June 14, 2009

Last Post!

As I wrote in my last post, I have a new blog at my new site that fulfills the purpose of this blog. trazoi.net is now no longer active as a blog site.

I’m hoping to keep the site around, but I am in the process of turning it into a static archive form rather than a dynamic blog, which I then will attempt to shift to the same server as my new site. Hopefully most of the changes will be transparent, but it is possible links may be broken. Some things I expect in the archive site:

  • The most popular element of trazoi.net, Learning Inkscape - An Order of the Stick Guide, popular with both Inkscape and webcomic fans alike, was written in static HTML and is extremely easy to move. It should survive the move seamlessly.
  • The Flash games and my legacy little standalone games will transfer across, although I may integrate them into trazoi.com instead of leaving them in the archive. They will be available somewhere though.
  • The blog is a little trickier, given it’s a dynamic WordPress site. I don’t think it’s worth keeping a whole WordPress database system active for an archive, so I’ll be turning the blog into static HTML pages. Obviously it won’t have the same functionality. I’ve already disabled comments and the vote counter. The search function will no longer work (although it might still be on the archive page). Some of WordPress’s category and tag pages might not make the shift.

In the mists of the future, I may reuse trazoi.net for something else - if I can think of something “network-y” that would suit the domain, in which case I’ll move the archive somewhere else. I suspect if that occurs it’s a long way off.

Finally in case you missed it, the new site is trazoi.com. Just like the old site, only at a new dot-com location. See you there!

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May 9, 2009

New blog site

Trazoi logo

New Blog Site!

My new website and blog site over at trazoi.com is ready to go. There’s a few teething problems still to sort out, but I think it’s ready enough to bring to the attention of my journal readers.

For anyone subscribed to my RSS feed here, please subscribe to the new feed over at the new site. The new feed is here, or you can click on the link over at the site.

I’m a bit under the weather right now, so I’ll save making a final post for this blog for now. Suffice to say that I don’t think I can manage two blogs simultaneously, so this old blog is now superfluous. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do to this current site, but for the immediate future I’ll probably leave it as it is but lock things down. In the next few months though I’ll need to make a decision about what to do with the site as I’ll need to switch servers.

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April 25, 2009

New site update

Quick update:
I’m currently in the process of starting up a new website, where I will have a new and improved blog. The status of this one is yet to be determined. In the meantime, I’m posting back at my GameDev journal.

In a week or two, I’ll make a more formal announcement and link through to the new site.

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April 6, 2009

New Web Design

For the last week I have either been sick, had no internet, or both. If I am able to post this, then I am currently in a “sick with internet” stage. Expect grammatical errors.

While the level of this cold or whatever I have fluctuates along with my on-line connection I have been working on my new website design as an appropriately straightforward task. Thankfully I’d already set up my own internal server so I can work on a prototype off-line. Unfortunately as a lot of this is new to me it’s been a pain not having internet resources to help me through the hard spots

I’m basing my new site off WordPress, the blogging software. I was debating whether I should just use WordPress for the blog part of my new site, but I decided it was probably easiest to just manage the whole website under the system to get the same look and feel and universal search over the whole site. The tricky part is that I want to have a bunch of subdirectories for different things - games, experiments, tutorials, blog, etc. - which involved extending plain WordPress somehow to get this functionality. But I’d like to do this leaving the core files intact so I easily do updates. That’s something I’m working on, as it involve some in-depth WordPress tweaking which requires a stable connection to their wiki to solve.

I have got a semi-decent CSS style done though. That’s probably taken me the best part of last week to finish, mostly because there’s so many options you can tweak. There were some things I’m set on, such as having my favourite colour orange being featured in the logo badge of the site. But then there are other options that required experimentation. Should the site colour scheme be based on azure, violet, lime or a mix of the three? How much orange should I use? Is it better to have a thematically interesting background site to make everything look fun, or should it be very simple to emphasise the content?

