Update 7: Running Out of Time

Dang. Summer is really close to being over and I still haven’t finished those tutorials in Unity. I know exactly what prototypes I want to do make the engine, but I still don’t have a good enough grasp on the software. I can’t seem to stop dragging my feet every step of the way, though, so those ideas probably won’t bear much fruit until after my next semester starts. Since the semester starting will also bring school-work, then I will more than likely find myself distracted from these projects for longer periods of time, so I don’t want to even begin to approximate when I’ll finish any of the prototypes I have planned. My time management skill seems to have a negative modifier attached to it. I kind of wonder what kind of miracle dice-throw it took to get me to finish that Tower Defense game at the beginning of the summer. Unbelievable.

If I have any reason for excuses, then it would be the LONG shifts I work at the job I now have. I don’t have many shifts, but they all seem to be 10 hours long and involve me standing up for about 9.5 of those hours. It’s hard to find the energy to do anything after that. Hopefully I can find a better job next summer.

I haven’t even been playing many games. I got around to playing Legend of Grimrock, which has the genre of dungeon-crawler refined to a sharp point. Great gameplay, but with the lack of any story to grab a hold of me, I haven’t found myself compelled to play it since. Also, the inventory management can get a bit tedious and the combat controls, while they are pretty clever, can be pretty clunky.

Update 6: In which I think I have a job.

Well, it happened. I, like many before me, have offered up my time the could potentially be used for productivity to be sacrificed in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Not that I have been particularly productive lately, anyway. I spend much of my week at the beach and am still slogging through Unity tutorials, but haven’t gotten very far with anything I’ve been doing. Having a summer job to keep track of could force me to become more active and improve my time management. Maybe it can even get me organized enough to work harder on this blog. Not likely, though.

So, as I said, I haven’t been doing much lately, but I have been playing a few games. First is Locke’s Quest, which I had gotten for my birthday. I haven’t gotten very far in it, but it has already shown some very interesting ideas. Unfortunately, it lost a bit of my good-will with a shoddily-designed turret section, which I hope won’t have to be repeated very often. I also managed to get a few games so far in the Steam Sales, but of those I’ve only been able to play Antichamber. The game is phenomenal. It’s like a virtual Escher drawing with splashes of vibrant color and mind-bending puzzles. Well worth anyone’s time and seems like a worth candidate for some dissection of its design some time down the road.

Update 5: Post-Birthday Break

No update last week because last Saturday was my birthday. I celebrated by continuing to plod through these lessons and tutorials for Unity (because I know how to have a party). For the next few days, though, I took some time off from those videos to catch up on some games I’d been meaning to play, starting with Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I did have to buy a 3DS first, but I think it was worth it. Of course, the day after I got my hands on the game, my sister decided to borrow it until the end of the week. Oh well. It gave me the time to look at other interesting games like Picross 3D and The Swapper (now that the game supports Intel graphics cards).

A few weeks back, I mentioned that I was going to write about ludic languages, but I decided to hold off on that until I had played Picross 3D because it seemed like the kind of game that would fit perfectly into that discussion. It does, but not in the way I hoped it would. More on that when I get around to writing about it. As for The Swapper, it was a brillant game that created great atmosphere and had some really interesting puzzle designs. The pacing reminded me of Vessel, which also had some interesting puzzles and mechanics, because both could stand to have had some of their puzzle rooms cut for a tighter experience. Where the two games mostly differ is that Vessel left the player on a vague, anti-climax, while The Swapper ends the game with a moral choice (presented through gameplay, no less) that ties into the game’s themes and the questions it had presented up to that point. To sum up, it’s good. Go play it.

Also for my birthday, I got access to the beta version of Scrolls. I have had some experience with CCGs before (well, only MtG, really) so I was excited to see that the game was a combination of a card game and a lane-based battle system like Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes. So far the game has been really fun, but I feel like I might have picked the wrong deck to start with. I wonder if I will get the option to restart with a new deck or if I will have to earn the in-game currency to buy a second deck. Either way, I look forward to seeing how Mojang adds to the already well-made game.

Update 4: I Finished Something

I finally finished that project I’ve been talking about. The .jar file can be downloaded on my Projects page (where else would it be?). Go there to play a recreation of a game that you could already have played since 2007 on just about any site with flash games.

As for the media I’ve been gorging on this past week, I’ve been watching a string of ’80s movies. The Breakfast ClubThe Sure Thing, and When Harry Met Sally, to name a few. I haven’t even been playing many games. I’ve played a bit of Awesomenauts recently, which was really fun. I was also disappointed to find out that, after buying it, finding out that The Swapper is not supported by Intel graphics cards, which is what my laptop uses. They say that they’re working on that support, but it hasn’t happened yet and they don’t have an ETA. I’m really disappointed.

Now, since my free time hasn’t gone anywhere and I’m attempting to be as productive as possible, I am going to launch myself into Unity’s gaping maw. I am determined to learn something about that game engine even if it kills me. I will share my progress on that front next week.

Update 3: Learning a Language

I have nothing to report on that project I was working on. It’ll be ready when it’s ready. (Which is a really terrible attitude to have when working on anything.)

I haven’t even been trying any new media like I said last week. What have I been doing with my time, you may ask? Well, I’ve gotten myself stuck in Homestuck (if you’ll pardon the half-baked pun). This happens every time I find some new thing that I really like. I obsess over it for a while, blocking out almost everything else until I am sated with every way I can enjoy the target of my obsession. It might become a problem later on when my income becomes more disposable, but, in this particular case, I was able to direct my obsession to focus on the elements of Homestuck that could be adapted into a game. It’s already halfway there, anyway, because the format of the story is a parody of adventure games and the game within the story is a combination of The Sims and Earthbound. Basically, I’ve been focusing on the possible ways to implement a dialogue system that can create conversations that are as natural and funny as the comic’s conversations and I’ve been looking at the roles and powers that the game within the story give the characters and how those elements affect the characters’ actions and personalities. I haven’t drawn many conclusions from these musings, though, so I probably won’t come back to them until I am making a game that could use systems like those.

