October 22, 2007

Internet Addiction and Hobby Triage

I’m afraid I got a little distracted over the weekend. For those of you who can recall all the ramblings I’ve posted over at my GameDev.net journal (which in a sane world should equate to roughly none of you) you might recall that I was thinking of starting a webcomic. Indeed, I listed this as one of the things to do in 2007. Now I’ve got my own web hosting I should have been making more in-roads on this, and it’s bugging me that it looks like I might let this slide into 2008.

I spent a large chunk of the weekend doing prep work running through ideas to see whether a webcomic idea was feasible. Or rather, that’s what I wanted to do, but instead I spent a lot of time reading stuff on the Internet. This has become a common distraction for me, with so much knowledge (and much more pointless trivia) merely a second away. It can also lead to further distractions, like how my “research” led me to rekindle my fledgling interest in typology and font creation. I think it’s progressed beyond mere time-wasting and starting to become an addiction.

I’m a bit concerned I might be overloading myself with all these hobbies. My goal is to become a jack of all trades, and that requires obtaining a fair level of proficiency in a number of fields. However if I attempt too many things at once I’ll just skim over the top of all of them and never progress more than a beginner level. My feeling is that I need to do some triage on my hobbies and make sure I’ve got the time to commit to the ones I keep.

I’m not sure I’ve put enough thought into what I need to prioritise, so I’m not going to drop anything just yet. However I am going to put in a conscious effort to stop spending so much time on the Internet. I can’t really wean myself completely off it; I need the Internet to do my research and to communicate with people; but I can stop myself idling away the day on forums and Wikipedia searches. I’ll still be occasionally checking into places like GameDev.net, but not for as long. I’ll see whether this has any effect on my productivity.

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October 17, 2007

Poll Results: Most challenging 4E6 Element

The results for which 4E6 element is regarded as the most challenging:

  • Ponies: 4 votes

  • Accountants: 6 votes
  • Crystals: no votes
  • Explosions: 1 vote

As I expected, the opinion was split between ponies and accountants as to which is the trickiest, with accountants just tipping ahead. Interestingly there was a late vote for explosions, which I also think the difficulty of including has been understated by those posting in the GameDev forums. I’ll post a more detailed view of what I think about these four elements over at my GameDev.net journal in a little while.

The new poll is now up. I’m interested in seeing what toy and game preferences people have, as there’s a whole world of play that doesn’t involve staring at a luminescent screen.

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October 14, 2007

Adventures in Animation - Part 1b

Here’s a slightly cleaned up version of the bouncing ball animation. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s better than the raw draft for sure.

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Adventures in Animation - Part 1

Now I’ve got my laptop back, I can continue to play around with Flash. Although I am planning to continue on with Flash games, I also want to start learning basic animation. Sooner or later I’ll need to use animation in my games anyway, so it’s about time I get my feet wet with what Flash is renowned for.

Eventually I want to get to animation humanoid figures; nothing too realistic, most likely made out of simple vectorised shapes ideal for simple games. Here’s some old concept art for the kind of look I’d like to go for:

Hero Concept Art

However before animating a character like this, I think I need to work on something simpler. From an on-line conversation with John Hattan I’ve decided that animating a character made from a single simple polygon is a great first step at character animation. I’ll give this a go very soon.

Before I can move onto something like that, I still need to work on the very basics. I’ve been reading through my copy of The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams (he was Director of Animation on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” as well as many other things). It’s a great book on traditional animation techniques and something I’m going to refer to a lot over the next few months. From that, I’m starting with the traditional first animator’s exercise; animating a bouncing ball. Flash will make this easier than if I had to use a camera, but I’m going to eschew some of the more helpful Flash tricks like making objects following guides and tweening and do this first exercise by manipulating the ball by hand. It’s an exercise to get a feel of the basics such as spacing and timing.

I’ll keep a log of my progress here in my journal for prosperity’s sake.

Here is my very first draft of the bouncing ball in Flash. I can see where I’ve screwed up the shadow with a bunch of simple errors, and early on in the leading fall and the first bounce I forgot the basic principles of physics it seems. It needs some cleaning up.

