February 29, 2008

VIRUS Trailer!

Remember how I said I was going to post screens of VIRUS and then I really never did? Well, here's the next best thing, the trailer I created for today's exhibition. The video clips are more washed out than I would have liked, but it was my first time creating a trailer, and I had to create it very quickly so I didn't have time to adjust the levels. Hopefully, I'll have time to revise it later. Anyway, here it is:

video

I spent basically all day doing things for the exhibition. Afterwards a bunch of the level designers went out for a late dinner (since we'd been at exhibition since 1:00 without food) so I just got back a little bit ago and have been enjoying a bit of Patapon on my PSP. Anyway, I'm going to play some games before heading to bed. Break is finally here...

Joy!

February 28, 2008

Relief

The term has finally ended..well, sort of. Tomorrow is another Exhibition, where the C7 grads present their final projects, and also my team from term 1 will be presenting VIRUS again. I have been asked to make a trailer before tomorrow's exhibition, which I have started doing, but haven't quite completed yet, so I need to do that in addition to hanging around the exhibition from 1:00-9:00. After that, I'm basically in the clear. Anyway, to celebrate the end of what was probably the most grueling term to date I bought myself some games and I've been playing with them over the last few hours. Now I must head to bed so I can finish up work on my trailer tomorrow. Night!

P.S. The Call of Duty 4 project is going forward, so hopefully over the break I can provide some work in progress shots as the level develops...

February 26, 2008

Playing Catch Up

Well, I'm still trying to get caught up on everything, but I think things are mostly starting to fall into place. Tomorrow I have a level design final and final integration for the Extinction prototype, then there's the presentation and documentation for Extinction on Thursday and final submission of my programming final. It's a short but at least reasonably involved list. Mostly the project plan has been evading me and now I am basically up against the wall. Oh well, it builds character or some such. Anyway, I better get to work, I hope you all are having a great week. Peace Out!

February 25, 2008

There's Beauty in the Breakdown

Sometimes this place can just drive you insane. I know I've probably already said that a dozen times before, but it's really true. I wholeheartedly believe that this really is what I'm meant to do, and the whole Guildhall experience frustrates the hell out of me from time to time. I'd like to think it's preparing me to actually work in industry if it doesn't burn me out entirely, but it just seems like there's never enough time to do anything. Anyway, I'd love to get into the details, but I am painfully behind on my programming final despite working pretty much as hard as I can. Suffice it to say the timing of GDC was unfortunate for effectively managing the team project timelines. Now its time for some Frou Frou and some hardcore programming. Later, all!

February 24, 2008

Project Planning Make Brain Hurt

Well, my leads met today to develop our Asset and Dev Plan for Extinction. We managed to at least complete the asset list without incident, but the Development plan is still largely unfinished. We figured out generally how we want the schedule to go and now I am trying to cram it into a project file before I am allowed to sleep. We were scheduled to meet from 1:00 to 6:00 and instead met from 1:00 to 11:00 without actually finishing the schedule. Unfortunately, I am woefully inexperienced with Project, so getting it to do any of the things I want it to do is a completely frustrating exercise. In addition, finishing the the Asset and Dev Plan was only one of a handful of tasks I had planned to complete today leaving me without groceries and putting me even more behind on my programming final. Anyway, I can definitely feel that crunch time is in full swing and I'll be lucky to get more than a few hours of sleep a night over the next few days. Now, I better return to work or I won't get any....

February 23, 2008

The Crunch (or something like it)

Well, there are basically only four days left in term (I suppose five if you count tomorrow), so on the positive side, I'll be on "vacation" in less than a week. I use the term vacation lightly though since I imagine, I will be either: working on stuff for Extinction, working on stuff for my DFS, working on a map for CoD4 (potentially), starting to plan my Thesis, and maybe occasionally not "working." I think GDC lit a fire under me in terms of working on making stuff for my portfolio and starting to really show off my skills, though that is not necessarily the best thing for helping me focus on school.

