Sunday, December 11, 2016

Hex Crawl Flow Chart

When you play a dungeon crawl, you know what to do: go to each unexplored room, kill monsters, search for traps and secret doors, and collect loot. Keep going until you've visited every room in the dungeon. Do more if you feel inspired, but this modus operandi will never fail.

I'm trying to achieve the same clarity for my hexcrawling game. I wrote about this earlier, but sometimes a picture is worth 1000 words.


Basically, if you can't figure out a problem yourself, you'll have to find an expert who can give you information. If you can't persuade him or her to help you, you may have the perform a side quest. 

Meanwhile, factions are making moves "off camera." This diagram helps me estimate how often a faction move should occur. If the PC's can make a successful knowledge roll, they should should be rewarded by outpacing an enemy faction. If the PC's can't persuade an expert to help and have to perform a side quest, they should be outpaced themselves.

Skills are written in blue. As you can see, exploration and gather information are critically important, whereas influence and search are used less often. Yesterday's playtesting revealed that search needs a more interesting fail state than "you don't find the clue," but otherwise the structure is working as intended. Soon I'll add faction moves and it will get very interesting.

As an aside, rolling a 1 (on a d6) when you gather information may draw unwanted faction attention. Players were far more careful about what questions they asked and where they asked them than I anticipated. It was fun.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Map Tiles Update - Lighter Colors & New Water

The next tile proof has arrived. Santiago mellowed out the water and lighted the jungle, forest, and organ swamp tiles. The glass desert is now purplish, so it stands out from the water. I ordered the new tiles without UV coating so they wouldn't glare.

This first photo shows the new land tiles with the old water tiles, producing a larger map.



This next photo shows the contrast between the old water and the new water. There is some reduction of detail in this photo as a result of merging them into one image.



As it turns out the tiles produce glare even with the UV coating, but are now vulnerable to water spillage and fingerprints. They also have residual soot marks from the laser cutting process. The mellowed out water photographs better, but appears grayish and dreary to the naked eye. I may ask Santiago to produce a more lively ocean color - so it feels more joyful. The boundary between land and sea is certainly more clear with the mellower water, so there's a tradeoff to consider.

Here's one more with the new water so you can see it with more detail. Again, props to Santiago for the great work.




Monday, November 7, 2016

Japanese dev philosophy


Map Tiles - First Proofs

The map tile proofs have arrived. Now we see how the illustrations, which looked great on a computer screen, translate to physical printing.
 
One mistake: I selected "glossy finish" for the production process. Too much light and the tiles give off a glare. Too little and the details are hard to see.
 
Too much light:
 
 
 
Too little:
 
 
Santiago and I concluded the glossy finish needs to be removed and some of the darker colors in the darker tiles need to be lightened up a bit. We're also going to make the "glass desert" (top left in the above photograph) design red tinted so it stands out from the blue ocean tiles. We'll see how the next proof goes.
 
In the meantime, the mountains look 3D. It's uncanny.
 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The latest debacle

Derek Smart provides a post-CitizenCon update on Star Citizen:
The past few weeks following the CitizenCon event have been very difficult and dare I say disastrous for the Star Citizen project. From the post-show videos they did in an attempt to explain away why (read my Shattered Dreams blog for more on that) Squadron 42 wasn’t shown, to the controversy over lies about procgen planets, to the status of the patches (the much delayed 2.6 patch, as well as the 3.0 patch touted at GamesCom in Aug as coming end of the year), the flippant mention of SQ42 coming to consoles – and right down to last week’s uproar over the silence on the status of both aforementioned patches.

Well in the past 24hrs, things took a turn for the worse.

For some time now I have maintained that not only has Chris Roberts blown through $130 million (a huge amount, even though we have reason to believe that the funding tracker isn’t accurate) dollars of backer (plus whatever investor and bank loans source say they have) money, but has also run out of money to fund this pipe-dream to completion. Heck, at GamesCom he flat out said that 4.0 of Star Citizen – which won’t even be 50% of what was promised – won’t be out until end of 2017 – which, going by trends means “sometime in 2018”. The longer a project takes, the more money it needs to continue. And with over 400 employees and contractors worldwide, it’s easy to see how money will eventually become an issue. As of this month, the project which was promised to be released in Nov 2014, is now officially two years late.

Yet, there are those who, rather than holding them accountable for promises made, keep rejoicing in point digit milestones such as the recently reached $130m one. It’s hilarious, and now goes way beyond Sunk Cost Fallacy and Cognitive Dissonance. When the inevitable crash comes, psychologists are going to be digging deep to figure out how so many people fell so far, and so hard for what many believe to now be the biggest scam in video game history.

So anyway, given what they did with the pre-CitizenCon Polaris sale, the stunt they just pulled should come as no surprise to backers. See, ahead of the anniversary stream which is coming in two weeks, they decided to do another ship sale. This, while par for the course won’t have been all that surprising – except for the fact that i) they discounted it ii) made it cheaper if you paid cash and didn’t use store credits (obtained via melting existing ships). What that means is, not only do they need the cash (from new buyers), but they are also willing to devalue the existing backer inventory in favor of “new money”. And so the community was set ablaze (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Again.
Read the whole thing. It's just... not... good. Not for anyone in the dev world.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Map Art - Update

Santiago has completed the map tile art and I'm waiting for the proofs to come from the print-on-demand service. If they print well, we're good to go! In the meantime, I've uploaded the tileset into Hexographer and created a map. Santiago's art is too detailed for Hexographer, which of course is fine because that's not what they were designed for. When the proofs arrive (2-3 weeks) I'll take some photographs so everyone can see the Santiago's art in blazing glory.

In the meantime I think we're starting to see a world that beckons exploration.

Edit: Just for fun, here's another map:

Here's a map that's a little wider:

And what's an endeavor like this without an island map?


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why Games?

I was talking with Student in Blue in the comments section to "Music for Non-Musicians" and promised an article dealing with "Why Video Game Music?" We basically know why you may want music for a game. It glues scenes together. It provides emotional context. It ties the game to cultural signifiers. And so on - so I'm coming at it from the other angle. Why would you want a game for your music?

I hope that sharing this perspective will provide insight to someone who is working with a composer. I don't want this post to be too long - just enough to be a conversation starter.

  1. Music is broadly split into commercial and academic branches. Video games allow a composer to get away from some of the worst aspects of academic careerism.                                                         
  2. Video games are a little bit like folk art for our generation. Not many Millennials will be familiar with their own ethnic music, but video games from their childhoods do constitute a kind of a shared culture.                                                                                                                              
  3. Game music can be a bit weird and still be appropriate. Games, like film, make audiences more receptive to that weirdness.                                                                                                                          
  4. The games audience is honest enough to let you know if your music is too weird.                                                                                                              
  5. The video game industry is more spread out. There's no one city you have to move to - like Los Angeles for film - to do games.                                                                                                                 
  6. Video games are rather democratic. There's opportunities to start small and work yourself up gradually. You're not always waiting for your one big break. It can be a gradual process, which gives you time to grow.                                                                                                                              
  7. If a game has an interactive score, its basically a new art form and that's very exciting.
Now that I've written this out, I can't say a composer's motivations are that different than anyone else's. But maybe its helps someone see the other side of the fence.



