All posts by Administrator

A former New Yorker, now in the Midwest - raising 2 boys and trying to break into game / VR development before I get too old and curmudgeonly to care about anything other than where my cane is...

It’s the hap-happiest season of all…

Back to school! Both of the kids! 6 hours of no one asking for treats, can we go outside, screaming at his brother over which inane YouTube video to watch.

And time to seriously crank out some progress on my game. This summer I’ve felt like anytime I so much as breathe in the general direction of my computer, 10 things pop up that demand my attention.

And now we are ONE month from heading out to San Jose and Oculus Connect 5 and then GDEX, the day after I get back. Need to finish the demo, polish it; have the neighbors kids come over and playtest it while the dads & I guzzle beers and then tighten up all the mistakes the kids will invariably find.

Then pack.

Part of what I’m working on is the level that will have 2 main quests and maybe some mini-quests on the side. Deliver 4 piece of mail for a dude in a castle who wants a party and help a sad girl get an ice cream cone from the mean machine that spits them halfway across the level.

Keep your fingers crossed that I can get it done in time.

“figures.

only just added it (knockback force) and I get knocked into the stratosphere
and kiddo needs me
story of my (dev) life – just as progress might be made… interuption
forget everything I’m doing
come back later only to see fragements of what I was doing
try and piece it back toghether”

Straight dialogue copied from a conversation on the Playmaker Slack channel.

Since the ending of summer camp, I’ve been with both kiddos full time until the 21st of August. So instead of non-stop running around for summer camp, speech therapy, swim lessons, social camp and some weird need for my wife to visit with ever other 2nd cousin each weekend, I am now dealing with 2 boys (5 & 7) with too much energy, too little to do and an abundance of ‘irritate the $#~!+ outta daddy’ syndrome. It doesn’t help that the youngest has been repeatedly getting up at 6AM and thusly cutting into what little dev time I have.

Add to this pressure – Oculus sent an invite to Oculus Connect 5, pay for the conference, 2 nights hotel and a dev dinner. I just have to get there basically. Which means I NEED to have a tip-top demo that I can show off to the best in the VR biz and then fly home – turn around a day later – and drive to Columbus to show my game at GDEX again.

Which means every time I step near a computer, kids wake up from the deepest sleep, cats suddenly need to be petted like they are getting put to sleep in 5 minutes, every drinking and gaming buddy I’ve ever spent 5 minutes with seems to feel like its the most vital thing in the world to catch up.

Arg.

In the meantime – I AM kinda, sorta plugging away at things – feel like the boss level isn’t going in the direction I want, and the wife isn’t the biggest fan of ‘fights’ in games – so I’m working on a racing challenge:

Get an ice cream cone back to a sad little girl before it melts.

Here is an initial test of the idea:

In addition to that – I’m thinking about adding achievements to the game, in the form of hidden objects:

What’s in the box!?!?

June 5th, I get a spammy looking email saying that I have a fed-ex package scheduled to be delivered in 5 days.

For some reason, I just couldn’t quite relegate it to the ‘delete’ folder.  I did a bit of poking around and it looked like it originated from Oculus. Then other people in different dev forums said they were getting emails too. Then Oculus sent out a tease of a tweet:

Hmm. This could be interesting. I eagerly kept my eye on the tracking, waiting for the morning it said ‘On Vehicle For Delivery’ -at which point I would camp out on my front porch glider; old man style, yelling at kids to get off my lawn until the Fed Ex guy drove up and I’d start running around in circles like Calvin when he finally got his propeller beanie.

Except – that’s when I noticed it was being delivered to another state.

The address was correct, except – it was going to California.

I ran circles, except now it was in a panic. I scanned all over Oculus’ site to see if there was someone I could contact about this and see if something could be done. No one seemed to have any helpful advice on the forums, Slack channels or any other VR related site. Until I remembered an email I got asking about my t-shirt size.

I scanned through my email – I’m a digital packrat, terabytes of old data with multiple copies just lying around everywhere and my inbox is no different. And lo & behold – an Oculus email, with an actual person instead of a automated response. Frantically I fore off a message in hopes that some one can help.

their reply:

Oh my,

I’ll see what we can do on Monday AM with Fedex.
So with nervous anticipation,  I waited (expecting my box to look like it had been dragged through the jungle by the time I got it) and as the days ticked down, the Fed Ex updates slowly got closer to my hearth & home. And then it came.
looks like everything got here ok

 

I seriously felt like a kid opening the darn thing.

Have a nice whiskey that will go in this once the game is shipped

Each little bit was better than the last.

want to try and port my game to this

And now my next phase of dev work can begin. I’m hoping I can get my game ported to the Go so I can have 2 headsets running in Sept. when I make my way back to GDEX.

