I've honestly lost track of this whole timekeeping thing. This particular post is 4 days late, but I didn't want to do another double or triple episode where I try to remember exactly what it was I did in the preceding 21 days.
This past week and a half has been another blur. I guess sort of trying to work two different jobs will do that to you. I'm still assessing if this is the route I want to go, and how long I'm willing to stick with it should it not be the chosen route. I'm in a constant state of impatience that immediately makes me uncertain about any choice I make. It's a nightmare.
What I can say for certain is that I've done zero GameMaker, Unity, Unreal or writing work for the past week and a half. It's brutal. So I want to try and make an effort to at least complete the Pixelles program, which I'm currently behind on.
I did finish playing another game though - Deliver Us The Moon. A very odd egg of a game. It's a linear space adventure that's halfway between walking simulator and full fledged action game. My next video will be a review of that, since I haven't done one in ages.
So, next goals:
- Write review of Deliver Us The Moon
- Complete next exercise in Pixelles program
- Try and put some time at least into GameMaker
Well I didn't think it could happen, but it happened. I missed 3 weeks worth of blog updates.
I can't actually tell if the past 3 weeks have been more busy, if I've gotten lazier, or I've just avoided doing this. It's getting to the point where I can barely remember exactly what it is I've done for the past few weeks to even put in this post.
Biggest things would probably be the the following:
My understanding and expectations of how much a designer should now about C# is still fuzzy. In talking to people who use Unity, the expectation seems to be that designers don't necessarily need to know how to code, just to understand the front end of the editor and know how to navigate it and and modify values. But at the same time every tutorial I've seen for Unity eventually involves doing some kind of coding, otherwise you don't seem to get very far.
Anyways, the new place I'm starting at uses Unity, so one of my hopes is that I will get more practical exposure to using it in a way that is, for lack of a better phrase, "industry standard". This isn't stopping me from looking at other potential roles and applications, but should the worst happen and I continue to not get any paid design work, at the very least I will hopefully be building useful experience.
I completed Metro 2033 Redux and in the end liked it very much. It had many janky parts, spotty presentation, and sometimes underwhelming gun play, but I liked it. I think the mix of atmosphere, unique(ish) setting, some unique mechanics and an unexpected focus on certain characters, all helped to make the game stand out compared to a lot of other shooters. Plus that whole side aspect of interdimensional aliens or whatever it is probably helped too.
As keen as I was to move straight onto Metro: Last Light, I wanted to take a break and try a different game I had heard plenty about - SpiritFarer. I'd heard great things about this game, and it looked like the exact opposite to Metro 2033, and I think it's good to keep a constant variety in what you play.
Also I got an Xbox Series S and signed up to GamePass and I'm immediately in love. I forgot what a snappy console UX could be. I've started exploring the GamePass library and I'm doing my best to avoid just immediately downloading and replaying a game I've already played to death. So likely first up on the chopping block will be Nier Automata.
Another abominably late blog entry, but at the very least this week has been more productive than the previous ones.
The fight to understand Unity continues, with me almost having finished the "Ruby's Adventure: 2D Beginner" tutorial series. It starts to go in deep with C# scripting which I am almost completely clueless on, but I persevered regardless. At this point in time I've got a character that moves, animates, receives damage and launches projectiles. Next tutorial is getting the camera to follow the character.
After that, I'll be in a position to try and roughly put together whatever the even more basic version of a prototype is for the Hooligans concept. Following tutorials is fab, but until you start working towards an actual "thing", you're still just following breadcrumbs. And having a "thing" to aim for is usually helpful when it comes to trying to learn more.
Outside of this I have continued the Pixelles program, submitting my first draft for the cinematic assignment. I got some great feedback from the folks in my group so I have an idea now of how I want the second draft to play out, which I'm actually excited to do!
I also took some time to have a think about my 2D, top down shooter prototype, and why I wasn't progressing with it. I'm not sure if this was the root cause, but one of my issues with the current prototype was that all the spaces felt a tad too big. No idea if that is normally a good thing in other top down games, but with mine, it felt like it led to zero structure, and a lot of unnecessary travel for the player.
