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Ludum Dare 37
 
Ludum Dare 36
 
Ludum Dare 35
 
Ludum Dare 34
 
Ludum Dare 33
 
Ludum Dare 32
 
Ludum Dare 31
 
Ludum Dare 30
 
Ludum Dare 29
 
Ludum Dare 28
 
Ludum Dare 27
 
Ludum Dare 26
 
Ludum Dare 25
 
Ludum Dare 24
 
Ludum Dare 23
 
Ludum Dare 22

quill18's Trophies

Best Tutorials Award
Awarded by InfernoGames
on May 1, 2015
Best Game of Ludum Dare 29
Awarded by Rother Games
on May 1, 2014
Most twitch viewer's - by far!
Awarded by Aske
on August 19, 2013
General expression of well-wishing.
Awarded by xgeovanni
on December 5, 2012
Probably the most famous person with two trophies.
Awarded by Spaceoff
on September 4, 2012
Probably the most famous person with no trophies.
Awarded by xgeovanni
on August 27, 2012

quill18's Archive

I’m in!

Posted by
Sunday, August 5th, 2012 10:26 am

I participated in the last two Ludum Dare competitions, and I’ll definitely be back for LD #24.  This time, despite being very happy with my web-based multiplayer game created in Ruby on Rails, I’m going to head back to a more traditional game using Unity 3d.  Can’t wait!

 

Read about my previous projects here:  http://towerdive.com/ludum-dare/

Fish Tank Commander: Huge Success!

Posted by
Monday, April 23rd, 2012 5:49 am

It was a very non-standard decision to program my Ludum Dare as a Ruby on Rails web app, but the game I ended up with is incredibly feature-full and remarkably complete — which is not something you can often say after 48 hours!

Fish Tank Commander features:

  • Multiplayer, turn-based tactics game (similar to Advance Wars…or chess!)
  • Four exciting unit types: The Speedy Seahorse, the Tanky Turtle, the Brutal Betta, and the Cheap Goldfish.
  • Elo ranking system (like in professional chess) and XP earning for each game. See how you rank!  Challenge people of your skill level!
  • Built-in map maker and a voting system
  • Notification system lets you know when it’s your turn…or when your opponent concedes! (Coming soon after LD: Optional notification by email.)

Tools Used:

  • Ruby on Rails and JavaScript
  • Sublime Text 2
  • Photoshop and GIMP (turns out Photoshop sucks for pixel art)
  • Twitter Bootstrap
  • Git, Github, and Heroku

What Went Wrong:

  1. Discovering that none of my several available web servers were running Ruby 1.9+ and being unable to upgrade them. I ended up having to sign-up with Heroku to do the hosting, but this was indirectly good — see below.
  2. The AJAX interface for moving the units can be a little laggy. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time (and expertise) to develop a WebSocket solution — this will come after Ludum Dare is finished.
  3. Not enough time for me to play the game, so some good balance tweaks only became obvious to me after the deadline when I could get in a few matches.
  4. Not enough time to implement the several pages of additional features the game deserves! Especially automated matchmaking and email notifications. Hurry up and finish voting so I can improve the game!
  5. The battlefield doesn’t look quite as much like an aquarium as I had hoped. It needs some kind of border around it that looks like fish tank walls.  One art please.

What Went Right:

  1. Really knowing my programming language. In LD #22 I used Unity 3d, which I’m not very experienced with.  But I use Ruby on Rails every single day for work.  This was still a learning experience as I don’t use RoR to make games, but it meant that I didn’t have to use documentation as extensively (just occasionally to check parameter ordering for complex functions).
  2. A great schedule. Just as with LD #22, my plan was to use Friday for ideas and a skeleton/outline of the app, Saturday for core gameplay, Sunday for “fluff” like finalizing the art and adding auxiliary features. Despite complaining about not having enough time to do everything, I actually did much, much more than I thought would be possible in 48 hours.  I think that midway through Saturday I felt that I had enough “game” to have been satisfied with submitting then.
  3. Working with Heroku.  I’ve been wanting to play with this sort of dynamic, cloud-like hosting for a while and I finally got the opportunity to do so.  Even the the fact that I wasn’t able to use my existing (and therefore effectively “free”) hosting is going to be a boon, as I’m feeling more motivated to complete all the features I want to make a very professional product.
  4. Good, high quality food at the ready. I made a pork roast on Friday night and had plenty of pre-washed spinach, lettuce, and other vegetables ready to go.  Saturday and Sunday morning started with a huge breakfast, and I made sure to consume a lot of high quality food the rest of the day. It kept my energy levels high.
  5. Going for walks. It only took me 10 minutes to go around the block, but the four or five walks I took throughout the weekend were great for recharging my batteries.

