Month: November 2020 (Page 1 of 2)

Let’s be Frank for a moment..

Deciding to set Polycity in some un-named American metropolis, was a decision driven almost entirely by a comedy hero of mine.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the cult TV series police squad and the naked gun films it spawned (all 33 and 1/3 of them).

Leslie Nielson as the legendary Lieutenant Frank Drebin was simply comedy genius and during my formative years was the best thing on VHS (or Betamax)

The Legend Frank Drebin.

I just love that dead pan delivery, especially in his voice over sequences as he drives between scenes and provides exposition in the films and those incredible scripts littered with great word play, puns and broken metaphors.

I wanted to bring some of this style back to life in PolyCity and frankly, (pun intended) it wouldn’t have worked in a British accent, or a British setting.

America just looks cooler

That immediately posed me a problem, in that (if you hadn’t guessed already) I’m British and my attempt at an American accent is laughable. I knew straight out the gate that I was going to have to employ somebody to bring this feeling to the game and that of course meant spending some money.

With over a decade of experience working in the digital software sector, there’s a number of voice over artists I’ve used and known through my day job, but I knew that the styles they deliver wouldn’t really suit what I was after… It was then I remembered Fiver !

If you’ve not heard of Fiver then the concept is simple. You go on the site and look at content creators offering their services for as little as £5.

If you are familiar with Fiver, you’ll also know that NOBODY does anything for a fiver! certainly not anything decent.

This meant I had to bite the bullet and try a couple of people out to find the voice I needed. Armed with a little description of what I was after and the first 10 lines of dialogue from the game I paid a total stranger (who sounded like the perfect fit from his showreel) to record the lines and send me them back.

8 hours later, I had an email.30 seconds later I had a MASSIVE smile on my face.

Eric, had scored a direct hit, first time! An excellent husky deep voice, perfect accent and exactly the right pace.

The exposition driving scenes – a big part of the storytelling enhanced by the perfect voice

It was amazing how much his voice brought to the first few scenes and helped define that style, and just how much that invigorated me and drove me forward with development.

You can hear his excellent influence in the teaser I put out last month, and with that moody lounge jazz in the background it’s the perfect combo.

I’m looking forward to sharing another trailer with you all soon, when you can appreciate a few more lines of his frankly excellent voice!

Taking Bongo International.

So last weekend I mentioned that I’d detoured from the sacred plan and got carried away with a sudden new idea…. even though everyone knows it’s never a good idea to stray from the path!

I spent the time to write a blog post justifying why I ignored my own advice, so I thought it was only fair to give a sneak peak of what I’d been up to on my little off-piste trip.

Even though PolyCity is set in a sprawling American metropolis (More on that in the next post), I wanted to give it a small flavour, a little taste, a feint whiff of my home town.

Now Middlesbrough certainly has some sights, and some characters that would fit perfectly into a game like this, but if you asked a local to think of one place, one location, one venue that might be useful in a story about the seedy crime underworld, then you’d get one answer.

The bongo.

The legend lives on

The point at which I became old enough to legally drink (long after I began illegally drinking) Club Bongo was simply a place you did not go.

It’s thought that in Star Wars, Obi Wan kenobi’s famous description of the Mos eisley cantina, was a genuine, un-scripted ad-lib by Sir Alec Guinness, who had recently returned from a 14 hour bender in Middlesbrough, ending at the bongo, with those words echoing in his shattered mind.

“You’ll not find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, we must be cautious”

These are not the roids you’re looking for

In actual fact, as we got older, we learned that Club Bongo International (to give it it’s full name) was steeped in rich heritage and history. (It was steeped in many other things too)

Started in 1963 by a Somalian who served in the merchant navy, it became an institution in the town, providing some of the best, most authentic vinyl only reggae nights you could wish for, it just wasn’t for the feint hearted.

Unfortunately over it’s long history (and coincidentally the few occasions I found myself there) it had more than it’s fair share of incidents and currently lies dormant, after another revoked license for a “spot of door trouble”

A dark alley, behind the bongo? yeah, should be fine.

So in homage to our towns most loved and equally feared nightclub, I’ve decided to bring it’s essence back to life in PolyCity.

And what can you expect to find there? You’ll just have to wait and see.


When you manage to carve out a couple of hours on an evening to get some development on your game done, you always want to make as much progress as possible in that short time.

‘Progress’ however, can be hard to define.

With a story based adventure game, progress is often defined as getting some interactions hooked up to an object or writing some witty dialogue or fixing the 20 bugs you have in one of your scenes. All of these things directly take you towards completing more of the game, so they feel rewarding and you go to bed feeling like you’ve made good use of the time.

This is usually what progress looks like

But sometimes those precious hours need to be spent doing something else. Something that doesn’t advance the story, or add an interaction or create anything noticeable to the final player at all.

Sometimes you need to take a step back and create something NOW that will save you time LATER. Yesterday evening was that time.

After having strayed from the path recently, I ended up opening a real can of worms when it came to the main location map.

The can of worms dealing with just 4 driving cut-scenes

For any location the player chooses from the map I need to check the users progress, then prepare a cutscene of the protagonist driving through the streets of the city, with some witty voice over to direct the player to their next task and summarise the story.

The only solution was to spend the evening making a clever template action to clean up this mess and handle all map clicks from now on as the problem will only get bigger as the location count goes up!

