Jump to content

  • Log In with Google      Sign In   
  • Create Account

The Mothership Connection

Halley's Comet of Journals?

Posted by , 07 November 2014 - - - - - - · 641 views

Lessee, 2014 huh? Last journal entry was in 2008. Previous one was 2006. Geez, at this rate my next entry should be done by what, 2020?!

I've been possessed of late, animated with a need to write about games, mostly surrounding a topic in gaming that's become absolutely radioactive. Likely everyone who follows gaming news knows what I'm talking about, and it's extremely divisive, so I don't want to talk about it here. But I find that I feel so strongly about it that its cut into my game development time, so maybe writing here is a way of recovering balance.

So, with that in mind, be warned. Serious TL;DR ahead.

I'm not posting much about games these days, but I'm still working on them. Some of the ideas I've posted about ages ago are still alive. I'm not sure I'll ever stop loving space games, or wanting to make them.

This year, however, has been about beating the logic of the "sunk cost fallacy," the lie that you can't turn back now because you've spent too much going the way you're going. I had been working on a game using Torque 2D, but the farther I got, the more wrong the process seemed to be. Torque's a great engine, especially in its new open source form, and my project had started life on the closed source version (Torque Game Builder) as an epic space trading RPG set in a randomly generated galaxy. Initial development seemed easy once I'd picked up the scripting language of TGB, and once it went open source I started dreaming of a sort of Dwarf Fortress in space, with a huge emphasis on exploration, crew development and random encounters.

But as I succeeded, I began to struggle with an embarrassingly simple problem. I didn't want to make a 2D game.

Yeah, I know. Dumb. What's that they say about insanity?

I'd originally chosen Torque because it felt faster to get up and running for a lone wolf dev. My dirty little dev secret is that although I can program, I don't especially enjoy it. The faster I can move a thought into interactions on the screen, the happier I am, and I've preferred engines over rolling my own because I really can't stand the fiddly bits. I'm like an author that just wants a typewriter without having to learn the metallurgy and chemistry needed to build one.

Torque Game Builder had rudimentary 3D support, treating 3D objects as sprites. It was perfect for what I was planning. But the collapse of Garage Games took out TGB, or at least any future updates, and when the company came back from the dead with Torque 2D MIT, 3D didn't make it and wasn't planned. Not devastating, though, because there were lots of other goodies, and isometric was still possible. A big challenge was that the engine now lacked an editor, which was a hit to productivity, but I reasoned that I had lots to learn, the editor was around the corner, and the ability to customize the engine was compelling.

After awhile, though, I felt frustrated and stuck, less due to the engine and more to my own limits. The smart thing to do to learn and improve in game development is to make and COMPLETE small projects, but every time I've done this I've felt my motivation disappear mid-project. At this point in life I realize I'm only ever going to be who I am. Whatever is happening in my head that causes this experience is unlikely to change any time soon. So the best I can do is manage my own insanity and try to abstract and constrain gameplay in a way that doesn't balloon content and coding requirements.

(My success here may be debatable.)

So I lost a lot of time trying to shoehorn my ideas into 2d. I cut things out, I abstracted, tried to add gameplay to bolster weakened areas, saw the design contort in the wrong direction (life sim/RPG?) and through it all attempted to maintain my failing morale by playing games more like what I was likely to be making. Smugglers IV, for instance, showed me that abstract space combat might be fun. Weird Worlds gave me quick and dirty planetary encounters. Character portraits could stand in for characters. Exploration might work like in Planet Stronghold.

Maybe? Maybe? Yeah, maybe.

At this point I'd sunk probably thousands of hours into design and development. I'd gotten as far as a huge space map, randomly generated planet surfaces, rudimentary logic for procedural empires, some specific encounters. There was a bit of base exploration, a history generator that I thought could be turned into some sort of procedural story/mission generator and a sweet random word generator I'd stayed up until 5 AM coding one night. I was about to push into procedural cities.

At this point I was starting to notice that it was getting harder and harder to make the game more granular, and the more zoomed in I got the worse the game looked. I'm only slightly dangerous with art, and it's a heck of a lot easier to animate an asteroid than it is an animal. Add to that Torque 2D MIT still didn't have an editor, even months after release, and I was increasingly finding it hard to learn and experiment with risky concepts.

