Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Open Development

Hello everyone,

Recently - I listened to a talk by the developers behind Desktop Dungeons discussing their approach to developing Desktop Dungeons, what they called Open Game Development. The approach involves bringing in the general public and those interested in the game - as early as possible. 

This is not to be confused with Early Access - the point here is to have your prototypes available to be played, and feedback to be given to you as the developer to use to guide your decision-making. The benefit here is that since payment for the prototype would not have been issued - there are less issues with you changing direction with your project completely - since no one has paid for the product; and at the same time, as the developer - you are more free to discuss potentially very different ideas with the player base, try ideas, and keep them or remove them should you so choose.

The speakers spoke of a number of benefits of taking the approach in terms of marketing and gathering interest. Stating that the prototypes can act as a type of demo later on - when you choose to release the final version for purchase. They also mentioned that one needs to be ready to both say 'no' and also try to understand exactly what issues are; rather than treating symptoms - you figure out the cause of a problem that seems to be continuously coming up from feedback. 

I highly recommend the talk itself - especially if you are considering taking this type of approach in one of your projects. I might consider attempting this approach later on - it definitely seems to be both an interesting and useful way to approach developing a project.

Until next time,
Dylan

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The User Interface

Hello everyone,

Recently - during my research for my Masters Dissertation - I have read through Game World Interfaces by Kristine Jorgensen. It's quite an interesting read - and whilst it's mostly applicable to someone studying to understand games - it also has practical applications and explorations that for developers could prove useful. It is definitely a book I recommend picking up to read.

It's on these practical applications that I wish to bring forward to discuss. Jorgensen spoke of a number of ways to understand the User Interface [UI] within games - I won't be going into Jorgensen's theory of the Game World Interface - I simply want to touch on a few thoughts that came to mind whilst reading. UI could, in a very broad categorical sense - be seen as being a combination of or a single one of the following: Ludic, Fictional and Emphatic. 

Ludic refers to UI elements that clearly do not exist within the game world itself. This means that the avatar, characters in the game world, and so on - do not actually perceive the element itself. This common in MMORPGs - where much of the UI consists of action bars, and menus, together with sub-menus that go into great detail on the statistics of the player character. 

Fictional refers to UI elements that can be perceived by characters within the game world. These UI elements exist to both serve the player - but also as part of the game world itself. A common instance here is when playing a third-person game, and the avatar begins to limp as they move. This could be a clear indication that the player's avatar is injured. Other characters within the game world can see this - but so can the player - and it gives the player a clear indication on the state of their avatar.

Emphatic elements can be seen as Ludic elements that are explained fictionally. A common instance here would be first-person shooters where the player character is wearing a helmet with it's own interface that the game suggests is the same UI that you, as the player, use. 

Each different form of UI element has it's own issues and benefits - depending on the genre in question, some UI elements may be preferred over others. In an MMORPG for instance - it can be difficult to provide all the information a player might need to go through it's relatively complex content in a fictionally coherent manner. On the other hand - a horror game might have a better time using fictionally coherent UI elements to put the player in a position where they feel that they themselves are more within the game world itself. 

As Jorgensen points out however - the key points to consider as you work on your UI is to ensure that the information is clearly communicated to the player, and also that the information you provide is context-sensitive. Ensuring the player has the right information in the right situation, and ensuring that they know how to access it and actually are able to notice it, is critical. 

The User Interface is a highly important aspect of digital games as they assist the player in being able to both navigate and experience the game itself. As such - it can be highly beneficial to approach UI in a serious manner to ensure that it is both done correctly, both functionally, and aesthetically. 

Until next time,
Dylan

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Game Maker Progress 52: New Graphical Assets Sizes

Hello everyone,

The last week has been fairly production in relation to my dissertation. This has meant that I had to shift focus away from Foundation of Civilisation for a while, however.

After up-scaling the sizes of the tiles - which means that UI elements, for instance, would need to be larger and thus allow for a greater amount of detail to be drawn onto them, it became necessary to figure out exactly how much larger the new images will be. I will be going through and standardising the various UI elements - as well as organising, and where possible, using and manipulating a single image to achieve multiple purposes further down the line, however this has given me a small insight on the new sizes of the UI images, and what to expect later on.


The new graphical sizes [Those listed in the coloured columns] are, at default zoom level, 6 times larger than what was originally used. Needless to say - jumping from 78 x 40 pixels to 468 x 240 pixels opens up a large amount of room for detail and improving the aesthetic aspect of the project. However, this is not the only aspect of the new UI I will be touching on to.

As perviously mentioned - I will be going through the UI to standardise the various UI elements - which will make it far easier to both code, implement, and change as progress is made. This means splitting the various images into something akin to Small, Medium, Large buttons; then modifying those images to create distinguishable buttons as needed; including adding text to the button itself. This is most relevant for the Build Icons and certain backgrounds used for menus such as the Build Menu. Build Icons are each a unique sprite - and for the sake of keeping the resource tree of the project clean - I will be looking into gathering those images into a single sprite, and using Frames to pick which icon to use.

