Thursday, September 5, 2013

Unite 2013

So last week I had the privilege to attend Unite, one of several conferences hosted by and about Unity3D.  It was a three day conference held in Vancouver, Canada, which was exciting in its own right since it was my first international trip.  I have to say that I really enjoyed Unite, especially when compared to my lackluster PAXEast experience.  Was it better than GDC?  That is a hard one to answer.  I liked how focused the conference was and that almost everyone there was somehow related to Unity.  There is such a vast array and amount of people at GDC that sometimes it can be a little socially awkward trying to network or interact with someone, who though they may share a career in the game industry has nothing else in common.  At the same time, GDC offers many more interesting talks on a variety of topics, so in a lot of ways it is better.
Anyway, each day had talks that I attended.  Some were better than others, but my overall experience was pretty positive.

The Unite 2013 logo and styling were very minimalistic.


Day 0

After flying from Pittsburgh to Phoenix to Vancouver -- makes sense, right? -- I was greeted with my first customs experience, and it was strangely more stressful than I was expecting.   I was asked why I was visiting, which made sense, but when I mentioned the conference, I was asked if I were a dev and what I had made.  Then I rambled about my current employer, which seemed to momentarily bore the customs officer.  After waiting for my coworkers -- there were five of us including me -- we took a taxi to our hotel and had rather chill evening at The Keg before the start of the conference.
Not the most captivating logo, but the steak was good.

Day 1

So day one started with the keynote in which Unity3d CEO David Helgason talked about the growth of the company and product.  He then showed us some of the new features for version 4.3, one of which was 2D.  This is particularly funny because not only have I've been working on Battle High 2 A+ in Unity and have implemented my own 2d system, but before then I've often rolled my eyes and people making 2d games in Unity3d, mostly because of the last two characters in its name.  Now I am a bit of hypocrite due to BH2A+ (though I am making 3d backgrounds), but now there are more reasons for devs to use Unity3D.  Blend shapes -- or morph targets as I am used to calling them -- we're also announced for Unity 4.3.  This seemed useful for if / when I start working on a 3D game.
Then, Richard Garriot, a major part of the Ultima series, talked about his love of Unity and how he thinks its ability to quickly create prototypes and content has really helped evolve the production of modern video games.  Overall, the keynote was probably one of the better keynotes I've been to at pass GDCs and Global Game Jams.

David Helgason -- 'dat collar tech!

After this, I went to a talk about Unity and the WiiU.  The talk was sponsored by Nintendo; sponsored talks are notorious for feeling like commercials.  To be honest, this one did, but not as bad as talks of this caliber in the past I've attended.  Essentially, Nintendo is lowering the barriers of entry to release a game by changing some of its policies and partnering with Unity3D.  If you register to be a WiiU dev, you get the ability to export to the WiiU with Unity for free.  The only real barriers of entry then to getting a game released on the WiiU sounded like the dev kit and actually having a game.  They also showed a web framework which can be used to make WiiU games.  Some of the perks intrigued me such as no concept approval, no requirement to use system specific features such as the 3D on 3DS or WiiMote functionality.  Despite the strange yet subtle worry in the speakers tone, applying for WiiU registration definitely intrigued me.  If BH2A+ does poorly on OUYA, attempting to release a version on WiiU doesn't seem insane.

I'm starting to think I should have taken more photos.

After this, I went to another sponsored talk about Photon Server and Photon Cloud, products dealing with real time, cross-platform multiplayer.  I was excited for this because multiplayer has been Battle High's most requested feature.  I'm nervous to attempt such a feat though as I have heard from multiple sources that Unity's networking capabilities are a bit subpar.  That being said, Photon looked great.  They also cleared up the server confusion I have had for some time.  Essentially, I could use Photon Server as a way to connect players, but then I actually need a server either physically or through a cloud service.  Photon Cloud is a newer service they are offering that takes this step out of the equation.  The great part too is that for there are free versions of both for small amounts of concurrent users so I can at least get something started without spending a fortune, especially if I find that Photon just isn't right for me.

Photon Server sounds promising...sounds...

Then I went to my third sponsored talk of the day in which a demo of Mixamo's Fuse tool was demonstrated.  Fuse's goal is to combine available meshes to create unique characters that can then be rigged, skinned, and animated using Mixamo's current toolset.   Fuse also used a product called Substance that, quite frankly, has alluded me for quite some time.  I just don't get what it does, at least not entirely.  Apparently it's a set of shaders that can create very unique looks and substances on characters.  I talked to a rep, expressing my lack of skills for texture painting and he did make it sound like it could be used to help with some aspects, but I'm still hesitant to buy it at its full price.  Fortunately, a discount is being offered as part of the conference, so I made just have finally found a tool to make texturing a bit less painful, but probably not pain free.

A screenshot of Mixamo's Fuse tool.
After so many sponsored talks, I was finally able to attend one that wasn't, which was very refreshing.  It was a postmortem for a game called Girls Like Robot.  In the game, players arrange squared with different expressions on them in the hopes of making every member -- girl, nerd, robot, pie, etc. -- in the seating arrangement happy.  I don't see many games use facial expression to indicate importance, so I thought this was an interesting approach.  The devs were nominees for a Unity award.  They were humble and a little funny, such as the main devs admittance to taking shortcuts and using poor optimization in Unity only to have a game that still runs near perfectly or using the analogy of sad soup for the use of plugins, requiring great dedication due to their high risk.  I did become jealous a bit as the devs were from Boston and gushed about its rich indie culture, something that I wish Pittsburgh had more of.  Sometimes I feel like maybe I should take it upon myself to try and organize such things, but I have games to make!  Though a meetup with other enthusiastic devs from time to time would be nice.

