Sprint 2 – Onward, to Glory! – Retrospective

ONWARD, TO GLORY!

Week of January 22nd, 2017

OVERVIEW

Another week in the books, and another good one at that.

This week was that of systems. The biggest – by far – was the enabling of the day/night cycle and related systems surrounding it. Slowly but surely this virtual world is waking up and becoming real. Soon it will grow far beyond my control, and I am very much looking forward to that!

The only thing I’m bummed about is this feeling of leaving money on the table – not actual money, of course, but rather the feeling that my time could have been spent better. I have a feeling that’s going to be a common thought as I grind through this new life of mine. I could always be doing more, always be doing better.

Well, I can at least always try.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • It cannot be understated how important getting a day/night system up and running was. I am so excited for what’s to come
  • I finished my first lore piece that details the history of a fictional (?) game company creating a fictional (?) game. Expect many more of these as development continues, though their content and style will vary wildly
  • I settled on a new possible game title through sheer coincidence. By simply reversing the original “Monster Village” I have stumbled upon the much better – and likely final – Village Monsters
  • I have begun – in earnest – to work through HeartBeast’s wonderful tutorials
  • Several new villagers have been thought out, written down, and constructed
  • The player has been shaven and then, paradoxially, received a stubbled beard in its place

LOWLIGHTS

  • I’m a 29 year old man and my days are still being derailed by naps that destroy me. I need to stop!
  • I had a tough day on Friday and it impacted me more than it should have

SHOW & TELL

Feature Friday: Hero of Time

Welcome to another edition of Feature Friday.

Today, I’m going to go over one of the constants in life and video games – the passage of time.

What Makes You Tick?

First up, I want to talk a bit about my overall design goals for the passage of time in my game.

Village Monsters is a mashup of genres, but above all it’s focused on one thing: being a village life simulator.

To properly simulate an interesting village life you really need a lot of systems that play off each other, and there is perhaps no more important system than that of time. It’s certainly the one that I’ve given the most thought to!

Early on, I knew what I didn’t want to do…

  • I didn’t want an Animal Crossing system of everything being in real time
    • It’s a neat idea, but didn’t fit my vision
  • I didn’t want the player to stress about what time it was
    • I see this frequently with the Harvest Moon “subgenre” where you always need one eye on the clock. This also didn’t fit
  • I didn’t want to stray too far from realism, either
    • There’s going to be some strange things going on in this digital world – I want to give player plenty of opportunities to latch onto things that obey predictable rules

My first decision was to abstract the concept of time itself. Behind the scenes I still keep exact measurements, but to the player there are only eight slices of time for each day: Early Morning, Late Morning, Early & Late Afternoon, Early & Late Evening, and Early & Late Night

A very early draft of the day-night wheel, ranging from Early Morning (the yellow slice with the sunrise) and Late Night

As the day marches on it’ll gradually transition from one time of day to another. There’s only eight of them (compared to, you know, 24 actual hours!), but that’ll let me give each one enough attention to make them feel distinct in their usage of music, color, lighting, and various happenings. In this way I can communicate the passage of a day without the player needing to think about the exact hour or minute.

Tick-Tock

The next challenge had to do with the length of day itself

It’s hard to make firm decisions this early on; after all, I have a single room with a couple interiors and not much to do – how on earth can I decide on a length based on that? Still, I needed something.

I ended up researching other games, such as Stardew Valley, Majora’s Mask, and Minecraft,  for inspiration

It seems an average virtual day can range from as short as 10 minutes to as long as 20. Ever the compromiser, I settled on something right down the middle

The current rate of movement allows for about 2.5 minutes per time of day, for a total of about 20 minutes for a full cycle. However, practically speaking an average day will be more around 15 minutes – you won’t find much success in working sunrise to sunrise.

This rate isn’t necessarily locked in stone, either, as there will be various ways to alter the flow of time in-game. I’m open to adjusting it as we go along.

The Clock Wheel

I wanted the UI element to be an important part of the time system itself. I have especially fond memories of Major’as Mask and how it communicates time to you with a big, simple visual at the bottom of your screen

I also wanted a visual like this, especially because of the game’s top-down perspective – you can’t see the sky, so communicating the passage of time (as well as the feel of each time of day) would fall heavily on the UI

I went through a lot of iterations of a circle-based “visual clock wheel” of sorts. Eventually, I settled for the below. This is it running at “real time”…

It ticks once a second

…and here it is rapidly cycling through an entire day.

Everything – especially the visuals and transitions – are very much works in progress, but this gives you a sense for what’s possible

Each slice corresponds to a specific time of day as well as the weather. You” have noticed that it doesn’t just display the current time and weather, but also upcoming weather as well. This is yet another strategy of communicating the flow and passage of a day without being too obtrusive.

In the future, it’ll even tell you of upcoming holidays, events, and other things that are time-dependent – all of this, rolled up into a fairly unobtrusive UI element. I’m really happy with how it came out!

There’s also the method I am using to create the time wheel itself. Instead of creating one static image of a wheel I’m instead drawing each “slice” separately and stitching them together as the game runs. This makes it trivial to add new graphics for each time of day, weather, or holiday, and should help me stay as “futureproof” as possible.

Mega Months

I’m not quite ready to talk in great detail about other forms of time – like weeks, months, or seasons. But I did want to give a sneak peak of what I’m thinking of.

Similar to abstracting of time of day I want to also abstract the passage of months. Many games already do this, actually – in fact, the majority use a simple “1 month = 1 season” system and have four such months per year.

I didn’t like how “quick” a year felt with this system. In Village Monsters, you’re going to have a lot to do on a given day, and there’s going to be a great amount of holidays and events. I didn’t want it feeling like a month – and, by extension, an entire season – was flying by.

The current system I’m experiment with is a “2 months = 1 season”. Similar to my “Early Morning / Late Morning” system, I’m going with Early Season / Late Season

The “feel” of the start of a season is very different than the end of a season, and this type of system really lets me capture those differences. It also lets you ‘breath’ in between various holidays, events, and other things that’ll take up your time.

There’s always the risk of taking too much time, though, especially as it relates to how much time I can realistically ask people to play to experience everything the game has to offer. It’s a balancing act!

More to come soon. Thanks for reading!

Luckstone Lore #001: For you, it was Saturday

[Isaac, thx for getting in touch.  Found the below on the old rig. Rough draft, rougher than I remember. Mind the grammar]

“For you, it was Saturday. But for me? It was the start of the rest of my life”

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just experienced my first “Robert-ism”, a name given by the peers of John Roberts to the quips and idioms he repeats at every opportunity.

Roberts, a stocky man in his mid-30s with a closely-cropped beard, is disarmingly pleasant. The first thing you notice about him is how he is always smiling, always ready to laugh at some hidden joke that only he can hear. 

His eyes glimmer as he waits for me to ask which Saturday he’s referring to. I eventually relent, and do so.

“August 22nd, 1987,” he says without hesitation. “You know what happened that day? The Legend of Zelda was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It changed everything for me.”

Our interview is in his office, an expansive room nestled in an equally expansive office building. His desk –  a solid slab of mahogany polished to an almost blinding sheen – is unadorned save for a notepad and single picture frame facing him.

“I was always a big gamer,” Roberts recalls, “Pac-Man at the Pizza Horn in my hometown. Rogue and Castle Wolfenstein on my brother’s PC. But Zelda was more than a game. It was a world, you know? It was a feeling! Freedom and exploration and adventure. It taught me what games could be. I never saw them the same after that.”

The walls of his office are as bare as the desk, save for one spot directly behind him – a framed poster of The Legend of Zelda


“Five years later, when the 3rd one released – Link to the Past – it’s like I had this vision of the future of video games. I didn’t want to just be an outsider anymore. So I gathered a bunch of coworkers at Shockley-Bell and we all quit together. Formed the studio that same day”

Luckstone Software, founded in 1992, has become something of a legend among hardcore video game enthusiasts. 

Roberts downplays it now, but his business connections – thanks in part to his father and successful businessman, James Roberts – propelled his ragtag team of developers into a multi-million dollar studio.