On the more negative side of this whole "four days left" thing, there's a seemingly unsurmountable amount of stuff between there and here, like:
  • Finishing my Programming Final Project (Thursday)
  • Finishing/Testing the Extinction Prototype (Tuesday)
  • Creating the Extinction Asset and Dev Plan (Tuesday)
  • Preparing a Demonstration of Extinction (Thursday)
  • Preparing for my Level Design Final (Wednesday)
  • Writing a Proposal for my DFS (???)
I guess it's not really anything new to be staring out at the great maw that is the end of term, but it always manages to get me regardless. Anyway, I'll do what I can and I suppose that's all I can do. Anyway, if my posting becomes a little sparse for the next few days, at least now you know why :).

February 22, 2008

Reflections on GDC 2008

I know, the subject having the word "reflections" might make most of the readers wince and just want to skip to the next entry, and I guess I can't be entirely certain they're wrong, but this trip to GDC has made me think about a lot of different things about where I am, where I was last year, and where I'm going. Since, this blog is basically my outlet for such things it seems the proper place to talk about it, and I hope for at least some of you it is an interesting look into the journey of the aspiring game developer, or at least my journey. I imagine this is going to be a pretty long entry, and since I am going to get kicked out of my hotel room pretty soon, it will probably be written over multiple instances, so I apologize for any strange transitions in advance. Anyway, here's the actual entry...

It's strange being here and thinking about where I was a year ago...well, a little less than a year ago since GDC 2007 was in early March, but you know what I mean. I was still working at Capital One at the time, and I hadn't really started on this "grand adventure." I had already begun looking at schools, but I wasn't exactly set on the whole idea (though I do recall The Guildhall being my front runner at the time). I was still hoping that I would find a game job without any real development experience and I could just learn as I go. I ran into a few people and saw a few things that reminded me of that trip.

GDC 2008 was in the same convention center as GDC 2007 so things were set up in a very similar way. I saw people like the recruiter from Perpetual, where I managed to get an interview during the last conference. That interview (obviously) didn't get me a job, and that was probably for the best considering their subsequent closure, but it and other experiences from that trip did give me reason to believe that I really could work in the games industry and excel and I take that as a huge compliment. For instance, one of the instructors at one of the tutorial sessions last year said that she "was totally in awe of the fact that I working game designer, and that it was totally my calling." Now, I'm not saying this to toot my own horn, I am saying it because this person was, in fact, a lead designer at Electronic Arts, and it is one of a few key moments that I recall leading me to where I am now. Not to mention, when the going really gets tough here, I think it's the people that believe in you that really keep you going.

Another similar memory actually involved that same tutorial session. One of the other instructors actually asked me to submit a game design to him and he wanted to pass it on to one of their senior designers. Again, this obviously didn't land me a job, in fact, I'm not sure how far the design actually made it (I should probably try following up on that again...), but it was another positive sign that I was on the right path. The ironic thing in this case was that his company was actively recruiting at the Guildhall Career Party thing, apparently gearing up for a big project in the near future. It's just interesting to see how things can change in such a short time.

This year was definitely a different experience, I'm not sure if I would say it was harder or easier, but definitely different. I think that I am easily much more qualified than I was during the last convention, while at the same time networking was definitely a bit harder as a result of some bad advice and my place as a student. Ten months isn't really a lot of time, and I know it will fly by faster than I can imagine, but pretty much as soon as someone realizes you won't be on the market for almost a year, it becomes more difficult to have a substantive conversation. By no means is it impossible, but you have to know how to approach the conversation, and I will openly admit that I didn't at first. Unfortunately, the brevity of this trip made "learning" difficult since all my networking boiled down to a few walks around the career pavilion.

I think the trip could be best described as a sort of "trial run." A chance to network a little, maybe get your name out there with a few people, but ultimately figure out how to talk to the companies you are interested in and figure out how best to prepare when it really matters. I think one of the GH professors put it best while I was talking to him at our party. He basically said that when it comes down to it, you can't really have bad networking, at worst they don't really remember you and you are no worse off than when you started. If a few people remember you, or even have some inkling that they have talked to you before, it's an improvement. Add to that that one of my GH friends who has since graduated and moved on to work at Bioware Austin spent equal amounts of time promoting me to industry people (especially Bioware) and more or less explaining that I am "so money" (if you haven't seen Swingers, you should) and things certainly could have been much worse.

