Month: January 2015

Untitled Space Game – Episode 2: More like C Dull, amiright??

Weekly update on space game project – I’ve developed the core concept a bit more in xmind format, and decided I was ready to roll on to step 3 (because who needs ordinal lists?) and begin to prototype some of the basic systems involved. I figured I would start with the ship interface, and step number one was to lay out the basic hierarchy and variables for what that even entails.

For starters, I’ve decided that the ship will essentially be laid out into a square grid, the dimensions of which are a “character” wide. The very core components I need are:

  • A ship class
    • A grid class that contains info about each grid tile
  • A character class
    • Knows how to move around between grid tiles

After much wrangling of Unity objects and planning of eventual organizational flows, I got it in some semblance of a working prototype, after many hours of struggling with even the most basic C# syntax and unity APIs. It’s definitely been slow-going, but I feel like I’m dusting off the old C# cobwebs some and starting to get back into a groove. There’s definitely a “R&D/Refresh my Programming” phase of this I’m going to need to factor in though. It’s also a good reminder that while I list scripting and programming on my resume, and do in fact have a decent amount of background in it, I am in a lot of ways quite rusty, and I should really take this as a learning opportunity if I hope to apply those skills to my next job.

Part of what is making this tough, I think, is that I am still recovering from a flu (or some similar plague) that knocked me out for several days (including hastening my departure from PAX south – I only was there 5 hours before I had to call it quite and drive back home). Today I’ve felt mostly better aside from congestion and a cough, but I won’t claim my head is 100% in the game. That seems to be the pattern with sickness – you approach total wellness asymptotically, and there’s never a single day where you wake up and suddenly everything is back to 100%. So in the meantime you just soldier on at reduced capacity and energy. I guess in a way taking those steps is probably what gets you the rest of the way there.

So in that vein, while I am not making a ton of tangible progress, I do feel like I’m picking the pace back up and learning along the way. The next micro-step will be to refine the movement so that characters move from grid tile to grid tile, and then maybe to add a second character and make them selectable.

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Untitled Space Game – Episode 1: The Drawing Board

This is the first in a hopefully many-part set of blog posts in which I will attempt to document my thought and work process in my efforts to make a game in Unity. So far, the broad strokes of the project are:

  • Strategy/rpg set in space, heavy on exploration, crew/ship building and tactical combat
    • Like Wing Commander Privateer, sorta, but more strategy-oriented
  • The ship-to-ship engagements should resemble FTL, or Dungeon of the Endless
  • Semi-realtime – player can pause/fast forward time in certain contexts
  • 2D isometric/top down art
  • Done in Unity engine
  • Moddable – because as a solo dev, content is going to be hard to do, so crowdsource that shit

I’ve had these broad strokes swimming around in my head (and in various forms of written/electronic media) for a while now, but have been looking for the best way to start. Already just sitting down and really pondering the workload and plan, there are noticeable differences in thinking this out for myself vs for a team, which is a context in which I have much more experience working. For example, part of me wants to heavily design the thing out on paper, but another side of me realizes that any design work I do is solely for the benefit of helping myself shape the eventual game, rather than communicating a vision to a team or solving for manpower and production constraints. Of course, I could similarly call into question the point of this blog, but I’ll leave that bottomless rabbit-hold of self-reflection for another time, and try and focus on creating.

So how to actually begin? It’s weird, after all this time, to have the only real constraint be my own time/ability. The drawing board is big and blank and terrifying in front of me, and as much as I want to simply paste a snapshot of the finished thing in place and just trace over it, I know I have to begin somewhere. First steps and all that jazz. So the way I see it, I can divide up my effort as if I had a 3 man team consisting of a writer, an artist, and an engineer, and focus on 3 main big-picture things, in basically this order:

  1. Designing the world, lore, and gameplay rules
  2. Defining the general art style
  3. Pick some of the core systems to start prototyping in isolated projects, to figure out the tech involved

Even as I wrote those out I edited and revised them like 10 times, and now I figure that steps 1 and 2 are roughly parallel, but step 3 really relies on the other 2. I may be able to enlist the aid of some artist friends of mine to help get #2 rolling. In particular Erik and Jon might have some good ideas, although I don’t know how much they’ll be willing to do out of charity. As for step 1… I’ve made some decent progress in outlining the gameplay basics in Xmind format. The next step, given that it’s a 2d semi-turn-based strategy, might be to model out some of the mechanics in physical cards and paper. I bet I could enlist the aid of my tabletop RPG buddies in playtesting and tuning the core mechanics, even. I have to admit to a certain disdain for actually producing physical things, as I try and live my life as much digitally as possible, but I have to acknowledge a certain ease of creation and editing when the thing is just comprised of index cards, and it bypasses the tendency to get buried deep in the idiosyncrasies of a particular algorithm or section of code, and lost sight of the whole in the process.

