Senior Production Part 3 - Cross Pollination

Week 2 was a big one, as we worked together to finalize design plans. As a result, I should have far more direction for my future work. However, this week was still a bit tricky to navigate. I started out by making a series of video for our designers. It shows the basic process of creating maps and missions. There’s already presentations going over the process, but when testing it myself, I found that the presentations didn’t quite cover everything. The main problem was that there’s a few small kinks and issues that need to be manually fixed. These small actions are better demonstrated in action than through text. In addition to the videos, I also added tooltips to many of the fields in the mission designer, to clarify the language in those.

The second major thing I was working on this week was advancement of the player progression and gun unlock system. There’s different factors that can change about how guns operate, and different parts that can be swapped out. The details of the systems weren’t really fleshed out enough yet, and some of what was being planned seemed to conflict with the systems currently in place. Luckily, the team was able to bypass these issues. I brought up the problem to the lead programmer. The next day, he brought it up at the lead meeting, and we walked into that weeks class with the issue sorted out. Lastly, I implemented a simple system for converting unlock data to and from a string, so we can send and store it on our network (using Gamesparks).

For this week’s sprint, I have a few more things planned than for the previous ones. That said, with the systems more clearly defined, getting things done should be lot simpler. First, I’ll be making more videos for our designers. Last week, I laid out the foundation of creating missions, known as contracts in Tales from Space. This week, I’ll go a bit more in-depth on individual objectives, and everything you can do to make unique content. After last week, I’ve got the actual process down, so the only hang-up would me YouTube not playing nice.

Otherwise, I’ve got lots of tasks relating to the progression system, which should have it’s base level implemented by the end of the week. I’ll give a brief summary of what the plan is. At the start of the player’s game, they’ll have a few basic gun featured unlocked. Basic single fire, one or two elements, and the like. As they complete missions, more and more options are unlocked. Our selection of guns is predefined, so weapons will become available once every part of it has been unlocked. I’ll be making this system more fleshed out and visible to the design team, for when they start making more guns. I’ll also be connecting the unlock data to our networking system. It’s not a hard task, but should help me get more familiar with how we handle data.

There’s a few more scattered features for me to handle. First, is the idea of phases. The current plan, is to have three phases of contracts. Contracts will essentially come in bunches, and once a certain amount from the previous phase have been unlocked, the next phase will open up. First, I’ll be adding the phases to the actual design tool, so they actually exist. And then, I’ll mess with the contract station, so that only unlocked contracts show up. Lastly, I’ll start to implement basic loot drops from killing enemies. What exactly is dropping (guns/health/money) isn’t sorted out, but the basic system of “when enemy dies, x% chance of dropping whatever” still needs to put in place. So, that’s scattered week, which I’ll be bashing away at for the next few days.

Senior Production Part 2 - Getting Back in the Groove

My first week back in the developer lifestyle went about as I expected. While there wasn’t a ton of work to be done, I still hit a few road bumps, both from getting back in the right mindset, and simply familiarizing myself with the code base. To start my week, I did a bit of work on the cel-shader Tales from Space will be using. It’s not very advanced, and will probably get some more love later in development, but it was a good experience in getting familiarized with shaders in Unity. I talked with my artists about whether or not to use bump maps with our models, and we’re leaning towards a no for the time being.

Later in the week, I started thinking more and more about player progression, and how the various parts of it will interact. Ultimately, that’s up to my designers. I attended my first of many design meetings, to get started on those plans. Lastly, I spent some time messing around with our tools for making maps and missions, to get an idea of what’s wrong with them, and could be improved.

As I get started on this week, I’ve started to get a better idea on what role I will be taking this semester. In short, I’ll be working very closely with our team of designers to turn their ideas into reality. I spent a good chunk of this week’s class time chatting with the designer in charge of player progression and weapons. We had a few different ideas, centered around simplifying the progression and unlock systems, to be more in line with the pick-up and play nature of the game. I don’t want to go in-depth on it, as we’ll be meeting tomorrow and finalizing things. But in line with that meeting, I’ll get some work done on player progression. I’ll also be exploring the best ways to serialize some of the data. It’s not too important, but it’ll get me in the right mindset for optimizing our networking.

My other role this week was to make the design tools more accessible to the mission designers. Last week, I realized that the associated documentation seems good, but doesn’t really translate to the actual experience. Especially in terms to few small bugs and kinks that have simple workarounds. Along with clarifying some of the documentation, I’m in the process of putting together a few videos, to walk through the process of making a level from start to finish. I’m actually pretty excited for where I’m going here. It’s a completely different direction from the other work. In addition, I hope it helps me get better at working as a team with designers, rather than as individuals.

Senior Production Part 1 - New Year, New Hopes

With a new year, a new team, a new game and new goals, there’s a lot to be excited for. As the semester rolls along, I’ll once again document my journey, in my final few months of college. The newly expanded Tales from Space team only came together two days ago, and work on this week’s tasks has barely begun. Still, I’ll take a look at what’s going on this week, in addition to how I see my role on the team, and where I see this semester going in general.

The one thing that clearly stands out from a programming perspective on Tales from Space is that it’s far less of a patchwork than other games made in Capstone. Systems need to be tweaked, and expanded upon, but there are functioning gameplay and production loops. On one hand, that makes my life a lot easier, but it also means I can’t just come in an fill a specific role from day one. Instead, I’m spending my first week with bit of mix of tasks, as the team figures out the specific areas of need.

I started my week by a reading over design pipeline documents, which should expedite content production, using a few tools made by our lead programmer. While it’s also good for me to understand them, my job was mostly to ensure they make sense for other people new to the system. On the topic of the design pipelines, one of the things I’ll be doing this week is testing those tools. It might just be cause there’s not much else for me, but I’ll choose to believe it’s because I’m the only team member who’s actually taken a software testing class. Later in the week I’ll be pushing the map and building creation tools to their limits, finding every minuscule edge case, and doing everything I can to break them. Honestly, writing it like this makes software testing sound incredibly fun.

The most important thing I’m tasked with this week is starting to build out the player progression system, and adding to the gun customization system. I think I’m doing the testing because I’m the “Testing Guy”. I know I’m working on this because I’m the “Math Guy”, and I’m damn proud of it. A lot of the exact specifications are still up in the air, and throughout the semester, I’ll be working closely with the design team to turn their visions into reality. I assume this process will continue throughout the year, as we adjust to feedback from weekly testing.

My last major piece of work for the week is getting started on the game’s cel-shader. Shaders aren’t really my preferred area of work, but there are some things to be excited for. I won’t be going anywhere in-depth this week, but ultimately, there should be a ton of values that designers and artists can tweak. As I’ve seen in previous projects, the same shader doesn’t work for every object. Different shadowing, different line thicknesses, etc. I’m sure this will leave me feeling dumb often enough, but hopefully it’ll also be rewarding to see how far I can push myself.

So, that’s what I’ll be doing this week. Well, and all the work I’m putting into my engine project, which I’ll be writing about in due time. Oh, and I should probably give a quick introduction to what Tales from Space actually is. I’ll finish by leaving the small trailer the original team put together back in November.