Crisis

You might have noticed that there was no new posts or updates for a while. From the beginning, I was looking to make around 2 posts a month. After I was forced to get whatever emergency PC setup just to access the Internet, and try to get the things that I worked on to completion without the graphics card in the emergency setup; Some of my priorities shifted. I am still working on developing the inventory system for my main project which is a tactical strategy game like Jagged Alliance, and I have things planned to post here about it as soon as I make enough progress on the subject. I remember that I wanted this blog to have two sections, one for game development topics and updates and the other for 3D digital art which is related to those projects, or to video games, or something at least tangentially related to real-time 3D art. When I say ‘real-time’ I mean the 3D art of any sort that would be possible to use in Unity or any other real-time rendering engine. I have a few things in the works for that art section of the blog, should be interesting to anyone who is interested in the field of 3D art or video game art.

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Inventory system progress (part 1)

Skip the first paragraph to get to the subject in the title.

Here are some updates on the development of our tactical game. Since we are still using our backup machine since the last one got fried, we had to spend some time to adjust all possible things for the game to run somewhat reasonably inside Unity editor. We managed to get it to work at mostly 15 fps in a 640 x 480 in the editor, by switching the rendering methods to forward rendering, and also switch all object materials from standard material (which is made specifically for PBR rendering) to legacy color shader material and other legacy shaders. With these settings, the game is somewhat playable, just enough to develop and implement all features of the game that are not dependant on complex graphics.

One of the things that would be suitable to work on, that is significant enough and is a critical part of the game mechanics, while not being demanding on graphics is the inventory system. Turns out it takes quite a bit of time to develop this system to the extent that it needs to be for this game. We want to make this part suitable for the genre while still being on par with modern games of this type like XCOM 2, and maybe add some ‘uniqueness’ here and there. We will be making a blend between two different inventory systems from two different Jagged Alliance games.

We will be implementing stuff seen on the image on the left, specifically, a merc list on the left, a silhouette with equipment slots, separate inventory grid below, and a stats/skills/etc. tabs on the right. But we will most likely go with something that is similar to the image on the right, as far as the graphical design of the inventory. Needless to say, we are not looking to copy those exactly, we are looking to use those two as guide lines primarily.

Currently, we have implemented the most basic functionality of the inventory, specifically, add/remove items and item stacks, and move the items and item stacks from one inventory cell to another. We will not be implementing inventory tetris thing, that is present in Path of Exile, but we will make it clear to the player that adding something large to specific inventory will reduce the number of items that can be added to that section of the inventory. We are aiming to have a significant item variation in the game, stuff like many weapons, ammo, items, etc. And also have visual differences of the units based on the items equipped by the unit. Every unit will have same number and type of equipment slots, but inventory space may differ based on stats of the unit. Equipment slots will include: head / torso / belt / left and right hand / left and right leg / backpack. That will provide us with 8 equipment slots, but belt and backpack will have more than one sector.

Part 2 will most likely have images and/or gifs of our inventory progress.

Side project: Sci-fi twin stick dungeon crawler

I mentioned in my about page that this blog will focus on a few things, among them two game projects, and a separate section for game art that I will make for those project. And since I haven’t started doing any significant work on my potential side project, I was forced to put my larger story-focused adventure similar to Life Is Strange, on hold since I am currently lacking proper hardware for production of such project. So what kind of a video game can I work on that would be fun and easy to make, while also not taking extremely long time to make with something like 3 people at most. There are two types of games that come to mind at this time, vertically scrolling shoot-em-up like Raptor: Call of the shadows, and Rogue-likes are made for a modern age like Dungeons of Dredmor.

Between the two I have decided that it would be more fun and more interesting to have a dungeon crawler game over the shoot-em-up that would essentially end up being one of many relatively forgettable shoot-em-up games on the market. Rogue-likes have proven that they are evolving at a glacial pace. It took them forever to ditch ASCII art for something that is half way graphical representation, and even more, time was needed for Dungeons of Dredmor to appear and be a high-quality rogue-like and have good graphics included. And even today, most of the modern rogue-like games have moved away from the original concept that was used in Rogue, and have named themselves “rogue-lite”. Why didn’t they just go with dungeon crawler is beyond me, since the original Rogue game was the actual first dungeon crawler, as the main goal was to go to the bottom of the dungeon, get the amulet, and go all the way back to the surface.

