I can scarcely believe it’s been 18 months since I last published something on this blog. I swore not to do any more of these “oh look how long its been I promise to write more soon” bullshit posts, so I suppose that’s probably why. What you don’t see, is the mountain of unfinished drafts that have been started in the interim, but which have not yet achieved a degree of quality or completion yet that I feel they’re ready for the great wild web.
So here we are. I’m still trying to write, and code games. I have a new day-job, web development, but I’m still working on pretty much all the things I was working on at the start of 2018. Scratch that, at the start of 2017 things didn’t look all that different. It’s tough to maintain momentum. But if talking about it will help, perhaps this is what I need.
The most significant thing that has happened is that I have gained a daughter; Lucy and I are now proud parents. That might seem to put stagnating timescales of personal projects into perspective, but as she’s only been around for a month or so I don’t think that’s fair on her.
Life, uh… finds a way I guess. Of getting in the way. One way or the other.
But I feel optimistic. Parenthood is an exciting time, and honestly, it is no exaggeration to say I am inspired every day. I never claimed to be the greatest person at time management. But perhaps, if I could just improve it a little, the fruits of all the years of work on so many projects might start to at least see the light of day.
Well, I failed NaNoWriMo.
Okay, so “failed” isn’t the most constructive word to use, but I am feeling somewhat masochistic and in need of a stern talking to. This has been a difficult year for me, but I feel I’ve been making a few too many excuses. I’ve been made redundant, headed out onto the hostile airless moon that is Self-Employment, and I published my first book; which nobody knows about and I’m struggling to figure out how to make people know about it. But I am free; what more do I need?
I thought that with my workday effectively under my control, I’d be able to negotiate with myself to get the necessary time I need to write 1,667 words a day (or sixteen-and-a-half centiwords, as I have started to think of it). Problem is, that amount of time with me is a bit long, it would seem. Something like 4-5 hours, most days. Which makes the challenge at best a 150-hour commitment that earns me exactly zero toward my monthly deficit of bills.
Another year, another games jam. This time, myself and my colleague Mike (with a little help) built a game for Global Games Jam 2015 at the UCS campus. The theme: “What do we do now?”. Our interpretation?
CRITICAL SYSTEMS FAILURE
An advanced experiment goes wrong, the reactor is going critical and there’s not even time to nip home and feed the cat. Critical Systems Failure puts you into that classic dramatic moment where it’s all going wrong and you; an untrained rookie with no manual, have got to stabilise the situation… or risk total destruction!
Some years ago, I attempted to land on the moon.
Okay, it was the moon in the astrosim Orbiter. But it was, in logistical terms, still a huge challenge; Orbiter is a simulation, after all. So I decided to make things a little bit easier on myself. After all, I could learn the necessary astrophysical calculations to do it as NASA did in the 1960s. Or I could use the future! The science fiction future of Firefly, to be precise. I figured that the main challenge would merely be the limits of my vehicle. So, I postulated, if I was to use a high-tech scifi spaceship, it would be easy! I wouldn’t need to worry about trifling matters such as calculations. And I could not have been more wrong.
Serenity leaves Earth in a general moon-like direction
So it’s been a little while since I made an entry, so much so in fact that we’re closer to the next Ludum Dare than the one I last spoke of entering. LITH rated pretty well in all; notably placing 11th for Mood and 40th for Audio. I’ve reworked it a little and the unreleased iteration improves the enemy intelligence a dickload. There’s a couple other tweaks I’d like to implement on top of this to add more possibilities to it, but it’s been on hold lately as I have a mounting list of priorities.
In other news, I’m delving into Piano, as I am fortunate enough to know (and be sibling to) an excellent music teacher. This is rather exciting for me; I’ve wanted to be able to play the piano for years and never really got far. I took some lessons in my early teens but they didn’t go well. I have vague recollections of copying sheet music exercises and finding it incredibly boring. Unlike my first lesson last week, in which music theory blew my mind. Also, I think I have a thing for diminished triads.
I’m… not sure if that’s normal?
I’ve decided, somewhat last minute, to participate in Ludum Dare games jam along with a couple of maybe-I’ll-help minions. Ludum Dare is a challenge to make a game around a voted theme, that takes place globally three times a year. The next one begins tomorrow (at 02:00, in this part of the world). You can read more about it here. I’ll let you know how it rolls.
On a little side-note, No Man’s Sky has been grabbing a lot of attention. And it’s interesting that the design philosophy in the article is very much along the lines of my recent thoughts expressed in this article. So I’m just making a note of that for the record.
Procedural gaming: it’s just going to keep getting bigger.
