De. Press. Ion.

Part of the problem with being a gameDevDad is the constant pressure from the ‘Dad’ part of this gig. Whatever I’m doing, whether its wrangling a upgrade, working on level design, or baking a nav mesh – as soon as I hear ‘daddy??’ – I’m instantly putting on a different hat. Certainly, I’m not the only stay-at-home dad who has faced the problems of being a man, at home. with k i d s. While the rest of the world trucks merrily along, without us. I’ve gotten more than one “I thought you quit!” comment from the gang at the VR dev Slack channel after I’d been away for a while. It doubles when something I’ve been meaning to work on gets delayed, like if I decide to grit my teeth and update to the latest and greatest version of software because I feel like I need a new feature (in this case, Unity’s new Timeline) – most of the people who can devote several hours a day, each and every day – they’re already on to problems I’m not even aware are coming down the pipeline. And the problems I’m dealing with are met with, “oh, um… let me dig back in the archives – I think we came up with a solution…”

Coupled with the urge to tinker with new ideas, like this itch to try and use Oculus Medium to sculpt game levels – which I feel truly breaks me out of the ‘fla’t feeling I’ve gotten when trying to use Sculptris or Blender to create levels. I feel like they are truly more organic and I can easily do things like put caves and mountains in the same level with zero difficulty.  The biggest challenges are cutting them up into less than 64k polys and cutting up the UVs to get textures on them.

Some days it feels like I’m barely slogging along – and every time I try and sit down at my workstation the entire house is ganging up to sabotage my efforts. Which can lead to thoughts of: “Am I wasting my time trying to make a game?” or: “Am I taking on too much?” or even, “Can I get hi-speed internet on a remote mountaintop cave?”

This is the part I’ve been working on – it has caves, springy platforms, and all kinds of hiding places for neat little interactions. I’m hoping to use it as a demo level for the GDEX expo at the end of Sept. Keep your fingers crossed that I can get it to a workable place before then!

DOUBLE POST: To Die or Not to Die – and – Loving the Medium

Its been a bit of a back and forth struggle: stick to platformer conventions and allow player ‘death’ or allow for other setback mechanics, such as knockback, or having the player be sent back to the beginning.

The missus feels death is out, other testers think its a needed part of gameplay – I’m still on the fence. I do believe that in order to be open to all option, I ought to at least try and add the functionality – in case it will be added in the future. Or if I decide to make it an option to choose at startup. So, here is my 1st iteration: done in Spriter Pro as an animation…

Its crude, in its current state – but it does demonstrate the viability of the concept. I’d like to add headset fade and have the player reset to a previous point. I’m not certain about how feasible it is, but one of the fellas over at the VRTK Slack suggested having him fall apart physics style. Just not sure how to implement it – my one attempt simply added rigidbody to each of the pieces, but it did nothing to affect the character when the ‘death’ trigger was activated.

Oh well – let me decide IF it will be added before getting all into the details…

Another game element I added was attaching a spot light to the Camera Rig for the dark castle interiors. Since its parented to the HMD, its dependent on the player looking around to illuminate the way – will try and make it so dark that the player will have to divide attention from where the player is, to where the player will need to be:

 

Into The Medium

Since I got the Oculus Rift as a developer, I’ve been trying to get it to work – a big issues was my mobo and its USB 3 ports – seems others have had the same issues and I ended up purchasing a Inateck add on card from Amazon that did the trick. I now have 2 HMDs, 4 controllers, 2 lighthouses mounted on the walls and 2 Rift sensors all cluttering my desk. Combined with my ’86 IBM Model M keyboard, it looks very cyberpunkish.

A bonus with the Rift was the freebies, and an even bigger bonus was the free software with the Touch controllers. Medium drew my attention first, since I’ve been struggling with Tilt Brush and adding my creations to Unity. As soon as I fired it up – I fell in love. I have been dreaming of a Sculptris styled sculpting program (I’ve been aching for the update to export .obj for Masterpiece VR) and seeing that Medium can export .fbx or .obj had me drooling at the prospect of sculpting game levels in VR (or even better, having my 6 year old muse create them) so after tinkering around for about 20 minutes, I had something I thought I would try to export to Unity:

I had zero problems exporting or importing and can honestly say it took less than 5 minutes of resizing and rotating to get the level in, put into place and colored and added a mesh collider so I wouldn’t fall through it – and took a walk around my new creation:

(I did also discover that some of my tinkering with the animations now has his face flying off when he jumps)

Truth be told – I’m in love with Oculus Medium – its well polished, handles like a dream and I’m looking to import kiddo drawings and see if I can take them and sculpt them out as more 3D objects.

Work.Flow.

