Sunday, November 27, 2011

Petition: Add an 8th day to the week.


How are we doing? Where the hell has the time gone. Can you believe it's almost Christmas? Shocking, I know. So yes, my feeble attempt at blogging more is obvious for all to see, but to be fair, I'm a pretty busy man and frankly, I'm having trouble gathering any sort of tangible thoughts together at the moment. I'll just start by giving Bethesda an honourable mention. Despite it's shortcomings, no other game this year has given me the freedom to your very own little adventure in such a manner as Skyrim. I can generally sneak an hour in here and there, and no matter how long or how short my play sessions are,  I always come away with a new story I'm excited to talk about. Yes, it's a single player game, but for me, the most intrinsic feature of this game, is a feature it didn't ship with, the multiplayer. I've spent just as much time just discussing the experiences myself and others have had, as playing it. It has created a community reminiscent to that of a large scale MMO, which is simply an incredible feat. I've no doubt that I'll be playing Skyrim for a long time to come and with the mod tools becoming available soon, I expect we'll see some brilliant additions to it's already masterfully created world. If you haven't already picked up a copy, I implore you to do so. It also happens to be the most accessible entry in the series and a great starting point for newcomers.

So what else have I been up to.. Well my week is literally bursting at the seams. On top of my normal 42 hour work week, I have been doing the evening course in Game Design with Clane College. I've been looking for a crash course in Unity and C# scripting and this fits the bill. I'm currently working on the first of two projects which are due in a few weeks. The guideline is to create a level in Unity, which has a clear and consistent aesthetic. The level geometry should reinforce gameplay and should also be pleasing to the eye. I'll try get some shots together once it's in a presentable state. The second project, is to create a level with functional gameplay mechanics in Stencylworks. Looking forward to starting on that.

Last but not least, I'm also working as a level designer for bitSmith Games, which I'm incredibly excited about. Our first title for the iPad (and eventually PC) is known as 'Ku', an action RPG based on ancient Irish mythology, with a beautifully hand painted Celtic/Steampunk aesthetic. Make sure you check out and chuck a like/follow on Facebook/Twitter if you like what you see.

Things are pretty manic at the moment, I'm stretched like a rubber band. I have Sundays free currently, which is usually spent food shopping for the week and spending the evening on project work. As a result, I can't promise more frequent blogging, but I'll be giving this Twitter malarky a go for now with it's 'quick-blog' nature and all, so you can follow me @Sticky_Brain for the time being.

Be good.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Busy Bee

Well didn't the summer just disappear? And to think that the Christmas decorations will be on full display everywhere in a matter of weeks.. scary! I've had a rather turbulent month with a screwed back (worse than first suspected, but better now) a bout of flu, increased pressure in work and last but not least, girl troubles.

As I sit here and type, all of these things are now behind me and I've been looking at various evening courses in an attempt to boost my skill set in particular areas I feel formal training could be rather beneficial. I've signed up for two, both of which commence next week. The first, is a Creative Writing class. I've never been great with expressing my feelings through words, so the hope is that it will strengthen a small project I'm beginning to work on (more on this later) and generally just expand my creative vocabulary and emotional expression. The second, is a Game Design course that's focal point is producing prototypes and working demos using Unity 3d and 3d Max/Photoshop for asset creation. My aim here is to get some formal training with UnityScript as it's the one thing that's been curbing progress for me. Both courses run until Christmas and while 2 nights a week might sound like a lot, it should still leave me enough time to work on other things. The plan for after Christmas, is to take a Creative Drawing class and possibly something else, in the run up to the summer.

So that's it! I bought a second and much bigger (classroom size) whiteboard and have stuck it on my wall - which is now full with notes and doodles, as I plan out the early stages of a game that is loosely based on my childhood experiences. I won't talk about it until I have something concrete to show and/or the concept sticks, but one thing's for sure, I have an exciting few months ahead!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Checking in

Just back from a glorious 2 weeks in Corfu. Plenty of sun, booze, adventures and much needed R&R. I might post some pictures at some point, but at the moment I'm practically incapacitated due to a pulled muscle in my back, rendering the use of my left arm completely and utterly useless. It's laughing at the pain killers at the moment, I just hope there isn't any proper damage done to it. But yeah, I can barely move.

Going to crawl into bed now not move for hours, hopefully this thing can be slept off.

Until soon.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Still Alive


I just finished Portal again and the end credits song "Still Alive" has given me the kick I've needed to update this and let you all know that I'm alive and well and whilst there has been little actual progress on the development front, it doesn't mean I've drifted off into the land of the giver-uppers. The wheel is still turning.

I guess you could say I'm in sort of a development limbo at the moment. I'm juggling a bunch of tools, Unity, UDK, Zbrush, 3D Max and sort of just being unsure as to what to pick and use going forward. It's clear that I've been over-evaluating and procrastinating. One minute I'm pro-Unity, the next, UDK is the best thing since sliced bread (it really is though..) and then I'm modeling vases and walls in 3D Max and having a tonne of fun painting on beautiful normal maps in zBrush, all without an end goal. Dither brain. Sure, it's all practice and I'm constantly learning, but at the end of the day, it's all about how efficient and productive you are with your time, that counts. I can tell you, I have not been efficient with my time.

You can tell from my previous posts and pretty much since the release of Craggy Island, that I've been a right dither-brain, hopping from one idea to the next. Little Big Planet, Virus Attack, iPhone game, AI behaviour game, yada yada. I've made some progress with the AI behaviour game in Unity and hope to post some progress shots of that sometime in September. (2 week holiday to Corfu in August!)

So where does that leave me? It left me in a state of deep and meaningful thought this week. I worry an awful lot about the future. Is this the right thing to do given current industry conditions? What studio should I aim to work at, would they hire me? How should I best spend my time, making nice maps for a pre-existing game, or build some prototypes using my own assets? How do I want my portfolio to look? Should I look to join a mod team and contribute content? Should I skip returning to college and spend the near 20k I will have saved on funding an indie game?

These are the questions running through my head on a daily basis. They've pretty much been clouding my mind and have left little room for the creative part to breath. So I've come to the conclusion that I will no longer think or worry about what the future holds and instead focus all of my energies on creating COOL SHIT. I'm sure that any of you reading this are probably shouting the monitor "Well DUH" but sometimes it's not as easy as that. In this case though, you'd be right. That's right, I'm going to make some cool shit. Some seriously cool shit. Make cool shit and the rest will take care of itself, right?

I will primarily be using Unity for the AI based game. There are some really interesting behavioural and pathing libraries out there that can be integrated into Unity's API. We won't be sticking to any rigid game design just yet, rather just testing the waters with the hope of something interesting emerging from that. To speed up production and save some hair, we'll most likely look to get a programmer on board. The library integration will take a little work and neither myself or Sergio are immediately equipped with the necessary skills to bring our visions to life.

Hopefully soon enough I'll be blogging about something productive and less about promising to be productive.

Have a nice Sunday.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Busy Busy!

I'm a terrible blogger. Setting aside 30 minutes a week doesn't seem like a monumental task, but lately that's proven quite the contrary.