So I've re-worked the opening levels to make them tighter, simpler, but more structured. Trying to take cues I've learnt from level design friends to help guide the player to the intended spots without overt sign-posting. And I'm way happier now. The game is still a haze in my head, and I have no idea if it will continue to proceed, but this feels like progress.
Current game I'm playing: Metro 2033 Redux. A decade old shooter that definitely shows its age, but has a pretty compelling atmosphere and presentation. So even though I'm not the biggest survival horror fan, I'll keep going (mostly because the second and third entries in the franchise are apparently markedly better).
Time is a flat circle.
I literally didn't realise that another two weeks had passed since my last post. I legitimately believed this was going to be the first time in ages that I managed to do a weekly update. Ah well.
On the Hooligans front not a lot has changed besides some minor cosmetic updates. The reason for this is that within the past 2 weeks we decided to start looking at a different engine for it.
I love GameMaker with my heart and soul, but it isn't exactly industry standard, and it isn't exactly alone in being an accessible tool for people to start making games with. In a lot of ways it's limited, and in some ways, it's downright backwards. I didn't realise this until my team mate and I were discussing how he could help out coding some of the project, but that would require him buying GameMaker outright (as far as we can tell).
Whereas with Unreal or Unity he could download it for free and start working away. Plus looking at the results people get in something like Unity versus what you get with GameMaker, it was starting to become abundantly clear that not-GameMaker was the way forward. And switching to a more industry standard engine would also help my prospects with future potential job hunting.
So a bunch of the past week has been that - learning Unity. I was hesitant at first because the last time I tried Unity it wasn't the most welcoming program. But since then, it seems that a lot more work has gone into onboarding new users. The Learning section, the example projects and the step by step tutorials have all been incredibly useful in making me feel like Unity is something I could legitimately use for all my future development needs.
The Pixelles program continues and I need to create a cinematic. I feel this might come a bit more naturally to me than the previous tasks just because I've spent time screenwriting before and have studied it somewhat.
I also put a bit of time into my robot prototype. A small change that I made is to the first environment hazard which is meant to be an unstable generator that blasts electric energy at set intervals. There's something off about how the game feels so far, and I can't quite put my finger on it. In theory I should be able to start chugging away at developing this prototype further, but something is mentally blocking me. I'll look into it when I have time but it is like the third or fourth thing on my priority list currently.
Lastly I finally finished up writing my critique of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I found it hard to write this one up for some reason. I wanted to avoid making another 10 minute video, but then found myself struggling to fit in all the things I wanted to say in less time than that.
In the end I decided to have the video centre on my main criticism (the combat), and just make small mentions of everything else (since everything else was basically fine). I'll polish up the writing tomorrow, then start the really fun process of voice over, and making the actual video. Woo.
Oh I also played Celeste and Gone Home in the last week, so if I keep this pace up I'll be able to get through my entire Epic Game Store backlog by about 2045.
Apologies, I thought I was only a week or two out with these posts. I didn't realise I had managed to go three weeks without providing one update!
The usual excuses are the ones I will be blaming at this particular time. A focus on my paid work (with various ups and downs in terms of productivity as development continues), more time spent on the job hunt, and more time spent on my prototyping and writing practice.
I put some time in re-arranging this very website to try and make it more visually engaging at first glance. I put my existing and in progress projects front and centre, instead of a summary of myself that no one read. I created dedicated pages and summaries of the different games I'm working on, as well as refreshing the Writing section to be a bit more up to date and presented a bit better.
I've increased the number of places I have applied to for work. There's been very little success thus far, which I guess shouldn't be a surprise. Design is a very sought after field, and from personal experience I've seen single vacancies get dozens of applicants within the first few hours of being made available. Competition is stiff, standards are high, and everyone wants a piece.
The Pixelles Program has continued to be a fun thing to be a part of. I've got this horrific notion to maybe abandon traditional design altogether and go all-in on writing and narrative design. I had way more fun coming up with dozens of barks than I did trying to debug my jank code. And the continued discussion that the Slack group has provided has been very inspiring. I'm looking into options for trying to make like a short interactive fiction piece on a regular basis. Or something else that could make for good portfolio additions (e.g. more character profiles or bark sheets).