I have a very nice idea for a dungeon crawler that would not take that much effort to develop given the technology available today. Most of the things have already been developed and its just a matter of adapting the already established way of doing things, at least as far as super-indie developers are concerned (super-indie in this context is up to 5 people with minimal or no budget). Anyway, what I have in mind is to make 3D sci-fi dungeon crawler, with random generation for rooms, enemies, items, weapons, etc. And have it have a real-time gameplay, that includes twin-stick shooter mechanics, ability to play with a gamepad, and a camera like the one used in Master X Master. I find it very strange that not many games even exist in the genre of dungeon crawlers, and that very few are actually good high-quality video games.

I plan to have a player choose between:

  • the premade character that has preset stats and abilities, and a premade story
  • custom-made character, with custom stats and abilities, but no story

There would be a wide variety of characters that would offer the player different play styles and different storylines with each character. The story would not be influenced by the random generation of the dungeons as there would be “special rooms” included in dungeon floors so the player still has access to the story without these special rooms being placed in inaccessible areas. And, since this would be a 3D dungeon crawler with twin-stick mechanics, to make things easier to develop the game will still think in 2D when placing rooms, enemies, and items, etc. 2D thinking will also be applied to AI, since there is absolutely no need for it to be any more complex, obviously.

The thing that I find very annoying in roguelikes is that very annoying thing called “crafting”. Why do they have to include entire skill trees for crafting of various sorts just so the player can make potions, or make traps, weapons, armor, and other things that can already be found along the way as the player explores the dungeon floors? I will purposely make the game without this component so that the player can only rely on random generation for the item drops. More valuable items would be placed in vendors found on every dungeon floor, or in special or secret rooms or floors that can be accessed with a special key or whatever. Another thing that is of concern at this time, is the fact that I am on my emergency backup hardware, which I happen to acquire due to a good coincidence. This emergency setup would not be an issue if not for it being a server machine with AMD ES1000 (do an internet search for capabilities) which is so incredibly behind the times that it causes issues with performance all around. Just because I am forced to use this hardware, I am also forced to make the game run on a potato power so at least the game will be playable on almost any hardware available, kind of a good outcome, in the long run, all things considered.

I will be showing various info and images relating to this project, as it gets developed, but not so much to spoil the final product. I will not reveal key surprises, the same way that I didn’t reveal some of the fresh ideas I have for this project, in above 880 words of this post. You can be certain that the game will be worth the wait and its final price tag, a fundraising campaign is possible far into the future of this project, but it is also very possible that the entire game will be made on shoestring budget as intended without a fundraising campaign. Stay tuned.

From a horse onto a donkey

Recently my PC that I used for everything, managed to get broken, and it was a custom produced HP desktop PC from 2008 with really nice and outdated Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.66 GHz E8200 processor and 4GB of RAM (originally 2GB), also it had an ATI Radeon HD6450 1GB GDDR3 added to it right away since it was made without a GPU in it. And since it was custom produced by HP it is impossible to repair or replace crucial parts of the machine. It got broken when one night it didn’t manage to shut down completely and decided that it will turn off everything and still spin the coolers and not shut off the power. The only option was to pull the plug from the wall. After that, it didn’t want to power on at all since the 24-pin power socket on the motherboard for power intake got fried.

I was forced to use, an ancient PC that uses a single core CPU that has only 1 GHz to it and 512mb of RAM, which barely works if the case is open since it manages to overheat if used to just barely browse the Internet. Most of the websites were not easily accessible since OS used was Windows XP SP3 which is no longer supported and even the browsers for it are just barely supported if you manage to get them updated to latest Win XP supporting version. It was pretty much unusable except for playing like 2 or 3 video games that did manage to work on it for extended periods of time.

