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.
Cor blimey, week five of this fountain of fun? A-mazing. What the hell did I achieve this week?
Following on from my comments last week about not exactly falling in love with Unreal Blueprints, this week I did zilch with it. That wasn't actually on purpose and I didn't realise I'd done nothing in Unreal this week until this very moment when I sat down to write this. I'll put a bigger focus on it next week and continue with the one-shot tutorials. But for now, moving on:
A lot more time went into my Gamemaker and Twine work. On the Gamemaker front I managed to make decent progress on my own prototype for Mark II. The design is remaining intentionally simplistic since every time I try to make something complex it tends to spiral out of control.
I changed up weapons so that they can now be found and picked up. And added in an ammo system for weapons, except for the starting laser (in case the player finds themselves in a hostile spot and zero ammo). I also did some work on doors so that I've got every type of door I need (for now) to facilitate different levels of off limit areas. Work was also started on a new "proper" area/level so that I can start progressing the game, as I feel I've been slightly stuck on how to proceed for a while now.
Progress was also made on the Hooligans/semi-RTS game, but not significantly enough to warrant new footage. Behind the scenes we had a bunch of conversations about a few areas of the design. So whilst there isn't loads to show on the front end, on the back end there's been a lot discussed and confirmed/clarified.
On the Twine front I managed to make some headway and I have a rough idea of where I want the story to go. As I'm still quite new to Twine I'm still learning the basics - but I did manage to learn about $variable's and got my own rudimentary implementation into the story (involving throwing up, no less). Simultaneously I'm reading "Stephen King On Writing" who suggests jotting down 1000 words a day, six days a week, as a goal. I managed to achieved that once this week. So if I can double (or, gasp, triple) that this week, I'll be happy.
Lastly, I edited and tightened up the writings I had done on both the Uncharted series, and The Last Of Us Part 2. I know I want to make these as review/critique videos but haven't got round to recording the narrations for them yet. Mostly due to my cringing at my own vocal performance. I'll aim to at least record some kind of narrations next week. But I can't promise I won't immediately delete them afterwards.
The fourth week of this tumultuous time comes to an end, and just as before, this post is a bit late. But this week I have a reason. It's not a good reason, but it's a reason. I decided at the eleventh hour to choose Sunday as the day that I wouldn't turn on my computer. I'm on it for like ten hours a day every day and I think my eyes are about ready to hand in their notice. So one day a week I will not use my PC or laptop. Phones, tablets, giant TV's are all ok though.
This past week went slightly better than week three. With there being more productivity and less US Election nail biting. I'm still not up to what I would consider 100% productivity. I feel like my days seem to end much quicker than I want and my figurative "Done" pile is always smaller than I would like. Nevertheless, progress has been made.
First up is Blueprints. As mentioned last week, I've started looking at the One-Shot tutorials from the Unreal YouTube channel. I only did one or two this week, with the focus being on shooting custom projectiles. In this instance, a flaming office chair:
I'm not entirely sure how to feel about Blueprints at this stage. It's obviously a powerful and very useful tool and is probably the closest I will ever get to solo-developing something of AAA standards. But I can't help but feel that it might not be for me. It can be learnt fairly quickly and it shows interesting results almost immediately but I haven't yet found myself being absorbed by it or feeling particularly inspired by it. I'll continue the tutorials and see if my feelings change over the next few weeks.
Next up I continued my prototyping in GameMaker Studio 2. The semi-RTS project continues to be a major focus. I was given feedback regarding how Hero characters should behave and how this relates to the special abilities the player can use. In brief, the abilities should be presented more as a loadout, rather than as a set of skills provided by Hero characters. To that end, Hero characters were no longer expected to be shown as their own bespoke characters.
I have no idea why one GIF is clear and the other one is blurry when they've both come from the same video file but whatever. What is actually happening in these clips?
On the left we show the new loadout/ability select screen. Where as before it was simply select one of each type of Hero/Ability, now you can select multiple of one ability and stack them. It's difficult to see but in the bottom right the icons now show how many times you can use each of said ability.
On the right you can barely make it out but the first thing that happens is the player activating their invisibility ability by clicking the green icon. The on screen characters change into their incognito outfits to represent this. But we also have the startings of attacking structures. The big red square is an enemy building/structure. The characters move towards it, animate and turn red to represent their attacks. Once the building goes grey, it has been destroyed.
There is a lot still wrong with the prototype. Biggest issue currently is that movement doesn't feel satisfying, and the building attacking is still jank central. But all things considered, I'm still happy with progress. Intention is to start prototyping enemy units next.
