Entry 6: Bits and Pieces

June 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’ve done a little more with Unreal Engine.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about what I’m doing, and yeah, the starter projects and tutorials on the UE site along will take you further than this bit of exploratory development of mine, but I’m happy with how it’s going so far. I have (what I think) is a reasonable goal for a game to do with it – it’s a basic point-and-click which I know is probably easier done with other tools, but I also want to familiarise myself with the Unreal workflow.

My proof of concept puzzle I’ve set myself to tackle is a simpler version of my ‘first’ puzzle for the game. That proof is finding a key, unlocking a box, and using a switch inside the box.

A basic workflow for a switchable light. Assumes it is powered already.

A basic workflow for a switchable light. Assumes it is powered already.

I’m not following any strict tutorials for this, but am exploring bits and pieces through tutorials, documentation and the like. I’m starting off with Blueprints so I can focus on getting a handle on things, though I’m sure I can tackle that later if I brush up on the C-variants I used to know better.

In having that proof of concept to shoot for, I’m tackling bits and pieces slowly. The first was object interaction. I like how I can convert a shape I’ve added to a scene, into a blueprint.

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A call to the original workflow from the switch

As you might’ve guessed, I’m only doing this every so often. There’s a lot of different projects I’m juggling (and I’m not the greatest juggler) but loading up the Epic launcher frequently enough that it’s gaining familiarity. I have a few other things (non-dev related) that I want to gain some traction on before I jump back in, but do expect more. I mean, a screen where you can click on some boxes to toggle their colour (yes, it’s upgraded) or flip a lightswitch ain’t all that.

isolation4

Entry 5: Once More Into The Breach

June 9, 2015 § 4 Comments

I started looking into Unreal Engine again. Aside from my writing goals, working with games has been a big want-to-do since I was younger. It’s also been a while since my last entry, but I’m recalibrating my focus on it as part of a wider, long-term plan. My biggest stumbling block has been what-to-do once the tutorials end, because I haven’t really adopted the concepts or knowledge as my own, so much as following a recipe.

Trouble is, that’s not how I cook either. I sort of make up most of it as I go, with a few recipes I’ve done enough that I know how to do them without directions. Part of the problem is also EVERY tutorial these days seems to be a video. I hate following a video.

This time I’m looking into it from a more exploratory standpoint, which means more investigation/experimentation with concepts I already know, rather than trying to follow a tutorial. To get this happening, I came up with a simpler concept that sort of mirrored my once-preferred genre – the humble adventure game. To get this working, I’d need to have a different interface (just simple point and click), and work out how to interact with objects. I knew enough about blueprints from past tutes to tell me that I could use them this time (and I’ve had troubles in getting Visual Studio to run without crashing so yay blueprints are my saviour).

My first proof of concept goal – a scene that you interact with using the mouse. There are some gaps (think of them as exercise goals) on the latter end of the instructions. Lots of try/fail on this, but here’s what I did. The end result was a scene of red cubes, that you could click on, and turn them blue. Simple, yeah, but the first step in an interactive scene for doing a point-and-click game.


Actions:

  • Made a new Level “Start”
  • Added a camera actor to Level
  • Added a cube to Level
  • Added a player start to Level
  • On Player Start, Set auto-receive input to player 1
  • Dragged existing camera actor (in scene object list) onto Player Start (it becomes a component)
  • Added a directional light to Level
  • Added blueprint classes:
  • GameMode “ClickGame”, Actor “ClickObject”, Pawn “PlayerView”,
  • PlayerController “PointAndClick”
  • On settings for ClickGame:
  • Set default pawn class to PlayerView
  • Set player controller to PointAndClick
  • Project settings->Maps and modes –
  • Set default levels (both kinds) to Level “Start”
  • Set default gamemode to ClickGame
  • On settings for PointAndClick:
  • Tick show mouse cursor, enable click events, enable mouseover events
  • Set default cursor to crosshairs
  • On PlayerView, set AI controller to Pointandclick
  • Add BP_Sky_Sphere and Atmospheric Fog to level. Edited colours on each to liking

Vaguely remember doing the next bit:

  • Added a Cube component to the ClickObject.
  • Created two materials (redsy and bluesy) that had colours set by a Vector3 Constant (as red and blue respectively)
  • Edited ClickObject blueprint – construction sets material to redsy
  • Edited Clickobject blueprint – event, an OnClick (or whatever they call it) changed the material to bluesy
  • Added some of these ClickObjects to the scene.
  • Ran. Click on some, they turn blue. The starting (non-ClickObject) cube doesn’t.

That’s it.


From here I have a few different goals, almost wholly on the interaction side. Wouldn’t mind turning the scene/level into some kind of room, with some objects that could be interacted with, to reveal a key, that let you go to another scene/level.

