1/30/14 -Thursday: FINALLY CLEANING UP SOME LINGERING CIRTICAL ISSUES...
Even though when fixing bugs, I like to start with the most critical ones, some of those bugs are just annoying enough that I decide to leave them for a different time. Well, now that my list of bugs is getting smaller and smaller every day, I can't hide from the ugly ones anymore!
The first was a known bug, where if a player was fighting on some stairs, near this door, they would randomly be transported to another part of the level, way off the playable field. I'm not sure why this happens, but at this point in development, I don't care. I just needed it to go away. The solution was to get rid of the stairs, and have the fighting take place on solid ground. And thus far, I have not been able to reproduce the bug.
Another big one stems from a core issue: the inability to override some core functionality of the game. It is pretty simple, where I want to *not* display the name of an ability when used. This is so I can construct it the way I want. This is useful for Last Resorts, like so:
Sadly, the flow of the ability system is that the name of the ability is displayed, followed by the functionality. And for whatever reason, you can't override the particular event that handles displaying the name, so you end up with something like so:
Anyway, this has been a bug for at least 3 years, if not more than that. I knew that at some point, I would have to do something I wouldn't dare do way back when: override core scripts in the game. The only problem is that there seems to be something wrong with my database, which doesn't allow me to check out and edit the core scripts of the game. Again, I've known about this for a long time, but needed a refresher on the solutuons proposed to me, so I spent close to an hour going through all of my BSN posts until I found the thread I created a while back: http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/8/index/6094990
It brought back a surge of memories of how I was when the toolset was initially released. I was super excited about the possibilities, and assumed that the community would end up like the NWN/NWN2 ones. Because of this, I was a posting fanatic, especially in the scripting section, helping new comers with their scripts. It was great fun, and I expected it to last for quite some time. About a year and a half in, I realized I had gotten my hopes up, the community started to dwindle, and I decided to keep my head down and work on my project.
Though, I wasn't surprised to see the people posting in there, like Sunjammer and Proleric, other people, who like me, were always on the forums. Actually, after a little bit of a hiatus, Sunjammer is back, and posting more than ever!
Anyway, after reading through it again, I realized Proleric had come up with a nasty workaround, where I could create my own custom scripts, then simply rename to the core ones in the game, and add them to an override folder. That way, the game would pick mine up instead of the standard core ones, and in this way, I was able to get what I wanted.
Well, 3-4 years later, I finally sat down to do it, and hour later, I was good to go! Better late than never, right?! ;)
Now that I can properly "edit" core scripts, tomorrow, I'll be looking into another annoying bug. I'm pretty confident that I'll be able to knock it out, now that I know the trick.
Ah, Setzer's theme. Enjoy!
1/23/14 -Thursday: GOOD LORD IT'S BEEN A WHILE...
For at least the past week and a half, I've gotten up early every morning, hoping to write a blog entry. Then I either get distracted with the real world, or just say "screw it", and get back to development. So, even though I've been quiet the last 20 days or so, I've put in a hell of a lot of work.
With regards to bugs, I've just been going through the list, from highest priority, knocking them out. Every once in a while, I'll tackle some super, easy, one off bugs on the train. Because nothing feels better than seeing the total number of bugs go down.
I've also taken into consideration some feedback from one of the testers, and have made some small changes to the flow of the game in certain places, more specifically, the options that the player has at their exposal. There are some all new quests that were suggested as well, and they sort of feel doable. One, I would have to reach out to some voice actors, another would require some level design. After giving it a lot of thought, I'm going to finish the game as is, then see how much time would be required. For instance, I may be done with my stuff, but waiting on some VO, and couldn't possible sneak new things in.
Another big thing I've been working on is combat balance. Lucky for me, it comes down to 2 specific boss fights, both of which contain a similiar enemey. Every single tester has complained about it on some level, so I did a lot of working making said fights more manageable.
