Tonight was an extremely exceptional night for development, if I do say so myself. I started and finished an entire sequence in one night, with minor distractions.
This particular set of events takes place in a small level, where the player will not have any direct control, so it did give me some leeway in the actual level design. But as usual, I started prototyping the level, just to do my due diligence. Lucky for me, it's a small extension of the previous level I created, so I was able to immediately import the atmosphere settings, and have the look and feel I wanted right off the bat. I was also lucky enough to have some existing "groups" (a collection of models put together to form one model) to use in the level as well.
As I was creating the pathfinding, one weird thing happened. Only 1/4 of the level (bottom left square) would get the nodes, while the other parts didn't. As I was just prototyping, it wasn't a big deal, and I figured I would just get to it later. Next thing I did was begin creating a stage for the conversation that takes place here. Again, I knew that once I had the camera angles and such setup, moving the stage to a new level would be easy, so I just focused on that.
Next up, I tested the game with the stage/conversation to make sure it looked okay, which it did. Next up, I decided to keep prototyping the level, adding in all sorts of vegetation. I also added some of the appropriate sound effects to the area, and of course, the music that plays duirng the scene.
Once I had the finished product, and tested it, I realied the level itself was just fine :) No need to do it over again. Sure, there is some wasted space in the level, but it wouldn't bring the size down by that much. And again, as the player won't be walking around in this area anyway, they won't be able to see it. So yeah, that's that!
Today's music comes from a group that I am putting in my top 3 list of all time, with regards to New age music.
1/28/11 -Friday: SOMETIMES I JUST NEED TO FOCUS FOR LIKE 5 MINUTES...
I didn't have much time to do anything tonight, but I did make use of said limited time. There's this cutscene I knew I needed to create for a while now, I knew it only had to be about 70 seconds long, but I just couldn't pin down how I wanted it to unfold. Usually, I know months/years ahead of time, but since I just thought of this cutscene weeks ago, I didn't really have a good idea of what I wanted to do. Plus, I needed the area to be more or less finished as well. No point in designing a cutscene in an area that isn't finished, and will most likely change.
Well, after taking care of some "real job" things, I put on some music, and just brainstormed for a bit. Lucky for me, it came to me, and because of the nature of the scene, I was able to finish it within an hour or so. Nice to be able achieve something semi-significant.
Today's music comes from someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite vocalists: Hayley Westenra.
1/27/11 -Thursday: DISTRACTIONS...
So, my life has been filled with various distractions over the past few days, the biggest one being the Austrailian Open. Now that Federer has been knocked out, my interest is waning, so it's not as factor anymore. Then, there is a dev complete/release this Friday (at my real job, that is!) that I've been working towards for a while, and as usual, it's crunch time, so I've been bringing my work home, so to speak.
Even still, I've been systematically taking care of many defects/enhancements in our bug database, which was the overall goal anyway, knowing I wouldn't be able to put my all into stuff requiring more brain power (i.e. cutscene design). Most of the issues have been pretty minor, but as I always say, it has to be done at some point anyway, so it's not like I'm wasting my time. In fact, if I tried to create cutscenes while watching a tennis match, that would be wasting time :)
Assuming everything is okay at work tomorrow, I should be back in the swing of things, with adding new content. This includes a new level I need to prototype, a short 30 seconds cutscene, and some other things. As with the previous level I created, once I have the core design down, everything else will just fall into place. Here's to a long weekend full of great development!
Today's music comes from one of my least favorite Yanni albums. It only had a few tracks I can really point to as classic, and this is one of them.
1/24/11 -Monday: CUSTOM XP IMPLEMENTATION AND TESTING...
So, I finally got around to making changes to exptable.2DA in order to get the XP output more in line with something that fits for Rose of Eternity. Couple with my existing change months ago that literally cuts down any given XP by 50%, things are finally starting to come together in that aspect. Clearly, the end results are lower XP rewards.
An early design decision was to make you have to work for your levels, in hopes that it made each one all the more satisfying. I think the last game I played that did this the best was Baldur's Gate 1. I'm not sure how long I played that game, but one thing I do remember is that feeling of "Ahh, finally!"when gaining levels. Maybe it was because I played a mage, but I just couldn't wait to see what new spells I was going to get. Also, I was just so damn happy to have more spells per day, in general :) In Dragon Age, and well, most 21st century RPG's, I haven't really had that feeling, that sense of accomplishment. As to why, who knows... The times are changing, I guess.
Anyway, one thing that supplements this idea is that not all new abilities and such are always tied to your level. Many are acquired through certain events. So, I don't want people to think that if they aren't gaining that many levels, they won't be gaining many new abilities and such. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I couldn't just make the change and wipe my hands clean of the situation, unfortunately. I had to play through at least 80% of the game to make sure the player wasn't getting too much/too little XP. At the moment, I am happy with where it is, but as always, it could, and probably will change down the road. But, I at least have the template, so going forward, it will be much easier.
In other related news, I made a post on the forums asking for some advice on how to handle sharing resources between multiple developers. I pretty much knew what we have to do, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask the question anyway, seeing if there were any gotchas out there that would bite me in the ass. Now, I'm pretty much a constant fixture on the BSN forums, at the very least, reading through threads daily. So, I sort of know who the experts are in the various aspects of the toolset. So, I wrote this thread fully epxting to get an answer from Proleric, and lo and behold, I got my wish :) So tomorrow, I'll begin my work in that area.
