March 27, 2013

What being a dev is like part 2

Last time I told you what the first conceptual stages are like where you're bleeding ideas and the creative juices are flowing and shared the frustration of having to pick what to keep and what to file away. This time it's about the early production phase where you're testing your ideas and seeing how they fit together, shaping a story around them and seeing how things might need to be changed.

One of the worst mistakes I've made is to come in with a story that I thought was all sorted out and try to work with it. The whole thing is just a giant mess and it's obvious to anyone that looks at it. In the end I had to strip the entire story back to bare bones with a very flimsy framework that can adapt to anything. Which is what I've been sharing with you this past year, what it has become rather than what it was. I was fortunate to have in mind a set of core features and functions that were more important than the story so I didn't waste much time on bloated code with no purpose. I took what I'd made and the basic concept of what I wanted and I kind of just sat there considering how together what kind of story already existed. Rather than mixing two things and hoping they don't fall apart I sat them next to each other and saw what clearly pulled together naturally and formed the story on that. With the core features clearly eluding to teamwork and the basic story being a tale of survivors clearly it wasn't going to be a case of a group tearing itself apart rather a team working as a single unit towards a common goal. I also considered what other adversity there would be and noticed how the core concept also revealed clear progression of skill and what better way to show that then a nemesis or villain you encounter more than once while on the path for your end goal. Thus another character was born. As the features merged with the story it basically built itself and in the end it works together smoothly where you can't pick and pull pieces apart anymore where as before it was clear where one thing ended and another began.

The end result was so amazing when I finally took a step back to look at what I'd created I was amazed at how much better everything was than when I'd first considered it. This wasn't a case where experience and revisions improve something, it was a case of proper organization and procedure took the pieces and made something greater than the sum of the parts. Even so I remembered that nothing should be set in stone so quickly and waited for the first results of testing. While what I'd built was indeed amazing it was still a little rough around the edges and now it was time to smooth all that out. Even now I'm still a way from polishing but I've created what feels like a masterpiece and honed it's true form out of what I had to begin with.

In my next part of what it's like to be a dev hopefully I'll be able to tell you what the marketing phase is like. It's the only part of production I'm going into relatively blind because I really don't know much on marketing itself. I know a lot of the principals and theories but the practice and implementation that'll be a trick. I know I'll be reviewing a lot of successful and horrific ads to see how I might want to approach my idea, because a masterpiece won't sell itself, it takes an equally powerful sales pitch.

March 17, 2013

Dangers of Overthinking Addendum

It's early so I'm not quite celebrating yet and while I'm still waking up I thought I'd share what I was working on the last couple days. An important note on what happens when you over complicate things that should be simple. I was making a cyberpunk themed turret defense game. I somehow managed to find myself brushing up on trigonometry and finding ways to program velocity and trajectories on something that should be so much more simple than that. Some of the wild complexities I'd written down to accomplish make me wonder what got into me at the time. Though that's not to say I stopped working but I took a step back and decided to make things a bit easier on myself.

If you're interested in the details of the game continue reading otherwise that was essentially the post.

It's a free form path builder where you create the maze that the creeps follow and it's 2.5d in that it's technically 3d but you only see it from one perspective making it vaguely 2d.
You don't use the towers to create the path though rather I have an actual path tool which you can use at any time and is free to do so which means you can build the entire maze from the get go.
the path can overlap one tier as long as it's not sequentially meaning you can't simply retrace the entire map under itself however you can have sections that cross without creeps taking the shorter path.
the maze itself has some properties you can upgrade such as slowing effects and damage per second however they are minimal and you'll never kill a single creep outright with it.

a tower upgrade is worth 2.5 towers of the same level at 75% of the cost of 2 such towers consuming only a .5 power increase over it's previous level.
most upgrades are based on an algorithm so I didn't bother to put a cap on it, as long as you have the resources for it you can do it for the most part.
there are special towers that influence surrounding towers in various ways and each tower also has accessory slots for upgrades separate from the main tower upgrade.
each tower requires power from "the grid" which means you have to build "power towers" to provide power to each tower in an area. Each station is initially limited on the number of towers and how much power it can provide. Each tower has a slider determining how much power it consumes which effects it's base damage for most tower types. Towers also have multiple settings also with sliders for range, rate of fire, and other similar stats.
Towers can be configured with 3 savable profiles unique to each type and and be quickly changed individually or in groups with a master switch to switch all towers of that type.
towers can be powered down when not in use and can be done so automatically to allow for fewer wasted resources since you don't have to waste them on building more power stations.
The grid also has "stress" levels which indicate if too much power is going through a given area at a time which can choke towers or if it overheats can shut them all down so you have to build stress relievers to prevent that.
There are also power extenders to allow greater range for a given power station without building an entire new station.

creeps gain 25% more health per level and gain .1 to their speed every 5 levels. There are no flying creeps however there are some creeps that are immune to certain towers. The number of creeps spawned and the rate at which they spawn increases every couple levels. By the rate I mean the number of creeps per second so while you might start out seeing them in a chain one after another they'll slowly get closer together and then you might start seeing them side by side and then more of them until it looks like a liquid flowing wave of endless creeps. You gain resources from killing the creeps and gain an additional bonus % calculated over time rather than per wave.