In audio related news, one of my testers, Tim, who may just end up getting the title of audio producer, found a way to improve the quality of some of the VO in the game. He's using Adobe...Adobe something, I can't remember the name, but whatever is in there is not a feature in Audacity, which I'm using. Anyway, we had some back and forths about the VO quality, and after a bunch of takes, he seems to have been able to get things really well. Even better, it can be batch processed as well. So I just need to finish getting some more VO (no point in making him do this work multiple times), and then have him run it through his system. It's still going to be a lot of work on my end in terms of getting it into the game, but in the end, it will be worth it.
So yeah, that's where I've been all month, which is what I expected. I've actually had some more offers for testing, but I've asked those folks to sit tight and wait for ALPHA 4.2. No point in having them go through the older build, reporting on the same issues I have probably fixed already.
Things are looking pretty good.
Yet another great piece from Final Fantasy 6. Enjoy!
1/4/14 -Saturday: THE ART OF MANAGING BUGS...
For the past few weeks, the bugs/tasks/improvements have been rolling in from the testers as they make their way through ALPHA 4.1. And for the past few weeks, I, as the eternal gatekeeper, have been triaging the hell out of the them. As many people know, I'm a software engineer at my full time job, so this is not new to me. It took many years, but I believe I have mastered the art of managing bugs.
The first thing that happens is the triage work. When people submit an issue, they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. I don't care what it is, if you think it's a bug or issue, tell me! And as I can already see, everyone has different opinions on what's an issue, and what is not. And there's nothing better than that, because if everyone reported the same thing, I would only need 1 person!
For me, I have to determine what's really important in the grand scheme of things. Only I have the large picture in hand, and at some point, there needs to be a cutoff point on what is important, and what's not. If not, the game would never get released. As long as everyone knows this, then there is no issue. In the end, I'd rather get 100 issues and mark 70% of them as "won't fix", versus a much lower number. It's a lot of work, but hey, no one ever said game development was easy :)
So here is where I am currently:
- WON'T FIX - 6
- DUPLICATES - 2
- INVALID - 3
- FIXED/VERIFIED - 18 TOTAL
- FIXED/UN-VERIFIED - 7 TOTAL
- ACCEPTED - 29 TOTAL
- NEW - 8
Just to do the math for you, I have essentially closed out 36 tickets since they started to roll in, with about 37 more to look at. Going even deeper, many of these are P4's, meaning I may not even take action on them. Also, some of them are things that could be fixed in 30 minutes or so, which is the best bug to have!
Just to reiterate what I talked about before, determining if I'll fix a bug comes down to the severity of it, the ease of the fix, and of course, if it's something that I even think is a bug or not. Of course, I'll have conversations with whoever submitted the bug, but it eventually comes down to my personal decision. But it's not like I'm an ogre or anything. I have been swayed by many people. Just ask Jason Melancon :)
Once these are fixed, I'll start looking at some new tasks that have come up from various conversations I've had with the testers. Nothing is certain yet, but some new content may be added to the game, again, depending on how much work it will take. Once that is done, I'll cut ALPHA 4.2, and send that out for the next round.
Here's one of those types of songs I could listen to while sitting at the river, brainstorming away. Enjoy!
1/1/14 -Wednesday: ROSE OF ETERNITY - FAMILY & COUNTRY...
Well, here we are, folks. Another year in the development of Rose of Eternity. 4 years, to be exact. Roughly 3 years longer than I initially planned for :) I've long gotten over the disappointment of not getting this game out earlier, and have made peace with myself. All that is left to do is keep plugging away until it's done. And that's exactly what I've been doing all year (when I can!). Here are some of the highlights:
YEAR IN REVEIW
Rose of Eternity - Family & Country
If you haven't been able to figure it out, this is the official name of his long in development project. I've had the name in my head for quite some time, but wasn't entirely sure I was going to roll with it. One thing I knew for certain was that I was done with number sequels. Since I was never able to finish The Last Petal, which would have been called Rose of Eternity - Chapter 3 - The Last Petal, I realized I needed to do away with those pesky chapter numbers. They may have made sense if I knew I was able to get through everything in order, but since that's clearly not the case, I've decided to just have each game I make have a subtitle, and that's that. Of course, I'll have to have a way of letting potential plays know the sequence of the games, but that's easy enough.
