Monday, September 12, 2016

An Untitled Space Game: Yay, Level Transitions!

I put in a little bit of time this weekend—in between the hours of Legion I played—to figure out the next big hurdle in my game: level transitions.

Okay, okay, those of you that use Unity know it's not actually hard to do. I know that NOW of course, but like most things it's the learning that takes time. Well, that and the application of that knowledge. Right now it's a very basic piece of code:

using UnityEngine.SceneManagement;

void Update ()
       if Input.GetKey(KeyCode.G))

See? Pretty simple. Of course that's active everywhere in the world right now. Can't have that. We need trigger points to make it feel like a game. I also need to solve the, "I'm back in my ship now but oh we're at the start of the game instead of the site I landed at" problem.

So what do I have to do next? Well let's consult my new, handy-dandy checklist:

Pre-release 0.1a

Flight model for ship Complete
Collisions on planet Complete
Level transition code Complete
Trigger points for landing entry In Progress
Remember ship location on level exit Incomplete
Movement system for player In Progress
Movement system for robot helper Incomplete
Trigger point for interior exit Incomplete
Planet design Incomplete
Level design (4 buildings on starter planet) Incomplete
Art In Progress
Lighting Incomplete
UI Incomplete

There's stuff I'm missing in there, I know there is, but this is what I can think of right now. It's definitely a challenge to manage this project at the same time I'm creating and learning new things, but it's fun. I finally know that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life, even if it's only as a hobby.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Of the Lost Magic: Chapter One - Secrets Between Friends

Moss covered a grave marker on the hill. A three-month journey ended here, with a pile of stones and a wooden cross. Talia cried over the grave of her mother and rain began to fall.

~~Two years earlier~~

"Tal, wait," said Sha'hari. "You don't know what's out there. Out past the Dark lies only death and despair."

"I might prefer that, over the boredom here in Alondria," Talia said. She finished tying her left-arm bracer, taking a second to study the intricate details. The bracer was made by her great-grandfather for a war that never happened. It was missing the scars of battle that heirlooms from other families wore with pride. It was missing the blood of its owner after becoming mortally wounded. It was missing a story, and that is why Talia wanted to leave.

"My father casked wine for a living," said Talia. "He was poor, miserable, and he died alone after he left my mother." She wiped her eyes, hoping to hide the tears from her friend. "My mother...she had to raise me alone. Disowned by her parents for daring to marry someone as impure as my father."

"How do you mean?" asked Sha'hari. "What, is there some dark family secret you've never told me?" Sha'hari laughed, and then stopped when she looked at Talia's sorrowful expression. "Talia," she said. "What's wrong?"

"My father." Talia was struggling to fight her emotions. "He was from Merithal. He was born to a family of dryad. The only half-human born to their kind."

Sha'hari took a step back. Her hand crept towards the hilt of her short-sword. "You are a monster then? Like your father before you?" She wrapped her fingers around the leather-wrapped hilt. Her muscles tensed, ready to draw her weapon if needed.

"And is there any wonder why I'm ready to leave this place, mother?" Talia said.

"None whatsoever, my child." The voice sounded almost etherial as it came from nowhere and everywhere all at once. Sha'hari drew her sword and charged at her friend.

"Explain what's going on," she screamed, "or your head will soon roll across this floor."

Talia stifled a laugh. Her mouth contorted into a half-smirk before she said, "Sha, you know as well as I do that blade can't even cut the grass that grows outside. Now, please, let me go. I am not a monster, but I am still your friend." She grabbed the edge of Sha'hari's sword and pushed her away. "Once you calm down, I will explain everything."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pleasant Thoughts

Just take a step back and think for a moment. Really focus hard on the thoughts in your mind. Some of them will be pleasant, others quite terrifying. What I want you to do is pick one, any one, and hold on to it. Got it? Good. Now, please, step into this room.

Great, thank you. You should be able to hear my voice over the intercom. Are you still holding on to that thought? I hope it’s a pleasant one, otherwise you may have a rough go of things. I’m going to shut the lights off in five.





Ah, I hear you screaming even through this thick, protective glass. That’s a shame. You know, it’s funny. Nobody ever picks a pleasant memory. Don’t worry though, the agreement you signed before you came in today should guarantee that your loved ones are well taken care of in your absence. I’m going to turn the lights back on, and this will all be over in five.