Creeps travel to multiple objectives which you're required to connect to and depending on your difficulty you may be required to have multiple entry points. Each central objective is responsible for various properties of the maze and towers and losing one can greatly change the grid and everything on it. You can recover these objectives though as long as the final objective isn't lost yet. Recovering these objectives is hard though as they provide bonuses to the number of creeps spawned, their speed, and health, etc.

And that is the basic setup of the game. Not much to add to it as of yet and the majority of it actually isn't completely finished yet however I do have most of it up and working. The path system, the creeps, the towers and most of the power system minus the stress which is what I'll probably be working on tomorrow.

If you have anything to add feel free, I'm always up for hearing how people would change a given game for the better.

March 16, 2013

The Dangers of Overthinking

By now some of the dust has settled on Mass Effect 3 and it's ending where people might be open to talking about it without blind hatred. That's not to even start by saying it was bad rather misunderstood from my perspective. The ending was a representative of the facade of choice and really quite a genius idea in consideration however it also left that sense of hopelessness which we were fighting against the whole time. The interesting thing being that was we all hated so much, the lack of choice, was the whole purpose, the exact message they were trying to deliver though on a much more subtle level which was blatantly overlooked by knee jerk reactions. Although I would agree I would've appreciated some actual choices and results I must say bravo on the concept. However do to the high level and extreme subtlety I'd wager to say not many people realized what the devs were doing.

To clarify and elaborate I would say that you can not win the game, that all endings are essentially rigged to be failures. Which upon further consideration is possibly why I remained angry after realizing the truth because I would like to have the chance at actual victory. If you take the time to think it over you see how you're rapidly being indoctrinated in that no matter what you have become the reapers. You may become a reaper to control all reapers by which I mean a synthetic life form that relies on it's control of everything to guide the galaxy. You can become a reaper by evolving into the hybrid life form that the reapers claim to be. You can also become the great destroyer though instead of killing all organic life you're destroying all synthetic life. In the end you are a reaper.

Just something to consider. I would also suggest some youtube videos on indoctrination theory. I'm keeping this post short and sweet and releasing early because tomorrow night I'll be unusually busy and likely won't be able to post at my normal time. March 17th is my birthday and it's also st patricks day every year so you can imagine the kinds of parties I find myself having, and I do feel sorry for anyone that has to work on monday.

March 12, 2013

A potential future multiplayer model

I've been considering future games I might take on when I'm done with what I have on my plate now and I've had an interesting thought I would like to share. The idea would be to create a multiplayer system that's modular in that it's essentially it's own game and yet can be readily configured for other games and add ons not conceived of at time of launch. Basically rather than launching multiplayer as a tie in have it as a stand alone and treat what would have been multiplayer for a game as dlc for this multiplayer system. People who buy the campaign get free access to it's multiplayer and those that aren't interested can simply buy the add on at reduced cost.

To clarify I mean each and every subsequent game I might put out that might have a multiplayer component would be added to this system or framework to essentially keep it alive indefinitely or at least as long as possible. With regular updates of all kinds to all sections and while each add on would function independently there could also potentially be some crossover or hybrid modes where you could load items and features from different add ons and use them to create a new mode. These modes could be shared and featured and it would really be just an interesting concept if it could work. Granted a lot of things are not so simple it's not like you can load any old code and expect it to work but it's not unreasonable if it's put into consideration to begin with to plan for it as an option. While some multiplayer might be wildly different it's not to say some features couldn't be designated as reusable elsewhere.

Consider the different tiers of the multiplayer in the main game I've been discussing for some time. Each one could effectively function as it's own multiplayer as the difference between tier one and tier four is like the difference between COD and Halo though I wouldn't jump to compare either directly with what I'm suggesting. The concept I present would be like grabbing the plasma grenades and shields from halo and them patching them into COD or grabbing the weapons and accessories for them from COD and throwing them in Halo, maybe grabbing the control scheme or cover system from Gears of War. Consider each different part of each game and consider how it might be used elsewhere. On top of which would be the maps all of which I would imagine to be relatively easy to port over from anywhere to anywhere.

With the potential to basically assemble the perfect multiplayer you ever wanted what would you put together? Comment saying what features you'd put together and why.