Today's music comes from an interesting fighting game from the mid 90's, called Killer Instinct. As with most fighting games, I really get into them more if the music is good. Lucky for me, this had one of the all time best soundtracks. Even better, when it was eventually released for the SNES, it came packaged with the soundtrack.
1/22/11 -Saturday: BUG/ENHANCMENT FIXING/IMPLEMENATION PART 2...
As I mentioned before, because of the Austrailian Open, I've made a conscious decision to focus on fixing up the various issues we have in our bug tracker. Heh, I feel like I've gone through like 50-60 of them in the past few days! At the same time, it feels good to clear them up. In terms of the types, I would say it's been 50% actual bugs, 49%, enhancements, and 1% won't fix issues. And yes, I know 86% of statistics are made up :)
And I know I sound like a parrot, but it's great to have others entering bugs. As any developer knows, other people will find things you never even though possible. Most notable is a bug in my custom death system. I don't plan on looking at it for a while, but it's nice to know there are details on how to reproduce it. I think it just comes down to the fact that when I go through the game, I know exactly where to go, and I don't really deviate from the beaten path. So, it's nice to have others just poke around and try to break the damn thing.
As I'm writing this, I am noticing a new post on our forums regarding the ongoing VO process. A few weeks (maybe months?) ago, I put together a list of all the NPC's in the game, and ranked them by their importance. Well, Jason took the list and expanded it, as I apparently missed a few people here and there. From there, we can start deciding who we want to voice each person, and also start building some bios to send out to the vo artists. I'll readily admit that the prospect of integrating VO has made me a little uneasy since this time last year, but slowly and surely, I'm starting to feel better about it.
The major thing I will be tackling tomorrow is finally implementing my changes to the XP system, and how it's rewarded. I made a post about this months ago, but long story short, unless I'm missing something, you get more XP for lower ranked enemies, and less for higher ranked. This apparently worked with the way they handled level scaling in the OC. Well, I don't have level scaling, so I need something a little more exact, and call me weird, but I think that tougher enemies should yield more XP, bottom line. Luckily, there is a 2DA I can override to put my changes. So, it's just going to be about fiddling around with different values until I come up with something that works.
Finally, I've been slowly putting together a list of tracks I would like to use in various trailers. I still need a little more actual game content in order to put them together, but I'm already mentally thinking about each shot, in relation to the music. In essence, I'm treating them like normal cutscenes, though it will be more work to do it.
Today's music comes from an album I literally just picked up a few years ago. For whatever reason, the first Enya album I ever heard was Watermark. I then proceeded to pick up each subsequent one, not even knowing about this real first one. While it's not her best in my opinion, it had some standout classics, like this one.
Right. So, the Austrailian Open started on Monday (Austrailian time), so for at least the first week, I'm going to be distracted. Because of this, I knew I had to take on minor tasks while watching the various matches. Since there's like 40+ issues opened in the issue tracker, I figured it was the perfect time to do so.
Getting back to tennis really quickly, I have to say, this is one of the more annoying ones, time wise. They are 16 hours ahead of us, so when "live" coverage starts at 7pm here, it's 11am the next morning there. So, if whoever I want to watch is playing during the day, it's fine. But, if someone is playing a night match there at 7pm, that's 3am in the morning here. Now, I have DVR and such, but it means that I need to be on a total blackout for the next day. That means no Facebook, no sports sites, no nothing. Why facebook, you ask? Well, I'm a fan of various tennis players on the site, and they like to talk about their matches when they're over, so I don't want to be spoiled. Ah, the life of a sports fan where said sports don't take place in his country... And damn Austrailia, and their time zone! :)
Anyway, like I said, it gave me time to go through a bunch of bugs/enhancement issues. I focused on ones entered by Jason recently. I've stressed it so many times before, but I'm such a believer in having people playhing through the game through all phases it. Better to catch bugs earlier rather than later. Plus, some things that may have made sense to me aren't always so clear to others playing, so I find out about such things earlier as well. In fact, he had a bunch of these enhancement issues identifying such issues.
It was nice to bring that list down a bit, because the less bugs I see on my list, the better I feel about myself. Heh, same thing at my real job. My list has been growing as of late, and it irriates me to no end. Bugs for Rose of Eternity, not so much, because I want to have these things found out. At work, I don't want any more work to do :)
Tomorrow, I'll continue with these bug fixes, especially since I still need to watch the Federer match that was on at 3:00am this morning. In fact, I'll just continue with it. Maybe dedicating 2 days a week to bug fixing will be a good thing.
Most of the people reading this blog should recognize this song. One of only 2 songs I actually like in this game. Shame...
1/17/11 -Monday: PLOT RELATED STUFF...
Now that I'm done with the core level design, as well as the combat scenarios for this particular level, I was able to start in on plot related things, including finally implementing a stage and such for some dialogue I wrote a while back.
At this point, I can pretty much do this stuff in my sleep, so I did it while watching the Austrailian Open in the background. Yes, folks, tennis is back. I'm pretty sure it has the shortest off season of any sport I watch. Go Federer!
