There goes my last 400 quid

I'm going to America tomorrow, to visit Tommy! I may drop by Boston on the way back, possibly to see one of the MIT interface groups with my Dad, and possibly to see JP (of Irrational) and Karla, who I have been wanting to meet for years.

The past few days I've been storming through sound specs for Justin. I used our wiki, and I feel like my abilities on it have levelled up since I found out about "transcluding".

Basically, you use transcluding to import the contents of another page. So say you've got two pages which need common information on them - you don't want to have to copy/paste one bit of info into the other, and you don't want to have to update both when information changes. So, for the common piece of information, you set up a new page, and use {{:WikiWord}} to import that page into your other two pages. Update the common information page, and the changes fill down! Really useful! I also hear that you can transclude from individual subheadings in a page, without using the entire page, but it's not supported in the old version of MediaWiki we're using.

Kind of refreshing to get back to documentation after pure coding and back and forth-design as it has been with Tommy. Our wiki went out of use previously, just because it's a bit of a full time job managing it, and I only had one person to inform about design changes. It was a bit redundant, and really just nothing but overhead work. Now that Justin is involved, it's useful to get specs down where both Tommy and he can see them.

People are being very nice about my dumped game, "K", recently. I'm thinking that it might be due a revisitation after our current game, possibly as a bit of an open project (and certainly as a side project for me - I have other ideas I want to seed after this). I could get a public wiki going for the design document, forums for discussion, and hopefully attract dip-in-collaborators to help like Guy Balding has done.

Ofcourse, dip-in-collaboration depends entirely on the attractiveness of the venture offset by the difficulty of producing work for it. Guy Balding is perfect, because pixel art is not percieved as difficult (even though it does take real talent to make really good pixel art), and the project has been started by people who really know their stuff in that realm - it's an unabashed pixel wank, and there's no way your mother's going to open the door and spoil it all. Arne and BMcC are being excellent wayfairers on the project, and I'm looking forward to freeing some time to get some more jump animations done. Might be a while yet, though.



I've just been headhunted for the first time! Well, alright. It's the second time, but the first didn't really count. More on that later.

After seeing a capture of "K", the abstract shmup I worked on during/after uni, someone from one of the big companies asked if I'd be interested in doing prototyping. Obviously, I had to decline (our game comes first), but being asked to work in prototyping was really tempting. I'm glad that prototyping is something that's being taken seriously by the big guys - it seems like the only realistic way to push new ideas forward without risking vast sums of money.

Rudolf Kremers from Beautiful Game Studios told me that the longer you're in the industry, the more frequently you'll be propositioned. While this first time was certainly flattering, I can imagine it could get boring, especially when you get the more pushy agents lying through their teeth about a company which you know (from other sources) isn't all it's cranked up to be. But he says, "No, no. It's all fuel for the ego!". Good-o!

The first time I was headhunted, I was 17. I had just finished the less popular second version of Matrix Quake. Cevat Yerli of Crytek (at that time just a tech-demo house - I think only X-Isle had been released) saw this and asked me if I'd like to code on their new project.

Precocious, naive little shit that I was, I thought I had hit the big time. It was a dream come true! I was ready to drop everything and get to work, even though I had less than 3 years of coding experience under my belt - not even coding, really: more like high level C / scripting. I was ready to ditch my A-Level retakes (retakes due to too much modding and not enough study in the 6th form). In the end, my parents intervened and told me that I could only code remotely. I'm glad they stepped in, because the next two weeks were pretty silly:

I started off as a game play coder on an unannounced title, working from the school computers (the only internet I could access at the time!). The next week, it seems that the Lead Coder left the project, and I was promoted to Lead. It was only then that I got to see the game engine and design documents.

A fellow modder was previously brought on board to design the weapons in this game. He was renowned for creating some of the most... erm... "unrestrained" weapons designs on the scene. The weapons were designed with real passion. Whole pages were dedicated to pulp sci-fi elaborations on the history of the weapons, their manufacturers, and their most prolific users. As a sort of side note, you got one sentence descriptions of the functionality.

Being a mechanic-centric sort of guy, I complained (probably in far stronger words than were necessary). I don't remember if I got a response from the Project Lead, because mysteriously, the very next week, I was promoted to that same position.