March 04, 2013

Answering a few questions

I previously mentioned the leveling system and went on to explain some of it. Apparently I may not have clarified some points that while I mentioned previously I did not re-iterate or emphasize. Namely that the grid and nodes effect primarily abilities and secondary or derivative stats. That is to say none of the nodes will directly alter your strength stat which levels up naturally through use or similar. For example if you do a lot of running or climbing your strength and endurance both go up, in particular if you do so while overburdened by weighted objects. For example all of your guns have a weight, and therefore if you're holding a lot of weight it will slow you down and once your stats go up and you remove that weight you'll move faster than before. Some nodes might effect the rate at which you level your strength or provide multipliers under the pretense of synthetic augmentations but those are based on the primary value of the attribute itself. Substantially more powerful nodes like the strength modifier are the kinds of things you can expect on second tier grid for example as I also previously explained how significant the cost increase is, however as you can see it's also equally rewarding.

The entire system has been carefully designed for character balancing. Early on the weight limits are fairly small and you can only carry a select few weapons and a limited amount of ammo. Provided you put in the time to level up those limitations do go away and during that process the game is effectively changing and adapting as you'll see, and it's also part of why I implemented the concept for multi tiered multiplayer to avoid having god like characters just dominating low level games. As such I also disable certain abilities and restrict characters slightly when they're playing in lower tiers to accommodate players, however there is also an unrestricted play playlist for people wanting that challenge however it is unranked. The unrestricted however refers to characters and not to tech and as such tiers are still limited by the nature of the tech you'll see in each, again spanning from classics and modern, through advanced futuristic. For example one ability you learn on the grid is actually a tech accessory unlock to the HUD in which you get a target lead that shows you were to aim if you want to hit a moving target based on how fast it's moving and in what direction. This tech is restricted from tier 1 play but is readily available in tier 2 and up.

I once again made another revision to an old idea and put it back in the game then promptly removed it due to the fact I still can't find a proper way to fit it. Most of the players I have testing agree that they like the idea and it would help balance the game and yet none of my implementations of it thus far are anywhere near satisfactory and inevitably result in the players asking for it's removal and adjustments, however no agreement can be made as to how it should be changed. The feature I'm talking about is a kind of money and market system where by you essentially have a stock value players can invest in based on performance and each player earns their own funds the end result of which is each of your respawns cost a given amount of $ based on what you have for equipment, and is somewhat limited as to how much a given loadout can cost based on average income per game and estimated value. The core concept being to balance loadouts with limitations based on skill which I will say I'm quite generous about and at no point are you forced out of play even if you can't afford to continue. The game merely adjusts accordingly in a number of ways which has changed so many times I can't innumerate.

So far all of the weapons and attachments are immediately available while various accessory items require the grid to unlock their use such as colored smoke grenades or advanced body armors. Though I am considering also making some of the guns unlocks as well and some of the attachments. For example the dual sided tactical light to remove shadow effects from targets in dark areas, doesn't need to be an unlock however could work very well as one. Some of the higher velocity assault rifles could be restricted to players that invest enough in a class that favors assault rifles. I am still working on balancing, thankfully I've done a good enough job so far that while everyone can go around as juggernauts basically it's been balanced enough that it won't put a player that isn't a jug at a total disadvantage, jumping in on game 1 they would still have a reasonable chance at placing in the top ranks. Each class setup has it's weaknesses which is part of how I encourage multi classing and experimenting and even so there's no overpowered unstoppable character builds as of yet.

My next test will try allotting a value based on level as to what your setup can cost. The pretense of which would be that proven track records earn the right to access more equipment. I'm also adding special unlocks for harder achievements such as having an overall K/D ratio over 2 and various other stat based challenges. This hopefully will also encourage playing all the tiers so their added level bonuses will help you out in the other tiers with increasing your budget. 

One last note is that I also recently added two new game modes. The first is a derivative of king of the hill mixed with one of the target assault modes. Target assault was designed for learning teamwork and essentially your goal was taking on a given target with your teamwork in various ways. With king of the hill added it's like testing your practice, you have a constantly moving target area you have to hold. Not one of those moving points that jumps around rather a path you follow, you literally never stop moving, and your KoH points increase not only by how close you are to the moving path but also what you do while in or near the moving path such as assists, kills, clearing obstacles, following squad captain orders, etc. So far it comes in two variants, one where it roams the map till a score limit is reached, or the other where it moves around the map until it reaches a certain point and victory is based on team cumulative time in the zone. I haven't fully decided on a final name however in testing it's labeled as path attack. I'm open to suggestions on the name. The second game mode also has no name and is currently just listed as dev mode on the playlist. It's designed to replace a different teamwork based mode previously removed. Basically you and one of your squadmates are required to both shoot at the same target to deal damage. It doesn't matter which squadmate it is however you must have at least 2 people if not more shooting at the same target at the same time. It's a team deathmatch derivative however I may add it as an option to other game modes.