Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Have you ever reached the point in a project where you looked back and thought "man, if I had to start over, knowing how much would be going into this, there's no way I could do it"? This is typically followed by the thought, "Holy crap, I should really back this up somewhere."

Well, happily, I've backed up all of the files for The Glow. This now contains all kinds of crazy code. I had made myself a to-do list and, par for the course, the aspects I thought would be tough as hell took about 5 minutes, and the parts that should have been simple took an entire day.

One big change was spurred by a thought that had been annoying me. People like to collect stuff. I like to collect stuff! And here, I have all this space and cool areas to explore, but there's nothing to collect!

So, I switched things up a bit, allowing the system to drop "glow" all over the place. Its now exciting to swipe through the bushes to see what they hold. Or to beat down an enemy to unlock his loot.

Speaking of enemies! They're actually clever now. They spawn, hide, and chase you! I think its a good sign that I spend a fair amount of time just playing around in this level, under the guise of "testing".

Look for Starfall: Ronin. Coming soon to the App Store!
We're now rounding the corner of a "feature complete" version of our upcoming iOS game, Starfall: Ronin. Then its on to a week of testing, tweaking and bug fixes before submitting it to the App Store. THAT will be a thrilling day for me, as it will hopefully herald the era in which I actually make a living creating video games!

Yes. That's right. I've been running this company for 3 years now and I have not made one red cent off of any game. We've had contract work, side jobs and a ponzi-scheming investor, but nothing from games. This is not the dream I had as a child. I absolutely cannot wait to be through this ridiculously long nightmare. I want to start living my life!!!

Thanks for joining me on the ride ;)

Monday, July 30, 2012

You Can't Integrate Halfway

How much do you sacrifice for convenience?

I am a huge fan of Google and all of their various services. They have some great tools for project management, they have a very handy calendar, their services integrate perfectly with my Android phone and even this blog is, of course, through Google.

However, I have my own email through my company site, and I read that email via Outlook on my desktop. I also have a Google+ account, but most of my social networking is done through Facebook.

So, while all of the Google integration is great, it quickly falls apart if you skip these key services and punch major holes in its continuum.

I suppose that's why Apple fans manage this so well. If you have Apple products, you don't get any other choices. So, whether you like it or not, you use all of their services which happen to also be integrated.

I'll make some sacrifices for convenience, but sorry Apple, not that much.
As to progress, things are moving forward. I've almost got level 1 put together (with handfuls of placeholder art). I showed it to Bonnie's (my fiance) son today. He was very encouraging, proclaiming that it was the coolest game he had ever seen. Ah, my adoring fans.

I've also been taking some time to work with another programmer. He's in the process of porting one of my games to iOS. It's nearly finished! Now, I just need an iPad and $100 for an Apple dev license... right. My life savings currently totals 34 cents. You need money to make money, I guess. If you'd like to show some support, feel free to donate with that little PayPal button on the right. :)

I have a schedule planned out, complete with deadline (using Google Calendar, if you're interested). If I can manage to hit the mark on just a few more dates, things should be much easier for me and the fam in just a couple of weeks.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's the Little Things

I have a real question for all you programmers out there. Have you ever made a "perfectly understandable mistake"? Because I haven't. The only mistakes I ever make when programming are in the "Are you f#@king retarded!?" category.

I'll forget to increment a variable in a loop, or mistakenly attach a script to the wrong object, etc. It's never anything like, "oh hey, I miscalculated the remainder in that equation".

Anyway. It took an hour of "change, test, repeat", then another hour of screen sharing with a friend before I finally tracked down the problem. <Commence Facepalm>

Now, at long last, I'm finally building level 1. Considering the size and scope of each level, I'm granting myself about ten days to build, test and adjust each. Then, considering the size and scope of the game, this means it will take me about a year to build everything. This is, of course, excluding time spent programming (specific events per level, enemy and boss AI, etc.).

All of this tells me that I'm going to need two people (beyond myself) to create this game. I've obviously been utilizing my artist buddy, Brady. I'd also like to get a programmer to help out; preferably someone more skilled at this than myself. This will leave me to focus on storyline events and level design.

Don't worry, I'm not forgetting about the other aspects of the game. Specifically, characters, animation, sound and music. My hope is that I can outsource these aspects, as they shouldn't require quite the same time commitment. I've already got a friend who is crazy good at music. He's provided the music for some of our other titles and, I'm sure (assuming I can drum up some funds) he'd be more than happy to be a part of this.

Well, if I'm going to stay on some kind of schedule, I should get back to work. As I said, I should hopefully have something playable in about a week. We'll see how the coming days go.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why aren't cubes cool anymore?

Good morning! This post is a bit late in comparison to my others. As usual, I was frustrated with a lack of progress, so I was up all night working. The upside to that, of course, is that I got a ton of work done!

