Monthly Update – April 2016
It’s been a while since the last update, what with moving house and the Internet not being connected for several weeks. The regular update day had long passed by the time everything was settled so I decided to change to an end-of-month update schedule instead. It always seemed a bit weird doing a recap of last month as the ‘update’ of the next one. So here it is, all new end-of-month update number one!
So what’s been happening? Apart from the aforementioned house move (I’m not in a basement any more so I have windows and daylight and everything!) I’ve been spending some time doing a big recap on the progress so far and what to focus on over the next few months. I have been thinking about the project as a whole up to now – as in ‘I’m making a game’ which can be quite daunting when you’re doing everything alone. It’s easy for procrastination to set in when the goal is quite distant and the task is enormous. So to help keep things moving along and not get too overwhelming I’m refocusing a bit on producing a short demo of the game. I started making a small demo a month or two ago to show at a local game dev meet up and it was really helpful to have a fixed deadline and a smaller scale of project to tackle. I got a lot done and it was a really productive month, so I’m going to continue in that mode for the next few months and concentrate on getting a really polished gameplay demo that contains the core elements of the game and really shows off the unique features and gameplay my game will contain. In hindsight I should probably have done that to begin with, but this is a new process for me so I’m learning as I go.
I feel like I haven’t got much practical work done over the last month, but it has been really helpful to take a step back and look at what I was doing – what was useful, what wasn’t and to get a better focus on what I should be doing next. Writing a detailed description of the game, it’s features and thinking about where it fits in the market has been a good exercise and has brought things into much clearer focus for me.
Between all the moving and writing and thinking and planning I have managed to get some ‘real’ work done too! I’ve been working on ‘ghost stuff’ and made a concept for the ghost timer as well as updating the textures and in-game camera effects for ghost mode.
I’ve also been doing some more detailed design work on the ghost timer mechanic and implemented the first version of that. I’m not sure how I managed to miss out doing the ghost timer before now, it’s pretty much the main thing in the game but I’ve been working away without it for several months. What was I thinking?! I also put together the image below for Shakespeare Day. By coincidence I happened upon a fantastic quote that fits so well with the theme of my game. Some things just go perfectly together!
Going forward I’ll be working some more on the ghost timer and implementing a set of puzzles that showcase it and the other core features of the game, and I hope to get back to making some more artwork soon.
As always thanks for looking and I’ll be back next month with more cool stuff!
Monthly Update – March 2016
Although February is the shortest month I managed to pack a lot into it! After setting myself the goal of getting more stuff done that I could show to the outside world, I decided to jump in the deep end and signed up to show the game at a local game developer meet up. The meet up this month was being hosted by Unity at their office here in Brighton which always draws a large crowd so I had my work cut out putting together something worth showing.
I made a short demo level based on some of the elements from the forest level I’ve been working on lately. I tried to get it as close to finished as possible, which included getting all the animations in for the interactions, getting various UI elements implemented or improved, adding push/pull functionality, doing camera improvements and camera effects for ‘ghost mode’. I also finally got round to making the ‘dead’ set of textures for the character so now he looks suitably spooky and at long last I’ve given him a name. So may I present in all his dead/undead glory – Mister Albert Devlin.
Another big addition in the demo is the ‘ghost mode’ timer, which I just made the first version of. So now when you switch into a ghost, the timer appears and counts down to the inevitable! It will need a lot of testing to make sure using it gives a good sense of risk and reward, and it isn’t too annoying to manage the limited amount of ghost time you get. More to come on that in future I’m sure.
One of the things I didn’t get chance to do was any texturing of the environment. It’s still all grey at the moment, but that is something I’ll be working on during this month. I did manage to get a bit more detail into some of the environment models, but that’s another thing that still needs quite a bit of work before it’s complete.
Here are a couple of screenshots taken from the demo, showing a major puzzle room in regular and ghost modes.
I’ve got some more more exciting stuff in the works that I can’t talk about just yet, but hopefully I can share that with you next time. Between now and then I’ll be working more on the demo level to get that to a 100% finished stage. It’s been a while since I did that first art test inside the mansion, and I really want to get back to making some nice artwork. So that will be taking up most of my time in March. Can’t wait to see how it turns out, and I’m looking forward to sharing more screenshots and possibly a video next month.
As always, thanks for looking!