Summertime, and the livin’ AIN’T easy

So, dev work has slowed to a  c r a w l  now that kiddos are out for summer break. Which means instead of having to drag them out of bed, throw something akin to clothing on them, forcing breakfast-like items into them and hustling them out the door, they now gleefully awaken at the first chirp of those psychotic birds every morning.

I kid you not, on Memorial Day, having stayed up late to watch Game 7 (and admittedly having an ale or 3 too many) I was greeted by the sounds of my youngest playing with some abomination of toys that chattered obnoxiously in the tune of a British Train.

At 5:50 in the damn AM.

No amount of coaxing, cajoling, pleading or offers to pay for cars, education, stupidly expensive toys could coax the wee lad back to his bed so I dragged him to the furthest part of the house slapped a tablet loaded with games in his hands and collapsed on a couch hoping we didn’t wake any of the others. Yeah, I suck as a parent but I was exhausted and could not think straight.

and its been like that since.

My dev time is in the early hours, when the household is asleep and the cat provides a fairly quiet wake-up service by jumping on my hear (or other sensitive parts) demanding food. I’ll fire up the coffee, check emails and guzzle a cup until I can think in a somewhat logical manner and plug away on my game until people need to get up and go to school or work. Until now. Now they CAN’T WAIT to leap out of bed and demand food, entertainment, attention, and an increasing need to square off against each other in ThunderDome style matches to see who can wake up people in the furthest county possible.

September can not get here soon enough.


Oculus tweeted this little teaser

And sure enough – I got a shipping notice with hints that I’d be getting one soon. Until I saw that its slated to be delivered in CALIFORNIA.

I just can’t get a break, it seems.

Ups & Downs

So, with the advent of SUMMER VACATION, I’ve been feeling a bit stressed as I realize: no more day hours in which to dev.

So if I wanna dev – gotta lose more sleep / get up earlier.

Not the sort of thing I find particularly cheery. It also seems in those dismal grey hours, when the only time I can squeeze in any work on the game – these are the exact days that kids seem to intuit my lack of dev time and fill it with early rising, diaper changes, nightmares and sudden needs of sippy cups as if somehow the 12 gallons they drank an hour aqo had zero effect on their thirst.

It was in this dark time that I saw a couple of glimmers of hope:

Come September – BOTH kids will be in school full time, 5 days a week / 6 hours a day. I just need to bear down and get through the summer. I also happened to see this little tidbit on the GDEX Facebook page: (click to enlarge)

I’m SO humbled that I was remembered!

And right after that – I saw a mention from the Cleveland Game Co-Op leader that mentioned me and my setup from last year:

and a nice shout out too!

I guess things aren’t as dismal as they seem.

BIG (or: A Brief History of Me and My Long Journey to Become A Game Dev)

Remember that scene in “BIG” where Tom Hanks character is playing the game (as an adult) that he had struggled with since the beginning of the movie? And how he finally beats it and has all sorts of revelations about being a kid in a grownup body? Been feeling like that a lot lately.

I started being interested in game dev back in 1979, when a buddy of mine got an Atari 800, and eagerly demoed it for us geeky wretches who didn’t have parents rich enough for such toys. What little I knew about computers was relegated to snippets of code I had gleaned from magazines such as:

10 Print Hello

20 goto 10

Which I was eager to show off; and was met with less enthusiasm than one might expect. After being shown all kinds of cool tricks with PEEK and POKE statements, we were shown the latest and greatest games modern computing had to offer (freshly loaded off cassette tape, of course!) And of course I’m blown away by how much better the graphics are over our Atari 2600. I’m completely sucked in by how much better looking everything is – even on a Magnavox 15 inch TV. Sadly the demo was over far too soon, (and I wouldn’t touch a computer again for a couple of years) I raced home and grabbed some grid paper and started drawing sprites in anticipation of my game designing future.

Man, I wish I had those sketches now.

Anyway – the next time I’d seriously delve into anything like that (other than programming a BASIC version of draw in my high school computer lab on a TRS 80 Model III) would be when my dad got a AT&T clone of the IBM PC AT – and a copy of BASIC. I dove into trying to draw stuff on the screen in 320×240 resolution and managed to get some interesting things on screen by using a few calculations and simple plotting of what my math spit out. My dad took my program to his job and showed it off; his boss told me as soon  as I graduated MIT or Cal-Tech, I’d have a job. I had gotten to a point where I couldn’t quite get what I was looking for unless I started using a high & mighty concept called ‘arrays’. The BASIC manual that came with our computer only touched on it, referring me to the all knowing BASIC compendium, which I begged my dad to find, but no one at his job seemed to know anything about.

