21 Days to #PAXAus - 11/10 days to go

Less panic, more work. And even more Oculus.

Over the weekend, I’ve worked on a bunch of other projects and assignments to get them out of the way before PAX week. I’ve also had to cancel a trip to Unite and GCAP; two incredible events that I’m quite disheartened to miss. Hopefully, with this extra time, I can really deliver something special with BLASTR at PAX. There’s always next year to catch up on all the conferences!

I’ve delegated some of the dialogue processing work to my good friends Jayden and Dilan, who are voicing the characters in the demo. We’ve hit some snags along the way, but they’re working very hard to ensure the acting sounds really professional – even though it definitely isn’t close to that – and that all the pieces fall into place nicely.

I’ve had some time with the Oculus, and it’s definitely an eye-catching little gadget. The screen resolution isn’t incredibly high, so all the individual pixels are quite easily visible whilst playing the game.

A sneak peek of BLASTR on the Oculus Rift

The head-tracking is extraordinary, coming into its own when playing a racing game, but it’s disappointing that I won’t be able to use that feature in BLASTR; third-person shooters rarely work with head tracking, and there’s simply no time to experiment. Instead, I think I’ll build a dedicated Oculus Rift section of the demo for players to mess around in. It’ll bring a unique experience to the table, without adding extra workload for me.

Multiplayer work is underway. With the iterative playtesting so crucial in creating a fun multiplayer experience, I dragged my brother in and made him sit through an afternoon of save-and-reloads, as we sought to nail the core gameplay experience. It really shows, since we would often get caught up in the matches we played. We also devised some interesting little activities that could be implemented later on. We played Sentry Volleyball, where you lob the hapless robot guards across the arena and attempt to keep them in the air. Also on the menu was Sentry Golf, which, as you would expect, involves blasting Sentries into a hole in the arena panels.

Testing some multiplayer and changing some code

All in all, quite a successful couple of days, and I’m going into this week with a renewed enthusiasm and motivation, as we get closer to that magical date: 31st October 2014.

21 Days to #PAXAus - 12 days to go

Studies are getting in the way…

I have 2 days until a university assignment is due, so it’s important I get that out of the way first. Having spent more than 4 hours on that, it’s still nowhere near completed and that means I have to work on it tomorrow as well. Sigh, it might be time for me to set an alarm clock for 4am or something to get all this done.

In more positive news, I’ve been able to effectively use Unity’s in-built animation curve editor to animate the ‘big boss’ character, Hammer.

Editing the animations for Hammer

I’ve also received a very interesting little gadget today:

Yep, BLASTR will be playable on Oculus Rift at PAX Australia!

21 Days to #PAXAus - 13 days to go

First proper playtest – and the game sucks.

Took the game to the Microsoft Australia offices to get some playtesting done while organising stuff for the booth. In short, there’s a TONNE of bugs to fix and content to change. The game isn’t ready for outsiders to play just yet, evidenced by the fact it was hard for most playtesters to get out of the introductory area!

Playtesting on a TV. There’s nothing like that feeling of watching your game on a big screen.

With only 13 days to go, things are slowly getting out of control. Apart from BLASTR, I have 3 other projects and assignments for university, so that’s been piling up as well. I also need to finish all the content by Tuesday to hit my self-imposed “Content Freeze” deadline, so I give some buffer room for testing and bugfixes.

The Reddit post about BLASTR

Today also marked the first mention of BLASTR on an internet forum without my participation! The ‘PSVita Roundup’ blog posted a short article about the game, as well as linking it on Reddit.

It was great to see some comments from the general public, with nice ones like “This is the kind of game Vita needs more of” as well as not-so-nice ones like “Some of the worst voice acting I have ever experienced in my life.

Getting some preliminary feedback - even if it was only on an unfinished, unpolished video clip - really gives you some motivation to keep pushing.

21 Days to #PAXAus - 14 days to go

Polishing up the UI

Working hard on making things presentable in the Singleplayer story section of the PAX demo. Gotta make it shiny and attractive to lure in the players, man.

Some UI elements for the in-game tutorial

I’ll finally be getting the Oculus Rift DK2 tomorrow, so that’s gonna be an awesome new experience. Hopefully it works well with the game out of the box, and I don’t have to do too much fiddling to make them compatible.