Thursday, September 29, 2016

Music for Non-Musicians

Vox and I had a brief chat recently and the topic of complicated music came up. As everyone knows, Vox is not a trained musician and admits he can barely play an instrument, yet he was a top 40 Billboard recording artist in the early 90's. Contrast that to a formally educated musician who works at Starbucks. How is this possible?

We got on this topic because I mentioned a time that an asset I had written for a company was rejected because it was too complicated. Vox recounted his experience with musicians who wrote songs that only other musicians would enjoy, and I explained - glibly - that was why I quit jazz. In my opinion the hardest skill for a musician to learn is how to hear music as it sounds to non-musicians. Vox wanted more: "If someone is skilled, how can he not know that? I know how to imitate writers, why is this tough for musicians?"

I was able to give a partial answer: there is in music a similar dichotomy as exists in persuasion, namely, between music that is dialectically correct and music that is rhetorically effective. It's a different set of skills. There's what you learn eight hours a day in a practice room, and there's what you learn in front of an audience.

Only half satisfied with that answer, I want to revisit my original assertion: "the hardest skill for a musician to learn is to hear how music sounds to non-musicians." Why is this so?

One reason might be is that music is perceptual. Most people cannot focus their attention on each separate element. To make music at a high level of skill, however, you need to be able to hear each element in isolation. Once you can, however, it's easy to forget that a non-musician can't. The next thing you know you're creating music for people that can only hear it the way you do.

As your ears become more refined you must not be lose track of the big picture. Mixing helps in this area, by guiding the listener's attention from foreground element to foreground element.

In music the meaning of a sound is different depending on what surrounds it. This differs from language where the meaning of a word has finite definitions from context to context. In music a single sound has infinite potential meanings - except for when it doesn't. There is no such thing as a musical dictionary. A minor chord in the key of E mean somber, unless it means groovy, upbeat, or something else. To compound this our sense of how context functions changes depending on what we've been exposed to. Musicians, by expanding their knowledge in pursuit of their craft, are exposed to more possibilities, and can't always remember how Green Day used to feel before being exposed to Ligeti. It becomes difficult to express yourself honestly in a simpler idiom.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnn4Y9FbEaQ

Sometimes musicians have bad educations. My relationship with music theory is akin to Vox's with economic theory. After much questioning, I concluded that most of what they teach undergrads is worse than useless. The fundamental problem is that harmony is placed at the center of the theory curriculum and it's the least important element of music. No one has created an adequate theory of rhythm, which is the basis of harmony, so it's not formally taught in school.

Western functional harmony is fundamentally a cycle of three types of chords: tonic, predominant, dominant - and back to tonic. To identify where the cycle starts you need to analyze the large scale rhythm. Most harmony textbooks acknowledge this, but then say "but it's beyond the purview of this book to analyze rhythm." It follows that a proper undergrad music theory curriculum would start with a theory of rhythm, with the aim of teaching students how to formally recognize the beginning of a rhythmic cycle, and only then move on to harmony. Instead, the vast majority of music curricula do not offer even a single course on rhythm.

There's very little out there in terms of formal rhythmic analysis. What little you find usually presents itself as an introduction to a field that has only begun to be explored - and this has been going on for decades. So it's possible for a music student to finish school thinking he understands harmony because he's learned everything there is to know ahout Neapolitan 6th, false cadences, and set theory. But he's never studied rhythm beyond a professor offhandedly telling him "well, you just kind of have to feel it." So he becomes one of Nicholas Taleb's "Intellectual-Yet-Idiots." He can speak for hours on a topic without realizing the foundation is faulty.

Contrast that to a naturally curious autodidact making Hip-hop beats at home. Without a teacher to distract him with a foundationless theory of harmony, he gets a ten year head start studying rhythm, and when he's ready to use more interesting chords, they are anchored in a solid rhythmic foundation.

There is also the aspect of finding the right symbols to connect with your audience. You can't learn that in a practice room. You learn that on a stage or whenever non-musicians candidly respond to your music. There's a genius that knows what symbols resonate with culture in a particular moment in time. It has something to do with freshness, timing, context, and other intangibles. It's a skill more like public speaking than writing. It's has more to do with fashion than architecture. All of the musical elements, rhythm, timbre, space, harmony - all these do is add up to a gesture. A formal music education can teach you how these elements add up to a gesture - they can form a coherent statement - but to know how they whether they resonate with an audience, you have to interact with one.

Formal music education isn't necessary to make music that people will pay for. All you need for that is curiosity and an audience. Creative longevity, however, requires wide exposure to many styles, and formal education can help with that. Many one hit wonders make a splash, but then run out of gas because they can't do anything else. You'll find that the truly great musicians have spent a lot of time in front of audiences and have also investigated many styles of music beyond the ones they perform.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mage Wars: World Turn Overview


A starting point for my tabletop RPG is making a game where the rules for the hex map and campaign are as clear as the procedures for a dungeon crawl. For the most part this means breaking up campaign time into discreet World Turns. The GM doesn't prepare a story, but instead stats up factions which function on the hex map analogously to how monsters function in a dungeon crawl - except that factions take moves before they are discovered by the PC's. (In a way, random monster encounters function analogously to hidden traps.) There's rules for keeping track of faction moves off camera, and procedures to inform the players of those moves via rumors and news. The PC's basic goal is not to conquer each hex, like a dungeon crawl, but simply to survive. The world is always changing, so to survive the PC's need to explore the map and collect McGuffins.
 
It's not meant to be structure for structure's sake. By giving discreet rules for various game objects, I'm opening up mechanical possibilities that normally would be limited to the dungeon scale. Event cards introduce factions, factions can use McGuffins, McGuffins can create terrain, terrain can put event cards into the event deck, and so on. Structures enable elaborate chains of cause and effect far beyond what a GM can prepare. Railroading in the classic sense is not required.
 
The central thread is the idea of a “game structure” as found on thealexandrian.net. Essentially, there’s one basic action the players know they can take that will always move the game forward. Even when there are other moves that may elaborate the action, the essential path is assumed. For example, in a dungeon crawl the basic action is clearing rooms, killing monsters, and taking loot. If in doubt, go to the unexplored room and kill stuff. If you’ve got time, admire the tapestries.
 
The other purpose of the World Turn structure is to create a system to pour game objects into. With a system in place I know what game mechanics can express and what potential values they may have. This also gives me the ability to set up Legend of Zelda / Metroid style games, where certain areas of the map open up as certain items / abilities / NPC’s are discovered. It also allows a GM to have a checklist of game objects s/he can add to or subtract to customize the game for his or her particular campaign.
 