After a week or so of the agony of not being able to do anything besides waste time, I managed to get a Dell PowerEdge SC440, from 2006 which had Intel dual core processor at 2.4 GHz and 4GB of RAM. The problem is that this machine is a server machine which understandably wasn’t meant to be used for anything not network related, and as such it doesn’t have any kind of AGP or PCI Express slot on its motherboard; which leaves me with something that is so incredibly bad that I can’t even begin to describe, how stupid it is that a GPU chip that is apparently still used is not capable of having more than 16mb of video RAM to it, and not supporting anything past DirectX 6. The chip in question is ATI ES1000, which doesn’t have drivers for it and to be honest, doesn’t really need one since it is barely usable on modern systems. At least it supports 3 screen resolutions which are 800×600, 1024×768, and 1280×1024 all being 32bit resolutions, so at least some decent screen size can be used on a modern flat monitor. While searching for ways to obtain the driver in case I could maybe get to use higher screen resolutions I found that this chip is so incredibly old and useless that it makes issues with performance even on Linux OS (which are perfect for servers, if you ever need to use a server use Linux on it). By some miracle all of the software packages are still working even with this GPU and even Unity itself works (mostly), it can get a 3D scene to up to 15 FPS on a small scene that has its rendering window set to 640×480, with all objects only using the simplest color materials, to try and improve performance. So, at least there is something that is mostly OK until I get a hold of a modern day PC capable of game production stress, which will take probably around a year. This situation, will force me to try and develop the project I was talking about (here and here) when I was beginning to write this blog. I don’t need any demanding parts put in the project, stuff like the graphics, animations, sounds, etc. since I am focusing heavily on developing and implementing all the critical mechanical parts of the project, stuff like core gameplay, AI logic, menus, etc.

I remember that I wanted to work on another project on the side which would be more immersive and story driven. That is going to wait, for the new PC to turn up since it is will not be that smart to try and make another complex project if the hardware is not there to make it as good as it can be. Since I still want to work on a side project, I started doing research on what a 16mb is capable of. To my surprise, that claim that on the Internet you can find anything from needle to locomotive is not always the case. Apparently, there is no clear information on what a video card with 16mb of memory, there are some impressive things which I thought required at least 32mb of memory. Quake 3 Arena, and Max Payne (and first Hitman game, which can apparently also use a 16mb video card). Seeing that Unity editor barely works with this GPU but just enough to make some less demanding projects at least function reasonably, made me go for a safe bet, which would obviously be a 2D video game.

Now, what do you think is the type of a video game that is relatively easy and fun to make; which also wouldn’t take an enormous amount of time to make? The one that stood out to me is a Sci-Fi roguelike. Roguelikes are hard to find, and if you look for them there is only a few that are actually good and very much fun to play. I find that only Dungeons of Dredmor and Sword of the Stars: The Pit, one is fantasy and the other is Sci-Fi roguelike. If you ever wish to play a roguelike, try those two. The roguelike I will be making will be a Sci-Fi one, but it may not necessarily be obviously 2D one. I may even try to fit in a storyline for the player character(s) if I think that would work nicely and not seem repetitive. But since it will most likely work reasonably on an integrated GPU that has only 16mb of memory, it will be one of those games that would work on anything.

Analysis: Unfixable spiral of death

It is very much unfortunate that some people either don’t realize that by their actions others that come after them, or they are doing it out of malice, greed, and stupidity. I am one of those that follows the “read between the lines” and “don’t believe everything you read/hear” philosophy. If you look in any field of work, more preciesly smaller and/or more strictly controlled professional field. Pick any profession that has a hierarchy, If the entire sector is dependant on public demand or consumption. Lets say, video games industry; a development company is looking to make a video game in a genre that is not as saturated as others at that certain point in time. So they go and make a nice video game that makes some success, and after other developers see their success they also try to make one in that category. While that is nice and all, it makes for competiton in competitive market, someone will come along to ride the hype wave and try to exploit it for some reason, by making horrible video game. By making a horrible video game just so you get people to watch it because someone before you made the genre interesting to people, this bad video game will poison the market sample, and scare people off from wanting to try the next video game that is offered in the genre. Unless it is a sequel for the video game made by the first game development studio, customers will be more weary with every new release in the genre, and every next developer that comes up with a game will be compared to both good and bad game, while also having lower chances of success since the one before them made some damage.

