Fost - Mr. Robot Art
More tidying up of loose ends; the in game conversation system has pop up displays (much the same as Starscape) for each character as they speak.
HEL, the ship's onboard computer (Above: third row from the bottom, second across), has several states throughout the game. Shown here is his initial state.
We also use this system for in-game help. When you stand next to anything of note, a little icon will flash on the HUD. Press the help button at this point, and you'll get a pop up description of the item.
Ghost Component Interiors
In ghost hack mode, when you enter a battle, it occurs within one of the 'virtual code block components' of the larger computer map. Up to now, we've been using a single placeholder map, so this month I've built a set of interiors for all the ghost hack components. They recreate the exterior look of the component but with subtler shaders so they don't overpower all the combat effects which are launched during a battle.
Mr. Robot and Starscape CD-ROM 2nd Edition DVD Covers
After an incredibly long wait, the Starscape CD-ROM is back in stock. I have to say, I find dealing with print bureaus a complete pain. In this case, they kept telling us the prints were ready, then we would ask them when we should come down to pick them up, and they didn't reply. A week later, we'd contact them again, and they'd tell us they were held up. This happened a few times, and then we were told we couldn't pick them up, and would have to pay an extortionate price to have them delivered. Quite amusing too, because we are close enough to walk to the place. So, I'd been working on a new cover design for some time, and because this had dragged on for so long, it was somewhat complete. I decided to cancel that order and take some time to finish the new cover whilst I searched for a new bureau. In the end, we found a great local printer who even waved the setup fee for the second design (we were having both the new Starscape covers, and the Mr. Robot covers printed) because they were both identical sizes with identical crop markings.
Printing bureau pricing structure is another thing that bugs me. If you want 10000 of a design printing, it will cost you maybe GBP400. If you want 20,000 of a design printing it will cost you GBP600. However, if you want 2 designs * 20,000, it will cost you GBP800. The same amount of ink and paper has been burned up, but you have to pay GBP200 extra so some moron can switch the files in Photoshop.
Anyway! It's done now, and we've got both designs in. This has meant we've spent the last few days hand assembling huge boxes of DVD covers and pre-labelling packaging. Thankfully my Mum likes to come over and spend the day helping out (it's a real cottage industry here!). She's from the pre-computer age, and so doesn't really understand what we do here, but likes to feel like she can help somehow :)
We've also had a flood of orders in from people who've been waiting for the CD-ROM as far back as January. It's interesting to note the appeal having an edition of the game available on physical media (Something like 1/4 to 1/3 of orders are for CD-ROMS), and it might make sense to try and investigate the reasons behind it. Do people just like to have the physical product in their hands? Do they like the art? Or is it that they don't like to deal with online unlocking systems? We'll have to work out a way to answer that!
It's happy milestone getting the boxes in for Mr. Robot. Having something tangible to hold and show people is cool. Now we just have to get the game finished to put in there! We are getting there...
Sonic Death MonkeyMr. Robot's world has been eerily quiet up until this month as we have been putting in sound effects quite late in the project. Obviously, the ideal setup for putting effects into a game is to have someone working with you permanently, however when using external contractors I don't think this is the best way to work, especially in the indie space. When working with anyone over the web, there's a high chance they'll just disappear and you'll not understand why. I'm not talking about people who take your money and dissappear, that's another matter entirely, but when people get part way into a project, then you lose contact with them. Either they have decided to move into another field, something bad has happened to them or they have just lost interest. It seems to be a far easier process if you engage contractors for short periods with greater intensity. In the case of sound effects, this means waiting until very close to the end of the project, and then dropping a fat and as close to 100% complete as possible list of required effects. Letting someone work flat out like this means you've hopefully got their full attention for short time. The downside is you have to put up with placeholder farts and squeaks until very late, and that audio related bugs show up at the last minute.
You also realise just how much work in a game goes into setting things up; we've just taken delivery of 90% of the sound effects for Mr. Robot from our sound engineer, but then we have to go through all the various scripts and config files tagging them with the appropriate effect. It's incredibly laborious, and once done you have to play through the game to test they all work, and also balance out all the volume levels.
