Tag Archives: gaming

No Bingo

_protagonistbingo

Rock Paper Shotgun had an article about “Male Protagonist Bingo”, demonstrating how well-known videogame protagonists easily fill over half the card.

Naturally, I played Bingo for Scout, but no bingo for her…

Then again, someone should probably create a “Female Protagonist Bingo” card. I wonder what that would look like. “Lara Croft Clone”, “Edgy Tattoo”, “Skin Tight Suit”, “Boob Armour”, “Healer”, “Underage”, might be a good beginning, but we can keep “Military Rank”, “Supernatural Powers” and “Psychological Problems”, I think.

And… here is the female protagonist bingo. *cough*

And here is the original blog post by wundergeek. It’s the truth, all of it.

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Old dog, new tricks.

Here’s a snippet you probably haven’t heard. I tried to introduce more dynamics, having these strings swell in and out to mimic a real orchestra.

I picked up a few new tricks recently, such as  using pink noise to balance the mix (google it) and doing better gainstaging in Reaper, meaning the meters aren’t flashing red anymore at all. I now mix closer to -18dB than 0dB. This gives one additional headroom, which makes things a lot more relaxed. I also started to use mid/side processing on the mix bus (this allows me to control the middle and sides of the stereo spectrum separately).

On top of that, I’m trying to measure loudness with a LUFS meter on the master bus. If you’ve never heard of LUFS, I can’t blame you, it’s something used in broadcasting to determine average loudness. Youtube and other streaming services actually limit the LUFS your video can have. Now, if I could just find out what their actual numbers are. They seem to change these limits unpredictably. If you’re too loud, your video gets limited (try right clicking on a youtube video and click “stats for nerds” if you’re interested).

Furthermore, I’m using some new plugins. I might as well mention what they are:

I also now use a dedicated mix bus in Reaper, so I can have the Master set at 0 db and measure the loudness there more precisely. All the effects have moved to the mix bus, except the loudness maximizer, LUFS meter and Pink. This became necessary because you can’t have post-fader plugins on the Master in Reaper. Loudness needs to be measured after the last fader, though.

So, a whole bunch of esoteric music stuff is being done right now. Other things as well. I’ll continue to post updates.

 

… And, of course, there is an easier way to do the swelling strings effect. Buried in the depths of Reaper, there is a plugin that allows to simply do it with bezier curves, aka envelopes. It’s called ReaControlMIDI and I don’t know why they don’t make that the default on new MIDI tracks. Reaper is awesome, but a lot of its functionality is hidden in obscure plugins or menus.

reacontrolmidi

Of course, I only find this plugin months later, while watching random youtube videos. *sigh* Feels almost like Linux! Home sweet home!

 


New Theme WIP

 

New WIP of this theme. It contains quite a lot of new music and should also sound much better than the version from last year (it’s two and a half times as long!). Let me know what you think in the comments.

If you’re wondering who the heck Esperanza is, she’s the main impact character in the game, an enemy who befriends Scout and turns into an ally. A strong but tragic character with a lot of moral greyness to her.

I’ve been adding snippets to the themes and intend to use those on their own wherever appropriate to underscore moments in the game. That’s why there are lots of different feelings collected under the roof of one theme.  They’re a little like a library.

 

Edit: There is a high quality Ogg Vorbis version of this music available here. In case anyone doesn’t want to stop short of the full sonic goodness. Youtube isn’t too kind to the quality of uploaded music. By the way, this is classical music, which means it doesn’t conform to the standards of the “loudness war”, which translates to: turn it up some.

Edit 2: An alternative Ogg Vorbis version using convolution reverb (based on characteristics of real-world concert rooms) instead of algorithmic (“digital”) reverb can be found here.

The sound is different because the virtual orchestra is playing in a “real” space. I’m impressed by convolution reverb – it sounds “richer” where algorithmic sounds “cleaner”. Not sure which way I prefer yet. (The convolution reverb plugin used was Liquid Sonics Reverberate LE. The algo reverb plugin was Variety of Sound Epic Verb).


general update.