On the Hooligans front, I was getting to "head against a brick wall" levels of frustration constantly trying to sort out collision and movement issues. So we decided that I will focus on a new set of tasks that will instead be focused on completing the initial "game loop" for a single level. This is including start screens, score tracking, menus, camera moves, everything. The initial work done has already made the game feel a lot more gamey, which is very motivating.
Also I finally finished Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and I didn't like it. So I'm going to finish writing up that review and start editing it.
I want to put up reviews on this website to show my critique/analyst side of thoughts when it comes to games, but I want to do it in a way that is constructive, not insulting, to potential future employers and co-workers. Last thing I want to do is go into a job interview with a bunch of people I mugged off.
This ended up being one of the dryer weeks when it came to presentable visuals. Things are full steam ahead with my part time work, and it's giving me more opportunities to get familiar with Unreal Engine, but I didn't get as far with my self learning in UE as I would have liked.
I started my first assignment in the Pixelles program - a free online course designed to help folks build out a usable games writing portfolio. It's long paced course that will take a number of months to complete, but I'm hoping to stick with it.
The biggest thing of note I worked on this week was the Hooligans prototype. I was provided with the basic metrics that were desired for the level layouts. As I said in last weeks post, level design doesn't really come naturally to me. So having someone else sketch out what was expected was a big help to me, and allowed me to flesh out a much better prototype level. And having the actual desired metrics allowed us to get a better idea of what the sizes for various objects should be. We'll be shrinking enemy sizes, expanding structure sizes, etc.
The plan is to make further iterations on this test level and see if it actually plays nice. I want to get in a position where myself and the others working on this project can play the game regularly so that we can make calls on how it feels and iterate faster.
These videos are probably still quite abstract so I'll explain:
This shows what is essentially a "Defence Round" in the Hooligans game. The player has a number of key buildings which they have to monitor and protect from approaching enemies. So far the video shows enemies spawning off screen at set points, navigating to the players structures, and attacking them.
Next on the list is having the player spawning units to defend the structures, having combat interactions between enemy and player units, and improving the camera. It may be noticeable from that one GIF, but the current camera implementation can be a bit nauseating (at least for me). I'll be looking into how to make it smoother and less vomit inducing.
There's numerous other changes that are also planned, but are lower priority for now. This upcoming week I'll be doing an extra day of part time work to assist with a key delivery, so I imagine I won't be getting super loads done in terms of my own stuff. But hey, here's hoping.
I'm only 1 day late with this post so in theory I'm getting better at this.
In a way this past week was overall good for my productivity, even though what I actually did was relatively little. I say it's good because I came to two good realisations.
1 - I am not a keen level designer.
For the robot/shooter prototype I'm working on, I was trying to figure out what was making me stall with progress. I was thinking up systems and enemies and narrative beats all relatively easily. And then I discovered that when it came to putting levels together, that's when I started pausing. The actual nitty gritty of carving out a space, figuring out a route, knowing best where each enemy and pick up should go.
So I tried to steamroll past this issue and just start making levels and putting things in them. I'm going to treat it like writing, where you do a first draft and then once that's complete, you forget about it for a few days before going back to it and pruning all the crap that didn't work.
2 - I need specific goals to aim for when learning something
I've whinged on here for a while now that although UE Blueprints are undoubtfully something very useful to learn, I haven't been motivated to continue learning it. I thought it was just because I wasn't enjoying the actual process of learning and trying to make stuff in it. In actuality, I think it's because - similarly to the level design issue - I didn't know what direction to go in.
When you've got a tool that you can go an infinite number of directions with, it can be overwhelming to even know where to start. To combat this, I decided to learn a very specific thing or things one at a time. I decided to go with learning how to make a basic first person shooter first. So I found a tutorial and followed the steps and made the following:
It's basic and ugly and the camera doesn't turn with the mouse yet, but it was cool learning the most basic of basics to get this working.