The central theme to the Terminator franchise is Man vs the Machines. While I am very fond of Machines (and find the concept of their rebellion seriously flawed), I’ve always found this a very interesting premise. It is also one that is practically screaming to be utilised in computer games; as anyone who has played a co-operative computer game might have noticed, that is the exact conflict they are engaged in.
Yet its an opportunity that has been completely squandered. The last offering from the Terminator universe, as far as I’m aware, was just another setpiece shooter taking us through cardboard-cutout locales with pre-scripted missions and paths. Strip out the graphics, and it’s Medal of Honor. No Terminator game to date pits you, alongside an army of humans only, in a battle against an army of machines controlled by a central AI opponent ‘commander’ (in fact, I can think of only one game at all that does anything resembling this). And even if a Battlefield clone were to surface that did pretty much this, they probably wouldn’t do what I have in mind. That’s why I’m going to ask the industry to just shutup a sec. I’ve got an idea.
Possibly the biggest challenge in the development of Azimuth Skies, besides making the ship construction accessible to a non-modding player, is organising the weapons and how they will be controlled/fired. The system in Iron Skies presently is a simple enough evolution from Battlefield-style games where you simply switch between several turrets and fire them like a First Person Shooter. The big complication is in the custom ship structure; there has to be a simple way that shipbuilders can group and setup their turrets without bogging the whole thing down. I could just make things easy on myself and go for a system where turrets are placed on ‘hardpoints’ on sections, but that’s just too tired and limiting for my taste! So now I find myself in crazy territory, as not only are all the components of a ship in Azimuth Skies able to combine in any configuration, but the weapons can be wherever you can fit them in.
And just how do I define where things do and don’t fit, anyway? Well you shall see later when I get into the shipbuilder with a little more gusto. Right now my priority is making a skirmish mode type thing that’s actually got some solid gameplay behind it. It’s all just too unstable at present.
And so we come to my current task. The Weapon Group system evolved out of the need for organising varying numbers of turrets in varying directions with as much automation as possible. The ship’s creator places the turrets on the ship first. Then, they select all the weapons to be in a group together. This then creates a Weapon Group, say Group 1. These form the basis of your combat gameplay.
Pressing 1 takes the player to that group. This will attach the camera to an invisible object in a set place on the ship, the group viewpoint. The camera will pivot around this point. It is then offset by whatever Vector3 is specified, and a Crosshair is created in a straight line, at a specified distance from the group viewpoint (parented to it, like the camera). Thus, when the player moves the mouse, the group viewpoint rotates on the relevant axis and the crosshair points in line with it. Meanwhile, the group instructs all the turrets that are listed as a part of it to track that crosshair object. Rolling the mouse wheel will change the range of the crosshair +/- 50%.
The result should be a turret system that doesn’t suck! I’d like to illustrate more graphically, but I’m pressed for time and I think it’s probably better spent actually solving the problem. Wish me luck.
January 2011 marches on and I still don’t have an entry for the new year. Well, here it is. Now, what’s been going on? What indeed.
I just released Tales of Wobells on the neat indie dev website GameJolt. I was thinking of also putting it up here, but right now I think I ought to get on with other things. For those unaware of what it even is, ToW was a joke retro RPG game I somehow spent hundreds of hours between 2002 and 2008 putting together. It follows the loose story of a bunch of kids based mostly on people I know, in a world that’s reminiscent of a dream one might have after watching 24 hours of solid Youtube.
In the world of sane games, work on Azimuth Skies continues. I have begun putting the ship editor together, as in my mind it will be one of the core features to the appeal and I’ll need to sink into it sooner rather than later. And on that note I shall end this brief entry and get cracking!
A lot has been going on recently. Partly due to the holiday season, partly due to a foul little piece of malware corrupting my windows installation and effectively wasting a week. However, much has changed since the last webplayer. There are more ships, they are more sophisticated, several things have been fixed and I really only have AI left to do (and some sounds) before the core gameplay model is complete. Check out the Webplayer above to give it a go!
Perhaps the biggest change has been of name. For the last four years, this project has been known as Iron Skies. A name I came up with for the incarnation that was my university project, I decided to change it in light of the Finnish indie film of a very similar name.
My game is now known as Azimuth Skies. Seeing as the name of the world within which it is set is Azimuth, this seemed like an obvious choice. I also toyed with the likes of Azimuth Wars and Azimuth Air Battles, but there really is (or at least, will be) more to the game than just combat.
For the uninitiated, Azimuth is “an angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system”, such as a compass bearing. It is also a term found in artillery, meaning direction of fire. So now you know.