The basic game structure is as follows. The GM reveals a certain amount of hexes - each known as a "territory" - and starts the PC’s in one of those territories. Within each territory are a number of "location" cards, which are face down until the PC's explore them, find a map, etc. The starting location is a settlement. Usually the known areas are limited to the starting settlement and the neighboring territories, 1 or 2 more distant settlements, and the territories in between. The GM draws three event cards and chooses one to be the initial investigation goal of the adventure. He informs the players in advance of character creation what that goal will be. The players construct their characters’ backgrounds to answer the following questions:
 
  • Why would my character be going on this particular mission, with these particular people (the other PC’s)?
  • Why does my character care about the starting location / settlement? What is my character attached to?
  • How / where did my character get his or her powers?
By the end of character creation both the GM and the players have a clear idea of who the PC’s are and how they fit in with the mission, each other, and the starting location. With the initial setup completed, what follows is the basic procedure that repeats itself as the campaign develops.
 
 The PC’s travel through territory hexes until they reach the location where the rumor they are investigating has occurred. They make Search/Investigate rolls to see what phenomena are in play. They can make Lore, Technology, or Nature rolls to see if their characters know anything about the phenomena they encounter. If they do not, they can make Gather Information rolls to see if anyone in a local settlement knows something, or knows of someone who might know something. In this way the Gather Information rolls eventually lead to the experts who can answer their questions and provide a solution to the problem, which itself is a new mission. Sometimes an expert will demand compensation for his or her assistance, which can be circumvented with an Influence roll. Gather Information roles will always work, given enough time, but provide answers much slower than lore, technology, and nature roles, which have the possibility of failure.
 
 As the PC’s are conducting this investigation the GM is drawing additional event cards and making faction moves. Poor gather information rolls increase the chance that an enemy faction finds out what the PC’s are looking for, and allows them to interfere with the investigation. The PC’s may also be slowed down by random monster / magical phenomenon encounters. The characters may also wander off the initial mission and explore locations just for the fun of it – or to score badly needed supplies - and events may occur which directly affect the players if they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Also, distant events are recorded in settlements as rumors, which can be uncovered by curious PC’s through Gather Information rolls. Sometimes PC's may decide that such rumors are more important to their characters than what they are doing at the moment, and the adventure goes in a new direction.

Some events are isolated one-offs that are simply interesting. Other events are grouped around the nefarious activities of ideological factions or particularly powerful forces such that enough events from the same group will threaten to disrupt or damage the world - or at least something the PC's care about. Fortunately, there are so many ways the world can end so it takes quite a bit of time for any one of them to come to fruition.
 
In short, events are Doctor Who plots. The PC’s are in a race against time to head off each potential way the world could be destroyed or damaged. Sometimes ideological factions are in opposition to each other, and the PC’s can only defeat one faction by teaming up with another, even if they oppose its fundamental goals.
 
Play proceeds in this way until the PC’s are unable to respond to events in time and the world does, in fact, get destroyed. But that’s OK because in this game the planet getting destroyed isn’t really the end of the world. Territories can be raised from the ocean, pocket universes can be created, new settlements can be founded, refugees can be lead to safety, etc. – so if a party realizes they are truly screwing up, there are still a few escape hatches. On the other hand, even if the players succeed in staving off the end of the world, the world simply levels up with them and finds new ways to destroy itself.
 
Mage Wars is The Walking Dead meets Legend of Zelda meets Magic the Gathering. The world is trying to kill you so you must explore to survive, but hurry, there’s no time to waste. Supplies are limited and you can’t get this until you get that, but there are winning combinations if you’re lucky. This is expressed through a clear cut structure that gives the players a sense of what to do next (if they don't already have a particular agenda) and allows the GM to skip past the boring parts.
 
And that's basically what's I'll be playtesting over the next few months, once I create enough game objects (items, monsters, factions, etc.) to populate the beautiful hex map tiles that Santiago is creating.
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Map Art

Santiago did such an amazing job on Elveteka I asked him if he could do some work for my RPG. Since my game features exotic terrain and ecology, visual aids are important to setting the tone. Santiago has been really knocking it out of the park, and though it's still in progress, I wanted to share some of what he's doing. He's making these tiles look like places you'd want to explore.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Character Sheets For My RPG

In addition to writing music I have a bit of a slow burner project that I keep myself entertained with. As it stands, it's a table top RPG that I've been working on for about 22 years. It's always been called Mage Wars but I'll need a new name as there's a board game already using it. Now, the earlier versions of the game were pretty haphazard and most of the time we just made it up as we went along anyway. In 2001 or so I got more focused and wrote a whole lot of spells, but none of them were balanced. In 2008-2012 I made a version that was balanced but had no flavor. In 2014 I had some solid ideas for a background setting that meshed with the mechanics ideas I had, and earlier this year (actually while working on Elveteka and playing Divinity: Original Sin all the time) I started updating the older spells in view of how I was thinking of the in-game magic system.

I've been playing here and there with my play group and everyone's been having fun, but one of the stumbling blocks was a clear character sheet. A messy character sheet imposes too much drag on a game, so I created a character sheet that was a little cleaner. Please excuse to fuzziness; bad conversion from PDF to MS Paint to JPEG.



Not bad.jpeg. It certainly has all the information where you need it. I'm far enough along to know that this character sheet has all the information on it I need, and wanted to spiff it up to delight my play group. I figured the information was there but it needed little gray background boxes to group everything together and help the eyes flow from section to section.

I reached out to my friend Lindsey who very affordably knocked my socks off with what she produced from my design. All I asked her to do was draw some gray boxes around the various stat blocks. Instead, she redrew the entire sheet based on my design. Here's the final version after a couple minor revision requests. 



See, now it looks like a game. I can't wait to bring this to my players. They'll love it, which in turn will reduce drag, and help the playtesting along.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Personality art

Divine Right has a very creative mechanic called Personality Cards that help provide real variety to the player-controlled allies by assigning a personality to the various monarchs. However, we had to make a call on the artwork, which is simple black-and-white sketch art. Given that our mandate is to recreate the original boardgame as closely as possible, we decided to use the card art as concept art, then produce them in the style of the title and event screens.

Here is the first Personality Card rough. Obviously, it is not done yet, but it allows us to confirm that taking this stylistic approach will prove effective.



It's always important to have a coherent look that connects the various art elements. We've chosen to do that here by adhering closely to the original boardgame elements. This may seem an obvious choice, but in many, perhaps most cases, the producer and the art director can't resist the urge to update the art look, thereby negating the charm of the original game, which somewhat defeats the entire purpose of the transition to the newer medium.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Counters

We have game counters for Divine Right. All of them, in high resolution, as it happens. Onward and upward! The artists are really doing a great job and making real progress on this project.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Divine Right title screen

The art continues to come along well. The map is done, the counters are done too, and now it's time to start on the UI and other game elements such as information screens and effects.


The title screen portrays an army, presumably one belonging to Immer or Hothior, riding towards the Temple of Kings.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

38 Studios: no charges filed

This must come as a relief to the concerned parties:
The fallout from 38 Studios’ drastic shutdown in 2012 continues to play out, as Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilman and State Police Colonel Steven O’Donnell announced in a press conference today that no charges would be filed against government officials or former 38 Studios employees after a 4-year investigation.