Friday, August 12, 2016

The Universe is Yours: Part One

Two game's released within a month of each other. They're both about exploring a vast, procedurally generated universe, and they both have the same "problem": They make space look too interesting. 

Starbound: Navigate the star map, find a planet, land on it. It's a remote planet in the farthest reaches of the universe. There's at least one racial settlement and a ton of native creatures. You do a lap of the planet, leave, and fly 20 light years away. Arriving at the system, you find a planet and land on it. This planet is toxic. There are oceans full of poison sludge and acid rains from the sky. There's at least one racial settlement and a ton of native creatures—that you saw on the same planet 20 light years away from here.

Yes, yes, I know there are Barren planets in Starbound, but they're guaranteed to have nothing on it. All you do on those planets is build. 

No Man's Sky: You start, crash landed, on an alien planet. The flora looks like nothing you've seen before. A quick scan reveals minerals that can help you fix your ship. As you move towards the mineral, you see a cute native creature. You scan it and continue on. Then you stumble across a ruined settlement. Something bad happened here, so you grab some supplies and hurry back to your ship. A quick repair later, and it's time to explore. You leave the planet, navigate the star map, and warp to a new system. The bright purple planet orbiting this star catches your eye. You land and perform a quick scan. There's new creatures here and...oh...another settlement that looks just like the one from the other system many light years away.

Note: I haven't played No Man's Sky. I'm only basing my statement on streams and gameplay videos I've seen. It's possible there are barren worlds, but I haven't seen any yet.

And so we encounter my problem. Why does every planet have life on it? To make the exploration interesting. So how do you make planet exploration interesting without forcing players to suspend their disbelief?

One option is to give the player a means to scan a planet before they land on it. Say you have a system with eight planets. The player can fly to a planet and activate their scanners.


"Planet scan complete. Found: Two cave systems, one outpost. No life signs detected."

Okay, so now the player can make some decisions.

"I have to collect codex entries, but I know those come faster if I can scan lifeforms or talk to people. Still, that outpost may have some knowledge entries even though it's abandoned. And I may find something cool in those caves. Eh, I'll land and see what I can find."

Cool, now wait one second. The player is going to go explore your cave system. Will they find anything cool? Maybe a rare mineral that they'll need at mid-to-late game? Or the body of the final outpost survivor? There better be something worth their time, or you risk the player deciding to ignore caves even though the one on the neighboring planet has one of the best early-game weapons.

Exploration done, they fly over to the next planet and


"Planet scan complete. Found: Rich mineral deposits near planet core, no life signs detected. WARNING: Extreme heat in desert biome."

And so the decisions continue. Now, this is just one option, and I fully admit it's not perfect nor is it liable to work well in a game. Another option is to forego procedural generation completely and hand craft your universe.

Obviously this is time consuming, and doesn't lend itself well to replayability, but imagine handcrafting a single solar system's worth of planets, moons, and asteroids. You can hide things wherever you want. You can create a planet that has a fixed rotation relative to its star and has a molten hemisphere and a frozen one on the other side. The possibilities are limited by your imagination and skill, but they're not infinite.

Would a scanning system be necessary in a game like this? Maybe, but the player doesn't have much of a choice in where they can go so why waste their time telling them what they may find. Let them explore the dozen or so bodies you made at their leisure. You can pretty much guarantee that their time spent exploring a finite system will rarely be spent in vain.

Maybe when I have more time I'll dig deeper into more gameplay systems like this and express my, potentially wrong, opinion on them. For now, I leave you with this final thought and question.

"Is a game that's wide as the ocean, but deep as a puddle, worth the same as a game that's the size of a pond, but deeper than any sea?"

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Creativity and Creation - Introduction

Hello! Hello! And welcome to the first installment of Creativity and Creation. This is a weekly series that explores thoughts, ideas, current projects, and various other things related to creative endeavors.

Let's talk for a bit about motivation, and finding that thing that makes you want to create. If I were to ask you, "Why do you create?" what would your answer be?

"I create because I need to, to pay the bills."
"Because it lets me relax after a tough day."
"To practice for a future career."
"For some extra money."
"Do I need a reason? I just do."

If you're curious, my answer is, "I create because I feel like I can't give up on that side of me." It may sound like a strange answer, so let me explain.