I won't bore you with the details, but I have almost all of the features necessary to put together the first playable build of level 1. I've actually already started building the level; my plan, of course, is to work out the missing mechanics as needed in the level itself. From there, things should be ready to really take off.

Playable. Not pretty.
Of course, most of you won't get to see this initial build. I'll be showing it off to various dev communities in the hopes that its functionality will draw in a character artist/animator. As wonderfully supportive as I'm sure you would all be, I don't really want to ruin the image of the game for you by presenting little blocks, spheres and stretched textures in your first experience.

As with anything I do, I spend a lot of time doing research. In this case, I've been doing a lot of reading up on how to design good levels for platformers. While a general search for this turns up a surprisingly large number of results, I was actually disappointed to find that most articles on the subject are little more than personal preferences.

"Let me move left and right while climbing a ladder!" Really? I've always hated that. With old D-Pads and especially thumbsticks, I always found myself falling off the sides of ladders and getting really frustrated. I'm on a ladder! Obviously I want to either go UP or DOWN! That's really a moot point though, since Quig has no arms and, therefore, no use for ladders.

Either way, there were a few gems of knowledge out there, but nothing that wasn't primarily common sense. Its surprising that one of the oldest game-styles has such little real information available. If anyone knows of any articles on the subject that they've found helpful, feel free to let me know.

Brady (my artist friend) has been putting together more environmental assets for the game, which really helps things along. The programmer, however, has decided to not lend his skills to The Glow. I guess platformers just "aren't his thing". Which is perfectly fine. He's still being a trooper and giving me advice when I start swearing at my monitor.

One thing that programming is, and always has taught me, is to never become too focused on a single aspect of something. I don't know how many times I've spent hours punching my keyboard, trying to fix a runtime error, only to find that the problem was something incredibly simple and entirely unrelated to what I was trying to fix.

Programming is the nerd's path to enlightenment.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I have accomplished exactly nothing today. I was up all night wrestling with some code, then had to meet with a client in the morning. Apparently, the purpose of this meeting was to setup a time for a meeting. Then, after a bit of running around, I promptly passed out on the couch.

Upon waking, it would seem that our car has turned against us. At some point, something shorted out and our car concluded that it was being stolen. In an act of self-preservation, it activated the security system, disengaging the fuel pump.

Somewhere in the middle there, I was also talking with my artist friend. He has been struck with a surge of inspiration, so he sent me a handful of new models and textures for the environments in the game. This was a nice touch to the day; seeing the world come together.

This general lack of productivity will be cutting this post a bit short tonight, as I need to get something done. One of my fine programmer friends is back home, so I'll hopefully be getting him up to speed with the code. If he can handle the heavy lifting in the programming side of things, it will free up my time for the arduous task of designing all the various levels.

With that, its back to work! Hopefully I'll have a bit more to report tomorrow.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Armed, but not very Dangerous

I've been chatting with one of the programmers I work with about The Glow. Like me, he's very much into the more gritty, sci-fi games, so he was naturally hesitant when I brought up the concept of Quig and his battle against these cartoony aliens.

He, however, had been out of state for the last few days, and when I said "but looook!" showing him what I had done with the game over the last couple of days, it was a little more encouraging.

Personally, I find working on this game incredibly refreshing. Sure, as with all games, there are a hundred things you need to consider and keep track of, but with The Glow we can always step back and say, "This is what the game is about, does that support it?" Life is so much easier when you can clearly see the path. (I think Buddah said that... or at least thought it.)

Meanwhile, I've been chiseling away at my to-do list. I have been reminded, yet again, why I hate working with raycasting. The basic structure of combat is in place, though nothing is really working at the moment. I may be working at that for the rest of the night.

On the upside, an artist that I often work with has lent his skills to the project. We now have some very nice foliage in the scene. It sure beats the colored cubes and spheres I've been staring at.

As you may have guessed, the visual style is largely inspired by old-school, 8 bit RPGs.

"But why would a platformer need trees like this?" you ask? Well, that's part of my little secret. You'll just have to keep watching to find out.

With these nice additions, I've also mapped out the first area of the game. These firsts are always tricky, because you have to show players all of the mechanics of the game without throwing it in their face with demeaning tutorial text. I'm actually quite proud of what I came up with.

As we move forward, I will continue to post new images, music, videos and, dare I suggest, even playable demos? Check back soon!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hey! That guy has my life!

More progress made today. Slowly but surely, I'm getting back into this whole programming thing. I've now got some basic GUI elements working, which did require some "old school" tricks, involving while loops (it's all coming back to me now). I also managed to get Quig running around, picking up various, collectible items.

I know, this may not sound like much, but as I said, the checklist of functions in this game is fairly small. So, as long as I can mark at least one thing off that list each day, I consider it a success.