According to local news station WPRI, the two stated that no criminal activity had been found in the arrangement of a $75 million loan for the production of an MMORPG called Copernicus that was backed by Rhode Island taxpayers. Civil investigations by the State and the SEC are still ongoing, and an 8-page report from the Attorney General’s office states that charges could be brought if new information is brought to light.

However right now, “the quantity and quality of the evidence of any criminal activity fell short of what would be necessary to prove any allegation beyond a reasonable doubt and as such the Rules of Professional Conduct precluded even offering a criminal charge for grand jury consideration,” the report states.

The downfall of 38 Studios was a calamitous event for both the people of Rhode Island and the 200+ developers of 38 Studios and Big Huge Games, who were working on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and Copernicus. The undying legal action in this case highlights how game developers can become embroiled in local political conflicts when the risks of game financing clash with taxpayer money.
I always felt vaguely bad about the catastrophe that was 38 Studios. Not that it was even remotely my fault or that I had anything to do with it, but I was casually acquainted with its founder, Curt Schilling, through both of us being players of Advanced Squad Leader and subscribers to the ASLML, and when I heard he was founding a game dev studio, I got in touch and told him that I'd be happy to talk to him and answer any questions he might have about the various pitfalls that awaited the unwary developer. He was appreciative, but assured me that he had a top-notch team around him, so I wished him well and promptly ceased to give the matter any further thought. Seeing how things eventually turned out, I rather wish I'd been a bit more pushy.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Map Draft complete


The first complete draft of the map of Minaria is complete. If you notice any mistakes, this would be an excellent time to mention them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Selling It


For Elveteka, I wrote music for an elfish fortress defiled by orcs.


Artwork by Santiago Iborra



There is craft in the piano reduction: the counterpoint works, there is a gradual rising and falling line that delineates registral space, a balanced melody, a sense of structure coming from the time signature change in the second half, a shifting of which voice carries the melody, appropriate sonorities, and so on.





It's easy to teach pitch and rhythm, but if that's all you know, you've been robbed. Music needs to capture your imagination. Ask, would you buy this?





Of course not! It sounds just like any other piano reduction.

We need color. The basic idea is an almost regal fanfare beset by eerie harmonies. Here's an early draft of the composition that I submitted to my team.





It's not bad, but did I sell it? I would say no. It sounds too polite, too nice. I needed more light coming through the windows and a sense of dark power underneath. Let me add some sustained strings in the upper register to represent the light, and a dark synth in the bass to represent the foreboding power. While I'm at it, I'll make sure the staccato strings are crisper and more defined - more aristocratic, if you will. I'll even add in a chromatic, arabesque harp line in the second half to signify a sort of dark aristocracy. Here you go:





The feeling is there. Time for a reality check. Did I evoke a world? Did I really do it? Prince, master of intangibles, says naw.





Whose fantasy is more vivid? Whose frame is stronger? Who better evokes aristocracy?

Prince, of course. Always trust the greats.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The importance of communication

No matter how hard we try, important details are often lost in translation from one dev team member to another. This is why it is often important to go back and confirm that what we think we told the other person is exactly what they not only heard, but understood.

Case in point: I told the lead artist, whose first task is recreating the 1979 Divine Right map, that we were going to be using the standard 4k resolution of 3840x2160. This will, to a certain extent, future-proof the game, and allow for a very nice wargaming experience for those with big, high-resolution screens. What I meant is that 3840x2160 would be the base resolution for the game art; anytime a game is being developed, everyone has to know what the base graphic standard is, whether it is MCGA (320x200, 256 colors) to 4k (3840x2160, 16.7 million colors).

However, what the artist heard is that the map should be 3840x2160. In order to fit those parameters, he had to horizontally squash the hexagons, which produced the compressed effect that can be seen to the right.

That's not his fault, as I knew that he is a DevGame attendee and therefore should have remembered that he does not yet speak the same dev language that a more experienced game developer does. We were talking about a map, a map is defined by a specific resolution, and a specific resolution was selected. It was perfectly sensible for him to create the map at the resolution specified, and he did a very nice job of it. The fault, the responsibility for the error, was all mine.

Fortunately, one of the things we also teach in DevGame is the concept that one should never be afraid of making mistakes or correcting them, but rather address them as quickly as possible. Even more important is to prepare for the eventuality that a mistake will need to be corrected, so always work in a way that allows for maximum future flexibility. The artist did that by choosing to create the basic map in vector graphics, which meant that it could be easily resized; it was literally a matter of minutes before he sent over the revised map below, the hexagons no longer compressed.

The number of hexes is still the same, the height is still equal to the vertical resolution,, but the width no longer fills the horizontal resolution, which will leave space for monarch personality cards and other UI elements. The text needs to be redone, but that is a relatively minor task; the important thing is that nothing needed to be redrawn. This is a good example of a problem caused by a communication error that is promptly fixed by smart development processes combined with continuous communications.

Frequent and open communication is the key to quickly identifying and correcting problems. Don't ever allow yourself to avoid communicating or go dark for fear that you're doing, or have done, something wrong; that is the best way to ensure that whatever issues you've got are going to get worse and become serious problems. If you're not sure something is right, if you're starting to suspect something might be wrong, don't hesitate to look into it and talk about it.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Divine Right is green-lighted

DevGame can now confirm that DevGame Project #6 will be the Basic Rules Divine Right computer wargame, as Alpenwolf has acquired the rights to produce Divine Right-related games, including the original wargame, from the rightsholder. The plan is to complete and release the Basic Rules version first, then add Advanced Rules and 3rd Edition Rules in the future.

Single-player mode versus AI opponents and multiplayer  modes with and without AI opponents will be included.

Castalia House also acquired the right to produce novels and RPG materials set in the world of Minaria and utilizing the Divine Right name.

The map is already well underway and is being prepared for 4k screens. The 78 custom map icons still need to be created and the XY ratio needs to be adjusted, but it is otherwise nearing completion.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The problem of scope creep

Derek Smart explains what every game industry veteran knows: scope creep kills:
Once Chris did what he has done before by overreaching, increasing the project scope – then not listening to the very people he hired to build the game for him – he subsequently killed the project. Thing is, him – and every single dev (past and present) who has ever written a single line of code, designed any component etc – knew over a year ago that they simply couldn’t build the game Chris now envisioned once he got this crowd-funding windfall. And on the record, several of them told him specifically that. He didn’t listen.

You see, here’s the thing with videogame development. It can get away from you very quickly. Once a design scope changes, the budget tends to go out the window. And when key people start bailing, there are bigger problems to contend with because bringing new people up to speed takes a lot of time. Design and programming are not like art, modeling and audio, whereby any replacement can hit the ground running. And the longer it takes, the more it’s going to cost. And if you don’t have the funding to keep at it, the project is basically dead. Our industry is plagued with nightmare stories of things like this happening; to the extent that many a studio and publisher has folded as a result of a single project going sideways, even after the delayed project ships.
This is why I teach that the primary role of the producer is to SAY NO. If the producer is capable of reining in the designer and his inevitable bright ideas, and fending off the even brighter ideas of the suits and marketing people, scope creep can be prevented.