Well, it’d be another decade before I touched a computer again.

After various jobs, misadventures in Atlantic City and tragic love affairs, I fled the doomed NJ coast for the wilds of NYC and dreams of becoming an artist, starting with attending Parson’s School of Design. And with it, came access to the brand new computer lab, and the Mac & Photoshop. I only got the barest amount of time on the computer, because the entire school (faculty & staff included) wanted time on these wondrous new machines and then my money ran out and I had to (again) put aside my dreams of graphics and games.

ahh, the good ol’ days

It wasn’t until ’97 when I FINALLY got my hands on my own computer: a 66mhz, 40MB hard drive PC clone running Windows 3.1. My good buddy David D. hooked me up with a copies of Photoshop and a 3D modeling  / animation program called Truespace. I dove into both programs and read whatever books I could on both. I found out fairly quickly that Photoshop could easily get me jobs, whereas 3D stuff was a harder nut to crack. I also re-discovered video games and LOVED Quake LAN matches over parallel port connections.

Then I discovered a program that allowed me to modify the game (in CompUSA of all places)

Since I was already making money off of Photoshop and knew the program pretty well, I thought I’d try combining my love of art and games and try to become a truly ‘hand-painted’ texture artist. While I had some mixed successes – I still wanted more and started tinkering with other game engines:

Doom 3 art city

So I played with different things, tried different approaches and it wasn’t until I got my DK2 and picked up Unity that i truly started to find my calling. And it was Playmaker that saved me, because any attempt at coding completely befuddled my right-brained thinking, and having something not work because of a mis-placed semicolon was beyond frustrating.

And now we’ve come full circle – as I contemplate adding random elements in a structured format (like distributing my coins for the money quest) I’m trying to find a way of organizing them in logical sequences. It wasn’t until I started describing my problem on the Playmaker Slack channel that it hit me: I need an array. I FINALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT AN ARRAY IS.

And now I can melt the wizard.

 

Questing, questing the night away

So, in my long term goals of getting a wet bar put in the office, kids that behave, and a wife that gives unsolicited foot rubs; there IS the small matter of having a full fledged, 3 level demo done by the time GDEX rolls around in September.

I have come to realize that constantly polishing the same level I have made is making what I have smoother and shinier, but doesn’t do much to get to that end goal of having s o m e t h i n g done. And for that, I need something more than just bouncing around my flower level until the player gets to the top. And as serendipity seems to just flow from my child’s fingertips (I wonder if that’s his mutant superpower) he drew the whole range of coins, pennies, dimes – he even got a Half Dollar, too!

fun with pennies and kaboings

So, now the fun part of it: making things; pasting them around the level and playing it until I think its kinda fun. My neighbors have a couple of kids who are willing playtesters, so I’ll have the dads over for some home brewed ales while we watch the kids play and wait for their verdict.

And as always, my art director / inspiration is finding it equally fun to make assets and asks daily to ‘do some animation’ – this is one of his latest entries. Now its up to me to figure out how I can use it.

We jammin and I hope the jam is gonna last…

So, my first ever game jam is DONE.

The Playmaker Game Jam was an interesting way to try new things,  practice skills and see just how much I could punish myself by being glued to a desk like I haven’t done in years.

I’ve never done a jam before, so I went in with zero expectations – Friday came and it was announced that the themes would be:

Last Resort – or – Not a Hero

OK – now what the #$%^ do I do with THAT?

First thing that popped into my head was to do a pun or play on words with ‘last resort’ – some sort of oasis at the end of the world kinda tickled the back of my brain. (and apparently every other person in the jam felt similarly too) So, in that spirit, I was drawn to the idea of ‘its the Last Resort in a world gone to ruin’. I didn’t want to delve into a backstory too much, just give the idea that the world went to shit and the player was pretty much one of the last people.

Copyright: Bill Watterson

So, in that spirit, I fired up Oculus Medium and started sculpting out an island on which to set the stage. I kinda liked the idea that the center was this insurmountable mountain that would force the player to run around it, either from enemies or to complete tasks. I decided to carve out a cave in case I wanted something creepy, or have a hidden place to have the player discover.

While I had Medium open, I also made a couple of ‘palm’ trees. The pre-made stamps are pretty awesome at getting something prototyped quickly. While I was looking through the stamps, I saw a rat skull one an decided ‘THIS is my monster head!’ So a slapped a couple of arms (also stamps) and exported it as a .fbx into Blender, added a quick rig and had the thing crawling relatively quick. So went my first day – which was still mostly filled with my normal day-to-day routine of taking care of the boys, feeding a household and refraining from strangling my neurotic, overly needy cat.