What Went Awesome:

  1. Streaming the whole thing and having hundreds of my YouTube viewers keep me motivated (and provide me with a to-do list of feature requests that will keep me busy for the next year).

Once voting for LD #23 is complete, I’m going to get back to work on this project and turn it into something really, really amazing.  I can’t wait.

http://fishtankcommander.com/

Day 1 – Done!

Posted by
Friday, April 20th, 2012 9:58 pm

What I have so far in my Advance Wars inspired “War in a Fish Tank” web app game:

  • Users can sign up
  • Users can create their own maps!
  • Basic combat system designed (but not implemented)
  • 4 basic units programmed: Goldfish, Seahorse, Turtle, and Swordfish

It ain’t much to look at so far, but I’m loving my progress.

But now, time for bed!

EDIT:  The repo!  https://github.com/quill18/ld23-tiny-world

My Tools

Posted by
Thursday, April 19th, 2012 11:33 am

I already did my “I’m in” post, but hadn’t fully settled on the tools. I’m going to bite the bullet and commit to a heavily-server-side web app in order to force myself to make a different kind of game.  Nothing real-time or arcady. It’s going to be a bit weird incorporating sound, but it’ll be an interesting learning experience.

 

Ruby on Rails (including publicly available gems, such as Devise), HTML, JavaScript

jQuery, Bootstrap, and SoundManager 2

Photoshop and/or Paint.NET

BFXR, GarageBand, Audacity

Sublime Text 2, Git

Xsplit, TwitchTV, Premiere, Handbrake

Warm Up Weekend!

Posted by
Friday, April 13th, 2012 6:07 am

I’m going to be spending a few hours livestreaming my warm-up for LD, so if you’re interested in watching drop by http://twitch.tv/quill18 and make sure to hit “Follow” to be alerted when I go live.  I expect I’ll put in a bit of time tonight (around 7-9 EDT), plus a few more hours on Saturday and Sunday.  Note:  My channel is primarily for gaming and there will likely be a sizeable audience and a good chance that I’ll also be doing some Let’s Play.

I figure that the best way to do the warmup is to random from 1-100 and get a theme from the list at http://sos.gd/themes/?view=results — but since I don’t want to spend a full 48 hours I’m going to roll ahead of time so I have a chance to think a little before I dive in.

Roll Result = 46.  Theme = “This is your dungeon”.

Interesting.  I always love roguelikes and even old-school text adventures, so that gameplay screams out right away.  But the “your” part of the phrase is making me think that maybe the player should have some ownership of the dungeon.  Should I be looking to Dungeon Keeper for inspiration?

I have several hours to think before I can even start programming, so it’ll be interesting to see where my brain goes.  (Programming Language: I want to do a web app with lots of server-side stuff in Ruby on Rails.  Front-end will be HTML/JS.)

 

LD23: I’m in, but with what language?

Posted by
Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 7:30 am

LD22 was my first go at Ludum Dare, and I had an indescribable amount of fun doing it (play my game, read the post mortem).  A big part of why it was so amazing was because I livestreamed the whole thing, and a significant number of my YouTube subscribers turned out to watch (I believe I averaged 200-300 viewers the whole time). Many of the ideas for the story and gameplay came as a result of discussions with the viewers in real time.

It also felt stupendously good to finish a game, which I know a lot of other programmers can relate to. It gives me hope that maybe one day I’ll quit my job and turn to game development full-time.  In the meantime, I have LD23 to look forward to!

Last time around, I made a game in Unity 3d.  I’m a huge fan of this framework, though because it’s only a part-time hobby my actual expertise with this (or any game framework) is relatively limited.  This limits my ability to perform as efficiently as possible and prevents me from dabbling with the more advanced features, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a 48-hour compo.  I may use it again, depending on the theme.

