Week 104 – One man game jam

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

Last week was a little different from my usual weeks, as I spent a week in a little room in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam to work on a new personal game project, courtesy of dutch radio. Come to think of it, it was also the two-year anniversary of me going independent, so I guess that was a fitting way to celebrate it!

You can read the details about the game here. The week was organised by dutch late-night radio show Opium op 4, which lets a creator use their office each week to build a passion project. This week was my turn, and I had a really good time.


Also just realized I posed like the caricature on my businesscard here. Weird!

I basically started from scratch on monday. I had an interesting backstory, and a vision in my mind of what the game would look like. So I started by researching the backstory: in 2013 the Lyubov Orlova, a decommissioned cruiseship, breaks off its towline in a storm and disappears onto the ocean. In 2014 its radio pings off the coast of the UK, but it is never found. I figured I’d make a game about that. The news articles about it have been in my Pocket for a while now, so this was a good opportunity to do something with it.

p01qg79h

I researched the timeline, all the owners and places it’s been, and more specific stuff like what the deck layout looks like and how cruise ship engines work.

After that I started on the prototype. I had something working pretty quickly, courtesy of Unity and its many prefabs. After that I struggled for a while to get an interaction system working. I started off coding it all myself, but quickly realized I’d better use something pre-made. I fiddled with Pixelcrusher’s Dialogue System for a good while before deciding to just import Adventure Creator. At that point it felt like I changed from Tony Stark banging on some metal in a cave to Tony Stark jumping into the Mark 45 Iron Man armor. Everything was at my fingertips.

To my surprise AC also integrated pretty well with Unity’s 2D Controller, which was essential, otherwise the character couldn’t walk up slopes anymore. Now I was ready to start on the narrative content. It was early thursday by then, and I was getting nervous, but I managed to put together a pretty cool vertical slice in the end, even though it sort of stops short of the actual gameplay, which is exploring the ship’s interior with your map and axe. But for a week of work it was pretty cool.

On friday I presented the demo on the air, and everyone loved it. The main guest of the show called me a singer-songwriter gamedesigner, which is exactly how I like to think of myself, telling interactive stories and focusing on the delivery and the experience.

At any rate, I had a great time, and you can read a more detailed (dutch) blog and listen to the show segments on their website.

Week 93/94 – Unwinding and maintenance

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

Week 93 had a late start due to Kingsday, a dutch national holiday. On wednesday I had a call with Hubbub to plan out all the features we want to put in the next Home Rule beta (including a better name for the project), and on thursday I had a call with a potential new client, an illustration rushjob.

I spent the rest of the week doing administration and updating my portfolio. Google’s new policy is to give priority in their search results to sites that are mobile-friendly, so I dove into the world of responsive design and media queries to make my portfolio site adapt to all kinds of resolutions. It was a nightmare of weird glitches and quirks but it works now!

Last week also started out mellow because of the national war remembrance days. I made a little character animation for the folks at mindbreaker games who are working hard on their demo. It was nice to open After Effects after a long time and animate a little something using the latest version of the DUIK plugin, which is UHH-MAZING. Highly recommended if you do a lot of character animation.

Later in the week I finally sat down and upgraded Black Feather Forest to the latest version of the game engine. Miraculously nothing broke! There were a few weird thinhgs in transitioning from Unity 4 to 5 while simultaneously updating two plugins, but I managed to solve 90% of them in an afternoon.

I’m itching to continue developing Black Feather Forest. I realized a few weeks ago that it’s been a year since I started working on it. And I think almost half a year since I stopped development to rethink a few aspects. That stung, so I’m determined to carry on with it in the next few months. A Kickstarter may be inevitable.

But first Reconquista! I started that project up at the end of the week to add a few features and get it ready to launch. I expect that will happen in the next few weeks. The game is practically done, I just need to figure out one thing and then I can push it out the door. It makes no sense to leave it lying around for much longer.

Next week: new dailies and the kickoff of the third phase of Home Rule.

Adventure Creator and the great workaround festival

I love the Adventure Creator plugin for Unity. It’s no secret. Chris Burton has made an essential piece of software for me to make games with, and continues to improve it dilligently.

That said, there comes a time in the life of any piece of software where you get so familiar with it that you want to do things that go outside the realms of its functionality. Many of these dreams I had became official features, but sometimes you gotta break open Monodevelop and just start hacking.

Here are a few examples.

