Revisiting Your World

March 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

So time to talk about For More Than Earthly Ends, that thing I should be working on more but have had trouble fitting in after moving house, jobs, offices, gaining a baby, having a regular game journalist gig, and well, all those other bits of life. I have been floundering on the rewrite since about December, and a lot of the reasons listed above are big reasons. I’m still struggling with one particular chapter, and I think it’s because there’s a lot more that happens in it than originally did. Most of the ‘productive’ stuff I’ve done has been around world-building, and making notes about the state of the different locations it’s set in.

I have a chunk of stuff that happens in Sydney, where I live, and can pinpoint the exact street where the events in question will take place in the distant future. There’s a bigger section that happens in Seattle, which I’ve never been to, though I’ve asked lots of questions, spent time in google maps, and even spent a few nights listening to online police scanners run by one of the news services over that way. I don’t know if I’ll have authenticity in it, and it’s definitely somewhere I’d love to visit, though admittedly it was just circumstances that led me to choose it as one of the three cities. The third is Shanghai, which I’ve been to once before, though it was before I’d started working on this.

Well, around the time I was planning, but before I’d started writing.

Tomorrow I’m going back there.

It’s going to be interesting for me, being in a place I’ve written about, and seeing how the ideas about the place I’d formed the first time differ from my new experiences. There’s also this one particular scene, it’s throwaway and scenery but also endemic to the characters and location, and it’d be kind of cool to sit in that spot and actually rewrite that scene while being able to soak in the place itself.

There are a lot of little bits and pieces I want to get right with this story. In some ways a little of my old perfectionist streak is coming out in the rewrite, and it’s sort of a bad thing, because that’s the same one that saw me not finish a thing. I want to get it further along, and really need to get through yet another chapter. I know something similar to this happened with another chapter earlier on, though that was focused on a different location. Maybe each thread will have its moment that needs to be reworked and revised, just enough to give the overall story a little extra quality.

Entry 4: The Khan Moment

March 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

shot1

As commented on the other post, I managed to get the Platform to work. I don’t know if I was doing something wrong the previous time, but I started out by just following (exactly as I’d done before) the methods presented in the video, and this time the Component options were enabled and it was no longer read-only. Somewhere in between I’d closed the engine and come back to it, so who really knows what went wrong originally?

In doing the platform part of the tutorial, I discovered ideas were jumping around, and it might require you to have some knowledge of how Unreal handles the Paper2D stuff. The name is very indicative of execution, with all of the 2D sprites and flipbooks existing as flat objects in a 3d world. It’s through this that it handles graphic layers, but also uses 3D data for phyics and collision.

If you run through the tutorial, you’ll learn about constraining things to certain planes, which in real terms means you’d have things like the player and any objects they interact with, at the same Y coordinates. Backgrounds would be behind them, and foregrounds would be in front.

When it comes to the lift tutorial, the idea is that you have a platform with a bunch of variables that you can set to move back and forth, between a starting location and an ending location. The method used was linking a Timeline to a LERP (Linear Interpolation, or a variable position on a line between two points in 3D space, depending on a percentage), which plays back and forth, after a set delay. None of it’s done with code, just using the new blueprints. I haven’t touched a line of code.

Well, here’s the Khan moment:

The tutorial shows you how to make the platform move up and down, or left and right. So that’s across one axis or another. You could also make it run diagonally. That’s fine, IF you want to think two-dimensionally.

Disappearing platform!

Disappearing platform!

Changing the endpoint of the Lift Platform to somewhere else on the Y axis, the one that’s used to layer, means we have a platform that pops in and out, like those old disappearing ones in Sonic or whatever else.

Maybe that was obvious to most that did the tutorial, but really goes some way to showing what can be done rather simply, with a little obtuse thinking.