However, I’m wondering about doing something that is far more inline with my day-to-day expertise. It would be different from the “standard” submission, which carries both good and bad baggage. It’s also possible that I’ll be spending more time than I’d like with “low-level” functionality.  Namely, I’m thinking of developing a game as a web app that would include considerable server-side functionality (as opposed to doing a JS/HTML5-canvas thing — though such features may make an appearance).  Programming in Ruby on Rails is what I do every day — could this translate to making a game?  There’s considerably latency implications, though this can be minimized depending on the type of game and through AJAX techniques (or web sockets, though this WOULD be new/unknown territory for me).  Dungeon Crawl Web Tiles is a really impressive example of what’s possible.  It also opens up certain multiplayer possibilities WITHOUT needing to muck around with the more complex issues involved in typical multiplayer games.

I may make a test/practice/warmup game to experiment with these techniques, though April is looking VERY busy right now and I’m not sure when I’ll find time.

quill18

Paper Town: A Ludum Dare Post-Mortem

Posted by
Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 5:03 am

 

Click here to play my game: Paper Town!

Developers often do a “Post-Mortem” after completing a project, exploring the things that went right and wrong. This helps them keep track of what they’ve learned and also help other people who are going to try the same thing.

What went right

The Story

“Alone” is really a mood theme, rather than a mechanics one, and that had me a bit stumped at first. All the neat “physics” and “sim” ideas I had in my head needed to be thrown out.  The gameplay was to be a slave to the story, which is pretty much the inverse of how I usually think.

Right from the beginning, I had toyed with the idea that the protagonist is not literally alone — just that he feels alone.  Paper Town takes that the next level and places the player in the mind of someone who is psychologically damaged and is living in a world where he perceives himself to be alone and can’t recognize the presence of people around him who are trying to help.

I believe it’s an idea that can resonate with a lot of people. You may feel lonely, but at the same time you pull away from other people and avoid talking to strangers.  This explores the extreme outcome of that:  The character will in one line of dialog lament the fact that everyone has left him, but in another line of dialog scream “LEAVE ME ALONE” to the nebulous entities that sometimes appear.

It’s through the development of the story via note pickups that the character finally gets a chance to recognize that his solitary universe is self-inflicted and that he can break out of it through a true desire to be with other people.

Unity 3d

For a lot of people, the spirit of Ludum Dare is to build everything from scratch — or as much as is possible without implementing your own programming language and basic library of functions.  However, I very much wanted to build a complete game and starting with a fully functional gaming engine went a long way towards ensuring that.  Being able to drop in primitives and start programming behaviour 5 minutes after deciding on an outline for my game was incredible.  Not having to worry about how to load images and sound, nor do physics, was likewise amazing.  Also, having access to some great pathfinding middleware was also exceptionally helpful, though it brought its own problems (see below).

On the other hand, since my challenge wouldn’t be about the base engine, it means that I had to make certain that my execution of the theme was top notch.  I wanted to tell a complete story, and I wanted to make sure that there was a way to win and to lose the game.  I think it takes about 10 minutes to win.

I didn’t have the time or the ability to do any 3d modelling, but I did as much as I could using pure primitives (cubes, planes, spheres, and capsules).  I’m also pretty keen on my moody lighting effects.

Time Management

While there are certainly things I would have liked to have gotten done if I had more time, I actually didn’t feel very rushed during the 48 hours, and I think a lot of it had to do with having a solid time plan right from the beginning.

The theme announcement and start of the competition was at 9:00 PM my time on a Friday, so that evening was all about coming up with the idea for the gameplay and story, and to setup the initial environment in Unity (terrain, character, a simple building, and the ability for the player to click/pathfind around the obstacle).

Saturday was planned to be “gameplay” day. I generally didn’t worry about the actual looks/art.  The game just had to be playable, and by the end of the day all the major gameplay features were present:

  • Randomly generated city, including 4 types of buildings, streets with intersections, lightposts with actual lights
  • Enemies that would spawn, patrol around, and chase the player if they saw him — dealing damage if they got close.
  • Pickups for the player, which would be stored in inventory
  • The ability to create a “paper doll” with the right items. A “paper doll” is a turret that shoot bullets at enemies.

Sunday was planned to be “story development”.  I know it may seem weird to play on having 50% of your time to do all the “real” features and 50% of the time to do “fluff” and polish, but in practice the big features don’t take that much time. They’re often far more straightforward and easier to understand. It’s the fine-tuning that can be really time-consuming, but it’s also the thing that truly sells your product in the end.

