The Story So Far

Hello. It may not have escaped the attention of both of the people who read this blog before that the site has been changed slightly. This is mainly because this is now going to be more of a portfolio/devblog being maintained by me, Ash, than anything else.

Basically, after finishing Nuclear Storm, the games we had planned on developing (‘we’ being Me, Dan and Miles) fell a little flat and then life got in the way, so I’ve continued to develop some of my own ideas, which is sort of what this post is about…

Where we were

The idea behind developing Nuclear Storm (which is still playable here!) was to learn how to use Unity while obviously making a finished game, and we learned a lot. Like, more than I could have imagined. The code and general art pipeline makes me wince now, but you’ve got start somewhere and I’m really happy with what we produced. I’m actually proud enough of it that I’d love to go back and “remake” it at some point, without the horrible code and clumsily implemention of Dan’s artwork, obviously.

The next project was supposed to be Stranded, a sort of puzzle/adventure game, which I still think could be a great idea. Unfortunately I think we bit off more than we could chew in terms of scope, and just how much we were actually capable of at that point in time. Again, it’s something I’d like to come back to at some point. The development did inspire what I decided to next, though, while we all got busy with our lives.

The mini-games

With the knowledge that learning by doing is clearly very effective I decided to keep making games, basically. Unfortunately, I’m no artist, but since my main aim to was to keep learning, I decided to think of mini-games (or old school flash games) that I could do my own take on and try to make one every month. I get to keep the scope of the project simple (increasing it slightly if it was a particularly simple game) and not worry about the art all that much, while having something immediate to focus on – I didn’t want to spend a lot of time designing a game when I still had lots to learn about how to bring that design to life.

The extra advantage of this plan, which I didn’t actually realise until after I’d almost finished my first game, was that I’d get a chance to interact with people playing my games by using a service like GameJolt. GameJolt is basically one of those previously mentioned Flash game sites, but includes games built on a much larger range of platforms and includes features like leaderboards and achievements. Having people actually play on my games is the reason I want to make them (which may seem obvious, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s the reason some people do it!), and the players at GameJolt are very enthusiastic.

Park It

So, my first game was based on those top-down parking sims that I remember playing years ago when I should have been working but got especially bored – You control a car and you have to park in an assigned space in a car park (or “parking lot”) with an often increasing amount of hazards.

You can play my version here.

I’m going to write a separate post about what went right, what went wrong, and what I think I learned, but long story short, I loved the process. I produced everything for the game except the music, so it’s especially nice to read some of the lovely comments that people made about it.

Unfortunately, some rather horrible personal circumstances (all fine now, thankfully) after finishing Park It meant that I ended up away from development for quite a while. Afterwards, since I’d clearly broken my ‘game every month’ plan (Park It actually took me 5 weeks, but quiet down, you) I decided to start working on a game idea I had ages ago that would also work on touch-screen devices.

Turn By Turn Racing

As the title hints at, Turn By Turn Racing is basically a turn-based racing game. Players pick a gear and move their car a set distance based on that gear, before passing to their opponent and repeating the process. Judging the distance you will move and making educated guesses to gain ground on them being the aim.

It took me quite a while to get Turn By Turn working anywhere close to how I wanted, but I posted it around to get some feedback once it was mostly working and it got some good reactions and a *lot* of suggestions, which varied wildly in the direction the game would take. I had some basic ideas for where I wanted the game to go, but nothing that I was absolutely certain of, so this feedback was both brilliant and, in hindsight, a bit of a pain.

Again, I’ll write up a separate post about what I learned, but the main point is that I rushed in too quickly. Not having a concrete plan before I started developing some of the core features meant that I’d painted myself into a corner in some senses, and some of the suggestions left me a little confused about exactly which direction I needed or wanted to take the game in.

Again, you can play the latest version on GameJolt here, or download the Android version here. It’s essentially one basic mechanic at this point, but it gives an indication of what I wanted to achieve, I think.

Sniper

So here we are now. After another short break, I started working on another of those mini-games, this time based on stickman-shooting sniper games that seemed to be everywhere at one point.

This was one of the first ideas that came to me when I planned to make the min-games but I’d put it off because of concerns about producing the art and the scope of what I wanted to do. Thankfully, a slightly different plan popped into my head one day which seemed feasible and I started working on it right away.

I’ve not quite finished with Sniper yet so I’m not going to go into too much detail about what I had planned originally and how it changed (again, another post for another day) but so far it’s the happiest I’ve ever been with a project. I’ve taken my time and made design decisions early, and planned the design enough that I don’t end up backtracking. It’s been fantastic to work on so far.