Fonts are a big issue too. It’s amazing how few fonts are web safe. I think only Arial, Times New Roman and Courier/Courier New are dirt common over every system. Verdana, Georgia and Trebuchet are great for Windows and Mac, but their Linux support is low. Tahoma is an interesting font but has patchy Mac support. Arial Black and Impact are fairly common on Win/Mac but is only useful for headines. And apart from Comic Sans that just about wraps up all the web safe fonts. Of course, you should set multiple fonts in your style sheet so if one is missing then it finds a suitable replacement. Unfortunately though, many of the fonts have rather unique looks that make finding a common replacement difficult. And I’ve got no idea what fonts are common in Linux variants (apart from Arial, Times New Roman and Courier).

And then there’s Internet Explorer. I’ve read how web designers hate IE, but I never really felt exactly why until I tried testing out my design in Windows after building it on a Mac. As a novice designer, I thought it was plain sailing with my design looking the same in Safari, Firefox and Opera on the Mac. I was wrong. It seems Internet Explorer likes to play by different rules to every other browser in existence (biggest offender appears to be the calculation of box widths). Internet was down most of that day so progress was slow, but I did manage to use a brief window of connectivity to find a site with a shortlist of hacks to fix the problem. But it is annoying, and I sympathise with those who wish IE to drop in popularity.

All in all, the website is coming together nicely, if slowly. The internal prototype should be finished this week, and the new website will be up by the end of April. Slowing me down is this headcold or whatever bug I’ve caught, together with my tendency to spent waaaay too long on minor details (like shades of azure), but these issues will be conquered soon. Once I’ve got a full prototype working on my computer I can move to setting up a new server somewhere, which will take anywhere between a few days or a few weeks depending on the frequency of disasters.

Then I can post a link and ask you try it out!

P.S. Creative work including that Flash game will recommence shortly. I’m debating whether it’s best to do this over at the new site once it’s done, but the decision is moot until I’m a little bit better.

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March 25, 2009

Impromptu Break - Confession

I’ve been putting off making this post, as it’s a bit embarrassing. It’s more than a week later, and still no game. I guess this counts as a failure! What happened?

After I made my post last Monday, I did some soul searching to figure out where I was going wrong. My conclusion was I made a mistake in jumping straight into working on game projects the instant my thesis was complete. Heck, I started work as soon as it was at the printers. However, with my write-up dragging on and on and me being at least four months behind on my pencilled in schedule for 2009 I felt I had to make up for lost time.

My biggest concern is that I seem to be entirely motivated by guilt. I feel guilty I’m this far behind, that I’m not up to speed, and that I’m not putting in enough effort. Guilt can be a powerful motivator, but it’s entirely negative and really not the best motivator for anything creative. So I decided to try a motivational experiment, and told myself I didn’t need to feel guilty last week. Work on what I feel like, if I feel up to it, but if I want to dabble with other things, feel free.

The results were.. somewhat expected. I ended up doing very little on Project Protos. I did however feel a lot more relaxed. I caught up on a bunch of chores I’d been putting off for ages. I spent some time pondering the whole whys and wherefores of me going into games. I also drank a lot of tea and spent too much time surfing the internet, which is a real problem. I think I needed a break, but I can’t even relax properly.

I’m not sure if this impromptu break was wisdom or just weakness. I’m not that happy I wasn’t able to keep up with the game-a-week progress that everyone else is doing. I’m also unhappy that it’s near the end of Q1 2009 and I’m not even out of the gate yet. But I also don’t want to burn myself up in a few months due to a misplaced priority of quantity over pace, which I feel is a real danger. It’s a quandary. I feel like in the last couple of years I’ve pieced together a winning plan for this, but instead of a beautifully arranged dot-point list it’s taken the form of a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle designed by Escher. I’ve got all the pieces but it’s a challenge to even start putting them together. And I don’t know if my plans all hinge on me being a superman who can work productively for sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. There’s too many unknowns.

My gut feeling, which I’ve come to rely on, is that the Flash game that is Project Protos is a wonderful start point, but I should continue to work on it at a relaxed pace. I was going to say I’d aim to have it finished by the end of the month rather than in a weeks time, but I notice that for today that doesn’t make much difference! My real goal is to switch into a sustainable, professional, productive mindset. I’m giving myself a week to settle down, clear out the mental cobwebs and find my focus. When April comes round, I’ll be ready, and in a much better position mentally to work on experimental microgame projects.

