If I didn't have deadlines, I could stay stuck on the same level for days. But, I have to be strong, and learn to move on. These first polish passes need to be good enough that I see a huge difference, but at the same time, I can't waste all of my time on them. Because, I know I'll be back to touch things up later, which is totally normally.
I actually thought I was done with this level yesterday, but then as I was exporitng things to the night version of it, saw some things I wanted to tweak. Hours and hours later, I was done. Yeah, those types of changes... Didn't help that I was going through The Sopranos season 3 either :)
Tomorrow, I'll finally move on to the next levels. Actually, if everything works out, I could finish off these next 2 levels, and if that happens, that will take care of all the interior levels I need to polish. As for exterior levels, even though I wanted to do them on my desktop, there is one day/night set that is small enough to do on my laptop. Hell, finishing off the last 2 interiors, and this one day/night one would be an even bigger win. Heh, who am I kidding :)
Another short, emotional piece, like Gift of the Thistle. Enjoy!
12/30/12 -Sunday: LEVEL POLISHING CONTINUES...
And... The level polishing continues... I had done a lot of work yesterday on this one particular level, and today, I really took it to the next level (no pun intended). One day, I'll dig up old photos from this blog showing earlier versions of the level you see in this screenshot. It's like night and day.
One thing I had to do was make sure all the changes were properly translated between the day/night versions of said levels. In practice, it was pretty easy. In each level, I divide the folders of assets into 3:
Then, I export those folders as needed. In the case for day/night levels, I just need to export Props & Structures, then import into the respective version of the level, and all is good. When I make changes, I just export the entire asset type, and re-import it into the level again. It's a good system, and it works well.
The only bad part of the day is the realization that I need a new video card for my desktop. I continue to have intermittent issues, with the screen freezing, or the monitor just losing it's connection to the card. *shrug*. Guess I'll just have to get a new card.
On the bright side, I'm on a hot streak with the level polishing, and have a very clear vision of what I need to do over the next few days, and thank the gods, it's interior levels, meaning I can do it on my laptop. It's still not as speedy as the desktop, but hell, this is game development, so it is what it is.
The more I post music from Braveheart, the more I'm loving taking that stride down memory lane. It's actually been a while since I listened to this soundtrack, and it's just... Damn, James Horner is the shit! :) Enjoy!
12/29/12 -Saturday: IT REALLY TOOK "THE WALKING DEAD"?
So, at the end of every year, there's a thousand "best of's" awards at all the gaming sites. It sort of directed me to download and play Journey. I already mentioned it before, so I'll just say it again... It was one of the more memorable, beautiful experiences I've ever had in my gaming life.
Now, there is The Walking Dead, which has won various game of the year awards. I won't go into detail (that's what wikipedia is for), but let me tell you, this is the first game I've played where the decisions I made actually had me on edge. Yes, that's right, I said it. A non-rpg made me come to the conclusion that many others have come to over the years. Choice is awesome!
I think the reason for this was that I actually gave a damn about the characters. As everyone knows, when you care, it makes those decisions more difficult. Now yes, I know I haven't discovered some new thing. People have been feeling this way about games for quite some time, especially Bioware games. I think what gets me is the voice acting, animations, and facial expressions. It just drew me into the game so much more. It's weird, because I was drawn into the world of Dragon Age Origins, but I just didn't really care about the characters as much as I did in this game.
I don't want to go on and on about it, but trust me, as I'm playing this game (still have 3 more episodes to go), I'm learning more and more as a game designer.
Here's another great piece from Braveheart which just gets better and better after the first minute or so. Enjoy!
12/28/12 -Friday: IT'S A WRAP ON THIS LEVEL!
