Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Unity3D, getting to know the tool

As most of you may know, Unity3D is a kind of "industry standard" game creation tool at the moment. I have the impression that it is versatile, reliable and generally works for people making games. And there seems to be very large and active user base for that.  But on the other hand it seems more complex to use than most of the 2D game creation tools I have tried so far. So there might be a little bit higher threshold for starting gamedev activities with Unity than with some simpler development platform.

However, My own experience on Unity3D is very limited: I have implemented just few demos for almost two years ago. At that time my gamedev efforts were just starting and I had no clear idea what I was doing. But somehow I managed to get something game-like up and running with Unity. :)

So far Stencyl has been my number one tool for developing games. All my released titles have been relatively small and simple, and the target platform has been flash (just to keep things simple). So from my point of view Stencyl has been useful tool for my purposes.

Currently I am exploring the possibilites of html5 based games, because I see them as a natural continuation for the flash. Also, there are several promising tools available for generating html5 games. But my longer-term plan is to take control over Unity3D, just at least to get an idea what large part of the gaming industry is using to create their games.

Using the tool fluently will certainly require a lot of learning, but I believe it is worth the effort. I already found very promising-looking set of Unity2D video tutorials from Youtube, so I probably start my exploration with these. After that I can probably try to get something small and simple working with Unity.

Edit 31th July 2014: Oh, just forgot to mention that couple of years ago I used Unity Training (Free) from Walker Boys Studio to get familiar with Unity3D. Worked at least for me. 


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Planning and prototyping

It is hard to know without prototyping how game concept would work. So during the past week I have built several prototypes to find out if I have something useful in my mind.

This process takes some time, but at least for me it is important to get some kind of a visualization how things work on the screen. Static modeling with paper models, sketch drawing, or even using Lego bricks may also help to visualize game mechanics or rules, but I need to have something more dynamic to see the full picture. At this point, few ideas seem to be better than others, so they probably are worth further development.

Although we are planning to move gradually out from flash games, it seems that we will still create at least one new game for that domain. The reason for this is that we know the tool (Stencyl) quite well and we are also familiar publishing flash games through Newgrounds and Kongregate. Publishing games to mobile and/or HTML5 is mostly unknown territory to us, so why not try to stay within our comfort zone for a while? :)

Anyways, I think we have to take a leap to unknown at some point and start to explore other platforms in near future. At the moment HTML5 sounds most promising for us: There are available several game creation softwares that can export your game in HTML5, and exported games will run on several platforms (mobile and desktop). For example, according to the FGL's developer earning stats HTML5 is fastest growing segment for FGL. So there are also commercial aspects supporting that.

We had plans to make new versions of couple of our previously released flash games, and this process was started bit over an week ago. Unexpectedly, that was a good decision: Turbomole Trial Run flash game has got surprisingly large number of players during the first week, especially on 7k7k.com. At the moment, the total number of views is bit over 12000 and it is still growing steadily. But let's see how long this lasts. We had initially some discussion on creating new levels to the Turbomole, but we have decided nothing yet. Another option would be create a sequel with much more levels, improved graphics and so on. But that would be a bigger project then.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Turbomole released

Ok. After lots of debugging, fixing, and other hassling we finally got Turbomole Trial Run flash game reproduction published at Newgrounds. Although to-do list was quite short for the day (only 3 items left), it took surprising amount of time to sort everything without breaking anything.

The judgement phase was passed quite fast, and during the first 7 hours there were over 300 views. Average rating is currently around 3/5 stars (about the level I was originally expecting). Gameplay seems to be working and major flaws have not been found (yet). Also the level design is quite ok at least from our own perspective.

It seems that sounds share opinions, but the current solution is about as good I was able to arrange within this schedule. For background music I was using "Fun in a Bottle" downloaded from Kevin McLeod's "Royalty Free Music" pages. All sound effects were created using the laptop microphone and Audacity software, so there might be some strange noises and poor quality in them. Apologies. :)

There are still lots of things in this game I am not satisfied with. First of all, the graphics and animation is as terrible as it was when we originally created this game. As you might guess, we are not experienced at all creating decent level graphics. So the visual look is as bad as you could expect. Secondly, there are too few levels in the game at the moment. However, we decided to start with current 16 levels and surely will create more if it appears that there is real need for them (=enough players in NG). There are also few very minor bugs left, but luckily those are very hard to see when playing the game normal way. :)

If interested, please have a try and give your rating via Newgrounds. :)


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Game update: "Turbomole Trial Run"

As defined in the "roadmap", we decided to make updated versions from our two flash games. Because the plan was made and the work seemed to be quite straightforward, I started evaluating and updating "Turbomole Trial Run" flash game. 