I think my final story is a bit cliche and maudlin, but still works to really sell the theme.  This time allocation meant that I was also comfortable spending time making sounds and intro/end screens, which I think are an important part of the “complete” package but often get overlooked in the face of adding more gameplay features.

Things I did on the final day:

  • Redid city generation (it was crap and the road/fence were very crap)
  • A dialog system, allowing the story to be told during gameplay (and also to explain gameplay mechanics as they come up)
  • Added a new pickup type: Notes. These are used for the victory condition and also trigger lots of dialog.
  • Changed player to WSAD/Mouse movement
  • Fiddled with the pathfinding multiple times
  • Rebalanced the enemies and pickups multiple times
  • Added a day/night cycle, which looks good and controls enemy spawning
  • Intro screen!
  • Win and loss screens!
  • Sound effects!
  • Music!

Food and Drinks

Lots of good, satisfying food at my disposal.  No junk food, and nothing that would leave me with messy fingers. Also, everything could be prepared in just a few minutes, minimizing downtime.

Meal examples:

  • Bacon and Eggs
  • Avocado with Sriracha hot sauce (sooooo goood)
  • Tuna salad
  • Leftover ground beef/veggie casserole

Note that these are low-carb, high fat foods that fit into my Keto diet. If someone on a standard diet ate like this for 48 hours, they’d probably feel a bit foggy-headed, which wouldn’t be ideal for the competition.

Live Streaming

This was by far the single best choice I made with regards to Ludum Dare.  Having hundreds of people watching me all weekend kept me motivated and entertained and provided me with a veritable army of beta-testers!  I had to create all the game code and content myself, but having people provide immediate feedback was invaluable.

All the videos from the stream should be available on my Twitch.tv account, starting with this one.

Sound

Many Ludum Dare games don’t have any sound, or at best just include a few bloops and bleeps generated with a tool like BFXR — which was absolutely my plan too.  However, in practice I really wasn’t happy with these sounds. I felt like their arcadiness took away from the mood of the game, and I’d just about given up on the sound (which was already an Final Hour job)…but my stream viewers made a case for the importance of sound and music. And I’m happy they did!

So I went to Plan B for sound, which was simply to use my microphone. Sound effects for item pickups came from flipping pages in a book (Python & XML in a Nutshell), and music came from something I’ve never done before: Me playing an instrument in front of an audience.  I played a few bars of some badly off-tempo blues scale on my harmonica and then slowed down the recording (which also lowered the pitch). The result is a haunting soundtrack (with two songs) that – while far from good – is way better than no sound at all.

 

What went wrong

Pathfinding

One of the resources that was in my toolbox even before the theme was announced was the great A* Pathfinding middleware by Aron Granberg.  It’s a very simple drop-in solution that makes it pretty easy to add basic pathfinding to a project.  I like to use it by attaching an empty “pathfinding target” gameobject to my units and just moving that target around to make things happen.

Unfortunately, I ran into some limitations with the default way of using the middleware that caused to pretty serious problems and almost wrecked my whole idea.  I wanted a fairly large city for the player to explore, but the combination of a large area with the need for a fairly fine pathfinding grid (to be able to maneuver around furniture around buildings) meant that we were generating far too many nodes and Unity would crash.  After some fiddling, I was able to find a compromise between city size (3×3 blocks with 2×3 buildings each, for a total of 54 buildings) and grid resolution. At that point, things seemed to work pretty well until I started balancing the game.

It quickly became apparent that I needed quite a few enemies to appropriately populate my relatively large city space, but as I increased the number of units my pathfinding system started to lag.  Luckily it’s pretty intelligently designed, so the actual game performance was unhindered, but the pathfinding request queue was taking longer and longer to get through.  This wasn’t necessarily a problem for the AI, since it’s not the end of the world if it takes them half a second to change to a new path in response to stimulus (it just makes them a tad easier to juke).

For the player’s mouse-controls, however, it was a big problem.

Mouse Controls

One of the first things I added to the game was a click-to-move functionality.  Reasons for this were varied, but a big part of it was a drive for simplicity. I wanted a game that was utterly intuitive for anyone to play.