The thing is, even designers who know better usually can't help themselves. That's why the better and more visionary the designer is, the stronger the producer usually needs to be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A programming vignette

This doesn't rise to the level of a "war story", but it does illustrate the importance of testing, checking your assumptions, and not taking anything for granted.

The cave environment in Krag Vargenstone is implemented using a tiling system, where individual graphics are duplicated over and over to draw the floor, the walls, and most of the scenery the player will encounter.  (We are using the excellent SpriteTile framework to make our job easier, which I highly recommend if you are planning to make a similar game.)  Most of the level is drawn in a level editor, but the player, the enemies, and the objects are placed as Unity GameObjects.  Sometimes a tile will be used as a placeholder to represent an object's location, but then replaced with a standard floor tile before the level loads.

I was investigating a graphical glitch where blank lines would occasionally appear in the gaps between tiles.  Having made a number of changes, I hit Play to test things, only for Unity to go completely unresponsive.  Not a single control would work, and I had to force-quit Unity from Windows.

A search of my code revealed no endless loops that could have caused the problem.  I narrowed down the changes I had made during that session -- often having to go through the force-quit and restart routine -- and eventually found that changing the size of the tiles in the level editor would reliably reproduce the hang.  This didn't smell right, but I had pursued that particular thread as far as it would go, so I fired off an email to the SpriteTile guy and turned in for the night.

One of the inconvenient realities of programming is that just because you can trace a bug down to a certain part of code does not mean that you've found the source of the problem.

The following day, I was able to look at the problem with fresh eyes.  Not surprisingly, the SpriteTile guy was unable to reproduce the error.  This called for a more intensive diagnostic strategy: if isolating a specific code change -- or point in the code history -- is unfruitful, the next step is to isolate a specific code statement -- or point in the code flow.  In practice, this involves ripping out or disabling all the features, and then adding them back in one by one.  Rather messy.

This strategy traced the cause to an unlikely place: not the tiling or display code, which I had first suspected, but the object placement code.  And that's where I saw it: an endless loop that I had overlooked in my search the previous day.  It belonged to a hackish section of code that was only present to test a particular new feature.  It was something that I had planned to rewrite and replace with a more permanent solution at some point.

The root cause of the problem was that this temporary code was set up to search for a suitable tile on which to place a treasure chest.  One of the suitability requirements was that the tile had to be off-screen.  It just so happened that changing the size of the tiles shrank the test area just enough so that every candidate tile was within the screen viewport.  The tile picker degenerated into running an endless shell game with no possibility of guessing a valid tile.

Another of the inconvenient realities of programming is that sometimes in the course of tracking down and fixing one bug, you discover another bug that has to be found and fixed first.  After all this, I'm back to the point where I still need to fix the blank line glitch.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Notes on the next project

Glen Rahman's design notes concerning Divine Right, which will be DevGame Project #6.

Divine Right was originally published in 1979 and went out of print after two editions, in 1982.The game had been very popular, but its designers, my brother Kenneth and myself, expected that DR would simply pass out of sight and out of mind like so many other games before it.

To our surprise and gratification, it kept appearing at conventions as a tournament game long after it had become unavailable and every now and then we were contacted by persons asking if it was ever going to be reissued. Then, more recently, the word "classic" began being applied to Divine Right and the designers dared to hope that we had perhaps managed to create something enduring.

Kenneth and I were already avid game-experimenters using mostly the Parker Brother's Risk system when we encountered a copy of Avalon Hill's Tactics II in the early 'seventies. Unfortunately, while there were things to learn from Tactics II, it had to be rated very lowly in the excitement category. But the appearance of Tactics II was our alert that some interesting things were happening in the gaming scene.

In the fall of 1974 this writer encountered a large Avalon Hill selection in a Minneapolis department store and bought Third Reich on the spot and, the next year, subscribed to SPI's Strategy & Tactics. Those were salad days, when even games as wretchedly-conceived as Oil War and Revolt in the East got thorough and repeated playing. Soon the designers were gaming regularly with friends. By 1977 we realized that we had learned enough to leave Risk behind and start designing in the state of the art.

The first serious effort carried all the way to conclusion was a fantasy game which we called Your Excellency. Divine Right players would promptly recognize Your Excellency as the prototype of DR. Some of the names, the CRT-less combat system, the diplomacy system, and the identity cards were all present. Believe it or not, as early as YE we had personality cards. I had been a frequent short story writer for the semi-pros and understood the strength that good characterization gives to a story. One night while Ken and I were play-testing Your Excellency on the kitchen table, it suddenly occurred to me to ask: Why couldn't a board game have characterization, too? The Personality card idea fell easily into place and it worked even better than expected.

From that moment on, we knew we had a good thing going. But the differences between the prototype and the eventually published game by TSR, Inc. were huge. The map looked nothing the same, being rather austere in the manner of an SPI release. There was a Elven and a Trollish kingdom true, but we had provided no magic. None. Further, we had only six special mercenaries, namely Juulute, Schardenzar, the Black Knight, Urmoff, Ogsbogg, and Hamahara. The Barbarian element was represented by nothing more than a small kingdom.

The prototype was dispatched to Metagaming of Austin, Texas. During its long evaluation period, Kenneth and I continued to sample the new bounty of the gaming world. Kenneth experimented with a different map, but we never got around to actually using it in any play test. In the interim, we discovered the Chaosium game of White Bear, Red Moon. This game was something new in our experience - a game of heroic fantasy.

A few dull spaceship battle games existed already and Excalibre had pioneered imaginative fantasy with Atlantis, while SPI had the execrable Sorcerer and there was a fantasy-tactical game called Dungeon from TSR. For some reason we had not bothered to examine the rest of the field - such as Fact & Fantasy's Helm's Deep or TSR's Battle of the Five Armies. So, within our frame of reference, we addressed the innovations of WBRM with great interest.

There was much in it we liked, though there was much which we couldn't relate to. For instance, WBRM seemed to have no clear line demarcating the world of the gods and the world of men. As a reader of mythology I could understand this - sort of. The world order in Stafford's Glorantha resembled that of The Kalevala or numerous primitive mythologies, including the American Indians,' where characters grade from hero to sorcerer to god with hardly any warning were one ended and the other began.

But Kenneth was a J.R.R. Tolkien enthusiast and my own fantasy tastes leaned toward Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. In all these authors' writings there was a difference between gods and men; fantastic things were possible, but an understandable barrier remained between the different states of reality. Further, as far as the conventions of WBRM went, it was hard for us to identify with heroes who could, like the Irish champion Cuchulain, or the Indian hero Arjuna, take on whole armies single-handedly. To our mind, a Julius Caesar might make the deciding difference in a battle with the Gauls, but could J.C. have faced the host of Vercingetorix all by his lonesome? Never! A man is as man and an army is an army.

