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Wordpress and other Cool Things

I have started creating a new Freehauler website using the Wordpress blogging platform.

So I've been planning to update the Freehauler website for some time, but this was only supposed to be an experiment... a tinker around to get acquainted with wordpress for use in my affiliate websites. It was never supposed to be a serious project.
But I am so impressed with the ease of Wordpress I've decided to go ahead with it!

A while back I was considering Drupal and even did a mock-up site-design which you can see here

As cool as drupal is I've come to the realisation that for a small site Drupal is probably overkill.

For you indies who are stuck with the burden of setting up your own websites, I thought you might like to know about another cool thing I stumbled upon recently.

Discovered this sweet looking free gallery plugin called SmoothGallery 2.0. It's a javascript gallery slideshow system that allows you to have simple and smooth (cross-fading...) image galleries, slideshows, showcases and other cool stuff.




Project update

I have decided to shift my focus away from hands-on work on the Freehauler project while I look at alternative ways to raise revenue.
I have decided not to immediately court investors in the project.

The reason for this is two-fold:

1) While I attempted to scale down the project to a single person job, I've found I've been struggling to keep it that way.

I keep coming up with new ideas and ways to expand the concept. New areas to explore and ideas to push the boundaries.

While I probably still CAN finish the game alone with some outsourcing, my feeling is that the project would not have the potential it would with a team of competent and creative developers who can all contribute their unique talents.

So maybe it would be beneficial to return to a team building strategy when starting up again. I'll certainly be thinking along those lines.

2) Reason number 2 is, doing so much of the work myself for so long has taken the edge off my work and productivity.
While I'm still enjoying the work, I'm at the point where I need to do something else for a while.

This "unmotivated" state is also not a great first impression when courting a potential investor.

I've instead decide to pursue an online affiliate marketing business as a side-line activity..
I also feel that this has the potential to be part of the future (game) business model.

It should also have some distinct benefits for the project:

PASSIVE INCOME: Affiliate websites derive income from selling other people's products through the internet for a commission.
Once the hard work of designing a targeted website and generating traffic has been done, it can theoretically generate income 24 hours, with low ongoing maintenance.

IMPROVE MY MARKETING SKILLS: It will force me to address my marketing and selling skills

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION: I've already learned some nifty tricks for SEO.
I should have no problem ensuring that my website is well ranked in the search engines.

IMPROVE MY WEB DEVELOPMENT SKILLS: More time to invest in finding nice website templates and graphics and maybe I'll find some time to give the currently boring website a makeover.

I'll try and keep this blog active.
In my next post I'll elaborate on my progress in the month of April when I was cramming quite a lot of work into the story and sideline missions for Freehauler.

I'll try and articular my overall vision and general philosophy for the game in the next post.




Development update - milestone completed

Time for a long-awaited update.

I am happy to announce the second development milestone of Freehauler is now complete!

It's been a while, but there has been a TON of work done since the last write-up.
The result... a functioning game editor and prototype game engine!

Here are some actual screenshots.

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The above shows in-development screens that use other people's art as placeholders. All art will be replaced in the full version of the game.

With a prototype now finished, we are now thinking towards a final release.

The next milestone step will focus on game content and visual style designs.

The content design part will include creating new content types such as a storyline, missions, characters, factions, technical upgrade options and a bunch of other features from past forum discussions (some of these can be found in the archives of the Freehauler forum).

The visual style part will involve creating a cool and consistent visual code for graphics and user interface layout.

There is also a new website design in the works.

I'll try and post more regular updates. It should be more interesting from now on as I'll have more to say on game design than software design and databases.




Working prototype: New updates

I have been doing a heap of work lately and my posts have been non existent, so it is obviously time to say a few words.

I am very pleased to report that work on the game editor/engine is moving at a very brisk pace. As previously reported, the editor can now handle editing of core game entities and this has been a fundamental step.

An even more exciting step is that now the code has been written to load Jupiter and the Jovian moons from disk, place them in position and make them orbit around Jupiter.

I was unsuccessful in embedding Ogre into the application, but I did find some Delphi DirectX code that I utilised for rendering graphics.

Now habitat can be placed in orbit around a planet and the player's ship location is tracked.
Based on my current progress a working prototype should be ready very soon and I have marked the end of this month as a tentative deadline.

Below are some in development screen-shots:

Another announcement I have to make: We will soon be requiring an artist to join the project and assist with establishing a distinct artistic style for Freehauler and involvement with other game design work.

If, like me you are a fanatic of open-ended and free-roaming space traders (Elite, EoC, Privateer2) and feel that current offerings don't satisfy your desires.

If you are exceptionally talented and tired of mediocre teams. If you wish to be part of an exciting, professionally managed independent team with clear goals and outstanding growth prospects, then this could be a unique opportunity to contribute to an innovative and exciting project.

