Check out the Ouya!

News that I consider to be very exciting, the Ouya. A console (you know, with a TV and controller) that runs off of android, is easy to develop for and fosters a free-to-play, or freemium attitude. I believe you can also have ‘standard’ games, but there must be a demo mode available. Just read their page, they explain it better than I can; just know that me, and many others are very excited about this. Their record-breaking kickstarter launch, already running into $millions past what they needed shows that people, casual gamers and console gamers, want something like this. You can hack it and open it up without losing your warranty and a whole host of other things. Check it out!

Some new art

Sorry for the massive gap but I’ve had a lot to do over the last week, moving in and so on. I did find the time to do some art work, which is basically some research towards the game I’ve been designing. As it was based on a ‘modernised space invaders’ idea, I drew some pictures out of a space encyclopedia I found, to give myself ideas and learn the style. Well, here I’ve uploaded some of the work, to show how my art is improving. Later, I’ll upload some research on science fiction as opposed to real space, and then some of my real designs for the actual game when I get round to them. Also worth noting, I’ve been working on the look, feel, and mechanics of the actual game, and almost have enough to make a proper design document, although I’ll probably just describe the game to you in detail, so look out for that post. As for now, I need to learn to program at a faster rate than I am, so that I can actually make the game! Look forward to it!

Finished moving in

Bagged a huge room, unpacked and feel at home, situated in an awesome part of Leeds. Unfortunately, I’m still busy for a few days, but I’m starting some pixel art. It’s going to be very slow moving for a while around here so feel free to put off checking stuff out for a few weeks. Also been playing civ 5 way too much, although I’m calling it ‘research’!

Small break

Won’t be updating for a while as I’m moving into my new house, ready for the next year of uni. Have a good weekend!

Update on programming

Not much to say today, apart from what’s in the title. I changed java textbook to a much more beginner orientated one, but also, moving into advanced stuff when the time is right. So far I’ve learnt a lot more and hopefully I can keep the pace up, because then we’ll see some games. Also worth saying is I got a copy of ‘Sid Meiers Civilization V: GOTY edition’ because I’ve never actually picked one of the earlier titles up. I’m already hooked and I think it’s amazing; I was hoping to get the new ‘Gods and kings’ pack, but it didn’t come with the original game, so that’ll have to wait. I actually got mine off of steam which is something I’ve been tentatively experimenting with, as a console and non-gaming lapop owner. I think my laptop fan was about to explode last night!

A peek into my schedule

A recurring theme in the early days of this blog is going to be a distinct absence of content, replaced by my plans, musings, and ideas. For today, I’d like to talk about what I do everyday, to bring myself closer to my goal: being a game developer. Although every day varies (sometimes wildly), I think people may find it interesting, and others beginners may even derive some inspiration from it. Right now, I guess my focus of productivity is based on, essentially, educating myself, research, and keeping up with the gaming world in general. In that sense, I like to think of all this as the ‘fake it ’till you make it’ principle – i.e., when I do actually have some more professional skills, I’ll hit the ground running, instead of creaking out of the blocks.

So a lot of my friends are using the summer to either do some basic work in retail, or a few are doing internships. Because of this, I treat everyday I have as if I was on an internship. Daily activities include:

  • Learning/doing some programming
  • Improving my art skills
  • Learning about game design
  • Practicing the keyboard
  • News, emails, forums etc.
  • Reading about/learning business skills
  • Working on this blog

This is a good scope for me, and I’m sure as time goes on, the focus will shift. It might be worth mentioning that I sleep at least 7 hours, eat fairly well, and still go out and see my friends. Also, it’s fairly obvious that once term starts again, time spent on this project will be somewhat reduced, even if, theoretically, I have enough time to fit it in, life just doesn’t work that way.

Well let me know what you think, your timetables and maybe some productivity methods.

Music in games

As a preface to this post which I’d already planned on publishing, I’ve noticed by staying up late to finish it, I technically didn’t post yesterday. I planned to post at least once a day and for anyone following properly, I’m sorry. Hopefully this, along with another post tomorrow (or later today!?) will smooth things over!