I still don’t know for sure how good the game is – I’ll let other people decide that – but the early feedback I’ve received has been useful and I’m approaching a point in development where I need to start overhauling my awful placeholder art into something better. Exciting times!

Wrapping up…

This was all considerably longer than I had originally planned, but it was surprisingly cathartic. Hopefully this sets things up nicely for me to continue posting about development and gives a nice intro to anyone who hasn’t read anything here before.

I’m actually quite looking forward to writing about the development of Park It and Turn By Turn Racing, and I’d recommend other indie devs take some time to think about a project a few months after it’s completion to see exactly what you did right and wrong.

Right now, it’s back to finishing Sniper. Wish me luck!

Nuclear Storm and the future

Hello there. It seems to be a bit of a tradition of mine to open a post stating how long it’s been since I last updated, but not this time! Not unless you count that previous sentence anyway. Onwards!

Nuclear Storm

Our beloved Nuclear Storm is now finished. Well, sort of. We had some discussions and decided that we’d push to get it to beta and then let people play for a while, seeing what sort of feedback we got. That was a month or so ago, I think, and we’ve not really done anything on it since, so we decided to leave it as is.

We’ve not made any real effort to spread the word or arrange any real testing, so feedback has been fairly thin on the ground, but most of the stuff that we’ve received was very positive, littered with suggestions and changes that we’ve known of for a while – general difficulty, no checkpointing, and the objective arrows implementation being the main culprits. But we’re very happy with how it turned out and we’ve certainly learnt a lot.

You can still play and/or download the game on the Nuclear Storm page. We’ve got no plans to take it down, and we’re always happy to receive feedback or bugs reports via the link on the same page. Just don’t expect us to implement any changes unless it’s a bug and we’ve got a good idea how to fix it. Sorry!

So, what’s next?

We’ve had a busy few months outside the world of making games, so we’ve made slow progress with the plans for the next project, but it’s starting to take shape now. Obviously we’re not planning on sharing what it is just yet, but mainly because we haven’t got far enough to describe it without it mentioning something that’s likely to change dramatically or just disappear. Also, we’re still arguing about whether or not it’s going to be in 4D and use motion controls*.

What we are planning on doing right now is try and get a bit more of an online presence for anyone who is interested in what we’re doing. and we are definitely planning on updating more regularly on this blog, with a better looking website at some point. There will be tweets and Facebook posts inbetween all that, though, if that’s your sort of thing.

Luckily, if that is your sort of thing, you can find us on Twitter at the @RelevantDev account. We’re all on Twitter individually, too, if you don’t mind completely irrelevant updates or complete silence, depending on who you follow. We’ve now got Facebook and Google+ pages, too. Plus, there’s still the mailing list if you prefer your updates rare and via email.

* It definitely won’t use motion controls. We’ll likely patch in 4D support sometime in the distant future.

Until next time…

So, after a busy few months we’re eager to get back into the swing of things and start making another game, which is nice. Fresh enthusiasm and new ideas should hopefully inspire us into keeping the site updated with what we’re up to and how we’ve achieved certain elements of the game, etc., which is hopefully interesting to you, the lovely reader.

So, that’s it for now. We’ll (almost definitely) be back soon!

Reaching a milestone: Part 2

Hello again. It’s been a quiet around here again, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. However, I do have two bits of news to share that I hope will make up for it…

News!

Firstly, our game has a name! A proper one, that is. We’ve been referring to it by it’s Unity project name since, well, we first created it as a Unity project, so we decided to have a session of sitting around and throwing words and names about and seeing what stuck. Thankfully, we found one we all agreed on and that is…

*drum roll*

Nuclear Storm!

There are a few reasons why that made sense, and some of those are due to the world the game takes place in, as well as the fact that it sounds more exciting than the project name. So there you go!

More news!

The other news is that we’re getting ready to send Nuclear Storm out into the world of testing. Exciting! Terrifying!

If you’ve signed up at the mailing list page (it’s still here) then you can expect an email at some point this week (I hope) with a little more info and the current state of the game, as well as some details of how you can report bugs and feedback so we can improve things.

It’s actually a little bit scary now that we’re this close, but I’m really looking forward to getting some feedback and trying to make a better game. So, if you’ve not done it yet, go to the mailing list and sign up!

Well, that’s it for now. Thanks!

Reaching a milestone

It’s been a frustrating few weeks for us, trying to find some time to keep developing, but then we know that this is the difficult part of working in your spare time. We’ve made some progress, and in some key areas, but it’s not been as quick as we’d like.