Eventually, I hit a wall. Carving up my design into more and more abstract representations began to feel like bludgeoning myself with a hammer. I think I stopped working on anything for months. Maybe lots of months.

Unity had been exploding through this time, maybe well before, but I barely noticed other than to note the growing number of "Made With" games out there. I think I'd last looked at it back when it was Mac only, can't really remember. But I have a habit of sticking to whatever I invest myself in, sometimes well beyond the point that it's not working (queue life lesson *bing!*), so I didn't notice.

It's a weird fact of my life that no matter how hard I try to get away from game development, even when it's not working,I can't stop doing it for long. I once gave up gaming entirely, no making, playing, thinking or talking about it allowed. I got into motorcycles and databases and stressed out a good gamer friend who suddenly didn't know what to talk to me about anymore. I lasted a year.

I guess this is a curse, one which some of you share. To me it's not about profit, or career or success. It's about the need to say something no matter what. To quote the annoying mission failure screen in Fuel, you.. "Keep trying, or fail forever."

So at some point I stopped being stubborn, started seeking other options and risked Unity. Hidebound as I am, afraid of change as I am, I gambled that it had to be better than being stuck where I was.

It was the best decision I've ever made.

I think I started experimenting near the end of last year and since then my productivity has exploded. As with Torque, I find there's a huge learning curve, and I've always had crappy math skills so I'm again confronting that. But the stability and maturity of the engine has really rescued my project.

So what do I have so far? Lots, though not yet tied all together, and no part by any means finished. But there are explorable solar systems again. There are MASSIVE procedural planets with biomes with levels I think larger than Fuel, a severe allergic reaction to Mass Effect's disappointing postage-stamp sized worlds. I've got the barest beginnings of randomly generated interiors I hope to turn into faction bases and alien ruins. I'm starting to learn Poser Game Dev (and just spent 3 days trying to model #*@!&$! boots) and as that comes along so will characters, armor, and gear.

Of course, it's only a start and I'm quite aware that there's far more ahead than behind. But what the hell! Even if it snowballs, I'm having more success and more fun than ever before. And when I think from time to time about whether this is the best use of a limited life, I'm not in the least bit regretful. Yeah what I'm dreaming about is ambitious, ludicrous, devouring of time and resources, but really, what else am I gonna do with myself?

See ya in 2020. Posted Image

My Life in 30 Seconds

Posted by , 24 April 2008 - - - - - - · 1,001 views

Hello gamedev. After ages being absent, I'm feeling a bit like Halley's Comet. For the old timers and friends who wondered, "Whatever happened to Wavinator??? Is he dead???" here's the 30-second digest:

I've been out of game development for years, mostly doing database programming for a healthcare company in California. Life and the job took up much of my free time, and the high hopes I'd had for developing an open-ended science fiction RPG where pretty much dead. In fact, I was so disgusted with the whole reality of indie development that I stopped thinking about games or even playing them for over a year.

The funny thing about some passions, though, is that no matter how far you try to get from them they still follow you. I heard this great piece of wisdom recently: "Some barriers in life exist solely to let you know how much you want something." And I can't seem to escape wanting to develop games.

So after a long moratorium, I've found myself going back over old notes and resurrecting bitrotting code (albeit with far less ambition than my previous kitchen-sink designs :P). I've gotten into game development using the Torque engine and have a flying ship with a stellar background up and working as a proto.

Anyways, aside from the fact that I've moved from California to Canada to marry a wonderful woman who happens to live here (we're planning for June), not much is happening.

I'm looking forward to being a part of the gamedev community again.

Down, But Not Out

Posted by , 26 March 2006 - - - - - - · 263 views

Sincere apologies to anyone who still checks this journal from time to time for the lack of updates again. I was down with crashed hardware for weeks, then got injured at work in the most unbelievably idiotic accident of my life-- my chair caught on a floormat and dumped me (yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's right... I somehow managed... to fall... out of a chair... obviously I'll be attending remedial "Sitting 101: Philosophy and Methods"[rolleyes]).