Now I want to briefly talk about a game I played recently, but I won’t go into too much detail because I want to write something a bit more substantial on it soon. It’s name is Flow Free: Bridges, but I should also mention its predecessor, Flow Free. The concept for both games is that several pairs of dots are placed on a grid, each pair with a different color, and lines must be drawn, covering every square on the grid, to connect each pair of dots without intersecting any other lines. The difference between the two games, though, is that Bridges places one or more bridges on the grid, which allows two lines to occupy the same square; one over the bridge and one under the bridge. The reason that I find these games worth talking about is that they create an interesting ludic language that they allows players to learn at their own pace. Bridges is what I want to focus on when I write the longer article because the addition of its titular mechanic adds an extra layer of depth to that language without making it any more complex, but, right now, I just want to express how interesting I found it to learn that ludic language. While I was playing, I was reminded of time spent teaching myself how to play Sudoku and Minesweeper, which are two more games (yes, I’m calling Sudoku a game even though it’s more of a puzzle) that feature static puzzels that are possible to be soved through guesswork, but are more rewarding to be solved by assessing the situation and choosing specific responses that match what the situation needs. In other words, they each use their own language.

Update 2: Second Verse, Same as the First

I’ve decided to keep these weekly updates going, if only to constantly remind myself that this blog exists. That said, I feel that this update won’t have much more useful information than the last one did.

Remember that warmup project that I mentioned last week? My progress toward finishing that project ran face-first into a brick wall a while ago. I haven’t stopped working on it, but neither have I managed to build up the work-speed that I had last week. The good news is that I’ve gotten all of the buttons, animations, turrets, and enemies working correctly so far, so I might just finish this game within a day or two. I just need to work on the turrets’ ability to fire bullets, which, unfortunately, will be the hardest element of the original game to reverse engineer. The rate of fire is impossible to measure on sight, but I have a few ideas of how it works. Once the turrets can fire, I can finish by balancing the enemies’ health with the firing rate to get as close to the original as possible. After this project is finished, I’ll move on to an original (if a bit formulaic) game idea that I have.

What have I been doing other than programing, you might ask? Well, I taught the first of four classes I’m leading in the game design merit badge for my local boy scout troop. It went fairly well, but some of the kids were less cooperative than I had hoped, even though the class is entirely optional. I got less done than I wanted to because those kids held everyone else up. Other than that, I think it went fairly well. What I’ve also been doing is making the most of my summer to consume every bit of media I haven’t had time for. This past week, I watched the anime Gurren Laggan, which I had been meaning to for about a year. My thoughts just as I finished were, “This has got to be the dumbest show I’ve ever seen that is still worth watching.” Gurren Laggan is something that I can only recommend if all you want to see is something a team of artists poured all of their passion into. It is beautiful in both it’s design and animation (most of the time) and the show tries valiantly to get the audience to care about its characters, and it works really well at times, but this show desperately needed a real writer.

Oh, and I guess I’m playing games too. I got Gunpoint and The Swapper and their soundtracks while they were still on sale, but i’ve only managed to play the former so far. I’ll be playing the latter eventually, but I still have Humble Bundle games to catch up on.

Update 1: Warmup Project

Ok, I don’t think this past week had as much to show for as I had hoped it would, but I still want to share what I was doing.

Primarily, I’ve been working on making a small game in Java. The issues that have come up, though, are occurring mainly due to the fact that I’m blindly hacking away at the code until things happen. I have somewhat planned what needs to go into the game, but I’m quickly finding out how little I really know about programming games. I’m fairly proficient in Java and I’ve gotten this far with a good sense of logic and structure, but I can’t help but feel that the methods I’m using are agonizingly inefficient. Maybe I should look at other Java games to compare techniques, but I’m already spending too much time on this one game as it is. The saddest part is that the game I’m making isn’t even something I can call my own. I’m reverse-engineering a tower defense game that was probably made in Flash originally. The game is so small that I’m shocked at how much work it’s taking to recreated it. I haven’t even gotten to coding the rate-of-fire of the towers, which I can hardly even measure. Oh, and setting up sprite-sheets and animations are a bitch.

The second task occupying my time is preparing to teach the boy scout troop in my area the game design merit badge, which was just instated this year. Since my knowledge of game design has been more or less self-taught, I’ve been panicking as I collect my thoughts into a presentation, hoping that I neither a) put them off game design for the rest of their lives, or b) teach them something incorrectly that will embarrass me every time I look back on it. I’m not actually that worried about these possibilities, but they are still slowing me down. I’ll deal, though, and it’ll be fun getting to show off my knowledge in front of a younger audience.

Finally, partly through the week, I took a break from trudging through an ever-expanding miasma of code to finally get current on Homestuck. Absolutely worth it. The story is incredibly engaging, creative, and just indulgent enough to satisfy me without devaluing the plot and characters. I recommend everyone to at least try to read it, even though I know it will only click with a select few of them.

As a side-note, I bought a TON of games this week. All from the Humble Indie Bundle 8 and the Humble Weekly Bundle. Too bad I haven’t scheduled myself any playing time for the rest of the week. I’ll see if I can squeeze a few hours in.