In semi-related news, talking about my progress on Twitter led to someone asking to be involved! I gave them my usual “Well if it LEADS anywhere, sure!” disclaimer, but y’know, just that little bit was exciting. Same probably applies to others that read this and either want to keep track, or you know, just talk, or even get involved. We’ll see.

The first-destination on my ‘actual game’ timeline is some kind of Adventure Game, possibly with RPG elements (but I dunno), but I expect to have a few different stops on the 2D train along the way. Platformer or Top-down might be next, or might go for the bigger fish.


I tied out the evening with a few attempts at playing the versions of my old Sierra-esque game, recovered from the internet. It’s definitely not the same one I remember having completed, but bits were close enough that I could nearly play it through. Ideally I’d love to get to a position where I was able to recreate something along those lines, perhaps not with quite so terrible graphics though not a whole lot better either. That’d be a decent enough goal.

Note: When I get back to the sequence/self-education stages on this big ol’ game development journey, I might start including pictures. At the moment it’s almost exactly what you see on the tutorials so rendered moot, but in the future, who knows.

Entry 3: A Running, Jumping, Digging-Holes Game*

March 11, 2015 § 1 Comment

Right, so maybe there’s no digging holes just yet. Also do you have ANY idea how old that bloody description is? There’s also no failure states or challenges or score, but there is running and jumping and a peculiarly physics-enabled platform that you can move (by running into it) so that you can jump onto another platform.

IT’S A GAME!

Okay, maybe not, but I’m making progress! I’m stuck again, but I’m making progress. As said before, I’m going through the Paper2D tutorials for Unreal Engine 4. I had a little trouble with the camera setup earlier (details below) but the area I’m at currently (and also stuck on) is this part of the tutorial: (Link). It’s the bit where you make a platform that moves around. I think it may be part of the default template, but I’m not sure. Either way, it’s not working, but…

I did eventually find what was wrong with my thingy; that’s the uh, camera viewpoint on play thingy. Looked as though I’d added the component spring-arm and camera to an instance of the Character (which I didn’t need) rather than the class. As this wasn’t translating through to the player start (lack of inheritance as it wasn’t on the base blueprint class), it kept everything in perspective.

The way I discovered this was restarting the tutorial, finding that most of the early runs were ‘simulates’ not ‘plays’, and then skipping ahead to the camera-boom tutorial.

Somewhere along the line I’d also removed the character from the view and dragged it back in, and found that I had to redo all the jump/gravity changes (and it’s that which clued me in to the fact I hadn’t been working on the class definition itself)

As far as the current bit of the tutorial goes, the main problem I’m having is that when I create a new Actor blueprint, it’s not letting me add a component to it which… being away from it and typing it out… makes me wonder if that’s the wrong approach. There are bits and pieces that are different between the UE4 version in the video and what’s available now, but shouldn’t there be a special lift sprite first, or shouldn’t it be attached to the existing platform sprite? Hmmm. The current previous for the blueprint is a sphere, and there’s a sphere attached, and not a lot is changeable. It’s seemingly locked in a read-only mode, which is weird and mysterious, but not in the way where you’re attracted to it… cause it’s a locked sphere blueprint.

Also just using the default sprite graphics at the moment, so will need to throw together some basic pixel crap to make it all a bit more interesting, but that’s also a later-thing.

Writing Musts: Follow Everyone Else’s Standards

March 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

One of the things people will tell you is that as a writer, you have to meet their expectations. This might seem like a challenging thing to have to do, considering that the world is full of billions of people, but it’s much easier than making up your own mind or having your own principles.

A simple question is all you have to ask – will this upset somebody? Yes? Then don’t write it.

It’s a little easier when you take into account that all readers are the same, but it’s even easier when you realise that they all want the exact same story.