It was then that I realized that I was just a 17 year old, who had only made games by standing on the shoulders of giants, and that I was in no position to take on this work while studying for A-Levels. Needless to say, I felt like a prick for walking away, but there wasn't much else I could do in the situation.

A couple of ECTS's later, I saw Cevat giving an interview to G4 (I think?) in front of his FarCry booth. Everyone at the show was swooning over the game, so I went to see what the fuss was about. I gave it a go behind him as he did his little pitch to the cameras.

I needed to invert the mouse to play, so I went to the options. Unstable as most convention builds are, the game crashed on me, possibly in plain view of the camera. Realizing that I might have created a PR blunder, I looked left, and looked right, and ran outta there as fast as I chubby legs would carry me. If I wanted, I could claim it was a sort of weak attempt at revenge, assuming I had any lingering resentment toward the company. But I don't. These things happen, especially in start-ups.


The menu is coming on really well since I broke its back. Tommy and I are working on a way to keep each game mode's menus in their respective DLL so that the main menu can populate its special case game mode related pages just by looking in a game mode directory. This extra work up front makes it incredibly easy for us to add new game modes without having to change the core game. You need that kind of handling if you want to be able to submit downloadable content/game modes without having to resubmit your core download for QA.

Downloadable content has only really recently evolved from buzzword to technically understood possibility. I think a lot of people rushed in, attaching the phrase to their pitches for sexification, not realizing that the process of making extra content starts with planning way before the core downloadable is ever finished. If you start after the game's done, you're encumbered with a lot of retrofitting to make things work. Just sayin'.


The Collective Unconscious

From Blather, Rinse, Repeat.

    Chaim Gingold had a presentation which was the closest thing to a Will Wright talk, both in terms of content and presentation. His discussion was looking at the "possibility space" of a tool (Maya has a huge space; it can model almost anything. Sim City has a smaller space; it can only model cities), the "probability space" of a particular user with that tool (put a random guy in front of Maya, he won't produce much, and it'll be a different set of stuff than a trained 3d artist would create), and the "desirable space" (harder to define, but if you can make a tool that makes it easy to create good stuff and hard to make bad stuff, you've won). The basic idea isn't hard to grasp, but I appreciated the vocabulary for the discussion, and the examples of how Maxis has struggled with the tools they'll be providing Spore players.

Gosh, this sounds familiar (I'll have to continue that article, but I'm playing catchup, it seems. Oh, and I'll have to conform to the new established terminology, rather than the stuff I pulled out of my bum).

It seems like every year there's a couple of opinions, methodologies, or concepts which I've had developing in my head, and regular as clockwork, GDC always brings someone along who introduces these to a wider populance's attention, as if they thought up the ideas all by themselves.

I'm not sure I believe in the idea of a Collective Unconscious in the magical spiritual sense, where new ideas crop up simultaneously in different people across the world due to some ethereal force. I think we just react to similar stimulous in similar ways, coming up with similar solutions to similar problems. In games design, I get this a lot. I'm sure a lot of designers do. We play the same games, and see the same flaws in implementations, and start to consider the same ways to fix them.

Surely, everyone at one time or another has said "Oh, man! I had that exact idea!" when something like Spore or Little Big World or Mercury Meltdown comes out, only to have someone immediately respond "So why didn't you do anything about it then?".

We gripe about it a bit. It feels like we're never in the right position to make "Awesome Game Paradigm X" or to solve world hunger, even though we all know how (feed people, obviously).

It gives me a bittersweet feeling: On the one hand, it makes your personal mental acrobatics feel completely futile. Why should you think these important matters through when someone else can get it done faster, and smarter than you? Think of all that synapse growth you wasted! You could have used that for remembering more Virtua Fighter button combinations!

At the same time, you do feel vindicated. You can't be that crazy if someone else has come to the same conclusion as you. You do start to think about claiming on your Tin Foil Hat's warranty though, which typically has just run out.

I guess the only answer to stop this simultaneous uncredited authorship happening is to widen your horizons, and start accepting a broader range of inspirations (as well as not thinking things through quite as logically?). Step outside the narrow back alley of culture which starts with Aliens and ends in Lord of the Rings.

