Feb 6, 2014

My Trouble With Game Development

If you've been following along on my Twitter feed, or reading this blog, you'll be well aware that I've been developing (for well over a year now) a web game by the name of Delenda Est. I do love me some Latin, it's such a nice language. Anyway, development of it has stalled somewhat as of late. And by 'stalled', I mean I haven't touched the code in any meaningful way in over four months. Since our last beta test, basically.

I don't really have a decent enough reason for this. It's not even that I'm lazy as such, because I really love programming and developing games. I don't consider it work, and I have no trouble doing so to keep myself entertained. It's not that my new college course is eating up all my time - although it is eating up a lot of it, I hardly can use it as an excuse. I could very easily wake up an hour earlier on the weekends and do some development of Delenda if I were so inclined. On my Google Drive, I have no less than three A4 pages of design ideas and possible game tweaks I could put in, and an even larger list of bugs and balance issues that need fixing. So it's not that I have nothing to do.

The problem that I have developing Delenda Est, and every other game I have ever made is that I'm afraid of finishing. During the past decade of my life, I've started developing no less than eight decently impressive game projects. Some RPGs using RPG Maker, a platformer made using XNA, a strategy game made with Java....all of these are scattered on hard drives and USB sticks throughout my life and sit unloved and unfinished because I'm scared to finish them. Sounds kind of ridiculous, right? I mean, two of those RPGs were all but complete before I discarded them (and subsequently lost the USB stick, so now they'll never be done), and the java strategy game could actually be played by other people. So why didn't I finish them?

It's a problem a lot of game developers have, and it's why so few actually 'make it big'. On Reddit, twitter, blog sites and everything in between you constantly read the tale of people who can't or won't finish their game, and for a large amount of these stories they have the same problem as me. They're afraid to release their game, because once they do it's out there and open to public scrutiny.

What if it's an abysmal failure? What if people hate it? What if it's not fun?

None of these thoughts make sense for me to have. I actually expect Delenda Est to be a failure in the sense that I won't make a living off it. I'll be lucky if it gains 100 active players and lasts a year or more, the sci fi strategy market is over saturated in the internet. And I know it's fun because I have fun playing it, and so do a large majority of my private beta testers. I've gotten good reports from people, and suggestions from people on how to make the game even better because they want to see it succeed and have hundreds of people playing it.

My brain won't stop forcing those concerns on me though, and it's caused me to seize up something awful. I've let go of developing DE because if I work on it solidly for just one week I know I could have it feature complete and mostly bug free, ready for a public beta. But if I do that, I can't hide behind the mantra of 'soon it will be done, soon it will be good' because I'll have to face the music and see what people actually think of it. I like to think I can take rejection, anyone who knows me knows I have very low expectations for everything I do - I just don't see the point in assuming my work will be a success simply because it's done. So in theory I have no problems with people saying "It's not fun." I'll try again next time and I'll learn from my mistakes.

So why is finishing it so hard?

I'm not alone in this, and I'm sorry for boring you silly. I just wanted the few people who still want DE to be released to know I haven't forgotten about it. I'm just hiding from it.

I've decided to dedicate the month of February to finishing the game. By the end of February, regardless of the state it is in, I'll consider if complete and open it for public beta and bug testing. And if I don't finish it by the end of February I'm trusting you all to send me nasty emails calling me a coward. The link to my email address is there on the right hand side of the page.

sedit qui timuit ne non succederet

Told you I loved this language.

Jan 1, 2014

2014 Rolls on in

So, 2013 was a year. Yup, definitely a year long period of time. I don't really have much else to say. A lot happened in 2013, but not a whole lot more than happens any other year. That's mostly my own fault, I suppose. I am notoriously easy to distract when working off my own initiative, so it's rare I get a whole lot done unless there's someone telling me what to do. I'd make a good soldier, but a terrible general. Actually I'd probably make a terrible soldier too, but screw you I'm trying to make an analogy here.

So what will 2014 bring. Another 365 days of life, certainly. Hopefully, I suppose I should say. Wouldn't want to tempt fate and have a close encounter with a bus two weeks into the year. I've made quite a few resolutions for this year, and have told some of my more aggressively minded friends to beat me with sticks if I don't stick to them. None of this "I'll be nice to people" or "I'll learn to play the piano" stuff though, more along the lines of "I'm going to stop doing this thing that is slowly killing me" and "I'll become a productive member of society".

