August 30, 2012

Tools of the Trade - Training

One of the most important things as a developer is education. While it certainly helps to be well rounded and intelligent with life experience, it's specifically important to be well educated about your tools. You work with the same set of tools every time which makes it important to understand what they're for, how they can be used, and how they work in general. While there's plenty of info to find on the net most of it is specific to a given task with only minor detail or insight and it's teaching you a trick sure but it's not teaching you the underlying information you really need. To clarify there's plenty of information, but a lack of high quality information.

After you become familiar with your common or base tools it's time to learn them inside and out, not only to speed up workflow but also to learn new ways to use them. While you might use a given tool for the same thing every time it can always be used in more than one way and often can be combined with other tools for new results. For example you might use mirroring to work on symmetry but it can also be used to cut your initial workflow in half to begin with. Though that's a weak example the idea is present.

Moving onward my primary suggestion to anyone in modeling, animating, or for that matter anyone using 3d max at all would be the "max bible". The go to guide for understanding every tool and getting ideas on how to use it. I also suggest learning about max script to create macro's for operations you repeat often to save time. If you're more visually oriented I can also suggest youtube tutorials which are a dime a dozen but trapt cg tends to make worth while vids. There's also a site called cg society which quite honestly is an amazing site where even a few short days of paying attention to the forums can teach you quite a bit. The cg society is where industry professionals really strut their stuff and talk a bit about what they know or how they got where they are.

If you're interested in more about textures I can recommend the Luke Ahearn "Create Professional Game Art with Photoshop" book though it may be prone to outdating soon as it was made in 06 and already some of the information is becoming outdated. The core concepts presented however are always relevant.

Another great source of info is always 3dbuzz which has tons of free tutorials and information, they also are reliable for new information on a regular basis. In particular I recommend a look at their UDK particle tutorials.

The same ideas above are relevant for any program you're using. Find the official know it all book for the version you're using, find a few good tutorial sites or series, and study them hard. Ideally if you can find a community of professionals and learn from them then you should do that as well.  In a developers case it's also important to find sites with program extensions, plugins, or other add ons for programs you use regularly. For photoshop it would be worth the google search to find a site that regularly updates high quality brushes and a few tutorials on making your own. In the mean time I can suggest deviant art for finding a wide selection with a familiar or at least intuitive interface that gets updated with some regularity and certainly has an existing catalog to choose from.

August 16, 2012

More about upgrades

In a previous post I discussed how any given weapon could maintain up to 12 attachments, these attachments are not considered really to be upgrades even if they do modify the gun in some way such as increased velocity or what would otherwise be considered an upgrade. To recap attachments there's scopes, foregrips, launchers, clip types, ammunition including magnesium tracers which you can set to feed at a variable rate such as 1 in every 3 rounds, or one half way through the clip etc. There's also attachments for increased cooling of the weapons that generate heat like machine guns or any assault rifles that happen to use various kinds of rounds that generate heat. There's stocks, muzzle attachments, laser sights, flashlights, handles and triggers, paint jobs, etc. Upgrades are the internals, the tech etc, while there's a few fancy models set up because you don't see the internals in game they're not actually there instead once applied they just modify stats relating to the gun.

Some of the upgrades include better heat management, barrel replacement for increased velocity which can also be done with barrel extensions. There's various springs, rods, feeders, etc all to change any given stat of the gun with multiple upgrades. In later stages these include adding computer aided aiming systems, thermal maps, bullet tags to trace an enemy's location if they survived your attack but got hit, various other systems that would normally be an accessory taking up a valuable accessory slot are now being attached to your gun. These upgrades must be in place first before they can be used as attachments and then they can also be upgraded beyond that. You can also put research in to finding better ammo such as upgrading to use uranium rounds or a higher velocity shape to existing rounds which may also effect accuracy. Even light weight materials to decrease weapon weight so the player can run faster and draw the weapon faster. In the late stages with higher tech weapons upgrades become key to reducing cooldown, recharge, and refire times so that a weapon can be used effectively.

Each gun and gun type have their respective skills sets in addition so that the more you use a specific gun the better you become with it. While your standard reload time for all guns might be nice and fast you can improve it further with a specific gun skill earned by reloading the gun a given number of times. Same goes for handling kick by firing, switching to and from the weapon, aiming down the sights, and various other aspects. These skills are learned by doing unlike upgrades which are purchased over time with resources and time spent for research or attachments which are bought one at a time.


A lot of the Sci-Fi FPS game is dependent on velocity for calculating damage. The requirements to increase velocity by even a little bit increase on a scale making them absurdly expensive beyond a certain point thus somewhat limiting their potential unless you put extreme resources into it. This is basically a matter of diminishing returns, though not exponential it is progressively increasing. For example the 2nd upgrade might cost as much as the first, then by the time the 10th upgrade comes along it might cost 16x more than the 9th upgrade which was 10x more expensive than the first upgrade. These aren't even close to the actual numbers but I believe convey the concept.

The later on weapons while still calculating velocity damage generally work along the lines of instant hit weapons with perhaps a line trace for trails or the light beam w/e. Their primary tool for keeping them balanced is cooldown times and recharge times making it important to pick your shots carefully.

I'll discuss the entire upgrade system for weapon types in my next post.

I also finished a new weapon, an intelligent proximity mine that directs damage toward an enemy instead of an even spread, unlike a claymore with a fixed position this is like a claymore that follows its target even if it comes up behind it.

