Five Minutes Alone

This was one of those nice tracks that just fell together easily, all the components came to hand as I searched and the places I put them just sort of worked first time. It’s a great shame that these days such occasions are very rare.

I’m beginning to think that the time really has come to give up on the manipulation of samples and learn to use a synth and some proper music skills. like it’s that easy

iO – A little history

I’ve mentioned it from time to time, but as yet I’ve not really gone into any real detail about the development of my iO project. In this post I hope to remedy that a little starting with some history.

Some years ago (around 2004/2005) I created a somewhat complex game concept which for lack of a better name I called ‘spod’. It was a robot construction game in which you were tasked to create a team of automated battle robots and pit them against teams created by other people (or and AI opponent). Without doubt it was far (far far) to ambitious, and as such it was never completed.

The screenshot below shows the main robot editing area.

OldSpod

Looking back at it now It’s clearly a disaster of poor interface design. If you knew what things did and how stuff worked then you could create some really interesting robots but in terms of usability it was a very long way off the mark. Any new player would probably spend a while poking a things feeling generally lost and then just quit. That or just quit in horror at the sight of all those buttons.

So I stopped.

Instead I decided the best thing to do would be to select the core mechanics and ideas that I wanted to include in Spod and make a much simpler game out of them. Something approachable that anybody who liked building stuff could be drawn into. So after some thinking I distilled it down to something like this:

Build a thing … set it against things your friends have made … be ranked by the results

I realise that’s a pretty abstract and vague position from which to start writing a game but I was sure I’d work the details out as I went along. All I needed was to decide on what the ‘thing’ was, how it would compete against other ‘things’ and how the ranking would be dealt with.

Very quickly I decided that the ‘thing’ should be something more like a program instead of a robot. This would avoid the need to make hundreds of different robot-bits, instead I just make a few program-bits and have lots of ways of combining them (a bit like lego). However, as any programmer will tell you, programming is neither approachable or fun to watch so my big challenge would be to make something that was like it, but fun. As I mentioned in a previous post this search took up most of my effort and ranged from the super complex to the numbingly simple.

Eventually (and for a long time) I thought I was on a good path. At the sad expense of being able to challenge your friends creations I had added some simple back story (save the digital universe), crafted a simple graphical programming language (much like logo but with icons) and created a handful of characters to lead the player through the game world. As you can see from the screens below, this concept went quite a long way towards completion.

  iOScreen2Main World View

iOScreen1Team Selection Screen

iOScreen4Program Editor – with incomplete icons

iOScreen3Character Intro Screen

In several areas it was a great success. It was much more approachable, it had a tutorial plus a help system and it was very often quite fun to play. I like to think that if I had a whole lot more time I might actually complete it (in some form).

So why was it not finished? well, for one thing It was also starting to get too big and for another, I regreted having taken the ability to challenge your friends out of the design. At this point I still had all the rest of the levels to create, the sounds, music, effects, end game, power-ups, dificulty balancing and the rest of the program editor to write. So Instead I put it all aside and wrote ‘Efficiency’ (which is exactly the right size for a one man project) and decided to take another look at making the iO project even smaller.

What happened next? well that, I think, will have to wait for another time. This post is already an epic.

At some point I might zip up what there is of the intermediate iO project and make it freely available (as is). That of course depends if there’s any actual interest in such a thing.

 

XNA Project – Moon

MoonConcept

I’ve put aside iO, and it’s now become clear how much it was stopping me getting ideas out of my head. Without doubt, Its constantly changing form helped improve my programming skills and has resulted in dozens of added features to my game and rendering engine, but ultimatly no real (fun) game was going to result any time soon.

The engine has (and will continue to serve) as a great test-bed for ideas and tools in my profession but I think for the most part it now has no real use to me for making games. It’s based on the now aging DirectX 9 and targeted soley at the PC, a combination that is unlikely to feature in the future of games creation as a whole for very much longer.

Instead I’ve turned to XNA and C#. An excellent platform for making games on a well established platform with excellent tools in a fraction of the time I was taking to write anything in C++.

As if to prove my point, I’ve already finished writing the code framework for my new ideas and started on the artwork for my first project. The first thing I’m getting out of my head is called Moon. Simply, It’s about the journey of a dog to the moon, the image above is the first concept sketch of the main character.

My aim this time is to try and document the process of the creation of my game as much as possible. At least that way if it all falls through, you know why as well as me.

 

Old Sketches

Rather than make a post for each, I’ve decided to put a big batch of my old quick sketches here in this gallery. Each one was done in an hour or less on A5 in pencil and ink.

Vision_Sketch AmongstTheCoral BraceOfSmallSword Scoot Queen_of_Spades Queen_of_Hearts GaurdDrone ImaginationsHand Nurture Nymph_of_Nature ProjectSketch1 Queen_of_Clubs Queen_of_Diamonds

Sexbomb

Nothing deep and meaningful in this one, just a girl with an inprobable hammer and a bomb.Originally it was just a simple sketch while I was playing with ideas. I liked it so much I decided it needed colouring.