Actually, in retrospect I don't think the networking was perhaps as bad as I felt at the time. I mean, I didn't collect a lot of business cards or hand out my resume to very many people, but I got a lot of good advice and a lot of insight into companies that I am really interested in: Bioware, Petroglyph, Bungie, Insomniac, and many others. I think the truth of it is, the competition is just so ridiculous that its like nothing I've ever experienced before. I'm not saying people are elbowing each other out of line or something (though some might if they thought it would get them a job) more that there are so many people, so many and in comparison there are so few positions. I think I have pretty substantial natural abilities and my education is second to none, but still seeing what some people are capable of and what is out there can be a quite humbling experience.

Overall, I think the trip was really worth it. I built up a few contacts, I got to see people that I don't see all the time, or the ones I do, I got to see them outside of work for a change, and I just got away from work and the Guildhall, even if it was only for a few days. While it wasn't the fairy tale ending I hoped it would be (say Bioware offering me a job on the spot) or a particularly excellent networking opportunity, I think it did a lot to bolster my sometimes wavering dedication to this path. I love games, but more than just playing them I love the industry, I love the culture, I love the people. I think that the people here at the Guildhall and the people I've met in the industry are some of the most passionate, most talented, most creative people I've met in my entire life. These are people who could be making more money working less hours in a number of other industries, but instead they are here for one reason: the games.

Everybody in the industry, or everyone that should be gets that at some level. It doesn't mean that you have to love every game, and by all means you should definitely have other interests, but there is something about it that everyone wants to be a part of. That is what bolstered my devotion, that looking around that room, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of, something that I am willing to put myself through hell for now, so I can work longer hours for less money than I was a year ago. This term has been particularly hard in places and I think that there have definitely been times when one or all of us have wanted to give up, but there's something that keeps us here and something that keeps us going.

Anyway, I've probably rambled on long enough, and I would like to play some games tonight before I settled in to the long crunch that is the end of term. I hope this was at least mildly interesting, entertaining, or distracting enough, but if not, oh well, I don't usually post on Fridays so it's like a freebie anyway (ignoring the fact that I missed Wednesday and Thursday of course). I'm sure there's more I can say, but it's all sort of rolling around in my head, and I'm sure I'll get around to writing about it as it comes up. Alright, with that, I'm going to sign off, night all!

February 19, 2008

No Fires Tonight

Well, tomorrow I depart for San Francisco so that I can attend GDC for the roughly one day that my schedule actually allows. There's still a lot going on so at best it's a working vacation, but it will be nice to see the actual industry from a different perspective and just get away from the Guildhall even for a little while. I've prepared some general materials like business cards and resumes just in case, though this really isn't a job hunt more like preparation for my eventual job hunt later this year.

Today wasn't terribly eventful, both Pre-Production and Programming were work days, so the Extinction team did some playtesting this morning and some general planning for finishing up the prototype (and all requisite documentation) and moving into production. Programming I just worked on our final for a bit. I finally managed to get saving/loading working correctly and I've also fixed a few annoying problems with the game as I've been going. There's still a lot that needs to be done for the final and I'm not entirely certain when exactly I'll have all that time available, but as I've said before, I know I'll get it done so no use it worrying about it now.

All that being said, there's nothing hot on the fire tonight, and seeing as these last two to three days have been nothing but a long string of work with a few naps thrown in, I think I'm going to take it easy tonight. I'm not sure what the internet situation will be like at the the hotel, or how much time I will have trying to cram as much as I can into the trip, so I can't guarantee I'll be able to post over the next couple days, but I'll be sure to update you all when I get back on Friday. Saturday at the latest :) ...

February 18, 2008

Another Late Night

Milestone 3 integration was tonight and it actually went pretty well, the game seems to be about 85-90% of where it needs to be, and we've still got a fair amount of time before it's due. We should have plenty of time to finish up what's left and run through a round or two of tweaking and bug fixes before we finally need to demonstrate the game. We also have a document due tomorrow and that, however, is not quite finished. There were some relatively substantial changes to make today, so the Level Designers and myself just got kicked out of school for the night (the building closes at 1:00) and I still need to put some finishing touches on the doc. On that note, if I want to get any sleep, I better get to work. Night all!