Screenshot of Girls Like Robot, which I'll be excited to try...when I find time...

The final talk of day one involved two devs from a company called Behavior who apparently convert existing games to new platforms.  Because their teams are often large, they dealt with some issues involving source control and compiling to lesser platforms and showed the audience some solutions such as the use of sub scenes or layers that are then combined into one scene.  I thought this as an interesting solution and informed my coworkers only to discover we are already doing something similar.  Also, the devs seemed nervous, but if I ever give a talk at a convention of any kind I will probably sound immensely nervous.
Anyway, after the talks, my coworkers and I attended a FaceBook happy hour.  Apparently FaceBook is writing an API to better support Unity games.  Personally, I'm not sure if I would ever make a FaceBook game, but I like having the option available.  I also met some cool devs and other people, all related to Unity, which was rather nice.  Oh, and open bars, even with lines are always welcomed.

It was more like a Happy Hour, but you get the picture!

Day 2

The second day I was feeling exhausted, but at the same time I was excited for more talks as I had enjoyed most of yesterday's.  The first talk of the day dealt with upcoming features, so upcoming that I was asked not to talk about them so i will respect them and say nothing more.  After that, I went to a talking discussing advanced editor scripting.  It wasn't a bad talk, but I just wasn't sure if "advanced" was the right word.  Did I learn something?  Sort of, but not directly; in fact, I'm tempted to write a tool now -- if it doesn't exists.  I guess when I hear the word advanced I think I'm going to learn techniques and tricks that are going to blow my mind, and my mind remained intact.

After that was a talk on coroutines that started out ok, but fell flat.  It attempted to show a way to make coroutines easier to work with, but came off a bit amateur, and made so me of my coworkers skeptical.  The talk after this was very dry, but showed some great inner working information for unity such as the difference between JIT and AOT compilation.  He then demonstrated a memory usage example, one of which sadly made it appear that adding the individual components of a Vector3 is faster than adding two individual ones together.
Not the same diagram, but definitely a similar one showing JIT vs AOT compilation.


The talk after was much more technical, but much more interesting, demonstrating the use of data structures while writing a game, some memory management and performance differences in the garbage collector.  Again, this talk was extremely technical, so going into too much detail could come up as bland.

Finally, I went to another Mixamo talk discussing another one of their new products, FacePlus.  Unity 4.3 is introducing blendshapes (or morph targets as I'm used to calling them), and FacePlus is a tool in which people can use an ordinary webcam to record facial animation.  FacePlus seems like a cool feature, though I feel that 50+ blendshapes could cause problem in a game unless Unity does a great job integrating this new feature.

The character from the nearly overexposed FacePlus demo and its actor.


At this point I wasn't really excited about any of the remaining talks, there was a party that evening, and I was pretty tired from yesterday, so I went home and took a nap.  Why am retelling this in my blog?  I guess to be used as an excuse for not going to the last set of talks the second day.
Regardless, that night was the Unity party, which was a lot of fun.  Music was a little loud, something I've always hated in networking events, but usually can't argue with open bars and "Unity-nies" -- 1 part Bombay Sapphire Gin, 1 part Blue Curacao, and either 1 part sours or lime juice.  Not the best drink ever -- gin isn't my best friend -- but not a terrible drink either.  It was a fun, and long night and I had a great time, meeting some cool devs and fun conversation.
What the "Unity-tini" looked like.

Day 3

Fortunately, I didn't have a hangover despite the party the prior night, so I was rather good for day three.  Okay, I wasn't great, but I was able to concentrate on my talks, especially since there were only three, the first of which dealt with marketing, a subject I despise.  What I liked about the talk was that it wasn't a list of do this, not that, but instead discussed common theories and generalizations with good marketing campaigns.  The biggest take aways concerned positioning, particularly, don't try and make people feel bad for not playing your game, the important of short yet informative screenshots and videos, and building a community.  I liked this talk, and it was a nice way to start the day, especially after some of yesterday's lackluster talks.
MARKETING!


The next talk concerned OnGUI, Unity's current user interface solution, an aspect of Unity that many users don't like.  It was a pretty basic talk.  It felt very introductory, relying on audience questions to guide most of the talk.  I was familiar with almost everything discussed, though the use of GUI windows to act as nodes on a chart was an intriguing idea..  The talk after this was the last of Unite.  It dealt with some of Unity's internal tricks and tips such as not using GameObject.Find because it's slow in highly populated scenes.  It also went over the property drawers, which is something I still need to get accustomed to, but they allow for easier rendering of serialized objects in GUI editors.  It also showed performance profiling tips, which sadly I can't use too much of because I don't have a Unity 4 Pro license -- yet.  I wish this talk was earlier in the conference as it was a very interesting, and technically dense discussion and to hold it on the last day in the last time slot felt unfortunate.

GUI!!!

Conclusion

Despite the long flights and customs, Unite was still a great time.  I don't know if it was better than my GDC experience, but it was definitely better than PAXEast.  If the location is convenient, I definitely am interested in looking into going next year.  Hopefully by then I'll have some things to discuss on the hands-on tutorial area, which I sadly neglected.  Heck, maybe I'll even submit a talk for consideration.

Neat whale sculpture by the convention center in Vancouver.

