BigBadBallGame Pt.2: BigBadBugs

A wise man once said:

‘Don’t code, it’s hard as shit, and unbelievably infuriating’

Wise words, wise man.

It’s going well, considering i’m still useless… The game is taking shape nicely, there have been a lot of changes in my mind as I’ve gone through the coding as to what I want the end product to be. This is due in part to what i’m capable of coding, and keeping my aspirations in check of what a first finished game should be able to achieve, considering the useless coder at the helm.

I’d like to upload some gifs and whatnot, but this stupid website won’t let me unless I pay.

I’m nearing what I guess I would call the mid stage of the basics of the game. The player’s paddle moves, interacts with the ball, which in turn interacts with the walls. There’s some basic AI going on, the opposition paddle will hit the ball back, and will chase powerups and all that good stuff.

Next on the agenda will be a score, menus, all the boring stuff that nobody gives a shit about but is super necessary.

And…

Oh My God the bugs. The coding part; getting the game objects to all interact and do the cool stuff, that’s fucking easy. Trying to figure out why seven paddles appear when the ball touches the wall at a funny angle, that’s shit.

I’m using a super easy game programming language, and can only imagine what hell is instore when I move on to Unity, but we all have to start somewhere, but debugging all these stupid problems is …. well, it’s super rewarding actually, when you find out what colon you’ve missed out, or what number should be a different number, or a letter, or not there at all, or in a different place, or in the same place but run at a different time, or.. yeah.

BUT soon, I will be doing the designs for all the paddles, balls, powerups, backgrounds (yay), cause I mean, how difficult can it be to design a ball, right?

In the mean time, take a look at some beautifully shit AI scripting.

 

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mmmmmmm.

The current state of gaming part 2: Storytelling 

When I decided to write a post about storytelling within games, I tried to think of an overarching theme to go along with, such as: ‘good storytelling makes a good game’ or ‘bad story telling can ruin a game’. But the truth is, it’s really not that simple.
You see a lot of reviews or rants about how a game had a terrible story line, (think Mass Effect 3, Final Fantasy XIII-2) and also how games had fantastic stories (KOTOR, The Last Of Us). The latter has been heralded by many as the best story ever told in a game, and comparable to Hollywood movies. But this doesn’t cover the game as a whole, and some of the reviews I read of games are too focused on story, when the story shouldn’t have been the driving point of the game. 

Let me give you an example: 

No Man’s Sky wasn’t well received, and in part that was due to its lackluster ‘lore’. Some of the reviews I read focused heavily on the lack of a driving story and reading them I couldn’t help but think: ‘right, but that’s not what this game is about’ it’s like criticising a hardware store for not selling bread. 

To me what it boils down to, and some people seem to forget this, is games are designed for different purposes and it’s very difficult to try and encompass every aspect, let alone do it well.

This is why a general overarching theme regarding storytelling is so difficult, it depends on the genre of the game and whether it’s supposed to be story driven.

Rocket League, for example was obviously never meant to have a story and is incredibly successful, nobody expects it to have a story, just like nobody expects it to sell a loaf of bread. But this leaves the question as to why games get a bad rap for story telling when they should be in the same boat?

Storytelling games of course should be judged on.. you guessed it, their ability to tell a good story and there are some games that do this fantastically: The Last Of Us, Heavy Rain, Freelancer, to name just a few. 

But what makes a good story in a video game? The plot, right? Well yes, but also no.

Obviously a good plot is fundamental to a good story, but the two are not synonymous. A good story is immersive. 

As I studied maths university we looked at how key conditions affected results. Bare with me. A sufficient condition is one which on it’s own will provide the desired results, whereas a necessary condition is one which, without it, won’t give the desired result, but it isn’t enough on its own.

We can apply this to good story telling in games. A good plot is a necessary condition, but isn’t enough on its own. The other condition is emersion. By this I mean good voice acting, good animation, believable characters, and for many games these days; good graphics, (Amongst other things).

There are of course exceptions to this rule. Go back a few years when the technology wasn’t available to give great animations and great graphics, we still had great stories (Final fantasy VII, Planescape Torment). But this I what I’m getting at: 

In my useless opinion, now that the capabilities are there, it’s expected that good story telling should have these components… It’s tough to argue that The Last Of Us would have had the same shattering impact on your soul if it had the graphics of a potato and the animations of a….Potato.

But this is a good thing! The immersion is just going to get better as technology progresses, and this ties in to my last post about complexity.. this is where that extra computing power can rarely be overspent.

So the future is bright.. of course there will come games with fantastic graphics and awesome animation, but plots that rival ‘The Room’ in it’s uselessness, it’s inevitable. But we also have more games like the majestic ‘The Last Of Us’ (if you hadn’t noticed I’m a bit of a fangirl about this game) to look forward to. So next time your playing a game and maybe the story let’s you down, take a moment to think, ‘wait, is this what I’m supposed to be looking for?’ else you’ll end up balls deep in that hardware store with nothing to hold your bacon, lettuce and tomato between.

It begins! 