Nonetheless, WBRM had something we needed to learn - the manner in which magic might be fitted into the world of military affairs.

The Metagaming copy of Your Excellency finally came back rejected in 1978. Like most creative people, we decided that the editors involved just didn't appreciate quality and innovation. Nonetheless, months had already passed and we had some new ideas which we wanted to include into the game. Kenneth set energetically to work redesigning the map and before long he confronted me with an entirely new map done in a jolly-looking antique style, one which would be recognizable as the rough draft of the published classic. It had a colorful and richly satiric quality that would inspire much of the subsequent design, as well as much of the writing for the yet-to-be created Minarian mythos.

Kenneth had added most of the place names written in by the time I first saw the map, and it was only left for me to help with the details and the polishing. "The Crater of the Punishing Star" was mine, as was the "Altars of Greystaff." I also contributed the names of Zorn, Pon, Minaria, and the Invisible School of Thaumaturgy. Zorn came out of a phone book, and Pon was the name of a mountain kingdom created in a story cycle of mine, only two episodes of which ever saw light of day in amateur publication. "Minaria" had been the name of a kingdom I used in an earlier bit of fictional juvenalia. I think, unconsciously, that I was echoing "Mnar," an arcane land mentioned by Lovecraft, or maybe even Minnesota, my home state.

Kenneth and I already had a sound movement-combat-diplomacy system in the original Your Excellency. What the new version required from us was magic, chrome, and detail. The gadgety devices of the Eaters of Wisdom were worked out quickly, and we took inspiration from the corpse-loving mages of Clark Ashton Smith's short stories to create the Black Hand.

Working out the new Your Excellency was amazingly easy. The new game world seemed to leap spontaneously into life. Juulute, the Black Knight, Schardenzar, Urmoff, Hamahara, and Ogsbogg were preserved, but their abilities and powers were expanded and fleshed out. Bilge Rat and several special mercenary combat units were added also. Just before we were really to finalize the rules, we came up with the Wandering People, based, of course, on Hollywood's take on the Gypsies.

We sent the finished prototype to TSR, Inc. of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Within a reasonably short time, TSR's new products chief informed us that his staff liked Your Excellency and he was authorized to make us an offer of publication. Once the development staff began to work on Your Excellency in earnest, Kenneth and I received word that the title would be changed to Divine Right. We were fond of Your Excellency, but soon grew fonder still of DR.

Further, we had originally called all the monarchs kings and now were asked to come up with a wider variety of titles (aided by a kindly developer who had enclosed a long list of possibilities). We also were asked to provide some background material for the world - such as short descriptions of the kingdoms and the scenic hexes. As the seasoned fictioneer on the team, it fell to me to define Minaria. 

Although the game world was created without a real background story, the out-line of Minarian society came easily enough. As a fan of the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky, and the parallel idea of Robert E. Howard's Hyboria, I divided Minarian history into periods before and after the "great Cataclysm." Before the Cataclysm, the Minarian continent had enjoyed a kind of Pax Romanum, ruled by a proud, overbearing, but basically benign species of high elf which I called the Lloroi. The Cataclysm that followed took much of Minaria back to the Stone Age, but enough culture survived to allow a fairly rapid restoration of civilization. By about 500 A.C. (after the Cataclysm) Minaria had achieved about the same level of culture as Europe had possessed in 500 A.D. (though Europe had fallen to a nadir at that time, while Minaria had fallen much lower and had managed to climb back).

The developing the nonhuman races which fantasy fans known so well from Tolkien called for a special measure of care. Rather than treat the Goblins and Trolls as evil creatures befitting their origin in the mythology of the Underworld, I addressed them as alien races, different from men, of course, and rivals, but not metaphysically evil. The Elves and Dwarves came in for a little satire, to set them apart from the stereotypes already abroad in the gaming culture. I used hillbillies and gold miners to inspire the Dwarves, and a combination of Imperial China and the Third Reich to flesh out the Elves. The background material seemed to fit the bill as far as TSR was concerned and it was published with the game in 1979, as an appendix to the rule book.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Combat mechanics

This is an interesting article on the combat mechanics for Tyranny by the Game Director:
When you perform an attack in Tyranny – whether it’s a basic weapon attack, casting a spell, or using an ability – your Accuracy is compared to the target’s Defense to determine how well the attack does. As with Pillars of Eternity, each attack can have one of four possible results: Miss, Graze (attacks deal less damage, status effects are applied for a shorter duration), Hit, or Crit (attacks deal greater damage, and status effects are applied for a longer duration).

Your Accuracy is determined by one or more character skills. A basic attack will use the skill associated with the weapon you’re attacking with. A spell will use the magic skill for that type of spell and the character’s Lore skill. If more than one skill is used, their values are averaged together to produce the final skill value. Accuracy bonuses from weapons or abilities are added to that base value to determine the final Accuracy for the attack. The skills used to determine Accuracy are also the skills you gain experience in for that attack.

Each attack targets one of five possible Defenses: Parry, Dodge, Endurance, Will, or Magic. Enemies and party members have different strengths and weaknesses in these defenses, making some attacks better options against one type of enemy than another.

Accuracy is compared to Defense, and the resulting difference is used to modify the combat result table. Higher Accuracy results in a greater chance to Crit or Hit, reducing the chance to Graze or Miss. A lower Accuracy has the opposite effect, making you Graze or Miss more often.
Dev diaries are a great way to learn about how designers and developers tackle the challenges that appear during the development process and how they think through the various options.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Getting Up and Running with Spriter

Spriter is a 2D character animation tool that was recommended during the last Devgame class.

When I was an apprentice clown, my master taught me that one of the first rules of clowning is "Stay green."  It means always work something new into your performance.  Let it grow and evolve.  Far be it from me to disregard the teachings of my master.  I got Spriter and gave it a whirl.

I've talked my code-monkeys into trying the Unity plugin it because it simplifies my work for me. To give them a leg up, I animated a treasure chest opening, added the plugin, and put the chest in Unity.

This gif is unable to do the animation justice, alas. In Spriter and Unity it's quick and fluid.

For code monkeys who wish to play with it, here's what I learned:


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Forgotten Japan

Hardcore Gaming 101 has a very cool summary of retro Japanese computer gaming:
Japan has long been viewed by the West as a console-centric country, ever since Nintendo and the NES. But there is another, mostly forgotten world of Japanese gaming history, in which thousands of games were developed for various Japanese computers over an 18 year period that stretches from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. For all that Nintendo started, it was the open hardware of NEC and other companies that allowed small groups to form and become giants. In fact, some of Japan's most recognizable franchises, such as Metal Gear and Ys, actually began as computer games. The early Japanese computing scene was an intense flurry of creativity that launched the careers of many prominent figures in the video game industry, while also establishing some of the most famous video game companies, such as Square, Enix, Falcom, and Koei.