I also handled a lot of what I like to call, administrative tasks. That just amounts of creating and responding to theads on the dev forums, and in general, getting totally synced with everyone else. One of the topics of the day was how to handle dialogue editing. We're at that point, and so I thought I should open up a thread to discuss the various ways we could handle it. The end result was that having all toolsets pointing to the same database would have been the best solution, but since I haven't had time to set it up, we'll have to at least start with just doing importing/exporting b2b packages. Not the most elegant solution, but hey, whatever works.
One feature I find interesting in the conversation editor is an "Editing" tab. This pretty much speaks for itself, and will definitely help streamline the process. Now I can get the edits, and do easy comparisons, before deciding to give it a yay or nay.
We also discussed bringing on other writers. While this was definitely something I considered early on (I had at least 7-8 writers working with me on Cry The Beloved), I'm a little on the fence about it now. In the former game, there were a lot of different people in the main hub city of Dematolthat needed dialogue to be written. This time around, I sort of wrote a lot of that dialogue for a similiar area with many different NPC's. I do have a bug to add more dialogue to some NPC's in that same area, so that could influence my decision. But beyond that, it's going to be mostly high profile cast members, and a small subset of them at that. I should point out, if anyone is interested in joining the team as a writer, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even though I'm clearly not actively looking for any, if any should happen to show up at my front door step, I would turn them away :)
The only other thing going on in the forums was a short discussion about why certain characters say what they say, where the saying came from, and how these characters were inspired in general. Nothing I can really go into great detail about, as I don't want to give out any spoilers, but it's always nice to have these discussions nonetheless.
Tomorrow on the train, I plan on finishing a pretty important piece of dialogue I've been slowly writing over the past week. At home, I'll start prototyping the next level on my list. As with the last one, this one will start with just getting environment settings just right, getting the music in, and sound effects. Then, I'll start prototyping that actual layout itself. If I'm lucky, I'll get a chance to add even more of the custom creatures I created weeks ago, to see how things play out.
Another classic, epic song from Super Mario Galaxy. Did I ever say it's pure genius that they decided to go with a full orchrestra?!
1/16/11 -Sunday: THIS IS WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT!
Today was all about combat design, special ability tweaking, etc. This is seriously what I live for!
So, I started with enemy placement. While it would seem to be a pretty simple thing (and it is, relatively speaking), there were a lot of things I had to take into consideration. One is pacing, which was supplemented by the level design itself. More specifically, I purposely designed the level a certain way to make the different encounters slightly different, as well as leave room for down time for the player, so they're not just feeling like it's all hack and slash. Another thing I had to do was make it so that each encounter took place in an area that wouldn't be hampered by engine AI issues, and other weird oddities. In other words, don't just have an encounter start in a tight area, where party members get confused, and can't actually get to the enemy. If it's supposed to be a tight area, fine, but if not, don't do it. That's just the simplest example, but there were many more I had to focus on. Finally, I'm not activating enemies as you get close to them, or anything like that. They're already spawned, and doing their own thing when you run into them. Maybe it's more efficient to only activate them on demand, but it's just more work, and I'm lazy :) Anyway, after a bit of shuffling around, I've pretty much settled on the placements, though it can of course change at any time.
The rest of the time was spent tweaking the custom abilities even further. This was the funnest part of the night, by far. For me, there's nothing better than tweaking an ability you conceived months or years earlier in your head, and see it playing out the way you expected it to play out in actual combat. I played on Normal, Hard, and Nightmare, and they worked out just fine. As with the enemy placement, I finally settled on something that seemed to work. And just like the former, it can, and probably will change :)
Tomorrow, I'll start integrating some convos and stages into the area. I created them on the train a while back, so I think it's time to get them in. If I'm lucky, I may get a cutscene as well, but I don't really need it at this point to keep the plot going.
Oh, and I was introduced to some new music that has blown my mind!
The farewell theme song to a great party member from Grandia.
1/15/11 -Saturday: CORE LEVEL DESIGN DONE!
Well, took longer than I expected (what else is new!), but the core level design is done. Clearly, that doesn't mean the level itself is done, but the core design, structure, etc. is done. This is really important because I need to keep this plot moving along. All the cosmetic stuff can be done at a later time. It is definitely a little rough, but overall, I am pleased with what I was able to do. I also learned a lot of new things, that will help me in the next level I have to design (*shudder*).
Now, I can put more focus on the combat scenarios. I already did a bunch of that yesterday, but there is so much more to do. Placement, numbers, modification of stats (on both sides), etc. I also need to make sure the pacing is done well. No Deep Roads combat in this game... I know I have a bunch of other levels with combat, so I don't need to put that much in here. At the same time, there is no point to just have it be a cakewalk. I just have to walk that fine line.
Another thing I'm thinking about is the tactics system. If possible, I would like to auto-set them when the player acquires some of the custom abilities, since perhaps most players won't be immediately familiar with them, or how they should be used. I'm confident there should be a way to script it. Just gotta poke around a little.
I did a little bit of everything on the level today.
