Saturday, February 28, 2015

Asteroid VR

After a few months of poking around and experimenting with VR, using the Leap Motion as a control input, I ended up making a pretty interesting little tech-demo (not shown). It actually started as a game jam as part of Leap Motion's 2015 3D Jam and I was dead set on winning, but unfortunately life got in the way and I only got to scratch the surface with this project. Thankfully I'm stubborn and decided to pick up this project again early February and have been actively experimenting with it in my free time. Check out the early preview here...

Lesson's Learned
  • Building gestures based on hand positions is not as difficult as I had anticipated, but it also required a significant amount of planning before code even began. You have to take in positions, facing directions, trajectories, magnitudes and somehow build interactions out of them that feel comfortable to the user and make sense. It's not trivial, but if planned out, it's also not as difficult as I originally thought.

  • If your first idea doesn't work, go in a different direction. I originally wanted to have the game be set in a broken down city where the user could choose which path to take, sort of like an on-rails shooter. However, the assets caused far too much slow down on my computer making development almost impossible. So I went to something simpler; what was the easiest fun thing I could create. Just shooting moving targets. And thus, Asteroids became the new target, and quite honestly, I think the result is far more fun than the original idea would have been. Be willing to adapt.
  • Hand tracking just isn't there yet. The Leap Motion is fantastic and I can certainly make great use of it, but there's still a lot of room for them to innovate and improve on optical tracking (and perhaps motion / gesture prediction).
  • VR is exciting! It's an entirely new technology that is emerging, it's something I dreamed of as a kid and now I get to participate in it's creation. There are no "rules" to doing VR yet, it's all experiemental and that excites me greatly.
  • The last 20% of polish yields 80% of the perceptual excitement. I had almost the exact same game finished about two or three weeks ago, but it wasn't until I put in nice looking graphics, effects, audio and music did it really start shining. There's literally nothing different in terms of the code or how the game operates, but the polish really helps sell the "fun factor". Even with half of what I had planned missing!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jet Pack Slaughter Dome!

Update - So I gave up on 1GAM as I realized it doesn't suit my style... I much prefer to work towards larger scope projects, rather than make a bunch of small throwaways. Though, I might try to re-visit is in 2016. Either way, I got 3 games in and it was fun!

After writing my post about "New Years Revitalization" goals, I made a spur of the moment decision; I decided I'd spend 2015 completing the One Game a Month Challenge where participants are tasked with creating and releasing a game every single month. The point of the challenge isn't necessarily to create something you'd end up selling with a full set of features and polish, but rather to go through the motions of creating a game from scratch through to release. It's about practicing finishing something, no matter whether the result is good or bad, so long as it's playable by others in some format, you've accomplished the goal.

Personally, my goal with this isn't necessarily to build everything from scratch every month. For example, I've got a bunch of half-finished projects that I could move forward and release in some playable format, or I could work with others to create something interesting, or even use a pre-made template and adapt it to fit my needs. For me, it's more about releasing something playable, interesting and practicing the thought process behind game development & designing those mechanics.

January's Release! Download "Jet-Pack Slaughter Dome" for PC (Requires 4x XBox 360 controllers)

Created as a team project during Global Game Jam 2015 here in Vancouver, BC (sorry, we forgot to upload it to the website, so it's not officially available). You play as Bill Suitor or one of his clones from rival nations as they battle for the right to be the jet-pack-man in the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics!

We went into the jam knowing we wanted to make a 4-player, controller, couch-style game you'd play with friends in the same room. We drew inspiration from popular titles like Mario Party and TowerFall while designing the game. Having gone through a few concepts, we eventually settles on this bizarre arena style battle mostly because it was making the whole team laugh. When you're at a jam making a game for 48 hours, it's pretty important to make sure you have fun with the idea.

We had a few challenges while designing the game, a few features didn't get finished and overall it could use another weekend of polish to really feel proper, however overall for a game that took one weekend plus about a day's worth of fixing on my part... it turned out pretty damn good! Check out the video below as well or scroll up to the download link & play it for yourself if you'd like...

