January 16, 2013

Critical Analysis - Genre - RPG's

The primary defining characteristic of a Role Playing Game or rpg is some sort of noticeable progress in character strength and abilities sometimes, most often actually, it's called a leveling system but not all rpg's have one. Some rpgs prefer to give you all your abilities at once then find new and creative ways for you to use them. While you might jump to calling zelda a fantasy action franchise I would suggest based on how your character levels gaining health abilities and certain items in the majority of the franchise it fits the bill for an rpg. The more important thing to note is that while the action and fantasy elements are well balanced there's a clear and definitive lean towards the story rather than the action again pushing me in favor of labeling it an rpg.

The greater majority of rpg's don't focus on heavy action, player reaction times, or physical skill rather most combat is tactical. In turn based or table top games you're working with a set of stats are you're calculating probabilities really where in comparison to real time action similar to zelda it's usually about finding the weak spots for critical damage. Think on ocarina of time how you really could only defeat the bosses in one specific way for the most part. Generally speaking an RPG is mostly about a small group of individuals or a single adventurer on a quest or adventure and the primary functions are related to the player or the story such as inventory management, dialog options in the storyline, and similar details.

These attributes remain across the board whether it's an action RPG, a western style, a JRPG or any other form. Though it's true many of these core aspects have been adopted into other games it's important to know where they come from and what their original purpose was which is immersion. The RPG is known for detailed stories and characters regardless of the size of the world the fiction was always vast and rich. It's not often you're so engrossed with your characters and their allies that when one of them dies it can emotionally touch touch you, and yet for the games that do more often than not they are RPGs. For every action game or shooter there are twice as many rpgs that have moved you, the entire genre is designed to attach you with your characters so that their quests becomes yours. Designed to make you emotionally invested so that every dramatic moment is like it's actually happening to you, a fact made easier by the overwhelming amount of fiction created to immerse you in the world.

The principal behind this is you're having a new and novel experience which your mind can absorb rapidly and as it's getting lost in the detail it uses constants like your characters as a point of reference and a sudden loss of that can be dramatic while also causing rapid firing of neurons as they panic to accommodate the change often hitting various centers of the brain near emotional controls. Truly RPGs are the most finely honed genre when it comes to player attachments.

January 12, 2013

Reminder on Overstepping

It's easy to come up with lots of great ideas the problem is always making them a reality. It's so easy to just overstep and go beyond what you can actually do without realizing it. Which is why I'm reminding you today of two important things. Think first, and review often. Today I'm looking back at my plans, seeing what I've done, revising what's left as needed, and removing ideas that simply don't belong or are tacked on. The idea that's important to remember is you don't want to bog down your game you want it lean and mean, a serious case of less is more. Refine and hone what you have first before you consider adding anything much less compensation for a weak link.

In particular I've revised large sections of dialog and reorganized sections of the story for various reasons. Some of the characters I've reviewed their scenes and cut or revised things that were heavily out of character. In the last couple months I've gotten massive amounts of programming done as well as large sections of the main storyline's dialog and animations. I made a few important key changes to the story as well including a twist that was essentially already in the game I hadn't even realized was there till I looked closely and though about it the same way I would play a game for the first time. That is to say when I'm playing I try to guess endings and twists etc and I guessed ways my game would go only to realize all the elements were in place for a giant plot twist I hadn't even considered but was almost in my face when I thought about it.

I cut a few features here and there as well and revised a couple others to replace the ones I cut as they seemed similar enough to be merged yet were so bloated it seemed better to rework them from the ground up inside each other. One feature was split evenly across several others though.

These massive revisions weren't done carelessly either, my first build of this January with these revisions already has made testers extremely happy. Again I'd like to thank U of M Flint students assisting me with testing. I also fixed the first exploit we came across and thankfully due to foresight there has only been a few so far.

Everything thus far having been said I must say the main game is looking very good and hopefully later this month I'll be able to test some of the newer multiplayer changes I've made. I'm also looking into finally publishing that mini game which was done months ago. I've tweaked it and played with it a bit but really it's about as done as it's ever going to get so hopefully I won't encounter any resistance releasing it.

January 09, 2013

Resource Bank

One of the most annoying things when you first start out is that you literally have almost nothing to work with, no resources of any kind other than whatever you carry around in your mind. Building a resource bank might not be step one but it's one of the only steps you'll ever take that never ends. Even if you don't like something one of your artists or modelers make, you're going to store it anyway because you never know in the future when you mike find a new use for it. Often old models can easily be reused in a new project even if it needs a little updating and that in itself can save hours of time and money freeing up your budget for other things. This includes program code as well, a sequel is easy enough to make if you already have groundwork done. Not many developers decide to start everything fresh for every game they make. So the question then is how to get one started and how to keep it organized.