I may have to give up the day job the way things are progressing, as there are options and projects coming in on all fronts at the moment and I'm going to have to start balancing my time very carefully. I can't go into much about what I'm doing, but two things that look likely to rob all of my time for the next few months, are building an iPhone game with a team of 3 developers and also helping put together an advanced AI-based prototype for a college paper. It's a really exciting time for me and I love nothing more than to be kept busy.

I will of course divulge you more once things are moving along (though I will be under NDA with the iPhone game so posting progress won't be an option until later in the cycle) and I will make every effort to post on a more regular basis. It's just so much easier to work a blog schedule into a project schedule, as apposed to now, where I'm just tinkering with various technologies and libraries.

The project I spoke about working on in my last blog will be on hold until I have a proper schedule in place. Being a personal project, it must take a back-seat and if I can fit it into my week, even an hour here or there, I'll do that. A part from that, there is something else in the works that will require a small time investment, but the benefits are crystal clear. More on that later.

On a (natural!) high right now, this is exactly where I want to be and what I want to be doing.

It's a beautiful evening, summer is here, L.A Noire is out in just over 2 weeks and Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Life is good. Have a nice evening!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Unity 3d

I promise to make a far more elaborate effort over the coming week or so once I have something vaguely interesting to write about (which also explains the lack of activity here lately) so until then I will just summarize up some tidbits that I'd like to rant about. Before I launch into said rant, I've not been sitting on my arse, contrary to how the impression my blog would give. Instead I've been an extremely busy bee learning the crap out of Unity and JavaScript. JAVASCRIPT!? Yes, you heard it here, I am stuffing my brain full of code. So far so good actually, I have a pretty solid grasp of variables and their syntax, and I've just started on IF statements. Funnily enough, I'm surprised to say that I'm enjoying it. The plan is to become a fairly proficient scripter to compliment my level and content building, which will hopefully make me that bit more employable at the end of the day.

Onto Unity then. It's great. Everything is almost TOO streamlined and coming from an in-house oriented toolset to this user-friendly, thoroughly thought out set of tools is almost too good to be true. It really is fantastic. I've come across countless little quirks that have literally put a beaming smile on my face. It's all about the detail people! I expect big things from Unity over the coming years. I've only just scratched the surface of it so far, but so far, so impressed.

Myself and a friend, Phil, are now in the early concept stages of a game built using Unity. This time around, everything will be custom made and the hopes are that we will release a browser based game by the end of the year. We have a strong idea, one that I'm not prepared to reveal just yet, but we feel very confident about it. I mentioned before that I did my room up, but since then I've added a second monitor to my setup and a whiteboard, which is now plastered in scripting. As for the second monitor, it makes me wonder how on earth I put up with just one for Craggy Island's development. The difference is incomparable. Watch this space!

Bulletpoint rant a-gogo!
  • Dragon Age 2 - Almost too easy to forget the utter rage that was taking place on RPG forums across the interwebs just a few weeks ago. It's all blown over and what are we left with? A 79 Metacritic score (Probably about right..) and a free copy of Mass Effect 2 on the PC, as a gesture (apologetic?) of thanks for hitting the 1 mill sales milestone. Come on Bioware, I enjoyed the game, but you can offer so much more. Step it up for DA3.
  • Duke Nukem Foreeeeeever - Old news now, but fecking hell Gearbox. Publicity stunt or final polish? Who knows.. but at least Randy Pitchford made us all smile with this cheeky video. I love that guys enthusiasm.
  • Nintendo 3DS - Biggest Nintendo console launch ever? I find that hard to believe when there is stock sitting on every retailers shelves. I work in a large retail chain with 180 stores around the country. We sold about 40% of our allocated stock, which was exactly the same as week 1 DSi stock, yet that couldn't be found for love nor money. Personally, I find it a total gimmick, I tried a few games and even though I could see the 3D in full, it failed to demonstrate to me how it was providing an enchanced experience. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt though, launch titles always suck. The stock is gathering dust on my shelves, we've not sold one yet.  Poorly targeted? Who am I to know.
  • Crysis 2 - Visually stunning, but the singleplayer experience is a bit drab and the multiplayer is just plain broken. Homefront didn't work for almost 2 weeks either. Is this the new direction that publishers are taking? Let the early adopters be the testers? Are budgets being tightened this much to warrant an obvious lack of quality control? Sort it out big fish. Or I'll start buying your product a month later at a discounted price.
  • Battlefield 3 - CoD beater? John Riccitiello seems to think so. EA are going to lock horns with Activisions behemoth, as they both release in November. A reported $200 mill marketing budget is being spat around, which could be better spent building 4 triple A games if you ask me, especially considering the games will sell anyway. CoD will pip it again, but this year will see the Battlefield franchise gain some serious ground on the number one contender. Wishful thinking, but I'd like to see them launch the same day. I'm personally rooting for Battlefield. FIGHT!
  • Holidays - 2 weeks booked in Corfu with a friend in July. Can't wait!
Yes, I suck at bulletpoints.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

28 days later..

Here I am, fresh as a daisy, after a considerably productive week off work, blogging for the first time in nearly a month. 28 days to be exact. I know, I know. Well, it's a two sided truth. That break I wrote about taking not so long ago, finally happened. Work had paired me down over the past month and since I hadn't taken a break since last September, I was too busy counting down the days until my week's leave to worry about anything else.

A somewhat unintentionally extended hiatus since the release of Craggy Island in January, has produced polar opposite results. On one end of the scale, I forgot how easy it was to slip into lazy-mode. My PC and consoles have taken a beating of epic proportions, I'm over 50 hours into Dragon Age 2 and STILL not finished, more on that later, and my wallet is a bit worse for wear too. I've been burying my head a bit, to be frank, but I guess it's not as bad when I can admit it.

On the other end of the scale, I've had 9 days off and I'm starting to feel much fresher and stress-free. I've had a busy week, much to my own device, starting off with a day trip to Belfast last Saturday. Much of the rest of the week was spent out at lunch, in the cinema, out with friends, out with my brother, a fair amount of shopping (28th Bday on Friday, pardon the title pun) and a trek around Ikea that lasted 5 hours. I've enjoyed it, even with spending far more time out of the house that I'd be used to, but the change of scenery and breakup of normal everyday routine, has aided in superficially extending my time off.  My room looks entirely different now too. I spent Friday afternoon rearranging everything, which makes me question my reasoning for how I had it before, considering how much roomy it feels now and it's hardly recognisable. The purpose of the Ikea trip was to try and find some wall shelves. I got two in the end, along with a bunch of other knick-knacks, including a whiteboard and fancy flower pot (Ikea does that to you..) The kitchen is also overflowing with all things 'Daim'. My room feels much more like a little office or workstation now, and I was also toying with the idea of getting a sofa bed to go the whole hog. Maybe down the line.. Anyway, a I like to move things around now and then, helps me stay fresh.