A lot of people have been doing lists of what good things happened to them in 2013, or what bad things. I don't really see much point in doing that for various reasons. I do want to share a few things with you, because I like sharing things I genuinely enjoyed in the hopes that someone else will like it to. I'm one of those wierdos who likes seeing people like things. I'm thinking about seeing a psychologist about it. So, three awesome things 2013 threw my way. Not a massive list by any means, but then there aren't a huge list of things I am overly enamoured with from the year. Plenty of things were good or neat. Only these few things were truly awesome.

Awesome Album



This is probably my album of the year. I so very much wanted to put RUINIZER up there, but strictly speaking that's not out yet. Even if pre-orders are up. BlakOpz kind of passed me by in terms of music for a long time, none of their songs every caught my attention for terribly long and I kind of wrote them off as "generic, but not good enough to stand out". When some of the samples of As Nations Decay showed up in my Facebook feed though, I fell in love with this album. I pre-ordered it almost as soon as I heard Business As Usual, and then when I heard The Beginning I knew I'd made the right choice. It might just be because it's the most recently purchased album I have, but I seriously love this release. Album of the year for me.

Awesome Book


Blindsight  is brilliance in textual form. I almost put Excession by the late Iain M Banks here, but then I read Blindsight in the closing moments of 2013 and it pipped the lead position from the Culture. A fantastically creepy piece of cosmic horror flavoured science fiction, Blindsight takes all your assumptions about the nature of life and existence and promptly beats you to near death with examples of how horribly wrong you could possibly be. It's got some of the creepiest, most threatening and downright alien aliens I've ever seen or read about. No humans-in-all-but-name, rubber foreheaded beasts here, these things are so utterly different it's brilliant. And the closing lessons of the book? S'all good, I wasn't planning on sleeping for the next few days anyway.

Awesome Game

There were a lot of options for this. I got quite a few new games during the year, and a lot of them were actually pretty damn good. So I'm going to cheat and actually list two.

First up is Wargame: AirLand Battles. Again, this is something I got towards the close of the year but that makes it no less awesome. It's a really good strategy game that forces you to manage a limited number of forces, and deploy the correct composition to beat your opponent. No flat out spamming the most expensive tank in this game, your enemy will just counter with some cheap as all hell infantry or an A-10. Not many strategy games have quite the same level of actual thought in gameplay. And my God is it fun trying to seize a town or built up area in this game.

DEFCON wins for cool points, even if the gameplay is kind of simplified. Not often you play a game of thermonuclear warfare that actually drives home how utterly pointless it all is. A creepy soundtrack that includes the weeping of women in the ambience, and extremely minimalist graphics all help to give the game an unnerving aesthetic that really fits the idea of "Nobody wins. You can only hope to lose less than the other guy".

Nov 19, 2013

News Type Thing and a Confession


So I've been unbelievably busy lately with various projects. Not the least is a new course I'm doing to teach me all kinds of creative things related to game design. I've never been terribly good at things like 3D modelling, image manipulation, or drawing so this course is something I enrolled in to learn all the relevant skills. It's not exactly easy work, and it takes up a lot of my free time with project work and general practice of the stuff I'm learning. As a result, development of Delenda Est has once again crawled to a near stop but I do manage to make minute changes every few days or so. So it hasn't stopped altogether, it's just going slow.

I really feel like (actually, I know) that I should have finished the game by now. It's not exactly complex and I keep finding new reasons to put off a full release. I've suffered this problem before with other projects of mine and as a result none of them have seen the light of day. The vast majority anyway. Either it's not balanced enough, or it's not complex/simple enough. Maybe there's a few tiny bugs which I spend a stupidly inordinate amount of time trying to fix. I've managed to mire myself so thoroughly in this dead zone that I keep putting off development and finding excuses not to just go "EVERYONE CAN PLAY IT NAO".

Not that the excuses aren't legitimate. When I'm not practicing my sketching, I'm modelling a crappy 3D spaceship. When I'm not making images like the one above, I'm teaching myself digital audio production (because bless our tutor, he really knows his audio stuff he just cannot teach to save his life). But I just know that if I actually sat down and worked out a timetable, I'd find time to work on Delenda more diligently and get it out of this development hell it's been stuck in. It's all fine and dandy during the closed beta rounds, I get loads done. The last round was unimaginably productive in terms of finding bugs, thinking up new mechanics and fixing old ones. Then the round ends and I allow myself to get distracted.