I start by separating everything into primary categories. Get your models in one place, sounds in another, textures in another, and animation rigs in another. I keep my programming and scripts in separate folders as well though often in a separate location as I keep most media in one location while things like scripts have their own drive. However you choose to organize them you'll want to also set them up into sub categories. For example I keep my male and female characters apart and also separate from humanoid monsters or creatures namely bipeds. While I obviously keep all other creatures or monsters  in their own folder, though even they are getting to a point where they might get split up again into more sections. I make sure to have a naming scheme for everything though so I can tell at a glance what I'm looking at before I have to open it. All of these characters though stay separate from environments, objects, and buildings. Objects also get split up into weapons, environmental objects such as street lamps, mailboxes, etc. Buildings get organized into industrial, residential, business, social, and other types. Vehicles are all on their own as well. A similar setup is also in place for textures.

Though obviously you need content before you can actually organize. Honestly there's so many thousands of sites out there I can't really point to just one and say "this is the best" really you just have to look around for exactly whatever you're looking for at the time. Turbosquid is one fine example of a premium resource site, you pay for what you get and it's usually worth it. Though if you're in need of free items be careful what you pick up as many are only free to use for non-commercial projects and will charge royalty fees. This is true of both models and sounds. It's important not to forget sounds because without them you can't convince players your environment, your weapons, or anything else is real and it'll show. There are giant sound libraries though that will probably have anything you can imagine for surprisingly small fees.

All this having been said the best option for building your own library is just to make the content yourself. For that a lot of times you'll need blueprints and those are not only easy to find but often you don't have to worry about fees either. When it comes to making your own sounds you'll need a synthesizer of some kind. Depending on what you have to spend I can suggest fruity loops aka FLStudio, Revision, or pro tools as great places to start with lots of resources. To help get your cities and characters up and running there's tons of max scripts out there for procedural generation or animations that are only a google search away. As always I hope this helps somebody starting out, because that's when you really need help the most.

January 08, 2013

Finding Talent

When you're first starting out it's easy to believe there's plenty of people out there that have the skills to help you make your game come to fruition. It's also easy to believe they're eager to jump on any job that presents itself. The truth however is finding good talent is remarkably hard. It's easy to find someone who claims to be an artist, though often the best they can do is little better than stick figures. The programmers you find usually don't have any practical experience or very little of it and are only familiar with whatever languages they put on their resume which you're unlikely to end up using in whatever environment you're working. The project managers, the animators, the modelers, down the line, it might not be hard to find someone but good luck finding someone that knows what they're doing.

Though even so it can be hard to find anyone if you don't know where to look. There's a wide range of places out there depending on what you're actually looking for but a great place to start is always gamasutra.com. They have plenty of resources and information available and most people that are serious about getting into the industry have a resume posted there. If you're looking for high end artists of all kinds be they concept artists, modelers, or anything in between the cgsociety has a wealth of premium talent. Though most of you wouldn't know what to do with such talent even if you could afford it, so I come around to the mid range which is deviantart. While it's true there are many high end artists there as well the majority don't specialize 3d or art for games and they're dwarfed in comparison to the shear number of medium skilled artists. More importantly medium skilled artists I find tend to work harder and are more open minded. High end, from what I have only some experience with so it's probably inappropriate of me to make such claims, tends to point out why something just doesn't make sense and will fill you with self doubt. Due to their experience they also work much faster than you expect which can catch you off guard but they only do what they're getting paid for, unlike some mid range talent I know which will make more iterations of what I ask for and thankfully save separate copies during their progress so I can see where they came from and where they were going with ideas. I find myself looking at a previous version sometimes and it can help me refine my idea into something better, lovely habit that seems strangely absent with the admittedly better talent I've worked with.

When it comes to finding scripters and programmers I find it easy and best to look on sites dedicated to the specific language or program I'm working with. For example the Unreal Engine and their UDK have wonderful forums which I can easily post in that I'm looking for a programmer that knows unrealscript already and whether or not I can pay them for their time and find what I'm looking for with relative ease. The same is true for cryengine, or unity for example.

One of the last vital roles that needs to be filled really is the project manager. Often when you first start you're going to be filling a lot of roles this one included. Though after some success and maybe a small budget this can really help make your job a lot easier. A project manager keeps track of what needs to be done, who can do it and when, and then organizes it into a smooth organized line that keeps itself busy. They also help by doing some of the work themselves if necessary and keep everybody informed on the status of various projects and when they can expect new orders etc. This can really free you up to focus on every other step in the process of production and I assure you that you'll still be just as busy as before. That's one of the interesting things about this line of work is there's always more to do in everything you do. As for finding a project manager I can't say I've found any great resources yet let alone one dedicated to gaming, and thus I would recommend you back to gamasutra.

Before you jump into asking "well how do I find X" let me just say the above should already get you a great start and you should check them first before asking. Often your concept artist will also handle making textures, your modelers handle environments as well as characters and often they also handle animations. Your scripters will likely handle all of your programming needs and you're going to have your hands full getting as many of them as you can. If you still can't find what you're looking for and can't re-purpose someone else for it then comment here and I'll make a new post detailing how to look for what you need.

Also feel free to ask about anything else you might be curious about, or something you need. Rest assured that talent, funding, and publishing are not the only resources you need and I do have more planned but it's always nice to hear what you find important.