My initial approach was to do a raycast from the screen to the ground when the mouse was clicked, which worked great. Unfortunately, Unity doesn’t provide a simple way to eat mouseclicks when the player hits the GUI, so interacting with it meant the player was moving unintentionally.

The second approach was to have the ground react to OnMouseClick events, which worked just as well but wouldn’t be triggered when the user was clicking on the UI. Unfortunately, it also does not trigger if the user is clicking on another model, including my road segments and building floors, so I had to ensure that my “HandleMouseClick” behaviour existed on all relevant objects, including pickups.  This worked okay.  Until I ran into my pathfinding issues.

During the day, everything was pretty good (minus a little funniness due to the pathfinding grid resolution), but at night when enemies showed up, there was a noticeable delay when clicking due to the pathfinding queue being pretty full.

In the end, I gave up on mouse controls and switched to WASD/Arrow controls, leaving the player feeling very responsive.

Raycasting/Line-of-sight

I’d decided pretty early on to make the building outer walls quite low, that way the player could easily click on the ground inside and also not worry about the player being hidden behind a wall (due to my fixed camera angle). This lead to me having to fiddle a bit with my line-of-sight tests with enemies, because they shouldn’t see the player through a wall.  I had to make sure that my raycast was low enough to be blocked by the short walls, but high enough to not get screwed up by the lip around the road or the strange mesh deformity on the player’s capsule model.  It ended up being kind of fiddly.

It would have been nice to put an invisible wall around the buildings and have them block enemy LOS rays, but between the UI, the “shade” block inside the buildings, and the invisible walls I couldn’t figure out a way to allow mouse-click raycasts to get through while blocking enemy raycasts.

Of course, that was all moot by my switch to WASD/Arrow movement, but that change happened way too late in development to save me any trouble with the enemies.

Randomly generated content

This always SOUNDS so cool, but for a game like this I’m not sure it does anything for the gameplay, nor am I sure that it saved me any time.  Yes, placing individual buildings would have been a pain, but I spent so long having to tweak the system so that the buildings and roads all ended up in the correct location that I think it took longer than doing it manually would have.  And it’s still not perfect!  There’s slightly more space on one side of the blocks than on the other.

Even things like Pickup spawns were totally random at first, but sometimes pickups would land on top of objects and be inaccessible to the player.  Ultimately, I placed empty gameobjects to act as spawn points and that worked so much better (I also did this with enemies).

So if I *did* want randomized buildings, without having to worry about getting my placement math right, I should have manually positioned building placeholders and just have them be populated at program start.

Note that I had intended to make my city bigger (which is why I felt that random generation was the way to go), but I had to scale down my plans due to pathfinding contraints.  I do think my final city is a good size for the actual game.

Paper Dolls

The idea that the protagonist has devolved to making paper dolls in order to combat his loneliness came about very early and was meant to be a major part of the gameplay, adding in a “tower defense” component. However, this never came to be and as a result the act of creating the paper dolls and their use in gameplay is rather secondary.  It’s still better than not having them at all (and having the game just be about exploration and hiding), but I think more could have been done with them.

To a certain extent, the weakness of the doll theme is a result of the time limitations with regards to creating more enemy types and behaviours and just general game balance.  I also think that the dolls are dependent on a certain amount of art development — I think they deserve a cutscene for their creation, to add real emotional depth.

Another contributing factor to not further developing the paper dolls idea was the conflict between static, unmoving, tower-defensive gameplay and the need to explore to find notes to advance the story (and win the game). Making the dolls secondary (and have very limited ammo) turned them into something that was just a tool to help you survive a bit longer and facilitate your exploration (and thus completion of the story).

 

Conclusion

I consider this project to have been a HUGE SUCCESS! I program all the time, but usually I’m making business-oriented web applications.  I have started many games, but I’ve never finished one before.  Paper Town may be rough, but it is a complete game and that makes me extremely happy.

Also, even if the game hadn’t worked out, we still had a stream that averaged 100 people for an entire weekend.  That’s amazing!

I absolutely hope that I can participate in the next Ludum Dare, but I also hope that I can find more time to make games in general.

 

I’m in.

Posted by
Friday, December 16th, 2011 12:06 pm

I’m taking the easy route though, with Unity 3d.  I like to play with data structures more than engine development.

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