Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dipping our Devilish Toes into Devilian

That's a lot of alliteration, Al! 

For the most part, I'm actually pretty good these days at resisting Hype, with a capital H. Devilian's been bouncing around my social media circles for some time now as it rolled through one beta after a next, and I looked at it long enough to say "Oh, a Diablo Knockoff", and that was pretty much it. But Monday it popped up on the radar again being just a few days from their official launch, and I gave it a bit more consideration. First, I'm a huge fan of the South Korean MMO art style it uses, heavily reminiscent of games like Tera, Blade & Soul, and Aion.  In fact, Bluehole Ginno, the south korean developers, are also the developers of Tera. So that should tell you something about what you can expect in terms of art style. And more to the point - the level of dress, or undress, as it were, you can expect to find most of the female models. Second, it's being published here in the West by Trion Worlds, a publisher I have a fair amount of respect for. Rift is a fine MMO, and I've spent plenty of hours in Defiance. And third, the early access founder's pack was at a very reasonable $20.00 US. So I shelled out a Jackson, patched up my Glyph launcher, and started the download. And so far, I'm quite glad I did. Now, a few days later, here's what I've learned about Devilian.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project Day 13 - Pushing On!

So just have a bit of time this morning before work, but wanted to get some thoughts down. And mostly, those thoughts are around carrying on the fight, and deciding where to go next. Let's get to it shall we?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 12 - Explosions and Stuff!

So first apologies that this next update took a little longer. First - Thanksgiving. And second, and this is more to the point - but ran into quite a few problems working through the next pieces, and it took longer than I would have liked to get everything working the way I wanted it to. And there are still issues, but it's time to post an update! We've got quite a bit to cover in this one, so let's get to it!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 11 - Weapons & Effects

So now's the point of the project where we roll up our sleeves and really start to dig in. I talked about all the ways in which our design space can go in last week, and about constraining your execution as much as possible. But even so, we just have a heck of a lot to go and build. I've got a lot of ground to cover in this blog alone, and we're still only about half way through implementing a single weapon. So let's get to it!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 10 - From Simulation to Gameplay

So this is a bit of an interim post, where I just talk about game developery things, without having done real work on the game itself. As such, it's likely to turn into a rambling diatribe that no one actually gets to the bottom of, but there's a process that happens here - it's really important - and one of the reasons I'm doing this blog as I make this game is to share the things I've learned from fifteen years of game developement. So here goes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Unity3d At Home Project - Day 9 - Twistin' by the Pool

So this week is a story about getting sidetracked, about building things you didn't expect to build, and that sometimes it's exactly what you need to do, and sometimes it's exactly what you want to avoid, and of course there's no easy way to tell the difference.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Unity At Home Project - Day 8 - Sound Effects

First, I have to start off with stupid things I do. This morning, I blew almost the entire morning trying to find a good plugin, piece of javascript, whatever, to allow me to imbed code snippets into blogger. Sadly, while my C# is strong, my javascript is weak, and though I found several alternatives, I was at every turn foiled in some way or another. Two hours later, I'm no better off than I was before, but out two hours of my time. I'm still fuming about it, so I just had to put a quick rant up. I'm sure I'll tackle the problem again, or maybe use a GitHub gist.

In the meantime, let's talk about this week's goal - getting some sound effects on our walking mechs. Again, my original goal was pretty simple - get an engine sound, and some walking legs sounds on the mech, and that's pretty much it.  Of course, as we'll discover, even the most simplest of goals can be fraught with peril!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 7 - Walking with Robots

So it's time to move into the next phase of our project. We've done some simple experimentation, and dabbled in some of the core pieces of a 3rd person action game. We created terrain, texturing hills and mountains, and learned about how trees & foliage work. We got a character controller and a camera controller to allow us to drive a character around. We mapped some animations to a simple biped, and learned about the animator controller. And we established simple multiplayer support, connecting a client to a host, and letting two players run around the world together.  But none of this is giant robots fighting each other, which is our goal. So with our base pieces in place, it's time to say goodbye to Unity-Terrain project, and start working with giant robots.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 6 - Multiplayer

So as you've probably come to realize the "Day" in the title really isn't significant. I could be "Issue", or "Section", or "Chapter" if you like. It's really just a way for me to designate each subgoal within the project.  And that's really important - subgoals. When you're making a game, the entirety of the game itself can be incredibly overwhelming. Menus, scores, multiplayer support, weapons, animations, the list goes on and on and on. And a lot of times you're going to be thinking - what next? How do I get it all done?

