Bloom occlusion in GSB 2…

April 02, 2014 | Filed under: gsb2 | programming

This has taken me all today and part of yesterday to get working. And no it isn’t final, and no, it isn’t optimized yet. And yes, it probably should have been easier. That little asteroid is occluding the bloom flare from that engine. You can see the non-occluded one above. Took me ages, and about a million lines of code. Arrrghhh. Click to enlarge…

occlusion

 

Visual experimentation

April 01, 2014 | Filed under: gsb2 | programming

I’ve spent the last day or three experimenting with various visual effects for GSB 2. This is kinda fun, but I also think its quite productive. If i was making the game using Unity or some other engine, I’d just pop along to the asset store and browse the effects other people have written and bung them in. Job done, ship the game.

I can see why a lot of people are attracted to doing that, but personally I’ve found rolling my own solutions to be much more rewarding, not just as a coding geek, but from a game design and visuals POV. The lighting effects in GSB 2 will not be the standard Unity effects, or the same effects used in any other engine, ever. they are unique to the game. They may not be ‘radically different’, but I think the distinctiveness helps. Sometimes i end up coming up with pretty wacky solutions to problems which allow me to include features in an unusual way. I think it’s a really good thing for different coders to be approaching each problem in a different way, after all we are supposed to be creating original, and distinct works of ‘art’.

When big movies add special effects, they don’t often copy and paste effects from other films. Arguably Star Wars has already done ‘lasers’ so you could theoretically just copy them. The problem is, you never get innovation that way.

I just watched ‘The Forbidden Planet’, a classic 1950s sci fi movie. it was the first sci-fi movie to have an all electronic soundtrack, which was amazing at the time. It’s cheesy as hell now. I bet one of the reasons for it’s success is how different it sounded as a result. they had to work out how to do that from scratch. Then sci fi movies all tended to sound the same and become tedious until Star Wars, when George Lucas decided classical music could work with a futuristic movie. Now, ALL movies copy that idea.

It would have been easier, simpler, and cheaper, and much more in line with what the audience expected if those innovations had not happened. But when they get it right, they get it right big time. I doubt that GSB 2 will change the future of gaming, but I like to think that by occasionally approaching things from first principles and hacking my own way to make things happen, I’m at least ensuring there is some variety in the way stuff looks.

Robbie_Forbidden_Planet

BTW… On the topic of Robby the robot, what a flipping layabout! He is , if you read-between-the-lines a nightmare to work with. First he does this whole ‘Sorry I was giving myself an oil-job’ excuse (yeah whatever), when he can’t be found when called, then he mocks and sounds incredibly put-out because he is asked to make a new dress. then later, he tells the crew ‘if you need anything, use the beamer’ without ever explaining where or what that is. Plus he moves at about the pace of a snail. if I didn’t know better I’d think he did that deliberately so everyone got sick of asking robby to do something and did it themselves.

‘if you need anything in about 6 hours, use the beamer, otherwise you might as well do it yourself’.

Bah.

I’m against tax breaks. that makes me a pariah amongst UK games industry folks. I’m, not against these tax breaks, I’m against ALL of them, especially the French, who frankly wanted to have them, but deny them to us. Fuck that. But I’d be happier if no video game in any country had them, as they are a distortion that is unwelcome. However, in the real world, we have to compete so…yay? I bet it’s impossible to ‘game’ them right? No new tax law ever has loopholes, thats why Starbucks and amazon pay the same tax rate as me! Lets try anyway…

“3 points if at least 66% is set in the United Kingdom or another EEA state or set in an undetermined location;”

CHECK! GSB2 is set in the star system Zog, so that is an undetermined location. pretty british so far…

“if there are only three characters depicted in the video game, 4 points if two or three of them are from the United Kingdom or another EEA state or from an undetermined location”

CHECK! I’ll get some tiny 32×32 faces drawn of 3 alien dudes who help with the tutorial. They are from Zog, which is undetermined, so yup, pretty british…

up to 4 points depending on the percentage of the original dialogue that is recorded in the English language or in a recognised regional or minority language as follows

CHECK! I have plans for zero dialogue, so I can state on oath that 100% of it was recorded in English.

2 points if at least 50% of the work carried out on any of the following is carried out in the United Kingdom

Ok, lets try to define 50% of the work. By time? by cost? By talent? by final contribution to the game? And lets define ‘carried out in’. If I have a design meeting over skype, where was that? here? the other guys place? skypes headquarters? the nearest fiber cabinet?