My mind is constantly moving. It's really hard for me to shut it down, and from an early age I learned that creating things helps to "clear the queue" so to speak. So for me, creating things is just something I need to do every so often. The biggest hurdle to my creative tendencies is my inability to find motivation, and my procrastination.

There are innumerable unfinished projects all around me. Some have lingered for over ten years, some less than six months. I'm really good at starting things. I'm also really terrible at finishing them. And so I continue to find time management theories, read article after article on procrastination, talk to people about motivation, and any other thing I can think of to fix this problem. Never happens though. The problem always remains, and I know all I can do about it is make a strong, concerted effort to change things.

That brings us to the end of this not-so-organized first episode of Creativity and Creation. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on motivation, and your answers to the question "Why do you create?" Feel free to leave them in the comments below, and I'll see you next week for a cheerier second episode.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Man, Is It Really August of 2016?

Another year, another Blaugust. I like that Belghast decided to take a more relaxed—more chill, in his own words—approach to the contest this year. Last year I felt a little bit of stress when I missed a day or two or three. I don't have room in my life for that stress anymore, so a laid-back atmosphere makes me happier.

So this year's theme is scheduling, I guess. "Post on a schedule, that's all that matters. And maybe not even that. Just blog and have fun." I'm all for that. Here's my schedule:

Mondays: Beginning of the work week means it's time to talk about serious things. Career, love, life, etc. Need advice? I'm not authorized to give it, but I'll do it anyway if you want. (Spoiler warning: Next Monday will be about tech writing to answer questions from my readers.)
Wednesdays: Usually when I feel the most creative. Wednesday blogs will be about game design or writing or art or anything else I do that's creative.
Fridays: End of the week, and time for self-reflection. On these days I will tell stories from my life, or some truths about hidden parts of myself.
Weekends: No guarantee I post on the weekends, but when I do they'll be free form. Possibly updates on my projects, maybe some Q&A, maybe something entirely different.

What I want to make sure you all realize is that these themes are not set in stone. I'll do my best to stick to them, but what's important is posting things, not the things I post.

So yeah, cheers and I'll see you all on Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Simulate Because I Can

American Truck Simulator is out today on Steam. It's a followup to the astonishingly successful—and surprisingly relaxing—Euro Truck Simulator 2. I'm excited to play it, but that seems to baffle most people I know.

"Flight simulators I get. You can't just go and fly a plane."
"Right, and I can't hop in a semi and haul fright from LA to Vegas."
"But you can drive from LA to Vegas in your car!"
"For more than the $20 this game costs, yes I can. And I don't have to worry about paying for gas, or crashing, or breaking down, or any of that."

Failure is my biggest fear. It's something I've touched on before. I've driven from AZ to CA, CA to AZ, CA to NV, and all over SoCal a lot. So why would I possibly want to drive the same routes virtually? Because failure means almost nothing in a game. If I fail, I just have to restart. If I don't? Great! I achieved my goal, got some time to unwind while listening to a podcast or audiobook, and watched nicely rendered scenery roll by. All without leaving my house and without the worry of what could happen on the open road.

Okay, that last sentence sounds a little hermit-y. I can see that. But here's the thing, I still enjoy driving in real life. Simulations don't replace activities, they augment them. I can't get off work and drive to Nevada everyday. I can't reach top speed, then downshift, brake, and nail the apex of a turn while getting on the freeway. But when I get home I can do both of those things, and so much more.

Simulations allow us to do things we normally can't without a lot of training (fly planes, conduct trains), without spending a ton of money (race cars, drive semis), without that rare combination of skill, time, and luck (sports games). They also let us do things that we will absolutely never get to do no matter what (space sims). And is that really so different from other video games?

Playing a simulator is, for me, just like playing the latest and greatest RPG or FPS. Both types of games allow me to escape and do something that I can't normally do. I enjoy Fallout 4 as much as Microsoft Flight Simulator X or Euro Truck Simulator 2. I love World of Warcraft as much as MLB 15: The Show or Kerbal Space Program.

It's fine that you don't get it—most simulators aren't designed for the majority—but for people like me? Well, I've got the virtual open road ahead, and a trailer full of goods to get from Los Angeles to Vegas by nightfall.

Safe driving.