a publisher, pft, that's cake.
So it's official then - as long as I'm making games, I'm writing about it. When I retire I'll have dozens of games and thousands of pages. People will refer to me as "prolific."

Right, something else that I've found is that there are a few other studios in my area that are also looking for some possible publisher funding. They haven't seemed to find it yet. They show concept art and hold it up saying, "If we had $50,000 up front and $800,000 over a year and a half, we could finish this." Really? $800,000? For a side scroller? Aren't we ambitious? It's more than Sonic the Hedgehog cost to make and then they wonder why they don't have any money. So can I find a publisher? I still think I can. Other people are looking and can't find one, So What? They don't have me.

-Yep, I know, that sounds egomaniacal. Yet, it's true, they don't.

- Speaking of places that don't exist anymore, I had an odd, existential thought recently. I was reading about a Ma-Mor-Pa-Gah call Rome Rising or something like that made by a studio that dissolved like a witch in the rain. I was reading about the mechanics and the concept, and it all sounded quite good to me, but the studio got sidetracked doing a Star Trek MMO, and they didn't have the resources to keep going.
The question that I got to was this - what happens to the worlds that are left behind? Online MMO worlds aren't like regular games, they live. I mean, they have people in them that find meaning within them. Eventually, they clear out and people go on to other things and other worlds, like Planeswalkers at a Universal Buffet. The places that they held so dear and fought so hard for forgotten and eventually overrun by the digital monsters that populate the fringes. Entropy it seems, will eventually even come to Azeroth.
But then what? Pulling the plug on a world, especially one you've made seems terribly sad. I would expect tears to happen. Maybe I'm over thinking this. Maybe it's as sinple as turning out the lights after Last Call. Then again, unlike history, there's nothing left afterwards. The stories that exist are as fleeting as the places themselves. There for a moment, and then gone into the aether. In a hundred years, nobody will wander the ruins of Everquest or the tattered spires of WAR.
Hmm, I'm feeling an idea coming on. I wonder, after the places are dark, if they could be captured and stored. Added to a giant depository of topography. Bringing their creatures and their rules to an MMO multiverse. Create a rule system that allows the individual rules of each world to function, maybe by analog. A virtual world of virtual worlds. Sounds great, but it seems that too would eventually go dim.
So what? Am I saying that these are all a waste of time? Stop playing, go outside? No. In some way, maybe the worlds of MMOs are real worlds in a real sense, just sped way up. In a million years, nobody will wander the ruins of London or the tattered spires of New York. The people gone and the creatures that lived on the fringes would have taken over - beavers and foxes instead of dragons and unicorns.
I'm finding that even in these thoughts, I find myself drifting back towards the familiar. My own heretical hedonist viewpoint. If these places exist, if only for a little while, and they bring joy, then then that is their reason. The spaces, just that, spaces. Do I have an answer to these big questions? Nope, sorry. I don't always have an answer and I don't always know. If you ask me in person, I'll totally deny I wrote that, but it is true.
These thoughts come to me because I've thought about doing an MMO one day. Late, after making my fortunes. A way to maybe retire. Ah, I kid nobody (since nobody reads this) I'm working right up until they actually put the nails in the coffin. But I think that there are ideas that could create an all new kind of online world. Something in the fabric of the genre itself. It's in my head, gestating, and one day it will come out and be the best thing that I've ever done. Right now, I need to get there. The only way I really know how to- every time I do a project, it has to be my greatest work yet.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Nope, title makes no sense today, but my brain is fried. I've been crunching new AI code for the last 7 hours and my head meats are sore. I got to the point where I need animations to continue, so that seemed like a good place to stop. I could get more of the AI functions built, but I don't want to have to redo chunks of them after I get the new collision system working.
The problem I've got is this - the old combat collision system really sucked. Every attack hit on the same animation frame. That picture would vary a little but, but it was frame 3, every time. With the number of new attacks and the way it's put together, that simply will not work anymore. As I stated in a previous post, now it's all about a big-assed array with variable hit frames and variable numbers of frames per animation. It'll be very, very shiny and make The Animator very, very happy.
Unfortunately, without the content I can't build the array, so blah.

-I ruined a bug today. I noticed while I was building a map for The Ron that the new enemy AI pathfinding code Epic Failed in the actual game, and I didn't know why. For some reason, they were all in odd places in the level. Like, they were on the ceilings and roofs. Then I realized that I only built some code so they wouldn't jump off of ledges, not turn around at walls. Add to that the step up function that I built in and they could literally leap tall structures in a single bound. Added some wall code and now the enemies behave a little bit better and follow the laws of physics.

- For the new AI, I'm trying something new. The whole thing it built of tiny, granular functions. Like, the ledge and wall code both use 4 different functions, but they're nice and small. I noticed the last AI system's code was large and unwieldy, and difficult to sequence and dubug correctly. I'm finding the new way to be a lot more efficient. Well, I did find a bug that was spread over 3 different functions, but at least I could visualize what each was doing.