You can find this pretty much everywhere, if you look at Steam Greenlight (while it was operating) it was first accepting good and relatively good games, but with every game that was bad or broken the value of Steam Greenlight went down. With enough bad releases Valve had to discontinue Steam Greenlight due to it having so bad quality bar and reputation due to each greedy and malicious developer that tried to exploit customers on Steam platform to get some quick money. Same goes for kickstarter, after first higher profile project with tons of backers and huge big bags of cash has failed, every other project of that kind came under scrutiny due to the prior failure(s) of people who damaged peoples trust in the platform and funding method by making catastrophic failure on the platform.

The issue is that this makes a kind of spiral of death, where with each fail, reputation of the platform goes down, and consumer trust also goes down. It can’t get improved no matter what the administrators of the platform does to try and improve their reputation.

No one can make sure that the advertised product, but they can actually do a check if the product is working as advertised. People who handle Kickstarter and such can’t make sure in any way that video game developers actually deliver on their promise. Steam actually could do that, but the sheer amount of games that got submitted for approval for sale on the platform, made it very difficult to handle without unacceptably long waiting period. Steam is actually the worst offender here, since they could actually guarantee if not quality of the products at least the technical functionality and they failed to do the both regardless of the publisher.

For a platform like Steam, they could have prevented the collapse of Greenlight system, if they had something that would function as a guideline for every game that was submitted. If they had a guideline and took no exceptions to the rules and their guideline, the amount of bad, horrible, greedy and amateur made games would be close to a dozen or so, but they would at least be required to meet a certain quality and functionality standard. As long as there is no mechanism in place to ensure that the products are as they seem, all platfroms will suffer from this unfixable spiral of death. For fundraising platform like Kickstarter it is a bit more complicated due to the fact that they allow people to ask for money for an idea or concept or promise which is not a good idea in the slightest. If I were them, I would require video game developers and people with tech related products to have a working prototype worthy of presenting to the public, otherwise they would not be allowed to be on the platform.

Analysis: What happend to humor in video games

Recently I started noticing that there is a severe lack of humor in video games. It seems that only LucasArts was creating humorous video games. Seems that in the entire video games industry, Ron Gilbert and Tim Shaffer were the only prominent guys who made humorous games, which were actually funny. Those games that were released while LucasArts was around were actually funny, without any cheap humor, toilet humor and alike. Aside from them there is TellTale Games which used to make Sam & Max games which had some funny moments but were far less funny in my eyes. They still have some humor in their games here and there but those games were not inteded to be actually funny like the LucasArts games were. Seems like they have humor just as player engagement mechanism, the same way Borderlands did their humor (while it is not the same brand of humor, they use almost the same approach).

In both time periods, I mean, in the 90s and after 90s humorous and kinda funny games were very rare type of games, and this games were pretty much exclusive to point-and-click adventure games. This genre of games was and still is very suitable for this kind of game, more so than other genres. There are funny games in third person genre, these games are a kind of evolution from point-and-click genre and a way to bring in wider player base to the (potentially funny) game in question. Even Blizzard, a company that specialized in RTS games, had a stab at funny factor in their games which was a very subtle and very nice touch. While there are some brave attempts at making of funny games like Stanly Parable, while it is a great approach to storytelling I feel that Stanly Parable is a one-off game that can’t be repeated ever again, since things are unique only once making a new game like that will be seen as a clone/copy/mimick/rip-off game.

While there is that factor of humor brand, and people’s taste in humor, which can be an issue when making this kind of game, there is always a safe route for humor. Stuff like pop-culture references, generally good jokes, innuendo, and such.

Than there are games are humorous games that hit a significant and potentially developer killing road block. That is culture the developers that made the game are comming from. For instance, I do like most of the games made by LucasArts, and above mentioned game designers, due to their quality and brand of humor. But, I don’t like games made by Deponia series of games made by Daedalic Entertainment. I played the first Deponia game, and it was relatively funny in the beginning but it also relatively quickly started to annoy me very much how stupid the main character seems to be. And since main character in point-and-click games is pretty much constantly talking, his jokes also got very dumb and annoying to the point that I wanted to take a life. I did finish the game tho, and was kind of left filling unfulfilled and empty by the ending. Good thing they made sequels for the game so the story didn’t have to suffer in the long run. I also tried the second Deponia game which I found even more annoying since the same issue with main character and humor was pressent, and even appeared worse at times. Because of this, I didn’t want to play the game to the end, and just run away from it in frustration.

