For the past few months I’ve been taking the last 3 years of work, stripping it down and re-writing it into what is now the official The Very Organized Thief project, where everything we’ve been working towards might actually be more real then words and experimental projects.
It has been quite liberating to take a sledge hammer to everything we’ve worked on and rebuild it. Going over all the questionable decision making and surprisingly creative solutions that have come about has been in it’s own way fun. It’s also been horrible looking at how long ago some of this code was written, and remembering all the things that happened around the time of it’s creation.
For along time, working on The Very Organized Thief was just not fun. It’s development has encompassed some of the hardest times in my life, and working on it would often remind me of how much I hated working on it.
It has been costly in terms of my life, with what has been sacrificed and endured to get this far. There have been days where I would have happily said “TVOThief is Cancelled” and given up on game development entirely to pursue something else.
But through all that has happened, the last 3 years have taught me some important lessons.
- People only see what they want to see, even when you try to make things very obvious.
- Stop caring about what will never change. It’s a waste.
- Don’t give up. It’s horribly cliche, but it’s not just something you say or do without reason. And rarely do you know the value of it until you’re about to give up.
- The people that matter the most are the ones that have faith in you, even if they know nothing about what you do.
- Lead by example or at the very least, point others in the right direction.
I will continue to work on The Very Organized Thief despite everything that has happened, because it is something I want to finish and see played by all those who have been patiently waiting for it. Though I’m not sure when it will finally be released, I am happy to say that working on it has at least become enjoyable again. It’s development in the last few months has seen more progress then it has ever seen in previous years, that much I can say.
On the last point in the lessons I’ve learnt, I’d like to give some advice to other developers out there.
Something I have learnt after all the years of experimenting is that learning to create games is different from actually making them. Learning rarely ever plays to your strengths and leads to compromises that people don’t care to understand.
If the game you are making is mostly to learn or consists of mostly things you have just learnt, please don’t sell it. Make it free, so you can keep learning and experiencing much more important things about game development. If creating games is that important to you, sacrifice a little to learn more then you will if you gate it by making people pay for it.
Once you’ve done that, take everything you’ve learnt. And chose what to do from there.
Thank you to anyone who took the time to read this. I appreciate it.
We get a few things off our chest, talking a bit about the years gone by and some issues we’ve faced during development.
Last year was yet another challenging year, pushing ourselves hard to lock down developments and start making more progress with the games we are working on. It was also the first year where we lived on our own in a quiet neighbourhood, working out how we can balance our life around what we do to enable us to keep doing it.
In 2016 we worked on a number of prototype games. Most of which weren’t that good, and are never going to see the light of day. And others, we might return to, turning them into more completed experiences. But as a result of all that work, we now have a good foundation to build off and knowledge in areas of development we knew very little about before.
We have some pretty ambitious goals and if you didn’t already know, creating enjoyable games is a difficult craft. Requiring a lot of experimentation, many mistakes and a significant number of failures. Not all ideas are going to be great, and not everything you create actually works out. But from all that experience comes more ideas on how to make them work, fortifying your knowledge and ability to eventually find something that feels just right. And from that, be proud to give what you’ve created to others to be enjoyed.
It has been a risk to work this much and show very little. But it has been a risk we’ve taken to help define ourselves. To find what makes us, our ideas and our games unique. Testing, measuring and questioning ourselves against an ever-growing, inspiring and somewhat chaotic industry, before really taking that huge step out into the open again.
As a result, we’ve turned down a number of opportunities presented to us in order to find and learn that first, minimising the risk on relationships we could potentially create with those opportunities. This has made what we do more difficult than it should be, but it has given us the time to understand our limits and balance our life around what we do to do something great and with a good degree of certainty. Which in the long run is far more important to us and is something we feel that all indie game developers should strive towards, to enable them to do what they do and keep doing it.
In 2017, we will be continuing to work hard. And hopefully, with the knowledge and experience we have gained in the last few years, be able to step out into the open again with something we are proud of.
Thank you to all those who have been patient with us. And we hope everyone has a prosperous 2017!
– Alex & Elise
We talk about some important issues we are working through and a number of things that are been going on around development.
For the last month or so, I’ve been working on the art for our new and upcoming game (title coming soon). This was mostly the concept art which involved creating monsters for the AI and designing the player character and their weapons.
The crystal monsters were where I was able to be the most creative and experiment with the design, trying a lot of different shapes to come up with the monster types. I looked up a few random monster and golem designs to start coming up with ideas, and I also looked at a variety of different kinds of crystals and gems to understand how they form. The reference I looked at for crystals was very interesting, learning how they are actually grown, both over a long period of time in nature and how it is done at home. I’ve never grown crystals myself but it seems like an interesting hobby!
I then mushed all the ideas together to see what kind of interesting things I could come up with. Below shows how I went about doing that (ignore the numbers :P).