(a) 1 point if the project leader (or, if there is more than one, the main project leader) is a qualifying person;

Well thats me, so CHECK!

(b) 1 point if at least one of the scriptwriters (or, if there are more than three, one of the three lead scriptwriters) is a qualifying person;

Scriptwriter? is this a movie now? OK, I will write some dialog for the tutorial so thats me too. CHECK!

(d) 1 point if the artist (or, if there is more than one, the lead artist) is a qualifying person;

Yup, CHECK! Thats me too. I don’t get my hands dirty with actual art though, as lead, I hire other people to actually do my work…

(e) 1 point if the programmer (or, if there is more than one, the lead programmer) is a qualifying person;

(f) 1 point if the designer (or, if there is more than one, the lead designer) is a qualifying person;

(g) 1 point if at least one of the heads of department is a qualifying person;

(h) 1 point if at least 50% of the development team are qualifying persons.

Wow, that was an easy four points, as all those people are me too. As department head, and half the team, lead designer coder and artist, and scriptwriter, yeah, thats a lot of points.

So far so easy, now how much do I actually GET?

In summary, the relief allows a company to make an additional deduction in calculating the profit and loss of a game development project.
Righty ho. This is  going to be hilarious. So a game development project is already crazily hard to define. Is this engine work, or project work? What if I’m coding a routine used in one British and one non-British project? do I still claim the costs of writing that function? What is really an expense for this project anyway? My salary? do I need to keep a time log of which project I’m on now, for the Inland Revenue? If I have a business lunch where I discuss 2 different games, do we split the cost depending on which one was discussed the most?
If I run a generic ad campaign for my website that has 50% British and 50% non British games, is that an expense? is the marketing budget included? Define dev budget vs marketing budget for this purpose.
Lets now have a laugh with income from the game.
If I have 1 British and 1 non-British game in a bundle, do I split the profits from the sale 50/50? Ok cool. One of them is GSB 2, one of them is a pong clone I set in piccadilly circus and coded in 5 minutes that’s bundled with GSB2, so lets split 50/50 right? You think that’s unfair? Prove it.
In fact I might only sell bundles of my games from now on, all bundled with piccadilly-pong, so all of my back-catalog is now British too. Yay!
Some of this might not work, but some will, and people whose entire job is to find exploits will. So the 2 pages of tax-code for this ‘relief’ will become 200 pages, and at that point one-man indies won’t be able to justify the bureaucracy of claiming.
I’d love to be proven wrong…

Extremism on the way

March 26, 2014 | Filed under: democracy3 | game design

I’ve taken some time out of my GSB2 coding schedule to manage and test and work on another expansion pack for Democracy 3, called Democracy 3: Extremism. This is a huge big list of new policies and situations that represent more extreme politics. I can already predict that a lot of players will be annoyed it isn’t MORE extreme than it is.

What does political extremism mean to you? within a democratic context? I’m not talking armed mobs that overthrow the government, but parties with actual popular support. I’ve tried to walk the line between including some fairly extreme views, whilst also keeping it credible as a policy a western government might actually put into place. I’m also slightly wary of acting as fodder for any exploitative tabloid journalism along the lines of ‘Game developer endorses culling the elderly!’ for example.

When you sit down to analyze it, extremism is really a hard concept to nail down. One of the policies in the pack is ‘close all airports permanently’, presented as an environmental move. I’m sure a lot of people would think such a policy was insane, but there are quite definitely environmentalists who would argue it’s entirely reasonable. There are people who would ban private education and private healthcare, and others that would consider that practically stalinist. The base game lets you legalize or ban gun ownership, both positions that encourage cries of ‘extremism!’ in different parts of the world.

french cheese and guns

Obviously a lot of this is skewed by where you live and your background. I’m from the UK. In the grand scheme of things it’s a pretty liberal country. You can have state or private education or healthcare. Gay marriage is legal, we have pretty good freedom of speech. Divorce and abortion are perfectly accepted (abortion less so, arguably). We have very strict gun controls, and fairly strict (but not strongly enforced) drug laws. All of this gets reflected in my own prejudices. I don’t find the fact that we make gun ownership very hard to be at all extremist, yet if you banned private schooling I’d consider that an extreme move. (I went to a state school FWIW). I’d consider outlawing homosexuality insane, and consider scrapping the state health service equally insane. There is no real pattern at work here, we are all skewed by what we are used to. My position on healthcare is to the left of my general position on state-provision, almost certainly because I’ve lived all my life in the UK…

