Winter Break

Hey everyone. Winter break just started, and I've begun to shift my full time attention back onto Against the Wall. I can say with confidence that I will miss the "Late 2013" deadline for Against the Wall. It's a real bummer, but I don't really have the manpower (money) to get this game completed in a timely manner. Lack of funds also means I can't be on this project full time, so I'll have to make the most of  the hours that I have.

So here's the plan: I'm free until the end of January, then grad school starts again. I'm going to work every weekday, and try to post small updates each day. Every day will have a focus: tech, art, or content.

  • Tech days are devoted to bug fixes and optimization, which, as it turns out, is my favorite thing to do in terms of game development, concept and design work aside. Other days will focus on art development.
  • Art days are for art creation, experimentation and optimization through draw call reduction. Right now, I'm planing on giving the game a low-res minimalistic look. I feel I have overused realistic textures that do not fit my low-poly models. It would be easier for me to go all-in with the low fidelity models and textures, I don't have the time or skill to make anything more complex.
  • Content days are for the creation of locations in the game world, tweaking how the game feels, and experimenting with mechanical changes.

The last one is the trickiest. Right now, the game has immediate goals (extending the correct bricks to get from point A to B) and an overall narrative arc has been planned for players' long-term goals. What I've been struggling with are the intermediate goals: what drives you forward, what small tasks do you complete on the way, what emergent tasks could the player create for themselves, etc. Right now, the mechanics are so stripped-down that there is not a ton of room for this kind of goal. That is, there is no player inventory, no concept of, say, sleep, health, energy, etc.  that would give the player a reason to create a side quest for themselves. I don't want to make to game too complex, of course, but I do think it needs something else for the player to manage besides just extending bricks.  I'd appreciate any feedback or suggestions that I can get on this front.

Really, I've been playing a number of survival games lately: Minecraft, Starbound, Don't Starve, Lone Survivor, and Teleglitch. Against the Wall could be considered minimal survival game. Such games usually have a hunger stat and an inventory in some form. I wonder if I do need an inventory after all. Perhaps there is away around a traditional inventory, such as the one implemented in Miasmata.

Today's Progress

There was this bug where, when exiting one chunk of bricks, the game would completely lock-up, but only on some playthroughs. Such lock-ups usually happen when a program enters an infinite loop (that is, the program gets stuck executing the same bit of code repeatedly and cannot move on to anything else). I spent a total of five hours tracking this one down. It was a tough one to reproduce. Here was the cause: when a dynamic entity falls off the side of the wall, it continues falling until it reaches the bottom edge of the generated world. At this point, it disables itself and adds itself to a list. Now, whenever the player changes chunks, the program would check the list for  any such props to re-enable them if they are close enough to the player. There was an apparently infinite loop that iterated through the list when changing chunks. The problem would only happen on playthroughs where I chucked the scarecrow entity off the side of the world, adding an item to the list for the loop to be caught on.

I did some other optimizations, mostly dealing with C# events. Boring stuff to relate, honestly.

What I'm Playing

Survival games, as mentioned. Also, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, which is fantastic game that brought me back to my childhood. Gone Home was a nice little story. Didn't care for the nostalgia-baiting bits, liked the atmosphere, though the architecture was rather wild (e.g. the second-story rooms are not built above any first-story rooms). I finally beat FTL for the first time, bought the PC version of Dark Souls (loved it on the XBox) and played the hell out of Spelunky. There is a free indie game called Naev that I charged through until it began feeling rote. Finally, I played Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing, a surreal edutainment experience in the spirit of Frog Fractions.

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9 comments on “Winter Break
  1. davidmear says:

    Personally I quite like the way the current wall texture has realistic details, especially seeing as you spend a lot of time looking at it from up close. Maybe a compromise of realistic fine textures with cartoony medium and large-scale structure would be more doable? I think the buildings in The Witness are a brilliant example of this, suggesting forms with sharp angles and varied lighting.

    Regarding intermediate goals, there's obviously the existing mechanic of creating a path to reach interesting landmarks, but thinking about what the people who lived on the wall might have used it for, some other reasons to adjust blocks could be:

    Manipulating light and shadow.
    Blocking or helping the movement of other elements, like water, wind, falling objects or even creatures.
    Creating a particular pattern, like a physical password or sacred symbol.
    Linking up machines with, for example, electrically conductive blocks.
    Using the block movement to push or drop large objects, to break through things, or to work mechanisms.
    Shielding yourself from danger.

  2. Michael says:

    The Witness is exactly the kind of style that I am thinking of. Faceted blocky structures with textures that are more like colors, and are detailed up close. Also thinking of Massive Chalice and No Man's Sky in terms of style. Detailed, but not realistic. When you make something that points towards realism, people have much higher expectations for the visuals all around. I'm just one guy, and I do not consider myself an artist, so the more simplified the better.