Lesson's Learned
  • Screen Shake is super important to a good feel. Check out this video on the subject if you'd like to learn more about "game feel"
  • Keep it Simple = You'll actually finish on time, well... not really, but close?
  • The State Machine I've been tinkering with over the years is absolutely key to having an easy to use game architecture. There's still room for improvement, but it works adequately for now.
  • Managing controllers across multiple platforms (PC & Mac) is difficult, drivers don't exist on Mac for Xbox 360 controllers
  • Post Processing Effects are key to improving the overall visual style. In this game, I used a cheap (hardware-wise) plugin that allowed me to create my own LUT. That, on top of a bloom effect, really helped sell the visual experience.
  • Having dedicated artists really helps me focus on core game-play and overall presentation. At ComboMash I've given myself the title of "Creative Director" and I think for future projects I'll need to focus more in this area.
  • Humor is key to team cohesion. We had a blast just coming up with random shit, laughing at our game jokes and when things got tough we took breaks and told jokes to lighten the mood.
  • Not finishing is okay. If we put another couple of months into the game, we'd probably have something we could go stick on GOG or some other Unity enabled website... but that's fine. We learned and gained experience, and that's a worth goal in itself.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Revitalization

For the past few years I've been keeping a tradition of writing a post summarizing my goals for the upcoming year. This could be considered participating in setting "New Year's Resolutions" but I feel that these are often newly created ideas and therefore are much more difficult to stick to. I much prefer the practice of continually reviewing your priorities in life as things happen and instead view this yearly tradition as an opportunity to write down where I currently am. Recording my thoughts gives great insight into previous years; being able to reflect on what I accomplished, what I did not and why.

Creativity & Passion Projects

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I've always got a few projects cooking on the back-burner. Even though I haven't had much success releasing projects, it's fun to tinker and I can't go very long without some form of creative expression. This past year has been filled with many challenges between my career and social life, which unfortunately left me completely burned out and unable to really pursue my passion projects.

That all changed one foggy morning when I opened my inbox to discover that Hextraction was Accepted into Greenlight! This was a project which those of us at ComboMash Entertainment Inc had put our heart & souls into through Kickstarter (one which I quit my job to pursue), but it ended up flopping miserably. We learned a lot from the experience, but the next 7 months were pretty tough for us all and we pretty much abandoned the project. Receiving that email was like finding the golden ticket to the Wonka factory, and immediately gave us the boost we needed to get back into the swing of things. Knowing we'll have access to the most popular online sales portal for PC games when we finish is a pretty big motivation factor, after all!

Riding this wave of motivation & renewed creative energy, I'm going to be focussing my creative efforts for the next year in three areas:

  • Hextraction - Working with the ComboMash team to bring new life to our game as we work towards release. We've already got a much more solid & mature concept in place and have begun experimenting with Unreal 4, so I have high hopes we'll have an awesome project given enough time & effort.

  • Oculus Rift - Having purchased a DK2 and began experimenting with developing for VR I can safely say this technology is going to explode in the coming years. Not with the big clunky headsets of today, but with the sleek well designed minimal glasses we'll see 5 to 10 years from now. Learning how to create engaging experiences for VR has huge potential so I'll be jamming out some small projects to start experimenting. Might even try to do One Game a Month challenge, focussed exclusively on VR experiences, if time allows.

  • IP Development - I've always enjoyed creating unique, off-the-wall, somewhat risqué characters & story-lines. Yeah okay, I'm basically just talking about Pole Force One, a project I've had in my back pocket for years now. What I've learned from it though is that I should focus less on building something for a specific medium (such as a game) and instead get into the habit of creating compelling universes that could be made into animations, games, merchandise, comics, etc...

Exploration, Nature & Freedom

I'm not a city person, can't stand being around concrete and given an ideal world would be out living in a cabin in the woods only emerging to go to work or spend time with friends. Unfortunately that doesn't seem possible here in Vancouver, so instead I'm going to try and focus on finding some compromises that will allow me to get out into nature more often and get that sense of freedom.