What I’m getting at is that extremism is very culturally dependent, and often entirely illogical. I consider a ban on divorce or homosexuality nuts, but many such bans exist in the world, even in the rich developed western world. Sex toys are illegal in Alabama, abortions are illegal in Ireland. It’s not a simple case of the left wing wanting to ban stuff, or the right wing wanting to ban stuff. there is no logical pattern. Stuff seems ‘extremist’ because we aren’t used to it. One of the policies in the pack is national flags on every street corner. A crazy idea in the UK, but in the USA? probably not so. Another is compulsory church attendance, seemingly crazy in the UK, maybe not in Alabama? Subsidies for new cars. Extremist? maybe a bit? but we have experimented with that in the UK. Forcing the unemployed to do community work? I bet that sounds extremist in some countries. Public Tax returns? A punitive wealth tax?

I look forward to peoples debate and discussion when the expansion gets released. My politics are very fluid. I think a lot about what I think, and my politics change over time. Twenty years ago I was against positive discrimination, but now I have finally changed my mind. Analyzing your opinions on political issues, putting them into context and rationalizing them against the backdrop of your other views is a fascinating thing to do. It’s always good to re-examine what you believe.

Except Free to Play, that’s just evil :D

 

I guess we live in attention deficit times. I’m guessing roughly 95% of people commenting on the various sites that ran my last blog post, most of which had a bucketful of abuse and hatred for me, didnt actually read the article at all. They skimmed it, eager to whine and moan and hurl insults at a game developer, as is the trend, and assumed it said “Sales are a bad thing because I make less money”.

Which it didn’t. it didn’t even come fucking CLOSE to saying that. Sales make me, and many devs a lot of money. I’m not moaning about money, my games sell very very well, but as 95% of people just wanted to hurl abuse at a game developer to deal with whatever issues they have in their lives, then thats what people wanted to read, and thats what people moaned about.

Why bother?

If you won’t read an article, why comment?

The vast, vast majority of insightful, interesting and well-thought out commentary on the games industry I have read has been on invite-only private mailing lists and forums that you will not find or be able to read. Why? because it shuts out the foghorn of internet abuse from anonymous angry kids. I try, in this blog to write stuff of some interest, from a point of view most people do not have (indie game dev) because I feel it might be something other devs and gamers like to read. Quite why people who hate me, and want to insult me even read my blog is beyond me. I think Jeremy Clarkson is a dick, so amazingly, I don’t follow him on twitter!

Let’s try again…

I studied economics at university. One of the things you learn is about maximising market utility. This is basically trying to achieve a situation where everyone is paying for something what it is worth to them (not what they ‘think’ it is worth). That means people who LOVE a game pay more than people who play it for 20 seconds. PWYW bundles kind of achieve this, but only if people are 100% honest about what a game is worth, and because they probably haven’t played it yet, it’s kind of backwards.  F2P kind of achieves it, but it doesn’t take into account different income levels. $100 to me is different to $100 to you.

The reason we want everyone to pay what something is worth, is that this leads to the absolute perfect allocation of resources. Really good games do really well. Really bad games tank entirely and the developer goes bankrupt. That’s the free market, and in theory it works great. it means we get more good games and less bad ones. If you don’t agree with me that this is a good thing, then stop reading.

Given that we want everyone to pay what something is worth, two things come to mind:

1) If you pay less than the value of something to you, then this is a market distortion, the developer is not rewarded in proportion to the products quality, and thus the important market-signal is not sent, so less games like that get made. THIS IS A VALID POINT BUT NOT THE ONE I WAS MAKING.

2) If you buy something you don’t like at all, and do not even actually EVER play, then a developer is potentially rewarded for making a bad game. A NEGATIVE market signal is sent, encouraging the production of more bad games, and taking resources away from making good games. This is the point I was making. Sales of 90% off where people grab 20 supposedly 20 hour games that they will never play lead to this problem.

If you don’t see how 2) is bad for Gamers, then I give up. If you don’t see that the mass phenomena of people buying games they never play leads to 2), then I give up.

More upbeat posts about Democracy 3 coming next :D