I’m incredibly lucky.*
It seems that whatever I’m doing, it’s something that I love.
Over the christmas holidays I went to visit the various branches of various families, most of which don’t have a clue what it is I do. Among one of these families is a 13 year old boy that is pretty much a replica of myself at that age. Whilst we spent a good few hours over that time playing Skyrim, Halo and Call Of Duty (age restriction issues are for a different day), the most fun was had showing him what I do, as it’s something that he’s very interested in. He’s asked a few times about doing work experience at a game development studio, so I figured I might as well just show him what I do now, rather than waiting a couple of years. We downloaded the version of Unity and spent a few hours messing around.
Now, I’ve taught Unity to a fair few students over the last couple of years, all with varying degrees of competency of 3d modelling, game design and game development, but never a 13 year old with no experience of game development, the intricacies of game design and not a GCSE to his name (not really his fault, he is 13).
The amazing thing was that the process of teaching a 13 year old and a final year game design degree student was no different. The straight forward nature of creating content in Unity is self explanatory, you just point the users in the right direction and let them do the rest. After the initial explanation of how Unity combines game objects and components together, the main thing we focussed on was where to find the cool stuff, and how it can be used to make games.
There’s a big different between how to DO the cool stuff and where to FIND the cool stuff, but even with the basic packages that come with Unity, it really is a case of where to find it.
The most important observation I made though is that within about 30 minutes of explaining Unity’s UI, game object and component based systems, I was already talking about how things are done within the game industry. I was talking about the little tips and tricks to speed up development, rather than how to get the software working. We were playing with physics and coming up with ideas of games through playing with the software, rather than battling through it’s labyrinthine network of menus and stacks to do something, to do anything.
After an hour we were walking through hurriedly painted mountains and pushing down walls of blocks with giant bowling balls. Two hours later we were back fighting ice trolls on Skyrim, but at least he can go back to school in a few days and say that he made a *game* over the holidays, as well as playing the shit out of them!
Happy New Year.
*luck really does come down to hard work and putting yourself in the right positions though.
Last Thursday was the 7th London Unity User Group.
Each month the attendance is increasing, and we’re getting new members signing up to the meetup page on a daily basis.
The success of the event so far has been purely down to the fact that there are so many talented people that can potentially talk at these events. There is a also a broad range of topics that can be covered. It allows us to provide you with a varying degree of talks and complexity.
All credit for the latest event needs to go to Jasper, he pretty much organised the whole thing.
Whilst we had the highly anticipated Unity 3.5 preview from Will and Chris from Unity Technologies, we were also treated to fun and informative talk from Iestyn Lloyd.
I first met Iestyn at one of the first meetups for the previous Unity group, organised by Tim Whitlock, about 18 months ago. I liked his style, it was a no-fuss approach to development, built on his former experience in game development, but without the air of snobbery which can sometimes come from experienced developers looking at new technology.
His talk, “Why I’m not even slightly worried about this whole Flash thing”, was a show and tell into some of his previous work, as well as a peek into future projects. The most intriguing of which was based around Gyroscopic Camera controls with Unity iOS.
He showed a few prototypes using the tech, and his honesty when answering the question of how it was put together was refreshing. “I got it from the Unity forum, someone had already done it. If you want it, I can send you the link”.
No lengthy explanation on the intricacies of effectively moving the camera based on the gyroscope data, just the facts. Even one of the prototypes used to the Unity FPS Tutorial environment.
I did a little google search…and here’s the link to that forum post.
Thanks to the original poster for this! All credit goes to them!
I then played around with it for about 15 minutes, and these are the results…
(The environment is just a bunch of assets I took from our Super Springbreak Speedboat Hero SD project at PLA Studios.)
It’s incredibly easy to set up. You pretty much just drag and drop the script onto your camera.
I did some extra work with the FPS character controller and iOS Joystick script to allow walking with onscreen controls and direction dictated by camera movement, which can be provided upon request.
Hope you have fun with it.
After a year of on-off development, I’ve decided to make the playable prototype version of Starlings available for download. This build represents around 4 months of development, from late January to late May, and is what I handed in for my final year university project.