I worked with Alex designing the player character, who we call Clerics. Although the game is first person, you can still look down and see your simple, yet sleek, self. If you’ve ever seen the movie Equilibrium, some of the inspiration for the design came from that movie. Originally their clothes were black, however we decided that they looked a little too much like a Japanese school uniform for boys, so we changed the clothes to white which helped a lot. This also helped to differentiate the player from the crystal golems.
After most of the concept art was done, Alex modelled and animated them in Maya, and brought them into the game which was a lot of work. Below is an animated GIF showing some of them in action.
In other news, things in our lives are also changing in a way that may allow me to work on our games more regularly. I’m still not full time on it yet, but it will be definitely more than before! Hurrah! If all goes well, it means I’ll be able to share more art with everyone *fingers crossed*.
Now this is really late!
Last month I spent time on refining our combat system, adding new features to give us better control and solving a few problems around using an IK System. The goal being to let the player be able to see their entire body whilst performing actions, like shooting. Because a number of our future projects are also first person, being able to do that in a way that looks good and is done simply, is pretty important.
I also made some changes to how levels are generated. After a bit of playing around with the combat system in levels created using our editor, we decided to change how levels were generated to serve the gameplay better. The original levels defined a floor plan, which we would then fill procedurally with props and obstacles at runtime. This process is what we are using on our survival horror game and seems to fit the gameplay pretty well. But for an action game, not so much. It didn’t feel right. Parts of the levels felt boring and tedious to move through and filling some of these areas with obstacles would not of been possible, at least not with out more code then it really needed.
So I ended up coming up with a mix of two of our previous games, The Maze – Keeper Of Doom and Chance. Creating a simplified pre-defined layout of rooms which are interconnected in a maze like fashion, and then filling it with appropriate challenges. Something of which would of not been easily done without our new “engine”. The same concept as the levels created in the editor, but with less arbitrary boring space between. And so far it feels a lot better but it still needs a bit of work and tweaking to get it just right.
The bonus to this layout is that it is simpler to scale up and add more rooms. It’s also easier to optimize to keep the game running at a smooth frame rate. And procedurally filling it with obstacles is a little more controlled and manageable.
Our goal with using procedural generation is to NOT create totally randomly generated levels, but to create variations in play inside a familiar space which has then been enhanced procedurally. Something of which we feel The Very Organized Thief does really well, but largely by accident. Finding that balance between controlled design and chance, has been hard to get just right requiring a lot of experimentation and trial and error. But is now something of which we have a very strong understanding of.
And that’s just some of the things I was working on last month. Expect more soon!
After a busy month, we take some time to talk about our development roadmap. Find out what our current plans are and what is to come.
It’s going to be a long road, but it will be a worthwhile journey.
It’s been a pretty busy month! And this post is late! But it has been by far the most productive, making some pretty big leaps forward which is why it’s been a little quiet from us lately. There hasn’t been a developer diary for a while, but one should be coming soon!
So last month we spent a fair bit of time researching and playing Survival Horror games, at least attempting to play. I’ve had to supplement my playing with watching YouTubers play them, because I just don’t have enough time to play games lately.
I’ve been working on a number of new features to manage some game elements as well as help us during development.
- Quick Time System – Not necessarily just for quick time(r) events.
- Journal/Questing System – To manage in game objectives and keep the player on track.
- In-Game Map Generation – Helps to have a map sometimes.
- Easier to use Tools – Added a number of new tools to make life easier and simpler in Unity.
This last week I also built a new AI system, which is a mix between the old TVOThief Finite State Machine and the new one, Polite AI. This one uses a Hierarchical Finite State Machine (HFSM) to drive the AI and perform some pretty basic stuff similar to TVOThief but has the flexibility of our newer AI. With some important dates coming up for us, having a working AI was needed to allow us to test and polish some gameplay elements which we’re working on. This is because some of the sub-systems for PoliteAI were also taking a little longer to resolve since I’ve had to split my time across many things lately. Hopefully we can isolate these issues as we work with the new AI system and bring them back to PoliteAI.
Building it was relatively quick, which was a nice surprise. And it was refreshing to build something quickly from scratch on a subject I’ve sunk a lot of time into. Hopefully with it, we can create some fun experiences for people.
A large part of last month has been tying together all of our Unity frameworks into a working “Engine”, one which defines the format for a number of our upcoming games. Up until this point I’ve been working on all the parts which allow us to do a large number of specific tasks, but it always came with the limitation of building everything from the ground up on new or experimental projects with the same, or similar, gameplay elements. Often leading to creating, re-writing or copying and pasting large chunks of code each time. Now, with the “Engine”, I just have to write game only code which can then be dragged and dropped, or swapped out, on “Engine” specific components. Allowing us to focus more on art and gameplay instead of everything else.
Below are two images of the same “Engine”, both are levels generated at runtime with completely different art styles. They are also both works in progress.
Being a small team, streamlining our process for the games we want to make is only going to make our life easier in the long run. With all this time spent now, it will hopefully save us more time as we move to new projects. Which is an exciting thought!