I have been having some issues with my desktop, which I think are finally resolved. Yes, I'm a programmer by trade (8 years in the running), but I am first and foremost, a game designer. That's how I've always viewed myself, and tell my co-workers as such all the time. What this means is that I'm not interested in the latest Apache updates, or conferences, I don't care about GoogleIO conference, and I sure as hell don't believe I need to work at Google, the so called mecca for software engineers. Programming is just a means to an end. Yes, I enjoy it, but I also enjoy eating, and I'm not going to make a career out of that :)
The point I'm trying to make is, I don't really know shit about hardware, and more specifically, computers. *Dodges rotten fruit*. There, I said it! Anyway, whenever problems pop up, I just don't have time for that shit, especially when I have so many projects going on. So when my monitor would simply turn off (with the computer staying on), I had no idea what was going on. Was it a loose cable? Video card needed updated drivers? Being as busy as usual, I invited a friend over, he did a bunch of cleaning up on the machine (while I was doing work on my laptop), updated drivers, and everything seems fine now. I know it seems lazy on my part, but like I said, I have multiple projects in the pipeline, and I can't watse precious time diagnosing things. Maybe if this was happening in the beginning of development, but dammit, I'm 3 years in, and I just don't have the patience for this :)
So I was able to buckle down, and finish off the level polishing on one particular level, and while level design is clearly not my forte, I'm very, very happy with the results. The thing I like the most is that I didn't just add props just to add props. They actually have a reason for being there, something I'm going to have to communicate to the player, most likely through some stone tablet they can read or something.
In fact, the only thing that is annoying me is that screenshots I take on the desktop are coming out darker than those on my laptop, even though the screens look fine in game. Will have to look into that at a later point.
Tomorrow, I will move on to the next interior level. I'll be able to leverage many of the props created in this previous one, since this next level is really part of an overall larger level set.
P.S. Sorry to anyone trying to get to my website lately, or just seeing a lack of updates. My hosting company moved my account to a new platform, my FTP credentials got FUBAR'd, and as of 11:04 Saturday morning, the site is not even up. Ugh...
Today, I decided to start going with some of my favorite movie soundtrack pieces. This particular track is very important to me, because not only is it one of the most beautiful tracks ever written, but it started to solidify my love of this type of music. It started with video games, continued with Yanni, but once I heard this (my first soundtrack album I ever bought), I knew I was on to something, a new love in my life. Enjoy!
12/25/12 -Tuesday: YEP, MAKES PERFECT SENSE...
So, wouldn't you believe it... I had my most productive and good feeling day on my last day of vacation... Yep, makes perfect sense... Such is my life :)
Anyway, my desktop is up and running, and god damn, the game looks SO much better. It had been so long since I had it running on it that I forgot how good the game could look. Even more, I was very happy with the performance. Now bear in mind, this desktop is like 3 years+ old, so it's not state of the art or anything. This is important, because there were some areas in the game where I was thinking of fine tuning things, performance wise. Now that I look at it on another platform, I'm realizing it may just be my laptop. I'll have to play through the entire game (which I'm really looking forward to doing) before I make any decisions.
In terms of the work I did, it was all level design (finally!). I really got into the zone, and polished the hell out of this one particular level. Spent about 3 hours or so on it, but in the end, it was well worth it. There are still more levels to do, but I'm glad I can finally start knocking them out. Feeling very good!
This next song from David Arkenstone (which could be the last; having a hard time finding videos on you tube) is just so damn catchy when it hits the 1 minute mark. Enjoy!
12/24/12 -Monday: HOW IRONIC...
I had an epiphany today. My life has been dedicated to bring The Rose of Eternity to life. That's no secret. Ironically, I feel as if the actual process of doing this has taken on the meaning of the title itself. Yep. Just my "I wish I was done with this game" thought of the week. Moving on!
So, I spent today setting up the desktop as my 2nd workstation. Before actually doing it, I didn't think it would be that tough. Install Dragon Age and the toolset on the desktop. Check. Check out the art resources from my SVN repo on the desktop. Check. Restore the designer resources database to the latest version. Check. Then came the realization that I still needed to copy said files around to various directories the game reads them from. It wasn't hard work, just meticulous stuff that made me create a setup document that I could follow if I have to do this shit again. Actually, a python script to automate the process would have been even better. But no time for that now.