Just really, a simple point-and-click puzzle.

Hopefully I’ll have an Entry 6 on the sooner side!

Writing Musts: Use Your Characters Again

May 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

I don’t do this very often. Yes, blog (shush), but also follow up a previous must. In Use Your Characters, I extolled the virtues of being lazy, and by being lazy I mean using the characters you’ve already built up in ways that makes sense for them characters, instead of trying to force a new path through your story.

That’s still true, but there’s more.

My preferred style of storytelling is where multiple threads become entwined until they coalesce into something better than any of the individual strands. Side note, coalesce is also my favourite word, and it’s a damn-handy SQL function too. Back to writing though, and the real hard thing about doing multiple threads is they all need to carry their own weight. Each needs to be independently interesting so that the reader isn’t skimming through one to get to the thread they care about. You want them to care about all threads (though yes, recognise there’ll always be one they prefer).

I’ve been fairly open about struggling with the rewrite of For More Than Earthly Ends. I’ve made changes to pacing that I think improve both the story and the readability, however I reached a chapter where too much seemed to happen. I needed all of it, but the timescale ran through about an hour of lots of things happening at once, and with the formative stages still introducing a lot of new concepts, that didn’t work. The crux of what was going on was my first overlap between two threads, but happening while one was still being built. To get around that, I need to go back and rearrange the sequence of events so that by the time *that* first critical crossover happens, each thread is already established. To do that, each thread needs a driving force.

The overall story is about the end of the world (of sorts), and the ways in which people face that impending deadline. Each of the three threads revolves around a different way in which they come to terms (or don’t), with some characters doing so fine, and others not so much. In terms of the story’s world, everything that plays out ties to an event earlier in the world (but still concerning many of the major characters). I shared the first draft of that on my birthday last year. While my protagonist isn’t here (she comes later), each of the three threads comes from the characters involved in this prologue. What’s become clear is that while I’ve known two of the characters have been critical to the pursuits of two threads, driving forces, I’d not done justice to my third.

In trying to summarise the plot in an attempt to regather my thoughts, I saw that I’d originally failed to recognise how one successful path of avoidance had happened because of one of the characters here. In the ‘current’ era of the story, the woman simply known as Yvonne has since become the Director of the story’s space agency, spearheading a successful extrasolar campaign. This moment, this background almost-throwaway scene, is where she is galvanised. While her colleague struggles in moving past their shared trauma, she takes on her own words that got her through – “We’re not dying here.”

This is all in notes/planning now, but it’s now part of my setting all the same. Instead of her presence being a superfluous detail to a targeted space campaign, she’s the one responsible for it.

She’s not the only one that got the treatment. I did the same for each character in the prologue, but it’s the study of her that makes the biggest impact on the momentum of her thread.

All your characters are there for a reason. They all want something – if you work out what it is and why they’re there, they’ll carry their share of the story. Sometimes that’s enough to make the bit you’re carrying light enough to manage.

I Wrote A Thing…

May 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

That’s what we say now, ain’t it.

Here’s my little spiel, entry, a post, write-up, thoughts, a few words, or the like. We don’t write stories or articles or features, but things and bits and just plain about.

Maybe it’s not what everyone says, but for those new, unestablished or otherwise finding their way, that’s what we present as a label. We test the waters, hoping that someone will put another label on it, and then we can start using it. We don’t want to call that piece we’ve been researching for weeks and redrafting anything special, because we don’t want to presume. We write our things and instead of putting them in a cabinet with a focal light so everyone can see it, we leave it on a proverbial table, mention it’s there and if anyone wants to read it, they’re free to do so.

But that’s not what’s happening inside.

In our heads, we want to say “I wrote an article on a topic I really care about, and I think it’s pretty good – maybe my best one yet. And I want to share it with you, because I think you’ll enjoy reading it.”

Nah, can’t say that. I wrote a thing, anyone want a link?

Shit, we can’t even link the bloody thing now. That’s too presumptuous.

I get it. Really. I’m excited about a lot of the stuff I’m writing, or thinking about writing (okay, mostly thinking about) and it’s special to me. At the same time, I’m not published on the fiction side and the non-fiction is not even a year’s worth of writing for another site compared to people who’ve been doing this forever. There’s shades of imposter syndrome (which I even have in my day job that I’ve been doing over half my life) but mostly it’s just not being a significant contributor in those spaces.

So yeah, I get it. But here’s something to consider.

Social Media.

You might have a few hundred people watching you talk about how you burned your toast and there’s no presumption there, but something that has your insight is something you need to hold back on? You’re being ridiculous. That is so self-deluded. Nobody cares that you burnt your fricking toast but they’re listening to what you say because they want to hear from you. That’s not a presumption, it’s literally the only thing they get from following your work (or statuses or tweets).