Whew – between getting the Steam Page live and getting notification that Oculus is sending my a Rift to dev on (plus the usual family life stuff happening – my eldest is almost done with kindergarten!) I drifted sideways from the dev blog and one that I’ve been meaning to do for a bit: show a bit of how I’m getting my kids drawings into VR.

First up is a simple image that I decided would be a crystal torch prop for inside the dark and scary castle. Using photoshop I crop and knockout the background and save it as a .png for loading into Inkscape and for texturing my 3D mesh.

In Inkscape, I use the tool to trace out the object and adjust the points as needed – I try to avoid the bezier handles, as they add too many verts (and when extruded, too many faces) in Blender.  Once it looks good, I save it as an .svg to import into Blender.

In Blender, I import the .svg, scale it up a bit so it imports into Unity with minimal resizing. By pressing alt+c, I convert it from a curve to a mesh object. In edit mode, I try to reduce the vertex count as much as possible to avoid adding too many faces when the object is extruded (select all the verts, press ‘E’ the ‘Z’ to extrude on the Z axis) From there, its simple to ctrl+f and fill the verts with faces. By selecting the verts on the other side and doing the same, I get a solid object I can put in my game.

From there its a simple matter of using Smart UV to unwrap the mesh – typically I can take the large sides and line up their UV coordinates to save space on my texture map. From there I make a new image, jump back to default mode and add material and texture slots and add the new image I just made and give it a quick coat of white to see where my UVs are and place the texture on the right spot back in Photoshop:

Using the transform tools, its easy to get the texture into place and use a bit of cloning to fix any bare spots or errors. From there the image’ll be saved and back in Blender you can update what is being worked on by hitting ‘reload image’ in the UV editor. Once everything is looking spiffy, I export it out as a .fbx and load it into Unity and check it out in game.

My Year in the Vive

So, as the one year anniversary of owing my HTC Vive, I’m reminded of my 1st year anniversary of owning my Oculus Rift DK2. I re-read the post and marveled how in all that time I’ve come so far – and how much I still have to go.

Still, when I ordered the  Vive, I felt that despite its rather hefty price tag (and the amount of hustling I needed to do to pay for it) it was the right purchase, as both investment in game development and entertainment. So I jumped on the pre-order hype train and started working out ways to pay for the darn thing (and took a bit of griping from the wife…) Luckily, when the shipping noticed came, it was slated for delivery when we were going to be home, as opposed to the Rift, which was delivered while we were on vacation.

So my Vive was delivered and I hastily set it up – and poked around in my new VR settings…

Ye gods – the thing was slick. I mean, the visuals weren’t as good as I was hoping, but the interactivity and room scale just blew everything out of the water. The controllers reminded me of the old Wii, being able to interact in a way that felt natural and intuitive. The Aperture Science orientation experience was spot on. I then quickly downloaded the bundled software that came with it. And was doubly amazed.

I was a bit hampered with my small office space, so I couldn’t take full advantage of ‘Fantastic Contraption’ but the few levels I could do showed amazing potential for clever party games and problem solving.

Then I loaded up ‘The Lab’

I hadn’t even started porting over my DK2 Unity projects when I was taken over by an irresistible urge to scrap EVERY single thing I had worked on until that moment and throw it all away to being making a ‘Thief: The Dark Project’ homage /remake within 30 seconds of playing ‘Longbow’ – I could easily see how it would work – since Thief used stealth and thinking rather than run & gun, locomotion could be slowed down to not upset the player and make people nauseous. Fast movement could use some style of teleportation with a ‘cool-down’ period so it wouldn’t be overused. The controllers as blackjack / sword – and yes, the Longbow mechanics for those water / fire / rope arrows. My mind lit up with the ideas of raycast lights and multi-resolution hit boxes, so you would have to duck out of the shadows and not just stand in them. Leaning around corners to watch enemy patrols. I was ready to pull out the ol’ game design notebook and start diving into a Sisyphean task when I reminded myself of the sheer difficulty of just getting animations triggered in a simple way – THIS project would suffer defeat in less than a week, due to its complexity. Oh well – I can always hope that someone ports The Dark Mod over to VR, much like the excellent Doom 3 BFG mod.

My next dive into the Vive was Tiltbrush – and while initially impressive, I found myself underwhelmed by a few shortcomings: there was no export and everything was simply flat 2D extrusions. I know some of these issues have been addressed since, but what I truly wanted was a 3D sculpting experience, like Sculptris in VR. I’ve seen a few polygonal editors and a few sculpting programs, hopefully they will improve with time.

So, a year later – I’m still blown away by the Vive – things like wireless, or wider FOV will be nice, but in the meantime, dev’ing for it is one of the most amazing challenges I’ve ever done, and its still the go-to entertainment. When the wife takes the kids to grandmas for an overnight; my neighbors willingly bring beers in exchange for blasting zombies in VR.