January 05, 2013

Social Networking

When it comes to being a dev it really is a case of who you know. One of the most important things you can do is get face time with as many people as possible. Remember to practice the pitch like I mentioned in a previous post and head out to places like E3, GDC, SXSW, and any other gaming related convention you can manage. Remember to print out as many business cards as you can, there are plenty of sites out there that will do 1,000 cards for a 5$ introductory offer or sometimes less, my suggestion is design a good card and then make as many as you can, they go faster than you think. Hand one out to almost every person you talk to as you never know who's going to actually help. Feel free to find the big reps but don't hold out your hopes they like to waste time, they'll hear you out and sound interested but the chances of them actually picking up your game are slim, though at least the chance is still there which makes it all worth while.

Whatever you do don't sign any contracts without seriously reviewing them first. Some of the best sounding news can easily be a trap if you're not careful. Just because the contract says they've signed you for multiple games doesn't mean they've agreed to fund you or that they will publish them. It simply means they hold the rights to your sequel which means if you make a second game they get to say whether or not you can even sell it basically. This can kill your franchise fantasies before they've even started.

While you're at all these conventions it's also suggested you bring a notepad and a few pens and take a lot of notes. You'll probably also be using it for adding ideas to your game or making tweaks as well as addressing issues you hadn't considered. I say pens because pencils will require constant sharpening and easily break making them unreliable for the environment you're in. You'll be needing something that works constantly and quickly, I actually went through 6 notepads at my last GDC and 2 pens. I've found some good gel pens though that last surprisingly well, got them at staples with my notepads and I love them.

You'll find that your pitch will almost hone itself once you say it enough times you'll just realize what details are easy enough to omit without losing the core of the game idea. Though I will suggest that you avoid any direct comparisons to existing games unless you're extremely specific. You shouldn't say "it's like halo meets gears of war" but you might get away with saying "if gears of war had plasma shields and warthogs in a larger environment" though even in that case it's coming off as almost a carbon copy of gears which it probably isn't, what you're meaning to talk about is a fast paced gritty third person sci-fi shooter. As opposed to a slow paced one like dead space which is really equal parts survival horror and shooter.

Just remember you're trying to talk to as many people as possible and get their interest peaked without telling them every detail of the game, if they're serious about it they'll call you that's what the cards are for. As to the cards themselves you should include your cell phone, home phone, primary email, and any other contact info you might want to provide. Try to make the card unique so it doesn't get buried in the crowd, in particular if you have any screenshots or concept art for your idea try to put it on the card somewhere or as the whole background, though if you go that route make sure they can still clearly read the text for your contact info. No card gets dismissed quicker than the one where they have to take a second to find a way to read the info. If the card company you use allows it I would even suggest on the back you also print your game pitch again, keep it small as a tweet and you should do fine.

Putting all these things together you establish yourself as a name to be recognized and not forgotten, which may prove useful down the line even if it doesn't help you in the now.

January 04, 2013


It dawns on me today I overlooked some significant questions regarding being a developer, in particular a small dev. So today I start a series on actually getting your feet on the ground.

First thing first is you can't get far without some kind of funding. Funding isn't only money it's resources. Feel free to think outside the box on what you really need, what would you spend the money on. You'll need computers, so find perhaps a hardware company that might help you get some hardware in return for advertising in game somewhere or might sponsor you in exchange for something else. That's money you don't have to spend there and helps you along with your goals.

You also need programmers and artists, writers, etc. Establish a small budget or try various crowdsourcing sites to see what kind of talent you can get with what you already have. What you really need is just a very basic prototype up and running so you can start your pre production funding marketing. You take this to prospective investors as something to show to convince them their money is best spent helping you. Alternatively you can take it to crowdfunding sites like kickstarter to show the world where you're going with your idea.

There's also venture capitalists always looking for new businesses, and if you can get 3 to 4 of them together on your project they have great insight on how to get it up and running with the smallest cost and highest return. That's not to say just hand it over but collaborate with them and see what they think, as they make a living off of helping new companies start. Granted they do expect their returns from your first game sales but if you do it right that won't be a problem. The second important thing to remember is that they're also taking the risk that they don't get a return if you flop, and they're prepared for that so while they have a vested interest in your success they won't destroy your life if you fail.

There are other funding options, people who will help put up some of the money if you put up half up front if you have that kind of cash to begin with. Then depending on where you live various governments have grants available that you don't have to pay back that can be used for starting a new company. I'm in the United States and thus our government has a substantial number of grants available for new businesses. Really I'd say this is where you should start. If you're unfamiliar with the grant writing process there's plenty of information online, and even college courses, in particular public services like job corp or talent banks have education funding that can pay for these college classes. The only real trick is finding which grants to apply for, there isn't a limit but you have to know exactly what you're applying for, it's not like fafsa where you just fill out a form and you're automatically applying for all possible grants, you have to fill out a form for each grant you want to apply for and each form can be different so you have to do a little research. The good news is though is that grants never have to be paid back. 

Which brings me to my last bit, is that I've finally got a small budget together. If any programmers are reading this and know unrealscript or could learn, I can pay on a per project basis with negotiable rates, feel free to contact me.