We’re at a stage now where some of the larger tasks need completing – the sort of tasks that break the game until they’re done, or at the very least can’t be implemented until they’re finished, but that’s where the good news comes in – we’ve finally reached alpha!

Alpha!

Our first post here mentioned that we’d reached pre-alpha, which basically means we have enough of the game core in to be able to play it. Being in alpha basically means that the game core is finished – you can now start playing from the main menu, complete your objectives (or die trying!), and then decide what you want to do next – quit or play again. There is still a lot of content missing, but the gameplay elements are functioning.

The biggest challenge lately has come from killing the player. It shouldn’t really be a surprise that when you try to remove the one thing that most of the game is focused on, things tend to break, so we had to be sensible – and very careful – when it came to implementing this, but we’re happy that you can no longer fly full force into the canyon walls and bounce off. I’m not quite so happy about doing it by accident while trying to test something else!

What next?

The plan now involves fixing the many bugs we know about, balancing the player and enemy health systems with all the weapons, adding in all the extra content that makes it look like a game, like sound and particle effects, and designing the actual level layout and balancing that. Oh, and fixing all the other bugs that we haven’t found yet. Easy!

Still, despite the amount of work that still needs doing, it’s a huge milestone to get the game where it is and we’re really proud of it. I’ve played through it a few times now and it’s good fun considering how rough around the edges some elements are, and how terrible I am at it at the moment!

More updates soon! Hopefully.

Don’t forget that we’ve set up a page for mailing list sign-ups here. Emails will be very rare, but we’ll almost certainly be asking for testers via this list if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Adding some realism to player movement

We’ve been quite happy with the handling of the helicopter you control for quite a while now, but it’s spent most of the time just gliding through the air without any real animation. I had a go at fixing this a while ago using two different methods: One of these methods failed spectacularly, the other in the most mundane way possible.

Take one

The original method was to rotate the the chopper along one of its axes based on the direction it was headed in and it seemed to make perfect sense before I tried it. Thankfully the reason it failed made itself apparent really quickly:

The player is moved using Unity’s physics system. Obviously we haven’t tried to simulate the physics of a real chopper, but pushing the player with forces meant we could capture some of the characteristics of a chopper and get better reactions on collisions. The input system basically shoves the player forward while they’re pressing forward, sideways when they press sideways, etc, while momentum handles some of the expected handling characteristics. The problem with rotating the player was that when we pitched the chopper forwards, the forwards direction of the force was also adjusted, making the player perform a rather dramatic nosedive whenever they moved forwards. It looked amazing and I definitely had a good laugh for the 2 minutes it was in place, but that really wasn’t going to work.

Take two

The other method was a bit hopeful, really: I’d used Mecanim (Unity’s animation system) for the Stealth tutorial that Unity provides, but I wasn’t really all that sure of how to use it effectively. It also meant that I had to create a few different animation states for the player using Blender (the 3D modelling tool we use for the game’s assets) which I wasn’t all that comfortable doing. This combination of uncertain and uncomfortable meant that the end result was about  two hours of setup work and a chopper that did…well, nothing. Worse than nothing, really – it broke the rotor animations that were working fine before. Oops. I’ll come back to this later then…

Some time later…

Fast forward a couple of months and I knew that a reworking of the first method was the only real way that this was going to work. Thankfully, working on other parts of the game had made me realise that there was a really simple solution to get it working without meeting a violent end as soon as you moved forward – a container object.

I won’t go into detail about why that particular solution works, but it essentially means that the player gets pushed forward in the same direction, while a separate object rotates the physical representation of the player, making it look like a chopper should without actually simulating all the complicated forces and effects on a chopper in flight.

Amazingly, I got it working without any major issues within an hour and Miles and Dan gave their approval. A brief testing session later, Miles rather sensibly pointed out that the animation should be based on player input, not their current velocity, and after some quick changes we were left with the following:

Obviously everything is still being worked on. The animations have prompted a few conversions about the player speed and various other things that we still need to tweak and decide on, but after spending months looking at a chopper gliding through the air during testing, we’re all rather pleased with it!

Other updates

We had a really productive meeting last week going through Miles’ reworking of some old code and Dan’s first sketch of the level layout and his plans for adding more detail.

Since then, Miles has reworked more of the code with a view to us finishing the job the next time we meet up, Dan has been adding more details to the level and tweaked some of the existing models, and I’ve added some code so we can change some of the environmental effects when in certain areas of the map.