Respect other people's creativity, and then move on: As much as one might love the combined legacy of the Looking Glass alumni (who have built up a good 40% of my all-time-top-ten-games), one can't keep praying to the Lord Satan for their demise just so that you can jump in and abhor the creative vaccuum, claiming your rightful place on the throne of their creative lot. You have to establish your own unique axis of creativity... but only if you want to. No-one has to have a chip on their shoulder about innovation in games, of course!

With such a young medium, there's so much obvious common ground to explore that maybe we forget to spread our wings, sometimes. Taking a step off the beaten path is currently not creatively difficult (just financially), and sometimes we pick pretty obvious un-beaten paths to surge along. It's not important to innovate for the sake of innovation, obviously, but considering how narrow our current game-space is, it's surprising we don't innovate more, just by mistake. Seriously, is law of averages on strike or something?

Oooh, I know! Let's blame the big evil faceless games industry's unwillingness to court new idea...*ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz*


I've just cracked a big problem I was having with my zooming menu interface. It's something I've smashed my head against for a few weeks (on and off) so I'm rather chuffed with myself. When it's more complete, I may put a video up, with the game proper all blurred out, 'natch.


Indie Vanity and Motivation

There are a lot of thing you have to bear as an indie developer. Not least of them is the loneliness you may take on. At first it's quite the luxury to get on with whatever you want, undisturbed and ungoverned. Then you start to miss the human contact. Then you start to wonder what the point of it all is. And then find it hard to get out of bed, because the dried tears make you stick to the sheets.

Tommy and I work separate from one another, purely because we can't currently afford a place of our own. As a result, our only communication is through instant messenger and the occasional phone call. Technically, this hasn't been an issue - text is condusive to code-talk because you can be copy-pasting bits of code across to each other, linking website sources, and generally disambiguating your sentances more. IMing is second nature to us because we've grown up with the IM culture.

We have close to no social lives (probably why we're so good at Instant Messages), and a real lack of human contact outside our families (who we live with and leech off). It can get us down quite often.

Mainly, I think it's a sense of appreciation that we lack most. We don't tell anyone about our game publically because we're really not ready to show anything, so we have very little feedback on how others think the game is going. Ofcourse, this emptiness is caused completely by vanity, but vanity is a human need none the less.

My parents aren't exactly versed in videogames (especially my Mum, who yesterday recoiled at the absolutely jaw dropping new* Bioshock walkthrough), and can only give me moral support while asking when I'm going to get a "proper job". They can't tell us "This game will be great", because they simply don't know enough about games to give me an honest opinion.

Tommy's parents are much nicer about what we do, so Tommy often finds himself having to boost my confidence by showing me pictures of electric supercars which can fly and how we'll be driving them around in outer space, this time next year (Rodney).

When vanity gets the better of us we'll make videos of our progress and send them to trusted friends if only for some short term appreciation. But we're showing them real work-in-progress stuff (which, incedentally, you should never, ever show to publishers - hit them with something polished). Thus, the people who are enthusiastic about it are the ones who see past the placeholder graphics, unfinished features and questionable stability, and appreciate the promise of the game. And God bless 'em, because they put the proverbial wind in our sails.

I mention all this because if there's one thing never lacking in a bigger studio, it's someone with an opinion. Even if it's a really negative opinion, at least you're surrounded with people who are interested enough to comment. When you don't have that, there's a real struggle to keep yourself motivated, despite even the most creatively stimulating concepts. You have to find a way to knuckle down and plough through these dark patches. Maybe just take a little break? Go visit a friend. Play some other games. Try rather too hard to make people on internet forums like you.

One excercise I've been doing to help my motivation is keeping a secret diary (complete with secret thoughts) where I write out what I'm going to do today, or the next day, and also what I've achieved since the last post. It's accessible to a tiny number of incredibly trusted individuals. In writing it, I'm forced to focus on what my goals are, and how to achieve them - a sort of mini design session which sets me up for the day. By letting others see it, I feel my vanity bar is filled (even though it's now so boring that I doubt any of them bother reading it).

Maybe you have your own ways to pep yourself up? I'd love to hear them. God knows I need them.

*I say "new" - this version of the game was from a behind closed doors demo at X06 last year, so it's what... 4-5 months old? Check out how easy to use the Telekenisis is, and how much of a step up the particle effects have taken since the previous demo.