So whats next? I am ready, but the truth is, I have no idea. Recently I got back in touch with an old friend of mine. He's in a similar situation to me with similar plans of going back to college. He's a brilliant 2d artist and we've lost many a night together, discussing game designs and crazy plans of world domination. We have an old design document that we pieced together back in 2004, detailing a game which is *frighteningly* similar to that of Minecraft. Literally identical in fact. Shame we didn't possess the skills or knowledge to make it! We'll see where the road takes us, but one thing is for sure, a substantial addon for Skyrim is target numero uno, come November. What we do before then is up for discussion this week, so keep your eyes peeled.

I'll keep this one short, I have a couple of things to do this evening (like book a 2 week holiday to Greece) before I get back to work tomorrow, but expect something more substantial next week.

My thoughts on Dragon Age 2 quickly then. It has been a topic of hot debate across the interwebs over the past week, with a massive divide in the Bioware camp turning their forums into a war zone of flaming, forum bans and cries for the closure of the studio. Absolute madness really. Dragon Age 2 is a great game. It's flawed in many respects, but it's still a great piece of entertainment. It was clearly rushed to market, with the recycling of locations being the most obvious of the lot. 6 more months of development could have pushed this to great heights, but as it stands, it's created a solid foundation for a rather brilliant 3rd outing.

My Knight in Shining Armour

I'm a big fan of the gameplay, the writing is mostly brilliant and the characters well realized and distinguished and the more linear direction and art style make for a much more personal experience. The banter between party members is sensational, most of the games best dialogue can be quoted from here, while Hawke turned out to be a somewhat uninspired, in contrast to Commander Sheppard. Boss fights are epic, Bioware took a page from WoW's book there, no question, but the general encounter design, leaves a lot to be desired. Random groups of enemy spawn from random directions, with little to no tactics, is a staple throughout the game. It has often felt cheap, particularly on Nightmare (bloody Assassin's..) and there are a few annoying mechanics, such as the constant knock-back on anything but a tank, that does little to ease ones frustration. However, when the combat flows and encounters are under control, it's bloody awesome. I also had no problem with the streamlined interface and UI after a while. Also for what it's worth, I'm playing on PC, with dx11 and the high-res texture pack, with all details to max.

Bloody Epic Fight

It has all the signs of a rushed development. The end of the fiscal year falls within a fortnight. No doubt EA wanted to buff its yearly numbers and clearly pushed Bioware to release. I love the new direction, but I sincerely hope that Bioware listen to the genuine criticisms (hard to find amongst the sea of bullshit) and take them on board going forward. These sort of shortcomings are not acceptable by today's standards, particularly from a Studio of their calibre. As I've said, a rather solid foundation has been laid and the huge potential the series is obvious. There must have been 50 occasions throughout the game where I immediately thought 'WHY didn't they do this, or that", which in my opinion would have made the game indefinitely better. So while I'll see it as a missed opportunity, I also see a chance for them to capitalize on the core changes and mechanics they've gotten so right, as risky as it was.

Until next time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Virus' and Dragon Age 2!

Apologies for the late blog, but I've been bed-bound since Monday morning with a nasty virus, which thankfully has subsided. God is it good to feel better. Speaking of virus', it is the focal point for my current project.

On Saturday, I did a talk on Craggy Island at IGS (Indie Games Space), an event aimed at bringing aspiring developers together. The presentation was more about the design and production process than the mod itself, and then went onto talk about the difficulties I ran into and the motivation behind it all. It's only been just over a month since it was released and it's so easy to forget just how time consuming and challenging it all was. I was really pleased with how the talk went, people seemed interested at least and I only hope that I have inspired someone to go ahead and do the same. No matter how tough it was at times, I can't over-state the importance of actually seeing your work through til completion, not only as it looks good to potential employers but because of the pure self-satisfaction and sense of achievement you get from seeing your work out there, being played by hundreds, if not thousands of people.

Afterwards we picked 2 themes out of a hat, and were broken into small groups. 'Pandemic' and 'Failure' were the picks. The rest of the afternoon was spent brainstorming and working out gameplay mechanics, with the idea of developing a game over the course of a month.

My team chose 'Pandemic' and we decided that our game would be set within a red blood cell. The idea is, you control a virus with the goal of trying to break through the Nucleus and infect the Nucleolus. You must use the various parts of the cell to achieve this, with some acting as powerups, some offering protection, and others acting as enemies. One example being, that as a virus swimming around the cell, you are rather vulnerable, so your objective is to attach yourself to a Mitochondrian. You are more protected in this but you move around slower as a result. In order to penetrate the cell walls to get at the Nucleolus, you must collect enough Lysosome (ammo) and Ribosomes (fuel/power) all the while avoiding Centrosomes (enemy) and occassionaly the Gogli (tougher, boss enemy). The UI will consist of 2 simple bars which will show how much ammo and fuel you've collected and used.

Rough Level Layout
No, it's not biologically correct and wouldn't make an accurate educational tool, but I think it's an interesting mechanic. In terms of progression, one idea is that once the cell is infected, you move onto another cell, which is more resistant than the last, and a high-score system in place to track how many cells you've infected over the course of 3 lives. It would work very well on a touch screen device, but with the time constraints we are under, it will be developed in html5. More on this later!

Onto Dragon Age 2 then.

Yesterday saw the anticipated release of a rare demo from Bioware. It was made available on PC and Xbox, with the PS3 version trailing behind by a day. What we got, was a short prologue, followed by a short quest taken from a later point in the game. What are my impressions? Read on.

Ready to Pounce
Bioware haven taken a huge risk with Dragon Age 2. It's such a departure from Origins in almost every way, yet in someways feels familiar. In my opinion, overall, it's a risk that has paid off. Within minutes, I was dancing around, zipping between targets, jamming my dagger in their backs in the blink of an eye and carving Darkspawn into blood spurting chunks of flesh with enough gusto to take on that of the mighty Kratos. What we have here, is a more responsive, visceral and enjoyable combat system, that feels like a blend between a combo driven action game and the ability based mechanics of an MMO.

Awkward 'shuffle' animations are gone, so is the slower paced, unreactive combat. Press a button and something happens, immediately. This was always a gripe of mine with Origins, in that no matter how timely you were with hitting 'Shield Bash' to interrupt a spell, it always took an extra second or two to actually activate, which meant it often missed. It just feels more refined and you feel like you have more control in the battlefield.

I've played through the demo roughly 6 times now. 3 times on Xbox, 3 times on PC. Whilst I felt that the controls and interface of the Xbox version were solid and intuitive, the PC version is leaps ahead. Visually the game looks great on both platforms, but the sharper textures on PC are noticeable. DA2 supports direct x11, but only some of its features were enabled in the demo. I'm looking forward to seeing how the tessellation and soft shadows effect the overall look. It does have a very distinct art style, one which has been the subject of great discussion on various forums. I personally love it, it has more character than Origins and yet through losing marks in the 'realism' department, it certainly makes up for them in style.

Shiny Blood?
Another distinct change between Xbox and PC, was the way in which the base attacks are dished out. On the Xbox, you have to spam the A button to attack. On the PC, you hit right click on a target, and auto-attack is carried out. This is a pretty substantial difference if you ask me, and the spammy nature of the Xbox version left me cold. I automatically thought the PC version would be the same, but alas, to my surprise, it isn't. Not sure what the thinking behind this change was, an auto-attack button on consoles would work just fine. Hopefully here will be an option to change that. If not, I think that Bioware will have left their console fans short changed. I immediately felt more at home when I booted up on PC. Pausing and issuing orders also felt more natural, thanks to keyboard and mouse.