One of the more labor intensive parts was fixing my FMOD (the tool I use to integrate custom music into the game) project. The way I have it stored in SVN is I have the project file, then a separate folder for the music. However, the project was still referencing the music in my iTunes library, which was before I started storing the music in the relative music path. So when I went to build the project, it was complaining that it couldn't find the source files. So yeah, I just had to repoint the references to the music folder, and all was good.
The last thing I tried to do was simply copy exported levels, face fx files, vo, etc., to the folders they would be exported to if I did it through the toolset. I was hoping that there were no other dependents, and it would just work. And it did... Sort of... I booted up the game, and just started playing, which was great. Until a conversation took place. For whatever reason, there were these 3-4 seconds pauses in between some pieces of dialogue, which never happened on my laptop. As you can imagine, it totally broke the immersion of things, since you shouldn't have to click ESC premptively to keep a convo going at a decent pace. I'm going to export all the resources for that conversation in the normal way, and see what happens. If it works, it sort of sucks, because now, I'll have to do this for every conversation. Ugh.
In between all of this (many times, I had to wait 15 for files to copy over from my laptop to desktop), I did some more work on these codex entries, which turned out to be the highlight of the night for me. I love writing history related things, and I even made use of our Timeglider timeline, just so I made sure all the dates I was throwing around made sense. It's such a useful tool, and I hope to figure out a way to present it to end users in a way that makes sense.
Tomorrow, I'll be working on fixing the dialogue issues, and assuming that gets fixed, start on the level design polishing I've been wanting to do for god knows how long.
After listening to this song for the first time, I could totally imagine going to the Tower of Light in a video game, with this music playing in the background. Enjoy!
12/23/12 -Sunday: BUG FIXES AND CODEX IMPLEMENTATIONS...
So, I've had some bug fixes sitting in this document for quite some time, and for whatever reason, I just kept passing them over. Well, I decided to buckle down and clear out 4 of them today. They were simple things, like making sure the player couldn't exit through a specific door during a battle, to changing the angle on a stage camera so that some oddity in the game wasn't shown during the conversation (yes, a classic bandaid fix). Actually, I only have 2 more bugs now, and both of them have to do with that weird conversation line ID issue, where if I change the text, the ID changes, breaking the VO (since each VO line's file name is the ID of the line). I think I'll just knock them out tomorrow and be done with it.
The only other thing I did was do some thinking on how I am going to implement some new codexes in the game. I already know the core story of what I need to write, I just had to settle on how to present it (multiple codexes, just one?), as well as how the player gets it (click on a book, talk to an NPC).
As for the desktop, there was one more minor issue, so I'll be getting it tomorrow morning, and then spending my spare time setting it up. It's going to take a fair while for it to be finished, so while I wait for code to be checked out from SVN, and other time consuming things, I'll finish up some codex entries.
I technically got back on Thursday night, but couldn't pull myself to do any development until yesterday. Post vacation depression or something... I don't know, I just didn't have it in me, and I definitely felt a "depressed" sort of feeling, though I'm not a doctor, so I can't be too sure what it was. I assume it was depression, because I didn't have it in me to do other things, like go to the gym, or even play any games. But, even though it's not totally gone, it's gotten better, and I've just manned up and moved on. I do miss the vacation, though :(
Speaking of the vacation, one of the best parts was being able to show the game off to one of the people who went, Brian Rhodes. He is actually the co-author of the game, as it was me and him that began to put the pieces together way back in April of 1999. It was me and him who spent many nights just defining different things, such as the Ministry of Justice, Defenders of Legacy, Aramus, Clopon, etc. He has since moved on in what's important to him in life, but his early contributions will never be forgotten (you will always see his name in the credits).