“My connections got my foot in the door”, Roberts is careful to concede, “but I’m the one that gave the door a shove.”

That “shove” was the game pitch that Roberts has since become famous for. Securing initial funding of $10mil, then an additional $25mil after that, Luckstone Software and its debut project – The Tale of the Monster Slayer – quickly became the most funded video game and studio of its era. 

But perhaps more famous than its inception and funding is the secrecy surrounding both studio and game. Very little is known about The Tale of the Monster Slayer other than “it’ll be a world you live in, not a game you play” – another Robert-ism often recounted in interviews.

There are also hints that there’s been a great deal of trouble behind the scenes. It’s been delayed twice – once for 6 months, missing its initial holiday 1995 window, and then again after that. No new release date has been offered.

Roberts appears to be nonplussed by the delays. “The price of innovation,” he explains, “It’s a non-story. It’ll be done when it’s done.”

Our 5-minute interview – the longest Roberts would agree to – is nearly finished after that. I thank him before being escorted out of the office as the next interviewer in line is ushered in behind me.

This would be the last time that I – or anyone else – would speak with John Roberts for 4 years.


The Roberts of 2000 appears to have aged two decades since we last spoke. His hair – now more white than brown – reaches to his shoulders in an tangled mess. His beard is unkempt and stained near the edges. There is no smile this time, no Robert-isms as we sit down to talk.

Luckstone Studios shuts down this week. It was able to survive nearly 7 years of bad publicity, lawsuits, and even rumored reports of arson. But few companies can survive the incarceration of its owner.

“I’m not dead yet, though. Not dead yet.” A hint of a smile – of the Roberts I spoke to back in ’96 – creeps onto his lips. “They’ll need to

[Cuts off mid-sentence – very dramatic! Sorry, buddy, this was the only page I could grab. The rest of the draft is corrupted.

I’m working on the recovering the other documents. There’s also the transcript of my convo with Lovette. I’ll send them as soon as I can. Hope this helps! -J]

Sprint 2 – Onward, to Glory! – Plan

ONWARD, TO GLORY!

Week of January 22nd, 2017

WARP DOGS’ CORP LOGS

  • The state of our WARP CORP is still ~insanely heckin’ good~
  • The Extinction-Level-Event (ELE) is at a new all-time record of 48 weeks away. Indescribable!

This week’s chart is a bit misleading! I didn’t spend a cent from the overall nest egg I’ve saved up, but this isn’t because I’m some sort of financial mastermind. Rather, I had some leftover money in the line items I did spend from, so I had no need to dip into the coffers.

This week, and the weeks thereafter, will likely be a great deal more spendy.

I had a great first week, and I can only hope this next one is just as productive. I really like this being my own boss thing. At this point the biggest risk to the whole operation is losing steam, so I’m plowing forward with reckless abandon.

SPRINT GOALS

Last sprint I laid down the foundation and began to implement various systems, such as critter catching, creature interaction, and notifications. This sprint will be more of the same, but with different systems. The current plan is something as follows:

  • Better conversation system and overall dialog management
  • Fishing and related systems
  • An actual village map
  • Historical Society and related systems

If last sprint was any indication these goals will spawn way more tasks that I can’t even think of yet, but the hope is, as always, to just get a boatload of things done.

Gonna do my best today!

Sprint 1 – Here We Go! – Retrospective

HERE WE GO!

Week of January 15th, 2017

OVERVIEW

My first sprint is over, and I think I can with a straight face that it was a resounding success.

I got a ton done! Given that I now have 8+ hours a day to work on this project instead of ~2-3 then I guess I better have, but still, it was really nice to see come true.

Working from home and being my own boss is cool. And hard. Each morning I try to get up and get dressed as if I’m going to a real job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wearing a tie or anything, but I do wear shoes and a nice(ish) pair of pants and shirt and the like. My chair is not nearly as ergonomic as my previous work chair, but then again this cost $10 at Goodwill and not $1,000 from an office supply store.

It’s working for me.