Friday, July 19, 2013

OUYA & Battle High 2 A+

OUYA

Is the OUYA the first console to be smaller than its controller?
So the OUYA was released about a month ago, give or take a few days.  For those unaware, which there are probably many, the OUYA is an Android console that made well over its original KickStarter goal awhile back allowing it to go into production.  I bought one, more so because similar to the Xbox LIVE Indie Games marketplace, it reportedly has a low barrier of entry when it comes to getting a game published.  I still think it's too early to tell with such an experimental platform, but many are already deeming it a failure.  To some degree, I'll agree that there are some issues such as the controllers and the WiFi connection, but the real issue seems to be the philosophy that a low barrier of entry is good.  It's an idea that sounds great on paper, but there seems to be a lot of backlack from it:

A GAME FLOOD
Sorry, but OUYA's Ark only allows one male and one female game of each genre...
Essentially, the OUYA, which already has about 200 games released on it, is already reporting low sales for said games.  Part of this is that, even with the greatest game organization system, many users are probably still overwhelmed.  Another is the idea of indie and the misguided belief that a game will sell because it's indie.  Today, Alex Jordan, creator of Cute Things Dying Violently, probably tweeted it best -- and I paraphrase -- People don't buy games because they're indie.  They buy quality games that happen to be indie.  Some devs are getting all excited about some of the next generation console's stances on self-publishing and Steam Greenlight, but making an high-selling indie game on a low barrier platform feels like winning the lottery.  
Personally, as a hobbyist indie dev, I like low barriers.  My risks are low so when my rewards are, I don't really give it a second or third thought, but if I were pure indie, I would probably be worried and struggling to make ends meet, but it's so hard to break onto a console or Steam, so high barrier of entry models aren't appealing to me either.
I more or less wish there was a medium barrier of entry.  No $10,000 submission fees or having to know the right people, but at the same time, no opening of the floodgates.  If said platforms has 100+ shoot-em-ups, maybe reject a few unless they are truly groundbreaking.  If the art looks like it was done in MSPaint and the gameplay feels like it too, maybe give some feedback on where to improve but don't publish it.  Or maybe organize them somehow or give honest feedback; such a wish is probably unrealistic and expensive with the sheer number of games submitted to different platforms everyday.  It's a silly analogy, but OUYA's game portfolio is like an artist's portfolio; I've had many professors say that a portfolio is only as good as the worst piece.  Regardless of my stance on this, every bad game published to OUYA hurts the console as a whole.  Its name isn't established like Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo's; it's going to have to work harder to market to gamers and show them, "Hey!  We have actually good games!  Here they are!  Please play them AND buy them!"
Overall, I still have faith in OUYA, and it won't really teeter until I release a game on it, which brings me to my next topic:

Battle High 2 in Unity3D?! 

So before OUYA was released, but after releasing the latest Battle High 2 update, I wanted to release the Battle High 2 on OUYA.  As a fighting game, I believe that a console platform, even an Android one is really the best fit, well an arcade cabinet from the 90's would probably be the best fit, but I digress.  Anyway, I've started porting the XNA version of Battle High 2 to Unity3D.  My main reason for this is that, even if OUYA is a flop, I at least have the game done in an engine that allows for a multiple platform release since XNA is pretty much done.  I still feel like a hypocrite though; I hate reading about people struggling to make 2D games in a 3D engine and now I'm doing it.  I have a wishlist of features I'd like to add and thought I'd share:
  • Updated particle effects, taking advantage of Unity's built-in systems
  • 3D Backgrounds similar to Capcom Vs. SNK 2.
  • Remixed soundtrack -- this is a big, expensive dream but I would love to do a new soundtrack
  • ONLINE MULTIPLAYER.  Even if it's not the best -- and who am I kidding, it won't be -- I would love to try and get this feature, probably the most requested one, working.
  • Improved AI
  • More single-player features similar to Mortal Kombat 9's challenge tower.
Overall, again, as a hobbyist, I'd be happier just getting Battle High 2 out to more people, growing my experience and game development expertise, and I think that and porting this game to Unity3D will do just that.  So I guess in a way, this is an announcement for this project, that I've begun work on a new Battle High 2 iteration, which I'm dubbing Battle High 2 A+ !  Regardless, I'll post some images and video as I make more progress.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Day Update

Firstly, to all those dad's out there, Happy Father's Day!  This is my dad:


My sister posted this one FaceBook to which is was commented:  "He looks like a Cuban community leader."
Quirky and a little silly, my dad is a great, supportive, and loving.  He's a tree surgeon and has is own own business; fortunately, he has been supportive of my career choices despite the fact a programmer in the game industry is neither carrying on his business or physically laboring.  Though it's hard for me to show it, especially since I'm not there with him on Father's Day, I love him.

Anyway, enough sappiness, this is a blog about game development!  Well it sort of is.  A lot of exciting -- I think -- developments have been happening in the game industry as of late.  Firstly, the next generation of consoles was finally announced.  I don't feel like going into tons of details on either console, but essentially, which one will I be buying at launch?  Neither.  I learned my lesson of purchasing consoles on day one with the Xbox 360.  Though I did enjoy that system, it's better to wait:  for developers to get the kinks out and for games I actually want.  Of all the titles announced at E3, the only one I really was interested in was Killer Instinct.  I'm curious to how they will treat the new characters; I'll have to wait for EVO to find out.  And despite all always-on Kinect issues, TV obsession, new yet disliked used game policy, I will probably end up owning both a Xbox One and PS4 at some point.  Maybe for research, but probably for things like Tekken 7 or the next Darkstalkers game -- if it happens.

Two different games, two only slightly different Ellen Pages.
I'm still slightly concerned with the future of gaming.  Seems like a lot of shooters and high budget and female protagonists that look like Ellen Page.  (I'm fine with female protagonist; I'm just curious as to how many will look like her and why Uma Thurman hasn't jumped on this boat to make a Kill Bill game.)  I'm just afraid my taste will get pushed out the door at some point, but I think that's a fear everyone has as they get older and technology changes.  I'd like to think I'll just adapt, but I'm not a soothsayer.