Anyway, while I didn't show him gameplay, I showed him many of the videos that I make and send to the actors/actresses once they finished all their VO. I had been bitching earlier in the day that VO is no small thing, and that it takes a real skill to do it (he thought I could just rustle up some family and friends to do the voices), so I needed to prove it to him. Once he heard the works of the main party members, by John Erath, and Alexander, he was convinced. The best part was when he just "got it", with regards to their personalities. For John's character, he just came out and was like, "This guy's a fucking dick!", which is great because that's what we have always been going for. As for Alexander's character, he is more of the funny guy in the game (which Alexander totally owns, as I didn't envision him that way), and it was great to see him chuckling line after line. All in all, it's just great to see the reaction to your game up close and personal. Comments/ratings are one thing, but to simply look over one's shoulder... Nothing like it.
Now, Brian's primary role in the development early on was to take ideas I came up with, and make them better. It was clear he still had it in him, because he brought up the Keeper of the Rose, and her history, I explained some of it to him, and he said, "No, no, something's missing....". I won't spoil it, but after a few hours, I had more lore in the game :) Good times...
Okay, back to actual game development...
I pretty much just finished off the intro/outro cutscenes of the epilogue scene I was working on before I left, as well as the staged conversation, camera angles and all. I have sent off the lines to Alexander, and once he knocks them out, it'll be a wrap for this scene.
I hope to do some level design tomorrow, as, for the love of god, I may finally get that desktop. ***Crosses Fingers***.
Oh, and one more thing... I just had a religious gaming experience with the PSN game, Journey. I know I'm late to the party, and I'm sure as hell not going to do some sort of review on it, but..... damn..... Never felt that way playing a game before. I will say one thing about the music, however (surprise, surprise!). I already knew it was supposed to be good and all that, but I didn't realize how good they used it. What I mean is, it's totally dynamic, and flows from one piece to another (depending on what is going on) in a way I've never experienced before. I've always been a fan of dynamic style music (Nintendo does this in recent Zelda and Mario games), and I wish I could do something similiar in my game. Sigh...
P.S. I'm getting better and better with flying (had to fly from NY to Florida for the cruise). I'm damn near used to it now!
Today's piece, especially the visuals from the you tube uploader, remind me of all the hikes I went on this past fall. I love nature so much, and this song really captures it. Enjoy!
12/13/12 -Thursday: THIS IS GOODBYE... FOR NOW...
Well, this is the last day I'll be posting until next Friday. Well, theoretically... I think there is an internet cafe on the cruise ship, and I'm pretty sure I'll be doing some brainstorming while on vacation, so I may drop a line to just post my thoughts. But, I wouldn't count on it.
While I didn't totally finish the scene (I still need to create the staged conversation), I'm close enough that I'm happy nonetheless. I mean, it's really going to involve at most, 4 different camera angles. I already set the facial animations when I wrote the dialogue, and gestures won't be generated until the VO is done. So yeah, it's minimal work at this point.
This means that I'm leaving development at a pretty good place. After this, it really is just polishing, as the game is more or less content complete. There are still some things I may add at a later point, things to flesh out the game a bit, but that will depend on how the polishing phase goes.
Today's track is from both David & Diane Arkenstone. I just don't know what to say about this piece. It's just so damn lovely. I can't help but think about The Keeper of the Rosewhen I think about it. Anyway, enjoy!
12/12/12 -Wednesday: DAMN GOOD PROGRESS...
So, before I got working on the intro cutscene, I spent some time with the lighting. It just didn't look that good to me, and the main reason was the brightness of the sun. After messing around with some settings, I just disabled it, added some more clouds, changed the color of the sky, etc., trying to go for an overcast sort of feel. I got lucky, and it looked pretty good after only one pass, which was nice, because I didn't want to spend half the train ride rendering light maps!
Making the cutscene was pretty simple, actually, and the hardest thing (if you could call it that) was making sure certain shots lined up with the music that plays in the scene. At this point, I've done so many cutscenes in my gaming career (not just Rose of Eternity, but Mask of the Betrayer (NWN2) and other things I can't mention right now), I could do it in my sleep, and thus, it is now considered monkey work to me :) But, it's all got to get done at some point, right?