I think I sidestepped a fractured tailbone and lower back injuries, but won't know for sure until I get my X-rays back this week. Honestly, it would be hilarious if the past two and a half weeks hadn't been pain soaked exercises in what it will one day be like to be elderly (like the 2 minutes to tie my shoes or get into the car... a real laugh riot[rolleyes])

Anyways, FWIW, I'm feeling a lot better and getting things underway again.

Straylight Update

Make that 78,967 ship names. [grin] I'm almost done. Some random examples: Princess of Alula Borealis, Guardian's Lore, Mysterious Veil and Sojourn's Reach.

I've just got to finish up the pirate, ethnic and mythic names before I'm happy. Right now it looks like coming up with about +100k will be a snap, and with procedurally generated ships, will really be a subtle way of expressing the sense of a large and varied galactic society.

  • Status Effects: I've been working to finish up the basics of code for procedural status effects. The core idea is that you can be affected by a wide variety of forces via technology or spatial anomalies, some of which span light years. If I can figure this out, you'll be able to negate or take advantage of these effects as you encounter them.

    As usual, more later...

  • What's In A Name?

    Posted by , 02 February 2006 - - - - - - · 360 views

    Ya gotta love procedural development. I just finished randomly generating more than 10,000 starship names. And not the kind of crap gobbledy-gook names you tend to get from Markov lists, either! Examples include "Maiden's Dream," "Queen of the Heavens," "Titian Tiger", "Nightwind" and "Eastern Thunder." The names have weights, as well, which assigns them a greater chance of belonging to pirates, bounty hunters, freelance independents or even romantic cruise ships (like "Empress of Love").

    This adds to the 2,000+ handcrafted starship names I've already created (and don't ask how long THAT took! [grin])

    I started this side project, btw, because of how Escape Velocity, Freelancer and Independence War made me feel every time I ran into the same few ship names. I don't know if it bothers you as much as it bothers me, but when I'm told a dozen times in a row to hunt down "The Black Dragon" it loudly reminds me that I'm playing a game.

    Anyways, there's more to tell, but I'm too sleepy for a more extensive update. More later...

    Deus Ex Machina

    Posted by , 25 January 2006 - - - - - - · 424 views

    Illuminati, Tunguska, Stonehenge, Roswell...

    You know, I think the NSA has been piping sleep fog into my room. For the last few days I've been coming home and practically falling asleep as soon as I get to my room. Sure, I wake up around 10 or 11 PM, but by then, it's too freakin' late to do nearly anything!

    Of course, getting only about 5 hours of sleep a night probably wouldn't have anything to do with it. [rolleyes]

    Straylight Update

    "We are not responsible for all of the evil in your world, but I fear a great deal of it is our doing. We have been shaping you since before you stood upright. Shaping you towards a purpose unimaginable. And a great deal of that shaping has involved winnowing-- sometimes individuals, sometimes entire civilizations."

    The game world of Straylight begins 100 years from now on what I call Phoenix Earth. It is a world rising from the ashes of a nanotech induced apocalypse. The world is a contrast of high and low tech, of massive cities with monolithic, 3 mile high towers and raider and machine plagued badlands. We're reaching into space at the same time that we're trying to rebuild the world.

    The people of the world know their Earth has been ruined by the wickedness, greed and short-sightedness of previous generations. But as the player, you will learn that this is only partly correct.

    The Indwellings have been with us forever. They may be fallen gods, or benign shepards, or foul puppetmasters. Whatever they are (you'll have to play to find out [wink]), they represent an undying force in the game's universe, one responsible for guiding events and influencing human destiny.

    When the game begins, you're a refugee from the wastelands, the sole survivor of a particularly brutal nanostorm (a constant scourge which can dissolve entire towns). You're raised in the safe haven of an arcology and use gameplay to choose your skills, career, patron family and several other character and gameworld factors.

    Before you leave this beginning safe area, however, a plot-point must be resolved. This not only clues you in to who and what you are, it affects how you will play the game.

    More on this in the next post...