Whilst it’s not everything I want to put into the game, it represents everything that I initially set out to do, which in turn is actually everything that was realistically possible with a one-man team.
Starlings is available for Mac and Windows platforms.
Move mouse to adjust flight direction
Left mouse click to reduce flight speed
Right mouse click to take screenshot (screenshots are saved in the games root directory)
Hold C for change to cinematic camera
No input from keyboard or mouse for 5 seconds will activate the auto-flight and pause menus.
Loading Starlings for the first time can take a while, please be patient…there’s no progress bar on the splash screen, but it is working :)
What is Starlings?
Starlings was my final year university project for London South Bank University. The aim was to create a game that put into practice core game design theory concerning player rewards and immersion, as well as creating a game that aimed to be unique within the industry. Whilst Starlings was predominately a one-man project, a special mention must go to the Unity community that supports the engine and it’s users.
The music was created by Christopher Chong, who also created the awesome jazz-fusion soundtrack for Beatnik Games’ ‘Plain Sight’ which was released on Steam earlier this year. You can find out more about Christopher on his website, www.majorc.co.uk
One of the core components of the game is the way in which the player is rewarded for playing the game. The goal is simply, collect birds for your flock. The obvious reward for the player for doing this is the increased visual experience of the flock growing in size. However, as I believe that audio plays an incredibly important role in creating the overall experience, I wanted to also reward the player through audio. What I decided to do was to have a soundtrack that progressed along with the player, so that it not only matches the visual experience, but builds along with it. Christopher brilliantly describes it as a ‘gameplay-adaptive orchestral score’.
Immersion is one the ‘buzz’ words of the industry at the moment…pick a handful of reviews from the big AAA games of the last 3 years and I guarantee that 80% will have the word ‘immersive’ in it. The strict definition is something that provides stimulation to a number of senses, as well as sound and sight…however in terms of video games, it’s usually applied to those times where you get completely drawn in by the experience and forget your even playing a video game at all. Despite how much effort is put into creating an ‘immersive’ experience, it’s always over in an instant when the player decides to press the start button and pause the game. This is something that I wanted to explore in Starlings.
The first point of contact when playing Starlings is the Start screen, and I felt that in order to quickly draw the player into the experience, then I didn’t want a simple static image, where the user simply presses start. By placing the title and options in the game play environment allows the user to become familiar with the surroundings. The next challenge was transitioning from the menu to the game play… By having the camera fly through the environment meant that I had an opportunity to also introduce them to game controls without having to hold their hands. The idea is that by the time the camera has made it’s way to the start of the game the player not only knows the controls, but has a good understanding of the environment.
The next challenge was maintaining the immersion whilst dealing with the user-interface and pause menus. As previously mentioned, a player is always one button press away from removing themselves from the experience. The challenge isn’t stopping the player from pressing start and removing themselves from the experience, it’s doing it in a way that is in context with the game itself. In order to achieve this, I decided that all the player needs to do to pause the game is stop moving the mouse. If there is no movement of the mouse for 5 seconds, the flock will go into an auto-flight mode, and the camera will automatically change to a cinematic viewpoint, and the options menu is displayed. The aim of this method is to allow the player to gradually remove themselves from the experience, like a feathery come-down…rather than an abrupt wake-up call.
As previously mentioned, there is a lot that is possible with Starlings, but I think at this point the most sensible thing to do is move onto a new project. One that isn’t so ambitious. I’m using this opportunity to upload the prototype build as ‘closure’ on this project, allowing me to move on from Starlings.
Whilst working on some freelance work, I’m also currently working on a more traditional, puzzle based game, which I’m hoping to show very soon…
Thanks to anyone that’s ever show the slightest bit of interest in Starlings, I really really appreciate it….If only even 1 person gets some joy out of it, then it’ll be very much worth it.
PS…I get a lot of ”isn’t it just Flower?” questions….well, isn’t Quake just Doom?
It’s important to be honest with yourself and highlight the errors that you make when trying to develop something. Some of the biggest errors I’ve made is in the ‘marketing’ of Starlings up to this point.