So, here’s where it’s at with Scout’s Journey development as of now. I apologize in advance for the wall of text. I hope it is worth reading. A better format may be forthcoming.

General situation

Game development has been continuous from 2012 until today and is still going strong, with a recent milestone reached in that the plot is completely written. Money is an issue, but that has always been the case and is no blocker. My health is not optimal, and something is being done about that. Also no real blocker, but bothersome and has definitely impacted the pace of development in the last 3 years. However, progress is made all the time.

A major problem is just sheer loneliness; few people in the indie game scene are doing what I am doing, although reports keep popping up of people finishing games after near-decade-long development etc., so others are out there. But day-to-day exchange with similar projects is rare because they almost don’t exist. People from a modding or general indie background often flat out don’t understand what the project is: A standalone story-based first person 3D game with combat, stealth and exploration mechanics. Such a thing is incredibly rare in the indie game world.

Timeline

  • Game started out as a collection of ideas during work on Remake Quake, a Quake mod, from 2007 to 2012. Lots of these ideas didn’t fit the Quake mold.
  • SJ became its own project in the summer of 2012, running on a variety of idtech-based engines (RMQengine, Warsow engine, FTE, Darkplaces etc). Tests were also done on Unity relatively early.
  • Main asset development is in Blender.
  • A dedicated codebase (gamecode) existed for the game while it ran on the idtech engines, and was developed relatively far, especially the RPG aspects (interactive GUI, novel gameplay mechanics, custom all-original NPC dialogue parsing etc were all functional).
  • Lots of assets were developed, including two full levels of a scale much bigger than Quake (later divided into sublevels for performance), two more gigantic locations that were leftovers from RMQ, a full weapon lineup, props etc.
  • Levels were converted from BSP to mesh with meshcollision relatively early.
  • Terrain modelling methods were tested and refined.
  • The game went to combination lightmaps/realtime lights pretty early.
  • Character modelling has begun but was put on hold when it turned out that the story side of the game was a mess. (Also, that is hard.)

Changes

The idtech engines were abandoned along the way simply because I deemed them not reliable/ rugged enough for this type of project. I still believe that was the right decision. Unreal is the goal, but from the end of 2013 and the spring of 2014 onward, most work was done on the storyline, with art and music on the side. I simply needed to bring up the rear, instead of blindly marching on with levels and assets, although those have not been abandoned.

It is simply the case that level design needs to proceed in accordance with the story. If the plot says “Scout goes from here to there”, the levels need to be laid out in the same manner. And if the script says, “Scourge Martyrs attack”, then concept art needs to be made and gameplay mechanics and weapons need to be developed for that enemy type.

This is why the script needs to be in place BEFORE levels and monsters etc. are finalized. And lots of game projects don’t understand this in time. I believe Rhianna Pratchett has mentioned this – you cannot graft a story onto a mostly finished game, it has to be done story first.

Mechanics

A game design document was compiled from roughly 2012 to 2015, ever changing especially in the core gameplay department. Broadly speaking, the game turned from a first person shooter into more of a stealth and exploration game with combat largely optional.

The quake-style encounter design was completely removed and a dynamic runtime-based patrol and AI group system was substituted. In plain English: The levels are populated with patrols and checkpoints etc. by the program during runtime, and enemies can dynamically call for reinforcements or do a tactical retreat. This suits the stealthy gameplay much better. Fundamentals of this were actually implemented in QuakeC already, with the AI controller being nicknamed “Mother” after the computer from the Alien movies. Large influences were the ALife system from Stalker and some work done in RMQ on randomized monster placement.