Tomorrow, I'll finish up the stage, then send a video off to Alexander along with the dialogue, and see what he can make of it. As usual, I'm sure it'll be great.
For me, the closest person I can compare David Arkenstone to is Yanni, in that they have so many different musical styles to draw from. Here's some new music from him, totally different than the last few days. Enjoy!
12/11/12 -Tuesday: WOW, THAT WAS EASY...
So, I set a goal for myself to finish this scene before I leave for vacation. Then, I started slacking a bit, mostly due to real world work. And yet, somehow, I have more of less finished the level, and in a strange twist, knocked out the dialogue before I went to sleep.
With regards to the level, all I really had to do was add the various VFX and SFX that were needed. Actually, the VFX bit is a little annoying. There is a "snow" VFX, but it's only so high/wide. So, not only did I have to duplicate it horizontally so that it covered the entire level, since I'll have a cutscene that pulls the camera higher than the default camera, I needed to stack the effect vertically as well. Oh, how I long for standard rain/show effects, a la NWN.
As for the dialogue, I knew what I wanted for a while now, so I just through on the music that plays during the scene, and started knocking it out. Since this is for Alexander, I had the good fortune of knowing I didn't have to make it perfect, as he'll make it better once he records the VO for it. As long as I have the general idea of what I want in the conversation, I'm good to go.
Oh yeah, I guess I lied. I did one more thing... Finally finished off a new "Culture/History" codex entry. I have a list of about 5-6 that I need to do, so it was nice to finally finish one.
Tomorrow, I'll start in on the intro cutscene, then integrate the conversation with a stage, and well, go from there.
Here's the final piece from David Arkenstone's Sketches of an American Dream album. Enjoy!
12/10/12 -Monday: FUNNY HOW CERTAIN THINGS CAN AFFECT LEVEL DESIGN...
As you can see by today's screenshot, I've clearly moved on to some more level design. Now, I have known how this particular scene in this level should play out, and I even had the music. Hell, Alexander even recorded some test dialogue for it. The point of contention was the actual "setting" of the level. More specifically, would it be on the top of these mountains (as it clearly is), or closer to the base, where there was less snow, and much more wilderness. After many, many brainstorming sessions, I settled on the former, though the reason may not be what you think.
I won't even bullshit anyone... The main reason I decided to have the scene on the top of the mountain is because it's much eaiser to build a snow filled level, then a wilderness filled one. With a forest, I would have to spend all sorts of time adding trees, shrubs, etc. With this peak of the mountain setting, all I need to add is.... snow :)
Now, I don't want people to think that the game will be cheapened by my laziness. The scene would have played out exactly the same, no matter the setting. It's just a "walk and talk" scene, and since the player has to start at the base of the mountain, then go over it, it's not like the scene itself doesn't make sense in the grand scheme of things.
So yeah, it's funny how certain things can affect level design. I've made all sorts of decisions like this throughout my game design career, so it's nothing new to me. Just figured I would share it with you folks.
Tomorrow, I'll need to add some minor things to the level, like snow/wind effects, wind sound effects, and fix up the lighting a bit. From there, I can start working on the dialogue in the scene, create the cutscene, and move on in life.
Here's a super relaxing piece from David Arkenstone. Enjoy!
12/9/12 -Sunday: ...
Yeah, that's how I've felt this past week... If you could take every possible thing that could happen to stop you from doing what you know you need to do, multiply that by 100, and... Okay, I'll stop with the hyperbole, but you get the picture. The only way I can put it is like this: I've been hella busy... From all software fronts. *Mental note: Never take on this many projects again*
I have found time to finish little things here and there, but they weren't even worth writing a blog entry for, hence my silence for the past 5 days. And even when I do get a chance to do some work today, football just happens to be on, the Giants are playing, etc. etc. Even while the game was on, I figured I could knock out some level design for the final epilogue scene in the game, but something is up with my laptop. It's like, the longer it's on, the slower it gets. And to do a full export of the level took like over 20 minutes! Bear in mind, there is nothing in the level but some freaking terrain! Sigh... Level design...