-Why will the new combat animation system make The Animator happy? Now his animations will look better. When I told him the original 4 frame combat system he said, "That works, but I guess we'll change it later." Now I can. Since the animations already built are Maya models, he would just have to re-render them with more frames. And voila, extra smooth and pretty.

-Speaking of him, he got his acceptance to an art school in Florida. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Envy maybe. Maybe something else. I mean, it's 2 fold. One the one hand, soon I'll be without an animator for my little project, so that sucks. Especially considering that he's crazy dedicated and hard working. Not everybody stays up until 3 AM doing something that they're not even getting paid to do. I could find another, but I really don't want to.
The other bit is that I'm getting older and finding new friends is actually quite hard. I really do not want to lose another. They seem to have a tendency to move away. Yet, as a friend, I can't help but be happy for his achievements and hope that the art school turns out as well as it can. I'm sure it will.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Virtual Insanity

Got the walking thing all down. Wait, I mean is that I've got my enemies walking around their environment in something approaching an intelligent way. I have personally had the walking thing down for a number of years now. So now they know when they're at a ledge and turn around where appropriate. They stop and glare at you when they get to the ends (animation pending) and will hop down off of low platforms and climb back up. The last bit impresses me the most, because now I can have enemies and The Thief fight on stairs.
They don't fight anymore, since I finally ripped the regular AI out, but that's coming up next. They know when they see The Thief, but they just kind of ignore him now. I think that I'll install an "Action Timer" that will keep track of when the enemies will do something. It'll set a random number, and then count down from it. When it gets to zer0, a new action will happen, like going all defensive, launching an attack or moving around. I'm thinking that I can make the things it does more context specific, but the Action Timer will work great for the enemy attacks if nothing else. Methinks that's how the AI in Ninja Gaiden Black is set to attack. I could be wrong though. I'll get the timer all set up today, and maybe get something to happen.

-Is it just me, or does Action Timer sound like some kind of Pocket Watch Superhero?

-I would so read that comic.

In other news, http://www.starfroggames.com/ is now up! Yes, exclamation marks! I hate these things! You'll notice if you clicked the link in your joy driven haste, that it only sends you back here. I said it was up, I didn't say that it worked.

I'm finding Fallout 3 to be sweet and I'm finding myself playing it all stupid somehow. Other people own homes, have oodles of loot and followers. I've got a Foxhound Sneaking Suit, a bitchin' hat and only what I can carry on my person. I occasionally wander into town to trade my often ill gotten and usually gore covered goods. It's awesome. I'm playing Sanjuro. You people can keep your houses, I own the desert.

I am considering a Cafe Press store. Since almost nobody reads this, I fully expect nobody would purchase anything. Well, except me. I would totally own a black shirt that says "Sneaking Suit" or featuring a picture of Action Timer doing action things. Then again, that is time I could and probably should be working.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Artificial Stupidity

I'm finding designing a system straight up, and programming said system are very, very different beasts. My previous programming was progressive. There was no specific thing, just an idea of what I wanted, and little pieces were added and tweaked until I had more or less what I set out to put together. The new AI system though, that's harder. The design calls for specific things with specific parameters. The work is even hard to start. "What do I do first?" I asked myself. It needs a dozen things, but what can I start with that will give me a base? The combat is the obvious answer, but that fails without the new pathfinding ability. I wouldn't be able to test and play the combat with the old system. It would be impossible to debug correctly.
So instead I find myself nipple deep in the new AI Pathfinding/Collision functions, and honestly, it's making me crazy. As it is now, parts trigger correctly, but I don't have the walking around bit going yet. Even worse, I am finding parts of the design to be, um, vague in places. This is the part of the design that Designers do after they've written the Design Doc. In any event, I should at least get the walking around going today.
Ah right. Speaking of the design, when I drew it up, I was enamored with what could be done, and I had little thought of if it should be done. I totally ignored Ian Malcolm. So, on jumping, I don't think I want enemies to do it. They shouldn't jump across gaps to attack the player, that seems like that would suck in most aspects. The issue is that the player cannot just whip out a sword at will and get to combating, nor can they just throw it back and quickly run about. So, if entering a screen and literally getting jumped by an enemy and punished would be lame. I could make the sword pull out faster to compensate, but then I'm still dealing with the possibility of combat in areas not really designed for combat.
The solution I've got now is to make only the Fencer type enemies jump and design the levels with them in them to be combat oriented. The more acrobatic crap the Princess is going to be capable of (like wall running and a good number of her attacks) will be scripted since she will be the only thing in the game capable of them.
But, before that I need to get the enemies to realize they're on the edge of a platform and not fall off and kill themselves. Baby steps.