Finally I decided to start putting a focus on writing and narrative design this past week. Utilising my limited Twine skills, I went to https://videogamena.me/ and started generating random game titles. I landed on "Alcoholic Rabbit Alpha" and immediately loved it and started writing/Twining. Having just finished the EXCELLENT Disco Elysium, I have no doubt that whatever I end up writing is essentially going to be partial rip-off of that game.
It's still early days but hopefully I can put my own flavour on it. As time goes on I see myself fantasising more and more about something closer to narrative design than the more technically minded types of design.
Hopefully that is an actual deep and true preference I have, and not just because writing comes easier to me than visual scripting. Either way, stay tuned for next week!
This is a bit late, but here we are at the end of week three of Funemployment. Unfortunately I got a tad distracted in the preceding week due to the US Election, which for some reason I was glued to like a fly to very smelly jam. It also wasn't helped by the fact that my internet was out for like two days for absolutely no reason. But, no matter, we continue.
As mentioned, my productivity was shocking last week, most notably my Unreal Engine work suffered the most. I found a YouTube playlist consisting of numerous "one-shot" tutorials created by Unreal themselves, so I will be continuing to go through that. The last tutorial from the series that I watched showed how to make actors/objects disappear after colliding with them. Go for pick-ups/collectibles etc. Alas I have no new footage of anything I worked on in Blueprints though.
I did make some headway with Gamemaker Studio 2 though. A lot of focus has been on a prototype I am working on with a friend for an RTS style type game. But this is purely made up of units getting to an objective - there is no base building/resource gathering etc. I've never tried making an RTS before so a lot of the technical side of things is new to me. Having multiple units to move, having them perform actions, making sure they're moving where you went them to go correctly and all that. There was also the added complexity of having different abilities for you to use depending on the types of unit you start with.
Since everything is still very prototypey and abstract, I'll explain. You start by selecting your main Hero characters - each with a different ability. At the start of the level these abilities are represented as icons in the bottom right. Upon clicking the green icon this activates a stealth mode for the group - hilariously depicted as them all wearing flasher trench coats and trilby's.
It's still very early days but I am happy with the progress that has been made here - and it is a significant departure from the previous prototypes I've tried to make.
Another area I've been working in but haven't shown much of here is with Adobe Xd - a wireframing and prototyping program. It's not exactly game design related, but I figured being able to wireframe and prototype mobile friendly designs couldn't hurt. The most recent tutorial I did was to cover creating a "high fidelity" furniture website mock-up.
There's a lot of things I don't like about the final product, but it looks a lot better than my previous efforts. I'm looking forward to continuing the tutorial series (I'm around two thirds through) and seeing how I can apply this to future design work.
Lastly, I spent a chunk of time writing down all of my thoughts on the Uncharted series. I have spent a significant amount of time on Twitter whinging about the Uncharted games and chronicling my time with the four mainline games and how much I haven't enjoyed it. I'm deciding whether I want to do this purely as a written piece, or if I want to go to the full effort of presenting it in video form. Guess we'll see.
That's it for week three. I'm hoping by next weeks posting I've got this schedule under a bit more control.
Week two of funemployment has come and gone and some bits were fab and others were not so fab. The good parts being that I managed to continue to progress in almost all areas that I wanted to progress in (with the exception of writing), continued to tidy up a bunch of real life admin, and stick to my workout routine. The bad parts were mostly the fact that I wasn't able to keep to my intended schedule, and lost out on a lot of productivity and time due to it.
Nevertheless, we move.
One of the highlights was probably the fact that I managed to do some much faster prototyping during the week that meant I had created more gameplay in a few days than I had in the past few months.
So what's going on in the above GIF? You are the blue circle with the red triangle face. The blue circles with the red outlines and the red circles are enemies. You can shoot green bullets, the blue enemies shoot red bullets, and the red enemies just charge at you once you get close enough. The yellow circle is a shield that blocks attacks. In the bottom right is an overheat meter - it goes up the more you shoot and if it maxes out, your weapons are locked for a short time (but you can still use your shield).
It is primitive but even in that short clip you can see a moment where I almost got blind sided by one enemy whilst fighting another enemy and accidentally overheating my weapon. Hopefully next week I can make further additions to the prototype.
I also threw together a quick test for pathfinding in GameMaker: Studio (which it turns out is better supported than I originally though). It comes in the form of a point and click test where you control one big character who is in turn being followed by a bunch of smaller characters.
On the Unreal Engine Blueprints front, my progress was a bit more tempered. I finished the initial intro tutorial to blueprints (it is excellently explained and can be found here for anyone interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFXMW_UEDco&ab_channel=UnrealEngine) which covers things like interactions, creating a blueprint and messing with the construction code.
The above GIF just shows an initial structure I've created, some particles added in for a effect, and a sliding door that activates once you get near it. I wanted to have it open when you press a button on a nearby console but that ended up being way more complicated than I anticipated. Maybe next week.