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Out with the Brown, In with the Blue

I was getting a bit sick of the brown theme, so I whipped up another one in tints of blue. I’ll give this one a go until I settle on a look I think is right.

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October 10, 2007

Back in business

I’ve once again got my MacBook Pro, now with a brand new screen. I’ve done an eyeball scan of the screen and there doesn’t appear to be any obvious dead pixels, so I’m pretty happy. The Mac guys must have replaced the whole screen half of the system, as it doesn’t have the light scratches it had when I bought it. The only negative is that I think it doesn’t close quite as tight as it used do, but that’s too minor for me to care about.

The guy in the store was being very nice with me over the whole repair incident, so I decided to buy a few things I’ve had my eye on for a while. I’m getting a RAM increase for my laptop to bring it up to 2 GB; memory is pretty cheap these days and the apps are getting very greedy for it.

I also plonked down the cash to buy Logic Express 8, the music composition and mixing software that’s the cheaper version of Logic Pro. I’ve been looking at improving my music making ability, and Logic Express seemed the logical choice. I also had it flagged as the last piece of production software I needed to make quality games; I’ve now got premium quality art, music and programming software loaded into my MacBook Pro, and enough hardware to properly get use out of them. The only thing holding me back is my own personal limitations (lack of time being number one at the moment).

I’ve only had a brief spin of Logic Express 8; loading up a couple of GarageBand tracks I’ve been toying around with and seeing what Logic had to offer. So far I like what I see; the music notation view seems to be pretty useful, and from my quick scan of the interface it also looks like a fine tool for making MIDI, which would be great for importing back into making tracker files if I want to save file space. I’ll need more time to really get to grips with it though, which will have to wait until the weekend.

The only fly in the ointment I’ve seen with Logic Express 8 is what appears to be a totally boneheaded bug with the file dialog. It might be that I’m overlooking something, but it appears that in its current form Logic Express 8’s File Open dialog doesn’t actually have the ability to open files. You can see them in the directory listing and you can go into folders, but every file is shaded grey and unopenable including those of compatible formats (such as Logic’s own .logic format, or the project you just saved). It’s not a show-stopper bug as you can still open files by double clicking on them in Finder (and you can open project with Open Recent if you’ve just been working on them), but a few QA people should have their knuckles rapped over such a blatant testing oversight.

Still, I’m keen to see what this puppy can do. There’s an electronic manual as thick as my arm (or it would be if it had a physical presence), so I’m sure it’ll take some practice to figure out how to fully use it. And there’s Flash and Illustrator to get back into too.

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October 8, 2007

Journal Split

This may be the last tandem entry at both my GameDev.net journal and trazoi.net. I’m not going to be stopping either; I’ve just resubscribed for another year at GDNet and I’m keen on expanding my own site in the near future; but I think it’s time to give each it’s own flavour. Plus I’m getting sick of having to cut and paste everything.

For now I’ll start dedicating the GDNet journal towards GDNet related topics, such as contests (Four Elements, MAGIC, etc.) and anything I feel specifically relevant to the community there. I’ll also post regular summaries of what I’m up to from a game development perspective, but at a lower frequency than at my own site at trazoi.net. I can then start branching out trazoi.net towards other topics less related to game development if I wish.

I also need to spend some time into jazzing up this site at trazoi.net, since it’s been languishing for a while. I’m a bit sick of the brown CSS theme, and there’s a few more widgets I want to try out in the sidebar. I also need to clean up the games section and add a few articles in here.

On the game development front, I’ve been spinning my wheels for a bit, sadly. Without my MacBook Pro I tried spending a bit of time sketching out on paper where I need to go with Flash development but I didn’t really get to any useful conclusions.

I spend most of my useful time playing around with Inkscape again, this time with my new larger Intuous tablet. I’d forgotten how much I like it. I’m not sure exactly why it is, but working with vectors in Inkscape seems a lot more intuitive to me than with Illustrator. It might just be my lack of familiarity with Illustrator, but my present attempts to work with it have been a bundle of frustration. I suspect the interface has something to do with this though, as I haven’t felt the same way with my attempts to draw things in Flash.