  • Motorcyle - After chatting with a friend who rides, and looking enviously at the beautiful landscapes she gets to see while out riding, I decided now was the time to get my license and purchase a motorcycle. I've already picked up some protective leather and have booked lessons in February, so I have no doubt that come summer time I'll be out riding deep into the mountains and enjoying the beautiful landscape the west coast has to offer.

  • Long Distance Cycling - I suppose I enjoy being on two wheels? I'm going to start building up my stamina, learning to do on the road repairs for my road bike and will be doing a few long distance treks on the bicycle. After doing a 200km charity ride last summer, I've got the itch to strap a tent to my backpack and ride off somewhere far away; just me, my bicycle and whatever I discover along the way.

  • Hiking - Okay, so I already do this but I'm hoping that the above two goals will help me do this even more often. Even if it's just cycling up to the Grind every other weekend and demolishing the tourists trying to do it in jeans & flip-flops, I think that would be enough to keep me satisfied for now.

I had a few more items that I wanted to write down about relationships, friends, health & fitness... but I think I'm satisfied with my entry for today. The other areas are just as important but I feel writing about them would be less tangible. They're far more circumstantial and part the continual process of self development that everyone goes through. Happy New Year to anyone who happens to be reading this!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Rolling the Dice

I'm not a gambling man, or at least that's what I thought. I've been to the casino a couple of times and played around with $60 in total before realizing it wasn't terribly exciting. I've bought a few lottery tickets, but am obviously not rolling in cash so it's safe to say I didn't win. However, in a more true reflection of my personality, I'm horribly addicted to a specific kind of gambling: entrepreneurialism. And yes, that is totally a word, despite what the red squiggly spell check is saying right now.

I live for the thrill of looking out to a world full of potential opportunities, experimenting with a new venture in hopes of creating a profitable career which fits who I am and what I value in life, on my own terms. To continually challenge my creativity, intellect and interpersonal skills is what keeps me sane. Don't get me wrong, employment can be quite pleasurable and challenging, I'm not knocking it. The whole regular paycheque and clearly defined scope of work takes a huge load of stress off my shoulders. But if you know me well you'll know that I don't last very long in the typical 9-to-5 environment. When working under rigid conditions, doing the same thing every day, I'm like a kid with A.D.D. sitting in class; fidgeting and dying to go outside and play in the tree. The world is my tree, I must climb it!

Okay Grant, we get it, you write one of these posts like seriously every few months, what's the occasion this time? Fine! Geeze, relax a little, I was getting to that part!

Hextraction on Kickstarter, April 21st! to sign up for Kickstarter notification!

I'm once again jumping back into the world of indie game development with my company ComboMash Entertainment Inc! Last time I jumped I spent a significant amount of time building up the company brand & identity while starting to put together some early game prototypes. Not to mention doing a lot of research into how to make the venture successful. However, my personal savings started to run out and I was missing a few key ingredients so it all got put on hold temporarily while rejoined the "unselfemployment" work-force, as my buddy Eric classified it today.

This jump though, this is the big one. I've recently partnered with my friend Neil and together we have been working on a solid business plan to move the company from non-existence to developing out a small library of games over the next few years. Our launch title Hextraction - a procedurally story driven strategy game about mercenary oil riggers going to alien planets and stripping it of resources - has been designed from the start to be of a relatively small scope such that two people can complete it along side a few key freelancers. We're pushing for a strong start and going straight to Kickstarter on April 21st, with the intent to deliver the game this calendar year.

I'll be sharing more specifics, teasers and details about the game and our progress at ComboMash on our social media pages (links below). Suffice to say that the ventures I've embarked on in the past haven't proven significantly fruitful, but I have a gut feeling that this time it will be different. I've fallen out of the tree enough times to know which branches to avoid and which have a sturdy foundation, allowing me to climb higher. This time, I'm going straight right to the top!