February 17, 2008

2 More Weeks in Term

Well, it's that time of term again! That time where the amount of work seems insurmountable and we all look at one another trying to figure out how we'll ever get it all done in time. Add to that the additional wrinkle of trying to attend GDC and the fact that this term was already 3 weeks shorter than usual, and you've got a recipe for some serious stress. I try not to think about it too much though. The work always seems to get done, and even sometimes I don't know how, but thinking about too much could cause the whole thing to come crashing down, like those moments when Wily Coyote is hovering in the air, before he looks down and starts falling. My solution: I'm just not going to look down :).

It doesn't mean that the stress hasn't seeped into my life somewhat, but I am just trying desperately not to let it get to me. From everything our professor has told us our level design final should be relatively easy, then all I need to worry about is my final project for programming, and the prototype (and all the documentation that goes with it). The prototype is the more notable (and large) of those two, though the programming project has proven to be more complicated and involved than I had originally imagined. I'll need to set aside some serious time to actually complete it satisfactorily. Right now, I am focusing on Extinction as we have a Game Design Document due Tuesday and I am taking it in for review tomorrow morning, and then we have another integration (the last before the final build) tomorrow night that needs to basically be the finished version of the prototype.

We technically have over a week after tomorrow to finish the prototype, but with GDC, finals, and other projects, the team won't have an overabundance of time to dedicate to the project, so I'm trying to give us as much of a head start as possible. Anyway, the first draft of our GDD isn't going to edit itself so I better get going. Later!

February 15, 2008

Friday Night Out!

Well, sort of out anyway...

Today marked the final submission of our Oblivion project, so the level designers were in relatively high spirits (it's always nice to be done with a project and be ready to move onto something else). Charles read on the internet about a ridiculous "sale" that Circuit City is having. I use the term sale loosely, because it isn't really advertised anywhere, even on the games themselves, like the game will say $39.99 but when you ask them to ring it up it's like $3.18. I can't explain it, it's like a computer glitch or something, but whatever you want to call it, it resulted in all of the level designers save two deciding to go out and pick clean the two Circuit Cities close by (this included Charles, who had actually already raided one before Level Design today). I bought 9 games for less than $60, check it out:
  • Penumbra Overture - $8.00
  • Age of Empires: The Warchiefs - $10.00
  • Faces of War - $4.33
  • The Guild 2 - $4.11
  • Chosen: Well of Souls - $8.50
  • Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil - $3.03
  • Alien Shooter: Vengeance - $2.19
  • Caesar IV - $4.33
  • Sid Meier's Railroads - $4.12
Admittedly, they aren't first run titles, but they're definitely things I've been keeping my eye on, or things that simply intrigued my and were just too cheap to pass up. Now, I know what you are thinking, I don't have near enough time to play the games I own, or even get a full night's sleep half the time, and well...you're right. This was actually a subject of conversation among all of us as we thought about the sheer volume of work coming up in the next couple weeks. Regardless, sometimes it's nice to get out of that mindset once and a while and just let go, and I think everyone had just a good time hanging out. Also, anyone who knows me knows how much I like bargain hunting, and this was definitely that at its finest. Now, I'm going to try out a few of my new acquisitions before I need to head to bed and get back to reality. Later!

February 14, 2008

Exhausted Burrito Coma

I think there's something in Chipotle burritos that bonds to chemicals inside your brain that make you sleepy (which is apparently how sleep/tiredness actually works, check it out!). Anyway, half of a Chipotle burrito (I can already hear Travis snickering) plus an exhausting week of work and setbacks ended up causing me to pass out on my couch for about thirty minutes. Now, I need to work on my Oblivion project as tomorrow marks the final milestone for that project: Gold or RTM (release to manufacturing). There isn't actually that much that needs to be done, just some general tweaking and polishing, so it shouldn't be a terribly late night.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with how the project turned out. I'm hoping to put together a really simple video this weekend that I can potentially show off at GDC. If I can't manage to get that done this weekend in addition to working on Extinction, I am definitely planning to start putting together some videos and screens for my portfolio over the coming break so I will post those as soon as I've got them ready. Alright, well, I should get to work before my motivation and energy completely fail me. I hope you all are having a wonderful Valentine's Day with you loved ones and/or video games. I am sad to say that, for me, it is just another work night :). Night, all!