Writing

Writing is incredibly hard to master. (Most people have probably heard of the 10,000 hour rule.) Here’s a chronological breakdown:

  • End of 2012, a loose plot emerged from the sequence of locations.
  • During 2013, a cast of supporting characters developed.
  • Factions and their relations developed in the game world.
  • 2014-15, I started to get a grip on the entire writing thing.
  • Lots of feedback was received from “beta readers”.
  • Consequently, a lot of rewriting happened.
  • 2016 – 17 was a time of constant gradual improvements.
  • Two (!) artificial languages were developed.
  • Some holes in the plot were incredibly hard to fill.
  • The protag, Scout, was a difficult character to write.

Only recently did everything line up. The format of the script changed several times, because there really is no standard in game writing. This is uncharted territory. The beta readers and writing buddies were incredibly helpful here.

Would the real Scout please stand up?

As for Scout herself, she originally was supposed to be a female version of Ranger, the Quake protagonist. Then the entire Quake mod thing fell apart. Suddenly, Scout became a person.

She wanted to talk. She started to take on a life of her own. So did other characters. Scout does some outrageous things in the story, such as coming back to life (twice), meeting the gods, having a near death experience, travel between worlds and outside of them, encounter her childhood self, and set off a number of conflicts among the various factions, turning friends to enemies and vice versa.

In the beginning, she was overly passive and lacked agency. Getting her behind the wheel, and having her be an active protagonist and a moving force, was a piece of work. Getting in her head and understanding what makes her special was incredibly difficult. She is different from the usual game protagonist. Even her ingame interface is different from other games. Even the controls differ (WASD is still there, but using tools and weapons is done differently).

Scout carries the entire game though, mechanically and plot wise, so she needed to be rock solid. I’m not sure there is any other game protagonist quite like her.

Transcending

Over the course of writing, it became clear that not only Scout transcends video game (and human) standards, but the game itself transcends the shooter and stealth genres. Antagonists can be stabbed and slashed, obstacles can be overcome, but Scout’s major personal problem can neither be dodged nor shot to pieces. The end of the script also obliterates the difference between interactive and noninteractive content. It doesn’t even matter anymore.

Current status

I’m deeply wondering about how we can really tell stories in games. What the narrative structure can be. How interactive and cinematic toolkits can be combined in this medium.

Practically speaking, it is hard to overstate the importance of the recent milestone. A few things have to be plugged from the synopsis into the main script yet, and some dialogue has to be written out, that kind of stuff. But we’re really on top of things here. We have climbed the mountain. I still have a hard time believing that. It was such a slog. I keep expecting the next sheer cliff face, but I’m not seeing any. I feel like I’m going back to art and asset production soon-ish.

Some other stuff has been accomplished besides writing, namely music work and some mechanics polish as well as research and experimentation. For instance, I have a concept for loot boxes that work, giving you the excitement of opening surprise boxes but without the bullshit monetisation schemes attached. I’m very closely watching things like that.

I’ve been thinking about making videos for a while. I realize walls of text are hard to read. Bear with me.

Please note:

Help is always welcome. I’m having to cope with a lot of isolation. I barely have people to talk this stuff over with. If you want to read some of the script, look at some of the mechanics, need some qc code, want to talk level design, donate old hardware, man, I would be glad to oblige you.

 


Masters of Puppets

Let’s play a mobile game, shall we? One of the top rated ones, preferably, one that promises light-hearted entertainment for the weary traveler, all for the price of watching an advertisement now and again. That seems like a fair deal. A no-brainer, right?

How about that zombie shooter with all the exalted reviews. Best zombie shooter ever made, they say. Best graphics. Looks like a console game. This could be on PlayStation 4, they say. All the cool kids are playing this, they say.

OK, that sounds slightly unrealistic for a mobile game, to the point where your mum would notice it, but let’s not be a party pooper. Maybe the game developers are just really good, right. Right? Don’t look at me like that.

The hook

First off, you get hit over the head with some jizztastic graphic shenanigans powered by Latest Fashionable Game Engine, Improved Shininess. Fire! Smoke! Exploding helicopters! What a show. Looks awesome, almost to good to be true for a mobile game, you think.

