11/28/2013

Status

Day 7 of captivity – I am trapped in an enclosed space by a group calling themselves ‘The Family.’ Internet connectivity is limited so this message will be short. Finding an open bathroom is impossible – they seem to be taunting me with their shower schedule. Plague-infested children run rampant and I fear I will soon be infected too. Chances of survival are slim. If you don’t hear from me by Dec 1st, expect the worst.

Read more here: 11/28/2013

11/17/2013

Status

Burnout. That dreaded word.

I’ve been reading the Wheel of Time books in the evening – it’s the first time I’ve read them, if you can believe that – and they’re not half bad. I like their concept of magic in particular. The idea is that there’s an endless flow of power turning the great wheel of time, and individuals can tap into that One Power, diverting itty bitty flows to accomplish magical feats like (say) hurling a fireball. With the One Power flowing through you everything feels more vibrant and alive, but you have to keep a firm handle on the flow because that much power can burn you to a crisp if you let it.

You can see where this is going. After a long period of really intense (and productive!) days without a break it finally hit me. Burnt. Out. Burnouts happen in one of two ways for me. The first way is working on something I hate for so long that I just can’t take working on it any more. This kind is easy to avoid because it’s a long, slow descent into feeling worse and worse. The second kind is trickier to avoid because it’s precisely the opposite: working on something that I love for so long and feeling so good about the progress I’m making – the POWER! – that I don’t notice my body giving out. Even Hannah’s watchful eye misses the signs, because I feel GREAT! Right up until I feel like I’ve drunk a quart of drain-o.

But it’s all good, I’m posting this on the mend, and it was a mild case. I’m fully re-hydrated and well fed and after a day of rest I’m feeling tip-top again. Tomorrow I’ll be back to work. And this will be a good reminder that feeling like I can channel ALL THE POWER doesn’t mean it won’t burn me to a crisp. It’s a marathon, not a race, etc. etc., insert other appropriate sayings here.

Read more here: 11/17/2013

11/14/2013

Status

This was fun. Tried to enable labels for character action nodes (little nodes that tell characters where to go and what to do) and somehow I created labels for, erm, everything in the entire world. Amazingly the framerate didn’t drop much.

What’s funny is that if you turned off all the mesh rendering and JUST rendered the labels, you could still make your way around fairly well. The sheer density of the labels created contours that I could follow. You can see rolling hills in the background where the rocks are fairly dense. I feel like there’s a game in there, somewhere. Something really lo-fi.

Anyway: Today I got characters spawning properly. Not kludgily and not half-assed. They are spawned by the structures that they own in locations that I specify, and they move from action node to action node doing their thing. They save their state to a file and load their conversation from a file, all in line with ‘standard procedure’ (ie the procedure that I made up and am forcing myself to follow.) Another good day of steady progress.

Get off my lawn!

Read more here: 11/14/2013

11/13/2013

Status

I can’t believe it’s been days since the last dev log. Feels like hours! Ok this is going to be short because Hannah just glommed onto me. (‘I’m being helpful!’ she says.) She hasn’t seen much of me for the past few days so I’m going to cut this sort. PS framerates jumped by 20 fps on my machine today. Good progress. Ok bye for real.

Read more here: 11/13/2013

11/11/2013

Status

Hard day today. Productive but hard. This level loading business requires 100% of my concentration. I took a brief break to work on darkrot, which I can’t wait to spring on unsuspecting alpha testers. Hehehe. But otherwise it was loading and saving.

As of now I’m over a month behind schedule. Even after declaring my intentions to focus solely on content I managed to hit another technical roadblock in short order. I think the saddest part is seeing the asset pile stop growing – at this point I was supposed to be several weeks into building our dozens of quest-based structures and so far I’ve built… four. There’s nothing more embarrassing than cracking a whip and demanding that others meet your ambitious schedule only to then fall behind yourself.

Read more here: 11/11/2013

11/9/2013

Status

Another alpha just went out. I can’t wait to see what kind of madness testers pull with the path editing.

Alright, that’s sent out, and Given seems to have the Riverbog region under control, so it’s time to dive into something I’ve been dreading and looking forward to in equal measure: saving and loading. You can save and load all kinds of little pieces of a FRONTIERS world but so far there’s single coherent method to save or load an entire region. And I’ve got to get that locked down before quests can move forward. Going to hit that hard today and tomorrow.

Read more here: 11/9/2013

11/7/2013

Status

More good progress. I refactored missions / objectives today, and boy did they need it. That turned out to be a rabbit hole despite the simplicity of the missions themselves, because part of determining whether an objective has been satisfied is querying information about the world, and in a world with pieces that are getting loaded and unloaded all the time it can be hard to know where to find that information. I decided to do it through the Mods object. It forced me to ask for specific pieces of information and to provide a scope (world, region, city, structure) instead of searching for whole objects. Then behind the scenes Mods figures out if the object is instantiated or saved to disk and returns the bit I’m asking for. Anyway, not totally solid yet but it’s working and it’s very clean.