This has to stop, I can't let another game of mine vanish into oblivion because I'm terrified that it's going to wind up being terrible and utterly unfun to play. I'll work it out...somehow.

I'll shut up now and stop being such a downer. Here's some stupid yet happy sounding music to make it all better. Oh, and I've found a really old backup disc of mine which might have some old game projects on it from way back when I was new to this whole 'game development' thing. I'll see about throwing them up for download should they have survived in a suitable state.

Sep 12, 2013

Total War: Rome 2 - First Thoughts

I've had Total War: Rome 2 for a while now, and have spent most of my time playing custom battles. I've dabbled in the campaign a bit, both as Rome and as Carthage and, well.... it's kind of disappointing.

Not that it isn't good. It's just not Total War good.

I wish I could single out one thing that could easily be rectified or ignored, but really it's a conglomeration of numerous small faults which keep me from properly enjoying the game as much as I did its predecessor. From AI to gameplay changes to graphical errors, there's a fair bit which stops me from suffering 'One More Turn' syndrome like I did with the first Rome: Total War game. Regardless, I'll single out some of the most grievous faults and try to keep this short.

Probably the most irritating thing is the woeful AI in the game. In every Custom Battle I've played the AI has just sat there while I surround them and then cut them to ribbons. Units flee from combat when somebody so much as cuts their finger, especially for the barbarian nations, which is exacerbated by the fact that combat is now much faster than before. There's almost no time to properly react to an enemy's attacks before the target unit is wiped out or fleeing off the field. Unlike older Total War games, where units survived long enough to have reinforcements sent their way and hit the enemy in the back. I've landed so few hammer and anvil strikes of this kind because the combat is decided within a few short seconds.

Units, no matter how well trained, seem utterly incapable of holding a formation when charged. This is especially lethal for phalanx based armies like the Greek cities, or the Carthaginians. Fighting quickly devolves into a horrible mess where your carefully formed battle lines collapse. And it's not due to any fault of yours, nor the skill of the computer. From my experience, it's due entirely to the inability of your men to hold a line. Enemy soldiers can get through six ranks of Spartan hoplites on the charge, they just saunter past the first few ranks which forces the whole unit to take up swords and spread out to combat the bad guys who just phased through their shield wall.

Then we come to Rome itself. In the old Rome: TW game, the Roman faction was pretty powerful. Their infantry was probably the best in the game, and they had damn powerful cavalry to go with it. In short, they had little in the way of weaknesses, but a competent general could still make short work of a poorly controlled Roman legion. Not so in Rome 2. I've used nothing but Hastati (the most basic and starter unit available to Rome) to overrun an army of similar size that consisted of archers, skirmishers, cavalry and elite infantry. And I didn't even have to try. I literally just walked up to them (the AI sat there twiddling its thumbs), told everyone to charge, and won the battle. Decisively. No flanking moves, no counter charges, no thought of any kind. Double right click, increase the game speed, and wait.

9 minutes...

 That's freaking stupid.

And I'd wager I could do something similar with Carthage or Greece, so long as I wasn't facing Rome. Or the AI. The whole appeal of the Total War games is the need for strategy in battles. There's no economy on the battlefield to churn out replacements. Every unit is precious and must be used sparingly lest the battle be lost. But in Total War: Rome 2, the unit AI is so painfully awful that one need only have superior numbers or superior men to win. Not both. Pick one. The skill of the general seems to have no bearing on the outcome, I've walked all over AIs of various difficulty settings. While I'm aware it may well be different in the Multiplayer, this ruins the singleplayer campaign. There's no fun in engaging in the battles themselves when I've a 90% chance of victory by virtue of starting in Italy. Which would be fine, if the campaign map was so equally disappointing (between a messy UI and slow as heck AI turns it's not unplayable just....sad).

As a kind of closing statement, it's not a terrible game by any measure. It's...decent. It's fun for short bursts, and these issues may well be fixed in patches yet to come so I'm holding out hope, as weak as the flame may be.

I'm not angry at you, Rome 2. I'm just...disappointed.

Aug 11, 2013

Delenda Est: The Origin Authority

Foreword

As development of Delenda Est reaches the end, I've decided to do a series of posts on the various parts of the game. The factions, the gameplay and various other things. This post covers one of the game's faction, the Origin Authority.