Pencil / Photoshop – 6 Hours

SexBomb_1080

I Am

There’s a lot of poetry. and the tools available to search for good bits amongst the mountain of rubbish are about as poor as they could be

It’s not that I’m against poetry, there are some pieces I really love. it’s just a shame that there is so much and no easy way of finding what your looking for, especially as audio

On the occasion I was looking for an interesting piece to thread through the various bits of a track I was making (some time ago now) I came across ‘I Am’ by John Clare. It falls quite easily in the set of poems I like (though a great many of his do not) so it became the first poem I used in one of my tracks, and to date it’s probably the best

Criminal Space Duck

A little nonsense that came out of a quick sketch.

I’ve heard several peoples theories on what the duck might have done wrong (or right depending on your point of view). Feel free to tell me yours.

Pencil / Photoshop – 6 Hours

CriminalDuck_Small

 

Found and Lost

Found and Lost

Old Illustration Style.
Pencil Sketch + Photoshop.

Something I’ve been working on for a very long time. It started as a simple pencil sketch. I scanned it, redid most of the line work again digitally and then split the job of finishing it into colour and lighting.

The lighting and correcting of all the really horrible anatomy issues took about 90% of the time. For the colouring, I tried to emulate the look of the old water colour storybook illustrations. I might try a few other colour finishes if the mood takes me.

FoundAndLost_OldLook_Medium

Things lost in the aether

As the title suggests, I have just spent quite a long time writing a long and interesting post about all sorts of exciting things. Sadly I took so long to write this epic my session timed out and I lost the whole lot when I submitted it. This is mainly as a result of some error in my website code. I’ll put the job of fixing it on my list of things to do once I finish my time machine.

So in an attempt to present at least a little of the lost content and avoid the chance of losing it all again, what follows is a simple summary in the style of an FAQ.

Why so long since the last update? Shortly after the last update, the site was subjected to quite a significant breach of security (through a hole in the comment entry page) several files were added to my server and my address was used as a platform for a phishing attack on a major bank in America. Don’t worry though; Anybody visiting the site as normal would never have been in any danger from the malign content (you wouldn’t even have been aware of it). It’s payload was delivered directly to the customers of the American bank via emails.

While I fixed it and removed all the evil files (sadly at the loss of the nice looking comment entry dialog) I disabled a few delicate areas of the site just to be on the safe side. Now it’s all fixed I can once again post things.

Where is iO and when will it be finished? If you don’t already know, iO is a game project I’ve been slowly working on for over 2 years now and in answer to the question; it’s still ‘on it’s way’. Don’t take the huge time scale of this project as an indication of the scale of it’s final content, It’s been designed and re-designed four or five times in that period. You might also ask why it is that I’ve not just stuck with one design and got on with it. Well:

The aim of iO has always been to create a game with similar themes to CoreWar but significantly more accessible (and nice looking). A game in which you construct some sort of machine or program and pit it against the creations of other people. Very early on I decided that these creations could not be robots (or mobile avatars of any other kind), it had to be a machine or a program, more like Cellular Automata and less like Robot Wars. It had to be easy to learn but have lots of scope. Preferably, the tools should be turning complete. Then, after all those requirements, it has to be fun and engaging.

If it’s not obvious from the description above, This is an almost impossible game to make. I may still fail to create it. So far I’ve gone through a huge range of levels of complexity and difficulty.

At one end of the scale I created a simple graphical programming language to produce similar things to Logo tasking the player with fighting for the filling of pixels and overwriting each others logo turtle. Sadly it was much to simplistic to be fun for more than a few minutes.

At the other end of the scale I created a turing complete 8 Bit assembly language (based loosely on RedCode) That ran on a 2D network of 65536 concurrent virtual processors. The player was tasked with capturing and holding key processors by propagation of their code and manipulation of processors and network signals. Much as this was all very interesting, it quickly became quite hard to understand what was going on and as such was almost impossible to play.

It’s current incarnation falls nearer the lower bar of complexity. It’s quite graphical, everything that’s going on can be clearly seen and it’s lots more interesting but (hopefully) not overwhelming. Sadly it’s still not in a state that is anything like finished. Six months perhaps.

What else have you been doing? art? music? where’s everything else? I’ve made two new music track (neither of which are my best work) and I’ve altered all the embedded details of my current tracks to correctly match my new internet name. I’ll start posting those just as soon as I get around to it.

I’ve got about 5 pieces of art I’m currently working on and sadly none of them are progressing very quickly. Before long I might decide to just post some sketches give an indication of progress.

Anything else? On top of all the other things I’m trying to achieve, I’ve got several changes I want to make to the site code, I’ve got plans for an XNA game I want to make, I’ve got to start planning for Tortuga next year and I need to finish writing my next tabletop roleplay campaign so I can start playing again. Oh yeah, and I need to get fit again.

Outsider

Outsider is one of H.P.Lovecrafts many short stories. In many ways it’s typical of his style. A running commentary (in the first person) of a mans journey through a series of carefully described ‘indescribable’ events that ultimately end badly for him. The horror. The horror!

I quite enjoyed making this track using a freely available reading of the short story as a base (and inspiration). It’s worthy of note that this is one of the first tracks where almost the entire drum beat track was constructed a single beat at a time (rather than from sampled loops). This was mainly because I wanted something a little odd and couldn’t find any examples of it. if it’s not obvious, I’m pretty happy with this one, even after all these years.

Hot Wheels

Hot_Wheels_Beat_That_game_coverThe Hotwheels game was basically a re-imagining of the concepts used in Cartoon Network Racing; only this time we had the chance to get all next-gen with our ideas.

Extra weapons replace the special powers and now we had tracks with loops and stunts. Again I got free reign over the special effects and on this occasion I could really go to town on the shiny next-gen platforms. Cue the HDR and bloom effects for the explosions and lightning.

Sadly my best efforts in the effects department did not translate to a great game and so, once again, the press mauled it.

Pimp My Ride

e00438a4f101abc4f03b9ee50add58af-Pimp_My_RideWhen I first heard that we’d be making a game for Pimp My Ride my first reaction was “How?”. Its a little hard to see where a set of game mechanics can be attached to the format of the show. Luckily it wasn’t a problem I had to deal with. Instead I was charged again with the creation of all the real-time effects and this time I had a little help, i.e. I’d gone from a team of one to a team of two.

The final result looks pretty enough on all its release platforms (especially the Xbox 360). Though a little short (very short) on depth. As far as procedural effects go, it features everything from fire hydrants and collision sparks to flocks of birds and scatterings of rubbish and leaves.

Street Racing Syndicate

Street_Racing_Syndicate_CoverartA very very long project if nothing else. Littered with all sorts of craziness, including a change in publisher and an almost complete rewrite half way through.

The final result is by all accounts pretty good if a little short on morality. I must say that street racing is not really my thing, and given the choice I’d not have made a game about it, but as its my day job I tried my best to enjoy the whole thing and do my best on everything I worked on.

Since release, SRS has risen all the way up the US XBox charts, so here’s to hoping that some royalties come out of this. (edit: they didn’t)

 

9877

Big Mutha Truckers

19011_front
My first introduction into programming games consoles, I came onto this project after F1 World Grand Prix
I didn’t really have a specific area that I could call mine in the same way as I had on the previous project but I wrote a lot of the interfaces and some of the game core. By the time it was finished I was one of the projects lead programmers managing the rest of the programming team.

Despite a change of publishers half way through, the game went on to sell over a million units all over the world, everywhere from Japan through Russia and Europe to the USA. it even spent nearly 3 months in the top 5 games in North America.

Warp Demo

A sample of my first DirectX graphics engine. Complete with scripted particle system, realtime lighting, 3DS loading, multi texturing and (as is evident here) procedural space distortions.

Sadly by the time it was at this stage it could be done better in DirectX 7, and by the time I got round to rewriting it we were up to DirectX 8. something of note; all this was warping was done before the age of vertex shaders and the like.

WarpDump

Download

 

Populous 3D

A nearly complete Populous clone I made for one of my university projects, I never quite got around to finishing it as time ran out, it needed handing in and I moved onto other projects (like my dissertation). the 5000 levels are all there though, shame there’s no sound.

 

Populous 3D

Notes

Populous3D is an OpenGL/Glut program if you dont have glut installed get it here and stick the dlls in your windows/system folder. the map area tends to mess up on a lot of graphics cards. mainly those that don’t like OpenGL fiddling with texture.

Download

 

 

Invaders

My second full game, an invaders clone with a ship upgrading twist (not a very new twist i know).

It features 256 colour hand draw animations and different aliens with different strengths. Sadly over the years since I wrote it I’ve lost the final complete 200 level version, so all you have here is a cut down 20 level demo version. A shame really.

It lacks sound I’m afraid, if you’ve every tried to code for the old soundblaster you may well understand.

invadersScreen2

Notes

Invaders runs at 320×200 modeX resolution, also written using the borland pascal compiler, it will also fail to run unless you’ve got a 386,486 or old Pentium. It does however run very nicely in DOSbox

Download

Logic

This was really my first full game, a simple puzzle game the aim of which is to push blocks onto buttons to gain access to the next level, a full 17 levels are included.

On start-up I messed with the current EGA pallette to make things look nice then did so again as it went into the main game. Sadly DOSBox doesn’t like such dubious behavior so once in game the pallette now retains the colours of the title screen. Nice title screen, shame about the brownness of the game. I’ll see what I can do about that at some point. For now, here’s the title screen.

 

Logic Title Screen

Notes

Logic runs at 1024×768 resolution using a custom and dynamically updated 16 colour palette the now ancient EGAVGA borland graphics interface so if you’ve got almost any modern machine it’s unlikely to even start.

On a 386/486 it runs a treat and I’ve also found it runs quite well (with somewhat reduced colour capabilities) in the excellent DOSbox

 

Download

 

 

The Principles of Optics

Somtimes it’s nice to go back to basics and make sure that all the technical art skills you learnt at college have not been lost.

Interestingly this is one of the few of my paintings that I prefer in it’s digital form.

Acrylic on Canvas 34′ x 25′

PrincipleOfOptics