So, own it. Call it what it is. Call it that thing you only call it on the inside and if you’re wrong, wait for people to tell you otherwise.

This has mostly been a letter to the insecure prick that writes this blog but if you get something out of it, good!

It’s My Story

April 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

One of the things that’s surprised me about being a parent is that my son often feels like a miniature version of myself. I can see where some of it comes from, presupposing that it’s the way I act that influences the way he acts, but it’s the bits outside that make me wonder if a big part of his personality wasn’t just in there from day one. Being almost eight years old (as he’ll soon be), it’s much easier to believe it’s a part of his natural personality as it’s already there.

I don’t know if my daughter will be the same in that way – she’s got a much cheerier disposition at nine months than I often have, though I know I’ve almost always got it around her. She’s got glimmers though could just as easily have come from my wife or I (although she’d be unlikely to admit it, we’ve got fairly similar personalities). My daughter has moments where it looks like she’s being silly on purpose, much the same as we are. It’s something I’m going to look at as we go on, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she’s influenced by us.

For the boy though, it’s different. We play a lot of minecraft together, he likes to write stories, be silly and tell jokes. We try and use the time we have together each Sunday.

Over the weekend just gone, he was telling me how writing is hard for him. Now he used to be able to just make up stories with a few things – I’d say “a knight, a cave, and a dragon.” and he’d tell a story about a dragon attacking a kingdom, a knight going to stop him, and an eventual resolution. Some of them impressed me; the first time he told me a story where the presumed hero died and the order was put right by a group of people afterwards, I was so impressed. As it went on though, these became less about the hero dying and more about the dragon/dinosaur/monster being the real focus of the story. That too, cool.

One of the bits of overlap with me is in confidence. Mine’s been a struggle since forever. I’ve talked about it here before, and it’s not an issue that’ll soon go away. I’ve made huge strides forward on it and am much more comfortable in myself than I was growing up, but it’s not a self-esteem endgame by any stretch. The boy hesitates a lot if he doesn’t think his answers are right, because he doesn’t want to be wrong. It’s the reason I created a bunch of rules or lessons for him which were really those bits of life-advice I wish someone would’ve ingrained in me when I was young. A lot of them could easily apply to writing.

Lesson 1: Don’t Give Up – Exactly how it sounds. If things get hard, work harder.

Lesson 2: Keep Trying – It’s a qualifier for Lesson 1. It’s not enough to not-quit – you gotta keep at it too.

Lesson 3: Believe In Yourself – Trust the instincts that back yourself. The ideas came to you, so let ’em work for you too.

Lesson 4: It’s Okay to be Wrong – If you’re wrong, at least you tried. Super pertinent to writing, too. Can’t fix a thing that doesn’t exist.

Lesson 5: Think About What You’re Doing – In all things, be conscious. You are your actions, so know why you’re making them.

Lesson 6: Don’t Drop your Banana Bread in your Coffee – That one’s his. See what I mean about him? It’s an official lesson/rule now for us.

Outside of those above, while we were talking on the weekend (in between helping do his homework and playing Minecraft), yep, as above, writing is hard. I agreed. Turns out he’s often worried that he doesn’t have good ideas – yeah, me too. That’s for the school stuff. Beside that, he came with me a few times during NaNoWriMo last year (and the year before). He wrote out a story that went over a few pages, split up into chapters, and it had good elements to it. He also told me he wants to write it out in a new book, making it better, add new characters. He’s also thinking about a bunch of sequel set after – something I’m immensely guilty of.

We were chatting about that, his ideas, and I went into brainstorming mode.

I do this a lot. At my writing group (which starts up again TOMORROW – at least from my perspective as many of them had been meeting during the year), I’d often do it. I’d listen to people talk about their stories, particularly if they were having problems, and throw out ideas. It’s part of why I considered doing a workshop thing for monies, but nobody’s going to do that with an unpublished writer. Anyway – he complimented my ideas but said he’d do something different – something of his own. He wants to tell his story his way.

That was it. Big moment of… I don’t know if it was pride, but recognition. I’m the same. If I talk about my ideas and someone offers a suggestion on where it could go, I feel that same bit. My story. Not with the beta readers that’ll tell me where it’s falling over or criticisms in general, but them “Put X in! Make Y do Z!” Hehe, totally sure, maybe, haha nope.

It’s not about making a story better or worse for me, and it seems not for him. It’s about it being ours.

Contemplating a Close

April 16, 2015 § 1 Comment

Or at least, not renewing the domain.

It’s still months away but getting hard to justify spending money on here.

