Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Six Month Progress

There's only a few hours left in June, meaning it's been six months since I made my new-year's resolutions. Time to take a look at how I'm doing.

1. Watch More Anime
Um... I watched about 8 episodes of an anime about a bunch of assassins using ancient weapons to fight for justice before I decided that it wasn't for me. I guess that's progress?

2. Excercise More Regularly
Urgh. I have not been able to get into a routine. Part of it is work; we've been having lots of deadlines and I've often had to bring work home, which leaves me too tired at night and in too much of a rushed zombie state the next morning, which then breaks my routine. I keep trying to pick it up again, only for the same thing to happen. Not much I can do but keep trying I guess.

3. Paint More Minis
Well, I've finished 4 minis this year (although technically one of them was half-done last year), which kinda means so far I've matched my output from last year. So if I paint one more, I'm ahead? That's something I guess. I've been working for a while now on a magnetised warjack, but it has so many arms and other bits that the job is taking forever. Well, at least I'm looking good for achieving this one goal before the end of the year.

4. Post More Reviews
... sigh. Nope, nothing posted. I've made notes on a few movies that I watched, but that only means that my backlog is getting bigger. Once more, sigh.

5. Stick To A Routine
As mentioned above, this just hasn't been happening.

6. Be More Responsible With Money
Well, kind of. I guess.

So overall that's three-ish out of six. I guess that's not too bad, although I would like to do better for the rest of the year. Fingers crossed.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Sudden Urge To Blend

The other day I had a sudden urge to figure out the new Blender. A few years ago I spent some time with Blender, and learned how to use it at a basic level. I first learned to use Python by writing a file exporter to export from Blender into my engine. But that was version 2.49. When version 2.5 came out they changed the interface. I tried to find some tutorials on how to use the new interface but it was hard to separate between tutorials on the new and old versions, and I was too busy to put the time in.

But for some reason I decided yesterday to try again. It took me a while to get Blender's camera controls to play nice with Ubuntu, but eventually I was able to get it running smoothly. I found a nice simple tutorial on youtube, and the result was this:

I think that's not a bad start. The new interface seems cleaner than before; I think it will be easier to use. I might have to dig out my old file exporting script and see if it works with the new Blender, but since my engine isn't running at the moment I think that can wait. I'm going to continue following tutorials for a while and try to reach a higher level of skill with Blender than I used to have (well, I'm going to try; I'm way too busy and have way too many hobbies these days). It would be nice to be able to turn out some simple animations or something.

In my last post I talked about game ideas. I didn't discuss some of the smaller features that I was thinking about trying to get my engine to support. One thing is to try to create a generic character "layout", so that it's easy to mod by adding characters that follow the file format and description.

A much more ambitious idea is to take that a step farther and create a generic human mesh. That mesh could be modified to be any male or female character as long as the vertices were only moved around a bit and none were added or deleted. I think there would need to be some redundancy in the mesh to make it easy to modify, but the idea is then that clothes etc can be modelled separately, based on the default mesh - the idea is that the clothes are "anchored" on vertices that do not change (only move around a bit). Then the engine can easily add any clothes to any model and they should fit fine, by simply fitting to the standard vertices. The idea of course is to have a character customisations system. This idea is not particularly well thought out I suppose - I haven't done any research or anything - so it probably won't be all that simple in practice. Well, it's something to keep in mind for the future.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stealing Ideas

I was thinking about my old game engine the other day. I've barely touched that thing in over four years. Yet still I kinda feel like someday I want to do something with it. I don't know why, I just can't let it go. Some time late last year I put a few weeks into cleaning up the lowest-level module and converting it over to build with a makefile system (I'm running Ubuntu now, no more MS Visual Studio). I was having fun for a while trying to design a powerful multiplatform makefile, and I got the first module to build with it. I guess I ran out of time and/or steam shortly after starting to look at the second module, and of course then the momentum was gone.

I'm thinking about maybe going back to that second module, trying to get that to build under the new system. If I could get the engine running on Ubuntu that would be nice. I just have so little time these days, and to be honest I have less motivation than I used to; I don't really play very much these days, I have multiple time-consuming hobbies, I'm very busy at work, and with the Indie market huge on Steam these days there's seems to be less reason to try to produce a game for it's own sake, not when I don't exactly have any big ideas that I feel the need to see made.

Speaking of ideas, maybe I'll just put down what ideas I have had in the last year or so. I might have mentioned some of these before so bear with me.

First of all, back when I started this blog I had an idea for a game which I tentatively titled "Ghostwalker". The general idea was that as you got closer to death you would start to see into the spirit world; this could be an advantage since you would be able to see enemy souls through walls etc. A later idea involved multiplayer games where different players saw the world in different ways.

Well, recently I was thinking about that again and came up with a different take. This is heavily inspired by a short comic I read online a while back (I believe it was called Milk Run, although I remember something similar in a Spiderman comic once), where a man was stuck in a powered suit that fed him altered images of reality, making him think he was a knight battling demons. Remembering this, I thought, why not do that in a video game?

It would work something like this: the game would never break from first person. There would be very little narration; as much as possible the "story" -which would probably be quite minimalist - would just be communicated through events in-game, and as much as possible without trying to take control away from the player. There would be no HUD (except I suppose the pause menu). You would play a character who remembers nothing. This might not need to be explained outside of their body language in the first few seconds of the game, as they look at their own hands with unfamiliarity; I think perhaps it's enough that no backstory is given; he is as confused as you are (well, more-so since you know it's a game), which I think helps to put the player on the same page as the character they are playing, even if it can be clichéd. But hey, what isn't a cliché these days?

So however the game starts, the main character is quickly fighting for their life against demons or monsters or something, in old-fashioned or possibly unearthly environments (this would take some thought, but one element would be that all text that you come across would be in unreadable runes, as part of making the world seem unfamiliar). Early on you pass a mirror - and see your reflection: you are fully armoured (which you might have guessed from the sight of your gauntleted hands earlier). I'm thinking that at some point - probably the very first few seconds of the game, before the player is handed control - the character tries to take the armour off, but can't. It might be a good idea to scatter mirrors through the game so seeing yourself is a normal occurrence. You discover that you are capable of firing energy blasts from your hands (this might not even be scripted or explained; when the player naturally starts pressing buttons on the controller he discovers the "attack" buttons?). Perhaps there were glowing runes inscribed in the gauntlets' palms.

So the game goes on for a while. Some kind of narrative might start to take shape - I haven't put much thought into this, other than the idea that (in keeping with the comic) you probably learn about someone who you have reason to kill. Perhaps you are presented with a "vision" of the persons face, and he is made to look evil / shown at the head of the army of monsters/demons who you are fighting. Perhaps you occasionally come across text leading you to him, or perhaps you are just guided by visions.

After you've been playing the game for a while, there starts to be some bugs. Graphical glitches and so-on; animations that look off, etc. Nothing big, but it starts to get noticeable. Occasionally the whole screen glitches a little, but only for an instant, then it's back. This should be fairly subtle, always in-game (never trying to draw your attention to it in a cutscene or anything heavy-handed like that - heavy-handedness is the mortal enemy of plot twists), and it should go on for several hours of gameplay. Then it starts to get a bit more noticeable - occasionally you see models that look like they are from a completely different game - humans in modern clothing and so on. The model will probably be replaced after a moment with something more fitting in-game, like a demon. Then it starts to get even worse. As you pass mirrors, for just a moment (so at first the player will almost certainly miss it, or at best only catch it from the corner of their eye; eventually it might happen for long enough that if they are looking for it they will see it) the mirror doesn't reflect the knight in armour, but a man in a robotic powered suit. Finally - perhaps when taking damage from certain types of enemies - the whole screen starts to flicker and show you a completely different view, one of a slightly futuristic world populated by humans and robots rather than monsters and demons. During these glitches text suddenly becomes readable, the incomprehensible sounds your enemies are making are replaced by people yelling to each other in English, and so on.

I'm not exactly sure how exactly the full truth should be revealed (although I think it should be mostly obvious by now), but eventually you discover that you were locked in the suit and manipulated into killing a target (whether you realise this in time to not kill the target could be left open to player actions?). Perhaps there needs to be some motivation provided, like the suit is very powerful but people won't wear it willingly because it fries your brain or something, so in order to reach a well-protected target you were kidnapped, brainwashed and strapped in, and it's been feeding you an altered view of the world, but as it sustained damage it started to fail. What I do know is that surprise and journey of discovery is everything; it must be subtle, slow, and it MUST NOT BE REVEALED IN THE BLOODY TRAILER!

Ah-hem. Well, to be honest that's a pretty similar idea to a great game idea Yahtzee wrote about once, though the actual execution is obviously different.

Anyway, some other ideas I've had include:

-A split-screen multiplayer first-person arena deathmatch shooter that takes place on the inside of a miniature Dyson-sphere like structure. The general idea being that a) there aren't enough split-screen multiplayer games around, and b) a small arena where you can pretty much always see everyone else (as all you need to do is look up to find them) should help solve some of the problems associated with a "deathmatch" style game with only a few players playing.

-As above, but with fancy gravity mechanics, so there would be floating structures in the middle of the sphere, and if you get close enough (by jumping or using a jet pack or something) their gravity starts to affect you and pull you down onto the them, so you can go leaping across this space by jumping between the gravitational pulls of these floating asteroids and things.

-A strategic shooter (X-Com style) which obeys strict line-of-sight, so you can only see on-screen what is in the field-of-view of your characters, everything else is just blackness (except things that they have seen, which is then a muted grey to represent the fact that it's their last view of the place, but it may no longer be accurate).

-As above, but multiplayer with timed turns, so eg 30 seconds to decide on a character's action, then the character does it, now the next player has 30 seconds to decide what to do with their next character etc. Commands would involve things like "move then go into overwatch" or "move then scan for enemies" or whatever; you would have to que up all commands before triggering the execution, after which you have no control until your next turn. Not sure how well this would work, but I think the idea has potential - it would probably need lots of balancing though to give players a reason to advance without them very slowly stepping forwards while just hugging cover. I know that there's a game that works like this (can't remember the name), only everyone decides their moves at the same time then they are all executed at the same time, and I don't think there's any line-of-sight limitations? Dunno if there's anything closer to what I'm thinking than that, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was.

-A cartoony Street Fighter-like game that ONLY has special moves and ultra-over-the-top-super-moves, no regular jabs and kicks. Silly and probably relying much more on luck than skill, but could be funny for a few minutes.

As I've made clear, none of these ideas are very original, mostly they are slightly different takes (at least to the best of my knowledge) on what's already been done. Some of them I think have potential, but I suspect that even with modern game dev tools they are mostly too ambitious for just one man even if he had the time and skill, which I certainly do not. Which is why I'm writing them down; I'll obviously never be able to actually create them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Taking the Ice Queen out for a spin

I figured I hadn't put Sorscha on the table in a while and decided to see what she could against Skorne. I decided to go old-school and pull out the battle box jacks:

Sorscha I
Alexia and the Risen
Koldun Lord

As it happened my opponent was running an infantry spam list:
Xersis I
-Basilisk Drake
-Basilisk Drake
-Basilisk Krea
Aptimus Marketh
Tyrant Commander
Ancestral Guardian
Ancestral Guardian

I was feeling lazy and left the photography to my opponent this time, as a result the photos are taken from his side of the table. Perhaps that's good for me; by seeing the table through his perspective I might learn something?

We rolled the mission with two flags contested by objectives. I chose Arcane Wonder, not because I had any upkeep spells, but so it would kill any of his infantry models that attacked it. I think he also chose Arcane Wonder, probably because Xersis is only Fury 5 and has some of the best upkeeps in the game.

He won the roll-off and chose to go first. I chose the side with the forests, reasoning that they might be good for my Nyss. He had plenty of Pathfinder after all.

He deployed Xersis in the middle, on infantry unit on each side, and the warbeasts scattered around. I'm not sure why he didn't spread his infantry more; perhaps he's just used to playing beast heavy? The Immortals got Defenders Ward, bringing them up to an impressive 14/19.

I put Sorscha and co in the middle. The Nyss went behind the forest, with Alexia on the other side.

Turn 1:
He started to spread out his forces.

I moved up, keeping Alexia a little bit farther back. She created a thrall who ran behind the house; the way I figured it my opponent would want to run or charge the Nihilators forward, so he would most likely just run one to engage it since he couldn't charge it.

Turn 2:
A Drake killed a couple of Nyss with boosted spray attacks. The rest of his army spread out a bit, with the outliers ahead of the flags. He put up Inhospitable Ground, and the Krea put out it's animus to protect Xersis. I should mention that Marketh was toeing the hill but Xersis was not.

OK, so his Nihilators are facing off against my Risen. I've seen how this goes before; the Risen are useless againt Berserk models. Meanwhile his Immortals are functionally immune to my Nyss's shooting at ARM 19, meaning I need to take it to them in melee. My warjacks don't really have any good targets, and all his infantry are P+S 13, but he can cast Fury twice and his feat gives him extra melee damage dice, meaning I'm staring at 20 potentially MAT 7 P+S 16 weaponmasters. Plus his lights can do decent damage under the feat, especially with Fury, and Xersis himself hits like a ton of bricks. In other words there's nothing valuable for my jacks to go after (other than Xersis himself) and everything in his army can kill them trivially.

I decide that I pretty much have to feat this turn. I then have two choices: try to grind it out, with Sorscha keeping one of the units on ice, or try to end it now with an assassination. Xersis is on 2 Fury and in Sorscha's range, but I'll need to spend 4 focus getting there. I figure that if I can get three decent damage rolls, he'll burn through his transfers and take a bit of damage. Then the Destroyer can land a boosted Bombard shot with Koldun Lord focus, and the Nyss can hit him with a few CRAs; it sounds like it could work.

I figure assassination is supposed to be Sorscha's game so I might as well go for it. She freezes everything including Xersis, uses Wind-Rush and Boundless Charge, and starts wailing on him.

For some reason, and I don't know why, I've been under the impression for a very long time now that Sorscha was P+S 14. I mean, she's got that big hammer, she's a warcaster assassin by nature, I dunno, that's the just the number I had in my head. Turns out she's P+S 13? Ugh. That's just weak. Anyway, I didn't realise that until some time after the game, so I was rolling dice minus 4 against Xersis. My first attack, with 3 dice, came up... 4. My next two attacks were 3s. So basically Sorscha failed to even scratch a frozen Xersis. Sigh. It was obvious at this point that the game was lost, but I went ahead and played it out.

So I might have forgotten about the Krea's animus when formulating my plans. At dice minus 6, the Destroyer did 2 damage. With 2 transfers left, I figured my only chance of killing Xersis was to take each Nyss shot separately and roll all sixes for damage. I did not roll all sixes. In fact I only put another couple of points of damage on him. At that point I just handed over the turn.

Turn 3:
He used the Krea's animus to lower Sorscha's def to a mere 16. Then Xersis used a double-boosted combo smite to smack her into an Immortal for the extra damage dice. At 4 dice plus 6, he did 20 damage and killed her with a single attack.

I kinda felt bad about how short the game was; you know, when you put all the effort into setting up the table and pulling out your models and everything, the the game ends without you actually doing anything, it feels a bit of a waste. On the other hand I was actually quite tired and had somewhere to be a little later, so perhaps it's better that the game didn't go on for too long.

I might have been able to grind that game out with copious use of Freezing Grip. Maybe. The Nyss should have been able to deal with frozen Immortals over a couple of rounds or so (although without Freezing Grip against Defenders Ward, the Immortals clearly win; Immortals have better threat range, the same chance of hitting, but they insta-kill Nyss while Nyss have to roll 11s (on 3 or 4 dice of course) to kill an Immortal), though I would have had to put two or three into the Drake or else lose that number every round to sprays. My other flank would have completely collapsed however, as the Risen won't last two seconds against Nihilators; the only other thing I had was warjacks, and as I've mentioned he would have had no trouble wrecking them with Fury and his feat. I guess if had managed to hold them off for a couple of round then Sorscha would be free to start freezing them instead; since they're Tough that might actually have been easier for her. Of course I'd have to stay clear of Xersis himself through all that; he may not be very fast, but he does have beat-back.

I dunno, perhaps I could have won it if I'd played smart. I've been wondering if Sorscha is a good caster against Skorne. I don't think that many of her tools really help; the assassination is unlikely so Wind Rush and Tempest aren't that useful, Fog of War does nothing, the feat and Freezing Grip are good for infantry but won't be as useful against warbeasts. Boundless Charge is still good, but Skorne warbeasts can match or exceed that threat range so it only levels the playing field at best. Still, with a hard-hitting army her ability to take one infantry unit out of the equation or make sure all my attacks hit for one round shouldn't be bad. I just need to get some heavier hitters. Perhaps Epic Sorscha would be a more suitable choice?

After thinking about this for a while longer (like two weeks...), here's what I think I could have done:
-Sorscha feats on the two units, freezing most of the Immortals, then casts Freezing Grip on a frozen Nihilator to freeze the whole unit. She uses the last of her focus to kill a Nihilator with a Razor Wind before walking to safety behind the forest, where she kills another with a hand cannon shot.
-The Destroyer puts a bombard into the Drake on my right (the one that just killed a couple of Nyss). I believe he was frozen, meaning I could use the Koldun Lord focus to boost damage.
-Three Nyss go into the damaged Drake to make sure to kill it. The other five, along with Valachev, try to kill as many Immortals as possible.
-The Eliminators try to kill some more Immortals. I figure that along with the Nyss, I can probably kill half the unit.
-The Risen try to kill the frozen Nihilators. I guess I should be able to kill around 4 or 5; along with Sorscha's two that's 6 or 7 dead or knocked down. Maybe I create a thrall and put it into the remaining Drake.
-The Juggernaut positions so it's safe from Xersis but he needs to be careful not to get too aggressive.

Next turn his two infantry units are still frozen. I expect Xersis and his solos would kill a bunch of Nyss and perhaps the Eliminators, and the remaining Drake kills a bunch of Risen with a spray, although he would end up killing some Nihilators as well. He might even be able to hurt/kill Alexia and even put some damage on Sorscha, but unless he rolls three sixes on a damage roll he won't kill her (maybe I shouldn't use that last Razor Wind).

At this point assuming decent dice he's lost a lot of his infantry and one Drake, my jacks are untouched, and Alexia is sitting on 4 or 5 corpse tokens. My Nyss are probably mostly gone and may even be fleeing, and he's probably killed my Eliminators. I can freeze another one of his units and probably finish it off. If I can somehow take out the other Drake with Alexia / thralls / bombards, I have an advantage. He still has the potential to single-handedly take out both my jacks with Xersis (between fury and his feat); if he manages that he's basically invincible, otherwise I'm in a good place. So unless I'm way off now, I was probably in a better position that I thought at the time.