    The Risk of an Idea

    Posted by , 18 January 2006 - - - - - - · 311 views

    A good friend of mine, who has practically become my codesigner for Straylight, has just returned from Nevada. Before he left to try out new job opportunities over a year ago we talked endlessly about open-ended games, consequences, and what real freedom might mean in a game like Straylight. In fact, years ago it was his input that made me see the merrits of cooperative play and console gaming, and without his fervent arguing on dozens of points Straylight might have well ended up as Asteroids: The RPG. Of course, it would have been done by now... but anywho...

    The process of arguing a game idea, particularly a risky one, is always interesting because it relies so heavily on "mights," "ifs" and "maybes." Reaching out into the unknown takes a certain amount of faith, and maybe even a basic amount of skill of handling the very concept of "newness" (seen best in not treating it like the "oldness" you already know). Take, for instance, the idea of not being able to quickload in an open-ended game. Very controversial (just search the near-flamewar wasteland of Game Design under this topic if you want examples). Ninety-nine percent of the time I'm a foaming at the mouth, rabid "let the player play the way they want to" adherent, which means free-saving whenever, why-ever.

    But as I've narrowed down the experience I'd like to be able to offer with Straylight the idea of removing the need to quickload has become EXTREMELY compelling. Not from an arrogant, "I say you can't save" position, but from a "death is uninteresting, loss is far more interesting" place. More and more I'm convinced that certain really fun, really engaging experiences will be impossible with saving. But while the idea may have promise, not a lot of games do it well, and it is very risky (remember the first Predator vs. Aliens and how the fanbase kicked Fox's *** in the press until they issued a save patch?)

    So arguing an idea like this with my friend is a very fascinating experience. He doesn't, like many, fall back on the hazy "if it's done right" aphorism that seems to plague surface-level game design. That doesn't get you anywhere. Instead, he goes right for the throat. How, he asks, can you be sure that players won't fall into some unseen negative experience unanticipated by testing and planning and programming? How do you make the process of recovery from mistakes as interesting as whatever preceded making them? How do you distinguish between a stupid mistake (like accidentally firing on a dreadnaught while in a shuttle) and a fateful choice? What about crashes and file corruption?

    My temptation is to reach for the mights, ifs and maybes. But the real answer-- the only answer you can ever give-- is that you won't know until well into building it. Sometimes I wonder if this is exactly how Fable and Freelancer stumbled. My friend raised that point during our last discussion-- that Molyneaux basically said that he was trying to do so many new things that the game they were making, over time, less and less resembled the game they'd hyped.

    I'm not, of course, comparing myself to Chris Roberts and Peter Molyneaux. But its interesting to see how even the well-heeled and funded, experienced developers, when reachng out past the well-trod "X was popular, let's make a game like X" ideaspace run afoul of the same problem, again and again. It's almost as if, when reaching into the untested, you need to constantly keep the logic of your assumptions-- and all the implications for gameplay and the player's experience that they embody-- organically modelled and alive in your head as you plan; then that plan has to be reality-checked by bouncing it off of others and validated in playtesting as much as possible before coding.

    Obviously, this whole process of reaching into the unknown to solve problems isn't unique to game design. This makes me wonder what other methodologies other creative or pioneering disciplines might have to offer. Heh, we might turn this whole gaming thing into a science yet. [smile]

    Straylight Update

    And speaking of risky ideas...

    After lots of good feedback from friends and the great folks of Game Design, I'm going to risk casting you in the role of an Indwelling, a spirit-like entity inhabiting human flesh. But I've decided not to spring it on you all at once, keep it story-drive and understated, and make you something of a human-spirit hybrid.

    I'll explain more in my next post, but the gist is that you're the essence of destiny, the embodiment of choice. There are other Indwellings in the world just like you, embodying essential natures humans would identify with, such as fear or honor. Indwellings have symbiotically existed in humans throughout history, gradually uplifting us and directing our path. That delicate balance ends abruptly at the start of the game when you, the Indwelling of destiny, are murdered.

    More later...

    You DON'T Know The POW-er...