Monthly Update – Feb 2016
January has been quite the month of ups and downs. I started off raring to go with some some great new direction with the level design I’ve been working on for a while now and also started to think more seriously about funding for the game. Shortly after that I was suddenly struck with the dreaded ‘omg what am I doing, have I made the right decision, should I really be making this game’ dilemma. It was a bit of a shock to the system really after working on the game for about a year now, to even consider not working on it anymore and doing something else. In retrospect I think looking around at all the funding options and doing schedule and costing plans is what set me off on the path of doubt, because once you start to think about those kinds of things and put numbers down on paper it all starts to get a bit more serious and real. Not that I wasn’t taking it seriously before but to be honest I hadn’t really been putting cost estimates and firm dates on things. Also the idea of getting other people involved and therefore needing to pay them takes things to a different place than when I’m just doing it myself in my own time, at my own pace. It was all starting to get a bit scary.
I’m glad to say I’ve got over that little episode and I’m feeling a lot more positive about the whole thing again. I realised some of the funding options I was looking at were not the right fit for me or my project and also it really hammered home what I’d been talking about last month – the need to get the things I’ve been working on to a more finished stage so that I can show to people outside my little studio, and add in the elements I need to make it look like a proper game. Even if it’s just a small slice of the final game, having something that looks complete that I can show people will help in numerous ways. Firstly it will give me a better sense of achievement and help me stay motivated, it will allow me to gauge progress and better estimate how much longer things will take and of course it will help raise interest and potentially get some funding if I have something that looks good and I’m happy to show off to people.
So what I’m working on now is getting the first half of the current level finished to a more complete stage. That includes all the level design, modelling, texturing, lighting, all the puzzles and interactive elements and perhaps most importantly the feedback loop between with the player and the character on screen. This requires all the animations for things like picking up objects, interacting with the various things in the environment and feedback on all the player inputs. A lot of those things already function in the game (e.g. picking up and interacting with objects) but they don’t have an animation or any other visual feedback. You can press the correct button in the correct place and a thing happens but you don’t get important visual feedback on what action you did and also when things don’t work, or don’t work yet. A good example of this would be a door that is locked but can be opened, you may be able to try the handle and get a ‘door locked’ sound so you know to come back later when you find a key. A door that will never open would simply do nothing when you try to interact with it or you get a generic ‘can’t do anything’ reaction from the character. So I made a list of all the different actions you can or will be able to perform in the game and I’ve spent the last week doing custom animations for all of them. I have most of them done now (I think!) and have started to integrate them into the player controller. I’ve never animated a character before so it’s tricky getting all the movements to look right, but I’m really enjoying watching him get more animated!
I’m also enjoying the help of my first intern on the project – Mr Berkley! As you can see from the picture he is really getting to grips with the whole animation thing in Unity, although I’m not sure the ‘sit’ and ‘walkies’ animations are appropriate for a Victorian gentleman…
I’m planning on a big update for next month which may include the first public outing for the game so I’d better get back to it. See you next time!
Monthly Update – January 2016!
Happy New Year everyone!
I was thinking all day yesterday about what to write for this update. I realise now why the media is so full of lists and retrospectives and such at this time of year. Even as someone who doesn’t get caught up in all the Christmassy madness it’s still a weird time of year and for some reason hard to focus on anything.
So here is my list! Nah just kidding, instead of a big list of what I’ve done in the twelve months (which is quite a lot really considering I only started thinking about this game towards the end of January) I’ll have a little Back to the Future moment and post an answer to myself back on the 1st of Jan 2015 in the form of an image.
“I wonder what it will look like this time next year…” I said in my first blog post, well now we know!
That is the screenshot taken in Unity on Jan 1st 2015 and a screenshot taken today in the level I’m currently working on. It shows less than half of the forest level currently in development and circled in red at the bottom left is the player character for scale. There are one or two more scripts in the scripts folder too ðŸ˜‰
So yeah, lots of progress which is great, but still a massive amount left to do. My focus this year will be more towards getting stuff done that I can show to the outside world. I’ve been beavering away in my little studio for the last 12 months and have put out a couple of screenshots here and there but mostly what I’ve done has been behind closed doors. I need to start getting things done that I can show to more people and generate more interest for the game. That means more ‘finished’ artwork, getting proper animations done and then I can start showing gameplay clips too. I’m also going to start looking into getting some external funding for the project. So far the project has been funded directly from my own personal bank account, but if I’m going to make this game as good as it can be I’m probably going to need some help on a few things, which means paying people, which means I need to raise some more money for the project. I doubt I’ll do it via crowdfunding, so I’m looking into other options such as the recently announced UK Games Fund.
On a more immediate note, the revision of the Forest level that I’ve been working on for the last couple of months turned out pretty good and I’ve had a few people test it and got some very useful feedback (thanks JC and JC!). I have a few more tweaks to make on the positioning of things and then I’m going to work on improving gameplay feedback, i.e. having animations, sounds, effects and so on to let the player know what is going on in the world. I also just picked up the ‘NPC Chat’ asset from the Unity Asset Store so I can start adding some NPC dialog to the game, and of course modelling, texturing and lighting so it looks like a proper world instead of a grey box.