Game was originally created with Stencyl and published using the Mochimedia distribution network. I had no intention to do everything again from the scratch, so I dug out the latest development version from my backup disk and started to explore how game was implemented about half an year ago. I have to admit that my old "code" (i.e. Stencyl blocks) is not too easy to understand, mostly because of the bad "coding" style and missing commment blocks. But anyways I got an idea what I've done before, and started planning the modifications. 

First task was to remove Mochimedia API blocks out from the game, and replace them with corresponding Newgrounds stuff (leaderboard mainly). I also started new game project at Newgrounds to get an API ID and encryption key. Then it was time to make some playtesting to get an idea what could be done better. 

"Turbomole" game itself works as before, and we did not find any major flaws at this point. But there was still something to be improved: the original background music was annoying, and I replaced that with a fresh one from Kevin McLeod's collection (incompetech.com). I hope the new one will last longer. :) 

After replacing background music it was time to re-evaluate other sound effects. I replaced couple of them with "better" ones, and currently I am quite happy with them. I wanted also make sure that muting the music and sound effects works fine, and noticed that there were something wrong with the original implementation: it was not 100% sure that music started playing every time and there was also some uncertainty how mute buttons worked in the original version. So I re-created the mute behaviors and added buttons to the HUD view of the game also. During the implementation work I found out that there is an easy way in Stencyl to make an object to disobey a camera: just use the "anchor <object> to screen" block, and that's it. I have done this in the hard way in the past, so now I learned something new. :) 

Currently, there are 16 levels in the game. You have to pass a level to be able to play the next one. The original implementation was done so that it was not possible to replay level after passing it without going to the menu first. It just came to my mind that someone might be interested to play level again to get the maximum possible score. So I added "replay" and "continue" buttons to the "level completed" dialog to make the game experience a little more comfortable. 

We did playtesting after every modification and at some point found a major problem in one level: mole was stuck somehow between the obstacles and the edge of the screen. To fix this I had to resize level a bit and after that game was working fine. It is still a mystery why this happened, but I think the root-cause can be found from the modifications I did during the evening. So maybe I spend a while looking at the game logic and try to find out what happened there. This just to be sure that similar problem does not occur in some other level after releasing the game. 

At the moment the to-do list for "Turbomole" is quite short:

  • general playtesting to make sure that everything works fine
  • check that replay/continue functionality works as expected
  • add few NG medals
Game will be released to Newgrounds after these tasks are done (probably this evening). 

Original idea was to add more levels and do general polishing to the gameplay and visual outlook. But I think we will release the game to Newgrounds maybe today and see what kind of comments and improvement ideas we get from players. It is very straightforward to add levels to this game afterwards, so they can be added as they are done and throughly tested. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gamedev plans

First part of my summer vacations is over, and tomorrow it is time go back to work. Luckily, I have still one week vacation left in the beginning of August. :)

My game development activities have also been quite minimal for last couple of weeks. However, there is a small exception: I've been discussing with my brother how our gamedev activities should be continued for the rest of the year. And as a part of this process we have tried to sketch a roadmap for upcoming game releases. I work full-time in large telecommunications company and all my game development is done in leisure time, so there is a clear need for some kind of a rough plan to keep things progressing smoothly.

First of all, we have a plan to release three html5 games in the next six months: Two smaller ones and one large one. Smaller games are planned to have relatively simple graphics and gameplay, so we are able to finish them ourselves quite smoothly. There are already technology demos up and running for both of them, and we expect it takes approximately couple of weeks to get each of them ready for beta test phase.

The large game will be bigger and more complex than any of our previous productions. The working title for the project is "Silent Samurai" (final name will be decided later), and we are currently shaping the background story and will start developing a prototype for testing intended gameplay. Apparently, there will be lots of new things to learn, and we expect that graphics and animation will be a real challenge for us with this game. But I believe we will figure a way to get past all obstacles. 

All games will be created using Construct 2 tool, and they will be published at least for html5. The need for other versions will be evaluated case by case. I have also plans to test other gamedev tools, and I am planning to make trials and small demos at least with Unity3D. 

In parallel to the new html5 game projects, we have decided to do updated versions of two of our old flash games:

Both games were originally created with Stencyl and they were published using the deceased Mochimedia distribution network. The target is to add more levels, and do general polishing to the gameplay and visual outlook, if possible. Updated versions will be released as flash games to Newgrounds and/or Kongregate. 

On top of game development there will be several tasks like maintaining and updating our social media profiles at facebook, google+, twitter and so on. And of course the homepage of Westsloth Games is likely to be changed to more positive direction.

Oh, almost forgot to mention that we have some new hardware available e.g. for testing html5 games: We bought last week a Wii U game console and Samsung Galaxy Tab3 (10.1" LTE). Both of them seem to be running html5 games created with Construct 2, so this may open new opportunities for us. :)

This is our current plan, and progress will be tracked in this blog regularly. So be tuned! :)