February 13, 2008

Failures and Setbacks

Well, here it is 11:30 on a Wednesday night, and I have just returned from another unsuccessful integration session for our Extinction prototype. Tonight was our integration for prototype milestone 2, that is, roughly two weeks since we began work on producing the prototype. Some of the work that was supposed to be completed from milestone 1 still isn't working successfully, and a handful of the features and assets for milestone 2 have yet to be implemented. I guess, in the team's defense some of our goals were pretty ambitious, but I did the best that I could to ask them to push back and no one did (I think Prof. Stringer would say this was a classic mistake #13 - wishful thinking or #14 - overly optimistic schedule).

Regardless, what we have seems to be at best a poor representation of the game we are trying to make, and we need to write a GDD for next Tuesday that is supposed to be informed based on what we have learned for prototype. The whole idea of the prototype is for the team to "find the fun" in their game and use that to build the final design, but we can't even manage to get all the pieces working at the same time, so we haven't even had the chance to see if it is fun or not. I think we are learning a lot about the team, the pipeline, the working processes, etc., but it's not helping us get much closer to our goal. It just seems like right now, there's not enough time for anything, moreso than usual. We have the revised GDD due next Tuesday, our final Oblivion project is due this Friday, we're trying to learn a new editor (Radiant) in level design, next week is GDC, and then the week after that is finals where we need to show our prototype in some working / fun order.

Anyway, I guess I should try to stay positive, and all this ranting isn't really helping. It's just that sometimes this place can really take it out of you. One of the first phrases I remember hearing when I came here was, "Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard." I think if you learn one thing while you're here you learn that. I think we have a good idea, I really do, it's just a question of how well we can implement it. Alright, well there are some things I should do to prepare for tomorrow's meeting before I can go to bed, so I better get to those sooner rather than later. Night, all.

February 12, 2008

The Most Unhealthy Food in Texas

While I'm not sure my lunch is the worst thing you can ever eat, I can definitely say it is pretty high up the list. After game design this morning, Dan and Charles asked if I wanted to go to lunch, which I did. I did not, however, know that the purpose of this trip was to try what was apparently supposed to be one of the most unhealthy foods you can eat: Snuffers Cheddar Cheese Fries. The whole trip apparently began with Charles reading a news report that said the Outback cheese fries were one of the worst restaurant foods available weighing in at around 2900 calories. The amusing part of the report was that a handful of Texans responded by basically saying, "2900 calores, psh, Snuffers Cheddar Cheese Fries are 3500 calories, now that's REAL food."

Well, I can safely say they are correct, that is "real" food, so real in fact that Dan and I split a basket that we couldn't finish (in addition to our burgers), and Charles couldn't manage to finish his own, even though it was his entire meal. That story may not resonate as much with you all, not knowing who they are, but suffice it to say, they can eat, and this is the first time I have seen either one of them not finish something. In addition, it's a meal that really stays with you and I think it has basically killed my productivity, even now. Maybe that's just an easy excuse for not wanting to do work, but it's definitely been a slow day.

Outside of that little adventure, classes were pretty typical. Game design this morning was a work day and each of the departments was working through some issues as we prepare for integration tomorrow. We got some general feedback from one of the professors about needing to design a bit more for optimization so that we have a good idea what our final game can handle. Since Extinction features entirely outdoor locales, it can't make use of portals as many Unreal maps do, and generally our game calls for larger maps closer to the Onslaught game type, which just increases the load. Looking at the statistics in class today we were basically trying to render almost 700,000 triangles at any one time, which is almost double what we want. This basically means the level designers have their work cut out for them to figure out how to bring that number down as much as possible through level design tricks or else we'll need to more severely limit the poly counts on our assets.

Programming class was pretty standard as well, we went over a few things about bug tracking and playtesting and then we had the rest of the class to work on our documentation of LuaQuest (the game we are working on) and our final project which is to implement a bunch of functionality into LuaQuest in addition to eliminating some of the game's more major bugs. I got a fair bit done, but as previously mentioned my productivity has been severely hampered by the cheddar cheese fries that have somehow seeped into my brain. Now, this afternoon was nearly as productive as I would have liked so I need to do some work on my Oblivion project before I send it off to him and head to bed. Things look like they're beginning to ramp up around here as we close in on the end of the term, so wish me luck!