What next in the parade of constant interruptions?

After a weekend of weddings, in-law visits, suffering through a cold and sleeping in late, trying to get back into the day to day grind, I found myself frustrated that more work wasn’t getting done, now that the 3 paintings are done and delivered.

Its amazing how ‘regular’ life seeps into creative endeavors. The washing machine is leaking. We need to get the attic finished. Looking at Pre-K schools for #2 son. (as it is, I’m trying this out while searching for my kid’s gloves, its snowing out)

Having missed a few opportunities to rise early and dev work; I decided I need to get ONE thing done a day: make an asset, write down some ideas, scan some kiddo drawings, anything. And right on cue is when the problems start…

I wake at 5:35 – get coffee started while I tear through e-mail, Slack channels and social media. Upstairs to scan in a few drawings. I see one of a tree – which I desperately need more of in my levels. Just get to cutting it out and tracing it in Inkscape when I hear my eldest fussing – he had a mini accident. Get him on the potty, cleaned up, back to bed. Get my cutout into Blender, extrude and start making the texture map. Just about ready to export it when Blender crashes. And doesn’t make its regular backup file. And I hear the cat barfing downstairs. I love having a cat that pukes more than a frat boy on Spring Break. Clean that up. 2nd cup of coffee on the brew. Kid #1 not going back to sleep. And now waking up kid #2. Get them out of bed while searching my whole hard drive for a possible backup file.

Nothing.

Well, at least I can !@#$%^ing blog about it.

 

 

Having a cat who pukes more than a frat boy on spring break

Feedback

Deciding that I needed to start getting input about my work thus far I posted a couple of videos on line and asked the hive mind on Reddit to evaluate and critique my game play. Since I could only really offer video, some of the full VR effect would be lost, as screencapping VR severely limits the FOV and scale of things.

So I posted on Reddit’s GameDevExpo, and got a few repsonses that are steering me in new directions – hints that my fondness for ellipses needs to be pared back, my 3D level is incongruous with my 2D characters (something the wife has pointed out on more than one occasion) and other tidbits like this:

Your kid is more talented than you are.

Well – that caught me by surprise. Of course, with a username with @$$hole in it, what can one really expect, eh? But still – it nagged me. I’m fully aware that the internet exists fully for people to be as sanctimonious and nasty as possible, I’m guilty of it myself – but, dammit, I wasn’t expecting it so quickly out of the gate.

So, I fumed about it for a bit. What to do? Argue back? That’s a waste of time. Ignore it? It would fester and bother me. I felt like this smartmouth was getting the last word. So as I was pondering my response, Son #2 asked about our weekend plans and asked if we were going to see his Granpa’s extensive train set. Which got me thinking about my father-in-law; a very personable, gentle man with a passion for puns and Dr. Demento songs.

I remembered how he told me stories of his youth and how he turned bullies around by ‘agreeing’ with whatever phony criticism the bully would use to intimidate him. If a bully told him he ‘threw a ball like a girl’ he’d agree, and then ask the bully to help teach him how to throw properly. And amazingly, made a new friend in the process. So I decided I’d try the same tactic. I agreed with his premise, even going on to tell them that I had drawings from when I was the same age as my son, and indeed, my kid can draw better than I could at that age.

And that’s what turned it around. I not only got a more pleasant conversation, but got more feedback on how to make the level look better. I even got a slightly conspiratorial confession that my snarky commentator had tried to do something similar once.

It felt like a win. I can’t say I’ll always have time to try and bring people around, but I at least have a plan to try it in the future.


 

That &@#% Fish…

So, you’d think by giving up drinking for Lent, I’d be better rested, mind sharper, body less prone to aches and generally feeling better and thinner, right?

You’d be wrong.

Felt this way after quitting smoking – there wasn’t any energy boost, no taste buds came snapping back and I still felt as crappy as always, exercise or no exercise. When I stopped imbibing the night before Ash Wednesday, wifey dear commented that the pounds would melt away and I’d stop bitching about the ‘dad bod’ Well, after the 1st week and I dropped 2 pounds, its already started to creep back up – so much for that.

See that little  &@#% fish?

You’d think that was an easy, quick, and painless thing to setup, eh? A 5 minute piece of fluff to add to my level and give it a little ‘juice’. (as an aside, I’m reading a ton of dev blogs and a lot of them seem to focus on adding this mythical ‘juice’ that will guarantee instant sales, clear up bad breath and acne and magically make you more appealing to every gender)

I quick took the scanned image, did my usual Inkscape vector drawing> to .svg. > to Blender> extrude / texture > export to Unity.

This is where the fun begins.

