This week was a quiet one so far on the programming side. I had to attend to other business to do my part in keeping this show running. Luckily, my weekend is wide open for wrapping up connectors once and for all (for a little while at least). So look forward to more of that next week!
I’ve been busy working on the heads this week as well. Finished up the tests I was doing and started in on the procedural textures, making all the masks and details it will need. Fun work but not really much to talk about or to show.
This week I’ll talk a bit more about missions, as it is the major feature I have left to do before we are ready to launch the early access version.
To reiterate previous posts, the purpose of missions from a game perspective is several-fold:
1) Construct and tell compelling stories about the characters that are sent on a mission
2) Close the core systems game loop. Note this necessitates using a reward system, and also balancing that reward vs the risk of a mission (which in turn needs to be extracted from the planet parameters). A reward system is necessary to give players a reason to send characters on missions in the first place. The simplest “loot” examples are resources, food, medicine, parts, etc. But more importantly there is character progression, and specifically personality trait progression which in my opinion is the most interesting one.
3) Give a purpose to the various skills, stats, and traits that comprise a character, and the gear they are assigned, to give them meaning in game terms beyond the on-station gameplay.
Suffice to say, there are a lot of moving parts in the mission system, and it’s above all the one feature we need to absolutely nail in terms of both fulfilling its goals and doing so with a fun and interesting game experience.
Up until now, I’ve been working on various prototypes which test and validate individual aspects or functionalities of missions. This includes narrative generation systems that describes what a character does (and then the system that actually does it), conversation generation between characters, as well as mission structure and flow, and the various activities characters do such as combat, mining, landing, etc. And also all the auto-generated planets and planet features upon which the mission is taking place, which is the setting and backdrop and must be interesting and compelling in its own right. It’s not fun to explore a bunch of similar and samey locations, where it’s obvious and predictable how game elements are reused!
Now that I am satisfied with the results of these prototypes, I took some time to review the lot of them, and start planning the final mission implementation. So for example, the generated story system was using data I had hand-written (so as to isolate my variables) but now I need to feed it the auto-generated data of planet parameters which I tested in an entirely separate code module. And before that, taking a second pass on the planet location data and their organization within the systems, so I can generate good stories from that using the storygen system. Everything is tied together, and it should be.
In short, what’s left to do is putting it all together into a cohesive feature. The very first step here is defining the entire list of things which need to be (re)designed, (re)implemented, and/or integrated based on how their prototypes played, which I did last week.
Typically with prototypes, you test something to make sure it works, it is fun, and the game dynamics and aesthetics fulfill the vision. But in order to isolate that something, the prototype needs to live in a self-contained box to ensure it is a proper test. Then when you take it out of the box to integrate into the larger game, there are always adjustments that need to be made so the pieces fit with the other toys in the other boxes.
This week I’ve started grinding through the list of systems now that I am confident what the pieces need to look like, how they connect, and how their final put-together form should play.
On a personal note, I took a few weeks and moved to beautiful Nanaimo. There were a lot of reasons for this move, and I’ll tell you the one which occupied my thoughts.
My observation from working in the games industry is that the environment in which games are made at a human level (at least everywhere I have worked) is contrary to good games being made. It is counter-productive to live in a concrete and glass office building from 9-to-6:30 and “be creative.” I could ruminate on the intricacies of this subject for at least an entire post, but I’ll spare you the think piece and simply say that as long as I’m working from home remotely I might as well live in a place I find inspiring. And if one believes games to be creative works, then it is also logical to assume that this matters to the results.