February 11, 2008

Developer Trick #53

If you are behind schedule, cut a feature, now you are ahead!

I am, of course, completely joking...well, almost completely. Charles and I received feedback on the beta version of our Oblivion project and it was very complimentary, noting only a few minor issues. For that build of the game the professor had suggested trying to work some branching dialog points into our already dialog-heavy adventure. That is, allowing the character to express some emotion or choose a certain tone for the character at different points during character dialogs. Now, for those of you who haven't played Oblivion this really isn't how that game handles dialog at all.

Instead of a branching conversation tree like you might find in most Western RPGs, Oblivion instead uses a interrogative "topic" system where the player has access to certain topics and he is able to ask certain NPCs about them. Our adventure was designed with this setup in mind, and there wasn't really time to incorporate any of these branching dialogs in our beta build. It's not to say it would have been too difficult, but merely time consuming, moreso now that the adventure's dialog is mostly complete.

Well, we (or perhaps more aptly, I) had decided to implement this for the final version of the game and that was going to be my task for yesterday and today. When I looked at the game yesterday and the feedback from the beta it seemed apparent that this dialog wasn't really a critical feature and that introducing it this late in development (4 days before RTM or gold) was just asking for problems. Instead, I proposed that our time was better spent trying to squash any annoying bugs and imperfections that had popped up throughout the project's several iterations and basically try to polish up what we had as much as possible and the professor basically agreed.

As a result, I no longer had to spend the time writing and implementing the branching dialog and tonight I could start working on correcting bugs. So instead of being behind due to some limited productivity this weekend (only about 6 work hours a day thanks to a certain awesome 4XRTS game that you all should totally buy) I am about a day or two ahead of schedule.

Apart from the Oblivion project, today we began working in the editor that we will be using for our Directed Focus Study (DFS)...well, sort of. For our DFS (hold on, I'll describe what that is in a minute) we will be using either Doom 3 or Quake 4 (the ID4 editor), it's up to the student to decide which game they would like to work from. Today we were actually working in the Quake 3 editor because the controls and mechanics are largely the same, and half the class hadn't yet had the chance to buy Doom 3/Quake 4.

The professor basically described the learning curve for this particular editor as an almost straight vertical line that will eventually plateau compared to the more gradual slope of the Unreal editor. It doesn't seem too bad yet though admittedly all we did today was create a box we could run around in. The key differences are the extended reliance on the keyboard and hotkeys (compared to Unreal's focus on the mouse) and the fact that ID4 is additive instead of subtractive. That means that you add walls into an empty space instead of cutting a hole out of a solid space (which is how Unreal works), it may actually make more intuitive sense, but it's definitely an adjustment from purely Unreal editing up until now.

Anyway, back to the whole DFS thing...The DFS is our first real portfolio piece, that is a solo level that we can show off to potential employers as our own work. That's not to say we couldn't use some of our Unreal levels or the Oblivion project, but this is really the first exercise intentionally designed to give us a polished portfolio piece. One of our classes next term will be this directed focus study, which is basically an independent study in level design. Over the entire term we design, create, and polish our own singleplayer level in one of these two editors, and the class time throughout the term is completely comprised of work time and peer reviews without any real lecturing. Everyone is really excited to get started with it for a variety of reasons. For me, it's the chance to create a substantive singleplayer experience and really focus on the things I like and want to promote like storytelling and immersion.

Alright, well this post is already pretty long and there are still some things I should do, so I'll cut it off here. All my classes are going pretty well, and the Extinction prototype is slowly coming together as we wrestle with a suite of technological roadblocks to overcome. Right now things aren't moving too quickly, but with only a few weeks left in the term, GDC taking out most of next week, and a heap of projects, documentation, and finals coming up after that, things are definitely going to speed up before too long. Well, on that note, I better get back to work, night all!

February 10, 2008

Sinful Behavior

So I haven't posted anything for the past couple days, and there's good reason for that. My weekend was relatively standard as far as work is concerned - meetings with the team, working on a few projects, etc. The reason for my absence however is a little game called Sins of a Solar Empire which has been taking up pretty much all my free time, and biting a little bit into my work and sleep as well. If you are unfamiliar with it, first of all, shame on you, and second, the game is basically a brilliant combination of a 4X empire builder and a real-time strategy game. For those of you who aren't sure what a 4X game is, think Master of Orion or Civilization, the idea is you start with one planet and slowly have to expand you civilization throughout the galaxy using a combination of military might, economic prowess, technological superiority and cunning diplomacy.