It’s time! I’ve spent the past month or so cramming my head with as much information about GameMakerStudio, and feel I’ve learned and addiquate amount to start building my own game !

Ofcourse during the building and coding of the game I’ll have to watch an infinite number of further tutorials to get GameMaker to do what I want, but that’s pretty exciting for me.

This being the first game I’ve ever made, its pretty daunting thinking about where I should start. Do I jump right in and code, do I sort out artwork first? Gameplay mechanics? I guess the logical conclusion would be to start with the gameplay mechanics, difficult to code if you don’t know what it is your coding?

I don’t want to give too much away about the game, but think Tekken crossed with league of legends, and it’s nothing like that. But it’s as descriptive as I wish to be for the time being.

Again, as this is my first game, time frames are something I’m not as yet familiar with. I’ve seen indie game developers twtich stream a game build in 48 hours in GMS, but I’m under no illusions it’ll take me less than 100 times that amount of time.

I’m also under no illusions that the game will suck. Nobody gets it right on their first try, but that’s fine by me. If I know it’s gonna suck It takes the pressure off me a little, although of course, I will pour my heart into it over the coming months to try and make it at least semi playable.

It’s the artwork I’m most looking forward to. As it will be a fighting game(for simplicity’s sake) there won’t be much by way of story and such, so art work will take center stage and I’m super keen to learn as much about pixel art and the like as I build the game.

Exciting times ahead I hope and coming shortly will be some artwork hopefully, and my inevitable complaining about how dificult it is to make a game, yeah!

Coding, coding, drawing, more coding

It’s now been about a month since I wrote my very very first line of code, and I’d like to think I’ve come a long way and achieved a lot, considering how difficult and time consuming coding can be…

I’d like to share what I’ve accomplished so far by means of coding, and the software I’ve used to achieve this…
Firstly, I’ve started gamemaker studio, which is nice and intuitive, and I feel it’s important to start making games as soon as possible, and since c++ is so complex to generate a game, so I picked up something a little easier to to get some results, and it’s good! It’s promising! I’ve made my first game, asteroids!

It took me about 6 hours, and some pretty neat features, most of which came from a tutorial series I found, to help me get to grips with gamemaker. 

Secondly, visual studio, for learning c++. Far and the way the most important for programming, but also probably the hardest. I’ve spent probably around 25 hours so far on c++, I’d like for it to have been more, but with work an the other aspects of design I’m trying to learn, it’s proving difficult! 

Alas I’m proud to say I have now drawn a circle, which seems so convoluted, but awesomely satisfying..

The next step is start building a platformer on game maker , and also start looking into more complicated code in c++, classes and the like…
A long way to go but still feeling very upbeat and determined! 

My Progress So Far

So its been around a week, and I’ve tried to get the ball rolling as fast as I can; build up some momentum for getting a portfolio together for jobs further down the road.

Having done a fair amount of research into the gaming industry already, it seems clear there are a million ways to land yourself a career, so i’m trying to cover as many bases as possible to make myself more employable.

As it’s design i’m mostly looking to, i’ve taken up drawing again. I used to do it quite a bit in school and at the start of university, but it kind of fell by the wayside when my university workload got heavy.

I have always been a big fan of Game of Thrones, so thought i’d start by sketching a couple of the characters to get a feel for it again before I move into game character sketching and working with photoshop.

I also thought it would be a good idea to start building some audio works to add to my portfolio. While not necessarily the work of the designer, it can’t hurt to show prospective employers that I can do extra things.

I used to write a lot of music when I was a little younger, using Cubase mostly. I’ve played instruments for most of my life and writing music comes pretty naturally to me, and soon i’ll try my hand at writing some game themed music for certain scenarios/atmospheres.

Finally, and most importantly, is the coding. No self respecting game designer can get by without knowing how to code. Although it’s not strictly the GD’s jobs to do the coding, knowing whats going on behind the scenes is vital, and being able to communicate with the coders in the language they use can help everything run smoothly. So I’ve been learning c++, and its going great. Of course, it’s difficult and time consuming, and with a full time job, progress is limited but definitely there. I’ve began writing a small text based game just to get a feel for how c++ works, and soon, i’ll begin adding some visuals and hopefully my first (definitely rubbish) video game!

first-game

The game that made me want to pursue a career in game design

Every gamer has those games that make them go “wow..”; those games that stick with you, those that make you feel a bit lost when you’ve completed them, or leave you desperate for more.

Some games for me personally, I can’t stop returning to. Even though they may not have aged particularly well, there’s something about them, that “x-factor” that keeps you coming back.

In my opinion, these are the truly successful games, and these are the games I one day hope to be able to create. For me, it’s not about making big bucks. Sure, CoD and the like are all incredibly successful; they sell millions of units and hold value well, but nobody I know has ever said to me “I can’t put it down”, “I cant stop thinking about it”. The stories in these huge blockbuster titles are great, and the multiplayer is world class, but for me, they lack this “x-factor”; this element that grips you and won’t let go.

So here I will explain to you my top choice, my “x-factor” game.