One of the instigating thoughts for this post is about how it’s difficult to write women. I mean, who of us can really say we’ve ever met a women before? Not many is my guess. While we can write about magics and aliens and dystopian governments until the cows come home – and I suppose write about cows too – women are this great unknown. One of the usual pieces of advice are to think about women as people, but then how well do we know people either? It’s much easier to understand the detached logics of an automaton than to relate to a person affected by needs or emotions, unless those needs are battery power and the emotions are caused by a malfunctioning emotion chip unwisely embedded in a robot’s CPU.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Well yeah, women are hard to write, but that’s not the instigating thought. It was people talking about strong female characters that did it. Yeah, awesome women characters kicking arse just as good as any man character would. They naturally have those qualities that denote they’re not a man, but when MEASURED by the same yardsticks we’d use to measure the strength of a man character, a women character has STRENGTH. This is a solution.

Some might say that this is an erroneous approach to creating well-developed characters that happen to be women, and that this isn’t a great indicator of strength because you’re restricting yourself to one particular measure that’s rather male-centric in terms of validation of characterisation.

But what’s the alternative – thinking about it? Who’s got time for that? Evaluating a character’s strength by something other than violence or being a cinderblock of unmoving thought? Naaaah, let’s go with what we’ve always used to judge characterisation. Sure, strength could be extending support to loved ones when you’re under a lot of pressure yourself already, but it’s probably vanquishing demons and blowing shit up and not needing help from others.

So don’t worry about all that. Just write to the same standards everyone expects, and measure the strength of a character through how much they can lift and not how many they can carry, or whatever other stupid standard that’s not this one people want to use.

Entry Two: 2D or Not 2D

March 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’m doing bits and pieces of the Paper2D tutorial for Unreal Engine. While the module itself is still in an alpha state, I’m running through what it can do, which at the moment is just recreating the 2D game template the engine comes with. I’m doing this instead of starting with the template, so that I can hopefully understand what’s going on. The tutorials itself is a series of videos that you can find over here, that really walk through the basics of putting together a simple 2D gamemode. The total length of the tutorial (all videos) is a little over two hours, but I’ve been staggering lessons over a few days.

I’m doing that because I want to give each one time to sink in, but also to try and build up a habit.

I’ve gone this way with it because I want to get some really basic things worked out before I start experimenting with my own ideas, and also to understand what’s going on with the engine.

It’s a strange experience so far, and I know I’ve messed something up, as the game refuses to recognise the orthographic camera attached to the player character, instead constantly giving the player start as our viewpoint. Might be to do with perspective mode in editor, but I don’t know.

It’s interesting what stuff is possible, and how much further it comes with a few checkboxes. The way it layers bits and pieces gives me ideas for walkbehinds ala how the old AGI engine used to mimic 3d areas, and presumably if the Y axis wasn’t at 0, you could do some cool layering with bits and pieces.

The goal (once I’ve got the tutorial finished) is to do a very basic sidescroller, with three areas (well, rooms) that you can move between, an enemy (or two) to attack, and that’s about it. That’s my own proof of concept. At the same time, my son is scrawling down ideas he has for a game of his own that’ll force me into 3D stuff, but even there we’re limiting the scope to relatively simple (I hope) to start with. That’s a walk-around, attack a thing, in a single area. It’ll be staggered of course, and I know I’ll want to do some of the other tutorials before I try implementing it.

Either way, this is where I’m going with it.

If anyone else has thought about diving into Unreal Engine 4 now that they’ve gone an made it more accessible, shout at me :)

Enter title here

March 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

As I throw some thoughts into here, the ones below (ooh, time travel? Nah, just editing. Well, writing. Shhh), there’s a blank space up top that reads “Enter title here.”

 

I like that. That’s why it’s there on the post.

 

I’m putting this in challenges because I plan to challenge myself today. It’s been too long since I’ve written properly, and yep, it’s the fiction that I’m talking about.

I think it’s time to write something, almost anything, but something fictional. Since I have my bits and pieces that I have reserved for other works, I’ll probably steer clear of my preferred genre of science fiction. I might even leave fantasy alone, and leave whatever ideas fit such settings to the future works already mapped out.