Your ability to compartmentalize your game into sections - and more importantly - systems, is going to be one of the most valuable skills for you to develop. Pick out a specific section of the game, decide what the goals are for that section, and implement it. But all of the pieces of the game are intrinsically interconnected. And most pieces build upon some other piece. Which is why it's not only important to decide which section you're working on, but what order are you going to build the sections of your game. For instance, I wouldn't spend a huge amount of time focusing on building a level in my game until I had a better grasp on the gameplay - because those things are going to shape level design.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Knights of the Fallen Empire - An Introduction

So last week the early access for Star Wars - The Old Republic's new expansion - Knights of the Fallen Empire kicked off. And with this expansion Bioware has delivered not only an amazing new chapter (nine chapters, in truth) in their portion of the Star Wars universe, but a host of changes to the game's core mechanics as well. So I thought, beyond the story itself, I'd take some time to introduce returning players and new players to some of the interesting changes released in the expansion.

On Spoilers
While I've tried very hard to not reveal any specific characters or plot points from the story, some of the screenshots and discussion of the content after the story will be, by its nature, mildly spoilerish. If you're fanatical about having a completely pristine experience your first play through of the game, feel free to return to this post after you've finished the nine chapters of the story. If however you just want to know about the expansion and don't mind a screenshot or two that might reveal this or that character that you will encounter, please read on after the cut!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Unholy Alliance & Wookie Mistake Gaming Guilds are all in for Extra Life - Check it out!

One of the very cool grass roots movements that's  taken hold over the past few years, and really grown, is the Extra Life movement.  If you're a gamer at all,  you already know what Extra Life is, but in the odd case that you don't, essentially on a certain day gamers from around the globe promise to play games for 24 hours to raise money and awareness for children's hospitals. It's a fantastic effort that raises thousands of dollars for children's illness and hospitals.  If you'd like to learn more about Extra Life, and maybe participate yourself, please check out their website here.

Sadly, my schedule is such that I rarely can afford to spend an actual 24 hours myself participating, but I try to assist in some way by sponsoring and promoting those that do, however I can. And as you may or may not have noticed, while my blog doesn't get nearly the attention it should from me, I am pretty active on teh social medias - especially twitter.  As a result, I've had an opportunity to form friendships and relationships with incredibly cool folks and organizations that participate in a wide variety of gaming.  And especially of late, that has mostly been centered in and around Star Wars the Old Republic.  One of those folks I've had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with is Stardust Legacy, (follow her on twitter at @UnholyAlliances), and her SWTOR guild & gaming group Unholy Alliance.

And Unholy Alliance is going ALL IN for Extra Life Day. Multiple marathoners, tons of events, all in all it sounds like a heckuva great time, and of course, all for a great cause. So while I personally won't be able to participate in Extra Life day, I will definitely be watching (and sponsoring!) some of the fine folks over there, and I absolutely encourage you to do the same.   Here's the scoop!

You can check out the information directly at their website they've set up for the event here. Please give it a link, and come game with the fine folks at Unholy Alliance on Extra Life day this year!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 5 - Unity Update & Version Control

So wow, it's been a few weeks since my last update. Let's see, first I am pretty much swamped at work, and unfortunately things are only going to get more swamped. And there was a trip to Boston for three days to attend the Unity Unite conference. But that was a good thing, because coming back from Unite I feel re-invigorated about Unity development in general, and had a host of even more things that I wanted to try and do.

So let's refresh. Currently, our At Home project is still mind numbingly simple. We have a brain dead camera controller, we have a character controller, and an animated bipedal humanoid. We've created some terrain, set up a skybox, and laid down some grass & trees.  It looks like something, but it's far from being a multiplayer robot-shooter, as promised! So along those lines, the next step I think is to set up multiplayer for the project. Support for multiplayer is going to create an entirely new infrastructure layer for the entire project, and just about everything else we do will sit on top of it. So it's best to get it in and set up early, and the start building on top of that.