There's a paintball mode which I've also just added for kicks. I'll probably make it an unlockable and set for unranked games which allow mods.

August 04, 2012

Elevator Pitch

I'd questioned in the past some of my methods and strategies given that they seemed ineffective though I also realized they were likely going to fail regardless of effectiveness. This was one concept that stood out though as strangely important even though I'd known about it before I hadn't given it the proper credit it deserves. The "elevator pitch" which is how to quickly and accurately convey an idea in the shortest possible amount of time. Now that I'm looking at saving my big title for when I'm more established with a strong background and better talent and throwing out something else I decided now was the best time to consider this. Admittedly I'm reluctant to push my title given that it's nearly complete however I believe it's in the best interest of everyone if my goal is to get it in the hands of many and share the joy and pleasure. I believe that in a year or two I can revisit it with new skills, abilities, methodologies, and tools to make it everything I'd hoped it could be. This simply can't be done the way I'd like it to be with the resources I have now.

Moving forward I'd looked in my little encrypted file of concepts for more mini games that I can make myself quickly and a larger title I could flesh out with ease in a respectively short time frame. What I came up with was a game that would be light hearted and comedic while being entertainingly bloodly and violent while expressing innovative concepts that I'm known for. Though I doubt they'll revolutionize they will get attention which is what I need to get the resources necessary for future games of growing complexity.

So to the point my elevator pitch for the next game was actually how I first came up with it, in a taco bell, at 1am with about 30 people in the middle of nowhere. We were all traveling together and someone said something about you can't come up with a game concept that's any good in a few minutes and I accepted the challenge.

The ferryman of the underworld (cairn) in order to usurp the ruler of the underworld (devil/hades?) hires cyborg ninjas to kill you so he can infuse you with demonic powers to harvest the souls of alien angels invading from another universe in exchange for giving you the power for your revenge.

I then proceeded to rapidly flesh out key concepts of mechanics and gameplay, first and foremost of which was that since you're already dead and half a demon you can't be killed again thus no health or healthbar. Instead the game functions on sanity which isn't effected by bodily damage. They idea being that your mind simply can not handle what you're doing or how you're doing it and thus you slowly go insane by using your demonic powers and your objective is to complete your revenge before going completely insane which inevitably leads you back to cairn since he hired the ninjas in the first place. The game strikes balance between using your magic and relying on traditional weapons. As you use your powers your demonic infection spreads and starts creating blood pearls which amplify your abilities also making you go insane quicker thus you can harvest them and use them to infuse your weapons or use them as currency. Weapons infused with blood pearls/crystals when used against an enemy cause them to crystallize and shatter into weaker blood crystals which can be used similar to blood pearls only to less effect. These crystals can also be used in minor ways to focus specifically on a skill or ability. That is to say a blood pearl evenly amplifies all skills and abilities where as if it's targeted it can greatly increase one ability. With proper alignment and training you can slow the rate of your insanity in general or from the use of a specific spell or ability allowing you to use them more often or to greater effect without any additional consequences. For example casting many spells rapidly can spike your insanity where as over time they're less but you can be trained to do them without causing a spike as though they were done over time and in this way they may also be amplified to do much more damage. Training in basic levels carries through higher levels to great effect making it important to focus on core skills.

I actually have this far more specifically drawn out and I can see that it's hard to explain without completely revealing it in specific detail but I will say that I believe most gamers would appreciate the concepts once they get their hands on it. Right now I'm finishing up an early prototype of the magic menu and investments tree to see how well balanced everything is. As for mini games while I have the ideas I haven't laid any groundwork  yet as I'm still back working on the first game, while it's probably ready to go I just feel that there's more to add and a little tweaking to be done but I am shopping around all the same for distribution methods. So I'd be interested in hearing how you'd like to get the mini game and what price you'd want to pay. I know you all want it free on a torrent or something and it'll probably happen but keep in mind my future is based on what I make from these first games if you want to see more games you'll have to make an investment in them.

If it wasn't obvious already, this is where I've been spending most of my time in the silent month of june / july. I still am working on both other titles but I needed a prototype of this to copyright it properly so that's what I did.  I'm not entirely sure if I want to shift any real focus on it though as I stated above I am basically finished with both games and would rather push them, but the larger title could ever so easily be greatly expanded and revised to be so much better, specifically in the storyline simply because I'm still looking for a good script writer. The one volunteer I've had wasn't substantially better than me it was more of a lateral movement to a different type of writing I guess but around the same level of quality.

Just one last re-iteration on the importance of a 60 second or less pitch, I had chance at funding twice so far and missed out both times because I didn't have a simple elegant way of explaining the game in a way that commanded more time and attention. If I'd been able to just say something like it's a sci-fi fps zombie game with a focus on destructible environments and laser guns I might have at least been able to get a few more minutes to explain the key concepts more. While that's a vaguely accurate explanation of my game I suppose it's not quite the flourish you'd want to use because it comes out sounding generic, I'd want to delve more in on the story and characters in a way that might relate to who I'm pitching to. A scientist in an experiment gone wrong flinging him into an alternate apocalyptic dimension where he must gain allies and fight his way against a corrupt corporation to find his way home. Still not quite polished but it sounds better yes? actually that would probably be the pitch for half life, but you get the idea.

Thanks for reading the enormous pile of text. I promise a picture in the next post. and less text.