Anyway, let’s move onto the highlights and lowlights

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The game looks and feels and plays nothing like it did before – and that’s good! The whole project was ripped open, rebuilt, polished, and put back together
  • I have entire systems working now, such as bug catching, interior transition, creature interaction, notifications, and more
  • I got way more art done than expected, and ended up replacing every piece of placeholder art with my own stuff
    • Everything is still WIP, but it’s also much, much closer in style and tone to the final product
  • I have a much deeper understanding of GML in general, but also specifically the powers of scripting
  • Everything went really great and I sincerely had a blast doing this all week. I am so genuinely happy about what I’m doing

LOWLIGHTS

  • I tried working in the city for one of the days and it was a real drag. Really hard to concentrate and I felt a lot more aimless than I did at home
  • I’ve run into a couple bugs that were clearly from my own lack of expertise as a developer, and that’s bummed me out
  • For as much as I got done, I do wish I got even more. I feel like I met my expectations for what I thought I could do, but I want to be at the stage where I am suprassing them. I need to be efficient in time and money

SHOW & TELL

Feature Friday: An Early Look at Catching Critters

This is the first of what will be many Feature Fridays. Each Friday I’ll take one major feature or interesting mechanic that I’ve been working on in Monster Village and really dive into it.

Today, I’m going to talk about the first of at least three hobbies: Critter Catching!

What are “Hobbies”?

At its heart, Monster Village is a village life simulator. With this in mind. you’re probably already expecting a fair amount of “stuff” to do, and you’d be correct to think so.

The game is going to be chock full of activities, pastimes, and a whole lot of other tasks that you can do on a daily basis. Today’s feature is about one category of activities called hobbies.

Hobbies are more involved than other activities, and there are a few things that really set them apart:

  • They require several specialized & upgradable tools to perform
  • There’s progression in the form of skills, titles, and other upgrades
  • Most important, the end result of each hobby is to find collectibles for your Compendium, the museum, your house, or just to sell

At present there are three hobbies in the development: Critter Catching, Fishing, and Treasure Hunting.  As you may have guessed already, today’s Feature Friday is digging into the first one!

 

What’s the best tool for catching critters? A critter-catching net! Seems obvious in retrospect

Tools of the Trade: Nets, Traps, & Bait

There are many type of critters out there to catch and collect. Some, like the annoying Sea Fly, require no hunting – they’ll find you

You again!

However, most critters aren’t so easy to catch. Take the Half-Hopper, pictured below. One look at the player and they’ll bolt away before you can catch them.

Don’t talk to me or my half-son ever again

Your net is your primary tool to capture critters. Sometimes you’ll need to chase the creature, and other times you’ll need to sneak up on them unawares.

But what if you can’t catch them with just a net? After all, this Half-Hopper – despite only having half the legs you’d expect of a frog – is pretty fast!

That’s where bait and traps come in.

Bait allows you to lure your quarry either toward you or a specific spot. This is especially valuable for critters that run away, but it can also be used to flush out creatures that are hiding in the environment.

Traps are often used in conjunction with bait to capture critters without the need of your net – in fact, you don’t even need to be around at all!

However, every critter in Monster Village is different, and catching them will require some planning. In fact, each critter has its own unique behaviors, likes & dislikes, and temperaments, so to be successful at hunting you’ll need to be observant, curious, and be willing to research.

Take the aforementioned Half-Hopper. It is known by all that these frogs have a special hankering for Sea Flies. As such, if you could just capture the easily catchable Sea Fly and then release it near the harder-to-catch Half-Hopper, you just might have some better luck…

Incredible! That frog was so hungry he didn’t even bother entering his walking animation!

Ok, so clearly there’s more work to be done here, but hopefully you get the idea!

The Future

Each area of the game will feature its own set of critters to catch & collect, and this will be a huge driver to explore and adventure through the many strange lands seen outside of town.

Some critters might be especially unique or bizarre, and they will certainly not be easy to get, so be sure to level up your skills, your net, and your knowledge to catch them all…

sure, why not?

Critter Catching is going to be a major part of the game, so expect to hear more about it in the near future!