My first big change is to curb my internet procrastination habit, which may be difficult. I’ve got a nasty habit of just heading to a random site whenever I get stuck on anything, which is an easy way to waste a day’s work. I’ll try tweaking my mindset each day until I find something that works.

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March 17, 2009

Project Protos: ongoing this week

I’m back on the project again today. Technically I was supposed to finish off by now, but I had some change of plan:

  • I decided on Saturday I was too exhausted to burnt myself out, so I decided to take the weekend off.
  • Hours after that decision, I was struck a series of headaches that forced that decision. [wink] Not sure what the problem was, but I was in various grades of useless all weekend.
  • Monday was better but I wasn’t able to pull it all together. I did spend some time playing with the music, but organisation was a bust.

Stuff like this happens, but I need to knuckle down and consider this project with more gravity than a pet project, if I want this to be my job.

My new target is to finish the Flash game by the end of the week, using the weekend as spillage time if necessary. For it to be finished, it needs to be playable and have a modest amount of polish, and generally be good enough to sit on a website with pride. This gives me four days to learn the Flash development pipeline well enough to get the job done. However I expect I’ll spend some of those days doing other tasks, so it reality it’s a lot less than that.

Today I will get the proper basic prototype working, even if its ugly and unbalanced. I’m aiming to post a prototype screeshot tomorrow, as well as a description of the game.

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March 14, 2009

Project Protos: Day 4

Next time I do one of these, I think I’ll step down the daily updates to just key milestones. Sometimes, even if I get stuff done I don’t have much to talk about.

The good so far: I’ve got the basic cannon working. The bad: still havent got anything resembling a game. Things are moving a bit too slowly. There’s a bunch of pesky little annoyances that are taking longer than expected to sort out.

Case in point: I’ve worked on some new graphics in Inkscape. Unfortunately, Flash doesn’t import SVG files, but luckily I do have a copy of Illustrator which does. Illustrator has some strange ideas about what to do with the SVG primitives though, swapping out the colour palette for some strange muted version and completely messing up the stroke (the outline) on shapes. Grr. If I have to I’ll export as raster images, but it’s a bit of a waste to have to use raster in a vector driven tool like Flash.

The other big problem is more mental. I think I’m a bit burnt out. Strange to be burnt out before I’ve really begun, but I’m essentially doing the same thing I’ve doing for the last few months: sitting at my desk typing at my iMac. My focus is shot, which may be why I’m constantly stumbling over things and not spending my time wisely. My hunch is that I need to regulate my time a bit more, so I can spend my time at the computer focused at the task at hand and then relax guilt free. It’s the latter bit that’s important: I’ve spent the last year feeling guilty about not working when I’m away from my desk, and all it does is fuel your procrastination and make you slow down to a crawl.

I think I’ll take the pressure off myself to get this finished within a week. It’s an internal deadline after all. If I need to spend a extra few days to polish it up, then that’s okay. I can then spend significant chunks of the weekend doing other vital things without much worry, and calmly finish the game by Wednesday or so. I can take a step back for a little bit, review where I’m going wrong, then try to fix it for the finish.

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March 13, 2009

Project Protos: Day 3

Pew! Pew!

I haven’t yet quite got the basics running yet. I’ve got a gun turret and a crosshair cursor working, but the bullets are still broken. I haven’t yet figured out a good Flash way to implemenet them yet. It’s the memory management aspect that’s the issue. Flash’s Arrays appear to be sparse, which means it’s not straightforward to just delete a bullet, and I haven’t found Flash’s equivalent for a linked list yet. I might have to improvise something out of arrays.

Most of the delays come from my need to get up to speed and my unfamiliarity with Flash. I don’t yet know all the library functions and variables, so I have to look everything up. Occasionally I’ll hit something odd that takes a while to find the right fix.