 

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Released in 2003 by Microsoft, Freelancer is that game. I first played Freelancer when I was around 12, and boy did I love it. It was the first game I ever completed the campaign for and the first game I felt a little bit empty after finishing.

Freelancer had its roots in the old Elite game from many years before (what has now been redone into the new Elite and Elite Dangerous). For me it was the father of the space exploration genre, and every game in the genre since to me has been some weaker version.

Why Freelancer? First and foremost is the storyline. If ever you wanted a masterclass in story writing this game is it. The plot at first just seems like another of “those space stories with space pirates” and the like. But it grows, it twists and turns, and I don’t wish to give too much away for anyone out there who hasn’t played it, but the character interaction is fantastic The plot feels organic , you grow to feel like you know the protagonist and rest of the characters as you go with them through the story.

The playability is incredible, although some missions between the main storyline feel a little repetitive, the plot is so deep its enough to spur you on through those tedious side missions. The game felt ahead of its time. Even when I play now, the content doesn’t leave me wanting. It has everything a space explorer could need and does each aspect brilliantly. The variety in ships is there, the choice of ship modding is there. The one thing that these newer games had that Freelancer would have benefited from in my opinion is interactive cut scenes with dialog options to help shape the story, but this was far ahead of Freelancers time, and should a sequel ever be made, i’m sure will be included.

Finally the atmosphere that’s generated in this game is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. The soundtrack fits so well with the feel of the game it immerses you in the universe fantastically. Tense scenes are incredibly tense, and the scope of the galaxy is beautifully captured for an older game.

Of course no game is perfect, and Freelancer is no exception. Sometimes the lack of variation in the interior design detracts from the overall feel, and as mentioned, some of the side missions do become tedious. However these points are overshadowed completely by the positives this game has to offer.

The proof that this game is timeless is in the strong modding base this game still has after 14 years. Complete overhauls of the games graphics and even new storylines have been developed by the modding community to keep the game alive, one of the latest being crossfire 2.0 which is a must use mod for any Freelancer players.

This game was the first game that made me realise how beautifully done games can be when care is given to them. The designers, the artists, the audio tech guys, they all cared, and it showed, and it made me realise; can I do this? I want to learn how this is done, what makes this game the wonder that it is? What keeps players interested enough to spend hundreds of hours of their times modding it to make it even greater?

This is the kind of designer I want to be. This is the kind of game I want to make. For 10 years this game has stuck with me, I have completed it more times than i’ll admit to, and spent hundreds of hours enjoying every aspect of it, and I hope in the not to distant future, I can give other gamers the same joy.

 

 

Comparing video games and music, and why I’m choosing a career in game design

So, before I get into what this blog is about, a little about myself.

Born and raised in a small city in the north of Wales/UK, I spent 18 years there, where there was little to do, so I took up video games. Moved to Brighton,UK at 18 for university where I did a master’s degree in mathematics, and now, a year on from that I find myself in New Zealand on a working visa.

I remember one of the first games I ever played when I was about 5 was GTA2, (a little mature perhaps, fun nonetheless), but the first game I properly sunk my teeth into was Unreal Tournament, the original, I’d play for hours after school, and, pretty much constantly on the weekends.

It was around 12/13 I got hooked on gaming, along with music.

I took up the guitar and drums, and trained classically. After a few years learning (and when I was a little more mature) this allowed me to see music in a new light, more for its components, it’s depth, complexity, structure, and how to differentiate well written music from poor.

More recently, within the last 4 or 5 years I’ve started to adopt this mentality towards games, after all, it’s just as much a creative process with many of the same themes and structures. With music you can look at each musician, how their instrument helps build the music, how key changes, and major and minor chords influence the atmosphere of a piece. With a game you can do the same; how does the UX designer get me engrossed, how do the artists emerse me in the worlds? How do Foley artists make seemingly familiar sounds for items or animals that don’t exist? Taking this critical view has given me a desire to learn, just as I did with music, how video games are born.

The end results for both is, to me, the same. Good music envelops you, if you find a piece of music, or a song you can really connect with, it stays with you, personally it can occupy such a large part of my mind with its moving parts, I don’t need anything else. Good games do the same, but on a larger scale. And no, I’m not talking about shiny graphics or blockbuster titles (nor am I excluding them) I’m talking about the story, the emersion, the music, the creativity that drives deep in to the players mind, the aspects that stay with them.

This all seems perhaps a little exaggerated you might argue, after all, when the song is finished or you’re done gaming, you just go back to being you, doing your chores or heading to sleep, nothing has changed? But look at it this way, what if everything  has changed? Music and video games are with us now from such an early age, it shapes many of us, and helps define many aspects of who we are and what we do. So I don’t personally believe what I have said is an exaggeration, when to me it is so much of who we are.

What I personally believe is, there is very little to separate music and gaming, just cause the latter is newer and its roots arebt as established. It shouldn’t deduct from its impact, which is undeniable.

This, all of this, is why I’m choosing this career. At the end of my life, chances are I won’t be world renowned, I’m not trying to move mountains, but I will hopefully be able to look back knowing I contributed my little bit to the world, in a positive way.