I did a lot of modifications to the terrain to make sure the bridges looked right, and party members would properly cross them without the need to hold their hand. I also realized I need to modify some of the mountain terrain, because for whatever reason, the pathing gets messed up on it, and during fights, sometimes the participants just stand there. I'll do that later.
The main thing I did today was some more combat testing. I did some preliminary testing in my test combat arena a while back, but I thought it was a good time to set up the real thing. I shouldn't have to remind people, but this is the thing I live for!
For the first pass, I added some enemies, put the difficulty to normal, and got to work. The first thing that was apparent was that some of the custom abilities I had given a particular party member just weren't working out. Let me be clear (as if I haven't already done this a 1000 times before): all special abilities must serve a purpose. If you're able to complete combat without using them, then what's the point of them being there.
In this particular case, said special abiltiies were underpowered. It just didn't make sense to use them, as you weren't getting a huge benefit from them. So, I went back to the scripts, and boosted them ever so slightly. Now, you can't just boost some abilities without counter-balancing things with the enemies. In this, literally adding a few extra to each encounter was enough. At any rate, these are the first encounters after obtaining the new abilities, so I still need the player to feel powerful, before I bring them down to earth once more :)
Tomorrow, I'll go through the same encounters on Hard, and Nightmare, just to see if they are still "doable". It's a 3 day weekend for me, so I expect to finish a lot of stuff.
So,level design is a strange beast for me. When I'm totally focused, usually when I have the music that will actually play in the level on, I just get into the zone. Then, if I'm torn away from it for a day because of my other duties, it's the hardest thing to get back into. Versus scripting, hell, I can pick that up at any time, and really, it's my go to option when I just don't want to work on anything else at the moment. Of course, it took me a minute to get back into the swing of things today, but once I was there, things really got going.
One of the main tasks I had today were creating bridges, and all the pathfinding stuff that comes along with it. Finding the bridge prop was easy, and aligning it with the connected pieces of land was relatively easy as well. It sucks that you can only have 1 level of pathing, meaning you can't go under the bridge, as well as over it, but whatever. The one annoying thing is currently, a party member won't follow me across one of the bridges I created. I need to take direct control of them, and do it myself. I'm sure it's something very small, which will involved some re-aligning of the bridge with the terrain, because on another bridge I created in the same area, it works just fine.
The big thing I worked on yesterday was creating a path up a small mountain side. Seems simple, and maybe I made it bigger than it had to be. I essentially started with a huge square mountain, giving me ample space to carve into it. The issue was, I wanted the path to sort of go around the side of the mountain, while slowly moving up. So, it's like I had to raise the terrain ever so slighty, then move over a bit, raise it higher, smooth it out, rinse and repeat. And, I need to be going around in a circle. Once I got the hang of it, I was fine, but it sure did take a while. All a part of the learning experience I guess...
Speaking of the level itself, since the beginning of this month, I've been showing off daily pictures of what I've done. It should go without saying that these screenshots aren't final. One of the big parts of this blogs is to chronicle all the steps it takes to make a module. So, these screenshots should be doing the same thing, showing how I just started out in a totally flat area with some weather effects, to the stuff you're seeing now. Thought I would just point that out, in case someone was like, "Oh, I'm not going to play this game! Look at those screenshots!".
Heh, reminds me of a comment Mike Laidlaw (lead designer of DA2) made yesterday. Someone was making a comment about how they thought the graphics of DA2 were so so back in August, but that they were really impressed now. He responded with something along the lines of: "Psst, hey you, come here, I'll let you in on a secret... The game wasn't finished back in August, and guess what? It's not finished now". Kind of sad that that has to be said, but again, this is the internet :)
Today's music comes from Grandia 2. This is definitely in my top 10 of greatest boss battle themes of all time. I even used it in The Coming.
1/10/11 -Monday: MAKING THIS SHIT UP AS I GO...
Okay, so maybe the title of today's update isn't entirely true, but it is for some aspects of this game. Take this level I've been creating for the past week or so. I went in with a general idea of what I wanted. Remember, I don't create these things on grid paper, or anything like that before hand. It's always just in my head. I usually get a bunch of visuals of different things I want to see in the level, what type of combat experience I want the player to have (if there is going to be combay), and then just go with it. I stand behind this way 100%. Why? Because it's worked for me so far, no point in changing it now. It sounds cheesy, but it's much more organic for me to be able to piece everything together as I go.
What does all of the above mean? Well, I deviated from my original plan a bit, and decided to go with something slightly different. It was really dictated by a particular comabt sequence. Remember: I want the majority of the combat sequences to feel unique, and take place in various settings. This change will definitely add another day on to the time it will take to complete this level, but in the end, it's more than worth it.
Now, there are some things that need to be carefully considered while making this change. Depending on how things turn out, it may or may not feature some enemies the player may not be able to get to at the time. I say it may not get in, because I'm not sure how the engine will handle it. If the default AI knows there is no path to a hostile creature, and hostile creature is attacking the computer controlled character, what do they? Ideally, they run out of range of the attacks, but I know that's not built in. Hopefully, they just ignore it, and as the player runs, they continue to follow them. Essentially, they don't get into "combat" mode. Worst case scneario, which I'm afriad of, is that they will run towards the enemy, forgetting the commands I've just given them.