But before we even go that far, I had a little prep work to do. I needed to do two things - one was upgrade to the latest version of Unity, and the other was to set up some sort of revision control.

Unity Upgrade
So why upgrade? This is actually a bit of a departure for what you would do in a commercial project, so I can't necessarily recommend it for your own work. Typically in a project, you might upgrade once or twice during the early stages of development, but pretty soon you want to lock in on a specific version, and stay with that. Why? Because each time you upgrade the engine, you introduce the possibility of new errors, new changes to the way things behave, and in general it's a level of instability that you have to deal with. So you have to weigh the cost of dealing with whatever instability the upgrade brings against the value of whatever features it provides. And as you get further into your project and get closer to shipping, the cost of any instability, no matter how slight, is usually not worth the risk.

Unity's Cloud Services
But because this is an experimental project, and the whole point of this project is to learn about and play with some of Unity's most recent features, I've decided that for this project, with each new major version they release, I would I turn, upgrade to it and roll it in. So as I was currently at 5.1, and they'd already released 5.2, I needed to upgrade. And 5.2 brought a whole host of fun new things, most notably the integration of all of their cloud services directly into the editor. So things like Analytics, Cloud Builds, and yes, even some of the multiplayer stuff, can all be accessed directly from within the editor.

Remember what I said about Upgrades?
So yes, even though this was an upgrade of only a single sub-version, and my project  literally consists of only stock assets from Unity, after upgrading to 5.2, there were issues. All of the trees in my terrain suddenly had blocky leaves, and I was getting errors from SpeedTree about invalid materials. Now these are just stock assets, I  didn't set them up, and I don't know jack about how they work. So a little bit of google-fu later, I learned that all I needed to do was revisit each material in turn, and click the "Regenerate Material" button for each asset, and resave the scene. That did, in fact fix the problem, and shortly our project was back to normal, and now running under Unity 5.2. But just tracking that problem down and getting it fixed took the better part of an evening. So caveat emptor - do not take any engine upgrade lightly.

Version Control
I'm not going to dedicate much time in this blog to describing what version control software is, or why you need it. There are a ton of guides out there, and every piece of software has it's own collection of beginner's tutorials. Linked below is a very nice overview and introduction, if you're not terribly familiar with the concept. I will though add this thought. Even if you're a one person team, working on only a single game - you need version control. It shouldn't be considered an option, or a nicety. It should be considered mandatory. And here is why.

Even if you're a single person working on a project, version control software gives you the freedom to try dangerous and experimental things with your code. To go down an alley just to see if it pans out. And if it doesn't, you always have the previous version of the code to roll back to. And this is really important.

So as we were about to add the multiplayer layer to our game, and this is going to significantly increase the size of the project, I decided now was the time to get some version control for our project set up. And the first, and probably most difficult decision to make, is which software to use. For me, initially it wasn't even a question. I'm a Perforce guy, going back for years. Just about every project we've built at Robot (and Ensemble before) used Perforce. And when I spent two years working on my own project at home, I had a Perforce repository set up. It works, I'm familiar with it, it's free - just get it in and working.

But Perforce through me a curve ball this time, and in so doing, it opened up an opportunity for me to branch out a bit. (See what I did there?  Jeesh.. programmer humor.. it's the best) See, the latest version of Perforce's software - Helix, puts its evaluation copy inside of a VM machine appliance. And, quite frankly, its a huge pain in the ass, and is a terrible barrier to put between their software and someone who just wants to try it out. The first thing you have to do is download and install some other piece of software - Oracle VirtualBox, or an equivalent, to host the virtual machine. Then you download their 1.2 GB appliance, and import the appliance into their virtual machine. Which means now you're running a virtual machine, a server inside the virtual machine, and that has to run continuously on your server computer - which is probably also your development computer. But to make it worse - for me, it just flat out wouldn't work. I got everything installed and set up correctly, but try as I might, the browser and client software simply couldn't see the server. And after three full mornings of jacking with it, including rummaging through firewall settings, installing on two different machines, etc., I had lost all patience to mess with it a moment more.