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One topic not touched on yet is music. For once, this puts me in a favourable position, me being a fairly accomplished musician of many years. Starting with the guitar at the age of 8 and playing some lives recently as a young man, I’m certainly not afraid of writing an original piece or using a variety of instruments. My agenda so far has been thus:

  • Learn to play the keyboard, one instrument which has evaded me over the years, and in doing so, give myself a refresher in the necessary theory. Besides anything, I’ve wanted to learn for a long time!
  • This leads naturally onto using the various effects an electronic keyboard comes with; even with a mid-range one (such as I own), different effects and voices can be quite convincing.
  • At some point I’ll enter into a stage of research; commonly used equipment, sounds and styles in the gaming world. Of course, we all have our favourite game tunes, but a broader study will be needed to create convincingly within the field.
  • Once the ground work is done, I’ll have to invest in some professional software (i.e. Ableton etc) and learn the package to at least a semi-professional level. This will assure professional sounding stuff, and a very high level of creativity.

So just how far do I want to take this? As an almost-daily guitar player, it will be vital that I keep with the bigger picture; remembering that I’m not a game musician! Very critical of my own work, I can imagine wasting a lot of time on this, relative to more important ‘meat and potatoes tasks’ that are called for at this stage of my education. Worse still, It’ll be tough for me to eventually hand over this role as I’ll be much more specialised to it, and a whole lot more critical. However, this is a bridge I will surely cross years from now.

A quick word on sound effects. Although I am currently researching into these areas, and I do have a feeble grasp of synthesising systems and (as a physics student) a reasonable grasp of waves and vibrations and so on; this is still something I have virtually no real experience with. Fortunately, I believe there is a fair bit of open source stuff out there, especially for the 2D scene, and I imagine the work would be pretty fun for someone like me, audibly inclined the way I am. As a continuing trend with my promises for the future of this site, I’d love to have tutorials for sound effects and even music in general up on here, but that may take some time! I think it would be great as well if I could eventually upload some cool tracks and example sounds that I will be working on. If I can find a way to pull that off properly it would be amazing, so look forward to that in the future!

Game design

As part of my day-to-day schedule over the summer, I am currently studying a fantastic book on game design and its related topics. To give it it’s full title ‘Design and content creation’ which is a gamedev.net collection, is in essence a collection of articles from various sources, but mostly gamedev.net. I’ll give it a full review once I’m finished with it, but it looks promising so far. One of the early articles makes the point that before you sketch or write anything about your game, you should have it fully imagined in your head. That includes the general look and feel, the characters, levels, game play mechanics and so on. Today I’m going to talk about some of the ideas I have fostered in my mind in response to this over the last few days, and some snippets of other things I have gleaned during the process.

The first thing to consider with this sort of undertaking is your restrictions. It’s no good designing the next Elder scrolls clone if you don’t have the money, staff, or ability to pull it off. So far I’ve been focusing on a 2D game, perhaps suitable for the android or iOS market. I’m also considering my own personal artistic abilities at the moment, which affects what’s possible and what’s available to you. The final point I’ve considered so far is the mechanics, which is where I have thought the least. I think for the type of games available to me, there needs to be one or two simple, addictive game play mechanics. Whatever these turn out to be, they need to be easy to pick up and play with, but a bit tougher to master and beat the harder levels with. There’s not going to be any complex systems, believe me!

So, in accordance with what’s been said, you’ll understand why there is no artwork so far. It’s unlikely this game will ever get made but I’ll attempt to flesh it out once the concept is clear in my mind. The main premise I have so far is a sort of reversal of space invaders. You control an asteroid, and it’s your job to fly into the path of ships, satellites, stations and so on, and gain points for each destroyed item. I’ve toyed with how this would be achieved but haven’t reached a concrete conclusion yet. I can’t decide whether ‘controlling’ an asteroid would seem too weird or not. Regardless, the mechanic would probably by one or two degrees of freedom, with possibly some sort of firing mechanism, of what I am not sure. The points system would be fairly simple and any initial implementations of this would certainly have no networking capabilities. I basically envisage a level system based on different planets or solar systems.

I guess the theme would be pretty simple. You control a standard looking rock in space, and crash it into stereotypical looking ships and so on. Perhaps later levels could include alien devices and so on. The graphics would be limited to rough and cartoony, but as a mostly educational project I really don’t mind. At this stage, I won’t bother making the visuals for the points system too wacky, and just concentrate on the key items being recognisable and the game play being fun. I’ll try to update when things move along a bit more!