Coincidentally, it's these kinds of limits which I think end up producing the best creativity. The issue with the player only able to really move forward with limited aiming made me wonder if there'd be a game in that. A literal corridor shooter where your movement is limited and you have to take on enemies in an extremely tight space.
Anyways, those were my two realisations this week and what I got up to.
Other miscellaneous things done in the past week:
- Carried on with my production work
- Enrolled in the Pixelles writing portfolio program
- Wrote up and recorded my thoughts on Dishonored (2012) and was going to put out a video but Adobe Rush decided to be a drama about it
- Added lightning hazards to the shooter prototype
- Added most of the enemy spawning logic for the Hooligans prototype
So this isn't really week 9 as it's ignoring like 3 weeks of holiday time I selfishly took for myself over Christmas, but whatever. The Christmas break was one that I very much needed and enjoyed. I was mindful to not really do any kind of games related work, or any work at all for that matter. The one thing I did focus on was completing a screenplay.
The BBC does an open call for screenwriters twice a year, and for near enough a decade I'd been meaning to submit something. But I always just about missed the window, or saw it too late to actually write anything of substance, or didn't have the energy and time to put into a script. This year, with me being only partially employed and having stumbled on the call with still a month to go before the deadline, I made it my goal to write and submit something.
Ironically enough the story I went with was one that originated from a game world that I conjured up in university together with some friends. It wasn't my intention. I just realised whilst brainstorming that this was the world that was most fleshed out in my mind, that had interesting things going on in it, and could accommodate multiple characters with vastly differing motivations. So I spent a month on it, had enough time for re-writes, and submitted it without issue (as far as I know). I doubt it will get anywhere (previous open calls had something like 4000+ entries and only 20 people get called back), but it was a personal goal of mine to finish and submit a script, and I did. So yay for me.
Outside of that I did apply to some game design roles I found, and am waiting to hear back. Similar to the script thingy though this is a game of numbers. Usually you have to do dozens of applications before you even get a call back from anywhere (or even a response), so I expect to be applying for quite some time. This isn't helped by the fact that junior game designer roles are rarer than big foot sightings.
And to close out, here are some quick fire things I did do over the past week or so:
- Started on further prototyping for the "Home" games for the Hooligans concept
- Joined an online program to help with creating a games writing portfolio
- Finished Dishonored (finally)
- Finished my UX design course (finally)
- Finished the Will Wright Game Design Master Class course (now I need to go through the accompanying booklet and look at the challenges/exercises it provides)
Another horrifically late post. My multi-tasking skills took a hit lately with me simply trying to do too many things at once and planning to do this post ASAP but finding other things to do instead. Nevertheless, here it is for the yearning masses.
So what have I been up to for the past two and a bit weeks? I started my part time work for a small indie games company, assisting with all things production. It's been fun so far and it's been nice to get exposed to a smaller scope of work compared to my last role. Can't say anything about what is being worked on yet but believe me once it's announced I'll be plastering it all over the gaff.
Outside of that my two biggest focuses have been the continued work on the Hooligans prototype and trying to get my first script finished for the BBC Writers Room deadline. For those that don't know, the BBC runs two open script calls twice a year. The scripts have to meet a bunch of requirements (be 30 pages minimum, be formatted correctly, etc) and the deadline is the start of January. I'm about ten pages into the 30 page minimum, and that currently consists of just over 2000 words. I'm hoping to finish a first draft around Christmas/Boxing Day, and that gives me another week or so to go over the script and trim out all the bits that suck.
I believe last year that the BBC received something like 3000+ scripts and less than around 20 people get selected to go into the Writers Room program. So I'm not expecting to make it that far, but a goal/dream of mine for ages has been to submit a complete script for something like this. So hopefully this year I can at least get that far.
In terms of game dev work, Hooligans work has taken up the majority of it. The past week (or longer) has been taken up by bugs in some of the core functionality. Issues to do with fan entities drifting away from their controlling entities, and that then screwing with collisions/interactions/detection etc. I've spent some time on said issue and whilst there have been some improvements, I honestly can't think of a way to solve it at the moment that would be practical. So I'm looking to ignore this issue for now (it only happens in specific cases), and move onto implementing more bits of actual gameplay flow.