On the characters front I made the tough choice to abandon the assets I’ve created over the past few months in favor of some lower-res assets. It’s a move I’ve been considering for a few weeks now but after taking a bird’s eye view yesterday I finally decided to go for it. I was making decent progress with the hi-res assets but clothing and customization (especially of faces) was turning out to be far more time-consuming and expensive than I had planned for. It’s amazing how quickly a greater level of detail / quality increases the workload for customization. If the game had, say, 10 characters I could have made them all shine but with a cast of hundreds there’s just no way I could have pulled it off in time. Heh, I can tell I’m talking myself into this a bit. It’s hard to throw away finished work even if it’s holding you back. But the new assets look good too and they actually look more appropriate against the other assets in the game.

All in all I’m on track to deliver a new alpha this weekend. It’s been a good week and I’m really powering through stuff since shifting the focus back to gameplay.

Read more here: 11/7/2013

11/5/2013

Status

Those pesky temporary plant models are blocking my path!

Lots of great progress today. Paths are now evaluating their difficulty (segment by segment), you can edit paths again, add / remove markers, and fast travel speed is determined by difficulty and obstructions (such as the ‘plants’ you see growing above.) And that’s on top of yesterday’s massive progress with conversations, missions and NPC generation. Good stuff.

Read more here: 11/5/2013

11/3/2013

Status

If you’ve followed the campaign from the start you know I’m a fan of changing strategies if I even catch a whiff that my current strategy isn’t working. I typically don’t wait for mistakes to become ruinous before acting – if you think you’re standing on quicksand, step off.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been sending out versions of the alpha to testers on a wide range of systems. I’d say the majority of those systems had at least one platform or hardware problem of some kind – shaders bugged out, unsupported libraries, quirky input issues, terrible framerates on low-end machines, etc. In a lot of cases the game was unplayable. (This is all on top of the platform-independent gameplay bugs, of course.) The machines that ran the game properly mostly mirrored my dev machine – mid-to-high-end WIndows machines. I made a decision right off the bat to squash those problems and get people playing on as wide a range of machines as possible. I was happy with this decision at the time.

Now it seems like a bad call. Terrible, even. And not just because it’s tedious (though it is tedious). For the past week in particular I’ve focused on nothing but compatibility – my original schedule lists today and tomorrow as ‘Path Editing System’ and ‘NPC generation’ but instead I spent most of this morning either a) hard restarting my Linux machine after FRONTIERS mysteriously crashed on startup, b) rewriting a ton of classes for performance improvement and c) implementing a patching system, with all the accompanying difficulties you can imagine.

In other words: What the fuck am I doing?

A minute ago I glanced at my calendar and it hit me like a ton of bricks: there is exactly one thing I need to be focusing on at this stage, and that’s gameplay. Hardware and platform compatibility is a black hole – I don’t even have a clear idea of how long it will take to fix these issues, and meanwhile gameplay is getting shoved aside. Hell, I still haven’t implemented chopping firewood. I’m standing knee-deep in quicksand and I only just noticed.

So here’s my strategy moving forward: I’m going to focus on gameplay. With respect to hardware and performance, I’m taking the path of least resistance in the short term and focusing on mid-to-high end Windows machines. Linux and OSX testers – I’ll still be releasing versions for you guys, and I’ll continue to develop with Linux and OSX in mind, but in the short term if you’ve got a hardware issue then you’re going to be shit out of luck. This means I’m going to lose the input of a few good testers, but there’s no point in keeping you guys if all you’re testing is a hardware demo. Meanwhile, any new testers I bring on will be weighted in favor of optimal machines. Once gameplay is going strong and I’ve got people testing for balance and fun factor, then I’ll return to hardware and platform support, and not a minute before.

In the long term nothing has changed. I’m still hell-bent on bringing this thing full-featured to all three platforms, and I’ll be damned if you’re going to need a beast of a machine to run it. But that’s a secondary goal. First comes the fun factor, then comes the rest.

Okay. Time to get these NPCs generating.

Read more here: 11/3/2013

11/1/2013

Status

*Whew!* The botanist kit is out, and after only a few minutes I’m already seeing dozens of fun submissions. That’s definitely the most complicated kit apart from the book kit, so Hannah and I are both really glad it’s been sent out.

Now it’s back to the next alpha. The latest alpha (v0.14) was a disaster – literally unplayable for a most testers. This weekend is all about getting those pesky graphics and system settings working properly so the game can either shut off features that aren’t supported or allow the player to do so before their machine explodes. So far mid-to-high range Windows machines are still the only ones getting a proper experience.

Read more here: 11/1/2013