Multiplayer has been nagging me for the last 2 weeks. I really haven’t gotten around to polishing and testing that section of the demo, so I’m going to aim to complete work on the Singleplayer by this Sunday. After that, it’s just polish polish polish, and test test test.

Here’s some of the dialogue boxes (captions) for the characters:

and here it is in action:

21 Days to #PAXAus - 16/15 days to go

No work done.

The last two days have been incredibly busy with university and other projects, so no progress at all. I’m gutted and panic is beginning to set in.

Anyway, here’s a couple of screenshots with different lighting schemes:

The ID@Xbox people have responded and have asked me to fill a form, so that’s something. Hopefully something good comes out of it.

Tomorrow should bring some much-needed energy and perspective to the project, I can only hope. It gets lonely being a one-man dev team…

The Catwalk

The Catwalk

21 Days to #PAXAus - 17 days to go

Bringing in the dialogue, and printing the business cards.

I spent a vast majority of the day studying for an exam that’s tomorrow, so I didn’t achieve as much as I should have. About an hour was spent on designing and purchasing business cards for use at PAX Australia. At AUD30 for 250, I hope it will be good value.

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Business card, front and back

On the game-development front, I spent a couple of hours cutting and importing the voice-work. First, the voices had to be put through Voxal Voice Changer (to make them robotic), then the 2-way dialogue was edited in Audacity and exported as MP3 into the Unity project.

Here is another snippet of the in-game dialogue:

Today also marked a milestone in BLASTR’s progress: I sent my first email to the guys at ID@Xbox – the indie games curation team for the Xbox One – and I’m hoping for a positive response from them.

21 Days to #PAXAus - 18 days to go

Voice Acting complete!

Thanks to my team - Dilan and Jayden - we were able to wrap up recording for the dialogue in the PAX demo.

Here’s a snippet of some conversation between the main characters.

We spent about 2 hours on three-way video chat. Both of them had studio-quality microphones and quiet surroundings, and the recording went off without a hitch. Of course, a solid script by Dilan meant it was always going to be smooth sailing!

Today was also the Bathurst 1000 race, so I ‘lost’ a bunch of hours ‘procrastinating’ (but WHAT a race, though!)

Next up, finishing up the main big boss character and the enemy designs.

21 Days to #PAXAus - 19 days to go

Scripted story sequences completed!

I bought PlayMaker, the popular Unity plugin that automates a bunch of game development tasks (like triggering animations, movement, and sequences of actions) and that has helped lighten my workload a ton. Definitely worth the money if you’re serious about hitting deadlines.

PlayMaker made it incredibly simple to chain events together to produce cool scripted sequences, such as the finale which I completed today. Previously, I’d have to create hooks in each individual script that would have to be added to each object in the sequence. Now, it’s a FSM diagram and everything is much more compact and easy to decipher when debugging.

There’s still quite a long way to go, but I’m happy to declare the singleplayer story layout is complete. A few bugs here and there, some changes to art and audio, and the introduction of the main bad guy – yeah, I somehow forgot to add him in – will complete the demo and leave me free to polish up the multiplayer section of the game.

A visual comparison of different lighting setups.

20 days to go

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21 Days to PAX Aus

Multiplayer is HARD WORK.

Today I spent over 6 hours banging my head against a wall, trying to get a feasible solution for the split-screen section of the PAX demo. As you might know, multiplayer is a great way to get more players at your booth and generally helps keep a fun and frantic atmosphere around the game space, with friends and family having channelling their little feuds into the matches.

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The problem with multiplayer is that there are a bunch of problems with having multiple players. Let me explain:

Usually, converting a singleplayer experience into something suitable for many onscreen players is a silly thing to do. You want to create something from scratch. Something that is built from the ground up to do multiplayer, and do it well. I didn’t do that in BLASTR.

I built the singleplayer story demo first, and now I’m stuck rewiring a system that assumed only one player would be controllable in the universe. I’m also extending the entire player movement/physics system now - apparently Unity’s CharacterController isn’t a good idea for physics-affected players, so I had to code an alternative solution using Rigidbodies.

A 30-minute scheduled meeting with Dilan, the writer, overran by almost an hour as we grappled with different ways to end the story section of the PAX demo. At the very least, we could agree on the visuals being very nice indeed. I’m glad it turned out okay, since I have very little modelling/texturing experience.