At one point I was thinking about setting up some kind of mentory/workshop thing, but I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be the one asking a nervous writer to give me money so that I can tell them what they know. I don’t want to be the person saying “If you give me many dollars, I will teach you how to be inspired!”. While I can’t vouch for what people do or don’t get out of these sorts of things and I also understand that people need money to survive or they’ll probably kill themselves, putting that monetary barrier between starting writers and the tools you tell them they absolutely must have feels wrong.

I’m glad for the experience here has given me, but it’s a lot for mostly one person. It’s also a lot like talking to a wall.

While I haven’t had a view-less day here since very early on, it’s coming.

The only things I want to leave this with are I think the content here is good, useful, and best of all it’s free. The Plan Plan is my shining moment for here and I kinda love the semi-farcical tone of Writing Musts but yeah… uh. hmm. I’ll just end with this a few of my own thoughts on writing. None of them are rules, because I don’t like rules. Think of them as suggestions you can use or ignore, however you like.

  • Show and tell, as you need it – Lean toward the former but sometimes the latter works. Use your judgement.
  • Write what you want – Your passion will bridge the gap between familiarity and expertise, but do research too.
  • There’s more to story structure than The Hero’s Journey – Write how you want. If you don’t want to do a three-act structure, don’t have one. It’s your story.
  • Don’t pay someone $600 to tell you to sit down and write – Fricking do it already.
  • Be yourself – You can’t be Hemingway, job’s taken. Them other authors you’ve heard of, also taken. Write the way you do, that nobody else can.
  • It’s never as good as you think – You’re already in love with the story because you’ve imagined it, seen the movie in your head, and already know it all. You’re too close to know.
  • It’s never as bad as you think – You see all the mistakes sometimes, and remember all the other drafts where it was slightly different. You’re still too close to know.
  • It’s never ready after the first draft – Read it. Don’t change a thing. Again. AGAIN. See all those bits that keep bothering you now? Now you can change them.
  • Write something you’d put on your own bookshelf – If it doesn’t appeal to you, or you’re not proud of what you’re trying to write (whether you’re doing or not), why are you doing this?
  • Nobody’s perfect and no story either – Accept you’ll make mistakes so you have the chance to make them. Can’t fix what doesn’t exist.
  • Let it happen – Be flexible. A story can take turns you weren’t expecting, and it becomes almost like reading.
  • Have fun – This one’s just common sense. It’s not all giggles and rainbows, but parts of the process ought to be enjoyable
  • Do it – Can’t cross the cusp of greatness if you don’t take a step.
  • Lastly, write your way. You wanna write transitions? You want snappy dialogue or stoic grunts? You want a trope-laden wonderland? People are going to tell you their rules, or the writing musts, the things that you must absolutely do OR YOU’RE NOT A REAL WRITER. Fuck it, you’re real and you’re writing it, so it’s your fucking story.

A Little Scratch of Prose

April 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

First draft of an exercise-type piece of writing. It’s a one-off done in a lunchbreak, not very long, but a shot at reinforcing a practice that’s been missing of late.

It was easy out in the spaces, where the gatherings didn’t infest every nook and place of reflection. He carried it with him too, rattling metal on metal as he trudged into the low marshes, but it was the spot alone that’d put a patch of nature between his toes.

“You know it don’t come right out?” asked a voice from the shrouded edge.

Woman, though he’d have felt the same regardless.

“In kind with the way the city noises find there way, even here?”

She lowered her eyes and stepped out, both hands stretched out while the rest of her form was hidden by a dark, grey robe. It was a few steps before he caught the deliberate motions of her movement, but only when separated by a finger more than an arm’s length did he realise it was where she trod that consumed her attention.

“Alright, what are you doing?” he asked.

She shrugged with whimsy, then stepped around him. Her fingers drummed against his chestplate on one side, and then her voice was on the other side, and at his ear.

“Well the quiet don’t cost. If you’re set on sticking around, you won’t be needing that purse at all.”

“I’m not doing this!” he exclaimed, and moved his body to step away. It was the moment he uncovered what she knew, and when he found his feet fixed in the mud. His arms flailed, grappling to make contact with her so he could regain his balance, but she’d already stepped back. In her hands, his cloth purse.

“Give that back,” he said, fumbling at a voice of authority.

“Here,” she said, holding it out toward him, but keeping it shy of his reach. “No?” she asked with a shrug, and turned away.

“This isn’t funny.”

She smiled. “It’s a little funny.”

His expression hardened and his voice sunk low. “Night is approaching.”

“Ooh, I know. Heard it gets dangerous round here, too. Best be careful.”

He grunted and pushed his body, and moved one of his legs free. His partial escape caught her by surprise, but it was the reach of a weapon she hadn’t seen that froze her in place. The point of it was short of her neck, but it’d only take a lunge to cross the distance.

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