Now, it is important to mention that humor much like beauty is very subjective, so it is only natural that not all humorous games appeal to everyone, but than again, if you look at LucasArts games, those games were considered funny by everyone who played those games. I never even heard, not even one person that complained that jokes in their games were lame or unfunny or whatever, which tells a lot. It is kind of strange that there are not that much funny and humorous games on the market given that market is so unbelievably saturated with stuff like numberous fps games, sci-fi games, team based games, adventure games of different types. All of these types of games don’t have any significant amount of proper humorous games. There are so many funny books, movies and songs, but video games are so few to choose from even when you include all of the gaming platforms and both western and asian video game markets. And its not even the case of developers avoiding the subject due to some political correctness or social justice retardation of western societies, in this horrible time we live in at the time of writing of this article.

Since we are talking about humor and video games, the more time passes, and the fact that the market gets maybe 2 funny games every 10 or so years, the more I get inspired to make a humorous video game of my own (also an story driven adventure game, like so many others). This is perfect point in time, when I have access to sufficient technology to make a video game without spending a penny (well, more or less anyway), and the fact that the world is currently in such political and social climate that is perfect for mockery in so many ways.

Analysis: What makes a good action-adventure game

I have been a gamer for 25 years at this point, and I have played so many video games its hard for me to count, lets say somewhere around a 500 or so. I tried to play most of the video game genres and probably most of the games that were a big hit at least on PC, since I am almost exclusively a PC gamer. Now when I look back at the amount and variety of video games that I played and/or finished, I find that while my prefered games where first person shooters, and third person adventure games; between those two, I must say that adventure games were much more interesting in the longrun, even better if they are action-adventure games, like Tomb Raider series.

It took me a long time to pinpoint what exactly was so interesting to me back in a day and even now when it comes to action-adventure games. Was it the different camera perspective? Different style and/or quality of graphics and animations? Was it the different game play loop? Or was it the general storylineand characters? Note: Back in the day Tomb Raider games were pretty much one of a kind and had some actual story to them.

For me action-adventure game lives or dies depending on story and characters first, than gameplay must be good without major bugs and glitches that detract from imersive experience. If these two factors are not in the game I will just give up on playing it. There is also the factor of pacing. Does game have too many start and stop loops in it? You know those games that have the player walk over to NPC character and press interact button to talk, but than the player needs to sit through long and boring exposition just so he could get to next NPC for even more exposition that doesn’t really help the player move along with their part in the story. Or worse, does the game constantly interupt the player after each and every more significant event in a game; for it to insert some annoying filler dialog like so many of JRPG seem to do? If the game constantly interupts the player to feed them some information that is a bad thing. But fortunately it seems most games today manage to feed critical information more or less without taking the control from the player too many times (again, JRPGs still do interupt the player constantly for endless tutorials like in Final Fantasy XV).

Lets look at the game like Beyond Good and Evil, now there is an action-adventure game that has everything down perfectly. From beginning to end the game is almost perfectly paced, the story and characters are interesting, and the game world is well crafted with quite a bit of variety throughout the game. The game doesn’t constantly interupt you for anything, and when it does it is a cutscene to either give critical info or to advance the story of the game. The game flow is something like: intro sequence -> short gameplay with tutorials -> story cutscene * 2 -> big chunk of gameplay -> tutorial cutscene -> gameplay chunk, etc

Note: Took them long enough to present Beyond Good and Evil 2, it better be amazing.

Than on the other side you have a game like Metal Gear Solid, which also was classified as action-adventure since it wasn’t really a story driven third person shooter. This is one of those games that has really annoying interuptions. The beginning of the game is pretty much: long cutscene with super serious dialog -> tutorial -> long cutscene with super serious dialog -> small amount of player controlled gameplay -> cutscene. We are talking about a first game that was released on Playstation 1; without all the cutscenes the game lasted barely 4 hours, and among the missions is one particularly long escort (tracking) mission. There is a reason these types of missions are hated all around. The series got better with later games but it retained the original formula with half of the game being consumed by cutscenes.

