Blog posts: The Measure of Enthusiasm

Good ol’ Hacker News is a great source of procrastination but amongst all the rubbish that somehow gets on there (and by rubbish I mean articles that have nothing to do with technology i.e. Mandela articles, geopolitics, travel blogs (seriously?!)), there are a few absolution gems.

One of those gems is the notion that writing about (I don’t like the word blogging) your project is one of the best ways to stay enthused. I can’t even remember the rationale behind it but I can guess that it has something do with:

  • Bringing clarity of mind by going through the process of putting chaotic thoughts to writing.
  • It’s a great way to show off work that you’re doing to your friends or, if you get lucky, a much wider audience. The feedback loop gets the creative mind excited.
  • Each post is like this little piece of marketing (and programmers aren’t typically the best marketers).
  • The idea that each post is like this extra (non-code) commit to your repository.
  • Writing about what you are doing keeps you focused on individual tasks. Instead of thinking “I’ve done all this work, what should I write about?” it will be, “What should I do this week so that I can write about it?” Knowing that progress is being made always helps the self-esteem.
  • It’s always fun to look back and reflect on how far you’ve come.

The last point is quite important to me. Sometimes I wonder where the hell my 20s went and I need to dig back up some photos or think really hard to account for that entire decade of my life. The same can be said of software projects. Mobile Assault feels really dated now but upon reflection there is a sense of satisfaction in how much we created; the game started as a PSP hack and turned into a 25+ mission PSP/iOS game in English, French and Italian with graphics that really pushed what could be rendered on a Homebrew PSP system. Historical screenshots through the versions are a great reminder of some of our milestone releases.

So this is why I’m endeavoring to write something every week about Failed State; I’m going to create the modern day journal of all the adventures and misadventures. Come October, which I’m optimistically targeting for release, I can look back and reflect on all the work that’s transpired yet during the journey, share progress with friends, colleagues and the odd random stranger who happens to stumble across my site.


New Game Kick Off

It’s been a lethargic last 4 months from a personal project point of view. I dabbled in some web based languages just to scratch an itch but have come to the realisation that what I really want to do is get stuck into this map based war game. I’ve been thinking about it for years, years because time flies and suddenly I’m a lot older, more of the house is paid off and my face is not looking so 20 something any more (though strangely I’m the fittest I reckon I’ve ever been courtesy of me trying to overcompensate for being a desk-jockey during the day).

But I digress. The point of this hacked together post is to finally kick off my new game project which I’m probably going to call Failed State. I’m pretty confident that that name is in the clear for iOS and Android but I do notice that there is an open source project using the name. And here I was thinking I was being original.

Time: Enemy no. 1

All part time code warriors fight time. That cursed 7-8 hours of sleep required to maintain one’s sanity means that there is about 2 hours max per evening to hack something together and that’s on the proviso that the screen at work hasn’t sucked the soul of enthusiasm. Going to the gym frees the mind somewhat, although that sacrifices another 60 more valuable minutes.

And where am I at with Failed State? Well, I have a rough ‘world’ being rendered using pre-downloaded Open Street Maps data of Auckland. Cool huh? Not that that makes a game; I’m miles from a game and that’s why I need to devise a strategy. I need to know what the heck I’m doing and how to go about doing it.

Program like an author

You can’t edit what isn’t already written down.

I can’t remember the exact words but essentially the idea is that, as a writer, you just have to keep writing and writing despite the likelihood that what you’re writing could ultimately be edited out. The important part is that something existed to be edited in the first place. There’s no such thing as a perfect draft.

The same thing can be said for a game project and I’ve come to the realisation that that first pass is not cutting code; there’s a quicker way of actually getting to the end of that first draft.

What I need is drawings, mockups, ideas; I have to flesh out the entire scope. I have to actually make a game on paper first. I’d love to be writing that in the past tense but the reality is that despite having drawn a few things, I’m nowhere near the finish line. The process then raises even more questions about game play. Good. That means there is less chance of coding myself into a corner.

I’ll admit that I’ve been a little guilty of spending too much time doing my OSM map importer. Sure, it’s work that had to be done and understood but it’s a slow way to get to the finish line; a slow means of doing the first draft. That being said, it’s been great for show and tell with the guys at work. My sister says it’s too dark.

Auckland CBD (landscape)

Balsamiq Mockups

After paper sketches will probably be the digital equivalent. Balsamiq Mockups seems the perfect way to bring order to my mass of sketches. The good thing about Balsamiq is that the output still looks like a rough prototype; it will be my second draft.

Planning for AI

I haven’t even dared to think too far into this. I need to make some decisions trees or something. Ah… so much to do.

Everything else

Scope! What is the scale of the game? Individual units like Command & Conquer? Squads of infantry like World in Conflict? Grand strategy like Civilisation? Touch controls like Autumn Dynasty? Airstrikes? Reinforcements? Is there base building? Air units?

There’s so much to decide. I kind of know what I want but that’s why these paper mockups are so important. From them I can get a sense of scale and scope and how much work will be required to get to the end. Multiplayer? Doubt it. I’d love to finish something by October and I have to cut as much scope as I can to make an entertaining game.