    Posted by , 05 January 2006 - - - - - - · 319 views

    Welp, I've gone and done it. I've gone to the dark side. Severely disappointed that my legions of loyal journal readers didn't get me a single thing for Christmas, I went out and did the unthinkable: I bought an XBox.

    Now, I know what you're going to say: Turncoat! Traitor! Console Terrorist! But hear me out for a sec... as much as I've ranted against the insipid simplicity of console games over the years, you've got to admit... it's hard to beat multiplayer co-op, especially when you can be in the same room with your best friend who has invested in two massive TVs. And it seems that the console market is increasingly starting to understand that people want to play games together once in awhile!!

    So what was the reason for my selling out? Mouse and keyboard. I finally found a mouse and keyboard adapter for the XBox, and it works flawlessly. So you might say that I'm actually still representing for PC, especially when I kick the a##es of all my Halo playing, controller fondling friends.

    Hey, you think that makes me a double agent? [rolleyes]

    Straylight Update

    I've been splitting time this week between learning the Torque Shader Engine and art techniques like normal mapping. The folks at Garage Games plan to provide pretty robust support for a wide variety of the shader techniques out there, and I'm way behind the curve on this technology. In case you're interested in this topic, I've found this guy's site to be very helpful (I'd be happy to hear of others you may know of, tho')

    Casper The Friendly Ghost?
    How would you feel about playing an alien spirit? This might be a severe wrong turn, but for the purposes of story and design I'm considering casting you in the role of an Indwelling, which is an ancient embodiment of a power or ability. Story-wise, Indwellings would be akin to fallen gods, responsible (Illuminati-style) for engineering many events on the Earth, particularly the "nanocaust" that gives the high-tech/post-apocalypse universe you'll start with. As an Indwelling, you'd be able to hijack or possess hosts and you'd be unkillable (no death, no quickload). More importantly, you'd build a dynasty over generations in order to become more and more powerful.

    I'm not completely okay with the idea, but it does solve many design problems I've been fighting with (how to eliminate game-over upon death, how to add in a feel of families and bloodlines, how to kill empires via catastrophe, collapse or invasion and keep the game playable).

    For anyone interested, there's a thread in Game Design on this. I think the chief problem with the idea so far is that it's hard to relate to a spirt, and that the idea might be a bit too fantasy / New Agey for a sci-fi game.

    My goal is to come to a resolution on this by the end of next week.

    2006 - Reassess and Renew

    Posted by , 02 January 2006 - - - - - - · 218 views

    I like that the beginning of a new year is considered a time of renewal. It gives you a chance to wipe the slate clean, and I'm taking this time to do that Straylgiht.

    I've not been at all happy with snail's pace of the project this past year. Yes, there have been many reasons for the slow progress, but the bottom line is that I have not kept my word. I've declared that I would do things, and I haven't done them. An idea I've found to be very effective is that "successful people are successful because they do what they say they're going to do."

    Straylight hasn't been very successful at all. I've lost about six people who had signed on to do art or coding due to the lack of progress. I never finalized the design or technical needs spec, and a lot of the early momentum I had a year ago dried up.

    I look at this as a time for failure analysis-- what went wrong, and how do you fix it so that it doesn't go wrong again?

    The biggest problem with this project simply has been time. In December of '04 my goal had been to work part-time as much as possible in order to have as many hours as possible on the project. Initially this worked, but I made a mistake in taking on a writing project as well. Not only did this cut into Straylight, but the writing project itself had some management problems (spec changes) that required me to give up many more months on Straylight (I even had to quit a part time job in order to devote two months to the book).

    So ultimately this has been a failure of time management on my part. It partly stems from overcommitting--too many projects, too many obligations, heck, even too many friends! O_o But time management is something that can be fixed.

    So my strategy is this:

    • Work 20 hours a week on Straylight. (Just completed my first stint this past week, btw.)

    • Get more manpower as originally planned. (As a start, I've got a phone meeting this week with a dean of a local art college to discuss offering a work for credit arrangement to some of their students).

    • Keep this place updated so that I'm visibly accountable for making progress or not.

    With a little luck and a lot of effort, '06 will be the year that Straylight really starts to take shape!

    Recent Entries

    Recent Comments