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Friday
Apr112014

Weekly Update: Level Progress

Last week we made a system where imported geometry from Max would automatically work with color transferring, and have a set color object size (work we were doing manually before), so this week I've been making progress on rebuilding the level in Max. I've been working off of a level map I drew based on old puzzle feedback, but it's been really cool to see how it's coming together differently in Max vs. building it all in Unity. Since I'm not working from pre-set pieces (modular geometry), I feel like I have a lot more freedom to be creative with the layout, and I've been adding little nooks and crannies into the level that I hadn't planned on. This is something I'd been wanting to do from the beginning, to make the level more fun to explore, but it's cool that they're arising so organically now. :) Anyway, here are some pictures of the (still sloppy) geometry:

Issam has been working on making the interactive pieces (doors, sentinels, fountains) also work on import so that I can place them in Max as opposed to Unity. He also made this cool debug option that shows us how big an object is (green = small, red = big), so we can quickly spot any errors we've made like leaving pieces of geometry attached, or if something is so big that it would be annoying to transfer color to it. 

He also wrote a blog entry about setting up source control with Plastic SCM and Amazon EC2. You can read it here!

Miles has been sleeping (??):

Wednesday
Apr092014

Unity + Plastic SCM + Amazon EC2

We have been using the Unity Asset Server for a while as our "version control" system and Google drive to store all our game related content/asset that did not go into the Unity Project. I have been wanting for a while to move to a better version control system but the available option did not seem that great, but recently I took another look at Plastic SCM and I really liked what I saw, and after trying it for a few weeks it really seems like the best version control system for us.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Apr042014

Weekly Update: Importing

This week we've been been working on a system for setting color information in Max (using naming), which then shows up as color you can interact with in Unity. Previously, we had to manually set up each "Color Object" in Unity by either dragging and dropping the script onto every object that needed it, or creating an empty object and building a new mesh (when a 'color object' was made of multiple meshes) - I talk about it a little in this post. So yeah, now it all works automatically! Yay! 

I went through the section of the level that has some art, and cleaned up the geometry a little, and started making decisions about how to divide things up. Should the whole column be one object? What about walls with alcoves? I just sort of did a first pass on things and split them where I thought it made the most sense.

We also implemented a system where the size of an object (how much color it needs in order to be fully saturated) is set by the object's surface area. Before, we were just 'eyeballing it' which was pretty arbitrary and confusing. :) The current system is causing some interesting problems too though:

 

With the new system, in order to completely saturate this object takes a little more than 5 chameleons worth of color, which is a bit more than you'd expect. Conceptually, I'm ok with that - I think it's interesting to see how big something's surface area actually is, and I think you can learn a bit about size relationships. For the player though, this might be annoying; if you need to run back and forth between objects 5 times to say, open a door, I could see the game becoming really tedious. The other issue is how the color currently shows up - it's hard to tell that the object isn't fully saturated. Looking at the above image, I would think it was mostly "saturated" by the 5th image. Anyway, we'll have to play with this a bit.

Also I keep forgetting to post this drawing I did when I was brainstorming about maybe adding birds to our game. I think it would be cool. :)

Here's Miles staying up late to work with me:

Friday
Mar282014

Weekly Update: Rebuild & Light-Mapping

For me, this week started with installing the 3ds Max 2014 trial and checking it out to make sure we wouldn't lose anything by upgrading. I spent a day making a little animation to see if anything was different with Biped. There were a couple of small differences - for example, some automatic stuff was happening with the foot IK that I couldn't seem to counteract (if you look at his heels, you can see some wobbling), and there was a bit of crashing... but other than that I think we'll be ok making the upgrade.

The rest of my week was spent, once again, rebuilding the first section of the level - this time we're going to try making it in Max, to see if the process is better.

 

Issam started the week by getting us set up with Plastic SCM, and then started looking into rendering. Here are some crazy lightmap experiments he did: 

Pretty sure this was the result of a mistake...

Film noir/horror version of our game. :)

Miles has been laying on my shelf looking sad and bored so that we stop what we're doing and pet him.