The interface, I'm not sure on. It's fast and fluid to navigate through the menus and everything seems to have been streamlined, but it's lost some of its identity in the process. Gone are the rusty journals and tea-stained pages. In place, you have a sort of mix between Mass Effect-esque icons and slick Starcraft type menus. It doesn't really fit well within its setting and theme, but it's nothing that would break the game for me.

Pew Pew!
Out of my 6 playthroughs, I experienced all 3 classes to varying degrees. I found all of them a blast to play, I'll have a very tough time picking a main for release. I didn't give much attention to Archer, but Rogue and Mage seem like the most likely of picks. I really enjoyed tanking too. Animations are beautiful across the board, particularly the Mage staff animations. Sound effects could do with some polish though, it sounded like I was shooting off a laser gun when I was casting fireballs. There was one situation where an archer was on low HP and he was shooting at my mage who was even lower. I had a warrior selected at the time and as soon as I noticed it, I turned around, hit my charge button and he instantly flew towards the Archer and slit him in half, all in one fluid motion. It was incredibly satisfying. This is when the combat changes really hit me. It's just plain fun.

I won't talk about the dialogue, story and moral choices, because I simply skipped through all of them, as I'll leave that for release. From what I'd seen though, conversations look more natural, yet still a bit emotionless, particularly in the face, but still an improvement from Origins.

So where does that leave us.. With exciting and addictive new combat mechanics in place, it will all come down to how much variety there is. The demo was set to normal difficulty, but felt more like easy to me. I'll be playing this through on Nightmare, no doubt about it, but it was hard to get a read about how important tactics are and what sort of encounter variety will be included in the full game. I just watched a video interview with Mike Laidlaw, Design Director for DA2 and he said that it includes some truly epic encounters, some giving the feel of a WoW raid, which really lights that fire under my ass. Origins lacked these encounters. I absolutely loved the few Dragon fights that were in it and felt they really dropped the ball there.

Anyway, all signs are positive. Roll on March 11th I say. As long as they nail the story aspect and create an emotional pull, Dragon Age 2 is on course to becoming a game of the year contender.

Thats pretty much it from me, I implore you to download the demo and give it a shot. The changes have been a bit hit and miss with DA fans, so you should probably try it out to form your own impressions, if you haven't already.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Blues

I've decided to take things down a notch for a few weeks. I've been overworking myself the past few months, putting in 40 hours at work, followed by another 40 hours of development time, per week. I need a break. Off the back of the Craggy Island release, I literally dove straight into LittleBigPlanet development and it has taken its toll a bit. I've endured an enjoyable but tough 10 month slog to get CI done and should have forced a small break on myself. I'm not burnt out or anything, but creatively, I could do with a break.

My focus now is on Saturday, and my presentation. I have it ready but need to trim some fat off the video (currently at 5 minutes!) It's no work of art, just some frapsed game footage stitched together. The afternoon will be spent brainstorming and working on a chosen game theme, with the goal of producing something over the course of a month. Looking forward to rubbing shoulders with other like-minded folks, it will be a big change from the isolation I put myself through with CI.

I'm on a bit of a negative buzz at the moment, as you can probably tell. With all the news of Industry lay-offs and studios being shut down, it makes me think about the career path I've chosen. I have my doubts, I always have, but that can't get in the way of the bigger picture.

This week, Activision killed off Guitar Hero and DJ Hero, after recently shutting down Blur and PGR Studio, Bizarre Creations. A part from a monstrously large and short-sited business error, it's absolutely disgusting behaviour. They are now left with the guts of 1 franchise, a part from the obvious Blizzard staples. It's funny to think that they have destroyed more franchises over the past few years, then they've created. Call of Duty might be their golden goose, but for how much longer? The decision to "re-structure" themselves around Call of Duty, which basically meant shutting down any studio that wasn't producing multi-million unit selling games, is clearly a bad one in the long term. Look at Guitar Hero and Tony Hawks. Both franchises were incredibly popular and successful in their hay-day. They effectively killed off both of those within a matter of years, which begs to question, will Call of Duty follow? Of course it will. And where will this put Activision? Sponging off WoW subscriptions for a start. In all seriousness though, the next time Activision pull our their big fat cheque book to go on a little spree, Studios will surely be more reluctant to signing themselves over, knowing full well what awaits.

I know it's business at the end of the day. But Activision are turning completely risk adverse. Look at EA. They have spawned a tonne of triple A franchises over the past few years. Dead Space 2, has apparently sold over 2 million in its first week on shelves. Dead Space 1 sales were abysmal, with the bulk of those sales coming when the product had been discounted to peanuts, or through 2nd hand sales. It was a title that needed a little dose of 'word-of-mouth' and it did become something of a sleeper hit. If it were Acti, it would have pronounced the franchise dead before it had a chance at becoming one. Instead, EA stuck with it and saw its potential, spawning graphic novels and an animated feature in hopes that it would eventually grow into the mainstream. They listened to their customers. I'm so glad that DS2 has been selling so well, as it proves that with the right marketing and support, if you have a good product to sell, it will sell. And yes, it's a cracking game. Fair play EA, you've proven yourself an industry flag bearer.

When Battlefield 3 or 4 or whatever other franchise it may be, manages to take the reigns from Call of Duty, Activision will be in a very tough spot. They did produce two cracking games last year, with Blur and Singularity, but both received little to no support. Nobody knew they existed, so of course sales were going to reflect that. They are the number 1 third-party publisher in the world. The shareholders and execs probably wipe their bottoms with 50 dollar bills. They should be innovating and putting money into exciting new IP's. Not closing down studios and putting hundreds of talented staff out on the streets, in an attempt at buffing their short-term bottom line. Disgusting.

I foresee a giant shift in the way games are made and published over the coming years. There will be no shortage of big budget, triple A games, but there sure will be less and less of them. This will give indie developers the market space and breathing room to release digitally, with a higher chance of success and for a fraction of the production costs. I see a big divide between the heavy hitters and digitally released titles. With lower risk involved for smaller studios, innovation will thrive and we'll be able to have a slice of every kind of gaming pie going. Another topic of discussion is that we all have a limited thought space and time to fill. There can only be so many games we can buy at once, or in a year and with the emergence of small studios on the rise, there is risk that the industry could become flooded with product, making it tougher for new studios or studios in general, to get noticed or to sell their product enough to pay the bills and fund their next project. On the flipside, with social gaming on the rise, with the likes of Facebook and mobiles leading the way, gaming appears to be on route to mass appeal. Market expansion would certainly facilitate the increase in title releases and give studios the opportunity to create more targeted products, as opposed to the 'try to please everyone' approach we see today.

Whatever the case, the industry is going to change drastically over the next 10 years. It's just scary to read about how many developers are losing their jobs, which leaves me thinking about how much tougher it will be to actually get one, particularly when companies almost universally look for industry experience in new recruits. It's slightly discouraging then, in the grand scheme of things, and it certainly does little to extinguish any lingering doubt that I have. However I'm not giving up. Not even close to it. I will rise to the challenge and charge head first into the heart of the beast.