For my dissertation I looked at blog marketing, and how it can be used to market indie games at low cost. I learned a hell of a lot from that and used that to increase the visibility of Starlings and myself as a developer. The way in which I handled this increased visibility led me to forget what the overall goal for the project was, and because of this I decided to move those metaphorical goal posts from a lovely rural field and put them slap-bang in the middle of Times Square.
To cut a long blog post short , I’m reverting back to my original design document for Starlings and I’m sticking to what I originally wanted to create. Why? Well, importantly, it’s well within in my means; and a well executed, small project is 100 times better than over-reaching, reach for the sky idea…which has a high probability of never being completed.
Neil Holmes, from Blitz1Up told me that it’s rare for a developer to finish a personal project like this one, but when it is, it really counts for a lot when applying for jobs within the industry.
You can get the full Starlings blog post here
Post lifted from www.starlingsgame.co.uk
New gameplay details…
First off, as a developer it’s important to recognise the weak areas of a project. Once these weak areas have been noticed, it’s then important to work out how to strengthen them… One of the issues that people seem to have with Starlings is understanding what exactly the game is about…. and I’ll be honest, I’ve had a hard time deciding on exactly what it is beyond building a flock. I’ve spent that last few months playing with a few different ideas, but I didn’t want to say too much because they were all subject to change. The time has come to outline exactly what you should be expecting from Starlings, and I hope you’ll be excited about the direction it’s going in.
Yep, that’s right, Starlings is going to be an online multiplayer game with a heavy focus on community building and content sharing. “Content sharing”? I hear you ask… yes, you can share your photographs…”photographs” you cry…yes, you can take photographs…”but birds dont use cameras” you scream… no, they dont, but people do.
Players can choose whether or not to explore from the air or on foot, each offering a unique way to experience the game.
Build up your photo album by photographing unique locations and events within the environment. Photographs that include other players offer the option to share your content with that player.
Players on foot have the option to use the various transport options available. Not only does this speed up travel speed, but also offers unique photo opportunities. Share a hot air balloon ride or sail solo around the island… the choice is up to you.
Each photograph which includes another player allows you to contact directly with that player through various social network sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Share your content both inside and outside of the game to build communities and friendships that go beyond the game.
Start off with a flock of 1 and build it up to over 100 strong. Interact with other flocks and players to provide the photographers with beautiful moments to capture and share.
An initial piano melody evolves into a beautiful full orchestrated soundtrack as you build your flock. Interacting with other flocks is rewarded by combining each unique piece to create a unique, shared experience.
Unity is fast becomming the engine for indie developers. Partly because it makes game prototyping and creation an accessible experience for newcomers and seasoned professionals, but also because it has a fantastic community
TornadoTwins are celebrities amongst the Unity community and have strived to contribute excellent tutorials that I’m sure have helped countless individuals to realise their goals, and now they’re going to make it a hell of a lot easier, again.
Unityprefabs.com is a collection of pre-made assets and scripts that allow customers the ability to speed up the game creation process. It’s essentially a giant toolset.
Currently users are able to purchase camera kits to make starting that FPS, RTS or 3rd person game that little bit easier. The cynical amongst us can think “oh, but setting up a FPS style camera/control system is EASY”, sure, it only requires about 30 minutes of tutorial following, but compare that with 30 seconds and $9.99 (current, discounted price). A quick look at the upcoming list of prefabs offers an insight into the exciting future of unityprefabs.com that will feature advanced particle systems, AI, Facebook implementation, twitter integration and more.
There’s no doubt that is’ a useful service, but even if you don’t end up using it, you have to applaud what TornadoTwins are doing and it only helps to improve the positive aura that surrounds Unity at the moment (iPhone OS4 panic omitted). I only hope that they continue to offer free content for the absolute beginners as that will act as an avenue to their paid content.
Head over to UnityPrefabs.com to check out their store.
What are you doing on May 26th at around 6.30pm?
Nothing? Good. Why don’t you come along to the 3rd Unity3DLondon event…
I’m really chuffed to announce that I’ll be showing Starlings for the first ever time to a room of people that I consider much more important than myself, but they seem to want to see what I’m doing… So I couldn’t say no.
