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!

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