Meanwhile, the real world is beating down my door. I think I've promised the landlord rent 3 times now... he's handling my delinquency like a champ. My fiance, Bonnie has had a toothache for a month, and we can't afford the dentist right now. We also have a contract that needs back-peddling, in the hopes that we may actually make some money from it.

Whenever I step out to have a cigarette, I check my email, check my twitter and, if there's nothing fascinating to read, I'll watch some TwitchTV on my phone. Tonight, I was watching Danielle McMillen, wife of Edmund McMillen (creator of Super Meat Boy).

I think I follow her (and Team Meat) for two reasons.

I had watched Indie Game: The Movie, and Edmund was really the only developer in the whole movie that I actually liked (those other guys are a bit too "emo" for my taste). Seeing what they endured and how, in the end, it was all worth it, is incredibly inspiring to me.

Danielle McMillen gets very involved in her games.
The other reason, I think, is pure, envious rage. They're so happy, they have this nice house and, in the background, you can see Edmund's "platinum awards" for Super Meat Boy hanging on the wall. (I bet his phone isn't even disconnected!!) It feels a bit like peering through the looking glass at a life that's just out of reach.

I think I'll ignore that second part, and just hold on to the inspiration stuff.

For now, I suppose, I'll just stay focused. Take note of all the madness that's falling apart around me and deal with each one in turn. All the while, keep pressing forward.

"I am a leaf on the wind."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Good Help is Hard to Find

I've spent the last 2 months trying to gather people to help me with the development of The Glow. As is expected when you begin with "can I pay you... in gum?" you'll get a few people interested in the project simply because they like the idea. Soon though, they realize you weren't kidding about the Trident Layers, and you never hear from them again.

Following the ol' adage, "If you want something done, do it yourself", I decided to dig into the code myself.

Now, let me give you a little information on my skillset. I had self-taught myself how to program in VB6. I later went on to flunk a college course in VB.Net.

No. Just... no.
Years later, I picked up the fascinating tool, GameMaker... not as cool as the title might suggest. I dug through the manual and became very familiar with the scripting language, and even got the program to do some pretty interesting stuff. Ultimately however, GameMaker is a kid's tool for building games like Pac-Man, or 1942.

Years passed yet again, and 4 years ago, we formed Pillar 4 Entertainment. For the most part, I stuck to Photoshop and MS Word. I did, however, peek into the code enough to lend a hand with the GUI of our game, Starfall: Frontier (2 years ago).

Other than that, my programming skills have remained somewhere in the neighborhood of being a mediocre html web designer.

But whatever! If no one is going to help me out with this, I apparently don't have any other choice. So I sat down at the keyboard, created a new Unity project and decided to start from nothing.

I have now managed to complete, in 12 hours, what I couldn't get 3 other programmers to finish in 2 months. My man, Quig, is now walking around, jumping, double-jumping, and I even have some very cool camera tricks thrown in there.

Really people? 2 months? And I was asleep for 4 of those hours! My fiance claims that it's because "I'm awesome". I still hold to the theory, however, that other people just really suck. I'm not sure which would be the more noble opinion...

I've spent the remainder of the day writing up a checklist for the game; really just covering the basic mechanics. I find myself being ever-so grateful that I chose to keep things simple.

But! It's a child-free weekend, I have my Juno Reactor station playing on Pandora, and my coffee pot just gurgled "I'm done. Come drink of me". It actually feels good to be making my own progress once again.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The First Sparks

This is the beginning of, what I hope to be, an amazing adventure.

Ten years ago, shortly after my son was born, I came to a realization. Being the techno-nerd that I am, complete with allergies and a general disdain for all things nature, I realized that I would never be a typical "dad". I would never be the guy who goes outside and throws a ball around with his son, or takes regular camping or fishing trips.

This got me thinking. How could I be a good father; contributing to and being involved in my son's life? This lead to the idea of developing a video game. However, most games I design tend to be complex and often rather dark... not something suitable (or, at least, enjoyable) for young kids.

So I had to rework my thought process. I decided to pick a central focus that children could relate to; "a fear of the dark, and the monsters that live there". Then a would give these kids the power to defeat those monsters.

I ignored my instinct to over-complicate the concept. I picked out the core ideas and exaggerated them, pouring all focus into those important aspects. Then, while walking by the river, sketchbook in hand, I sat down at a park bench to sketch out this new hero for my son.

Quig was born. He is an adorable creature who would never harm a fly. But when his family and his world are threatened, he chooses to step up and fight back.

While Quig is not a warrior, his actions and his selfless courage make him heroic.

Subscribe to this blog to keep up to date as we build this fascinating universe, where light is life and shadows are alive. Show your support for Quig as he battles the insidious, shadow aliens, the Sillow.