What Sins does that no other game has done is utilize those concepts in real-time to create what I can only describe as the most addictive game I've played to date. Now, those of you who have only been reading the blog the last few days are probably under the impression that I say this all the time, but the last couple weeks have been exceptionally addictive. Armageddon Empires and Sins both manage to harness the "one more turn" gameplay which has kept many a gamer up late playing about 20 "one more turns" before finally getting to bed around 4:00 a.m. The unique advantage that Sins has is that it has no turns. There's always something new happening or something you are trying to accomplish which makes it that much more difficult to stop. For example, tonight I spent a lot of time wiping out a player that was attacking key positions along my "western" front (since it's space cardinal directions don't exactly apply) while my ally was at the same time deciding our alliance no longer suited him and began pressing in on my southern positions as well. I had to leverage both of my major fleets to eliminate the first player before I could bring them around to bear on my former ally's remaining positions in the star system.

Once I had consolidated my own star system, enemy fleets began pouring in from distant star systems through wormholes poised at the center of my empire. I sent my two major fleets through one of the wormholes to stem the flow of enemies while building a third somewhat smaller fleet to protect my system from any surprise attacks. In addition, I caught a glimpse of the third system where my former ally appeared to have gained control and consolidated his power base. I managed to gain a foothold in the other star system and began outfitting one of the planets there to serve as my base of operations and that is where I left the game. Now I have to defeat my enemies in the wormhole system before I can send my fleets on the long journey to the other system and finally solidify my hold on the galaxy. As you can see, the game is constantly developing, so it can be very difficult to find a good place to quit sometimes.

As for work, the last two days I've been working on a programming assignment that has proved to be a remarkable load of work. It's not that the assignment is very difficult, just that at requires a lot of time. Basically, I have to look through the code of this game we are working on and take notes on how it all works, how all the files and functions are set up, the basic game loop, etc. It's a lot of work, but I think I'm most of the way there, and hopefully I can finish the rest of it tonight or tomorrow morning. I had intended to be further along on...well, everything, but as I said, Sins is really addictive :). Anyway, I should get back to it, so I hope you all had a great weekend, and if any of what I said sounded at least remotely interesting, definitely check out Sins of a Solar Empire, it's fantastic.

February 7, 2008

Yet another 2:00 A.M. handoff

We desperately tried to avoid this, but a couple midterms and a less than productive weekend have left Charles and I with yet another 2:00 A.M. handoff in order to meet our Oblivion project's beta milestone. Anyway, there's plenty of work I should be doing, so I must be off. Later!

February 6, 2008

Quick and Dirty Post

I just got back from an integration meeting for Extinction and I still need to study for our game design midterm tomorrow, so I don't really any time to post. Here are my thoughts on games right now, take them for what you will:
  • Go play Armageddon Empires it's sweet and addictive.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire is pretty awesome even after only a few hours of play. I think it will be even better once I understand what I am doing. Right now I click pretty buttons and cool things seem to happen.
Alright, time to study! Later!

February 4, 2008

Screenshots!

Hey, all!

I realized it's been a while since I posted any screenshots, so I decided to take a little time to grab some from the Oblivion project I'm working on: The Murder of Jean d'Elesse. The work is a mix between Charles and myself. He did the entire exterior and the interior of the guards area, and I did the other interiors (two houses and a tavern) and all the scripting. We each ended up doing about half of the dialog I'd say, but there's no good way to take a screen of that (or the scripting for that matter) :). Here you go!



















Today was pretty much your average Monday, so there's not much to say for that. I worked on some project management stuff this morning before class, then I worked on some Oblivion scripts during class, and I've basically been working on the project all night since I got back. It's one of the first times this term I can remember feeling "on top" of things, which is nice, and tomorrow I plan to go pick up Sins of a Solar Empire which I've been pretty excited for. If you haven't heard of it I'm not surprised, basically it's a merge between 4X and real-time strategy. If that still doesn't help, it's kind of like Civilization and Homeworld had a baby...a sweet baby with friggin' laser beams! Anyway if you haven't heard of it, you should check it out, it's gonna be sweet. Alright, well, I'm gonna hit the hay pretty soon, night all!