I’m also a bit hamstrung in that it’s been a while since I’ve written game logic, so I’m trying to remember all those little details like the best way to manage my code and deal with frame rate independent logic. For this project I’ve cut back on the planning and an just piling all the logic into one file, but there’s a few cases where I’ve had to spill out into separate classes (and hence files; ActionScript is a bit like Java that way) for the sake of sanity. It’s not pretty, but it doesn’t need to be pretty.

Oh, and Flash’s drawing tools are a bit crazy. This is a gripe I have with all of Adobe’s tools, actually. I shelled out mad money for Adobe Creative Suite CS3 (well, I saved a bundle by getting an education discount, but it was still expensive), but the tools are some of the least intuitive I’ve used. Each tool seems to have multiple functions, and I don’t get when each one is in effect. I admit I haven’t given these tool enough time to do them justice, but that’s usually because I’ve got a task to complete and if it’s quicker to do it in GIMP, then that’s what I’ll fire up. Which is ironic, because GIMP’s interface is no slouch in the WTF department itself. Inkscape’s the only art tool I feel really at home with.

Back to Project Protos: at this rate, I figure I’ll be up to designing the gameplay today. I haven’t fully decided which direction to take this. The curret art is a placeholder and I don’t know which style I’ll end up using. I’ll probably just knock together something a bit more vector-y in Inkscape and use that; see what works.

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March 12, 2009

Project Protos: Day 2

This week long game project is markedly different from the week I spent on Pierre and the Fish a couple of years back. Back then I felt like my mind was on fire, and threw everything I had at the project. This time, a bunch of minor ills have made me feel a bit more sedate. Nothing serious ( add indigestion to lack of sleep), so I’m not actually sick, but it means this project is more about pace and perseverance than passion. That’s not a bad thing; I won’t burn myself out that way. And I’m sure I can rekindle and regulate the necessary fire once I’ve got back up to speed.

Day 2 was spent relearning the basics of Flash and game development in general. I’ve got a copy of the book ActionScript 3.0 Game Programming University by Gary Rosenzweig, which is a good primer. It’s even got the code for a turret-based shooter game within it, so I’m virtually guaranteed to get something working on time.

I spent the day working through the basic examples: “Hello World” and all the little demos that show how to do each core element of game-related functionality in Flash (display, input, sound, timers, animation etc.). This wasn’t so much to rote learn the specifics (I’ve got references for that), but to prod my neurons into remembering how to make games. I’m very rusty, so this took all day.

The best thing I remembered about Flash and ActionScript 3 is that it uses an event-driven programming paradigm very similar to the one I developed myself for my own 2D framework. For those unfamiliar with event-driven programming, it’s where the program flow is dictated by when key events happen; i.e. when someone presses a mouse button or when a second has elapsed, then do this. You typically do this by linking functions (called listeners) to events, such as myButton.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, clickButton);, where myButton is the object that you want to deal with mouse clicks and clickButton is your listener function. Event-driven programming is perfect for GUIs and I find it works a treat in games too.

Today (start of Day 3), I’ll get to work on building the playable prototype. Having some source code as a base will help, although I plan to write it again to help jog my game development memory. My current checklist for the day goes like this:

  • Read through the bits of the book that describe the turret shooter game and take notes. Look at the reference code within Flash as well.
  • Roughly plan out the basic core of the game on paper.
  • Write the code and get it running with crudely drawn placeholder art

If I have extra time, I’ll look at the game as it stands before deciding what to do next.

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March 11, 2009

Project Protos: Day 1

Day 1 was… uneventful. A complete lack of sleep doesn’t do wonders on my concentration. I ended up spending the day working on my website revamp, shifting shapes and colours around my mock up. I’ve got a good idea what the website will look like in shape, but not so sure about the colour. All I know for certain is that it will feature my favourite colour orange somewhere, and that lipstick pick works surprisingly well in a varied colour scheme.

Today I’m going to put all the HTML stuff to one side and get cracking on the Flash. My plan is simple, in that there effectively isn’t one. I’m just going to get a bare bones system up and running today without much thought into how it will come together. Once that’s in place, I’ll take it in whatever direction seems best.

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