This is starting to turn into a list so I better stop right there!
So good luck everyone with whatever you’re doing in 2016, and again, I wonder how things will look this time next year?
Monthly Update – December
Famous last words – “hopefully it wonâ€™t take multiple re-builds”. Totally jinxed myself there didn’t I?!
It’s been a tough month ironing out the issues with the original forest level layout. I was getting stuck juggling two opposing directions for the level – on the one hand I wanted it to be quite open and allow players to be able to solve various puzzles in a somewhat open manner, so they could tackle things to a certain extent in the order they wanted, or at least be able to travel freely around the level and solve the puzzles they encountered. On the other hand I had some specific things I wanted to happen, and needed to happen before other things which required a more linear approach. I was trying to avoid making the levels too linear because I think in general very linear games can be a bit boring and often get criticized for being too linear, but having things happen in a very specific order would make things a lot easier to plan, build and not confuse the player. So I went back and forth trying to do a bit of one then a bit of the other and just making more problems.
In the end I did a ‘sweep the board clean’ re-design of the level, where anything and everything could change or get cut if it wasn’t working, and tried designing a very linear level with one clear path and little to no back tracking. It worked really well, so I made my peace with linear level design and things progressed a lot smoother after that and I can see why so many games opt for a more linear approach in their design. I still have a couple of sections where there is a bit more leeway with the order of things, but overall it’s a more guided path through the level now. The forest level comes directly after you leave the mansion (as seen in the first screenshot of the game) and I want the player to feel like they are going deep into the forest and far away from everything they knew. They literally have left their whole life behind them and are going off into the unknown. So it feels appropriate that the level is quite a long and winding path to really make a break from everything that came before.
Another thing that helped a lot with the progress during the second half of the month was that I made a modular kit to create most of the paths. It’s a lot easier once the kit is done to grow and/or change the layout, and everything stays at a consistent scale too. It’s very easy to make over-sized props and locations in a 3D modelling program and then realise they are way too big when you get them in-game. A kit system helps to avoid that. Augmenting the kit with some unique sections helps to break up the repetition, and lighting and set dressing should make things different enough that it’s hard to notice the repeats. I still have one very small section of the layout to finish, which is simply adjusting the scale of one part and then it’s all done. A lot of the gameplay should be transferable from the previous version and then there are a few new puzzles to script but I’m hoping to have it all done and testable by the end of the coming weekend. Famous last words again I expect…
The often repeated advice from wise game dev veterans that “thing’s always take twice as long as you think they will” is so true.
I was debating at the end of last month whether I’d go on to build the next level or do some ‘finished’ artwork for the forest. The jury is still out on that decision, but I am feeling a bit overdosed on forests at the moment so it’s very possible I’ll move on to the next level. Art production is so time consuming, and if I end up coming back and changing things with the level based on what I learn from building the next level I’ll have wasted a lot of time.
And as wise man once said “Don’t waste your time or time will waste you”
Monthly Update – November
I feel like I start this every month by saying “I’ve had a busy month”… but I have, again!
After getting the layout for the forest level blocked out during the previous month, I spent October getting all gameplay done. It’s been quite a full month so, without giving too many spoilers and specifics away here’s a quick list of what I added this month;
Two different door + key puzzles
Approx. 10 different object interactions
Floating name plates for interactive objects
‘Death’ and reset system
Learning two new Ghost abilities
Hazardous mushrooms (!)
Flowing water (with a little help from Rob)
Multiple UI pop ups (including a treasure map!)
and the Will o’ the Wisp you can see in the video below.
Having got all the gameplay in according to the original plan I got a few people test the level and the flaws in layout and general flow were immediately apparent, some of which I already suspected but it’s good to test things and find out. It’s pretty much impossible to test a puzzle/exploration game when you’ve built it yourself. So I’ve gone back to re-work the layout and iron out those issues and should have a second iteration of the level ready to test again in a few days.
Once I’m happy with the new layout, and hopefully it won’t take multiple re-builds, I’ll most likely move on to building the next level. I may take a small slice of the forest and get it to a more finished level visually, as I did with the mansion house screenshot. It helps to be able to visualize the final look of the level, how the lighting will affect it and so on and because I know people are interested to see nice artwork! Getting people to look at my game, talk about it and share it is the hardest part really and definitely the biggest battle facing all independent game developers since we don’t have large advertising budgets.