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I realised I should probably nail the story demo first, before iterating on the multiplayer any further. With a content-freeze deadline set for the 21st of October (in 11 days), things are looking increasingly tight!

21 Days to PAXAus

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21 Days to PAX Aus

On the weekend of 30th Oct – 2nd Nov 2014, I’m going to show a game at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. It’s called BLASTR. This is my attempt to document the last 21 days of frantic action leading up to my biggest chance in game development so far.

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This July, I won the Nokia LVLUP competition to get a booth at PAX Australia. However, that gave me a big problem to solve: I had to showcase a game at the booth, and I didn’t have one.

You see, I’ve been spending the last 3 years studying Software Engineering at UNSW in Sydney. As a part-time thing, I make games. A lot of games. Most of them end up on the virtual scrap heap, but some make it to completion and are then sent off to every single competition I can enter them in.

One of my games in 2014 was MECHFALL.

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It was a silly little thing, a simple exercise in producing an art-style and gameplay feel similar to the massive AAA blockbuster of the summer, Titanfall. I entered it into the Nokia LVLUP: Road to PAX competition in June, and it somehow won the Best Student prize! Accommodation and a trip down to Melbourne, as well as some shared booth space for the entire 3-day event. It’s really the jackpot for a developer struggling to make time between lectures and tutorials.

Back to my problem: I didn’t have a game to show at PAX. I mean, I did, but I didn’t want to waste my biggest break on a small mobile title, you know? I needed to go big.

The day after the announcement, I made a commit in my source code repository.

It was the start of my most ambitious project so far: BLASTR

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The original prototype for the game was built in 11 days, and won the iFEST Sydney Games Festival back in 2011, but that’s a whole other story (covered by GameInformer).

The game had been in pre-production for almost a year now, going through many prototype stages and art passes. All of that was thrown out on July 15th, 2014. It simply wasn’t good enough for PAX.

A simple top-down shooter wouldn’t cut it. It would have to be smart, funny, beautiful, and unique. The underlying theme of ‘action without gratuitous violence’ needed to communicate itself strongly throughout. I spent the next few weeks working overtime on a demo that would show off its best ideas.

Fast forward to today. It’s been almost 3 months of somewhat-documented work, and the demo is somewhat playable. It runs reasonably well, and I’m actually quite proud of what my limited level of artistic ability could produce in such a short time-frame:

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See more at BLASTRgame.com

This brings me to this blog post. A lot of work has been done, from the code to the art, from the story (by the talented Dilan Fernando) to the music (by the fantastic Lawrence Crumpton). But it is only a little over 75% of the way to PAX. That last 15% remains, and boy is it going to be a rough stretch!

Over the next 21 days, I will need to complete the following tasks in order to successfully showcase BLASTR at PAX Australia:

Game demo

  1. Script and animate story demo finale scene
  2. Implement rudimentary dialogue for characters
  3. Design and code the Multiplayer game intro and setup screen
  4. Actually code the Multiplayer balance and scoring system
  5. Record the dialogue with the voice talent (the amazing Jayden Tilbrook)
  6. Import and place all the music and dialogue
  7. Model and animate all the enemy characters

Business and marketing

  1. Print business cards
  2. Order T-shirts for the presenters
  3. Write, direct and animate a proper trailer of some sort
  4. Update the BLASTR website
  5. Update my own website

This might well be an interesting case study, or a horrific failure. Either way, it’s going to be an interesting 21 days to PAXAus!

BLASTR

BLASTR

MECHFALL - trying to bring a slice of the Titanfall experience to Windows Phone and Windows Store.

[Windows Phone]: http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=3ce47ae7-257e-437d-90a8-d9b227bf9981

[Windows Store]: http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/app/mechfall/6048622b-a132-4c38-ac7c-00cabf49472b

(Not affiliated with Respawn Entertainment or Titanfall)

Submitted BLASTR to Imagine Cup! This is the current stage of the prototype, about 3 months into part-time development.

Everything is still work-in-progress, but the pre-production stages are mostly complete and ready for development to begin!

I'm a Software Engineering student at UNSW. I'm a game developer. I'm also a Microsoft Appreneur and a big Open Web and HTML5 enthusiast.

twitter.com/nklsrh



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