February 3, 2008

So that's what weekends are like...

Ah, this is the first relaxing weekend I've had in a very long time (ignoring some of the annoying roadblocks I hit on Saturday). I didn't due too terribly much work, and probably a bit less than I should have, but nothing I can't catch up on, and it was really nice to put my feet up for a change. I played Burnout: Paradise, Assassin's Creed, Supreme Commander and Rainbow Six: Vegas Friday night, and then I spent most of my game time playing Armageddon Empires for far too long. I also did a fair bit of "personal work" like running errands, cleaning up the apartment, and taking out the overwhelming amount of recyclables I have been neglecting since last term.

Beyond that, there's not that much to say really, I'm pretty much done with my programming midterm project (due Thursday) and anything else I need to do for that can be done during worktime in class. One of the level designers on Extinction finished the basic whitebox for our prototype level so it seems to be moving smoothly through the pipe. I'm trying to set up a basic schedule for the project, but I'm a bit behind on thar note. The department schedules are pretty rough at this point and I haven't gotten the chance to look at everything from a wider angle, but I think we are on pace to hit our first mini-milestone. The Oblivion mod seems to be coming along nicely, so much in fact that I am at a bit of a loss for what we are supposed to do now. Beyond cleaning up a few rough points and generally trying to make things prettier I'm not sure what else we can do. That's the state of things. It feels like I'm in a good position, but I've seen things pile up pretty fast around here so I'm making sure I don't get too comfortable.

Anyway, I'm going to relax a bit before I head to bed. Talk to y'all tomorrow!

Warning: May Be Habit Forming

Wow...so it's the first Saturday since the beginning of term that I haven't had a meeting, and what did I do with this boon of "free" time, you might ask? Aside from cleaning up my apartment a bit and finding out that everything is in fact bigger in Texas (including traffic fines apparently), it comes down to two words: Armageddon Empires. If you like board/card games and happen to have a PC stop reading right now, google the title, and click the little 'Buy Now' button, trust me. It has a bit of a steep learning curve based mostly on the fact that the game features a set of advanced rules and no tutorials to speak of. A fan put together a set of tutorials, and Rick (who has been playing it the past couple days apparently) got me most of the rest of the way there.

Anyway, the concept is basically a war on post-apocalyptic earth between four different factions: man, machine, alien, and mutant. I think there's some backstory in there, but I haven't really looked at the manual so I couldn't tell you. The game is an interesting mix of collectible card games and hex-based war games. Yep, that's what I said. Basically, each side starts with a small headquarters and territory that generates a few resources, then the sides expand out in search of other resources and of course each other. Whenever a player loses their HQ, if they can't get it back before the end of the turn they're out of the game. Each of the game's systems is moderately complex for a seasoned board gamer (I'm not sure where this puts the game for your average video gamer) and they all interact very interestingly. It's kind of hard to explain, but the biggest piece is the way the game handles intelligence.

When you start the game you can't see anything except your little starting hex. Once you create a few units (by playing their cards and adding them to an army) you can move them around the map and they will explore the hexes they travel through. If you happen to create a recon unit they can even see into adjacent hexes, though they still have to travel through a hex in order to actually explore it. At the same time, there is a sort of fog of war based on what you units can see, which means you have to be very conscious about maintaining recon around your HQ or you can quickly find yourself the subject of a sneak attack. In addition, there are a fair number of units that can enter stealth which makes them much harder to detect and usually require the use of a recon unit to uncover.

There are a number of other systems at work in the game, building infrastructure, building armies, conducting research, engaging in combat, and more. The map is random every time and it will even spawn new independent locations that can give your faction access to powerful special units and equipment throughout the match. It would be impossible to explain exactly how all the pieces fit together, you just have to go and try it for yourself. If you're a boardgamer I can't recommend the game highly enough. It's fun, it's fresh, and it's incredibly addicting, definitely one of the best indie games I've played in a while. Check it out. Well, now I should get to sleep, but maybe I'll just tweak my deck a little bit before I head off...