The second day was a mad dash of getting the kids thru swim lessons and packed up so they could spend the night with mommy at grandma’s house, leaving me to strap myself down to my desk and crank out a game. I braced myself with a shot of Jamesons – which helped get in a certain creative mood while recording dialogue.

Once that was done, I started slapping things together, throwing a basic 1st person character controller on my island and taking a walk around. Once I see my ‘set’, I can start decorating and planning out how I want it to look. I start making simple trigger areas to set bits of dialogue into play and and added sound FX. At this point its late in the afternoon, stomach is growling and I have a hankering for Thai an a cold ale. The rest of my day is spent trying to get the timings right, making sure that triggering one voice-over zone doesn’t allow for a second one to start playing.

The next day is sheer crunch time: my monster spawning isn’t working the way I want. I thought I’d use an action called ‘get random vector 3 inside a sphere’ to get a location to spawn a monster in an area define over my level, wait and repeat. Since there’s no way to kill them, the player would need to keep on their toes to avoid the critters until they overran the island. Sadly I kept getting obscure errors about my prefab monsters and problems with nav mesh navigation. Grr. I hastily slap a static spawn point on the level and on to the next problem – PEOPLE.

she doesn’t look haggard enough

I originally got into game dev because I wanted to create stories with believable characters and of course dove into it head first without the slightest clue about animation systems, an it was right when Unity was switching from legacy animation to the Mecanim system – always a fun time to learn something new. At least it gave me the basic knowledge to slap a character into the scene and give it a idle animation…

And the rest of my time is spent in sheer panic mode: when they say ‘keep your scope small’ – they ain’t kiding. I didn’t even get half of what I wanted done, especially the parts I had thought up to challenge myself and learn something new.  It did provide a nice break from my current project and give me new directions to move towards – it also confirmed that I need to spend some of my time just soaking up game design theory and hone my Playmaker skills.

All in all – I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Hangry

So, on top of the usual daddy duties, the chores involved with running a house, keeping track of a wife, 2 kids and a neurotic housecat – I also have had a battery of medical tests done due to my advancing years. I’ve dubbed them, ‘The Ol’ Man Tests’

In addition to wrangling with doctors over prescriptions, I’ve ha multiple blood draws and a delightful little procedure that required me to not eat solid food for almost 48 hours straight.

I’m beginning to think there was a reason God smote Job’s offspring first. There is nothing worse than being tortured with hunger while a growth-spurt five year old is demanding food be shoved in his gullet every 4.25 zeptoseconds. I won’t torture you with the details, but the procedure I had to undergo after starving myself was the perfect degradation to cap a long two days of kwashiorkor.

And of course, it cut into my dev time on top of it.

I’ve been trying to round out my 3-level demo with a mini-boss fight, trying to add some ‘platformer’ elements, including the persistent question: How do you ‘fight’ a boss monster when your only game mechanic is jumping?

What I’m coming up with is trying to use an old asset; The Launcher, and have him lob projectiles at the boss. I want to set up a button for the player to jump on; trigger the launcher and then have a cool-down time before the button resets and can launch again.

his oversized hand is perfect for lobbing things

Hopefully, the player will find a challenge in trying to avoid being hit by the bosses projectiles while trying to knock him down. The rest of the level will be a slow steady climb, with random jump scares, obstacle avoidance / jumping and random knockbacks – here is how its shaping up:

 

Kiddo strikes again

So, shortly before bedtime, my eldest asks to play our game, and how can I possibly say no to that??

So I plop him in the chair, strap on the Vive, hand him the controller and explain that I’m making a boss level – and as my official playtester, he tries things I never though of; like jumping and trying to scale the tower the boss creature is on.

After a bit more playtime, we go through the nighty-nite routine of teethbrushing, potty, tucking in and he drifts off to sleep.

In the morning – I’m plugging away at the game when he wanders in, sleepy-eyed and plops down at his sketchpad, just kinda doing his own thing until he asks me for the scissors, which I distractedly hand him and go back to trying to wrap my head around quaternions. Suddenly he’s by my side with this:

get on it.
here’s some more work for you…

and says, “Daddy, its a BOSS”

“Wait,” I ask, “do you want me to put this in the Boss level”

“Yep.” he replies, spins on his heel a full 360 and starts opening the flatbed scanner. Oh – he wants it NOW.

So I scan, crop, draw it out in Inkscape, pull it into Blender – extrude and texture – he finally loses interest when I start rigging it and is drifting off when I ask questions about it. Are those things sticking out supposed to be hands? Who is this? What is this?

He’s not very forthcoming with answers, so I’ll have to draw my own conclusions. But, its looking pretty sweet: