Pretending to be a game developer since 2005

Update after 8 years

2019-01-14 by H:S, tagged as ivn, meta, the hole

It's hard for me to believe that about a quarter of my life has passed since the last update. Almost nine long years, and still it feels like I got this website running only a year or two ago. Looking back on the first post, I can't help but to find it kind of embarrassing. :) But I decided to leave it here anyway, to serve me as a remainder to avoid posting on my public page unless I'm sure I have all the marbles together.

That being said, my being pissed off with life, the universe and everything was probably one of the things that kick-started a new round of work on my various projects, even though the level of enthusiasm that radiates from the first post certainly did not last long. At the very least, I'm not so hell-bent on ripping a hole in the fabric of space-time, or whatever. :)

So, what's new, then?

Antisocial he29.net

Let's start right here, at this website. Obviously, it looks nothing like I originally suggested. The idea of replacing my FB account did not work out well at all. Naturally. The microblogging system was buggy and soon filled with spam. The photo gallery lacked a user-friendly comment system and access control. And most of all: who would really bother checking my personal site,1 when they have all the major updates from all their friends conveniently appearing in one place, at their Facebook feed?

(1 Except, perhaps, for the one maniac that forgot to delete it from their RSS reader -- yes, I'm looking at you! :P)

In short, even if anyone did care about my day-to-day blabbering, there would be no easy way for them to react to my posts, the maintenance would be a pain, etc.. It just wasn't the right platform. I eventually got back to using FB and this website essentially froze in time, slowly decaying until I at least removed the spam-infested micro-blogging system two or three years later.

In the future, I intend to keep this website more public-oriented. I.e., the primary focus will be on my work and projects. The main image gallery will be removed, or re-purposed for screenshots and project-related photos. The Japan 2010 gallery will stay, but I don't think I will ever find enough motivation to finish uploading all the photos. We'll see.

As far as Facebook goes, it's been really getting on my nerves lately. At this point, I'm slowly starting to avoid "the feed", since FB keeps insisting on showing me their "what we think you want to see" bullshit, and there is not really any option to see all recent posts in chronological order. Even if you select "Most recent" posts, FB can (and will) drop random posts that it considers "unimportant".2

2 Just yesterday,3 I saw a post by one of my friends. Before reading the comments bellow it, I checked a few other posts first. When I got back to the feed to read the comments, the post was gone. It didn't appear in the main feed or the "Most recent" one. It wasn't deleted, I could still reach it from my friend's profile page. But FB just decided it was no longer interesting and dropped it from my feed. No way around it. And this happens to me regularly. One has to wonder how much other stuff FB just silently drops like that.

3 Actually, I started writing this a few months ago, so at this point.. yeah, it's not really a "yesterday" anymore. Oops.

And I don't get me started on the constant nagging about adding my phone number, about installing the Android app (which essentially amounts to spyware, asking for just about any permission you can think of) or tricking my friends to unknowingly send me invitations to the Messenger app. If it was all part of a great plan to make me ditch the platform again, it worked pretty well. I'm now thinking about simply getting a FB Transport in my Jabber account and logging in to the main site just once a week or so, to check on any status updates that Facebook kindly didn't decide to censor. It could actually work pretty well since most people nowadays do not post all that often anyway...

Well, that Facebook rant was a bit longer than I intended, so let's move on.

The Hole -- Díra

One of my oldest projects. Maybe even the oldest project. Díra. Or The Hole, as I came to call it in English (although it does not feel quite right). :) It must be around 15 years now since I got the initial idea.4 And although there is still no finished game in sight and there were years when I completely forgotten about it, the last few years certainly mark some big changes and progress.

4 Actually, I just checked and it seems to be closer to 14 years [cz]. Sadly, the original site where Únos Game was hosted is long gone.

The first big change is that The Hole is now not my only "long term pet project". Some ideas from the original story have sprouted in my mind, gradually developing into two new major stories. There is some connection to the original story, but they are both very different, individual "worlds". And to be honest, most of my "pet project" time went toward the new worlds, because their novelty brought so much motivation I simply could not resist.

The only remaining problem is... well, there is now at least three times the work required to finish the series. I can't just say: "Meh, I've got like 40 or 60 years to do it, no worries." I want my games to be perfect. Or as close to perfect as I can get. And there's the problem.

I played some games recently, that were supposed to be the work of a single developer, for the most part at least: namely Undertale and To The Moon. Both relatively short, with relatively simple graphics and relatively small "worlds". Relative to "big" games, i.e. I can imagine that a single person could indeed pull it off. Both games were really great and "perfect". If I could create something of similar quality, I would be perfectly satisfied.

And then the ending credits rolled.

Well, what can I tell you. It was nowhere close to the "one man band" I imagined. :) It dawned on me, that getting to the point where I'm satisfied with the result would require much more effort than I imagined. Right off the bat, I can forget creating my own music or modeling and texturing most of my own assets. There is just no way I would match the quality that "real" artists can achieve in fraction of the time I would have to invest into it.

So, there goes my original idea to simply take whatever I imagine and "make it reality". It became clear, that I would either have to get a full-blown "studio" going (get some artists, a musician, an extra programmer and whoever else), or accept the idea that the end result simply won't look exactly like what I imagine.

And that brings me to the second big change, or a decision, rather -- what type of game am I even trying to make? What exactly is it that I see in my head?

The first version of Díra was mainly inspired by a game called Phobia II. It is a simple 2D shooter: one or two players are standing in the middle of an open battlefield and defend against endless waves of hungry aliens. The problem was that as the storyline grew, this format became a bit limiting. After the first few years of neglect, I never came back to it and for a time I worked exclusively on the story itself.

Books are also a great way to tell a story and they rarely contain illustrations. If I could draw on the reader's imagination to fill in the details, there would be no need to spend time on music and visuals. So in the second phase, I thought about writing a book instead.

I wrote a large portion of the first chapter, but it didn't work out very well. Looking back, I may have been overthinking it too much. I focused mainly on all the "glue" holding the text together, instead of making sure the reader gets sucked into the story and stays interested until the last word of the last chapter. I may be able to do a better job today, but it still seems to me that books generally contain too much filler content that cannot be easily avoided -- all the artistic and funny descriptions of rooms, local terrain and characters, or casual mentions of rainy day smelling like wet bird's feathers. Not something I feel confident putting into words.

Even though I later discovered that not every book needs to be on the language level of Tolkien to be absolutely amazing (sending my regards to A. Sapkowski and T. Prachett :))), I did not really feel like I could write something exceptional, a note-worthy book, with my limited experience and artistic vocabulary. So I eventually dropped the book idea as well.

Before I finally realized the limitations of my skill-set and time budget, I even considered making a 3D RPG. This idea came around the time when the second world -- story I call The Grid -- started growing in my mind. While it would be a great fit in some ways, the amount of work required to build all the (mostly outdoor) areas made it essentially impossible. Also, RPGs usually require some beasts to be slain, quests to be done and content-packed areas to be explored. And none of that really fits my needs that well. In the end, all the RPG stuff would simply get in the way of the story I want to deliver.

So, what's left? Books require too much fluff for my liking, 3D "walking" games are too heavy on visuals and other media, and 2D games generally do not align very well with what my 3D inner eye sees. In other words, I need a mix of all three formats: something that a) will let me focus on the story, b) allows nice visuals that supplement the story, reducing the amount of "fluff" needed, and c), does not require insane amount of work so I can actually finish making all games in my spare time before I drop dead.

For me, the answer was something like a visual novel. I have considered it earlier as well, but the RPG format looked so tasty that I couldn't stop trying to figure out how to make it work. Only after playing the Zero Escape series and Ever17 (both amazing games which I highly recommend), I realized that visual novel may simply be the perfect story-delivery vehicle for my needs.

It is still quite text-heavy so I can go into details if I need to, but for the most part, a single image of a dark, dusty room can help me to set the mood far more easily than a detailed, page-long description. It also means that I still get to play around with 3D graphics (turning your imagination into something "real" is great fun!), but since all the illustrations can be mostly static, I can afford to take more shortcuts -- i.e. save a lot of time.

So. Is it done yet?

Well, no. Did you really expect something else? :D

I came to the conclusion about game format about a year ago. The thing is -- I'm not really all that happy with existing visual novel engines. I mean: they seem to be great for pure visual novels, but that's it. If you want something extra, you are mostly out of luck. Specifically, I want it to support any platform I choose, I want a support for fully 3D background scenes and I want a flexible way to include some interactive parts -- a mini-game, puzzle, or even a 1st person exploration of a small area.

The "industry standard" engines (NScripter and KiriKiri) are Windows-only and / or old and closed-source, so any extensive customization is out of the question. Ren'Py seems great in theory, but I want to use Unreal Engine for all the mini-games and background 3D stuff, and I there does not seem to be a straight-forward way to integrate python with UE4. And trying to "write" a visual novel directly in UE4 seems like a great way to get sent to a padded cell in a nice facility at the edge of a town.

So, in the end I started to work on my own visual novel engine. The idea is simply to build a "framework" that makes it easy to input and manage all the dialogs, story flow, decisions, background transitions and character animations. I.e., a set of commands to change a background scene, to make a character say something or change expression, to play a sound effect and so on. And all directly in C++, so there would be no messing-around with UE4 integration when the time comes.

As a bonus, once the script is written, it should be easy to port to any C++-compatible engine: if I decide UE4 is not a good choice after all, I can simply change implementation of all the command functions and nothing in the (possibly quite large) script has to be touched. In fact, the current implementation simply "renders" everything in a terminal window. Good enough for now.

The main limitation is that the script becomes part of the game code. This makes it harder to support translations, for example. Saving the game state is also a bit tricky, since you can't simply remember the last line of code you executed and go from there. Other engines usually separate script from the engine code, which seems like a smart choice: you can easily save a pointer to the last line, and even a third party can easily produce a translation by copying the script file and replacing the original text.

To me, however, a separate script-file is just another layer in the way. With pure C++, I don't need to waste time building and maintaining a custom script editor, and I don't have to manage heaps of script-file versions if I add a new control command every other week. So for now, I'm sticking with a simple:

tom.say("What a nice weather today!");

It's true that all those semicolons and parenthesis are a bit annoying -- Ren'Py is much nicer in this regard. But it gives me all the flexibility I need, I don't have to worry about UE4 integration problems and with syntax highlighting the script source is actually quite readable. I may reconsider if it turns out to be problematic, but at least I have something working now.

So, that's about it. If you just read through all of that stuff above -- wow, thanks. I didn't think anyone really cared at this point. :D After all those years of waffling about how I'm thinking of a great game.. Yeah, I would like to finally see some results as well.

Currently I have two projects on stack: CC: TESO (or The Screw), a short story meant as a demo / development script for the new engine, and RRA!, a VR rhythm game idea that drives me to learn Unreal Engine and to get better at making 3D assets and environments. So, while it means Díra is on hold again, both of my current "pet projects" keep me interested and in a way contribute to eventually bringing "The Hole" to life. And to tell the truth, these projects are not actually all that unrelated -- but I guess you will have to wait a few more decades to see what I mean.. :D So, stay tuned and let's hope the next update takes me less than eight years.. :))