I slapped a quick FSM on it – wait a random time and apply force to launch him in the air, wait for him to come back down – repeat. Simple right? No matter what I did, he kept launching into the stratosphere. NASA wishes they could launch things so easily. Making sure gravity was turned on, played with the force variables, lowering the amount of force until it just flopped to the ground like a drunk frat boy.

OK – time for a different approach. ANIMATE the ^&%$#%er. Slapped a animator controller on it and decided, hey – Unity has a panel for creating animations, let’s use that! Quick added a upward motion, quick added a little rotation so it looks like he’s popping out of the water and diving back in. Slap on the ol’ Vive and BAM! Fish outta water! Jumps and returns to the same spot! GREAT!

Except when I decided, ‘put him in the water and let’s see him majestically leap out like a noble salmon swimming upstream!’ Except every time I moved him and hit ‘play’ – he’d go right back to his original start point. And no matter what I did – parent him to an empty, check (or uncheck) root motion, apply transforms to prefabs – nothing worked.

And it bothered me for days. WHY? WHY? WHY? Why should such a simple thing be so difficult to achieve? Why does game logic always seem so contrary to my way of thinking? I took a little time off from dev work to plod forward on the triptych for my in-laws (which is coming along nicely, thank you) and ponder this problem, occasionally taking time to  try and re-try ideas to get ol’ Fishy McFishface acting like a proper %@#% cartoon fish.

I dunno what got me to the tenuous leap of logic, but it wasn’t until days later and I was putting Number One Son to bed and it hit me: I keyframed his rotation AND position – he literally was told to animate in THE SAME SPOT HE KEPT GOING BACK TO. I told sonny boy that daddy was dense as a brick and deserved to be slapped upside the head (he declined) and after night-nights I rushed to the ol’ Render Machine 2000 to remove the offending keyframes and prove my hypothesis correct.

Well, it sorta worked. Ol’ Fishface was no longer next to the player when I hit play, but he moved to what looked like an arbitrary part of my level. It wasn’t until I was looking at his transforms that I realized it was moving to 0,0,0. Annnd looking at the animator tells me that it only accepts X, Y, AND Z – so it defaults if keyframes are missing.

OK- if THAT’S how you want to play – then fine. I drag the fish over to where I want him to be – add keyframes to his X & Z and finally, at long last he was where I wanted him, and I don’t care if he is a single-use asset- it works and I ain’t screwin’ with it.

Next time I’ll just animate him in Blender.

Adding Thickener to the Plot

So – the video of the interview went live:

Sadly, the video cuts out at 18 minutes and the audio quality dips, but I think the general concept of the game gets out and it makes me excited to do another one. In the meantime – I’ve been struggling with the twin issues of audio + PlayMaker and kids birthday parties…

It seems odd that trying to use different actions to do the exact same thing has different effects – using PlayMaker, specifically the actions of ‘Play Sound’ and ‘Audio Play’ would cause me serious tension headaches. I was trying to create a ‘music manager’ where I’d play random songs in the game level. (as a side note – if I do get funding, the 1st thing I’m adding is a license to the album “Dorica” from the Free Music Archive; it simply fits the game – perfectly)

When I tried to use the action, ‘play random sound’ my music was extremely quiet, and the further the player got from the audio source, the quieter it got… No matter what I did, I could not get the sound to behave – despite the interwebs insistence that changing my audio source to 2D would magically make my problems disappear. It wasn’t until I changed it to ‘audio play’ did my songs suddenly ring out – almost a little too loudly. I quickly rolled a random # generator and assigned the numbers to songs and BAM – music manager – done.

It was nice to get that off my plate because the weekend is going to be a non-stop blur of kiddy-mayhem-at-the-house-of-inflatables and cheap pancakes at the local maple syrup VFW slice of Americana. (not to mention: Daylight Savings Time) Its also going to be difficult to put game dev on mental hold, because the wife just upped the game, more specifically – the plot, substantially.

Just as we were packing off to bed, we got to chatting about little elements, like my brother – who recorded a couple of lines akin to a narrator, very much in the tone of Alec Guiness, and its struck a tone – how we can turn this demo into a full fledged game. We don’t want it to be ‘scary’, even though it deals with a child being lost and separated from parents. And out of the blue she dropped it on me like a ton of bricks:

The kid is on the way to the park and wanders off, and each ‘level’ is a different part of the park, just exaggerated by imagination – and when kiddo is reunited with parent, its simply this epic adventure that was in the kid’s mind…

The desert level could be the sandbox, the hilly grasslands could be the garden surrounding the park, the water levels are the sprinkler play areas… We discussed different playground elements and how to make them levels: teeter-totters, roundabouts, slides – all of them could incorporate different mechanics to keep the game interesting and fun.

I just gotta make it.