So I’ll leave you with a short clip taken from the beginning of the forest level. See you next month. I predict another busy one!
Monthly Update – October
Welcome to Interactionman Monthly Updates!
What a month it’s been!
Rather than doing more level design ‘on paper’ as I thought I would this month, I couldn’t put it off any longer and dived right in to building the first full level for the game. I already had the design plan so I started right away modelling the whole thing in 3D. It’s quite daunting starting from a big empty document and turning it into a full 3D game level, but I started at the start, at the gates that exit the grounds of the mansion and off into the forest beyond!
It definitely helped a lot to have the 2D plan to kick things off, but as you might expect things did change and develop quite a bit as I started to build things out. I still have all the main elements and sub-areas in the map, but they are in a slightly different configuration now. Being able to run around the level with the character really helps to work out the fine details of how the map works, what the logical progression through the environment is and where to place each item and area. I’m trying to make sure there is either something to interact with, something to find, or some vista or other area of special interest in every part of the map so that there is as little ‘filler’ as possible and it doesn’t feel like you have to back track through lots of boring corridors.
Having got the level layout all done I started to decorate it a little with a few basic props just to give an impression of what each area is and then I modeled all the interactive props I will need for the level. So I have every object you can pick up, interact with in some way or that has some kind of function in the level and they’re all placed out around the level now. Next step will be to add all the gameplay to the objects and make stuff work so I can test it.
The other major thing that happened this month is that the character controller has been completely re-worked. I’ve been getting some help from my friend Rob Lynam (http://inmosystems.com/) with the coding side of things. I gave him my first draft of the character controller and he re-worked it to make it much more functional and responsive. It’s pretty great now, with variable walk/run speed, a much more responsive jump that allows for a little hop or a great big leap. We’ve also added crouch which means I can make some secret hidden areas that are a little harder to get to for all the explorers to find and it all works for both keyboard and gamepad. The character is still using standard animations that come with Unity for the moment, but I’ll get those replaced later.
So after all that text, how about a little video? I put together a small level using bits of the forest to demonstrate how the character controller works and a very basic look at how the game will function… and a great big spoiler for one of my favorite puzzles in the game so far! The level art is VERY basic at the moment, it’s just at the blockout stage so no textures or anything. It gives a reasonable impression of the location though and allows for testing which is the most important thing at this stage. No point spending a lot of time making everything look awesome and then finding out the level is boring and having to re-do whole sections. I ain’t got time for that!
I’ll probably post a better clip next month showing some more gameplay once it’s done, but I don’t like giving too many secrets away and showing spoilers for everything so it won’t be a full level walk through. Getting all the gameplay scripting done will probably take most of the coming month but if I get it all done sooner then I’ll either make a design for the remaining level, or crack on with building one of the ones already planned out. I really feel like I’m making the game now, even though I have been working on it for several months. Having a character and a level to run around in feels like a big jump forward and I can’t wait to get all the gameplay done and make more levels.
I’ll sign off with this photo from my recent research trip to the awesome Wallace Collection in London (http://www.wallacecollection.org/). Catch you next month!
Monthly Update – September
I think this month’s update should have the subtitle “All’s Well That Ends Well”!
To cut a long story short August got off to a pretty bad start with my Dad going to hospital for an emergency heart bypass operation which meant multiple trips up from Brighton to Coventry to visit him and several nights staying over at the hospital. Things went from bad to worse… to much better now and he’s back home again thankfully. At the same time my brother’s brand new puppy Berkley came down with Canine parvovirus and was critically ill in the doggy hospital for a week. He’s fine now too and back to chasing his squeaky dragon toy around the garden.
Less dramatic but still time consuming was a fair amount of freelance work which took up the following two weeks. It’s always hard to put my own project aside, particularly when I was really making progress with the character work, but the rent is paid for another month so that’s good!
Finally I got one week to myself to get the character stuff finished. I have reworked the model a bit since the last update. The face proportions are better, with smaller eyes, better hair/eyebrows/mustache modelling and new, improved hands! The texturing is all done too and I just got finished with re-rigging and setting up the animation/input controls in Unity. I’m using a couple of animations from the Unity standard assets pack for now (thanks Mecanim!) but I’ll get a whole set of custom animations done for him eventually. Here’s a screenshot from Unity 5 and a video of him in action!
More good news this month is that I’m getting a bit of extra help with some of the coding tasks, starting with the character interactions and abilities. That will be a great help and free some of my time up to do what I’ve really been waiting for – making levels!