Anyway, my goal is simple: Finish this level, and get the VO lines out to Alexander before I leave for my cruise. It's doable, if I can stay focused, and nothing "last minute" pops up from work (as it always seems to do). I'll be very, very happy if I can get that done, because allegedly, I'll have a new desktop (yeah, yeah, I know!) by the time I get back, via Santa Clause.
Oh, and let's not kid ourselves. While I'm laying out in the sun by the pool, or walking through the Mayan Ruins (4 days before the world is supposed to end!), I'll be brainstorming. There's some codex's I need to finish, and some finer points I need to think about before I just go ahead and write them.
Today's piece from Mr. Arkenstone is called Wild River, and if you listen to it with your eyes closed, you'll know why. Enjoy!
12/4/12 -Tuesday: ANOTHER MONTH HAS GONE BY...
STATE OF THE UNION
Wow, how time flies. Already to the end of the year. Officially, I have been working on this mod for 3 years now (started pretty early during the toolset BETA before Dragon Age Origins was released), but didn't start in earnest until the end of January 2010. So, maybe a month or more until that dreaded 3 year mark. Considering I made The Coming & Cry The Beloved back to back and it took 30 months total (April 2004 - October 2006), it's amazing that I've spent more time on this one project alone than those other ones combined.
Now, there are very real reasons as to why. Complexity of the toolset. VO. I'm not as young as I used to be, and I have more responsbilities in life. VO. I don't want to get to the point that I was at towards the tail end of development of Cry The Beloved, where I almost had an emotional break down. Oh, and one more thing... VO :)
Will it be as successful as those other games? Well, how do you measure success? Number of downloads? Well, in that case, it's a resounding, NO! Hell, Cry The Beloved is better than The Coming in every way, and it probably only has 1/2 the DL's. Then again, it's got a much higher rating (9.93 to 9.76 something), which proves my point. Speaking of ratings, none of the sites I'll be uploading it to have a ratings system like the NWVault. It's more of a "I recommend" this title.
I guess the point is, I've come to grips (for a while now) that this game, while I feel is my best one yet, will never have the success of my previous games. It's a different era, less people are playing Dragon Age mods, and frankly, not that many people are even making them. Pardon me if I miss your project, but besdies the Baldur's Gate 2 Redux Project, The Shattered War, & The Thirst, well, that's about it.
Hopefully, I can ride the curtails of Baldur's Gate 2 Redux, as that will generate traffic to the various upload sites. Only time will tell. But, the most important thing for me is to be honest with myself, and brace for the worst, so I don't feel like it's been 3 years of wasted time.
Oh, and before I forget, I'll be taking a cruise, and away from development from 12/14-12/21. As John Erath pointed out the other day... If it worked for Eli Manning during his bye week, then maybe it can work for me. Because, between real work, this project, and another project that I haven't been able to talk about, I'm just overwhelmed, and really need a forced break.
Today, I didn't do much but integate VO I received from John. As usual, he wasted no time in getting the lines to me, and in turn, I wasted no time integrating them. Besides a couple of re-do's that he'll have to submit, everything else was perfect, and I can finally close the door on yet another character in the game.
I also did the final brainstorming for the final epilogue scene in the game. I had been bouncing around 2 types of levels to use, and in turn, 2 different pieces of music. For whatever reason, I just couldn't pick one. Well, "something" happened this afternoon, because a lifght bulb went off in my head, and I had my decision. Tomorrow, I'll start work on that level. Even though it's an exterior, something I promised I wouldn't touch until I had my desktop back (grr), it's relatively small, with little to no lighting. So, technically, rendering light maps/exporrting the level shouldn't be too difficult.