At the end of the day, if you want something badly enough, you'll get it, right?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Busy Busy Busy!

So the Monday thing didn't really stick then. I've been insanely busy the past week and I'm afraid this will be a short blog, as I'm just as busy this week! I met up with an old friend on Saturday and proceeded to spend the weekend with him, discussing the future, game design and college, amongst other things. Work has also been a right bitch, particularly when you have to work with a buggy, poorly designed IT system that was seemingly designed by monkeys. Stoned monkeys.

Quick update then, with the possibility of another short blog sometime this week if I find the time. I've been spending hours upon hours in LittleBigPlanet 2's 'Create Mode'. It's completely addictive and fun, and results are coming thick and fast. I have decided on designing a 2v2 based Tower Defense game, akin to League of Legends or DoTA. So far I have managed to get a bunch of things working, such as Tower Units that fire at you when in close proximity, a moving player character who can shoot cannon balls that destroy said towers after so many hits and moving enemy units. I have yet to design how the game will actually play, but it's really encouraging to see things working so quickly and effortlessly. More on this later of course ;) It took a while to get my head around the logic and chips, but it all suddenly clicked and it just makes sense. Media Molecule have created something truly special here.

In the little bit of time I have left, I'm working on my Craggy Island presentation for Indie Games Space. A short video is all I have done thus far, but I plan to have the powerpoint part complete by tomorrow.

I'll leave you with a rare gameplay video for Dragon Age II. Thoughts?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Musings

Blogging on a Monday is fast becoming quite the norm. I'm not a terribly interesting person, least when I'm not working on something, so leaving a week in between blogs will hopefully give me some ammunition to shoot you with. The chamber is fairly loaded this week so strap on those bulletproof vests; my trigger finger is getting twitchy.

PSP2, sweet jesus! Sometime last week, Sony unveiled the successor to the hugely popular PSP, okay, well in Japan at least, where they are as common as the mobile telephone. Hop on a bus or tram and gaze in wonderment as your average commuter is locked in a hypnotic trance with a crab-like grip, bashing away on Rathalos or Rathian with 3 other nearby Monster Hunters. There is no doubting the phenomena over East, so why has the uptake in the rest of the world been so modest in comparison, and what will the PSP2, or NGP (Next Generation Portable) as its officially called, do to change that?

Game Changer?
I bought a PSP, one of the first generation models. I was an early adopter. I got some use out of it, mainly when flying back and forth to the UK, but ultimately, it was left to rot. I couldn't even tell you where it is right now. My imported Nintendo DS has also been subjected to a similar treatment. Handheld negligence at its worst. I shouldn't be allowed to buy handheld consoles. Of course this has nothing to do with why the PSP hasn't been the worldwide success Sony wanted it to be, but I had to get it off my chest, I'm a bad owner. 

I talked about the iPhone and DS and what they mean to gaming in my last blog, but they're presence is relevant here. What do all 3 platforms have in common? They are designed to be used on the go. 2 of these prevail with flying colours, whereas 1 falls criminally short. When the PSP was released in 2005, it seemed like the promised land of portable gaming had arrived. A Playstation 2 I can play on the bus? How awesome is that? That in itself, was its biggest issue. I owned a PS2 and the games I enjoyed on that platform, were also being released on the PSP. I remember owning Pro Evolution 4, I think it was, on both platforms. Stating the obvious, but they were pretty much identical. It got a fair amount of use whenever I was on the plane, but otherwise, I would sit on the couch and pick up my PS2 pad and play it on a big TV. 

It seems as if Sony has never quite understood the handheld market and with the announcement of the NGP, they look to be headed in a similar direction to its predecessor. You'd think they'd have learnt from past mistakes. Sure, its features are simply mouthwatering, but its shortcomings are more prominent. I can't imagine sitting on the bus, firing up Uncharted, for a quick climb up a viney wall and a tense build up to a key part of the level, only to be interrupted by my stop. I want a short, fun, meaningful blast to get me through the boring 30 minute journey. Not a console standard game, where pacing is slower and where that instant sense of gratification is almost always, never to be found. 

Oh Drake, now I can take you everywhere!
I own game consoles for a reason; I leave the heavy hitters to the comfort of my couch and 32" HDTV. I think Sony have gotten it all wrong here. Playstation Mini's were an attempt at offering twitch and on-the-go gaming, but fell miserably short. Why? The cost in comparison to the Apple store, is literally hilarious. You can buy a Mini for €3.50, or find something almost identical or better for either free or less than €0.79 on the Apple store.

The touch screen is an obvious attempt at attracting the Apple crowd. It is a smart move, but I don't see how it will add much to games like Uncharted or Killzone, where you have to swipe the screen to move Drake over a collapsed tree, or tap a Helgast in melee range in order to punch his lights out. The demo of both, looked rather awkward in that you have to take your left or right hand off a thumbpad and hold that heavy looking beast with the other. It seems counter-intuitive and more of a gimmick that a gameplay enhancement. It also doesn't look or feel natural; moving a human male over a log or up a ledge by swiping the screen in the right direction. We have motion controls with the iPod, Kinect, Wii and Playstation Move. Motion control is supposed to serve as a natural extention and fit within the context of the game. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the Wii is a fine example. The Wii remote serves as a torch for your ingame character. It feels as if you are actually holding and moving his torch and it complements and adds immersion to the overall experience.

Free food.. Sweet!
It's early days yet of course and most software on show are either tech demos or early builds, but I just hope the developers don't get lazy in the face of PS3 quality graphics, in favour of innovation and genuine gameplay enhancements. Also, it's supposed battery life is 3-5 hours, by my estimation, would become a right pain in the arse. 

Enough about the PSP2 then, only time will tell whether or not aiming for the hardcore market is a smart move on Sonys part. Development budgets are set to be close to that of AAA console titles, so it will be interesting to see what software support will be like. Either way, its a fantastic piece of kit that will no doubt please at least one market. 

OK! What else have we got. Dead Space 2! I hope we've all picked up a copy by now? Survival horrors are few and far between. Good ones are even more rare. Exquisitely polished, oozing with Hollywood style production values, it feels great to be back in Isaac's boots. The atmosphere, attention to detail and sound are all top notch. It's hard to imagine that EA was the same studio I loathed not so many years ago. I was so sick of seeing the same old crap, churned out year after year. The publishers recent shift to focus on quality rather than quantity, is blatantly apparent here.

Hey! Pick on someone your own size!
If you enjoyed the first Dead Space, or missed it entirely, you can jump right  into this with its thoughtful 'Previously on Dead Space.." introduction. It does lull a bit in the middle, a little too much of 'Get from point A to B', but it has really picked up again since chapter 10. (15 in total) Man, the amount of times I have literally jumped out of my chair or screamed like a little girl. I was more than happy to part with my limited funds to support Visceral Games and their hard work. Hopefully it will do the biz in the charts and enough to warrant a third entry in the series. 