Just kidding! Usually he just inserts himself between us and our monitors when he wants attention. ;)

Friday
Mar212014

Weekly Update: Small Changes and Software

I don't really have any art or design to show for this week, since I spent most of my time investigating MayaLT. We're using a really old version of 3dsMax, and we haven't made any 'final' assets yet, so when we saw the price of MayaLT we decided it might be worthwhile to make the switch.

I used Maya when I was in college, but aside from a couple of animations every once in awhile, I haven't really looked at it since then. At least from when I used Maya in college vs. using Max immediately afterwards  at Vicarious Visions (so we're talking about like, 2007), my general impression is that it's quicker and easier to animate something that looks reasonably good in Max. By that I mean that the default interpolation works reasonably well. However, if you want something really polished and subtle, Maya is the way to go, because Max makes it nearly impossible to work in the curve editor (at least with Biped). For the purpose of game animation, I definitely think Max's Biped gets the job done. Also being able to create a rig so quickly is wonderful.

Maya has something called HumanIK, which seems like the same thing as Biped, so I wanted to check it out. I spent probably the first part of the week looking at modeling stuff, which seems pretty great - and then the second half of the week was me struggling with HumanIK. Unfortunately it's a little hard to find good documentation on it (I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to make the foot roll - or select all of the controllers to set a key). I started to look into making my own rig, but then I noticed that MayaLT doesn't have IK Handles in the current version (although it will be in the next version)... so that sort of killed that idea. It seems as though Autodesk is still figuring out what features to put in MayaLT exactly, so we decided that for now it makes much more sense to just upgrade to the latest version of Max, despite the price difference.

Issam spent the first part of the week cleaning up some of my prototype code for things like the fountains, the ivy, and block pushing. 

Also here's gravity not quite working yet:

He also added the functionality to take color from water, which I think is really cool: 

He's also been looking at software, since we're going to be updating Unity and needed to decided if we wanted to keep using the Asset Server. He's chosen Plastic SCM. Like the Asset Server, and like GIT, you can change files without having to check them out first, which is a little quicker and easier than Perforce. But, like Perforce, it also gives you the ability to check out and lock files, which is helpful. He also thinks their branching system sounds really good. Plastic SCM is free for 15 users and under (woo!)

Issam also updated to NGUI 3. From demoing, we decided we wanted to have a HUD display to help players remember which buttons to use. We're going to see if it's something we like/want to keep moving forward - although personally I dislike the idea of having a HUD all the time! I'm leaning towards maybe having a context sensitive 'action' button like in Zelda. So if you're near a door, you can press Y to open it, or if you're near a switch, you can press Y to pull it.   

Miles has been slowly destroying this bag:

We're going to be showing the Color Thief Demo, Amelia, and The Bard tonight at Mr. Tramps at the Austin Game Developer Beer Night. Click here for more information!

Friday
Mar142014

Weekly Update: Post-SXSW Redesign

This week we've been working on applying what we learned showing the game at the SXSW Gaming Expo, and coming up with a plan of action for our next big milestone.

I started off the week by redesigning the 1st area of the game, making changes that we've picked up from various playtesting over the last few months. 

I tried to slow down the pace of learning a little more, and I mostly stuck to mechanics involving the ivy, sentinels and fountains - as well as teaching the player basic color concepts. I also added a little more reinforcement of ideas, which was something I hadn't done in earlier designs. (Previously, I had introduced a concept, and then built on it immediately - there's just a tiiiny bit of repetition in there now, to make sure players really get the hang of certain things.)

Issam started off the week by creating a system I've been interested in for awhile, but didn't know how to make. Currently in game, objects can have different color object sizes - the idea being that the larger something is, the chameleon can't say, grab all of the of color from it in one go. Up to now, I've been eyeballing the values - which sort of works, but mostly feels very arbitrary - so I asked Issam to create a system where we could actually calculate the surface area of every object. As a result, we've seen how big everything is relative to the chameleon, so we want to try to shrink things down a little. 

When we started thinking about how to go about changing the overall scale of things, we realized that since we've been building everything in modular pieces, changing the scale of all of them makes their measurements a lot less clean - but while worrying about that, we realized that it actually might be a lot faster to build the game if we get rid of modular pieces entirely. The current workflow is surprisingly time consuming. First I build everything with pieces, then I look at the room and make a bunch of empty "color object" containers, based on every object I think will require it's own color information. So, for example, a wall might be made up of a bunch of modular pieces of wall - so I need to make a color object, then tell it to use the pieces that make up the wall, and create a collider that is the same size as the whole wall (as opposed to just the small pieces of wall). Moving forward, we're going to experiment with building levels more fully in Max. It will be interesting to see how it changes our workflow. 