So my next thought was, well screw the evaluation VM appliance, let's just install their production server, and set it up.  But then I thought.. wait a minute.

So as I've said, I've been a Perforce guy since day 1. But there are of course a ton of other solutions out there. And I've dabbled with Git, and SVN on a few other, previous occasions, but never really given them much of a try. And I kept hearing on the wonders of distributed revision control, and more importantly, seems like everyone is hosting a project on GitHub these days, so maybe now was the opportunity to learn something more about these, and set this up in the cloud. So that is what I - somewhat begrudgingly, I have to admit - did.

Git & GitHub
So you can just set up plain 'ol Git on your host machine, and host your own local repository, and check software and code directly in and out locally, if you wish. And if you do so, I can assure you it will be no less arcane. Typing cryptic command line commands into Git Bash will have you feeling like your Neo and it's gawddamn 1995. I kept expecting the command line cursor to suddenly start typing on its own to tell me to follow the White Rabbit.

But the GitHub site has a desktop client you can download that does a nice jot of hiding Git's squirrelly commands away from sight, and lets you set up a local repository, and keep it in sync with the remote repository at GitHub. One detail to know about GitHub, and this is an important one - the free GitHub membership only allows public projects. So unless you want to pay, your entire project will be downloadable and viewable to the public at large. I understand that if you don't want your project to be public, BitBucket provides a suitable, online repository that is private, and supports up to 5 collaborators.

So with a relatively short amount of time (a few hours, in total), I had my repository set up, and my Unity project hosted within it. I made a few small changes and tested some commits, and everything seems to be working swimmingly.

And that's that! Not only do I now have version control set up for my project, but I've made it publically available for you to download and peruse, which is in keeping with my desire to make this project more open. I'll provide a link below directly to the repository.

Next time I'll get back to work on the game itself, and hopefully the next blog you read will be about how successful or not I am with integrating multiplayer directly into the game.

Some useful links:

The Unity3D At-Home Project on GitHub
The increasingly inaccurately named Unity-Terrain project on GitHub

Introduction to Version Control
A really nice overview of version control.

Basic Git
If that's your thing.

GitHub Windows Desktop Client
Providing a nice interface between GitHub and your project

Beginner Unity Basics #20 - GitHub and Version Control
And excellent, concise tutorial for setting up your Unity Project on GitHub from Frosty Gaming. Good stuff.

Unity At Home Project
The Master Blog Page for the At Home Project

Monday, August 31, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 4 - Basic Animation

Busy weekend, busier week, but I did manage to sneak in a little bit of time on Sunday to play around with simple animation, and to get our avatar animated.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 3 - Basic Camera Controller

So I finished off Renaissance Coder's character controller tutorial (you can find it here) with implementing a basic camera controller.  And by basic, I mean really basic. You give it a target, and it slaves its position to the target, plus an offset that you give it. For orientation, it just interpolates from its current orientation to that of the target. Even though it was a fairly small piece of code to write, I still learned a few interesting things, and had some hiccups.

Cool Things

This does rotational interpolation for you. You give it a source value in radians, a destination radians, and some time values that determine how fast you want the function to interpolate towards your destination. It returns an updated angle, and also modifieds a turn velocity float that you can use in successive updates.  Really handy function.

I'd forgotten about LateUpdate, but this is an update function that occurs each frame after normal Update and all of the FixedUpdates. By updating the camera position and rotation in this function, we ensure it happens after the other updates.


My initial offset for the camera position had the sign of the Y offset reversed, which placed the camera somewhat inconveniently underground. While cool and interesting, wasn't exactly the effect we were going for.

The other thing I noticed immediately after my first test was that the camera was still facing straight ahead - not actually looking at the player. The tutorial had mentioned an X-tilt factor, but had failed to ever actually hook it up and use it. I converted the value to radians, applied the rotation to the target's X rotation (which is always straight ahead), and then used the editor to adjust the value until  we got to something close. What was interesting was that when I changed display resolutions, the amount of avatar in the camera field of view changed. Which goes to show you the kind of BS you actually have to deal with when building a real camera.