I also picked up a copy of LittleBigPlanet 2. As previously stated, I didn't entirely enjoy the first, but my god how the second has improved. The campaign has been an absolute blast to play. Find someone to play with if you can, it adds to the experience tenfold. The variety on offer is breathtaking. Each world has its own visual theme and they are packed full of goodies and bonus levels (Basketball, Rat Racing, Air Hockey to name a few..) and had my brother and myself in absolute stitches all day yesterday.

Game Changer!
 I've mucked about with the tools and they do seem more accessible than LBP1 but I have yet to get properly stuck in. I did make a sort of blade-runner'esque shop though, complete with a Neon sign that had alternating lights and even one part that was fizzling as if the element was about to burn out. Looked pretty cool, I must say. 

In other news, I recently received an email to confirm my interview for a place on a 1-year degree course that I hope to attend commencing September. It takes place on March 14th and I have to prepare a short presentation on a Media subject that I would be doing my dissertation on. I also have to start preparing for a short presentation I will be doing on Craggy Island, on the 19th of Feb. It's all go!

See you next Monday. Have a good week.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't you just love Monday's?

Its been a strange week. Everything feels different. As I'm currently spending less time in front of my PC, I've made a habit out of having to rewind chunks of House Season 6. Sorry Greg, but the patient cases aren't enough to hold my attention. (Can anyone honestly understand all that medical mumbo-jumbo?) Browsing the web on my iPhone has become something of a mini-obsession. It's just so convenient and effortless. I couldn't justify buying an iPad, but if there was ever a guilty pleasure..

Quickly changing topic here, but check out the L.A Noire trailer from Rockstar. This looks set to be a Game of the Year contender, with its innovative face morph and lip syncing technology. Looks like a mix between Heavy Rain and GTA IV. Mark your calenders for May 17th!

Back onto the iPhone buzz. I've also been gorging a bit on the Apple Store. Cut the Rope, Angry Birds and Pocket God are amongst the credit-card-denting culprits, though at less than €1 euro a pop, who's counting? Clearly designed toe be played in short bursts, this is handheld gaming at its finest. Makes you wonder how Nintendo and Sony will justify charging up to €49.99 for 3DS and PSP2 games, when such frighteningly addictive little games are available for peanuts. With emergent tech such as Unreal Engine for iOS, paving the way for more 'blockbuster' mobile gaming, will we begin to see a shift in consumer buying behaviour over the coming years? The all-conquering DS series is for the first time, in danger of being knocked off of the top. With the impending release of the 3DS, I think Nintendo are positioned nicely to dominate this space for a while yet, but with the evidence on show and how more and more 'triple A' studios are getting behind mobile gaming, the shift might come sooner rather than later. You only have to try 'Infinity Blade' on iOS to be convinced. Not to mention browser based gaming growing in strides.

No doubt the 3DS will sell like hot cakes, but unless Nintendo address the massive pirate business that has effectively killed software sales for previous DS iterations, I can see studios being somewhat reluctant towards producing the goods. Anyway, competition is always good and even Nintendo could do with a bit of a shake up.

So I've ordered a refurbished PS3. My ill conceived attempts at fixing my borked 40gb model over the weekend, resulted in a blunt screwdriver and a cracked chassis. Never been much of a handyman. It will set me back €160, but hey, they are replacing it with a 120gb Slim, so I can't complain. I'd eventually need one later in the year anyway, what with The Last Guardian and Uncharted 3 pegged for release. My reasoning behind shelling out, came down to timing and the gravitational pull of one game. Little Big Planet 2 was released last friday as I'm sure you are all aware. I like the first one but never really got into its seemingly over complex toolset. I found it a bit tedious and didn't have the patience for it. Things have changed since then and since it was revealed last year, I found myself toying with the idea of creating some content for it. My biggest gripe with the first game, was that no matter what you created, it always ended up feeling like Little Big Planet. The toolset has been expanded so much so that you can now create a game from practically any genre imaginable. Check out the 'Afterburner' video below. The possibilities are breathtaking.

I had a chat with my brother earlier and after throwing some ideas back and forth, it looks like we will work together on a Little Big Planet project. He's quite a talented writer (Would have written the CI script, but his new born baby got in the way!) and is hugely into cinematics and direction so it could be a great little collaboration. I'm practically salivating at the thoughts of getting my hands on this. There is the fear that it might not stick with me, as with the first one, but my thought process and methodological way at approaching things has vastly improved since 2008. It will most likely be built on a short schedule, what with Dragon Age 2 on the horizon amongst a pluetora of other things and as variety is indeed the spice of life, I plan to dabble my hand in as many different tools and platforms as possible. I would love to do more Dragon Age content, but I will have to weigh up my options and try and pick the most beneficial route.

So a week has passed since the release of Craggy Island. I must say, I miss working on it. I miss the assurance of knowing exactly how I would spend my evenings and days off. I hate not having a plan or something to think about excessively. Boredom really isn't good for me. I've also realized, that for the time being at least, I enjoy making games more than I do playing them. Feedback for Craggy Island in general has been far better than I had ever imagined. To think that there has been hundreds of people who have sat down and enjoyed something that I have created, is a feeling that is hard to describe.

Dinner is ready, so I'll leave it there. Oh, one last thing. I have applied for a the position of 'European Marketing Assistant' for Riot Games, the studio responsible for the fantastic 'League of Legends'. It's a free-to-play, tower defense-style PVP game, with Blizzard-esque artistic qualities and ferociously addictive ability based gameplay. You can buy the full version to unlock more characters and it uses a micro-transaction system for unlocking more content. I implore you to check it out, I'd love to find the time to play again. You can download it and start playing now. You can also play versus AI if you aren't into multiplayer gaming. Anyway, the position was advertised via, it sounds like a fantastic opportunity. The job is based on 15minutes from where I live too.

Over and out.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Updates, Shmupdates.

How are we doing on this fine, frosty day? My sister keeps going on about how the world is going to end next year. Apparently George Lucas believes so too; there are birds falling out of the sky where he lives. My sister says that scientists are aware of the impending doom but don't want to unleash utter chaos upon the world by telling everyone. Gosh lads, at least give use some sort of warning; it would be nice to have a few days off work before we all get burnt to a cinder, like those poor people in the playground in Terminator 2. What an epic way to go though right?

It has been a relatively smooth launch for Craggy Island. Only some minor bugs have been found and generally the feedback has been fantastic. I'm delighted that people have been enjoying it.

Patch 1.1 has been released, which fixes some of the issues that have been fed back from the public. A big oversight on my end, came in the form of excluding any sort of 'GAME OVER - YOU ROCK' message, once you had completed the game. I went one better and included something else for the eager beaver to discover. I shall say no more! Some of the other issues confusingly weren't occurring on my end, nor Timelords. Granted I'm not running from the DAZIP install, but Timelord is. Very strange. All I could do was delete the incriminating files and re-export them. I've instructed users to drop the files into their core/override folder. The engine reads these files as a priority over any other files of the same name, in other directories. Hopefully this has solved the issues people have been having and will result in a smoother experience overall.