In so many games, I always hear a lot of people complaining about the AI, and how certain things are happening a certain way they shouldn't, and those people have the right to complain. However, I don't like to just blame the programmers. The level/combat designers are just at fault. You have to design your level such that situations like the one I discussed don't happen. If you know the AI is faulty, then unfortunately, you need to design your level around said AI. Sucks, but that is how it has to be. I remember when I was creating the Dungeon of Summonsfor Cry The Beloved, and the particular custom tileset I was using had this issue with enemies being able to detect you through walls. Oh my god, it was like the world was coming to an end! I remember many people not using it because of this reason alone. Come on people, let's use our imaginations! Maybe, oh just maybe changing an enemies perception range to something lower will work? Or, they could have done what I did. I just made every wall double thick, so no matter how close you were, you would never be perceived by the enemy. Well, it's this same thing I need to use as I continue to create this level. I have certain ideas, but if it will end up making the play experience less than optimal, I'll just drop it and move on to something else.
Tomorrow, I'll continue building my idea, hoping party member AI doesn't get in the way. Here's hoping!
I would imagine this piece from World of Warcraft would be immediately recognizable. I only played this game for 1 month before re-claiming my life (I had already played Everquest, Dark Ages of Camelot, and Final Fantasy 11), but not before hearing this epic track.
1/9/11 -Sunday: VERY, VERY PRODUCTIVE DAY!
Man, I really went on a tear today. I took care of everything I had to early on in the day, and was able to kick back and develop from like 2pm through 11pm, with some break scattered in there, in order to watch some of the Packers/Eagles game, surf the internet, etc. I feel less bad about those things when I am accomplishing a lot of things, early on in the day.
So obviously, I continued my level design work. While I didn't finish all the core elements of it, I got a substantial amount done. In fact, the reason I didn't finish it all is because halfway through, I decided to add more elements to it, to make it a little more unique. As I'm essentially building a forest, I could have gotten as generic as possible with it, but I decided to add in some more things to make it stand out. To that end, I also began adding elements of things player would recognize from The Coming. Gotta have that little bit of nostalgia there, you know!
I think the main thing I was doing was trying to make a particular level, that is already relatively big, seem even bigger. I'll never forget a comment someone made about North Shinkara Forestin The Coming. I don't have the quote, but it was something along the lines of "I was really pleased to have a forest area actually take me a bit of time to get through, while at the same time, not being the same thing over and over again." Well, I'm definitely sticking to that design pattern. Instead of a bunch of smaller areas that are essentially the same thing over and over again, with maybe slightly harder enemies, I'd rather go for a smaller set of larger areas, with different situations happening in them. That's the idea anyway...
One thing I went nuts on today was adding in different types of vegetation, mostly trees. I think I'm definitely getting better with the placement of them, in terms of getting that "forest" look. The only annoying thing is that I know I have like 35% of them just floating slightly off the ground, so I'll have to manually fix them. Better to do it as I see them, rather than bunching it all up into one task later on.
All inall, it was a great day for level design. Too bad I can't do it on the train, because I have all this momentum, that I don't want to lose. Oh well...
The other thing I did today was going through some VO samples. As I've mentioned before, VO is the thing that scares me the most with this game, but after hearing some of these samples, I'm beginning to feel a litle better about it. Some of the stuff was really good. One thing I need to start thinking about is how to make sure all the VO is consistent. Hopefully, there is a set of rules out there that all VO artists are abiding by anyway. If not, then I'll have to figure out what that is, and make sure everyone knows it. Though I haven't seen in first hand, I've heard of mods where the VO volume is off from npc to npc. I know I won't get audio production as good as Bioware did with Dragon Age, but I'll be trying damn hard!
Today's music comes from Chrono Cross, a game that I believe I already mentioned that is more memorable to me because of the music, rather than the game. Don't get me wrong... It was a great game. That just shows how good the music was.
1/8/11 -Saturday: STEADY WORK...
So, after about 2 days or so of not really getting anything done, level design wise, I came back with a flourish tonight. The level is slowly starting to take shape, and I've even added in some various custom creatures, to get a feeling of where they will ultimately be placed. I have to admit, I was getting a little frustrated with certain aspects of it, but I persevered, and found solutions. Actually, one thing that was killing me was the water. It just didn't look right. After a few hours a light bulb went off in my head! I forgot to add light probes. Duh!
The plan for tomorrow is to more or less, finish this area. Had I not missed those 2 days, I may have already finished things, but, what can you do. Really, all that is left is the rest of the core level design, and the addition of some key props. I don't expect to go crazy with texturing everything (though I have been doing a little, which goes against my earlier statements... oops!). I just need to stay focused, dammit!
Today's music comes from the man with the mustache.
1/7/11 -Friday: THE GOOD AND THE BAD...
So, all of my evil schemes have finally come together. MUA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH. Ahem... So for me, the biggest issue with game development is simple: Lack of time. The addition of a laptop has helped to alleviate that somewhat. Even still, after working an 8 hour day, and commuting for 4 hours, I still need to do one more thing before actually getting home: Going to the gym. I've been dedicated to my lifestyle change since 2007, and I'm not going back. In fact, you might say, Rose of Eternity was the cause of me having to change my lifestyle, as I essentially didn't do anything but develop day in and day out from 2004 through the end of 2007. During this time, my speedy metabolism slowed down, and I couldn't get away with eating oatmeal cream pies for dinner anymore :)
Anyway, it takes a huge chunk out of my night, and I've been trying to find a solution ever since I've been working in the New York City again. The obvious idea was to find a gym nearby, and go there on lunch breaks. Well let me tell you, things are so damned expensive in the city! Where I live, I pay $20 a month. Down there, they want $80 a month on average! This is in the SoHo area, btw. Anyway, a co-worker told me about this new gym that was opening soon, called Blink Fitness. Turns out they were opening a new gym in the NoHo area, which is only 4 blocks north of me. And, it was only $20 a month. Wait, what?! I jumped at the chance, and yesterday was their grand opening, and I was there at noon, ready to go.
So now, I can do my workouts during the day during lunch breaks, and come straight home after work, which saves me at least another 2 hours, which gives me even more time to develop. Finally, everything is going according to plan. Nice start to the beginning of the year.
Right, so the goal of tonight was to somehow build this damn DAZip and upload it. Man, I've been having a hell of a time. First it was issues with getting water planes into it. I had to forego that, just to get them in. Now tonight, it was the custom "fall" trees. Damn build process just kept complaining about them.
The somewhat funny thing is that I've seen thread after thread about all the little "gotchas" with regards to DAZip building. My thought at the time: "Yeah yeah, sure sure, I'll deal with it when I get there". Well, here I am :)
After a lengthy discussion over at the toolset forums, it looks like the issue is the filename length of the offending files. Figures.... At least I know what I need to fix now...
Today's music (from Grandia again) may be one of those pieces that you would only like had you played the game. Oh well... So, in this game, they were using the same battle music for all of disc 1. Then, after a sad farewell to a particular party member, you were down to 2 party members, and you moved on to the 2nd disc.
All of a sudden, the dynamic of the game changed. The enemies were a little big tougher, you had to use different tactics to win (as you were down a member), but best of all, the music changed. The entire design decision was a good one, and was one of the more memorable things about the game, believe it or not....
...Or, maybe you just had to experience it yourself :)
1/6/11 -Thursday: IMPORTANT NON-DEVELOPMENT WORK...
Today, I didn't get any actual "game development" work done. While that initially seems bad, on the contrary, I was doing lots of other things, that were just as important. So, don't worry folks. I'm not getting lazy!
So, as I mentioned earlier in the week, I implemented some new custom abilities for a particular party member. Like all the other custom abilities, these will need some custom icons. So, I hit up Archon. Now, the way this usually goes is, I tell him the name of the ability, what it does, and sometimes tell him how I imagine, or could imagine the icon looking. Then, he goes off and does his thing, and voila, it's in the game! Easy, right? Right?!
Well, one of the new abilities is sort of really hard to imagine as an icon. He told me as such, so I tried to give different ideas of what it could be, but people have to realize, you only get like 42x42 worth of pixels, so you have to really make it count. Heh, listen to me talk like I know what it's like to be a 2d/3d artist. Truth is, I don't, which is why I'll leave it in his capable hands :)
Oh, as an aside, Archon showed off something to me that he had created a while ago, but never had a chance to really finish. While the initial email was about the icons, once I saw this "thing" that I can't mention right now, most of my thoughts slowly drifted towards it, and I began conjuring up ideas on how I could utiilize this "thing".
While all of this was going on, I was also trying to get this damned build out. Yes, that build I finished like a week or 2 ago. The issue is that for the levels that were posted from the single player module (so water planes show up in the game), they are causing issues when I create my DAZip. I even tried to get around that, and told folks that this latest build would not have water in it, and now that is not working as well. Now dammit, I know someone told me the solution to this. Most likely TimeLordDC, or AmstradHero, maybe Proleric... So, I'll have to contact one of those guys tomorrow. But, to say the least, it's damn annoying. I promised this to Jason a while ago, and I hate keeping others who are taking their own free time to help me, wait. On the plus side, this is one of the benefits of having 2 dev machines now. My laptop is always running the HEAD revision, which just means the most up to date, which may or may not be stable. My desktop is always running the latest "released" build, and subsequently, I'll be making all of my builds off this machine as well in the future. This is perfect, because I don't want to have to revert builds back and forth on either machines, if something comes up (which has clearly happened this time).
Another thing discussed yesterday was VO. We know we're getting to that point (which is another reason why I need to get this build out!), and Jason has been very proactive in going out and finding potential talent. He has pointed me in the direction of certain people, and vice versa. As the dialogue gets edited, we'll be able to send out the scripts to folks. But at the moment, we're clearly in the initial stages of it all.
Well, with everything that went on today, I'm ready to get back to level design tomorrow. It's the weekend time, and besides some potential tennis matches between Federer and Nadal (I can't believe the tennis offseason is over), I don't have much else to do.
Today's track comes from Noriyuki Iwadare, who did the music for Grandia & Grandia 2. Now, Grandia was released around the same time as Final Fantasy 7, but for the Saturn. If I remember correctly, that is. It of course didn't receive much attention because of the aforementioned Final Fantasy. Another factor could have been that not many people owned a Saturn. Well, they ended up releasing it for the PS1, and I snatched it up, hearing so many great things about it. As always, these things are about the music, so if you want to know more about the game, read the links. But, I will mention one thing: I maintain that the combat system is the best system ever constructed for a JRPG.
At any rate, one thing that obviously stuck out to me was the music. Now, I'm not a fan of all the music, because it has a lot of those generic Japanese type, happy go lucky themes I'm not a fan of. But the dramatic stuff? *Drools*
I actually used this track in Cry The Beloved. It was the theme song of Kira Allendry.
1/4/11 -Tuesday: OKAY, TIME FOR SOME LEVEL DESIGN AND... OH YEAH... RIGHT :(
So, I got on the train today, and was ready to go. Lots of level design planned out. Okay, let me open up this area, and um... oh... right... No mouse... Damn DA toolset and the lack of mouse controls for level design! Okay, I didn't panic, I just moved on to one of the other 12,000 tasks I have in front of me.
One such task was the dialogue that will be in this area. Usually when I start to write dialogue, I already have more level work done, so I can start with my stage work. This time though, since I did not, I just went ahead and started the conversation. It's a short conversation, but it's meant to set the stage for the next sequence, show some more character growth between the cast members, and overall, just introduce the player to a new part of the game.
I also went ahead and just implemented a core ability for a party member. I had been on the fence about it for a while, but after doing some test combat over the past week, I realized it was needed, to balance things out a bit. The actual implementation was very easy, and I literally did it in like 30 minutes. I even did all the 2DA work to make sure it only showed up for the one party member (as it is party member specific for the moment), and on the right custom ability tree. The only thing left, as with many other things, is to add the VFX for it. That can (and will) come later.
Speaking of abilities in general, another thing I've been grappling with is if I will be limiting certain talent/spell lines for certain party members. Like it or not, the only reason I've been able to make compelling combat in my games is because I always know what abilities the player will have, so I can tailor most scenarios accordingly. Now, I do run the risk that players just won't like the abilities I've come up, which just ruins what I'm trying to do. It's like an all or nothing sort of situation. Luckily, people could get down with what I came up in my last games.
This time around though, with the vast amount of stock abilities available, the question remains: Do I remove something, like archer talents from a party member that will have tons of 2 handed sword custom abilities? If I know that the player will only be able to select from a certain pool of abilities, clearly it will make my life easier. But then you get people who complain that they don't want to be railroaded down a certain path, want more control, etc. This may be something I won't decide on until more people play through the ALPHA's and BETA's. Still, something that is in the back of my head.
So, when I got home, I was finally able to do some level design. After thinking about it for a while, I came up with some dimensions that I thought would fit the type of level I'm creating. So, I rolled the dice, created a new level with the new dimensions, and got to work. Luckily, you can export atmosphere settings, so I just imported the ones I used in the first prototype. Next, I did the exact opposite of what I said I would do the other day: I messed around with different textures :) Sometimes I go on these tangents while designing (much like how I do on this blog every once in a while), and I just sort of ended up spending a bunch o time doing it. It's very preliminary, but I am getting a good handle on what I will need.
Tomorrow, on the train, I'll properly implement a custom passive ability that up until now, wasn't a part of the ability interface. At home, I'll continue with the level design, doing more actual structural related things. Of course, all of that could change at the drop of a hat. Ah, game design :)
Was watching Gladiator last night, and was reminded of the splendor of music by Hans Zimmer. This is some really good stuff, I actually have an idea of getting in one of my games a while back.
1/3/11 -Monday: LEVEL PROTOTYPING CONTINUES...
So today, I continued my level prototyping. So far, things are coming along just fine. I'm not worried about texturing things and whatnot (I'm sure it will worry the hell out of me later!), I just want to get the main lay of the land setup first. One thing that is important for me is to constantly jump into the game, and see the scale of things. Sometimes, you just can't get an idea of what things look like until doing so.
Now, there are some things I would like to do with water, but since you can only have one water plane at one elevation, I'm a little constrained. Clearly not a deal breaker, by annoying enough that I'll mention it here :) Another thing, which I already knew from my last few levels, is that you cannot resize an existing level. What that means is after I finish my prototyping, I'll create a new level with different dimenstions. Now, everything may fit in, but then, what if it's too big? Again, not anything that would stop me from creating this game, just another minor nuisance I have to deal with.
If I was going to be conservative, I would say that at the very least, the main look and feel of the level will be done by Friday. This does not include re-texturing, and 100% plant placement, but it will include some. What I'll be more concerned with is the area related things, such as sound effects, certain visuals I need to upkeep, combat design, dialogue, and other minor things. In essence, I would like to be able to play through the area from beginning to end. I can make it look super pretty later. This approach worked in the last sequence I worked on, as I didn't even really fix the lighting until a month ago, and this was for levels I created last March.
Finally, my goal for the week is to get to bed as early as possible. I'm back to work after not having to go into the office for essentially 2 weeks, so I need to get back into the swing of things.
For today's music, I got back to a time of simplicity. A time when things for whatever reason, seemed more magical. Most likely because I was 8 :)
1/2/11 -Sunday: A NEW BEGINNING...
So, after a LOT of brainstorming over the past few days, I decided to just get to it, and start creating this new level. The core of my time was spent getting the atmosphere settings correct, as well as the lighting. There is a certain ambiance I need to maintain in this set of levels, something fans of The Coming & Cry The Beloved will understand and respect *Looks both ways*.
I first messed around with some of the rain models and effects, and while it's not exactly the most elegant solution, it works. Next up, I had to find corresponding sound effects for the rain itself. Next, I needed some more sound effects, such as wind and thunder, and I will need to add more as well, possibly some animal ones. Next up was the sky and clouds. This wasn't too difficult, and I have to admit, while I know level design in general takes up a lot of time, you really can finetune things to be exactly what you want. Finally, the icing on the cake: the actual music played. When all of these were put together, things really came together, and the ambiance I had always been looking for was set.
Now, I did try to mess with the level fog settings, but I don't really like what I saw. Instead of just making it so things in the distance are visible as much, I wanted to get a general fog effect that you actually walk through (unless I'm missing something with what I was doing). Now, there are some fog effects, but again, it wasn't really what I was looking for. I'll still have to mess around a little bit with that stuff to get what I want.
I also added some more plot overrides from Amstrad Hero's project.He had originally added the overrides for history codexes, and the like, and then Proleric gave him some more files to get rid of the base creature ones. I was going to end up doing this anyway, as I didn't want any existing DA lore popping up in this game, so shout out to them for doing it for me :)
Tomorrow, I plan on doing some more level prototyping, messing with the topography and whatnot to see if my vision is viable, and how much space I'll need to make it so. It's also my last day off from work, so I need to make it count!
STATE OF THE UNION
Well, somehow it's been a year since I've started this blog, and I've more or less kept up with writing something every day or so. Even more amazing is that I started blogging in 2005, and I still have the zest to do it. No slowing down for this guy!
So, in terms of the actual Dragon Age modding community, I will readily admit that it is not looking the way I anticipated it would. I thought we would have gotten more support from Bioware, the Projects page at the BSN would have gotten an overhaul, and in general, there would have been at least a little more small scale stand alone projects done.
And others. Okay, we all know this tool is not easy to use as the NWN one, so this is to be expected, I guess. Hopefully, as people continue to get more and more used to the toolset, even more content will be released.
As far as Rose of Eternity, it has been a tumultuous year, to say the least. I guess if I had to break it down into categories, it would go something like this:
I'm actually back at work on a new Rose of Eternity game! That in itself is great news for myself, as I had been itching to do it for quite some time
I've been able to hook up with some of my major contributors to my previous games, which has been a godsend. In particular, with Jason, we've been able to flesh out the world to levels I never even dreamed of.
I've jumped into using a new tool, and through perseverance, technically haven't run into anything I haven't been able to overcome.
Integrated a lot of the custom systems early on.
In short, I've been able to see my vision from years earlier, finally start to come true.
I didn't do as much as I possibly could, development wise. This is good and bad, actually. Bad because of the obvious, good because I didn't want to end up crashing and burning, like I did at the end of development for Cry The Beloved.
Crashes... Crashes... And more crashes... This seriously took me out of commission for at least a month overall. I know these things happen, and every game I've worked on, I've had a similiar catastrophe, but it was very demoralizing nonetheless. I have since fixed what I think was the root cause, but man oh man, was it rough...
In many ways, this year sort of mirrors my first experience with the NWN toolset. Back then, I started working on The Coming in April of 2004. I started a job in October of 2004, and development more or less came to a standstill. Then, I got a new laptop, and my productivity skyrocketed.
Well, this year, I also started a job that cut into development time. And like back then, I now have a laptop that is allowing me to get so much more work done.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2011
As I mentioned above, the laptop is the key to making things happen in 2011. An extra 3 1/2 hours of development time a day, which ends up being 14 extra hours a week is great, and clearly, a big advantage for me. Next is the simple fact that I FINALLY finished that sequence I worked on for more months than I care to think about. Everything from here really is smooth sailing.
If I had to estimate, I would say I need to design 5 more exterior levels, and maybe 2 interior levels. The actual plot related stuff I have to do is very straightforward, and more linear than what I was doing last year. I mean, Iv'e already created 4 custom creatures with custom abilities, already have my environment settings for many of the levels, and I have a clear view of what I need to do. Now, of course stuff will change, be taken out, added, whatever. Comes with the territory.
But for me, just working on something new is really re-energizing me, and the actual content I need to work on is vintage game design stuff for me. This is the stuff I haven't done in a while, but dammit, I sure as hell love to do it.
In th end, the plan is simple:
Stay focused on the matter at hand. Remember, this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, and you're not getting any younger
Stop surfing the net! As humorous as it is to watch people argue over aspects of a game that isn't out yet *cough* Dragon Age 2 *cough*, it's not doing you any favors.
Continue to stay engaged with people who are helping you, and always put them before anything you need to do.
Keep trying to find new music to get inspired from
Try, try, try to not get distracted by the upcoming tennis season too much. NY Giants football is over, but as always, there are always more sports around the corner.
Above all, don't push yourself too hard. If you're getting too stressed, step back, and re-think what you're doing at the moment.