You can see the functional camera below.

Notice my gravity quotient is way way too low, so when I go sailing off the tops of hills, I only sort of gently float back to ground over time. Also notice even the leaves of the tree have collision, lol.

What next?
Well I'm not 100% sure. The camera controller is functional, but only barely. There's no orbit control, and there's no collision. But building a robust camera controller can be a pretty dark rabbit hole - correclty and intuitively handling camera collision is a non trivial task.  So I could leave the controller alone, and move on to animation. But by the same token, the current camera is by no means near adequate, so we'll have to see.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 2 - Simple Character Controller

So the  Standard Assets pack comes with a 3D character controller right out of the bag. And it's fairly functional - does everything you want it to do.  In fact, it's actually a little more complex than I want for first pass.  Their 3rd Person character controller contains separate components for the Controller, an Input Controller, a Camera Controller, and an Animation component, and contains code to handle interactions between all of those.

I'm trying to put pieces together piece by piece, so what I really wanted, to start with, was just a very simple character controller. Renaissance Coders YouTube channel came to the rescue, with a great, nofrills character controller you can code up in literally about 20 minutes.  You can find their tutorial here.

This allowed me to get a simple, functional character controller up in the afternoon, and I completely understand all the pieces. I also added a capsule collider to my avatar mesh (Ethan), so he would collide with the trees as I moved him around.  Once I added the capsule collider and set it's offset appropriately, I could turn on gravity on the RigidBody.  

One other interesting thing I learned here was that you need to freeze rotation on the rigid body in all three axis. The first time I tried to move poor Ethan, he fell flat on his face, and then I could only move him up and down. We have zero tie-to-ground code here, so if the unit runs up against the tree, for instance, it only slowly moves back down to the ground, based on gravity.

This controller is super simple, and there's a billion lines of code to write here for it to become an game-ready controller, but it fulfills our purpose of being able to move the unit around.

Here's a video:

Unity3D At Home Project - Day 1 - Terrain

I wanted to start with a simple terrain, using stock assets. Worked my way through a three-part tutorial, creating and sampling along the way. Stock assets provides a nice small sample of terrain textures, trees, and grasses. Very limited, but enough to play with.

Terrain was created, and I played around with the height tools, and foliage creation tools. Biggest disappointment was that I see no way of doing height-limited painting. I'm sure there are some third party tools that provide that, but it was a nice default feature in Torque.  I dropped in Ethan, the stock character, for reference.

I also created and set up a light procedural skybox. Options are available for three different kinds of skybox, but the stock assets sadly don't provide any skybox-ready textures.

Ethan - Lost in the Weeds!

Unity3D At Home Project - Introduction

So, I find myself at a curious point in my professional career. By now, you probably know (or should) I'm a game developer. I work at Robot Entertainment, where I get to work on some pretty fantastic games. Right now, I am the Project Lead for the dashboard. The dashboard is the application you use to launch the actual game. It handles all your inventory, your decks, provides access to the store, etc. In short, it's a pretty darn big project in and of itself, and its written entirely in Unity. As I've been working on it for over 15 months now, I've become pretty proficient in Unity. But, the dashboard is an application. And while it's got some very game-like aspects to it, it is not, strictly speaking, a game in and of itself.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Girl with the Golden Gun

So I've been at 60 for a bit now, and wanted to change up the look of my smuggler Kaytte. I saw someone in Fleet the other day that had built an entire outfit with pink and white, and found a speeder that matched in color scheme, and it looked really sharp. Thought I might do something similar. So that sat me down the task of surfing Tor Fashion, and other SWTOR transmog sites, to see what was available and where I could get it.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Operation Overhaul!

