It’s around this time of year I get all nostalgic for videogames I got as Xmas presents: Age of Empires, Baldur’s Gate 2… Mount & Blade Warband. Actually, I didn’t get that one as a present, so I’m not sure where the association comes from. But I’m also reminded of where I was this time last year, and it seems like every year it gets more unbelievable how little I’ve progressed.
This time last year, I was attempting NaNoWriMo again in order to finish the sequel (or one of them) to Cloudgazer. In it, there’s a scene where we get a look into the past of the main character Kiy, shortly after he became separated from his little sister Julene. There is this one scene where a young Kiy is bracing himself for the harsh reality that it may take him as long as a year to find her, as unbearable as that sounds. Those who read the first book (and the start of this one) know however, that Kiy will still be looking for her some 11 years later. I can sympathise with Kiy here, as I feel this is how so many of my project timescales go when I think back to the aspirations of my younger self.
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!
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’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.
So I’m going to do the blogger thing and write a reply to people who receive vastly more media attention than I do, if only so I can amuse myself in years to come when I can point at it and say I was right.
In a recent panel at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to voice their opinions on the supposed future of computer gaming. Now while I might consider Lucas to be a fairly clueless fluke of cinema history, I do have pretty good regard for Spielberg. However, it was evident by their comments that they don’t really get it. All wrapped up in Hollyworld, they haven’t quite seen what is keeping games from being as emotionally engaging as they could be.
So you may have heard there’s a new instalment of the legendary Sim City franchise freshly released. You may also have heard that it is havingproblems. And yes there’s probably a fair amount of drama thrown into the mix; after all, everybody loves a good train-wreck and EA Games is about as popular as the Child Catcher at a PTA meeting (and they’ve only got themselves to blame). I certainly have little patience for the game’s constant excuses, having cancelled my own pre-order as soon as I realised it stank of Origin. And I think the main reason they decided to shamelessly rip off a previous title is because they realised calling it Sim City 2013 might be admitting it’s a whole 987 iterations below Sim City 3000.
In any case, it would appear it’s time move on to something better. But what are the options for a modern Sim City game? An obvious first choice would be their contemporary competitor Cities XL. Despite being for the most part a Sim City wannabe, the most recent version is still much closer to what SC2013 should have been; fully customisible, massive plots of land and all the sort of infrastructure and zoning you’ve come to expect from these games (as opposed to those Duplo city playsets on Facebook that call themselves games, like Sim City Social or Cityville).
It’s been a while since my last run-in with the digital plague. However it is no less cathartic to play Retrovirus, a neat little resurrection of the 6-degrees-of-freedom-shooter. The game tasks you with seeking out and eliminating the dirty purple globs of stylised virus, which are running amok in your computer’s pristine starship-like virtual space.
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.