But yeah, after thinking it through for many months, it just made sense. After playing the game many times over, I started to think about what the main themes were in the game, and it just made sense. This is by far the longest I've gone without actually knowing the official title, especially since I had known the titles to my previous game 5-6 years in advance. Either way, I'm happy that I have finally settled on something, and hope you all like it.
The Shadow Sun
Besides working full time as a software enginner for Clear Channel Media and working on Rose of Eternity projects, I'm also a programmer for Ossian Studios. And while I've been working on my own stuff, I've been working with them in parallel on The Shadow Sun, which was released to the Apple App Store on 12/19/2013. Obviously, there is only so much time in the day, and since this was a commercial product (where people's livelihoods depend on it!), it took priority over Rose of Eternity.
It was an interesting project to work on, because it's the first game I worked on that didn't have such an embedded toolset such as NWN, NWN2, The Witchet, and DAO. So whereas in those games, I don't have to worry about rendering objects and such, the work on the The Shadow Sun was extremely low level, which forced me to have to do a lot more of the heavy lifting. In the end, I was fine, but there was definitely a little bit of a learning curve at the beginning.
But I guess the main point is that any work I did on The Shadow Sun took away time for Rose of Eternity...
It happened during the development of Cry The Beloved and crippled me for a week. This time, it crippled me for damn near a month! My Dell XPS began having overheating issues earlier in the year, which meant that I couldn't run the game at the highest settings while testing. I was cool with that. Then, the damn thing would simply shut off if I used it for too long. I was cool with that, since I only used the laptop on the train and only had so much time to begin with, and at home, I used my desktop. Then, my desktop started to have issues.
So I brought my laptop to the Geek Squad to have this clean it out, which required them sending it out. Then, they kept it for damn near 2 weeks, just to tell me that the 3rd party parts place they worked with didn't have parts for my laptop. Once I got it back, I brought it to this local place, whose shop was promptly flooded due to a terrible rain storm a few days later. I didn't get it back for 2 weeks.
I mean, I can't even make this shit up. That was a bad month, and I lost a lot of my will when that happened. It was hard to get back into the swing of things when I finally got it back. It took weeks, but I was able to finally muster the energy/courage to get back to it.
While I have had a Facebook and Youtube page for a while, this was the first time I began to actively make use of them, mostly the facebook page. I uploaded many screenshots of all of my games, as well as a lot of concept art from the past. I also began posting each State of the Union blog post so that anyone following would know when that post would come up.
Even though I don't have that many subscribers/like (please sub/like if you feel so inclined!), the hope is that shoring up these pages will have me ready for when the game is released, instead of having to play catch up after the fact.
Entirely New Sequence
It seems weird to be highlighting this, but now that I think about it, I only added one new sequence to the game this year. It really has been a year of polishing, VO integration, testing.
Anyway, this particular sequence is important for a couple of different reasons. First and foremost, I never, never had any plans for it. I was literally listening to a song by Joe Budden, called Pray For Me. As you know, I get inspiration from listening to music, but it's usually instrumentals/new age/video game music. Well, every once in a while, I get inspired by rap songs, either by the lyrics, or the music. This time, it was the lyrics.
Another first for this scene was the branching dialogue. Simply put, this scene has the most branched dialogue in the game, where there are at least 10-12 different combinations of things that happen. That's definitely out of character for me, but the more I wrote, the more I got inspired, which in turn made me write more.
Even better, VO concerns went right out the window. As you know, it's hard to get actors to come back to record new dialog, and I just so happened to get lucky in that John Erath voiced not 1, but 2 of the key characters in the scene. I think this marked the 4th or 5th scene where the only people talking were him. It must be weird for him to see these scenes play out.