Surprisingly fun despite the number of features and characters cut.
 One thing that has excited me lately is the free-to-play model being introduced by fighting game companies.  Dead or Alive 5:  Ultimate, Tekken Revolution, and the Killer Instinct have all boasted some form of free to play.  Personally, Killer Instinct just sounds like a demo without being called a demo; you apparently start out with one character and can buy the rest.  DoA5U is approaching their game with a similar approach, but I'm probably going to buy that game day one!  So listen up:  if you add "Ultimate" to the end of a game and I brought the previous installment, I'll most likely buy this update in its entirety.  That pathetic note aside, the one that really excites me is Tekken Revolution.  Essentially, Tekken Revolution is a dumb-downed Tekken 6.  There's no tag capabilities, a reduced cast -- no Nina Williams or Zafina makes me sad though I have been enjoying Lili -- and even some gameplay elements such as bounds combos -- combos that are done by slamming the opponent into the ground, causing them to roll onto the back so you can deal more damage -- have been nearly eliminated.  There's also a coin and ticket system; said items have to be redeemed to continue playing.  You can purchase some if you wish to continue playing after your current set, which replenishes about every thirty minutes, runs out.  One thing they've done though, which I think is very interesting is they no longer display your number of losses to opponent online.  I'm not an online warrior by any means, and for some reason, this small change makes losing feel less frustrating.  It's such a weird psychological thing, but the punishment I get for losing online is negligible because I no longer have that shame being shown off to my opponents.  True, I can still be demoted and my rank decreased, but it still doesn't feel as irritating.  Overall, Tekken Revolution feels like an experiment, but there are some aspects that I hope remain in future fighting game whether they are free to play or not -- though if in-app-purchased coins are added to a $60 title that will be utter bullshit.

Next, I've been slowing working on my Mixamo to Unity pipeline, and I think I finally made some breakthroughs!  I essentially wrote a script that will convert the Mixamo rig into my own, custom rig!  Now, Mixamo does provide two scripts that will convert your skinned model, but they do odd such as applying a morph that deforms the mesh and doesn't export to Unity.  Fed up with this, I decided to write my own script!  I'm going to share this script to the public.  I will warn, however, that this script is definitely making the assumption that you export with the Y-Axis up and are reimporting back into 3DS Max.  It's a simple MaxScript that you run and it should rig the character for you.  Also, when you export, you need to make sure you only export the nodes starting with "mixamorig" and any meshes you want to export.  The customrig:Root node also has some parameters for switching, hidding, and snapping the forward kinematic limbs to the inverse kinematic limbs.  Below is an image of the rig on a green, nude character I will never use:

Not so strong Hulk smash?
My final updates are that Battle High 2's first update was finally approved for Xbox LIVE Indie Games and that I will be partaking on probably one of my biggest projects yet!  I'm not sure how much I can say at the moment.  I can probably say that it isn't a game, but is definitely game-related.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Xbox One & What Do I Want?

So earlier this week, the Xbox One was announced.  There was a lot of hullabaloo about the lack of games, TV, sports, and dogs.


You can watch the hour-long reveal here:


Overall, I have some concerns, opinions, and rants I thought I'd share.


Independent Development

Immediately after the reveal, there were tons of speculation that Microsoft wasn't going to allow independent developers to self-publish their games to the console.  This had a lot of fallout from XBLIG developers it would seem; however, I have to admit I'm not surprised.  I'm not even that mad really.  Admittedly, it would be awesome if an XBLIG or even an XBLA service were to persist, but in my opinion, new things are coming out all the time to make independent development and publishing more accessible:  OUYA, Playstation Mobile Suite, Stream Greenlight, tons of PC Indie game avenues.  Though some of these services still need some work and their futures aren't clear, they exist and just because the Xbox One will allegedly support self-publishing doesn't mean it will be impossible.  I use "allegedly" because Microsoft's Larry Hyrb -- or Major Nelson -- already commented on this issue:



Also, XBLIG wasn't available on the Xbox 360 immediately, so I think it's too early to say the Xbox One will never support such a feature -- I won't hold my breath though.  This being said, I will probably be moving my future game development projects to other platforms:  PC, OUYA, maybe even Playstion Mobile.  Originally, XBLIG was the most attractive because it allowed me to publish a game on console, something with a controller -- not a keyboard, not a mouse, not a touchpad.  I tend to design games that work best with a controller (or fightstick).  That's the real reason I get so despondent when I hear that consoles are dying.


Games & Budget

A lot of people complained about the lack of games -- or game genres -- demonstrated.  If I were a big EA Sports fan, I'd probably be pretty excited; if I were a Call of Duty fan, I'd probably be ecstatic.  I'm neither of these, so I wasn't.  This was a reveal of the console though, so the lack of games didn't surprise me.  Games will be announced soon, and then I'll make a more sound judgement.
What concerned me more was Call of Duty -- not it's gameplay or the dog -- but it's budget.  I'm not an economist by any means and am making wild assumptions, but there's something about the seemingly extravagance of this and probably other Xbox One -- and probably PS4 games -- that worries me.  The combination of an Oscar-winning writer, canine motion capture, and tons of manpower worry me.  In reality, this game will probably sell amazingly well, but what if it doesn't?  Or what if a company makes a game with the same, sky high budget and fails?  It just seems like a precarious precedence to set for the future of an.  already unstable industry.  Will the average consumer even able to afford an Xbox One and the games to accompany it?  Probably, but I'm my pessimism causes me to be cautious nonetheless.

OMINOUS, DOWNWARD RED STOCK ARROW!

What Do I Want?