Up next: reworking the badly (oh so badly) broken aiming system, adding in another weapon for the player (hopefully), and more level design work.

We’ve also set up a page for mailing list sign-ups here. We’ll obviously not use your email address for anything else and emails will likely be (very) rare, so you’ll not get spammed. We’ll almost certainly be asking for testers via this list, so you know what to do if you’re interested!

A little more info

Here we go, then: update #2.

I suppose the two screenshots at the end of the last post gave some indication of what kind of game we’re working on, but I thought it’d be worth going into some more depth about what we’re trying to achieve before we consider it “finished”.

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The game

You may have noticed that it has a slight resemblance to a certain early-90’s Mega Drive game. Well, there’s certainly an influence there, but aside from the obvious core features I don’t really know how similar they are, to be honest. I do remember playing early-90’s Mega Drive game but it’s only a vague recollection, not a defining moment in my gaming life or anything like that, so it’s more likely a starting point than an unofficial remake or tribute.

That said, even if that was the case, the plan has always been to build a prototype, so while we do have a list of potentially exciting features hidden away in our Google docs, undoubtedly creeping into other games, our scope is pretty tiny, really.

So, what is the plan?

Basically, our aim is to implement one mission in a decent-sized level. The mission will consist of several objectives in various places across the map, with lots of “areas of interest” in-between them for people who like to wander off and explore. Beyond the initial objectives, designed to let you get to grips with the controls, players are free to complete them in whatever order they like.

We plan on adding some sort of map or guidance system to help you find your way around, but exactly how we implement this hasn’t been discussed in a huge amount of detail yet. We also have a vague background narrative which helps when it comes to designing models and the level in general, but it’s not likely that we’ll explore it much while it stays a prototype.

Due to the size of the game and the fact that it’s never likely to be polished to the highest level we’re capable of (we still don’t even know what that is!), we’ll be making it available for free on this here website when it is eventually done. I wouldn’t even dare guess as to when that’ll be, though. This year? Maybe.

Oh, and it’ll be on PC and Mac, too.

Quick update

Since my post on Friday, Dan has knocked up several new models environmental models to decorate the map and generally make it look a little more like a real place – road sections, pylons, etc.

Miles started a fist fight with some of our older, clumsier code related to some of the objectives and didn’t come out of it entirely unscathed. We think we’re getting there, though.

I’ve been trying to improve the way the objectives work and making the while thing feel more like a real game by adding on-screen messages for players, listing the outstanding objectives, etc.

We’re considering setting up some sort of mailing list for bigger updates while keeping this as a development blog, so that might make an appearance soon. We’d like to get some other people testing it at some stage, too, so that will likely be posted here and sent to anyone interested, so let us know if you’d like to break it at some point!

Hello world!

Yes, hello!

So, we’ve been working on a prototype game for a few months now and after reading the development breakdown of the lovely Tom Francis‘ game, Gunpoint, I thought maybe it’d be worth posting some stuff here, on this website I set up ages ago and then left…

First thing’s first…

I suppose I should clarify who ‘we’ is, shouldn’t I? Well, I’m Ash (Hello!), and the other two team members are Miles and Dan. Since we all have full-time, paying jobs that aren’t making games and we’re new to this game development business, we don’t really have concrete roles, but Miles and I have been doing the coding while Dan does the vast majority of the artwork. We’ve all had a hand in the design of the prototype because, despite many, many years of playing games, we’ve never actually designed one before.

The plan

So, after a few months of Miles and I learning Objective-C (for no particular reason), we made the jump to Unity and asked Dan to join us. We poked and prodded at it for a while and made some good progress learning the ropes, before running out of steam a little when things started getting complicated. Then I suggested we make a plan to help focus us on the daunting prospect of making an actual game (prototype) and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last few months: we’ve created about 247,936 documents and spreadsheets on Google Drive (roughly), set ourselves tasks, and met up once a week (most of the time) to chat and see how things are going, and it seems to be working. It’s starting to actually look like a game.

Where we are now

Right now – as of yesterday, in fact – we’re in very early alpha (that’s what we’re calling it anyway) – the game has lots of unfinished stuff and most of the models are untextured, etc., but it has objectives and it’s technically possibly to complete it from start to finish. I was quite excited about this, to be honest.

There’s a subtle hint about some of the gameplay there…

So that’s a very brief update of the last few months. With any luck I’ll remember to post here every now and then about what’s happened, maybe even include some screenshots and/or videos of where things are and how it’s starting to take shape. And on that note…

Look at it!

Here are a couple of screenshots from a few weeks ago:

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