Until the first level is over, which happens suspiciously quickly, and you’re dropped in the real game. The hook has been deployed. The façade is ditched quickly. The scripted explosions and bombastic particle effects have faded.

The world turns into the blocky, repetitive sequence of boxes that it actually is. The shine dims into a tasteless, worldwide fake cubemap reflection. The pretense falls by the wayside until you can’t help but notice that fan made Quake levels look better than this pseudo-shiny console-quality wannabe contender.

The vicious circle

The basic gameplay seems surprisingly adequate for a mobile shooter, which these days is good enough to serve as part of the lure, until you realize that it isn’t terribly challenging.

Challenge is merely simulated by turning the basic zombies into bullet sponges over time in order to force you to upgrade your guns, which is otherwise completely pointless because the upgrades don’t actually do anything new. You see, the challenge is a lie.

The game just creates an endless grinding cycle of weapon upgrades that not only cost ingame money (read: your time) but also require you to upgrade the gunsmith first, which requires you to upgrade the tech level first, which requires both extra money and extra time, UNTIL you may then finally upgrade your pea shooter, which makes you wait for another 24 hours.

Bitch.

As if that wasn’t enough, the game will force video ads down your throat while you grind through the merciless slog that will make your gun’s damage output keep up with the ballooning hitpoint count of the common lead pipe zombie. Congratulations, mindless victim, you have been turned into a drooling button pusher while the game developers are laughing all the way to the bank.

But rejoice, there is a way to avoid all that: Paying real money.

The special offer

For just a couple quid, you can have enough gold to buy that upgrade now! Hey, what’s a couple quid, asks the hapless victim as he pulls out his parents’ credit card, tapping blindly down the downward spiral carefully prepared for him.

Hey, says the game, while you have your credit card out, why not buy a premium-only GOLDEN AK 47 for just 50 quid? Your friends will be impressed!

But here’s the thing.

The alternative

Once upon a time, games used to hand you all the cool stuff. You’d get a better, more impressive gun after simply playing for a while. No grinding, no paying for extra premium currency packs. The game would simply give you the rocket launcher, or the grenade launcher, or the crossbow, or the magic wand that freezes enemies so you can shatter them into a thousand pieces with one shot of your immense fertility dispenser.

Just like that.

And enemies would actually behave in more interesting ways the longer you played instead of simply having a variable increased whenever the developers felt they needed to wring some more dollars out of an audience of mindless MasterCard equipped teenage puppets.

And you’d only have to pay once. Up front.

And the best part: These miracle games are still around.

You see, when you can get classic games such as Quake, Half-Life 2, Crysis, or Left4Dead for under ten bucks, and play forever, spending fifty quid on a golden AK-47 in some ripoff mobile shooter looks about as attractive as a can of cold jizz.

And when you can play Team Fortress for free online, or download STALKER : Shadow of Chernobyl as a free, completely playable alpha version from the developer’s website, then spending real money on a premium currency pack for Zombie Money Laundry 2.5 seems to be something only a demented weasel would ever seriously consider.

Don’t fall for it

Here, says the game, with a desperate toothpaste smile, have a free slot machine to win some premium currency! Don’t have enough gold? No problem, ten gold just 3,99! Special offer!

Aw shuddup.

 


The righteous suffering of the enlightened few

1024px-PSX-DualShock-Controller

DOOM is near.

And some people get so riled up about it, you could think the world was at stake.

id Software’s new shooter title is getting slammed by PC gamers for not delivering whatever it was they wanted. It’s dumb and sluggish because it was made for consoles! For casual gamers! The developer is ignoring the splendid marketing opportunity that is PC gaming! They’re practically throwing away money! You can only carry two guns at a time and it’s all geared towards newbies! All that massive skill PC gamers built up since the 90s goes to waste because any gamepad wielding console kiddie can just pick up the demon spawn and blow everyone away! Imagine that, it’s practically socialism! Real players use a mouse and keyboard and have a gaming rig instead of some shitty console! In my day, we didn’t have everything handed to us! Everything has gone to hell.