Overall, I wasn't exactly excited by the Xbox One reveal -- please excuse that excessive use of alliteration.  I  then  read an article criticizing the critical attitude of my gamers towards the reveal.  The article surmises that a media box that plays just games is an antiquated idea, no longer sustainable in the modern market.  More so, it made question as an small indie developer and a consumer, what do I really want in a next generation console.  I'm not quite sure though.  A part of me is happy with the current generation and questions if a new one is truly necessary -- I know people would tell me it's about time but their reasons why never seem to resonate, especially in a world where some gamers still clamor of Super Nintendo.  There are some hopes I have for this next generation of consoles.  I hope there are games I enjoy on it.  I hope that it does make some of my entertainment needs just as or more accessible -- adding NetFlix to Xbox 360 and PS3 for example was a godsend and I hate watching movies on a computer monitor.  I finally hope that there is some pathway for small independent developers to have even a glimmer of hope to publish to it.  These hopes sometimes make me want to just reconfigure my PC and television setup, that an upgraded PC would actually be sufficient.  At the end of the day though, I will probably own an Xbox One at some point but probably not at launch -- I made that mistake with the Xbox 360.  Will I enjoy it and be happy with that purchase?  Well that will most probably depend on the games.

I would totally buy an Xbox One if it looked like this.  It's PowerGlove levels of ridiculous


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Game Idea: Thought Design Process & Concepts

So I started a new game project; it's in this initial state, one that is quickly approaching the first progress hump.  If I slowdown too much, I'll forget about it and end up restarting it from scratch at some point.  If I go too fast, I'll be too intimated by an oversized, unedited the scope and too discourage to continue.  Anyway, this post is more for me as a place to write down my ideas but also to show some of my thought process and some concepts I've drafted up -- concepts I'll admit I'm a bit hesitant to post.

Super early prototype.  Hit box and some animation working!

The Game

Lately I've been realizing that fighting games have been becoming too sparse for a single-player enthusiast such as myself -- as selfish as that sounds.  I don't utilize online modes; in fact, I have a few online codes for some games and haven't even redeemed them.  I just don't enjoy playing strangers online.  A combination of lag, unfriendly online opponents -- ranging from extremely high skilled to extremely low skill -- have just been making the experience lackluster.  Soul Calibur V was an example of this boring single-player experience.  Story Mode was cheesy and Quick Match became very repetitive.  If I had friends to play with or was more active in my local fighting game community -- which I've been meaning to look into -- I might enjoy them more.
Regardless, I still love the fast-paced style of fighting games, and this is where my next project comes.  I want a game that feels like a fighting game without the fighting game package.  Something like Odin Sphere with a deep story but with deeper mechanics.  This really is a game for me.  Some people say that's bad, some people say that's good, but I don't care.  I'm doing this because I want to.

Felt this way after dowloading Street Fighter X Tekken's added characters

Design Ideas

My original concept was a simple Frankenstein project:  Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 plus Super Mario World!  Two of my favorite games in one!  This soon became nightmarish for a variety of reasons such as the movement variety among the characters -- Chun-Li can triple jump, Super Skrull can teleport to different points of the stage, and about a dozen characters can fly!  Another issue is that even MVC3's simplified move commands are still too complex for a game that will also have platforming, especially if I want it to have more broad appeal.  Thus, I attempted to simplify, but then it seemed too similar to Super Smash Bros. Brawl whose single-player campaign didn't appeal to me, most probably due to the simple fact I dislike SSBB.  I then decided to break the game into two main parts -- fighting and platforming -- detail features for each.

This would be fun, right?!


Fighting Game Features

Character Customization
One-Line:  The player should be able to edit the character visually by equpping different items but also be able to change the moves they can perform.
Risks:  Art & Animation Scope!
Rewards:  Broader appeal, replayability and future DLC possibilities

Multiple Characters
One-Line:  Players can choose form a small cast of main characters
Risks:  Art and animation scope creep
Rewards:  More variety and interesting choices and ways to complete levels.

Simple Attack Input
One-Line:  Even novice players should be able to perform all attacks
Risks:  More skilled players might be turned off and feel its too easy
Rewards:  Broader appeal, simple input system programming work
Possible Alternative:  An item that simplifies attack, but this could be even messier

Attack Evolution
One-Line:  Attacks evolve as the player uses them; for example, level 1 of dragon punch will has more startup frames than level 2 of dragon punch
Risks:  Scope creep depending on how the attacks differentiate
Rewards:  A more measurable sense of progression

Teaching Fighting Game Mechanics and Concepts
One-Line:  The enemies the player encounters should subtly introduce fighting game concepts such as cross-ups, mix-ups, combos, footsies, etc.
Risks:  Could take a long time to get the designs right and puzzle some players
Rewards:  Could become an interesting stepping stone game to get people into fighting games and in my own way, introduce more people to that community.

Large Bosses
One-Line:  Some should be large similar to MVC3's Galactus
Risks:  Art scope
Reward:  Gameplay variety

Platforming Features

Twitch over puzzle
One-Line:  A majority of the platforming elements of the game should be reminiscent of fast, skill-based platforming not slower, exploratory puzzle platforming
Risks:  Integration with the fighting aspects could be difficult and some players might thing they get in the way
Rewards:  Break-up between fights and could introduce fighting game concepts to players with low-risk scenarios

Independent Levels
One-Line:  Levels are seperated through a level selection map and the game is NOT a "Metroidvania" platformer
Risks:  UI work for the level selection
Reward:  Don't have to worry about overly expansive, interconnected world and can focus on small levels

Rail Platformer
One-Line:  Gameplay feels 2D but is on a 3D rail similar to Klonoa
Risks:  ART SCOPE (reoccuring theme?)
Reward:  A nice visual variety
Probably my favorite non-Nintendo platformer and the freaking ending crushed me!

In-Depth Story
One-Line:  Story that is well delivered but not too instrusive with a diverse cast
Risks:  Art scope and though I like writing, whatever I do will never be overly original
Reward:  Creative fulfillment.