So there we go. Step 1 – make a card game. Actually, I guess step 1 is get some cards. That’s my first goal for tomorrow. I should have some free time to do that I think.

New-ish Year Re-resolutions

On Jan 2 I wrote:

“I want to make some resolutions for myself for 2015:

  1. Write at least once a week on here, even if it’s nothing major.
  2. Spend at least 1 night a week working on side projects, likely in Unity. (Bonus – combine 1 and 2 by writing about the side projects)
  3. Work out at least twice a week. This is a habit I’ve really gotten out of after my son was born, and I notice a difference in just general energy levels and evenness of mood.
  4. Take my son to some activities, at least a couple times each month, now that he’s getting old enough to go out and do things.”

Let’s see how I’ve fared 18 days later:

  1. Well, this one’s obviously a bust. This is my first post since then. So call it… 33% successful so far, I guess.
  2. Batting 50% on this one. I have monkeyed around with Unity and spent some time formulating a project, but not very much. My excuse has been I will have plenty of time for that after I no longer am going into work…
  3. I’m batting closer to 80% on this, I have had several good workouts. Room for improvement still, but not too bad overall.
  4. We’ve been going to the park on days that it’s nice, so that’s something. I would still like to do something a little more special at some point. I’d give myself a 75% on this.

I guess the unspoken 5th resolution of “find a damn job” is also unfulfilled so far. But with all these there is still concrete steps to be taken, which is the important thing. Layoffs are a weird rollercoaster of emotion and motivation, and finding consistency in all that feels difficult, but I can continuously recommit to my plans – after all, the only one grading me is myself.

Going forward, I want to make an amendment to the first item – write at least once every 2 weeks specifically about my forays into Unity, and my design process as I progress in my projects. It seems like half the time I sit down to write, there’s just so many divergent topics I could cover I don’t know where to begin, and the blank page is creatively stifling. So I’m aiming to write about the more narrowly constrained topic of development.

Welcome 2015

2015 will most certainly be, for me at least, a year of many changes. The most obvious, and at the moment worry-inducing, change is that I will need to find a new job. I have until January 22nd to be officially employed at Edge of Reality still, at which point me and another 10 employees are left to fend for ourselves. The timing of these layoffs has been… less than ideal, the news coming as it did a few days before Christmas. It’s certainly cast a shadow on the end of an otherwise very good year, and in a way I wish I had been able to remain ignorant through the holidays and be able to actually relax and enjoy myself more, since I already sorely needed a vacation.

I’ve done a little bit of preparation to search for jobs, including putting word out on the twitbooks, and updating my resume. The timing is awkward as well because I’ve been unable to contact anyone I know working at studios around town, since all their offices are closed for the holidays, but that’s something I intend to pursue in earnest starting next week. Also on the mental checklist of things to do is update this site to include links to my resume, linkedin, etc. I might try and put together some form of demo reel or portfolio, although showing the design process is difficult to to visually, and might just amount to me describing problems I faced and how I tackled them, in a sort of post-mortem style here on this blog.

In the end I think this layoff will be a good thing for me, since it will allow me to finally work elsewhere. I’ve been at Edge over 7 years now, which is frankly too long to be a designer at a studio which relies on ports and has little proclivity or need for good design. I understand that designers always face constraints, and working around those often leads to more creative outputs, not less, but it would be nice to work for a place where one of the constraints it not “convince everyone constantly that designing things, as a concept, is even important”. It seems clear looking at successful studios that they put a heavy emphasis towards the player engagement, and have a constant eye towards how to craft fun and deep experiences. I want to be somewhere like that, and while I’ve been on a kind of slow-burn search for a while now, this layoff has really forced my hand and caused that search to take a much higher priority. Of course, I still have to go in for the next month or so…

One final note, seeing as how it’s a new year and people tend to do these kinds of things, I want to make some resolutions for myself for 2015:

  1. Write at least once a week on here, even if it’s nothing major.
  2. Spend at least 1 night a week working on side projects, likely in Unity. (Bonus – combine 1 and 2 by writing about the side projects)
  3. Work out at least twice a week. This is a habit I’ve really gotten out of after my son was born, and I notice a difference in just general energy levels and evenness of mood.
  4. Take my son to some activities, at least a couple times each month, now that he’s getting old enough to go out and do things.

So the year is not starting on a high note, but I feel confident I can make the best of it and in the end 2015 can be my best year yet!