I have to say though, it's wonderful to get the audio in; feels like another major milestone has passed, and the game is that much nicer to play.
Sound Effects Taster (0.5 meg mp3)
Poo Bear - Mr. Robot Programming
First!Not a lot to report on this month as apart from connecting up any art content Fost has been providing me with, I've done little else other than continue the bug fix/playtesting session I started last month. The good news is that having slowly worked through the game, fixing parts that did not work, I've just managed a complete session through the game from start to finish! Of course, I wasn't going out of my way to break anything, and I already know several things that can be done in game which stop you from continuing, but it's the first step down the road to beta, and that bug list is now getting shorter and shorter...
Fun TimeDuring the first start to finish playtest I was astonished to find I was really enjoying myself. Now, that may sound like a bizarre comment! but you have to understand that I play through the game ten times more often than anyone else will in its lifetime, and towards the end, it's difficult to face going back to the start all over again. Perhaps it was partly the relief that I hadn't stumbled across a new bug in a long time, or that the latest round of art content additions meant there was very little placeholder art left, but I was enjoying my little romp through the spaceship. It's a great feeling to think - 'Great, we pulled it off after all!', as in the back of your head on a long project, you are always secretly worried that all the ingredients just won't work together and it will turn out to be no fun :( . Fully complete gameplay been a long time coming for Mr. Robot, and we have been working off intuition to some extent. The game actually turning out to contain 'fun' as we had hoped is a big weight off my mind.
Most of the rooms have worked with no or minor gameplay adjustments, and so during playtesting I have started to come up with a wealth of cool ideas that we can consider for the first update. We certainly are not short of ideas now even if we wanted to make about 4 updates! Although it will be interesting to hear the non-bug feedback and ideas that pop up in beta, as they are also likely to influence what we pick for the update.
Bug TrackerSpeaking of beta, I've been looking for some form of web-based bug tracking software that will allow the beta group to report bugs. I looked at Bugzilla which is the Mozilla foundation's bug tracking tool, and has been heavily production proven during the creation of great applications like the firefox web browser. The only thing that put me off, was it was Perl based and we haven't installed any Perl apps on the server before (although I'm sure it's not too difficult). I thought Bugzilla's interface might also be a little off putting to non-programmers (whom the beta is likely to comprised of).
I narrowed it down to either the free Mantis or commercial (but very reasonably priced) fogbugz. Whilst comparing options like built in Wikis and source control integration, I realised we don't need any of this. These applications are designed for collaborative projects with multiple programmers whereas we really needed something that was easy to use, and designed with community integration in mind. I realised that for an indie developer, managing public interaction with a project, rather than a collaborative development, the forum was the ideal place for this to happen. I looked around for a phpbb mod, and found phpBBMantis, a project to integrate the aforementioned Mantis bug tracker with phpbb (which we use already for the forum). Sadly, the project is just barely up and running, so it doesn't make sense to use it yet in production - one to keep an eye on though. What we really needed was something like the phpbb team's internal bug tracker. That would be ideal, but it was never designed for public use, and so the phpbb team never released it.
So, I decided to write my own for the board, based on the phpbb team's. It came down to switching templates on a bug tracker sub-forum, with each new topic forming the basis of a new bug report, additional info like status and assignee stored in a separate database table. Bugs are tinted and ordered by status and there's a custom post template with the additional fields (which all get stored in their own table linked to the topic). Access to the sub forum is already easy to control using forum groups, so the bug tracker and a beta forum for more general discussion is all we should need to gather feedback during the beta.
I think this is a much more workable solution for the beta testers - since it's based on forum posting anyway, and they need to have a forum account to be in the beta, there's nothing else for them to learn. Fost thinks we could implement this far better with phpbb3 when it comes out so I might rework it then for future projects based on how the Mr. Robot beta goes (in a sense, we are beta testing the bug tracker too!). We want to move to phpbb3 anyway, as it will allow us to implement the community/game intergation features we've wanted to work on for some time.