I will be advertising the position shortly, but if you are reading this and think you might interested or want to know more, please feel free to contact me at damon.court@freehauler.com





I have just returned from 2 weeks of holidays around Australia and I am now back into working on the game prototype.

The data storage editing features of core game entities has been completed at a rudimentary level with the new architecture and I am now working on a map browsing feature with which to visually edit game content. I'm experimenting with embedding a 3D graphics engine (OGRE via a previously graphics layer code) into the editor, but if this proves too much work - it shouldn't be, but you know how these things are - I might look at a windows GDI solution.

I will post updates as they happen. Right now, it's not particularly enthralling news, but it's nice to be making progress!




Getting back to work

With the contract over, (at least until I have to go back and support the damn thing), I can focus on the game with a clear mind.

The talk with my friend in the local business community was brief, but it went well.
He reiterated my feelings that quite clearly, I cannot approach potential investors until I have a working demo.
I am still not sure about asking for money yet.
My feelings are that I'd be more comfortable if I'd actually had the experience of releasing a game or two before up-sizing, but FH is a large and complex concept so it's tricky!

Then.. Good progress has been made on the Sunday sessions and know exactly where I'm heading. It shouldn't be long until it comes to fruition!

Anyway, the guy was positive and encouraging and interested! Said he'd definitely offer to help out once a demo has been crafted.
Also said he knows a guy with $20 million who'd jump at my project if he was convinced it was a good thing!

Damn it! I only need $2 mil ;-D




Contracting pain over!!

..so I finally finished the contract yesterday.
Was definitely very much longer than I had hoped for. Just goes to show how easy it is to underestimate software! Sheesh!!
3 months of pain and frustration and 3 months out of the development schedule. Ouch!
On the positive side there's now a little money in the coffers
Am going to have a talk to a guy in the local business community and a good friend about the project and our game company. So yeah, am looking to explore some networking options in the business community. If nothing else comes of it at least some people (maybe even rich people) will know of our existence.
Perhaps I can even get a little seed funding so I don't have to take 3 months out just to put food on the table! Bah!!
Have been preparing a Power Point presentation today.. It's kinda rough, but the guy I'm seeing tomorrow is a long time friend and an open-minded thinker so I think it will be alright.
Wish me luck ;)




New Space Sim: Space Force Rogue Universe

..so I downloaded the 800mb demo for Space Force Rogue Universe, a new space sim which is to be released soon and played it for about 15 minutes. I was impressed with the graphics and cut-scenes, but noticed some immediate hard-core bugs!

Overall the AI seems pretty weak.. when I was dog-fighting with a pirate for instance, (the space flight engine is arcade-like similar to Freelancer) the enemy just stopped dead in space and sat there in the middle of the screen like a sitting duck!
I'd guess the publisher forced the developers to release of the demo by a certain date, ready-or-not.

But if the developers can get on top of the issues, the game does look like it has promise. The ships and station models seem well designed on first glance, although not very spacey.. (airplane-like wings and the like). But it's definitely worth a look if you reminisce for the Elite days!

The contract I'm doing is dragging on even longer than I had hoped, I hoped to be finished last week, but it looks like it'll be at least another week.

Did some more work on the game engine/editor today (I've designed the architecture, so they both use the same code-base), made progress, but there's only so much you can do working one day a week! :/

As a complete aside... I competed in most awesome race on Saturday!!
One of my favorite past-times is long distance running.
(Yeah, yeah I do game development did you not expect me to be a little mad!! :P)

...got to run with a reasonable pack of competitors and everyone was jostling for position for most of the entire 9km course! It's pretty unique situation in Hobart as the population is small and the running scene equally so. It turned out to be a lot of fun!




Contract almost over

Life has been amazingly hectic since my last post! The Oracle Reports contract has burned a heap of my time! Well over two months worth!! Bah! :P

But thankfully it's looking like it's about to come to a close.. all the major work is done, and am about to do an install into the client's test environment. There'll inevitably be some testing and fixes, but I think(prey) these will be minor and will only take up another week or so.

Been working on Freehauler on Sundays, have made slow progress in establishing the Model-View-Presenter architecture. It's rather frustrating though because it takes a while to get my head around what I was thinking on the last Sunday and in the time it takes to gather any momentum, it is all over for another week!!

After the contract I've decided to take a week of holidays, then spend some time revisiting and reinforcing the game concept (in my mind as well as on paper). The concept has admittedly been shoved aside in favor of game engine development, as I'm pretty sure of where I'm going in terms of game-play and features, so that's OK for now, but in the long term without a solid game design theme I'm running blind basically!

I also intend to revisit the company business plan and to seek potential support and/or funding from local businesses. Unfortunately my town has a reputation for being conservative and an "out-there" business idea like game development might be a hard sell. But I'm thinking it is getting pretty ridiculous doing everything on my own without a support base.
Even if no-one is willing to risk investing funds, if I can get some help with setting up and running a business, or advice on legal matters it will be helpful!