The coming month will be pretty much dedicated to getting the level designs finished for all levels. Three of four are already done at least to a first draft stage so hopefully it won’t take too long to get the final level down on paper and then I can start building. I will probably try to make a long list of all the props, textures, puzzle elements and whatnot that I will need for the entire game once the level design is all done. I’m sure it will change as I develop the levels more in 3D but if I have an overview then I can at least have a better idea of what assets I need and which I can re-use and what are the major things I need to build for each level. Then if I can get one level blocked out in 3D and put into the game by the end of the month that’ll be great.
So it’s been quite a dramatic, busy and tiring month but everyone and everything has progressed in the right direction and we’re all good going into September!
Here’s Berkley and I enjoying the one day of summer!
Monthly Update – August
August already, which means it’s almost a year since I quit my job to return to England and start working on my own project, how time flies!
July was a pretty mixed bag really, but most of the work revolved around getting the first character up and running (literally!) in the game. I decided to start with the guy in the black suit first. So I modeled him and set to work rigging and then importing him into Unity and setting him up to be animated. I’m using the mecanim system in Unity which allows for animations made for other models to be re-targeted to different ones. It’s a really useful system that works particularly well for humanoid characters and allows me to use existing animations, at least for the time being, without having to make new ones myself. I’m not very experienced at animating characters so using the mecanim system has enabled me to get him walking, running and jumping in the test level quite quickly. I was very nervous about the whole process of getting a character animated, so I’m glad it all worked out.
Having said that I did do things in somewhat the wrong order in my eagerness to see the animations working, and so shortly after successfully getting the model and animations linked up I had to go back and work more on the model which of course broke the skinning! Not the ideal workflow, but the rig and animator settings in Unity remain intact so once I export the skinned model again it should work just fine.
So why am I working on the model again? After unwrapping and starting to texture the face I realised the eyes were much too large. It seems really obvious now but before I put the details in the texture it all seemed fine. Then the domino effect kicked in and with the re-scaled eyes I had to fix the eyebrows, which I modeled a bit better than the previous version… which looked so much better that it made the mustache and hair look too simplistic. So in the end I have remodeled all the hair parts and in the end I’m really glad I did because I think they look a lot better now. Although you won’t get too close to the character for most of the time during the game, it’s possible I might want to do some special camera moves or something else with the character model in the future so better to have it work close up now rather than have to re-do it later.
Here are a couple of work in progress shots – first of the character before the remodeling, and then the partly textured head with the smaller eyes and new hair.
I also took a little break from all the character work to do some level design, which resulted in the final level of the game coming together quite nicely. I have the main tasks and story for the level mapped out now which I’m really pleased with. So that’s 3 of the 4 currently planned levels done on paper so far. I can’t wait to start building them!
Plans for this month – first off get the final fixes done to the character model, finish the texture and get it back and working in Unity again. Once that is done I’d really like to have all the player interaction stuff scripted and functional so I can play with it in the levels I’ll be building soon. So all his abilities and object interaction including carrying, pushing/pulling things, the fail/re-set mechanic and all that essential gameplay related stuff. Some of that is already done, or partly done so hopefully it won’t take too long to get that working. I’d really like to be able to post a video of all that in action by the end of this month. Then if there is time I’ll finish off the level design documents for all the levels. Plus I’ll be fitting in some freelance work because I have to pay the rent and eat food AGAIN this month!
Monthly Update – July
No prizes for guessing what this months update is about… yeah you guessed it – characters!
I posted the first image up last week on… I forget which day it was… oh yeah my birthday! I spent most of last month working on characters, getting the silhouette and proportions right and then trying out various styles and outfits and hair styles… and beard styles. I haven’t had much experience with illustrating characters but I think I got the overall feel right so hopefully it will translate well into 3D and he will look at home in the world. That will be this months main task – get the first character modeled, textured and animated so I can try it out in the test level. To be honest the animation part is the thing I’m most dreading about the whole production of this game. I didn’t get on very well with the animation classes in school and haven’t touched it since so it’s number one on the ‘Scary Jobs I’m Putting Off Till Later’ list!
As far as the actual design of the characters goes, the ones I’ve shown so far are all potential candidates for the player character. My initial thought was to offer some kind of choice or customisation for the player character. The options would be purely cosmetic and have no impact on gameplay other than (hopefully) making a stronger connection between the player and their choice of in-game character. We’ll see how time and resources feel about that idea! And don’t panic, the female character designs are already underway. As an ex-menswear designer I’m a lot more familiar with how to design men’s outfits so the female characters are taking a little longer. The first few ended up looking a bit too much like costumes rather than clothing so I’m bringing them back in line with the guys. I’ll be looking for some feedback on the female character designs to make sure I get them right, so stay tuned and I’ll post them as soon as they’re done.
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