See I did a little thing there in the title - did you see what I did? Oh nevermind. So this week the Bioware developers put out a blog talking about what they're doing with instanced content in the new expansion, and holy smokes it's a lot! They're essentially overhauling their entire system. And they also say that there will not be any new operations or flashpoints for said same expansion.  Ostensibly because they're, you know, overhauling their entire system.  So of course if you look at the discussion thread for that blog, you'll find what at current count is a 58 page thread, mostly filled with hate and discontent, regarding the fact that the there won't be a new instance. There's kind of two interesting discussion topics here, so I'm going to talk about them a little bit, separately.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Buyer's Remorse

I don't often fall prey to the whims of my crowd, but I'm beginning to suspect that's what's happened here. I've returned to FFXIV, and picked up the new expansion.  Everything is exciting and new, and I should be happy as a clam.  Except.. it isn't, and I'm not.  So.. what's going on here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

In a Galaxy Far Far Away.. you can earn 12x XP.

So right now, through some indefinite amount of time described only as "the fall" Bioware/EA is giving you 12x XP rewards for any story mission you complete. That's right - that's not a typo. TWELVE TIMES. It's pretty remarkable. It's turned on automatically for subscribers, (which I now am, for the time being), but you can buy an item to turn it off if you like.  The interesting thing is, I actually found myself at a conundrum as to whether or not I would leave it on or not. Here's why.

I've been back in Star Wars the Old Republic for just barely a few weeks. I've hit level 24, and am really enjoying playing. I've been doing the story mission and the side mission, feel like I'm levelling at a decent rate, and queuing for flashpoints when I am appropriate level. I even picked up a few heroic pugs here and there. (There's a visual if you take the sentence out of context!)

So in short - I'm having a pretty good time with the game just as it is. I certainly don't feel a rush to get to the end game. For me, for MMO's, the journey is always far more important to me than the destination, as once I reach it it almost certainly means I'll just be moving on to another MMO that I can level in again. So, I had just about convinced myself to turn it off and continue to play the game as it was originally intended.  Until.. last night.

I queued up for the Athiss flashpoint while I was playing. And up until now, for the flashpoints I've done, my average wait time has been around 25 to 35 minutes. Not great, but not undoable. At least you can plan around it. Last night, after sitting in the queue for an hour, I unqueued, as by then I had to go. That was early in the evening, so I tried again when I got on late. Again, an hour in the queue, and I unqueued. And it occurs to me.. no one's doing these low level story flashpoints. Why would they? Right now, it's far more efficient to level up doing story missions than flashpoints. I also noticed a sharp drop in heroic LFG call outs last night - though that may have just been happenstance.

But if there is one fundamental truth you can count on when it comes to MMO's, it is that the vast majority of your player population will follow the most efficient route they can to the end game - especially if that route is well publicized. Regardless of what you personally may desire, the truth is, what the player population is doing has an effect on your gameplay - whether you want it to or not.

So I decided to get on board. Though I enjoy doing flashpoints, I dropped my quests for all of them and my heroics last night, and found the next waypoint on my story mission and set out. I'll do the story missions, and the occasional side quest when it suits me, and level the way they've set out for me to level. When and if I get to the end game, I'll worry about gearing up and learning to play my character in instanced content then. Most of the guides only give rotations for end-game ability setups anyway, so there you go.

So here we go! Expect to be inundated with more screenshots as Kaytte, our tough as nails heart of gold smuggler traverses the galaxy in search of fortune and riches. And occasionally delivering the odd sandwich here or there to some person in need.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Neverwinter Nights

I know I know.. but when a title works, you don't throw it out just because it's cheesy! And for the last three weeks, that's pretty much where I've been spending my nights.  So I thought I might spend a little time talking about what's great and what's not so great with Cryptic's free to play MMO on the console.

Friday, April 10, 2015

XBox On!

When your blog rate is about one every six months or so, you're going to begin every blog with "So it's been awhile since I blogged last.."  and this one is no exception. Mostly I blame work - 2015 so far has had an epic work schedule over at Robot. And I'm still husband and father so I like to have at least a bit of family time, and of course, I'm still gaming. So between work, family, and gaming, there's precious free time for blogging. And in truth, I just haven't been feeling it. And when you don't feel it, you can't write it.

But more than a few of my twitter friends have been chastising me of late about putting something to paper, and even my son was all "Dad.. write something."  And that more than anything has motivated me to open up blogger again. Plus.. I'm feeling it. At least for now.