Well, those particular settings or whatever.

I don’t know exactly what form that idea will take right now, so let’s think it over. I want something fun, maybe dark, and – wait, am I describing coffee here? No. Maybe. We’ll see.

Aside from some other stuff, I think this is a solid idea. Write a thing. Write many things sure, but start with a single one.

Anyone want me to write something for them? Give me a title. Maybe you’ll get something in return.

 

Entry One: Unruly Works

March 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

With the exception of a few hours, I’ve barely touched my rewrite. In fact, I can’t say that I’ve written much this year at all.

It’s hard not to feel like a failure in those circumstances.

I think the most words that’ve moved around through FMTEE have been through me typing up bits and pieces of my handwritten stuff, and yet that whole idea of chapter seven still looms unwritten and unfinished. Technically I’ve got the plan worked out. I met up with a friend to help them workshop their ideas, and in the process, spent a few minutes sorting out my own thoughts.

This year’s not off to the greatest start on that front.

Neither is that other pursuit. Hello Games. If you read my stuff (or were reading it in last November), you may have seen me mention something about a game design document. Well yeah, that didn’t go far beyond the planning stages, and from that it’s easy to wonder if I finish anything ever (I’m not projecting – this is what I wonder and worry about) but I’m not yet in panic mode.

I’ve blogged about game stuff before, particular my own experiences with gamedev (very limited). Can’t say I’ve done a whole lot, and with the exception of a few periods in my life, have tended to jump between interests and not get very far beyond the basics. I wouldn’t say happily, but I’ll admit it. This week, with the Game Developer Conference 2015 going on (aka, GDC15), there’s been a few things happening in the world of game development. Firstly, Epic announced that Unreal Engine 4 would be available for lots of people, without that pesky subscription. Yeah, caveats apply, but that’s significantly dropped the barriers. Unity followed suit with the release of Unity 5, with a personal licence that’ll see it reach more hands again. Not to be left out, Valve announced Source 2 Engine will go the same way.

So, I started planning. This time (and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve found me saying the same before), I thought I’d start easy. Simple. That journey began last night, and by simple, I mean I downloaded a thing and installed it.

Concurrently with all this, I did a free online course on Game Design, so I’m not exactly raring to go, but trying to be a bit more realistic about it.

It’s now about three months since my first entry in this category. In that time, I’ve let the idea I had for the setting ferment. This is a little like the “shelve it and come back later” approach, but a big part of it was that while I was trying to write the story for it during NaNoWriMo, I wasn’t feeling it. On paper it sounded brilliant, but I hadn’t fallen in love with it – I was too focused on my previous novel. Back then, I couldn’t even appreciate the writing playlist I’d put together SPECIFICALLY to write in the new setting, but lately I’ve found bits and pieces of it pop into my head. While I’m still excited about the previous thing I was working on (but haven’t done because my shit is all over the place and needs to be more organised), the ideas for this are coming.

It’s not just the game engine news that’s prompted this. I started looking at it again over the past few weeks, in between new work stuff, courses (online and offline), and family. I set myself a few goals in terms of this gamey thing, first of all was to go through tutorials to get that familiarity with the process in.

From the point of view of those that see me tweet a few things now and then on games, or even the recent stuff about “hey, let’s make a game” which is tongue-in-cheek despondent over the unlikelihood of me getting that together… it’s easy to see this as dreamy fluffy bullshit.

Maybe it is.

I know in this type of thing, ideas are abundant and nobody’s begging for that, but when I look at the imagined worlds that perhaps haven’t seen a lot of exposure but that I’m able to recount without preparation, the bits and pieces of Shimmer, Trail, and FMTEE… the world of Ascension, TGW, and now this newer one, I think that side of it’s under control.

Should I focus solely on FMTEE right now? I don’t know. Could be. There’s also a hot iron over here that’s begging to be struck.

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