Japanese computer games were also exempt from any of the licensing and content restrictions that all console makers have imposed in various forms. These early games give us a rare glimpse into a world of Japanese creativity unfettered by censorship and outside pressures, which has never since been replicated. The content ranges from rampant drug use and presidential assassination (XZR), to tender explorations of love, sex, and relationships (Dokyusei), to mature and suspenseful horror (Onryo Senki), and even to one of the first rape simulators (177), predating the infamous RapeLay by 20 years. The content is not always tasteful, but the lawless atmosphere resulted in some of the most unique titles in video game history....

A forgotten era

The personal computer industry in Japan began much like everywhere else: as a response to Intel's creation of the world's first microprocessor, the 4004, in 1971. Both NEC and Toshiba successfully developed their own microprocessors in 1973, and over the next few years a number of personal computer kits and homebew packages were released by companies such as Hitachi, Fujitsu, NEC, Toshiba, and Sharp. Much like in the West, these early computers were primarily for electronics tinkerers and enthusiasts, and had to be programmed by the users themselves.

The early 80s saw the release of the first fully-fledged 8-bit computers designed with average users in mind, rather than amateur programmers (although there were still plenty of those). Three companies eventually shared the 8-bit crown: NEC, with its PC-8800 series; Fujitsu, with the popular FM-7; and Sharp, with the X1. NEC would later come to dominate the Japanese computing scene for over 10 years with another computer, the 16-bit PC-9801, but Fujitsu and Sharp were able to maintain a small but loyal following by staying competitive and eventually releasing two incredible 16-bit machines of their own: the Fujitsu FM Towns, and the Sharp X68000.

One important thing to note is that much like the early computers produced by Western companies such as Apple, Commodore, Atari, and IBM, almost all Japanese computers were incompatible with each other. This led to intense competition among the computer makers, with each vying to establish its own architecture as the dominant standard. Once NEC, Fujitsu, and Sharp took the majority of the market, the remaining computer makers banded together around the MSX, a shared computing standard developed by Microsoft Japan and ASCII. Despite being fourth place in the Japanese computer race, the MSX and its successor eventually achieved popularity in South America and Europe, while the Big Three never found success outside of Japan.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Shots Fired

I need to animate dwarves and orcs shooting in multiple directions.

Let's start with south. First, I draw the crossbow loaded and ready to fire.
Next I draw it post-firing:
Next I draw it raised as we load a new arrow.
Problem is, this animation is terrible!
Technically good enough for the target, site, but the purpose of this internship is to impress industry insiders, thus make contacts, thus make money, thus fund my own game dev projects.

Problem: I don't have enough time to animate all the inbetween frames.

Solution: Smears to the rescue!

First, we draw the bow firing:
Next, we draw the bow being raised from the empty position to the raised position.


Next, we draw the bow being lowered to threaten foes once more:

None of those pictures look good. They don't have to. They aren't going to be visible for more than a tiny fraction of a second. Their goal is to convince the viewer that the animation is way smoother than it actually is.

I think they succeeded, don't you?
One direction down, four more to go.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Overcoming Success

The team has basically finished Elveteka. At the moment, we're doing last minute touches before publishing to platform. While I imagine there's still a decent amount of work for the team as a whole, the bulk of my work as a composer and sound designer has been completed. Vox moved me over to Penguin Pete and Art of Sword, so this is a good time to reflect.
Completing a project is actually one of the most dangerous times for me as a creative person. For whatever reason, when I feel good about myself creatively I tend to become careless and complacent. I imagine it has something to do with my motivations around music, so I'm hoping working it out in writing helps me make sense of it.
As with all my work I detect flaws in each track I did for Elveteka, but my goal for the project was to work at 80-90% of my quality at 10x the speed. To this degree I succeeded wildly: 7 tracks in 7 weeks, plus about 20 sound effects. Right now I feel REALLY GOOD.
And now bad habits are setting in. One of the songs I composed, the Victory Music, is almost excellent, and I feel very proud of how well I managed to wrap up the themes I developed over the course of the soundtrack.  (That's a blog post for another day.) You definitely get the feeling of a hero completing a journey. The problem is, now I'm listening to it all the time. I'm getting high in my own supply.
I listened to the recording of my college senior recital a lot during the summer after I graduated. It became almost part of my identity; I associated myself with the music too strongly. Criticism didn't bother me too much; I always know there's further to go. The problem was that I felt satisfied. I didn't feel the need to grow.
It would be fine to be satisfied if my career was where I wanted it to be, I suppose, but it's not. So the conundrum is, how do I feel content with the results enough to feel it was worth the effort, but not so much that I rest on my laurels.
I've been reading John Wright's blog lately and he seems like the kind of man who knows exactly what he intends to accomplish with his body of work. Perhaps it's time to touch base with my creative vision. I'm neither as talented nor as clear a thinker as Mr. Wright, but it's a helpful exercise. Simply saying "I want to be paid to write music" doesn't do justice to my deeper motivations, but I'm also leery of writing a manifesto if I don't really know what I'm talking about. Mr. Wright has has the depth of knowledge to contextualize his oeuvre in the Western Cannon. I do not.  So I'll just make a list. This is a visualization exercise.
-It would be cool to go further with passing melodies around the difference voices more. I did some of that and it felt good. I'd like to do more.
-As a more contrapuntal based composer, I have a lot of respect for ambient music. I wrote one ambient track for Elveteka. It would be fun to do more.
-Earlier this year on an unrelated project I produced a mix with a lot of automated panning. The motion of the parts made the mix feel larger and more vibrant. I'd like to pick up where I left off.
-As a fairly well educated composer its easier for me to write highly directional music that builds towards a specific point. In some ways it's kind of harder for me to convincingly write music that just kind of meanders along. I suspect Penguin Pete will be a good vehicle for that challenge, being more light-hearted than heroic.
-I think it would be fun to start the sound effects earlier and develop a sense of how they contribute to the mood of the game. I did a lot of this with my first game, the electric air hockey iPad game Shock Jocks, and I'd like to continue that inquiry.
That's a good start. Those are some interesting challenges to motivate me. While we're discussing "overcoming success" I'd like to hit a second point as well.
Shortly after I finished the first track Vox informed us that the deadline was accelerated and we were in crunch time. To save time the first thing I gave up was exercise, and the last two weeks were a low energy drag as my body refused to cooperate with me. I'll say this may have been a mistake, and I need to maintain better health under pressure. I've taken this week off from composing and a lot of that had to do with reestablishing good habits.
The other thing I gave up was keeping track of my weekly list of goals, so in the course of finishing up Elveteka, I dropped the ball on some side projects (which is OK) and some basic life things (which was not.) I don't think it would kill me to consult my weekly to-do list, even if I slack a little on the weekly "reflection" I do to analyze my efforts for the week. Its fine to put your head down for a while, but you still have to take a look at the bigger picture once in a while, even if you don't think very much about it.
As far as looking at the bigger picture, I like to check out Mike Cernovich's blog and he got me interested in reading Scott Adam's "How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big." I started reading it this week. One thing that caught my attention was Adam's focus on energy. I decided to focus on energy earlier this year, so reading about it in Adams book was validating. That said, Adams is far more systematic than I am, so I'm thinking more about energy.
One thing that Adams mentioned is evaluating a course of action based in how much energy it gives you. All things being equal, the plan that energizes you is better. (Actually, its better than all things being equal.) I'll admit that when I get stumped writing music my energy completely disappears, and as soon as things are flowing, my energy soars. One of the things that helped me get through the Elveteka crunch was only writing things that I knew would work. It served me well until the 5th Level music, where I had many false starts and nearly lost all my motivation. It was only by radically simplifying my opening compositional move that I was able to gain traction. In this case, I reduced the melodic material to the bare minimum motives, and picked a sexy first sonority to ground my harmonic thinking.
So that's another thing to think about as well. Maybe I can choose compositional moves based on how energizing they are.
Well, those are my thoughts on overcoming success. What are yours? And does anyone out there have exercise tips? Here's my criteria: I only care about energy, I hate keeping track of numbers, and I prefer to do the same thing every day.