Swimming
One-Line:  Players will experience some levels with swimming
Risks:  Swimming can be done really badly
Rewards:  It will make sense with my story, which I will discuss soon.

Story and Concepts

Right now the story and theme is still in very early development.  I'll summarize the theme with one word:  MERFOLK.  I'm leaning towards more of a I've always like the sea and ocean and sealife, so I wanted to do a fantasy-based game with these types of characters.  Though swimming is the first feature I'd cut, it feels like it has to be at least hinted at in someway.  Again, I want it to be a bit deeper than most fighting games, but also less...confusing?  BlazBlue, I'm looking at you!

Best way to explain BlazBlue's story; Bill Murray would make a great Ragna, right?


Environment Ideas

Originally, I was going to split the game into different worlds like, earth, fire, ice, etc., but that's not very original.  The worlds will still be divided, but I really want to try different worlds and different themes I don't see too often.  Art can always be updated and levels should be white-boxed firs, so I'm not concerning myself with theme right now.

CONCEPTS!!!

Anyway, for fun I decided to show off some character concepts I've been working on with some descriptions.  Also, not looking for art critiques; I know the anatomy is off and that I don't draw hands well -- I'm not applying for concept jobs.  These are more for me, but I shouldn't be afraid to share.

Gigi


She is attractive, but she won't jiggle...

Gigi is an old character concept I came up with in like high school.  She's a strong, free-thinking, athletic, fighter, not intimiated by...anything really.  She's angler fish inspired, hence the bulb on her head.  Because of the ability to swap moves in the game, I can't really say which characters she'd play like, but I do want to not just give her female characters' moves.  She might do Karin Kanzuki's Ressen Ha or Ryu's Shoryuken -- obviously, for copyright reasons I wouldn't call them this or animate them like exactly like the game they come from.

Atlas

That's a wetsuit of sorta.  Color would help with that.

Atlas is a newer character, named and inspired by someone from my only NaNoWriMo novel.  He's hammerhead influenced, and in this world, he's the equivalent of a white mage.  He's stern yet loyal.  He's gone on adventures with Gigi since he knows she's powerful despite their ideological disagreements.  He'd probably be projectile heavy but maybe with some strong, chargable attacks.

Prince Rib

I don't think he'll look this young in the end.

Also influenced by a character from my NaNoWriMo novel.  I was thinking of making him a prince of sorts who wants to adventure.  Since he's frog influenced, I thought the whole frog prince could be comically clever, but the more I think about it, the more I hate it.  Gameplay wise, I was thinking of making him do some Bionic-Commando-esque movement with his tongue, but again, could be difficult to do and not look good.

Octonia

What's going on with that arm you ask?  I don't give a crap!  That's what!

A strong woman with octopus inspiration.  I was a little stuck on her hair -- bald, short suction-cup hair, small tentacles?  Was thinking of making her a dignitary of some octopus land but travels to perform the story's task, the smart, older one.  Definitely would have a lot of grappling attacks and long reach.

Mermatthew

That's a coattail, not a skirt or kilt.

A coworker came up with this name awhile ago, and I thought it was hilarious.  I was thinking of making this character the right-hand of the main bad guy who I have an idea for but not drawn out.  He's a reoccurring boss so he'll probably have several forms and attack patterns.  A dream would be to watch famous fighting game players and have him fight with styles similar to theirs but the AI alone would be nightmarish.

Anyway, if you read all this, I'd love to hear some feedback and ideas or suggestions if you have any, but again, this is a game for me, even if that isn't the best decision.  The scope might be too large for me, the gameplay may be too complicated, the story might be completely inane, but if I'm happy with the final outcome, whatever that may be and whenever it may come, that'll be enough.

Friday, April 5, 2013

GDC 2013 Days Two & Three

Day Two:  Roundtables and Inspiration

Stop drinking tequila, baby!
So after the KixEye party I was feeling a bit hungover.  At this moment I was really questioning the importance of open bars and dancers -- of either gender -- and photo booths at parties, yearning for them to be more professional and chill.  At the same time, I was afraid that I had caught the dreaded "GDC Plague" early in the conference as my throat was aching; later I found out this was probably due to drunkenly screaming over loud music.  Anyway, I was able to get up just in time to catch my first Tuesday talk entitled "10 Questions:  Am I Ready to Go Indie?" given by industry veteran Don Daglow.  The talk was a bit of a lie.  There were more than 10 questions, but the number of questions wasn't important.  Essentially, Don asked various questions relating to subjects that individuals on the verge of going indie need to ask themselves related to relationships, risk, finance, and passion.  It was a very well delivered talk and probably one of my favorite this GDC.  The takeaway I got from it is that I have the passion and drive, but I still have some negativity I need to fight and going full indie is probably too financially risky for me at this time.  I still like my job at Schell Games, and I'm not ready to leave it either, so for now I'll stick to doing my small projects on the side.

Much like this tiny salad, my side projects, are just a small yet nutritional part of my game development career.

After this talk I went to the Game Design Challenge, the FINAL Game Design Challenge.  The panel's full title was "Humanity's Last Game:  The Game Design Challenge Final Championship".  To summarize, the game design challenge involves a unique, sometimes esoteric them, and famous game designs are given a few weeks to make a presentation or pitch of a game that follows said theme.  To be honest, I have had a love-hate relationship with previous game design challenges, but it was still sad that after a decade, this was (allegedly) the final game design challenge.  This final game design challenge was the to be humanity's final game -- either a game that would end it or the last game we would play or something.  There were six presenters this year -- as opposed to the average four.  I'll try and simply summarize the entries as I could probably fill several posts on each one.  Will Wright's involved a game that would somehow capture and allow us to share our memories to future generations or aliens that would come to our planet.  Harvey Smith's was sort of a game describing all of human desires and events -- birth, desire to belong, death -- that was stored in the DNA of creatures that would outlive us.  Steve Meretzky's was a humous -- though some would find it distasteful -- reality TV show about hackers trying to launch nuclear warheads.  Erin Robinson's was an augmented reality game that we would become so obsessed with that eventually we would accidentally destroy ourselves.  This was my personal favorite; it felt the most believable without trying too hard.  Jason Rohrer's involved created an all titanium game, chess-like game that he buried somewhere in Nevada in the hopes no one would find it for 2,000 years.  This was deemed the winner; however, I predict that a group of obsessed fans will find this game in less than a decade similar to how Noby Noby Boy players reached planets way faster than the developers anticipated.  Finally, Richard Lemarchand's game was heavily influenced by a religious group who believes some people are wise, some are selfish, and some are asleep to the wisdom of reality that resulted in a YouTube for good deeds of sorts.  Despite the rather dreary sounding theme, this was my favorite Game Design Challenge and it was sad that this was the last one.  It was never clearly stated why this was the last challenge, but the speaker, Eric Zimmerman, explained that the goal of the Game Design Challenge was to influence and make a change in the games we make in the industry and after a decade of doing these challenges, he believed that this change was occurring and that it was time to end the challenges.  I can't fully agree with this sentiment but I respect it, though I will do a Liz-Lemon-style eye roll if there is a Game Design Challenge hosted by him next year.

This image was used in two of the presentations, and dammit, I'm going to use it in my blog!

This is often my expression every year when I hear the themes of Game Design Challenge or the Global Game Jam, including this year, but at the end I usually leave more inspired...somehow.
After this I went to two IGDA special interest group, or SIG, roundtables.  They weren't as good as the design roundtable I went to the prior day, but they were still interesting to see different perspectives and hear about different issues in the industry.  My only critique of these roundtables is that they both go around and have everyone introduce themselves which eats up a fair amount of time.  I understand the point, but if I were to run one of these roundtables I would prefer people introduce themselves when they talk for the first time but that's it.  Overall, I feel like I "over" roundtabled myself, but I still enjoyed them, but two in a row was probably a bit much as I was so flooded with random conversations I didn't really bring back anything specific or useful to say.

Alright, I'll just admit, by the time we get back to the speaker, I'm going to forget all your names...

After this roundtable, I went to an XNA meetup, meeting some cool developers that I only knew from Twitter or their games from the XBLIG forums.  It was a joy to speak to them; however, like an idiot, I went to the "secret" Black Fedora party.  I waited 90 minutes in a line to pay $11.00 for a Jack and Coke.  I felt bad cause I felt like I dragged some people to this party, but would have had a much better time hanging out with the other XNA developers, which I ended up doing after leaving this party and had a really cool time.  Anyway, Day 2 was pretty good.  It was inspirational, humbling, and informative.

The party's wristband and proof that I had actually attended!

See the photographer straddling that statue?  Well probably not but yea, he was there...

Day Three:  Intimidating Tech

I felt much better the next morning, having avoided the GDC Plague, which was good cause my first talk was supposed to be very tech heavy.  Entitled, "Implementing a Rewindable Instant Replay System for Temporal Debugging" given by Mark Wesley of 2K Marin.  It was a packed room but it wasn't a talk packed with code.  The goal of the talk was to discuss ideas of how to implement a replay system for fast and easy debugging.  For example, I'm playing my game, I store important information for the last couple of frames and I can rewind, trying to figure out why certain things were working the way they were.  It was informative and gave good strategies and examples on what to do but no details on how to do it.  The issue is that it's probably hard to show example code because replay functionality is probably very client-side specific.  Regardless, I really want to implement something like this in my next game, and if I can do it, it'll definitely make debugging a much smoother process.

If only rewinding your game was as easy and fun as rewinding a VHS tape used to be.

I then went to Jill Murray of Ubisoft's talk entitled "Divserse Game Characters:  Write Them Now!".  I was relieved to learn this talk wasn't going to be an overbearing, commanding rant but was instead a discussion of tips on how to write more diverse game characters and despite Jill's cough it was a well-delivered, informative, and inspiring talk.  Personally, I'm not an Assassin's Creed fan, but the game she wrote for, Assassin's Creed Liberation, did intrigue me as its main character, Aveline, definitely seemed new and interesting.  The biggest takeaways from the talks are that research is very important as well as understanding your world.  This talk inspired me to make characters in my work more diverse, and I'm going to try in my next indie project.  Will I succeed with flying colors?  Probably not, but at least I'll try!

Image of Aveline, the very complex and interesting protagonist of Assassin's Creed:  Libration

My final talk of GDC was probably the most intimidating.  Brian Provinciano, creator of Retro City Rampage, gave a talk entitled "One Man, 17 SKUs:  Shipping on Every Platform at Once."  He went through the trials and tribulations of releasing the previously mentioned game on various platforms such as XBLA, PSN, Wii, and PC.  There were some tech guidelines -- some of which I was familiar with due to my XBLIG experience -- discussed such as keeping text within a certain frame, how you have to localize depending on platform, and cost.  Cost was the intimating part.  He spent over $60,000 on quality assurance, which I understand is important, but that is definitely something I cannot afford right now.  Also, he spent 3 years on his game, 1 of which went to dealing with publishing the game on these different platforms, which felt very unappealing to me.  I understand multi-platform can do a lot for a game but I'd rather focus on a few than shotgun as many as possible.  Also, he made XBLA sound like an awful platform.  Overall, it was a great talk but made me pause a bit and realize I need a bit more time before I can go "full indie."

Games are expensive, even if they don't necessarily look it...

This was my last talk of GDC.  None of the remaining talks appealed to me, I was tired, and the expo hall had closed.  My friend wanted to see a talk, so I gave him my badge so he could see it and went back to my place to sleep.  I went out with some friends later that night and had a swell time, but the next day I felt, for the first time after a GDC, rather sad and despondent.  I wanted another day, another day to learn, another day to network, another day to be inspired, but alas, there were no more days.  Overall, this was a great GDC, probably one of the best, and though I don't know where I'll be next year -- Schell Games, some other company, or full indie -- I hope I can afford and make time for GDC 2014!

So sad, but if you love something sometimes you have to let it go, right, Leo?  RIGHT?!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

GDC 2013 Days Zero & One


I was going to try and write about my GDC experience in one post similar to my PAX one, but there was just way too much to write about so here are the first two days!

Day 0:  Unknown Controversy

Unlike PAX, I arrived in San Francisco around 3 PM and by the time I checked into my hotel at 4, I was already off to a social event held by a company called PlayPhone. From what I could see, their product appeared to be similar to Steam but for mobile devices; at least this is what their ads playing on the large televisions in the location had me believe. Even before the conference's start, I was already networking with some great, talented individuals, something I wish I had been able to do at PAX. Another thing that helped is one of my best friends was there, so it was like an equation for success.
How could a company with such an adorable logo be controversial?

After a delicious meal at the House of Prime Rib, which I highly recommend if you like salad, oh, and prime rib, we went towards the IGDA-YetiZen party (play ominous music). We arrived at said location, but was told the party was rather lame, so we just bar hopped instead. Little did I know that a controversy was brewing inside. Essentially, the IGDA teamed up with a company called YetiZen to throw a party. Unfortunately, there were what the industry dubs as "booth babes" -- women, usually scantily clad, used to entice and attract people to their products -- and the IGDA is supposed to be an organization fighting for equality in regards to female and LGBT rights so to do something that only highlighted there are still issues. Some big name members resigned, and it was rather controversial. My two cents: at a professional networking event of any industry there shouldn't be dancers of any gender and even loud music and open bars seem questionable though I won't argue against the latter. Anyway, feeling rather good, I went to be in the hopes of starting my first day of GDC.

Day 1:  Flashing Through Panels

Day one started with the Flash Forward in which several speakers give a 45 second speech about their upcoming talk. I like the Flash Forward a lot, way more than any keynote. My only gripes are that I wish they had ALL the speakers and not just a few. It would exponentially extend the length but it would give me such a better idea of what to expect.

I'm interested in doing a KickStarter, but not any time soon.

Anyway, after the Flash Forward, I went to a panel entitled "Kickstarter Lessons for Indie Game Developers". In summary, the panelists -- from companies like Double Fine who had had very successful campaigns earning over 100,000 -- and discussed some of the things they had dealt with: rewards, stretch goals, fans. The biggest takeaways I deduced were to listen and communicated with your backers, shipping costs for physical rewards are expensive, and be careful of overly ambitious stretch goals. The panel wasn't bad, but I would have much preferred one person discuss very specific things than four individuals describing their personal stories very loosely. I know all KickStarter campaigns are probably different, but it might have been more clear.

I'll be honest, developing in a bedroom like this would be sweet.

After this, I went to a talk called "Bedroom Developments: Making Playstation Games in Your Underwear". This talk was sponsored by Sony, so that should have been an indication that this was risky, essentially, I was expecting discussion on how to publish a game on Sony's Mobile suite like the procedures, advantages, etc. Unfortunately, it was another panel from four indie developers, three of which I cannot remember. Brandon Sheffield was the only one I knew because I follow him on Twitter. The panel itself wasn't that bad; I wasn't feeling too hot. Well actually, I was feeling hot, too hot, so that might have been part of the reason I didn't enjoy it that much. It turned into a panel about indie development experiences which I have heard. Also, Playstation Vitas were given away at the end; I did not win one but don't care actually as I don't have plans to develop for that platform -- yet.
At this point, I hadn't been to the expo floor yet, so I spent some time there. I went to the Mixamo booth and got a $50 gift card for animations and other uses. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Mixamo? Well, it's awesome and they are starting a new service called Fuse in which you can quickly make a character from pre-made meshes and it intelligently welds vertices and configures uv coordinates. It's still in closed beta, but this seems like a great service for creating non-player characters quickly for a 3D game.

GAME DESIGN!   YA!!!  Also, yea, it's not all smiles and bright cubes...
They also had GDC Play where people can get booths for games and products for about $3,500 (with hidden fees I'm sure). I'm also making the assumption this is way cheaper than a booth on the main expo floor. If I am correct, this is a cool addition they had last year, and I hope they continue to do it.
After exploring the booths for a bit and with plans to do more in the future, I went to a great round table about game design aptly entitled, "Whose Design Is It Anyway? Game Designers and Development Teams Roundtable." Here, designers, animators, programmers, and producers discussed some of the issues they have as designers and dealing with designers. Some topics discussed were iterating on a design versus noodling with one, what do designers exactly do. Some grievances were discussed, even a few awkward ones, but overall, it was a great panel and I was glad I was able attend.

I'll admit one thing about KixEye:  Their marketing is pretty comedic

This was my last talk of the day so after a rather frustrating Thai dining experience, some coworkers and I went to KixEye's party. It was fun hanging with my coworkers seeing the female and male dancers (progressive, huh?) and the open bars, despite one being tended by a rather irritated man, was not bad, the next day though, my feeling changed a bit.

Overall, after these two days, I was feeling really good about GDC so far.  The panels may not have been perfect, but they were still interesting and demonstrations on the expo floor definitely were exciting.  I'll writing about Days 2 and 3 later in the week, so stay tuned!