Finally, the sequence slotted into the existing game very easily. I didn't have to change anything, I just dropped it in the middle of 2 existing sequences, and boom, was done.
Intro Cutscene Finally Finished
After starting it a few years ago, I finally finished the intro cutscene of the game. Fans of my previous games know that it's a standard in the Rose of Eternity world, and this opening scene will be no different. And as expected, it took an entire month to finish. This included level design, cutscene design (with a hell of a lot of animations), VO integration, lip syncing trickery, writing, and overall polish.
I'm personally proud of what I've done, and hope that it raises the bar even more, when it comes to my intro scenes, that is :)
I can't go into too much detail on this, as I want it to be a surprise, but great strides were taken with regards to marketing. With the help of Oli, John Erath, & Alexander Baxter, I've been able to put a lot of work into marketing materials. Most of it has been fully prototyped, and now it's just awaiting a nice finishing touch before it's released to the world. Stay tuned!
Without a doubt, the biggest thing that happened this year was alpha testing by people other than myself. Yes, that's right! I actually got the alpha, alpha 4.1 to be exact, out to a few people. What were the results? For the most part, very positive!
The first thing I can say, which makes me extremely happy, is the stability of the game. After doing my own playthroughs over the years (which resulted in huge periods of time where I just did bug fixing), it was pretty clear as the bug reports starting rolling in, that it paid off. Of all the bug reports, a very small % were game breaking, and I was able to fix those easily. Just a personal thing for me, but I want the testers to still have a good experience with the game. If they're just running into bug after bug, they may not be able to enjoy the game, or give me overall experience reports. Speaking of which...
...The overall experience reports were very encouraging as well. I think the one that had me the happiest was that everyone explicitly pointed out that they liked this one particular sequence, and it just happens to be the one I talked about above, the one that I just sort of added in last minute. Funny how that works :)
Other people talked about the "feeling" of the game, and how it was representative of my previous games. Now, I'm sure that makes sense, but it still felt good to know that I've stayed true to my game design principles. I always want my games to have that feeling where you're like, "Oh yeah, this is a Challseus game".
All the feedback wasn't high fives and whatnot. I did get some feedback about the quality of the VO of one of the most important people in the game. Hell, the person who voiced him said as much! So I'm going to have to look into that and see what I can do. Also, another person commented that this game didn't seem as big, and didn't have as much to do as say, Cry The Beloved.
Now that is something I've been aware of for quite some time. It's another one of those things that I have found peace with. This isn't NWN anymore, and I can't just knock out tons of content at the rate I could back then. Something that would maybe take 2 days in NWN now takes a month (i.e. level design). It's just the nature of things, and there is nothing I can do about it, bar gathering together a large team. And I had thoughts about doing that early on, but realized I wanted to at least make one game on my own first, just so that I would know how to handle each component of development. Because the worst thing possible would be to work with someone, and then they leave (it happens), and now I'm stuck not knowing how to do something. I believe this happened with Dragon Age Dark Times Act I. There were supposed to be 5 acts, but the number of people working on the project dwindled by the time the first game was released. Or look at Rogue Dao Stuios' Purgatorio. It's just hard to keep a large group of people together for the long term, especially when everyone is doing it for free.
Actually, that's the last thing that was really brought up. Some of the testers would suggest new scenes, changes to dialog, etc., and it sucks, but I have to tell them, actor X cannot be found to reprise their role as this person, so it is what it is. Gone are the days without VO where I could just create new scenes whenever the heart desired.
But, I knew what I was getting myself into, and I stick by it. I just hope that people who end up playing the game can understand these things. I know people want what they want, but there are always 2 sides to every story :)
GOALS FOR UPCOMING YEAR
FINISH THE GAME!!!
I had this same goal at the beginning of 2013, and it still stands :)
While he was never one of my favorite characters in Final Fantasy 6, I always loved his music. Enjoy!