 The Origin Authority

He who holds the past commands the future
The youngest and most aggressive of the three superpowers, the Origin Authority is barely 50 years old but has managed to secure a tremendous amount of space in that time. Built on the ashes of the old terran empires, the Authority claims to be the rightful sovereign over human space due to their command over the Sol system (and as a result, their command over Earth). The Origin Authority is the most technologically advanced of the three superpowers, and uses artificial intelligences to a much larger extent than their rivals.

Although technologically superior to their enemies, the Authority is still trying to rebuild the devastated core worlds that it calls home, leaving them with a weak and fragile infrastructure. Their opening assault during the first war helped them to claim a large number of systems to put them on a more even footing with the Solidarity and the Union, but the process of redevelopment is a difficult one and the Authority has not yet been able to properly capitalise on its new found strength. As such, the Authority finds itself struggling to field large enough armies to defeat their foes despite the advanced weapons of their starships and drones.

Instead, the Authority is forced to use their hyper-intelligent AIs and cyborg warriors in a different manner. Of all the factions, the Authority is the most adept at developing new technologies and improving upon those that already exist. Furthermore, through cybernetic enhancements the Authority can wield some of the most lethal special operations forces in the galaxy and are well known among the Superpowers and the lesser states throughout Colonised Space for their devastating attacks. Between the forced collapse of wormholes in an area, and the use of horrific nanoscale weapons, armies facing down the Authority frequently find themselves in a brutal conflict against numerous abnormal and terrifying strategies.

Nowhere is this more obvious than when facing a planetary bombardment of the Authority's. Terrifyingly powerful Conversion Bombs can reduce entire cities to dust, or incinerate whole armies in the blink of an eye. Drone Hosts can detonate in the middle of formations only to reveal a swarm of autonomous war drones that follows up on the damage the warhead causes. The Fracture Bomb is the most unnerving weapon at their disposal, inflicting unimaginable devastation on deployed forces while simultaneously collapsing every wormhole in the target system. Couple with the Authority's skill at forging temporary wormholes to allow them access to systems that were assumed safe, and commanders know better than to ever consider a conflict with the Authority a 'certain victory'.

Fortunately for their enemies, a large part of the Authority's military power and AI commanders are preoccupied with not only repairing the damage core worlds, but also with managing the population under their control. Of all the factions, only the Authority has a noteworthy internal rebellion. The advanced technologies of the Authority provide for an astonishingly high standard of living for the populace. Nigh-immortality, virtual reality and various other gifts are promised to all those who live beneath the Authority's banner. But in actuality, there is a large divide between cyborgs, virts (those who upload their minds to computers and android bodies) and those who prefer to remain as naturally human as possible. The Authority's more 'advanced' inhabitants actively despise those who openly stand in the way of 'progress', and many of these baselines have risen up against the controlling Networks as a result. The AIs in command of the Authority do what they can to subdue rebellions without harming baselines who live more peacefully within their borders.

Aug 9, 2013

Delenda Est: The Mercantile Union

Foreword

As development of Delenda Est reaches the end, I've decided to do a series of posts on the various parts of the game. The factions, the gameplay and various other things. This post covers one of the game's faction, the Mercantile Union.

The Mercantile Union 

Gold decides the victor
The Mercantile Union was formed at the collapse of the Core worlds, making it almost half a century years younger than the Solidarity. Where the Solidarity was formed by the joint venture of Earthbound nations, the Union is instead a conglomerate of a great many minor coalitions which already had numerous trade agreements with themselves. What little ties the Union has to the old nations of Earth is visible only in the names of the systems now under their control, with the Union having quickly absorbed the ailing colonies of the western powers shortly after the Collapse.

While the Solidarity is actively aggressive, the Union is much more defensively minded. They prefer to look inward and improve their already existing colonies. By focusing on developing the many systems under their control, the Union has managed to cultivate a flourishing economy and industrial sector. During the minor conflicts that began after the Collapse, the Union often bribed minor states to join it in an effort to build a buffer zone between themselves and the expansionism of the Solidarity. Over the decades, the Union has mastered the art of defensive warfare both in space and on the surface of planets.

When fighting on their own ground, Mercantile forces have access to a wealth of support and prepared defensive positions. Minefields, prepared ambush sites and a loyal population make it very difficult for their enemies to establish footholds in Union territory. That said, the Union finds it quite difficult to seize ground from their enemies. Years of training and specialisation in defensive warfare has left them somewhat weakened during offensive operations. Fortunately, they can cover this weakness through the use of their phenomenal wealth.