And than we have Tomb Raider games (Core Design ones), which had strong start and than slowly dropped in quality since Core Design was incredibly incompetent. We are lucky the franchise was popular enough to be picked up by other developers. Those games (first 5 of them) were almost identical, differing only in small incremental additions in graphics and functionality. Like for instance, Tomb Raider 3 had only 4 missions which were all themed differently from each other and were not connected with each other what so ever. This sequel had 1 big addition, which was ability for Lara to drive various vehicles around (yes, Tomb Raider 2 had a boat in Venice level, but, really?). It doesn’t help that the rest of the game was pretty much at the same capacity as the first one, and that vehicles don’t really fit with the overal style of the levels.

The games themselves were a success regardless if people maybe didn’t really like them since they were one of a kind on PC and there was no alternative. The games were a success since they had main character which was different and interesting enough for other main characters in other games; and that was just enough for people to stick around. I rememeber that there was a criticism at one point that went something like: “Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was what Tomb Raider 2 was supposed to be.” That tells you everything about the progress made after 4 years that passed since first and fourth game. By the time Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation came out (year 2000), other third person games started poping up  on the market and were defacto competition even if they were not adventure games by themselves. Whats worse, Core design desided that it would be a good idea to make Lara be buried in a tomb at the end of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation so they don’t have to make sequels anymore thus ending the series. Fortunately, fans of the game whipped up a firestorm and the Core Design decided they will make another game real quick.

Note: Tomb Raider Chronicles is so incredibly boring to play do to its storyline, its not even worth trying, and again, tech of the game remained the same as in the previous game.

Strangely enough, they decided to make a totally new Tomb Raider game that would be a trilogy. So, they came up with Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. It would be an new game with new proper new engine, for Playstation 2 and PC, with various new tech in it. Note: Also not worth the effort, if you are interested look up the gameplay videos on YouTube. It is highly probable that you will not be able to finish the game due to game breaking bugs. With this one, it is really sad, everything was redisigned and it looks interesting once again, Lara looks amaing compared to the abomination from the previous games, (and even to this day that is one of the better designs if we compare every design of Lara up until the 2013 reboot, all versions of Lara were amazingly done) the locations in the game are designed well, along with everything else. BUT, the fact that the game was released with obvious techincal issues, like low performance regardless on what PC you try to play it, (we are talking errors in rendering either due to models in the game being un finished with missing polygons in places; technical issues relating to technical side of graphics pipline, like breaking of character rigs making the end boss unplayable, and such), and the game characters being difficult to control; makes the game a real tragedy for the genre. There was everything, a good and interesting story, interesting characters, good pacing, but the incompetence of the game developer made entire game go to waste, worse they were closed after the release of the game, so there will never be a second and third part of that trilogy which is a shame.

Note: I don’t care why the game was released clearly unfinished, that is unacceptable, since we as consumers are unaware of the fact before buying the product. If you want money for a low quality product, though shit. /rant mode off

So, what makes a good action adventure game? Try with a good story and characters first, if you have an intersting story with good cast of characters the game is probably going to be good enough for people to at least give it a try. Today’s video game market is very cut-throat, and failure is not forgiven or forgotten. If you look at any prominent action-adventure game (not just big triple-A releases), they all have good story and characters and are paced well. In fact I have hard time remembering which action-adventure game was a bad game in last 10-15 years. Even us indie developers, we have access to technology that puts as on quality level relatively close to triple-A production, we only need to manage our resources (read: money and time) and we can compete with the big guys. But above mentioned factors must be accounted for. With so many games on the market I find it very strange that none of developers have made a really slow story reach action-adventure game. The kind of which you can sit back at the couch, relax and play without having to put great effort in combat sequences in order to progress in the game; which have a rich world and relatively long storyline with unexpected twists in it. David Cage and his Quantic Dream do not make their games quite like this, but they are relatively close. There is that thing that makes their games more interactive movies than video games.