By default AC only supports 10 inventory grid slots, with 30 slots max. I needed 12, with a maximum of 36, so I followed the declaration tree, deep into the jungle of AC’s core code base, and modified the values there. Because of the cumbersome way Unity has decided to handle the plugin upgrade process, I have to remember those modifications so I don’t accidentally overwrite that file.

The reason I needed that many inventory slots is because I am using them for something other than carrying around items – I wanted a 3-row grid of icons in the dossier that you can click on to read information. So instead of making 36 buttons and hooking those up, I made 36 items and used their interaction functions to call on an actionlist (essentially a piece of code).

menu

And it works great! This greatly simplifies the code I need to unlock a new entry in the dossier, and because it is based on items, it integrates very neatly with the Dialogue System For Unity plugin, which syncs items and variables between itself and AC.

Don’t even get me started on making the Dialogue System GUI style look the same as the subtitles menu made with AC’s built-in menu editor… Both methods of making a GUI are radically different, but I’m proud to have gotten both up to the same standard.

dlggui

Another problem I had was that a character’s collider would flip to the wrong axis if he or she turned around, which made the clickable area much smaller.

This would be corrected if I switched to the newer and better Unity2D mode, which I’m in the middle of now, but that is a big endeavour so I solved it by making a direct call to the right-facing animation of the character. This means that to the engine the character had not turned around, but did have that appearance because it used a different sprite.

Converting the game to AC’s Unity2D mode is not free of challenges either. I have to flip every game object to a different axis, use orthographic cameras instead of perspective ones, and swap some components around for their 2D counterparts. This might result in a scene like this:

Not that it’s not entertaining, but I’d rather it works normally.

AC is a great plugin, and these workarounds are only a testament to its flexibility and extensibility. If I think of any more examples I’ll write more about it. And check it out if you’re working in Unity. Or is anyone reading this out there working with it? Share your experiences or projects in the comments.

Week 36

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creative.

Week 35 was pretty quiet since I was mostly occupied with doing other stuff and hanging out with people.

Week 36 I spent working on my own project in Adventure Creator. It’s pretty cool to see that plugin taking shape and a community forming around it. A dedicated forum was finally opened to post bugs and feature requests and showcase projects. I have high hopes for this software turning into the perfect suite for me to make narrative-driven games in.

Initially I was on the fence about switching my project over, but I decided this week to leave practicalities aside and just dive into the software and get to know it, so I set up a local SVN repo and went to town. Some things are the same, some things are better, and some things are a bit more cumbersome, but overall I almost feel like this is the way to go. For years I’ve fantasized about having all of these pixels and cameras that I could zoom and pan on the fly, plus cross-platform compatibility makes this a shoe-in for my affection.

On tuesday I had dinner with old classmates and colleagues Bas (Sophisti), Tim (Ronimo) and Bojan (Game Oven) to catch up and to discuss some secret heat brewin in the Game Oven kitchen. On thursday I had dinner with fellow illustrator Ming to catch up and dive into Unity. If Ming would apply his unique art style to games I have no doubt something cool would come out of it. Something to think about. In the meantime go check out his work.

Week 25

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independant creative.

2014! Time to start things up again.

Last week I drew a new Off-stage page, one that was half done when I took a christmas break but which honestly read like shit then, I didn’t like it. Now I came back to it fresh and found the missing piece that made it a nice rounded out page. Chapter two will be complete soon and then I think I’m going to take a break from it and plan a whole chapter in advance, writing a chunk a week is just not great for an ongoing story.

Between wrapping that up, my work for Bounden tapering off and closing out another project this month I have plenty of time coming up to devote to two things: a second pass at the ideas I worked up with Niels ‘t Hooft for his upcoming iPad novel Ninja Gimmick Girl, and diving into Adventure Creator for my own game.


Classic Jake and Toby, IN SPAAAACE (placeholder dudes). The scene is actually all 3D, textured planes with navmesh and collision

My meddling with Unity so far was all well and good but I was still a bit in over my head when it came to building things like a dialogue system (I hate the Unity GUI system, it’s bonkers) or competent 2D pathfinding. But Adventure Creator is basically all the features I already know how to use from another engine I used to use and love (because the maker did too), so jesus I was over the moon. Now I can start making the sort of game I want right away.

On wednesday I had an extremely productive day working on Ninja Gimmick Girl, and then I got VIOLENTLY ill. Just like that. I could tell you platitudes like ‘life can always intrude’ and ‘be prepared for anything’ but mostly being sick just fucking sucks. So better just submit and get it over with.