The website has also been getting a few small updates to support our games, new and old, in preparation for everything we’re working on. We’ve also added support for YouTuber’s when specifying the game title under Category in Advanced Settings during upload. This means a game cover will be displayed in your descriptions if you specify the correct title. We’re not quite sure if it’s working yet but if it is, and you’re uploading a Let’s Play, please be sure to specify the game title (e.g “The Very Organized Thief”). It helps!
And that was last month. Hopefully with all these new things we can show off more stuff soon. X_X
Unfortunately I was unable to post for a while due to my day job, which meant I couldn’t work on the game much at all. But I’ve managed to re-arrange things a bit so that I can get back into working with Alex on the project. Hurray!
So now that I’ve made some time, I’ve been working on more concept art for our new game. Mostly I was trying to flesh out some new ideas and concepts, while also working on the look and feel that we want to portray.
Alex has been helping me in improving my environmental drawings since my strengths are with drawing characters, and I feel that I am definitely getting better at drawing environments now thanks to his feedback. I’ve been trying to focus more on what the art should really be like. For example, I’m trying to figure out what the look and feel of a particular wall will be like in certain rooms, instead of it just being a random wall.
I tried to make this set of environment art more detailed than the last ones I had drawn. The new ones, I hope, have a lot more feeling in them by trying to make the rooms have more character. That is something I’m going to be continuing to work on throughout future concept art.
One of the things I’m going to try is picking more interesting ‘camera angles’ for my environment drawings.
I want to make sure that I can create the different types of rooms to be as interesting as possible. That way exploring can be fun! Hopefully, you’ll be able to step into a room and feel like they have that “lived in” feeling, so ‘Hey, looks like something happened in here.’ Or maybe there is some hidden story to a room that sparks your imagination…
I’m not sure that I’ll be able to accomplish that, but I’m sure going to try!
So for the next few months my focus is going to be on concept art for the environments. With Alex’s help, hopefully I can create what I would really like the game to look like. And lately I feel like I’m on a path towards creating better concept art, which in turn will help us create a better game.
Next time I write a post about the art there should be even more improvements, and hopefully they’ll be a little spookier too.
Last month has been a mixed bag of many things to be done.
The survey we ran went very well and the results were surprising. We now have a much better idea of what we can do with the audience we currently have. We still have our work cut out for us if our new game is going to help Redefinition Games keep moving forwards, but at least we have one more piece to our development puzzle.
The new game is also moving along. I spent some time setting up a few new rooms to be generated into the level along with some art. Elise hasn’t been able to work on anything lately since the amount of time she has is limited to only a few days a week thanks to her new job. So I’ve been doing a little bit more 3D modelling and texturing then normal, which has been quite fun.
Part of setting up the new rooms is writing the algorithm which will place props into the room. Initially it was going to be limited to cells on a grid, but the spacing proved to be too weird for particular sets of props. I ended up coding a more flexible way to procedurally place props of various shapes and sizes using the cells (or a series of cells) as the boundaries for where objects could be placed and arranged into. As with anything new, it still needs a bit of work, but the current results are pretty satisfactory.
There’s been a number of improvements to the AI. I added some new animations for the AI to perform which has been much easier to set up compared to what it was like on TVOThief. I also dedicated some time to writing GUI and tools in Unity to make it simpler to work with. Hopefully this means we’ll be able to add more re-usable behaviours for the AI to perform with less work required, from both a coding and art perspective, and in the long term, use across multiple projects.
I also made an important paradigm shift in my understanding of GOAP, learning how the emergent behaviour actually comes into being. Something of which only made sense after sticking my head into the FEAR SDK.
I’ve had FEAR in my Steam library for some time now, and only found out a week ago it had an SDK with full source code. Source code which also contains the AI system, the one that brought Goal Oriented Action Planning to games. One of the difficulties with building a new system is knowing how something is put together is completely different to understanding how it works. The latter usually resulting in a significant amount of experimentation to come to grips with and to get it to work the way you want it to. The great thing about reviewing existing source code from a proven source is that you know it works.
Poking around the FEAR AI code helped with learning a few things that I’d been trying to understand through experimentation, which can be a little slow and frustrating sometimes. Examining the code helped fill in those blank spots in my knowledge which led to the changes I mentioned previously.
I don’t ever think our AI or the system itself is ever going to be as robust and thorough as FEAR’s, and it’s also structured very differently. But the insight has shown me that we’re on the right path, and that there is going to be a lot more code to be written as we build the AI into what we’re hoping it to be.
And if you haven’t played FEAR, I recommend you play it!
The website also has a new page in development, which will be the Roadmap page. It’s going to be an overview of what we’re currently focusing on and where we’re planning on going. It’s been a bit of a problem with some people playing The Very Organized Thief not understanding why we can’t work on it just yet, despite having talked about it regularly. Hopefully getting that page up will help make things a little clearer and obvious for those people, and everyone else.
And that’s last months summary for a few of the things I’ve been up to.
Until next months summary!