Issam has also been going through a lot of my old gameplay code this week and cleaning it up to work better. ^^;;

 

Also this week, we got the opportunity to hang out with Jen and Phil from Nyamyam, which was really fun! Their game, Tengami, was featured in the SXSW Indie Corner. It's currently out on the iOS App Store:

 

Also here is what Miles has been doing (??):


Tuesday
Mar112014

SXSW 2014 Recap

We showed our game at the SXSW Gaming Expo last weekend! Here's a writeup of some of the things we learned from showing each game:

Color Thief

As mentioned in a previous blog post, we weren't originally planning on showing the game because we didn't think it was far enough along. Also the tutorial area I'd been working on for the last 6 months was in a pretty big mess from some recent changes, and I didn't think there was enough time to fix it before the show. I had a conversation with my friend Sara who suggested we just make a small room to show - maybe even just have players walk around and pick up color and put it on things to see if they were interested. It seemed like a good opportunity to test out some ideas and see how players handled the controls.

What we ended up with was a small 'instructions' type room, where we told players how to play, as opposed to letting them learn on their own. We taught them how to transfer color, and how fountains, ivy, sentinels and doors work. After that, they entered a room with a 3-part puzzle involving all of those mechanics, where we sat back and let them try to solve it on their own. I would say the demo took about 5min, although there was a pretty big difference in times for the players to solve the puzzle - particularly the third part. 

A quick note, what we showed this weekend was actually the second iteration of the demo. We showed it to a few people after the SXSW Game Jam last weekend, which was incredibly helpful. The main changes that came from that were adding manual camera controls (we'd been planning on adding them eventually, but we didn't realize how vital they were until we saw a couple of people play the game), and some staging things like adding color to walls in the puzzle room (as a subtle reminder that you can add color to walls), and putting more space between the player's start position and the fountains (so I had time to explain how to pick up/transfer color before they got to the fountains). 

Showing the game at the expo, we figured out a number of ways we could stage the level better. For example, players kept getting the camera stuck in the fountains (so we added some collision to prevent this), and there was an area where if players paid close attention, they could easily bypass the first two puzzles (oops). We were able to address most of the staging issues between the first and second day by making small changes.

We also discovered a lot of issues with the current camera and character movement systems. We definitely knew that there was still some clumsiness that needed to be addressed, but since we've gotten used to it we didn't realize quite how rough it still was. Issam is going to be doing a lot of work moving forward to improve the systems.

The most interesting part of the weekend was getting feedback on the way the key color rules were communicated to the player. I tried to set up the instruction room in a way to teach the player that taking color away from something 'deactivated' it - the first two things you do in the level involve things being 'on' with color and 'off' without it. That said, when introduced to the sentinel, almost every player immediate took color away from it, and then didn't understand why wouldn't open again. I think it was simply too much information at one time. I think players were too busy getting used to the controls, character and idea of color transferring to also notice that things were "on" or "off" depending on color.  

Players also struggled a bit with the concept that you could only 'hold' one color at a time - as well as not being able to put color on an object that already had color. I think it makes sense that players would try those things to see what would happen, but there were many times we had to step in and explain why they couldn't absorb color. This lead to some discussion about maybe letting you swap colors with and object quickly - although this gets rid of the 'challenge' of finding a place to put the color your holding. Maybe that's tedious anyway?

Finally, it was really fun to see how people responded to the final leg of the puzzle. The challenge was that you needed to bring red to a door, but there was a green sentinel in the way. The answer was to put the red on the wall behind the sentinel. The concept is pretty simple - I wanted players to see that you can use any part of the environment to solve puzzles - but there was a really wide variety of approaches the puzzle and how long it took them to solve it. I think that overall, most players were able to figure it out on their own. A few of them needed a hint, but everyone was able to solve it without us telling them what to do (except for some of the really, really little kids). Interestingly, a number of kids between 7-10 solved the puzzle pretty much immediately. :) I'm really excited to start re-designing the actual progression that teaches players these concepts.