The plan for this overhaul of the UI is make it easier to add, remove and modify menus later on. As I will be working on updating the graphical quality of the UI - it seemed appropriate to schedule the overhaul now - to better see which UI elements need an improvement, and which will likely be modified later on down the line.

Until next time,
Dylan

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Progress Update 23rd September 2017

Hello everyone,

The reason for the title of this post being what it is - is that sometimes progress is more general, and less specific. Truth be told - it can be an intimidating feeling when you feel as though you haven't really progressed in a specific project, sometimes even when you attempt to objectively look at the progress you've made recent, it can also feel as though you could have done more. Which isn't a bad thing - critically looking at yourself, reflecting and thinking about how you can do better is good - but crediting yourself when it's due and also doing so can be a difficult balance. I digress - the general progress updates will likely be used on days where progress was more general rather than project specific.

My progress with the introduction to digital art course is going fairly well. Much of what's being taught is still fairly basic - however, strengthening basic concepts is definitely key to improving a skill which one feels less proficient at. I am quite anxious to return to work on Foundation of Civilisation, however. I am holding off as I continue work on this digital arts course; and also add more focus towards my Master Dissertation.



My Masters research will be occupying a fair portion of my time the coming 6 months at the very least - this will mean that work on Foundation of Civilisation will be slowed down. That being said - I do plan to continue working on the project throughout the 6 months. I will most likely be dedicating a day or so during the week to working on Foundation of Civilisation, but ensuring that the Dissertation receives priority. 

Until next time,
Dylan

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Game Maker Progress 51: Exporting Game Data to Text File

Hello everyone,

As I continue the Udemy Digital Arts course - with not much to show for at the moment as the course does start off fairly basic with concepts such as line work and line weight, I decided to bring forward a system I have implemented into the game to later on help with balancing and gathering game-play data.



The system as it is at the moment simply saves specific data from the game session to an external text file - which can then be imported to a spreadsheet software to help with interpreting the data itself. At the moment - the data gathered is simple, population growth, decline and immigration during a specific turn. However eventually I hope to add other data points that could help with balancing; including resource production, amount of workers at various workposts, and so on.


Needless to say - balancing is not the highest priority for the moment; although having this system in place, together with the insights it could help provide, might help make design decisions later on. Plus due to the simplicity of implementing the system itself [less than to around an hour's work], I decided it would be best to just implement it whilst the idea was fresh in memory, and I had some time to spare. The information is also gather un-intrusively - which will definitely aid in play-tests later on - to help figure out what numbers to adjust during game-play and so on.

Until next time,
Dylan 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Game Maker Progress 50: This Month's Plan

Hello everyone,

As I have mentioned in a previous post - this month will be focusing primarily on improving the project aesthetically - and aiming to improve on this aspect both in relation to making changes, as well as making the graphics more appealing.

Much - if not all - of the game's current graphical assets were always intended to be placeholders. I do have a vision for how the game would aesthetically look at completion - however, between now and then lies a few obstacles. Depending on whether I decide to forgo bringing in digital artists to create assets for the game, or simply create them myself - will have a major impact on the project. Whilst the biggest barrier to bringing in digital artists to create assets is primarily financial, as well as finding the artist with the style that can fit the game itself; the biggest barrier when creating the assets myself is a mixture between my skill-set and the time-investment. 

As such - the first thing I am will be working on this month - is taking a digital arts course; with the aim to improve my drawing abilities, both digitally and non-digitally. This will likely take up a large part of the month, and will also likely take more time even after - however the intention is to begin improving my artistic abilities in digital arts, and keep moving forward from there. 

Following this - there are two aspects of the aesthetic of the game that will require improvement. First of which is not visual per se - but will help with implementing and modifying graphical assets - that is standardising and improving the way graphical assets are handled in the project. This can be as simple as making sure that all icons are the same size, and making sure that each icon defaults to the default zoom level to allow for maximum detail, to improving the way code modifies the graphical elements for effect. The other visual aspect - is simply to improve the graphical assets. 'Improve' being a very general term - however moving towards what I have in mind, whilst also making sure that the graphical assets are both recognisable and appealing are a major part of this aspect.

I may do a few touches to the code itself this month - however, primarily this month I will solely be focusing on the graphical and aesthetic aspect of the project itself.

Until next time,
Dylan

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Game Maker Progress 49: Minor Additions

Hello everyone,

I apologise for the slight delay in posting this article. During the last week I have been busy with other work - which has resulted in me not achieving much in terms of Foundation of Civilisation. However, I have been able to find time to replace some placeholder graphical assets with more relevant ones. 



Aside from providing graphics to the Housing and Traveler's Lodge upgrades within the Residential District; I've also given a graphic to the Event notifications to help the user tell what type of notification it is, at a glance. 

I hope to spend the next month focusing more on the graphical side of the project - and begin to change some of the placeholder graphical assets with more fitting ones. Whilst those would more likely not be the final graphical assets, it will help give the project a better appearance during play-testing, and will also help to begin dialling down on the art-style which I have planned. 

Until next time,
Dylan