2D art

Presently, I’m turning my attention to how a game could or should look, while I wait for my coding skills to catch up; then I can implement those ideas. After coming across a good resource for game design, art and so forth, I’m focusing my attentions on this, specifically 2D sprite art and so on (a review of this text to follow, again once I have something to say on it). As already evident from a previous post, I am no artist, but I am taking steps to bridge this gap; although some have a gift, for most, it is purely a question of study and practice, along with the willingness to actually improve.

One thing I must be sure of, is to continually remember I want to be in the business of game making, not art itself. If I take steps to improve my sketches, paintings, and general visual intelligence, it must be towards the ultimate goal of realising a game and having at least some sprites to show for it. Not only will this open up oppurtunites for future tutorials (something I want to gradually introduce on this site), but also keep the main feed fresh with relevant content and give me something to work with once I can code.

On a related note, recently I finished reading Richard Bransons book ‘Business stripped bare’ which very much was an influence, in making me feel like a business pursuit could be fun and worthwhile. One lesson I really took from it can be paraphrased as this: If you expect to start a company in industry X, you had better know that industry inside out and in the beginning, do all the work yourself. Not only does this increase your understanding of said industry, but you’ll be able to help and communicate with the people you eventually hire, for tasks perhaps you’re not so good at (read: me hiring artists).

Like I said in the early posts, it’s going to be a while before you’ll see any actual games here, but hopefully some of the above will keep you interested, and in the future, show others with limited skills how far you can come, when you put your mind to it.

What I’m up to in programming

Most developers need at least a basic understanding of some programming, even as an artist or designer. Currently, as a one man ship and future ‘director’ technically and creatively, it’s up to me to learn the industry skills inside out, at least to a semi-professional level. So I need to learn to program fairly sufficiently before I even begin coding for games specifically. Here’s my story so far. When I was younger, I began teaching myself C, in an attempt to make games. At that age I got distracted easily and gave up, but did learn a fair bit. Luckily for me, this year as a university fresher, my small module on computing was completely centered on C – easy credits there.

However, as popular as C is, I often feel like I’m programming with a dinosaur, and decided to check java out. For game development? Why? I’ll give a quick overview, and then detail my successes (or lack thereof).

  • Java is one of the most popular languages at the moment
  • It is considered fairly easy to learn
  • It can be considered a good introduction to object orientated programming (OOP)
  • More and more people are using it for games, and useful engines/libraries are starting to appear (eg. Jmonkey etc)
  • It handles networking tasks well, all-important in today’s market
  • The entire android framework runs off of it

I could go on. Of course there are disadvantages, e.g. that java can range from a bit to a lot slower than C++ and does not have anywhere near as many game dev resources available (which will hopefully change as time goes on).

So what do I have to say so far? Well unfortunately, not a lot. I received the java book I ordered (more of which when I have more to say about it) and started. The first few chapters seemed promising for me and I became very proficient at using the command-line (I’ve always been spoiled by integrated development environments (IDE’s)) and generally refreshed the things similar between java and c. For example, loops and conditionals really aren’t that different.

However, I’ve become rather unstuck, not so much with OOP in general, but more the things that java throws in with it. For example, exceptions, annotations, and so on. I’m sure the authors of the text I’m using want me to develop with these things in mind from the start, but I feel like I’m in the deep end at the moment. I am actually considering getting a new text, selling this one and starting over, as I don’t believe it’s as beginner-friendly as it stated. Sure, I have experience with c, but I’ve never dealt with classes before and as soon as you learn the terminology it starts throwing inheritance and the reflection API at you. There aren’t any exercises and I feel left in the dark a little, although I’m sure those with C++ skills already would love it.

As an enthusiastic newbie, I’m very keen to start some simple game work, so I’m not going to follow any text or course religiously. I think some work in OOP, threads, and the core utilities should put me in good stead. This is as long as I can find a text that actually teaches me some things. Then I’ll report back with some actual game dev news, and perhaps the beginnings of some tutorials. There will also be reviews on the way, once I actually get going. In light of this, the blog in general will take a detour from the programming aspect for a while.