Friday, April 29, 2016

How to Cave

Today's going to be a marathon of dwarf animation.



Just to get warmed up, I (mostly) finished my cave tile set.

Here's a half-size edition, with a superimposed grid so you can see where the tiles are:


This should account for every combination of wall and floor. The final tiles are 160x160. The art I made was 1600x1600. The spec is that the art should be made three times the final size, to enable future HD editions of the game. By making the initial art ten times the final size, I ensure that even the HD art is shrunk.

As the good book says, shrinking your art covers over a multitude of sins. The downside is my geriatric computer starts to choke whenever I load the original files.

I've made tile sets before, but only pixel art, so I had to devise the process for hand-drawn art on the fly.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Previous Experience Before Now

Just out of curiosity, how many of us who took the DevGame course were people with previous programming experience?  How much programming experience did we have?  Did any of the people working on the games now already know Unity besides Ender (who doesn't count because he wasn't an attendee, he was a TA)?

I had programmed off and on since I was a kid, but definitely more off than on.  My first game eva (called "Spy," written in BASIC on a Tandy SX, more time put into the ASCII art title than the actual game code) went to the State Fair when I was about 12.  Really it went because it was the only entry in the "Computer Programming" category in my rather rural county. There was a program to calculate molar masses in Chemistry class before I realized that I could do it faster without the program just typing in the numbers that I had memorized.  Another student asked me to make him a ship for a game he was writing for a programming class at school.  That was monochrome pixel art at its finest.  Looked like a scorpion dropping bombs out of its claws.

When the teacher retired, no one else in my little hamlet knew programming enough, so that class just disappeared before I got the chance to take it.  Not until a couple of  C/C++ courses in college did I get any formal sort of edumacation.  After getting married and getting a weird job tech supporting ancient telephone computers, I went back for grad school for about a semester and took a database course and a data mining course.  That said, most of my programming has been self-taught.  Is that how it is for most programmers out there?

 Flash Action Script was a big deal for me for animations and demonstrations in my classroom.  Then there was the ad hoc iPad app that I wrote for a grant proposal at my school, though it was really simple.  My greatest programming accomplishment before seeing the enemy ship shooting at me on its own in Star Battles was writing a recursive maze generator in Flash for my then four year old daughter who loved mazes.

If you're a programmer, how did you get into it?  If you're an artist... Ummmm...  Go draw something or write some music...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

OOOOooooo! Pretty.

So little time in the day.  Sigh.

Star Battles has a new star.  Actually, the central object that provides the gravity and the challenge of avoiding it got a makeover.  But, we could use your help.

You see, there are about a trillion possible color combinations that could go on that star, and if we randomly choose, we usually get pukey sorts.  Instead, we want to pick from an array of preselected color schemes.  The more the better.

So, here is a link to a Star Color Picker (don't go there in Chrome, they don't support the Unity Web Player scripts anymore) that will let you play with the color scheme and find an awesome looking star.  If you find one you like, take a screenshot and post it in the comments here.

Here's what it should look like when you get there:



Slide the sliders around to change the colors.  The star pops up randomly from a range that normally looks yellow/red.  But, the sliders can make it all sorts of cool.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Elveteka Music: Improving Writing Speed

I need to improve my writing speed.

My old process: listen to what I've written. Analyze where music needs to go next. Theorize if proposed solution will work. Try proposed solution. If solution doesn't work, analyze why. Update theory of music. Repeat until solution found.

This is a great way to learn authentic music theory and a terrible way to meet a deadline.

My new process: Try whatever comes to mind. If it's slightly better than what you had, keep it. Never theorize. Just try and evaluate. If random tinkering works for medical research, it certainly works for music.

When learning the trumpet I was taught to be aware of my body while playing. I never heard of composers being taught to pay attention to their thought patterns while composing. I'm trying to root out bad habits:

  • Get off social media. Turn off the phone. Exit blogs and news sites. (Just keep email open.)

  • Don't listen to music over and over again. Listen once, think of something to change.

  • If stuck, try something at random. Anything at all. Learn by engaging, not thinking.

  • If I'm having a hard time evaluating a proposed change, it could be because I'm putting too much effort into playing it while also evaluating it. Enter it into the DAW and evaluate.

  • Don't write everything on paper. Just write what's helpful to see on paper. Put the rest into the DAW. You can can see, compared to what you will hear, what I wrote on paper was pretty minimal.


In addition to these mental habits, I employed various tricks to speed up the process:

  • Keep in mind counterpoint shortcuts. In my case that means all moves all valid except similar / parallel octaves and parallel 5th's.

  • Trust experience. For example: I realized I was writing a lot of a parallel 5th's early on into the process, but realized that since the melody is based on 5th's, that's OK. Actually that's where much of the characteristic sound comes from.

  • Tried all my old tricks first. I built the form around putting the melody in different registers, used pedal points, and employed tried-and-true textures like staccato strings over legato French horns.

  • Used template from previous project. That's about 50 instruments that I didn't have to search for. For instruments I don't use very often, this saves me a lot of time.

  • Stick to triadic harmony instead of counterpoint, and keep counterlines to a minimum.

  • Hopefully I can this template for the entire project. I may even compose all my tracks in the same project to reuse the same mix settings from one track to the next.

  • Certain thematic passages may be repeated in other tracks.

  • Simplified mixing process: grouped 28 tracks into 8 submixes, five sections. mixed start to finish. Didn't mix from scratch but began with the levels I had set while composing. It helps that I set my levels intelligently from the get-go.


Along the way I had a few happy accidents. These were solutions I would never have reached through analysis but did reach through random tinkering:

  • Choir parts alternating between big unisons and fully voiced chords.

  • The chord substitution in the 9th measure. I simply replaced Bb with B natural and it's a great sound, whatever the proper name may be for the resulting sonority.


This is the final result. I may do another mix pass before the game is released, but I'm happy to put my name to this. Two minutes of music in about two weeks. I need to double my speed, but this is a good start.

Here, enjoy some random tinkering: