Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pause in the action

Updates recently have been lacking.  This is due to a combination of indecision on my part and some real life concerns that trump any independent, unpaid projects.  Suffice it to say, indecision has passed, but the other concerns are still present, front, and center.  I will continue this project when I later have less pressing concerns in the way.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Much Ado

After much hemming and hawing, I finally did what I knew I should.  Many failed attempts at designing a "blank" face/head led me to use the artistic tools at my disposal to create my own template.  For my purposes, a blank means a basic template from which other such items will be derived.  The template for this blank consisted of half a drawn face (rather than the free GIMP, I used Adobe Photoshop CS3, something I purchased years ago; not the most up to date program, but still good).  I used several guide lines first of all, and on separate layers used the pen tool to create smooth, simple lines (width 3 brush was optimal for me).  First of all, both parts of the template (front and side view) require the same size circle as a base, with the same height for eyes, nose, mouth, and other details.  As this was a blank, I did not bother including hair or other distinguishing features; those will be more important for specific characters and added details.

Once a simple template was finished, I saved it on my desktop for easy reference; it works better for me as a one-man crew, but a team of multiple people is often served better by having a project folder where all related materials are stored.  For blender, the work began on a standard sized sphere.  I added the template as a background image first in the front view, editing the size and position such that the template-circle of the front view (half-face) matched in size and position to the sphere.  The next step was matching the size and position for the side-view's circle to the sphere.  Note, it's important to make sure you're working on the same side on both the front and side views.

From that step, it was mostly tedious work, though a tip I give is to make sure that the face is sufficiently flat while you're rendering.  Not completely flat, mind, but while the skull is generally round in back, the combination of bone structure and viscera leave the face and front side of the head somewhat flat or square.  If you try to render it out, you'll understand what I mean.

The last labor before I considered the face done was filling out the cheeks.  While my template drawings took into account such details as the nose, eyes, mouth, and even eyebrows (without hair), I neglected to note the position and depth of cheeks.  It's not an issue I deal with most days, and so I wound up with the tedium of moving individual vertices, checking and rechecking, until I was finally satisfied with this blank.  I feel it's better to have worried about it earlier rather than later, with each subsequent derivation facing the same tedious issue to the same extent.  Once complete, I duplicated the half of face I worked with, and shifted it to the side.  I used the mirror tool to flip the face to mirror it's original (over the X axis), and then flipped the faces (so that it would render properly).  With the face itself mostly complete, it was a few small spheres and minor editing to give the face eyes, leaving a small bit of editing later to add a back to the head (half of a standard sphere).  One day in the future, I'll worry about making lips and a mouth that can animate.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Some Progress

A day with few real distractions, I manged to make some progress.  I was stuck during my efforts to 3d render a head, so I shifted goals and instead used my time to craft a simple, 3d treasure chest.  It's enough of a staple that it would eventually be needed in my project, and with few enough details.  However, having not built one up before, I found myself taking the better part of the day figuring out how to get it looking the way I wanted it to.  Now, I do intend to modify it further in the future (I haven't made an animation of it opening), but to start everything out, I'm going for functionality before I worry if everything's pretty enough.

In addition to creating a treasure chest, I've begun compiling a list of items I'll potentially want to render in 3d besides the characters.  Once I design a baseline human I can do quick modifications and proliferate for generic NPCs and humanoid enemies, or custom modification to represent specific characters.  Either way, I feel my time learning 3d is best spent on simpler applications first.  You're mileage may vary.

As far as heads go, two issues were frustating me: figuring out how I wanted to sculpt a chin, and figuring out how to put together an eye.  Painting the eye on a sphere didn't seem to work for me, and I've yet to figure out how to bind 2 separate objects (I came up with a work-around for separating components from objects). I did, however, realize that I could use extruded edges to shore up the gaps between the eyeball and the eye socket.  Amazing how difficult it can be to discover the obvious.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Project Basics

Any good project begins with an outline of what is intended and what is expected.  Well, as I do plan to make some personal gain out of this project, I'm going to keep some aspects purposefully vague.  That shouldn't be much of an issue until later stages when I have to creatively leave out certain information and still expect people to understand.  To keep it simple (the basics) we're looking at a pretty standard fantasy world.

Warning for those who've spent much time dealing with fantasy worlds, though; my aim is to avoid certain stereotypes and preconceived notions.  The first such instance regards "Orcs."  Most people think of them as "pig faced, muscly humans."  The etymology is much more forgiving towards artistic license; it's derived from "orca," the current proper name for what is commonly referred to as Killer Whales.  Orca and orcs refer to monsters of just about any generic variety, generally thought to be born of the water.  The society that invented this word feared the water, out of superstition and even somewhat from the invasions of foreigners.  As such, I plan to take plenty of creative liberties with the term and what it refers to in this world I'm crafting.  For those of you who share my enthusiasm for Japanese comics and cartoons, a similar word might be "yokai" or "kaiju."  Yes, I know both of those words have rather different connotations, but both of those connotations fall within what an "Orc" originally was.  Anyways, the brief outline of what I'm seeking to craft:
  • World: standard fantasy world, stylized
  • Player Avatar: identifiable fantasy protagonist with personal motivations and failings
  • Characters: stylized 3d (super-deformed/simplified) sprites, graphic representation in conversations (important NPCs)
  • How will the game play?
  • plot (basics)
  • additional features (aka aspirations)
    • Factions (you can't please everybody)
    • Upgrades (how it'll be done, scope of upgrades, etc.)
The world I intend to show a range of areas, beginning with a forested Hub area leading to the other areas.  Not going too deep on this front yet, though ruins/caves/etc. are likely to be in the works eventually.  All things in due time.

Due to story constraints, I'm having issues with character design for the main character.  Long story short, he needs to be identifiable, but cannot have the stereotypical shining armor or fancy accouterments.  His armor will be either a brigandine or gambeson (I'm still deciding between the two, the key being functionality and servicability), I've never been good with regards to hair styles for heroes, much more difficult in that there's really been a dearth of men's style and fashion outside of a narrow box for several decades.  Granted, I do know that suspension of disbelief is a powerful tool in regards to what a character can get away with for story purposes, but these style choices are intended to tell much about the character, where he finds himself and why, as well as the world in which he finds himself.

I'm unsure if I should list too many details about the plot and characters for a few reasons.  One of those reasons is, of course, to not reveal too much about my project's intended outcome.  The second is to prevent spoilers.  In the interest of providing a quality product with good thought put into it, I'll refrain from divulging too many details as far as character personalities go, while listing the difficulties of character designs.  Hopefully that'll be enough to satisfy those who follow this blog.

As for aspirations, I would like to add a lot of things.  Factions are at the top of the list, as I feel it would be an interesting mechanic to augment the story. I'm yet unsure how to handle upgrades.  I have a few ideas, but I consider them "complicated ideas to look at later."  I'd also like to add random dungeons before everything is over, but, let's face it, that's much more complicated to implement, and not always as satisfying for the player, as a well-designed dungeon. First and foremost, though, I will make a world and some decent characters to populate it.

I have a solid concept of how I want the game's play to be.  Though I hate to put it so simply and stereotypically, the easiest explanation is "Zelda-like, 3/4 Overhead exploration."  I'd prefer to implement a rotating/chasing camera view to eliminate the painful issues that camera angles can bring.  Jumping would be fun, too, but can cause it's own issues and generally is unrealistic to expect of somebody running around wearing armor, so we'll see.  A health meter of some sort will be implemented, though I'm debating weather to add a magic bar (such that would also include adding magic of some sort), a stamina bar (because running around the wild in even light armor and swinging a sharpened metal stick is tiring), and a few other things I'll mention later when it becomes pertinent.

Fool indeed.  Back to character design, then.  Once I have a functional hero design, I will work on making a functional hero... in 3d!

The Fool

As the tarot of the same name, I begin my journey in amateur game design with little knowledge of the pitfalls and dangers to come, but with a naive optimism to light the way.  Okay, that's a load of crap.  I spent 3 years in college learning to design and program, and have yet to put those skills to use. I know how tedious the work can be.  I have a vague understanding of just how much work needs to be put in to make a game work well.  I'm doing this initially on my own, with a handful of friends who may be able to help me with it as time progresses.  However, here and now, the firmament that needs to be laid for my coming project... well, that all relies on me.  I am the Fool for believing it is possible.  And as The Fool, I accept that my road will be perilous from the first step.  However, this fool is not going to look backwards in dismay.  I welcome the dangers, I welcome the pain, and I welcome the challenge.

Prior to this posting, I've identified some the core issues that prevented me from making meaningful progress on previous ideas:

  • Attention problems
  • Getting so caught up in minutiae that I lose focus on the main goal
  • Allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the enormity of a project.
So, I've decided to address some of these issues in my own creative way.  I'm going to start in the shallows, so to speak.  That is, I'm going to run with the basics and work to establish the necessary stuff before getting bogged down by details.  It's like getting so caught up in how your socks look with your shoes that you leave the house in your undies.  A bit embarassing and not conducive to finishing anything.

The first few issues on the plate are finding a decent engine to run a game in.  Currently I'm looking at Unity 3d, partly because what I'm working on presently lacks the power to run UDK.  So sue me.  Unity seems solid enough for my purposes.  There are plenty of free tools available for game design if you're really interested enough to pursue it.

Secondly, corollary to the first, is the issue of designing the items to place inside the game, from character models to scenery, landscapes, textures, and miscellaneous other things.  While I am generally artistically inclined and trained in 3d modeling, I will not yet claim to be professionally experienced in that particular field.  I like to sketch, but haven't made a living off of it, and I'm terribly out-of-date with regards to my deviant art page.  As far as music... well... pray to whatever deity you believe in, and consider yourself warned.  3d design work I'm doing via Blender, a free tool that has updated it's user interface and provided a good series of introductory tutorials to familiarize new users.  It's pretty close to what I was trained on in school, and I should be able to crank out a few useful goodies to get started with.

As far as time... suffice it to say I'll be rather happy when trying to find free time to work on this project becomes an issue.  One aspect I hope to explore on this blog, as time goes by, is the various issues I face as an amateur game designer and the problems I come across, as they happen (no I'm not on Twitter and I don't intend to 'tweet' my problems literally as they appear).  It won't all be bad, I'll also show my successes as they appear, too, but often the challenges far exceed the successes they generate.  Just life and all.

Thank you all for reading; I hope to provide more content regularly.

tl;dr version for the attention-impaired:

bite me, read the above or buzz off, kthx.