I’ll have some more info closer to the date about what I’ll actually be showing…
You’ll also be treated to the works of Iestyn Lloyd, as he takes us through the official Iron Man 2 web game…
More information can be found here
You can also follow @unity3dlondon
or you can follow me @therussmorris
or you can follow Iestyn @yezzer
This week I bought a notebook to get over the pain, stress and mountains of work that I need to finish by may 6th.
I’d never used a netbook before,and it was the first time I’d used windows as my primary operating system for about 2 years. Sure, I’d used bootcamp a bit, but the beauty of using bootcamp solely for Steam is that you don’t need to go into device manager or anything…which is when things start to get frustrating. Windows (xp by the way, it is a notebook afterall) has an amazing ability to hide a window from you. I opened up a device window,hit a tab,then opened up the properties… I then checked something on my email…went back to my previous window,but no! It was back on the device window,but I couldn’t click it because the properties window was open, but I couldn’t find it! The task bar was no help either. I just had to kill device manager entirely and start again.
So I’m not loving the netbook anymore. The honeymoon period is definitely over, and I’m not sure we even made it to the bedroom.
In other (more interesting) news…
I’ve been working hard on outlining my next project after Starlings. Although production isn’t likely to start until the end of the year, it’s always fun to get the creative juices flowing with something new,and completely different to your last project.
Not having my MacBook has allowed me to think about where starlings is headed after it’s submitted for university , and I’m really excited about the possibilities that are available with such a project.
In short, I think the ‘games as art’ people would have a f’ing field day with what I’ve got planned.
“It’s kind of like a massive conga line,but each person is at various stages of drunkenness,so it doesn’t really work”
Today was one of the most boring, repetetive days I’ve had during the development of ‘Starlings’.
After putting in all of my flocks, the next ste was to assign each of them to a ‘flock follow’ point. There are roughly two birds for each follow point, so I not only had to keep track of which birds were connected to which follow point, but the damping values also, in order to make sure that the birds wouldn’t ‘merge’ together. It was also necessary in tracking how many times I’d used each value, to ensure that there was an even spread throughout the flock.
The way that the flocking works is that each bird follows a ‘flock follow’ point, each with a different ‘damping’ value, this is essentially the delay in time it takes for the bird to follow that point. Each ‘flock follow’ point then follows the main starling, with a similarly different damping value.It’s kind of like a massive conga line,but each person is at various stages of drunkenness,so it doesn’t really work.but it does for this.
Basically it took 5 and a half hours… and here’s the record for it.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been busy rebuilding the Starlings environment, experimenting with the number of trees I can get on screen, as well as finally finalising the geometry of the environment. I thought I had everything mapped out and finished, then when I had a breakthrough with the trees, I kind of needed to extend the environment…it felt a bit too ‘bunched’ with the original map, so I’ve been building the ‘extensions’…
The successful implementation on trees not only gives Starlings an aesthetic facelift, but it also means I can ‘hide’ more Starlings around the environment. I had previously had Starlings in flocks, or sitting on telephone cables and other structures…now I can have Starlings flying out from wooded areas to join the flock…which is nice.
Over the next 4 weeks I’ll be placing all Starlings and flocks into the environment, and getting everything in place. Areas still need to be painted…Sounds need to be triggered, but slowly, it’s all coming together…it feels like it’s nearly here…because it kind of is.
Ignore the purple field colours…
Being an indie dev, or: How to make it on your own… Where Russ talks to Mark Morris of Introversion about hackers, the death of handheld gaming, and Blade Runner…[Part 2]
WARNING : THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS PROLONGED PERIODS OF ADMITTING NAIVETY.
There’s more to making a game than actually making the game. If you want the hundreds, if not thousands of hours you’ve spent putting it all together to be somewhat worthwhile, then a sensible, intelligent marketing strategy needs to exist. What markets do you target? Who are you making the game for? And how do you do it? If you’re anything like me, then you’re marketing budget is zero, but as Mark explains, it’s still possible to get your work out there.
