Sunday, March 29, 2009

Moving Along Nicely

The art game I mentioned in my last post is moving along nicely. I've got three out of the ten or so planned levels complete. I'm hoping to have the rest of the levels in the game and working by the end of next weekend. After that, I'll need to record and implement sound effects, add a menu, and write my creator's notes. Two weeks from today seems like a completely doable timeline to have the Xbox version complete. After that I think it shouldn't take more than another day to port it to Windows.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Changing Gears

I've decided to temporarily put Punk Rock Saved My Life on hold to work on a new idea I've come up with. I was starting to get a little frustrated with how long everything was taking, and the idea of the first game I've ever made taking nearly a year to finish and release seemed like not the best way to go about things. So "punk game" has been put on hold for a little bit while I work on something else. It's a little art game, which I'm hoping I can finish in two to three weeks. That way I'll have something concrete under my belt, and I'll feel a bit better about the massive time sink that Punk Rock . . . has become.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Road Block

I had originally hoped to have the entire first level up and running by the middle of April, graphics, puzzles, and dialogue included. Unfortunately, I've hit a major snag: term papers. Between grading for the course I'm TAing and writing my own term papers (and preparing presentations between 40 minutes and 2 hours in length) I don't have the time or the energy to be putting any work into the game.

Where do I currently stand? I have all of the (empty) room art done for the first level, with all of the rooms connected. Some of it looks pretty empty, some of it looks kind of cool. I've also got maybe about 1/4 of the object art done for the level (i.e. objects to populate my empty rooms with). I still think two weeks should be enough time to get all the object art created and into the game (collision detection and all). Hopefully I can spend the two weeks after that programming the actual gameplay for the level? That's probably too optimistic.

This is one of my empty rooms, as an example of what my game art currently looks like.

Monday, March 2, 2009

On Script Writing, and Narrative in Games

I've now finished writing the script for my game up to the end of the first level. It may undergo a bit of editing, but since I tend to write essentially finished drafts of my work, I suspect that what I've currently got written is very close to what will find its way into the final version of the game.

The script so far is about ten pages. That includes the opening monologue, which I guess is pretty long: 1600 words. I've tried going back and cutting stuff out, but there just really isn't anything that could be eliminated without compromising my vision (side note: how could I word that sentence to not sound totally pretentious?) I don't think the story and setting I've created are really especially complex - they're certainly far simpler than anything in the long form writing I've done - and yet I can't find any way to make what I've got shorter than it is. I already feel like I'm keeping my dialogue and exposition as short as possible. It's actually pretty difficult to have two characters have a meaningful conversation in the space of, say, one page of single-spaced dialogue, but recognising the limitations of the medium I'm working with (not just video games, but Xbox Community Games), I am trying to be mindful of the length of what I'm writing.

But at the same time, I still want to say something. Video games are almost entirely marked by having pretty bad dialogue. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one game in which the characters sound anything like real, engaging people, and that's Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Games are improving to some degree - Mass Effect has better dialogue than any of the RPGs that I played in the last console generation - but they still have a long way to go. And while I may be a pretty lousy programmer and a horrible artist, I think my ability to write - and specifically my ability to write dialogue - is pretty strong, so that really is what I expect the strength of this game to be.

But the real reason I'm writing this post (my issues with length should be apparent, since I'm just getting to the point in my fourth paragraph), is that writing my script, and realising how difficult it is to cut out anything I'm writing, has made me realise just how shallow the writing in most games really is. All I'm trying to do here is set up the world the game takes place in, give a bit of back story to the main character, and set up the motivation for the rest of the game. I managed to do all of that in two pages, which I think is already on the short side: imagine a novel that kept its introduction that short, and you probably wouldn't have much confidence in it. So it's pretty sad that other games tend to have back stories that can be revealed in only a few seconds.

Now, I realise it's a bit different in, say, a Japanese RPG, where the setting can be revealed to you over the course of 30-40 hours, and the fact that I expect my game to be maybe an hour and a half plays into my need to give the player the story in a more compact manner. But in how many games does the player character even have motivation, other than something incredibly simplistic like "I love my wife/the princess and I need to save her!" or "the aliens are invading, we must stop them!"? The only game I can think of off the top of my head in which the player character really has any deep, compelling motivation is Silent Hill 2, and that character's motivation was one of the main things that made that game so interesting to play. Indigo Prophecy would be another game I've just thought of in which the player character has a compelling motivation, and that was definitely the main appeal of that game. But games don't really do that much, and it's certainly an area where there's lots of room for improvement. Books make me think, movies make me think, music makes me think, so why don't games? There's no technical or artistic reasons that they can't, it's only because game designers haven't bothered to make games that way. I'm hoping to push things in that direction.

The Beginning

I've now successfully completed my prototype of my first game, tentatively titled "Punk Rock Saved My Life". The prototype is essentially the first room in the game, and it took me about a month of coding in my spare time. It includes a large front desk with two computers on it, two robots who move and can shock the player, and a completely working rhythmic/music system. I don't know if anyone else will ever read this post, I'm writing it mostly as a time capsule, so that I can look back on where I started from when the game is finished. Here is a list of what is in the game right now and how I hope to improve it:

- in the prototype, all three attacks for the first level are immediately available to the player, so that I could test out the implementation, but when the game is running properly, the player will start with just one and unlock the other attacks as the level goes on
- I'd like to have the background music change at different points throughout the level, at least during boss fights; listening to the same repeating two or four bar chord progressions might get annoying through levels that could take 15-20 minutes to play through
- I'm hoping to improve on the robot AI; at the moment the robots just chase you in circles, and have no way of navigating around obstacles; I'm fine with the way the AI chases the player, at least for the basic security bots, but I'd like it to be able to navigate obstacles to give a more consistent challenge
- collision detection is requiring a lot of work to get running properly; right now I have to check collision for each individual object, and many of them require special routines in order to keep the player from getting hung up on them or, in the case of larger sprites, getting stuck inside them entirely
- there are no puzzles of any sort; right now clean guitar serves no purpose, except that it makes the sound dynamics more interesting; all distorted guitar riffs operate in exactly the same way; there's nothing that tests the player's ability to enter pieces of riffs in sequence, as most of the puzzles and some of the boss fights will do, and that's one of the major programming tasks that I've got left
- there's no dialogue; I need to finish writing it, then record it, then I need to figure out and/or make a method to ensure that animations line up with the dialogue properly; possibly get music lining up with dialogue too
- I've determined that I want to use some of the songs I've already written in the game, as a sort of soundtrack, but I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to do that: menu music, credit music, and cut scene music are all viable options at the moment. That would give me room for about five songs
- the code needs to be cleaned up so that I can access things more easily and put less strain on the system resources; currently the vast majority of the code is in one main file, I may try to split this up if it proves unwieldy, as it almost certainly will

EDIT: I'm targetting an end-of-year release for the game. I also want that written in here for posterity.