Author: Andi (Page 2 of 3)

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 ,😀

All hail AC

One of the joys of using a well established game engine like UNITY is the power it gives you to get into the detail. Unfortunately the main problem is also the power it gives you to get into the detail.

Preparing a scene and interactions in UNITY (with AC)

Without doubt the key reason I’m even attempting another point and click game is because of the incredible work done by Chris Burton at Ice Box Studios in creating Adventure Creator (AC) for UNITY.

Throughout the process I’ll post screengrabs and a few articles about the tech infrastructure in the background. I know there’s some geeks out there that will be interested and equally people who have a passion for screenwriting or storytelling and might see these tools and maybe have a try themselves.

More often than not these screenshots will be showing some of the great tools Chris has made to rise above some of this detail and speed the game making process up.

As a first tech treat, here’s just a snippet of a single dialogue tree with “hobo joe” one of the first NPCs you’ll come across in Poly City.

Just one branch of Hobo Joe’s conversation tree… and he’s drunk!

From this snippet you should be able to just about make out the many “wires” that connect each piece of dialogue and the multiple branch points that give the end user that classic “choose your response” during conversations.

For the non-technical this might look daunting, but it works really well for stringing together pretty complex chains of conversation. AC also uses the same node based editor for all action sequences, so right in the middle of a conversation you can trigger a camera cut, a piece of animation, a sound effect or anything you need to move the story along.

The classic multiple dialogue option list

I’ve personally colour coded different action types, so it’s easy at a glance to see what is dialogue, camera moves or other triggers. It’s a great system and drives so much of the efficiency behind the Adventure Creator plugin.

You’d think I was on commission! But genuinely I’m not, it’s just a great set of tools that let people like me realise their dream of creating a proper point and click adventure!

Plan it, bin it and plan it again

So given everything I said about setting realistic goals, One thing I really want to achieve with Poly City is a solid story.

This meant before I even got in front of a computer, a year’s supply of post it notes, pens and paper were bought.

It was no coincidence that the UK had just been placed into lockdown during our first wave of covid19 and it felt like we were stockpiling everything. If nothing else the 20 Meter roll of art paper and colourful self adhesive sheets, could be used to stock our bathroom during the great toilet roll shortage of April 2020.

Thankfully being one of the best summer’s we’d had in years (typically during lockdown) those post it notes started to spread around the garden too, giving us a break from our 4 walls.

The key point for all of this planning was to ensure I had a solid story with real motivation to solve the puzzles along the way. It was to also avoid some of the pain of my previous games, which tended to evolve organically and spiral out of scope.

The godfather of the Point and Click Genre Ron Gilbert swears by the PDC or puzzle dependency chart for this very task, something pivotal to creating a cohesive adventure game with multiple concurrent tasks and a feeling of progression for the player.

Not actually a PDC (that would give the game away!) but a narrative flow of the key story points

Without his wise teachings from his blog and his work on the SCUMM engine, (leading to the incredible Monkey Island games) I doubt I’d ever have got into this stuff in the first place.

Thanks Ron.

Know your limits – (yes you)

If there’s something I learnt from making my previous adventure game Something Fowl Afoot it’s to set realistic goals. I actually started writing that game over 10 years ago as a quick free time project and ended up sinking thousands of hours into hand drawn animation, coding and narrative which over it’s lifetime was ported and rewritten in at least 2 different engines and languages.

It was a painful realisation the day I decided to set it free that I’d lost control of it and couldn’t even properly bug test it anymore. It had got out of control and to this day I still wish I could fix it’s problems and release it.

Everyone I’ve ever followed in the indie game community says the same thing.. SET REALISTIC GOALS but nobody (including me) ever listens.

The problem is many of us are perfectionists and we want the thing we’re creating to look, play and sound as good as it can, we dream big, we aim high.. and that makes the fall more painful when it inevitably comes.

The honest truth is with a busy fulltime job, family life and two stupid dogs to entertain, you have to reign in your ideas… just a little.

So this time I’m approaching things a little differently…

Firstly I’m using UNITY, something I’ve been using professionally in my fulltime job for years. It’s an engine and a language (C#) that isn’t going away, with great bug testing tools and addons to speed up the development time.

Secondly, this time I’m not creating the graphics from scratch, I’m leveraging on the incredible skills of the larger UNITY community and paying some of those talented content creators for their brilliant models and then adapting and editing them myself, making a few bespoke special things on the way.

This means a new graphical style which is a departure from my usual hand-drawn method from my previous games like Fantasy Quest, but I’m really pleased with the way things are looking a few months in.

So here I go, promising myself not to aim too high, not to dream too big.

Wish me luck 🙂

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