With Adventure Creator these templates are called Action list assets

These scene independent blocks, allow you to define a complex, reusable action list, into which you can plug parameters.

This means that for certain interactions that you’ll want to repeat many times you can build a template, and use this same template whenever you want the character to do that action, with parameters exposed for some variation.

Phew! that’s more manageable

This powerful “code free” building block of Adventure Creator is something that I already use regularly throughout the game. Being a fairly well experienced C# programmer these are core principles, but the visual node editor of AC is just so much easier to manage and track.

Contained in each of those pink boxes (above) is a new re-usable template action which deals with camera fades, pauses, music transitions, voice over playback, menu visibility and finally the loading of the next scene.

The template itself (below), took a little time to configure, but it’s now a powerful, re-usable tool which will save me so much time (and screen space) as I move forward.

Inside the little pink boxes all this goes on

All of those interconnected actions (above) now only need to exist once, and can be re-used as many times as I need, by just plugging in 3 variables.

  1. The path/route for the car to take around the scene
  2. The MP3 Audio narration to play during that time
  3. Which scene to load after we’re done

Aaaaaaannnd Breathe!

So that’s an evenings work, and the kind of really important progress which no-one will ever see.

The joys of game development 🙂

Stay on target…Staaaayy on target!

Trying to follow the wise words of veteran Y wing pilot Davish Krail, isn’t easy.

(If I’m honest I had to look that up on wookiepedia, I thought it was Wedge Antilles)

When I’m working on the game, my mind starts to wander and make up backstories, extra scenes, new locations or an extra twist. It even happens in the shower, or while out walking the dogs, I can’t silence the voices !!

I’m my worst enemy when it comes to sticking to the plan.

Whooaaaa there!

One of the joys of fabricating a whole story, a whole city, the offices, industrial estates, suburbs, shady alleys and their inhabitants, is my brain never stops creating. It’s actually a really enjoyable part of the process, and I know other’s have the same issue, it’s the curse of the creative mind.

Whether you like his Jack Reacher books or not, best selling author Lee Child has spoken about this a lot. He doesn’t plan a Reacher novel, he sets up a scenario in his mind but even he doesn’t know what’s going to happen until it starts flowing out into his keyboard.

I’ve watched a great interview with him, where he explains that he simply couldn’t plan out the whole plot, purely because that’s the part of the process that he enjoys most, otherwise he’d be totally bored. He’s along for the ride, just like the reader.

This is yet another piece of the scope-creep puzzle which needs to be managed by a part time indie developer. A totally free reign, organic changing story would be a fantastically freeing and creative way to make an adventure game, but in reality it just isn’t feasible.

Just a snippet of all the interaction hotspots, needed in a tiny scene.. this needs a plan

The risk is too high with so much effort and time needing to go into every interaction and puzzle, to just go wandering off with the plot.

That said, it remains a favourite pastime of mine, I just try and scale things down in my mind, ease the brakes on a little. It’s a great feeling to think of a little extra, just something small that can weaved in, or maybe a better idea for a scene or camera shot that hasn’t been built yet. Or even a new character you meet in an alley.

There’s no doubt straying from the plan will slow me down, but hopefully those little extras, and kinks in the path will make the journey more exciting for everyone.

Hmmm..that looks familiar?

Over the years I’ve worked as an illustrator, animator, teacher,  programmer, and designer (amongst many other related roles)

One thing that has been a constant for me since childhood has been my passion for drawing and creating my own graphics on computers.

From deluxe paint and real 3d on my old Amiga 500 to Corel draw, Macromedia director and flash on my first pc, I’ve always spent time, effort and energy on developing original graphics.

My childhood voyage of graphical discovery

So why change the habit of a lifetime now? I hear literally none of you cry!

Well, perversely it comes down to experience. Specifically the experience of hand-drawing backgrounds, characters animations and inventory items for my previous attempts at adventure games.

Whilst incredibly enjoyable and rewarding, it becomes the most time consuming part of the process and limits the amount of time remaining for everything else.

I’ve already written on the blog about the importance of setting realistic goals and an achievable scope so this time around I decided to leave the bulk of the graphics assets to someone else.

This was a really difficult decision for me, but after weeks of searching for a solution I found the great asset packs from Synty Studios and realised I could adapt and stylise them further to suit my aims. I was hooked!

Stamping your own ‘feel’ on a scene

It’s like having the best lego set in the world, with all the little pieces you need to be creative and build the scenes and locations of your dreams, in a fraction of the time!

More than anything else it lets me focus on the other graphics tasks in the game like scene design, cinematics, lighting and post production effects to give the feel I want, without having to model every single asset from scratch.

There’s a lot of things to 3D model, even in a cupboard

The downside is of course that these assets are not unique and have been used before by other indie Devs in the past and are likely to appear again in someone else’s project in the future.

With the old adage “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” ringing in my stubborn ears, I made my decision and set out to make polycity stories.

I’ve still got a huge graphics task at hand building every scene, furnishing it, adding items and objects out of the building blocks, wall segments and components I’ve invested in, with the added creative challenge of putting my personal stamp on the final look and feel too.

Ultimately this approach should make it much more likely I’ll actually achieve my goal of creating a finished game.

Only time will tell, hopefully a lot less time than my other attempts ,😀

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