Architecture wrangling...

Have gotten a fair amount of work in recently..
We had ANZAC day here yesterday, so with a day off contracting it gave me another opportunity to work on the game.
Spent the first part of it tweaking the software architecture. This is really a bad habit of mine that I'm trying to avoid!! I must confess, I'm an architecture junkie.. could happily tweak the design for days and still not be satisfied :P

Fortunately I was able to restrict my latest relapse to half a day and I think the new design is better for it.

The original design was based on the popular Model-View-Controller architecture pattern.

I think this is a good choice for games as it forces the separation between the "presentation" - the rendering engine that displays graphics to the screen and the "model" - the part of the engine that handles the rules of the game and other calculations.

Ironically (maybe) through the Wikipedia link to Model-View-Controller, I discovered this excellent link on GUI architectures and ended up modifying my design slightly to be more in line with the Model-View-Presenter pattern with a passive view. (these terms are described verbosely on the website above)

Due to an implementation constraint caused by driving the game via Python (another story altogether), I've already been forced to implement a "form server" as a stand-alone COM server, which is driven by a Python extension module which is, in turn called by the main module running in the Python interpreter.

The new design introduces the concept of a "Presenter" module which is (amongst other things) responsible for organising the layout modes of the form server. Up until now this handling was implemented in the form server itself, but now it has been reduced to a dumb slave that must bend to the whim of the Presenter!

The presenter will be written as a pure Python module, with the form server a python extension module written in Delphi that calls COM, the advantage of this is, if the game is ported to another platform, only the "view" (form server) of the M-V-P architecture need be rewritten and it is now "dumb", so should take minimal work. Well at least in theory :P




Easter cramming

Been working hard over the last few days.
Perhaps it might be obvious, from my last post that I do the indie thing.
I'm a lone wolf, working on my own idea.
I also do IT contracting to pay the bills, but work on games any chance I get!

The work pretty much sucks! It's hell boring. I write reports for business systems. Case in point I think!
But it's not all bad, on the plus side, I find a break from games can be refreshing and being in an office of people is certainly more social than working alone in a spare bedroom! Also, in doing a different style of work, I find I sometimes learn useful gems of information that I'd have otherwise missed.

Like the other day, out of the need to copy stuff between a lot of directories (and subsequently ending up with multiple explorer windows splayed all over the desktop), I went hunting for a Windows Explorer replacement with tabs, like Firefox. I discovered this really neato Windows Explorer replacement called UltraExplorer. It features exactly what I wanted.. tabbed folders, favorites and this neat feature called a drop stack that you can drop a file into temporarily while browsing other directories. Already is feels like it has majorly boosted my personal productivity!

So anyway, the Easter break has given me a chance to pour some serious time into games.
Saying that easter, was good, had the usual family dinner and caught up with a couple of friends, but I've been cramming in as much game making as possible in between all that!
Today I've been working on a simple game editor. My design for this was created in a slightly different fashion than usual.

Normally I'd go the "correct" route in writing out a detailed specification document pages of details.
This time I tried something slightly different.
My "spec" is a single page Visio diagram. It is a much more visual way of designing a piece of software and conveys a ton more information in less space.

There are two key advantages I can see in working in this way:

- It is fast
- It is much easier to understand than plowing through pages of writing

On the other hand for anything more complex (my needs are simple) than what I'm doing it may not work so well and I'm probably the only one who could understand it :)
I know how it works, so it should work alright, but if I was working on a team say, a more traditional spec might be the way to go. Still I think this may be a new way of working for me... we'll see

I also stumbled on something else that is very cool the other day. This guy, Mohawke has compiled a list of the best free and open source software. There is some very cool stuff on his list and plenty of great tools there for game developers!
I am very proud to say that my own contribution, UltraExplorer was warmly accepted by the author ;)




What it's all about!

So this is my first entry.. Nice to be here ;)

This is what it's all about. I'm starting this blog as a way of getting the word out about my project Freehauler.

The game has been under design and development for over three years now, with a few major shifts in direction.

The current has been scaled down big-time from the original lofty goals, as several attempts at team-building failed and I'm currently running the show on the developer side of things.

The scaled back approach being so that it's a do-able amount of work for one guy to handle.

The game is an open-ended space trading simulation game, inspired by Freelancer (or what was lacking in said game), the Independence War series, Hardwar, Privateer 2 and of course the classic Elite.

The scaled-down version will be 2D with a turn-based style of play of which was inspired mostly by the popular Dope Wars, however it is hoped in future that it can be scaled up to a real-time 2D or 3D engine.

Perhaps the most notable distinction from other space sims on the market, is that Freehauler will be designed around a realistic model of space.

The game setting is 300 years in the future in a colonizsed (Earth's) solar system and will be a sci-fi-esqu feel to the game. I will elaborate more on it later..



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