I've only just realised that I haven't posted any gifs from the most recent versions of the Hooligans prototype, so please enjoy those below:
In the previews these GIF's look like garbage (in terms of resolution), but they might get better after I post this. If not I'll just describe them. This was the update prototype where we had the group of fans now essentially all being one entity, where as before they were all separate objects with their own pathing/movement logic that would all attempt to move as one. The constant problem was that all of these separate objects would always eventually converge onto the same position and disappear behind each other. I looked for a bunch of ways around this but it became absurd.
Another issue was the fact that having potentially dozens/hundreds of these individual objects all trying to path find to the same point caused plenty of bugs, or just straight up didn't work as you would expect it to. So we opted to go with a single, large entity that would spawn all of the characters, and have them move in sync with the entity it self. It means just one entity now has to do the path finding, and we get rid of a bunch of issues.
Unfortunately there are still plenty of other issues. The aforementioned bug with the enemy characters drifting from the enemy entity (and a similar issue with the player characters/player entity. And the pathfinding still isn't bullet proof and will lead to instances of the player's group taking the longest possible route through what should be a straight line. But we at least now have enemy groups that move, chase the player, attack and stop following if the player gets too far.
And in completely unrelated news I also finally recorded, edited and uploaded my "Thoughts On The Last Of Us Part 2". It's a mess, it's got dodgy audio and I think a few of my points are quite rambly, but I'm OK with it. It also led to me using ye olde Photoshop to make my first thumbnail, so go me. My "Thoughts On Uncharted" video will be next, and I'm already looking to trim down the script on that bad boy, since I really can't be arsed to do 10+ minute videos right now.
Week six. I've hit that point where I'm constantly thinking to myself "You really should have more to show at this point." In the same go six weeks feels like nothing. On my whiteboard I've kept a count of how many "work days" I've done since starting this. Today is work day 31. Another metric is that it is the last day of November which is also terrifying.
I'm trying to not get caught up in this terrifying thought process but it is difficult to ignore. The good news is that I have found paid, part-time work which is somewhat related to the goals I'm looking to achieve. So I can hold off poverty for a little while longer, whilst feeling useful and hopefully learning some new stuff along the way. In terms of weekly updates:
My losing streak with Unreal Engine Blueprints continues. I'm not sure what my beef is. I think the one shot tutorials may not be as motivating as the long form video tutorials I followed before, which presented with you a more grand final product. I'll try to take a look at some different tutorial series' this week to hopefully get me back on track.
A lot of effort this week has continued to go into the Hooligans prototype. Me and the other fellow working on it had a few more conversations regarding the current state of the prototype. We agreed that there were still some significant challenges regarding the technical aspects. Simply put, this is my first time trying to make something with RTS elements and there are a lot of considerations to keep in mind. Controlling multiple units instead of one, providing instructions to multiple enemies and different enemy types, pathfinding, the list goes on and on.
We decided that we would simplify the backend further to allow us to proceed. Now instead of there actually being dozens of individual objects with their own code and pathfinding, there will instead be one entity, with multiple objects spawned around it. It will still look like a big group of different units but they will all move, stop and attack at the same time. This same behaviour will be used for the enemy AI as well. It's less dynamic and admittedly leads to fewer player options, but frankly if we don't make this change then we might as well stop making the game at this point.
I didn't make any headway on my other prototype unfortunately this week. Again, I'm starting to find myself blocked slightly on where I need to go next with it. I think the last problem I had was with doors and how I wanted different doors to function - without it becoming a complex mess like in my previous attempts. I'll try to put some time into sketching out exactly how I want the gameplay to unfold, as right now I'm just stumbling in the dark.
And lastly on the Twine front I made more progress with the story. It hasn't been the 1000 words a day as I had hoped (I'm only at 2300 total), but there is still progress. Hopefully I can make a significant dent in the remaining word count this week.