Moving forward, I'm going to be finishing up the art test room (we showed it at the expo as a way to entice people to our screen - and then switched to the less interesting looking demo room.. Haha), and then I'll start re-designing and re-building out the first section of temple again. Issam is diving into fixing some of my old gameplay code, and working on camera and controls.  

Amelia vs. the Marathon

Every once in awhile we talk about taking some time to make Amelia a lot easier based on the feedback we've gotten from family and friends since the release (it's still really too hard), and re-releasing it - but seeing people play the game at the expo really convinced me that this is something we need to make time for. It's always exciting to see people play it - particularly little kids! - and it reminded me that it really is a fun game that just needs a little more attention from us. :)

The Bard

(Note: The skull in the above picture is for Dethlands - Ryan was our booth neighbor all weekend! The game is really fun - definitely check it out!)

We actually didn't show The Bard the first two days because there wasn't enough table space, but on Sunday, the organizers of the IGDA booth asked us to put it out for awhile. People seemed to really enjoy playing it! We got the "People's Choice Award" for the SXSW Game Jam. We're trying to figure out if we should put it on Kongregate, or maybe figure out a way to make a mobile version of the game (although there are a lot of buttons, so I'm not sure how it would translate). (Reminder, you can play the game here ). 

Here's our fancy game jam plaque!

Also here's what Miles has been working on!: 

Thursday
Mar062014

Come See Us at SXSW!

We're showing our games at the IGDA booth at the SXSW Gaming Expo this Friday-Sunday! The event is free and open to the public. 

 

You will be able to find us there at these times:

Friday: 4-7pm

Satuday: 2:30-5:30pm

Sunday: 2:30-5:30pm

 

We'll be showing:

A short demo of Color Thief:

The Bard, our SXSW Game Jam game:

Amelia vs. the Marathon:

Come by and say hello!

Sunday
Mar022014

SXSW Game Jam 2014: The Bard

This weekend we participated in the SXSW Game Jam, organized by the Austin IGDA! The theme was music. Because we were working on our laptops, this time we decided to make a game fully in 2D - which ended up being really fun, and allowing us a little bit more polish time in the end!  

Time Frame: Friday Evening - Sunday Afternoon

Team: Cat & Issam

Music: Call to Adventure, Intended Force & Skye Cuilin Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com

Theme: Music

Description: Accompany an RPG hero, providing the perfect soundtrack for his quest! Pay attention to his actions and play the appropriate music, all while keeping pace with him and avoiding obstacles.

How to Play: Control the bard with WASD + Spacebar, or the arrow keys. Hold down the left, middle and right mouse button to play different music (see the 'how to' screen below to see which music corresponds with which action). If you are playing the wrong music, or if you get to far away from the hero, the screen with go gray to let you know you're doing something wrong. 

>>Click Here to Play!<<

Friday
Feb282014

Weekly Update: Short Demo

Issam and I volunteered to help out at the Austin IGDA booth at the SXSW Gaming Expo next weekend! They were looking for people who had games to show, so we were originally planning on just bringing Amelia - but I was talking to my friend Sara and she said we should definitely try to show something from Color Thief. It's definitely a huge opportunity to get some feedback, so we decided we could spend this week and next week making a short demo.


I've heard that puzzle games don't demo very well in expos - especially the slow, exploration-based kind, so we've always been a little unsure about how to approach showing our game in this context. Since we'll be there to explain things, we decided to simply chop out the tutorial and explain things to people in person with the first "room," which basically just has little stations that show some of the things you can do with color.

Turning on/off fountains: 

Making ivy climbable: 

Showing how sentinels work:

Opening doors:

 

After that, they will go into a room which basically has 3 small 'puzzles' (maybe only 1 of them is really a puzzle?). We tried to make this as simple as possible while (hopefully) still being interesting. We have a tendency to make things too hard... so hopefully we're on the right track. This way it's just enough game for people to get the gist of what we're doing (at least on the mechanics side - narrative is being left out for now).

Next week I'd like to see if I can art it up a bit, but if I can't finish in time, it's all playable now. 

Also, this weekend we're participating in the SXSW Game Jam, hosted by the Austin IGDA. The theme is music! It starts tonight. I will post on Monday to show what we came up with.