At the same time, Playstation and xbox gamers seem to like it well enough. How come?

Gamepad vs mouse

I’m of the opinion that, for gaming, a gamepad is generally the most comfortable controller. I don’t like it if both my hands have to be glued to stationary input devices (keyboard and mouse) for an extended amount of time. That feels like work. I like sitting back and having some freedom to physically move around and change position. A gamepad allows me to do that. I’ve always loved gamepads since I first used one for this reason alone. Ergonomics. I’m not chained to a certain position and my fingers can easily reach all controls. It’s successful for a reason.

Good games are good games by design, not by virtue of the input device they are made for. There are tons of great console games to prove it. Heck, great mobile games too.

Keyboard-and-mouse does allow for more precision when it comes to quick turns and aiming, but it is hopelessly outdated as a default input method for games because it’s uncomfortable and most games don’t require the extra precision. 90s games used it because that was what people had. Twenty years later, people have USB gamepads and Xboxes / Playstations so that’s what games get made for.  The gamepad won because it’s the better, more ergonomic, more comfortable option in 99% of all cases. The other 1% (twitchy shooters, esports) are a niche market.

Consoles vs PCs

It’s not that “consoles are bad”. Consoles are great at delivering affordable, easy to control gaming systems to millions of households. Gamepads are great for the aforementioned reasons.  It’s just that the people complaining about the lack of PC-exclusive mouse-driven twitch shooters are finding themselves a minority and not liking it. To a degree, I can understand that. I grew up with keyboard and mouse driven games, too. But very soon, I was spending the majority of my gaming time on my Playstation with such classics as Final Fantasy, Vagrant Story, Metal Gear Solid, and Tomb Raider. And I loved it. Doom and Quake were cool, but where I’m concerned, the original Playstation’s roster of famous games was as cool. And the gamepad seemed so much more stress free.

It’s not that “console ports suck.” Console ports are an attempt to bring the most popular games to a platform that’s typically not geared towards gaming. Yes, some people have “gaming rigs”. But the majority of PC users don’t, the majority of PCs are home office systems and laptops, and that makes the majority of PCs less suited to play games on than game consoles. Incidentally, that’s why consoles sell like hotcakes. Consoles won because they’re easy-to-use dedicated gaming systems for the people.

Masochistic 90s trip

All the major games are coming to consoles first and foremost these days. We remaining dinosaurs of the keyboard-and-mouse age, those of us that don’t participate in esports anyway, should probably buy consoles and just enjoy the ride. We need to come down from our masochistic 90s trip. And our equally masochistic internet hissy fit whenever another game is released only to disappoint us. Ah, it feels so good to endure the righteous suffering of the enlightened few! Or does it? Is self-inflicted ordeal your thing? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just that we have become snarky, entitled assholes without noticing. “Everything has gone to shit” is our war cry. I fall for it myself sometimes. But it’s really not healthy.

Maybe it’s us who need porting, not the games.

Now get off my lawn.


Cross your edges, Blender

cerp_wheel

Damn, Blender. You made me spend hours breaking my head about how to merge edges at their intersection.  And then I find out you can’t do it. How is this not part of the standard functionality? I’m surprised. You made me jump through hoops, old friend.

I had to do that switch wheel in two parts because all the control edges would create ridges in the outer ring. So I decided to chop it up and sort of do the middle part as a floater. This is all going to get baked down anyway. I’m a bit rusty on the high poly modelling side!

cerp_wip1

The CERP rifle got a make-over in GIMP. I decided that the shoulder stock is movable. A magazine will have to fit in there somehow – perhaps remove the stock, or rotate it somehow, to exchange the magazine.