Aside 62: Why Have I Not Released Anything Yet?

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To me, game development is an intensely personal activity; it’s art, it’s the purest form of self-expression. I have poured my heart and soul into this game for more than three years now, much as I poured my heart and soul into all the intermediate projects that came before. But people keep saying, “why have you not released anything yet?”

The answer is complex.

First, and probably foremost, as game development is so intensely personal, so I have an intense fear of giving it to other people — because to do so is to give myself to other people. What will they think? What if — and this is very likely, given my understanding of the successes of similar and not-so-similar games — they don’t like it? Ultimately, I would rather the mere potential that my friends will dislike it than the actuality of such, because to dislike or even be indifferent towards this thing into which I have put my life is to dislike or be indifferent towards me. That is how important it is, rightly or wrongly.

Second, as game development to me is Art, so it is bound up in the vision of what I want to create. To give that to people before it is right is to risk that vision being corrupted. Is the game in a good state right now? Yes, yes it is. Does it match the minimum of what I consider to be a coherent and cohesive unit? No, it does not. The game I have planned is large and detailed; while many of the broad strokes and foundations are now in place for the earliest piece of that vision, many more are not.

Third, although it may not be obvious now, there is a heavy narrative component. I have plans for this mythos and I intend to develop it over many different scenarios over many years using the same base engine and materials. Once I release a single thing, then that narrative will no longer be fluid — it will become concrete. Much as I rail against retcons and ass pulls in other media, I do not want to put myself in a position where I will be forced to undo previous work that should be set in stone because I made a hasty choice for the sake of releasing something. Whose deadline am I working to anyway?

Fourth, I am a lone developer, and as I want to develop this single thing over many years after its initial burst, so I only have one shot at making a first impression. I fully intend to spend some money on marketing when the time is right, but I absolutely cannot afford to have that undermined by jumping the gun and starting the ball rolling too soon. I announced enough WC3 map projects Too Soon back in the day to be able to afford to do it to something genuinely important. Triple-A game developers can rely on a buggy first release and promises of massive overhaul patches, but a nobody like me cannot.

So please, do not ask me why I have not released this yet. I am acutely aware of all that I have done so far, all that I have not released versus all that I want to build, and this is incredibly difficult in so many ways. Please, trust me.

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Aside 60: Ludicrous Mech Games

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I was recently reminded of the classic third-person shooter Lost Planet and its hilariously overblown mech sections. I replayed it but had no new thoughts to add to my original review; it’s beautifully optimised, hilariously explosive fun, but suffers from low manoeuvrability. Maybe one thought — I do really love its vehicle art style, which is a perfect blend of rule-of-cool design features and plausible industrial sci-fi (i.e. what I’m aiming for).

Then that put me in mind of Shogo: Mobile Armor Division (spelling aside), another game with overblown giant mech action mixed with on-foot meanderings. I didn’t have any new thoughts about that either, but I had a total blast replaying it — the mech levels are pretty much the best thing since sliced bread.

Basically, I want more of this — so does anybody have any recommendations for other “ludicrous mech games” that I might enjoy? Not simulation-heavy MechWarrior-likes, but silly, large-scale, over-the-top first/third-person shooters. Mmmm.

Aside 59: The Shape and the Power of the Voice

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So I finally bought myself a proper microphone, a half-decent mid-range one with a good balance of affordability, versatility, n00b-friendliness and recording quality. This is most likely an investment in being able to do high-quality announcer voices for my game, but according to the manual it’s good for pretty much anything — voices, musical instruments, sound effects and more — so who knows where it’ll end up?

I gave it a test run with a bit of a demo reel, where I said many silly things in silly voices:

I reckon, however, for my upcoming exposé about Nox, I’m going to give it a real stress run. Rather than doing a straight blog, I’m thinking I’ll do me talking over videos of me playing the game, so you can get a better feel for it than you can from silly captioned pictures. You can tell me this is a terrible idea right now and I’ll fall back to the written version, or we can see how it goes…

Aside 58: Procedural Drama

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I am starting to feel like procedural generation is a very selfish way to build a game.

Think about it. The algorithms are devilishly fun and satisfying to implement, for the creator, and the resulting game can surprise that creator with unanticipated combinations.

But a procedurally generated level cannot deliver the same level of depth as a hand-crafted one, or at least, not with humanity’s current level of technology and algorithmic understanding.

Plus, adding permadeath to that means you don’t need a saving system at all — no death and reload, but death and set the generator going again. Easier for the developer, because state saving and loading is Hard.

Which is fine until you start asking people to give you money for your game, which is when you probably need to focus more on their experiences as players than your own as a developer.

Having said that, my level design skills and technological capabilities are extremely rusty, so my first forays into singleplayer dungeon crawling are almost certainly going to be procedural — since I have already done a heap of procedural work for other shits and giggles and I love building interlocking modular props. But rest assured, no matter how much effort I pour into making the computer generate endless time-sinking but ultimately hollow missinos, my heart lies in my hands.

Aside 56: The Battle Rages On

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It’s been more than five years since This Wreckage version Gamma was released, let alone since the first version came out.

Since then, the scoreboard has kept the dream alive. It’s not busy, but ticks over regularly enough — mostly thanks to the on-going battle for Champion status between sleepyskipi and SubZero. I never designed the scoring system in a particularly robust way, so it shouldn’t have surprised me when SubZero managed to post a score of over a million points. It should also not surprise me that sleepyskipi has now busted that score.

The battle also continues over speed-running the map, but SubZero still holds onto that title… for now. Can you do it in less than 1 hour and 3 minutes?

You’re crazy but I love you. My stand-alone game(s) will definitely have a scoring system.

Aside 55: New Vegas

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I’ve been replaying Fallout: New Vegas over the past couple of weeks, and it strikes me that this is the logical end to what I want to create for myself. A sprawling world in which an action RPG takes place, replete with characters, factions, towns, quests and exotic landmarks.

I don’t know how I’ll get there yet. I don’t know how big I’ll be able to make my levels before the computer dies, I don’t know how many characters I will be able to put in them before my tottering algorithms collapse, I don’t even know how to load and transition to new levels.

But long-term, super-super-long-term, I’m pretty sure this is the end state: exploration, discovery, bartering, crafting, conversation, factions, reputation and, of course above all else, action. The only thing I’ll do differently is make my world(s) less brown. Damn, but FO:NV is brown.

Aside 54: Out of My League

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The main problem with my game development right now is that I’m just not clever enough to do the things that I’m trying to do. Bot obstacle avoidance is a very complex problem and, while parts of my approach are fine, the whole thing starts to wobble as I layer on more and more features.

Maybe it’ll all be fine in reality; my scratchpad level is, after all, festooned with obstacles deliberately placed to stress and confuse the system. Maybe once I build real patrol routes on real levels things will be much smoother.

I am beginning to wonder if I’m punching too far above my weight, though — and what will happen when I finally get knocked out.