The Mercantile superweapons are just as defensive oriented as their armies, and what few offensive weapons they have are quite weak compared to the superweapons of their opponents. However, the vast amounts of money at their disposal ensures an almost constant stream of these superweapons being produced. Unlike other factions which are more restricted by the cost of such tools, the Union can stockpile an enormous amount of superweapons and defences very quickly. This gives them a slow, but very powerful, form of warfare. The Union works best when it fortifies its lines, building an arsenal of Special Forces and Superweapons before unleashing all at their disposal in one massively violent expansion effort. When their reserves run dry, the Union can very easily consolidate over whatever land they have controlled only to begin the process again.

Internally, the Union is similar to the Solidarity with regards to the freedom of their citizens. In fact, there is almost no form of government within the Union at all, and the culture, laws and ethics of the citizens can vary massively from system to system, certainly to a greater extent than within the Solidarity. However, the ruthless capitalism of the Union has lead to a significant divide between the rich and the poor in the more developed systems, which many among the lower classes are unhappy with. Furthermore, religion is strictly outlawed among the systems of the Union, one of the few things the minuscule 'government' is adamant about maintaining. The corporate entities which wield the greatest influence within the Union would much rather avoid the potential competition for the attention of their 'customers'. The quality of life, on average, within the Union is noticeably higher than within the Solidarity, but unlike their rival the Union cares little for the well being of the individual citizen and prefers to focus on what is better for the whole. And what is better for the market.

Jul 23, 2013

Delenda Est: The Solidarity

Foreword

As development of Delenda Est reaches the end, I've decided to do a series of posts on the various parts of the game. The factions, the gameplay and various other things. This post covers one of the game's faction, the Solidarity

The Solidarity

Fortune favours the bold.

The Solidarity is the oldest of the existing superpowers, and can trace its history all the way back to the first few human colonies beyond the Sol system. The core of the Solidarity is centred around a number of formerly Russian and Chinese colonies. Both of these nations had large space programs when humans began colonising other planets and systems, which lead to most efforts sponsored by either nation being among the most successful. The Russian efforts proved to be the most successful, claiming and constructing colonies on hundreds of worlds. Eventually, tensions between both of these nations and their offshoot states began to risk all out war. Eager to avoid ruining their expansion, both nations signed an agreement to assist each other where possible, and to guarantee peace between their colonies.

Over a hundred years later, and that agreement still holds in the Solidarity. Due to their rapid expansion in the early years, Solidarity colonies are unusually poorly developed when compared to systems of their enemies. However, the Solidarity waves its flag over the largest number of minor states and systems giving it a massive pool of manpower to draw on in times of war. It is here that the Solidarity's strength lies. While their technology and training for their forces is subpar, their huge industrial base and population allows them to flood enemy positions with a sea of tanks, starships and infantry.

Their arsenal of Superweapons and defences, although of a lower technological level, are brutally effective. Hundreds of years after their invention, the Nuclear weapons used by the Solidarity are still among some of the most lethal in Colonised Space. Coupled with special forces that are trained primarily for brutal, destructive force, and engaging the Solidarity in a war is a hideously bloody affair. It is not uncommon for Solidarity commanders, unable to secure enough defensive installations, to send millions of troops into battle simply to force their enemies to use up what orbital artillery they have. To say they willfully waste lives is inaccurate, even the Solidarity takes time to recover losses, but they do understand that desperate times call for desperate measures and are willing to sacrifice millions of lives if it could potentially save billions down the line.

All that said, the Solidarity is possibly the most noble of the superpowers. Despite the lower status of their vassal states (who provide the majority of their manpower in the war), within the Solidarity citizens are afforded some of the greatest freedoms that humanity has to offer. Although they find it difficult at times, the Solidarity government does its very best to protect its citizens from the harsher side of war, and intervenes in their lives only when they are in danger. Freedom of speech, religion, sexuality, and many more, are all highly prized within the Solidarity. Even with the advent of war, they are not so willing to give up the freedoms they fight so fervently to protect. Despite this, they are known for treating prisoners (both regular criminals and prisoners of war) extremely harshly, using them as slave labour to fuel the growth of their empire and their war effort, which has given the Solidarity a much darker image among their rivals than perhaps they deserve.