So what have I been up to then.. Nothing much actually. Already thinking about the next project. I've been asked to bring Craggy Island along to an indie development day being held in Temple Bar in Dublin City on the 19th of February. I'll be doing a short presentation/post-mortem on Craggy Island to a small group of indie devs and industry enthusiasts. It will be a great opportunity to meet some new people who are in or interested in working in the games industry. Really looking forward to that. I'll have to get working on drumming up a powerpoint presentation.

Went to see 'The Next Three Days' last night. Really enjoyed it. Had me on the edge of my seat and guessing until the end. It's a little far-fetched but Russel Crowe manages to make it work with his on-screen commandeering. If you liked 'Law Abiding Citizen', you'll enjoy this for sure. It's a better movie than what the critics make it out to be. Also been playing some Vanquish. Beautifully realized shooter; if a little arcadey for my liking. Fun in short blasts, there is enough variety in enemies and bosses to keep it interesting. Some fairly epic set-pieces that certainly raise the bar for action games.

Over this weekend I will be recording a bunch of videos of some of the character conversations in Craggy Island. A fair few of the voice actors that generously supplied the use of their vocal chords, have no access to Dragon Age: Origins, let alone the toolset. I'll be sending on videos of their character in action so they can add them to their portfolio, if they so wish. As I've said before, I'm also toying with the idea of migrating Sticky Brain to a custom website. Blogger is great, don't get me wrong, but I feel like I will have more control of the layout and graphical design if I go custom. For the time being however, I will be trying out various template changes and also investigating how to add extra pages to the navigation bar.

That's it for me for now, whatever you're doing with your day, I hope it's a good one!

Monday, January 17, 2011

                                         Available to download here

For the next 2 weeks I will sit on my arse and do absolutely nothing. Mind, that's not likely to happen since I get like a hen on a hot griddle if my mind isn’t at least partially stimulated. Might be a good time to get through the huge backlog of games I have stacked up on my desk. Have a tonne of movies to watch as well. What else will I do.. Oh yes, a long, long drive is in order. Being the small country that we are, if you pick a direction and drive for 2 hours, you’re likely to end up somewhere nice. Nothing like clearing the head with a good big drive in somewhat unfamiliar territory. Will probably have the Tron soundtrack on. Hans Zimmers Inception, too, with a sprinkle of John Murphy. Yes, I like my ambient, composer music. Although that will remind me of sitting here, working on Craggy Island, which is what I’m trying to rid my mind of.. Blargh!

Welcome to Craggy Island

Coincidently, my last long drive into the wilderness was about 10 months ago. I had taken a weeks annual leave, with the intention of deciding what it was I wanted to do with my life. I remember that morning very clearly. Blue skies, the quietness of the roads as everyone was in work, constantly flicking through rubbish radio as the Ipod I had on charge all night, somehow hadn’t charged at all.. Mind you, I didn’t get very far. The intention was to get at least get outside of Dublin. Meath is 10 minutes down the road and is chock full of beautiful countryside, but for some reason I always go the other direction. I won’t note to self, it‘s irrelevant here. It’s like travelling through France, but the minute you get off the ferry, you fall asleep, only to awake as you arrive at your destination. The journey is the best part.

So yeah, I didn’t get very far, yet in other ways, I did.

Production Schedule

Craggy Island has been the focal point of my life for the past 9 months and finally, after something like 600+ hours of work, it’s done and available to download. I’m one part hysterical, one part scared, one part disappointed.

Hysterical because I’ve actually released something.  I’ve achieved my goal and there sure is a sense of elation. There was part of me that felt like I’d never see this through. That part is well and truly gone and is not likely to show up ever again. Never doubt yourself. I’ll take that to my grave.

Scared because it’s scary! Not the module, but the whole experience of releasing and hearing peoples opinions on something you’ve been so close to for so long. Critic will be invaluable and feedback crucial. I will be extremely thankful to anyone that downloads and plays it in its entirety. Even more thankful if you let me know what you think.

Disappointed because I don’t think that it turned out any good. Ok, it was my first attempt at a mod of any kind, in that respect I’m happy with the results, but I hold myself to ridiculously high standards and am a perfectionist to a fault (I’m working on this!) That side of me is not happy.

Development began in late April. As I was completely new to mod building, many a mistake where made, some of which have left an impression on the end product. The terrain that is present in the final release, is the first terrain I ever created in the toolset. In hindsight, I would have built some dummy terrains before committing to the final one. Of course problems were going to arise and as they had only showed their ugly head after I had much of the terrain moulded out, I couldn’t simply start over. I had no idea about terrain chunks and lightmapping, so I was more or less using the default settings for a new terrain. I ran into many problems early on with lighting and it seemed that I had committed some grave errors. Nothing was working, everything seemed broken. I was out of my depths and there was seemingly no hope. I just persevered. After weeks of hair pulling and scouring forums, I had finally gotten light maps to work in my favour and things started to pick up from there.

At this point, I had absolutely no idea of the road that lay ahead. Building the Island turned out to be the easiest and most enjoyable part. The Island itself, minus some tweaks and polish, was finished mid-July.

A Map of the Mind

Originally the idea was to create some dungeons. Having played WoW and of course Dragon Age, I felt that DA had lacked the distinguishable pacing and encounter design that makes WoW so enjoyable. That idea didn’t materialize, as I had looked at some of the available dungeon models and felt that they weren’t going to support what I had had in mind. (Not to mention the scripting needed!)

The next idea, was indeed to create a small island. At this stage, if I had built that and it looked good, that would nearly have sufficed. I knew I’d add a story and some quests, possibly a boss fight or two, but I had no idea of the complexities of doing so and assumed I could just throw stuff together relatively quickly once I had the Island complete. I had actually planned on doing the scripting myself as well. I actually got high grades for programming in college and felt that I could get my head around it. I’m not ashamed to say I was na├»ve and while I eventually did do some snippets of scripting, without Timelord, there would be no Craggy Island as you see it today.

An Early Render of the Inn

I was adamant about doing every aspect of the project myself. I wanted the experience in all channels, primarily to see how everything worked and to gain a full understanding of the modular nature of game development and how everything slotted together to work in tandem. Secondarily, I was curious to see which skill set that I not only enjoyed the most, but also, the one I was most suited to.

As September approached, I knew that I would have to find someone to do the scripting. At this point, I also began building the characters and started work on the dialogue. There was no point looking for a programmer if I only had an Island as a blank canvas to give them, so as the first few characters and script had been laid out, things just fell in place. Perfect timing from Timelord (no pun intended) as he replied to one of my blogs and from there, things were on course for a November release. There was also a solid plan in place. Conceptually, the module had a beginning, middle and end. It would be comprised of some quest chains, some cutscenes and a small dungeon encounter at the end.

Design Document

One of the big disappointments for me with CI, is the script. I’ve determined that I’m no script writer. Quest design is also rubbish. I’d of liked the module to be longer too. With the time scale we had, I decided to cut our loses and think small, so it all turned out rather plain and dull, I think. It’s also not much of an investigation; the narrative leads you in one direction, with little to no room for trial and error. There was some big ideas floating around, some really unique quest designs that would have required a part-recoding of the DA GUI amongst other things, but there wasn’t time to realize these things. One example being, an integrated clock. I’ll just say that there is a certain time pressure aspect to the module and I wanted it emphasised. How long you took to finish the case, dictated how tough the final encounter was, as well as giving the player access to multiple endings.

After months of passing emails and B2B files, CI started coming together. We had our fair share of game related issues and delays. I had to re-write portions of the script (still rubbish, mind!), sometimes things just flat out didn’t work and I reckon I’ve rendered lightmaps about 20 times now, those little black jaggies just never stopped showing themselves. Bioware use a more powerful renderer in-house and the python lightmapper we’ve been supplied with, is frankly rubbish. I’ve also recently discovered that certain models were not rendering at distance, so I had to go and create low-LOD versions, which forced a re-render too.

As October hit, the worry about voice-overs kicked in. I knew this would be a huge undertaking but it was crucial to a module that relies so heavily on immersion and character. ~450 lines of dialogue have been recorded by various artists. It took 2.5 months of chasing, emailing, re-recording, sampling, directing and outright headaches, but it got done in the end. A huge thank you to everyone involved. Some of it turned out really well, others, not so well (mainly down to poor quality microphones) but overall, I’m really happy with the results. DahliaLynn also provided some excellent feedback on camera work and dialogue flow; even if I didn’t have time to implement the changes across the board, I will carry this advice forward.

To think that simply adding the voice-overs was the end of the line, I had a rude awakening when I discovered that I had to add specific animations to every one of the 430 lines, to make sure they were as believable as possible. That alone, was enough work for one person. Add in the building the stages and changing cameras; it was a fairly substantial undertaking.

Character Mapping

Music was supplied by Daniel Byerly, who kindly allowed me to use his pieces. It took a bit of effort to get it into the game - note of thank you to Cuvieronius of the Baldurs Gate Redux team for this excellent Wiki tutorial. The choice of using custom music was an easy one after listening to Daniels work. Be sure to check out his YouTube page - Alacazam.

Running out of steam here. All in all, Craggy Island has been a massive experience. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very talented people and for that, I’m extremely grateful. It was all so worth it. Again, as massive thank you to everyone that helped out, particularly TimelordDC. He has given me much of his time over the last 4 months, even though he has his own module to complete and a job and family to take care of. No doubt I tested his patience on more than one occasion! I’ve also learnt a fair bit of scripting over the past few months. Thank you Dilip, for everything. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Be sure to add his blog to your reading list and follow his progress on Blood and Lyrium. Having read the design document, I can tell you first hand that it sounds terrific. He’s also given so much help and support to the Dragon Age community - something that should be acknowledged.

It has been a tough 9 months. Ok, in average I’ve spent almost 3 hours a day on this, but even when I’ve been away from the computer, it’s been with me. I did try separate myself from it with varying degrees of success, but it was always on my mind. I’m sure that will get better with time, being able to distance yourself from your work, will be a vital skill to possess in the industry, I imagine. Not only because you can lose perspective on your work, but also to avoid burnout.  I never did once feel burnt out, but I’ll sure enjoy my few weeks break before I set my sights on the next adventure.

One thing is for sure though, I will not be undertaking so much work, from so many different disciplines again. Level design, for me, feels like the most natural fit. Now that I have ‘credentials’ so to speak, I will most likely look to join a larger team. Building one is also a tantalizing prospect. In future, I’ll leave the writing to the writers and the cutscenes to the animators. I’d like to now focus my efforts on level design and improve my skills there. I’ll have to wait and see what becomes of Dragon Age and its toolset once DA2 is released. If they update the existing tools to support development for DA2, I might very well stay put. Branching off has its obvious benefits though; we’ll see.

This is the end of the first, of what will hopefully be many more journeys to come. An exciting year lies ahead with many possibilities. If things go to plan, I’ll be a college student once more, come September. With budget cutbacks and pay cuts taking a chunk out of my projected savings, it might not happen this year. I won’t risk anything, so if I have to work and save for another year, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. More time to develop, right?

I hope that you’ll get something out of Craggy Island, but whether good or bad, I’d really appreciate any feedback I can get.

Thanks to anyone that has been following my blog. I have plans to move it to a new custom website over the coming months, so stay tuned for that.

See you on the other side.

Paul Conway

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Final Hurdle

Pretty exhausted. This week has been insane! I have worked a 42 hour week and every other hour, has been spent on getting CI ready for tomorrows launch. Literally. Feels absolutely fantastic though, having my own little mini-crunch here. I'm actually loving every minute of it; even with some sheer moments of frustration.

This time last week, everything seemed well on track, with plenty of time to spare. I thought I had actually over-budgeted for the release date, just in case any unforeseen last minute issues popped up. We hit final build around Wednesday or so and its just been polishing since then.

Thursday was an utter nightmare. Much of my evening was spent trying to fix things that had seemingly broke out of the blue. I double checked everything and couldn't find the source. Turned out that I had forgotten to re-compile all scripts after I had cleared the export directories. I had individually compiled the related scripts but had obviously missed one or two vital ones. Stress was at an all time high at that point, but it got sorted in the end.

So where do we stand now? I'm going to have some dinner, then put some hours in. From the last few playthroughs, it appears that everything works. In fact I'm pretty damn sure everything works. There is one final lick of paint to put on and that will be it, off to the printer!

Anyway, I don't have an estimation for when it will be up tomorrow, but it will be available from Dragonagenexus for starters. The final file size is ~400mb. Going to try chop a bit off there by tightening up the music.

You'll be hearing from me tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What's with the long face!

Mere days before launch and up cropped probably our biggest issue since, well, ever.

If you've read Timelord's blog, you will notice that we've been having an ongoing issue with a plot flag not firing correctly. It was working perfectly fine on his end, but not on mine. Also, there was a missing resource that other resources (mainly the main area) were looking for and kept giving an error upon load. Looked through old B2B files but couldn't find the culprit. I think it was a resource I had created and deleted again shortly after, but was still linked in with other resources. This led onto me loading an earlier build of the main island area, but that caused more problems and eventually everything started to come a part at the seams.

Thanks to Timelords guidance, I managed to backup the database, delete the Craggy Island module, create a new one and import the full B2B I had sent to TL the previous night (albeit with working quest, which he had tested and had confirmed working) Low and behold, the plot flag still wouldn't fire on my end; yet the B2B I loaded was one TL had packaged up just minutes beforehand. We had already spent hours upon hours trying to solve this one issue and it was becoming incredibly frustrating. Hair was lost and I might be 2 years older, but the decision was made to change that section of the quest entirely and create a new avenue in order to complete the cursed quest. It's actually turned out for the better anyway, at least that's a plus.

Next problem. Since I had entirely reloaded the module with a full B2B load, it completely changed every single one of the 430+ dialogue line ID's. So I've been busy working on renaming every single line of dialogue to their new corresponding ID, re-generating VO and face FXs. So far its taken me about 4 hours and I'm about half way there. We sure didn't need this so close to launch!

Anyway, other than that, everything works. I'll get finished with this tomorrow morning hopefully and can focus on a last couple of play throughs to make sure everything is in order and will be testing a Builder-to-Player build to make sure all files translate properly.

Wish us luck.