    Your mechanical suggestions are exactly the kind of feedback I'm looking for! I've heard only a few of those before. I'm going to put a few of those on my todo list for experimentation. Thank you!

  3. Peter Locke says:

    I think there are a number of ways you could go about it (regarding the graphics) that could all potentially work. you could make it like The Witness, you could make it more realistic, you could go for a Cel-shaded look that was super minimalist… i think whatever seems easiest to make work or seems the most fun to work on is the one you should use. But i could be wrong… maybe you have to go for the one that looks best. i don't know!

    About the gameplay, i am a person who used to LOVE collectathon platformers like Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and even Mario 64 and the 3D rayman games to some extent. So, if you wanna add some kinds of collectables, that could be fun. Maybe they could be really really rare, like capturing Poe Ghosts in Legend of Zelda, or they could be everywhere, in different colours worth different amounts or with different functions. You could even make the collectables like currency and you could use them to bribe or make deals with the lifeforms that live on the wall.

    Another thing that could go multiple ways is how the collectables would manifest themselves in the game. Would they just float? Would they have physics? Would you have to suck them up like a vacuum (using some kind of alternate-mode for the magic wand that you use to pull out bricks from the wall)? If not, how close would you have to go to them to collect them? Would they be simply hidden in hard-to-reach places, or would they be invisible unless you used a certain alternate-vision mode? Would they show you the way to a secret, like the coins in Super Mario World? Would they be alive? Would they run away from you, or try to push you off the edge of the platform? Would they spray you with a gas that made you move slower for a limited time? Hopefully these questions have given you some ideas.

  4. Michael says:

    Yeah, collectibles. I've though about this quite a bit, and have convinced myself that I need some small infrequent collectible throughout the game. Nothing gratuitous like the floating stars of Mario or the bits in Fez. Something that seems like a natural fit in the world, but also attractive and distance enough for players to want to pick it up. Flowers? Colorful shells of some sort? Religious symbols?

    In any event, I'm not as stuck-up about mechanics as I once was. If it's fun and interesting, I'll try it. Having an inventory to see your collectibles, that could be a bit of work. perhaps you just see the number in the pause menu or whenever you collect a new one. I guess they would do what the other games use collectibles for: opening new paths.

    Anyway this is just my stream of consciousness. Today will be all about testing new art styles, or rather, messing with the shaders and procedural textures until I get something that looks nice. I would guess that this whole art thing would take up a cumulative week of work, but perhaps that is me being optimistic.

  5. martyn_van_buren says:

    My $00.02 : I don't care for the idea of other mandatory systems; I feel like it would add stress to a game that is now kind of meditative. I would love to have more reasons to explore, though. Would viewpoints be a possibility? It would be  very cool to get an occasional chance to get away from the wall and see it from a more "macro" perspective. And I reckon they could also serve a gameplay function by allowing you to look ahead and plan a route upward.

  6. Michael says:

    Yes! More reasons to explore, more ways of exploring, etc. I do want it to be meditative, but also want the player to be thinking of how to overcome specific challenges and obstacles.

    Update on the art: Still tweaking the look a bit. Of course, it's difficult to get things looking minimalist without them being flat and uninteresting. Also trying to improve performance by things like, removing detail and normal maps from wall sections that are far from the player.

  7. davidmear says:

    I like the idea of feathers, flags or other decorations for the staff as optional collectables, though obviously it depends on what materials are available on the wall. World building things like notes and diary pages are always interesting too, but if actual writing doesn't make sense maybe paintings on the blocks would work better.

    To add interest, could you break up some surfaces with cracks, bevels and slightly tilted sections so that they catch different shades of the lighting?

  8. porcupine says:

    Just a quick thought about gameplay: I kinda like the idea of playing around with sound in the game – perhaps one would need to seek out "special blocks" – visually indistinguishable – that could only be located through sound (perhaps by tapping  the block one stands on with the bottom of the staff, listening for the sound it makes?); the tone or delay of the echo might indicate how far one is from the next one to activate, but not in what direction – and if one gets too far from the last activated one (sound becomes too faint?), the staff might no longer work (pull blocks). I'm thinking of a crystal- or windchime-like sound but that's of course just a suggestion…

  9. Michael says:

    Paintings would work Dave. I think that Latin characters anywhere would bring people out of the experience. Your suggestion about adding cracks and lighting is spot-on. It was also made by one of my professors recently. Should be a bit of work, of course, but perhaps worth exploring.

    Porcupine: Yeah, echo-location puzzle bits could work. It would certainly limit where a player could go. The problem would be in explaining that to them, why the wand suddenly is not extending bricks, and what they have to do to make things work again. In general, I have thought of a dowsing rod that could help with player pathfinding. Perhaps such a thing would be sound-based.