Friday, 18 April 2014

Getting Pretty Alpha

I guess I made some bad design decisions early on which have taught me to take longer designing any future project before I start hacking away at the code. However, I didn’t set out to write a full game. I thought I’d simply take a few days to see how Unity worked. Weeks into what has become the equivalent of writing a book (with about an equal amount of work drawing all the graphics), I’m still left with things that require too much work to get entirely right.

One such bad decision was the placement of my camera. I didn’t understand anything about the Unity orthographic camera when I began and I set it up pretty much at random, with no thought to what might be right or what I might need.

The problem is that the camera is now too close to the principal subject . I can easily pull it back but that exposes more of the background and I’m not sure that the code I’ve written to generate that background could work quickly enough to double or quadruple the amount of terrain than needs to be shifted. I’m tempted to give it a try. I installed a build of the game on my old Samsung G2 and it runs nice and fast and it is pretty playable… Or, at least, I find it a bit distracting.  I never intended it to be phone compatible so that’s an unexpected bonus. However, I’m not entirely sure where the G2 sits in the spectrum of devices out there.

But back to the problem with the camera: I’ve adopted a compromise by widening the camera’s view at certain moments and then returning it to the closer view. It works but I think I’ll need to start getting feedback. I’m reaching the stage when I really need some people to try the game, even in this early stage. In software development terms, I’m probably reaching the Alpha release where you can actually play the game but lots of things are rough and need work. There are about eight levels to play and complete and things to be won. But the whole thing doesn’t quite hang together as a finished project. I’m currently scouring the internet for free sound effects so I can liven up this generally silent world. So far, I’ve limited myself to making the noises myself, going around the house hitting objects together, dropping bags of sugar on bags of rice, and then strangulating myself simply to get the right sound effect.

Of course, finding people with Android devices isn't that easy. Literally everybody I know has Apple and although Unity can easily build an Apple compatible version of my game (it's all device independent), there's no way I can afford to do that. Unlike Google who have a relatively friendly ecosystem (bar the £20+ they ask if you want to become an Android developer and have access to their cloud services), Apple won't even let you develop or test for their devices without you first coughing up £99.

However, that's something I guess I'll deal with if ever the time comes that I think it's actually worth exporting this to Apple devices. At the moment, I’m hoping all this will come together at the end. The beauty of Unity is how it separates the hard work of getting things to appear on the screen on difference devices from the less difficult but far more intricate work of getting the game logic working correctly. I seem to spend most of my hours either telling the software when to enable or disable controls and buttons or puzzling over some strange behaviour such as this morning when I spent an hour trying to figure out why some of my graphics were shifting through the z axis, i.e., moving behind other layered graphics in front of which they were meant to be sitting.

Yet when Unity is willing and if you’re filled with bargain Lucazade which I’ve started to drink to give me the energy to finish this project, things can happen very quickly. Last night it took me about four hours to build a reward system into the game. I want people to play the game simply to unlock the things I’m hiding in there. The way I’m doing this is probably the only good idea in the game and I’ve not seen done anywhere else but it’s precisely the kind of silly little attention to detail that gives me real pleasure. When writing my Stan book, it was actually things like the fake photo credit on the back cover that gave me the most pride. I love things that warp traditional formats and though my game is about as simple, mundane, and downright run of the mill as any, I hope there are things here that will give amusement to people will my own warped outlook on the world.

My next job is to draw a panel cartoon strip for the introduction. The game has very little story but a little context might help it feel a little less like the random product of a tinkering mind.

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