I suspect even once I’ve gone up to speed with Illustrator I’ll still be using Inkscape as a development tool alongside it. The main downside to Inkscape at the moment is the Mac OS X port doesn’t run as nicely under X11 than the Windows version which is native. I think there’s an attempt to port Inkscape across to native Mac OS X, so I’ll check what they’re up to once I get my laptop back.

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October 2, 2007

Macless for a week; early 4E6 brainstorming

I delivered my MacBook Pro to the shop for repair today, so I’ll be without my main development platform for this week. Actual Flash development will be hold, although I might spend some time designing ActionScript classes.

During the time I’m without my Mac, I’ll spend a bit of time resurrecting some old skills. Now my left hand has healed I need to get back into drawing again - the Flash games are eventually going to need it, and I’ll need to start learning Illustrator too; the interface just is not intutitive to me.

I also might spend a little bit of time planning for future Flash games, including the Four Elements contest. I’m fairly sure I can factor it into a small simple Flash game if I try hard enough. I’m currently debating a series of ideas in my head, but most of them depend a lot on what Flash skills I can develop and how fast I can implement with them. My current thinking is I should brainstorm a whole series of concepts quickly, and then test the skills I need - such as the ability to animate a horse. I might have to resort to a game idea that is based primarily on still images, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For those who are interested, there are two main game concepts I’m considering. The first would be some kind of fantasy management game, based on some colourful magic world filled with ponies. You have a team of accountants (vaguely supernatural ones) that help you manage crystals as a resource for managing the ponies somehow. I’m also thinking crystals can be used for fuelling explosions of restorative energy. It’s all extremely vague because I’ve only been thinking about this in dead time, such as when I’m walking from point A to B, and without the images in my head it’s a fairly useless description. I like the general concept because it’s a gameplay mechanic I’ve been wanting to implement, and it can be done with minimal animation. It needs a fair amount of 2D art to be appealing, and might take some work before I can tell if it’s fun or not.

The second idea is also a concept I’ve been meaning to try for a while - a fantasy sports game, one which is totally crazy where no-one really knows the rules. Think something like a cross between Calvinball and Blurnsball. This could work in turn-based, or maybe even with a board game/trading card like feel. I like this idea as it’s also a gameplay mechanic I’ve been meaning to try, plus it’s very scalable due to time pressures. Both a strength and a weakness is that it can pretty much work with any four elements - I could probably even throw ninjas, pirates, zombies and robots in there too.

Whatever I decide to do I probably won’t start development until December anyway; I’ve got an awful lot to do before hand, and I need to get more comfortable with Flash first. Until I can gauge how much I can do in the time I have I can’t commit to any concept.

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October 1, 2007

Poll Results: Which player suit are you?

Results for the poll: Which player suit are you?

  • Diamonds (Achiever): 2 votes
  • Spades (Explorer): 6 votes
  • Hearts (Socialiser) 0 votes
  • Clubs (Killer) 1 votes

This was pretty much the result I expected. As of now I expect my main traffic comes from people at GameDev.net, and game developers are very much the explorer stereotype. I know I’m the kind of person who sometimes buys games just so I can analyse them, sometimes even when I know they aren’t a whole lot of fun. While I don’t play MMORPGs myself I am sorely tempted to try one purely to see what they are like.

I also expected a few Achiever types, as figuring out the optimal way to play is another strong trait I’d expect. No Socialisers, it seems, and one lone Killer type, just to freak me out slightly.

My next poll is one I’ve been waiting to post for a while, and now the Four Elements VI contest has started it’s now its time. For those of you who don’t know GameDev.net’s Four Elements contest, here’s a link to the competition page. It’s basically an annual contest to make a game in six months that contains some of four elements. This year competitors need to choose at least three out of the four elements, “Ponies”, “Accountants”, “Crystals”, “Explosions”.

The relaxing of the rules to allow just three elements plays nicely into the poll topic I had planned - Which 4E6 element do you think is most challenging? I expect there’s a few of you who are planning to enter who have a particular element you feel too difficult to implement or mesh with the other three. I’m interested in seeing which element wins this one, as I’m not particularly confident you’ll agree with me.

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