The first, obviously, natural thing to do is think about who is going to be interested. Early during production, I had planned to release Starlings as a Mac only game. Despite Unity’s ability to natively compile to both Mac OS and Windows, I felt that the Mac gaming space is currently so sparse, and Starlings was a unique enough project, that it would be easier to create some waves, rather than being drowned in a combined Mac OS and Windows gaming space. However, one of the first comments to this decision was ‘’Why?’’. I wasn’t going to single handedly going to convert Windows only users over to the Mac platform, and I wasn’t being paid by Apple to keep it as a platform exclusive. In fact, releasing it as a Mac only game wasn’t important, people wouldn’t pick up on it.It was the fact that it was Mac compatible at all that was interesting, so why cut off from the Windows users?. I really overlooked the fact that, as a wannabe be game designer, you should be putting your work out to anyone that would want to play it.
“Games journalists are usually very busy. If they’re interested in a project, they’ll often ctrl + c, ctrl + v it, attach the screenshot and leave it up the community to decide “
Another trap is getting too excited about what you’re doing and showing work too early, which really doesn’t justify what you’re trying to do. I’m a lazy Internet user, I’ll only click on links based on the headline, and only if it’s something I recognise and I’m interested in. If it has an attached screenshot, I may just dip into something I’m not too familiar with… This process filters up to those that actually post news worthy content. During the earlier stages of Starlings, I released a few ‘press releases’ to some online news outlets that I thought would be interested in the project. There were two problems with this. First is that I didn’t really have any real content to show. No matter how interesting a game’s high concept is, unless you’re Rockstar, Valve etc, it’s not news worthy. Second was that I pitched it as a press release… Press releases are for large scale business’s that don’t have the time to tailor their news to each individual outlet, and probably have too much to say. A high concept and a very early screenshot from an unknown indie developer doesn’t count as a press release, especially when it’s obvious it was writing by you…at 2am, in your dressing gown. It wasn’t until I had completed a trailer based on the prototype version of Starlings that anyone took interest in the project. However, even this was too early in production to properly represent what I was trying to achieve. Feedback for the project focussed ‘muddy textures’, a static environment and an unclear message as to what they game was actually about. Not the best first impression, and user feedback can often dictate whether or not a site runs a relevant news story for the project in the future.
“An important part of marketing your game is building a community… We tried lots of directions with Uplink, we sent out physical copies to both the mainstream and student press, but we didn’t really get a return on that. Luckily Uplinks hacking theme meant we had a good crossover market, so we went on the hacking forums and just said ‘hey, take a look at this cool game I found’ ”
Through the hacking community, Introversion were able to start building a community of fans for the game. No matter how small the community is initially, when more mainstream news sites start writing about the project, the small community will help to shine a positive light on your project. I had tried previously to target potential crossover markets, and an obvious demographic to target was birdwatchers. However, it seems that birdwatchers aren’t as interested in games as much as hackers are, and I suspect that a large proportion of hackers aren’t interested in birds.
The only return I’ve got from my attempts have come from the indie development community. The official Unity forums have an active community of independent developers of varying success. It’s possible to gather some interest in your project early on amongst fellow developers, and with a regularly updated, interesting, blog, you may start to build the first few members of your community. Documenting each step of the development process can be very time consuming, and also not very interesting to outside readers, but it can offer you the opportunity to honestly assess the production process so far, hopefully helping you to improve on the overall experience you’re trying to create. Although the development community may be the only people that would get excited about a game’s high concept, they wont necessarily be interested in the development cycle itself, as they’ve most probably been through the process many times before, or are too busy to care about how you’re making the game. In my honest opinion, the reason for this is that indie game development is a very competitive area. When another developer posts screen shots of their current build, my natural reaction is directly compare it what I’m doing. I’m either going to think one of the following: that it’s better than the work I’m doing and need to improve my efforts, what I’m currently doing eclipses someone else’s work, or that it’s of a similar standard. Whichever it may be, it’s not something that you want to post as a response on a forum.
In short, tell them what you’re doing, but don’t expect anything back until the game is in their hands.
To sum up the post, if you’re indie developer, ultimately people are only going to be interested in the game itself. They don’t care what you’re doing, or who you are, the only way that’s going to happen is if you make a good game at the end of it all. Think of it this way, if David Jaffe , Peter Molyneux, or Hideo Kojima wrote this blog post, you’d have got this far, but it’s me, so you’re not that interested and stopped at the top. If you did get this far, thanks.