Inspirational Images

Pinterest is your friend when it comes to discovering great UI ideas. Google images is great too but Pinterest provides the ability to save (pin) all the interesting images rather than having to actually download them and store them somewhere yourself. This week I’ve spent time looking up map UI, tactical map, airstrike and hud and collating a modest collection of ideas for the visual aesthetic of Failed State.

Just to prove that good ideas can come from all sorts of diverse places, I happened to see a video about Auckland International Airport showing off their expansion plans up to the year 2044. I found it thanks to transportblog.co.nz which is a great source of all things NZ tranport infrastructure related.

What was interesting about it (with the exception of its content and great graphics) was some of the coloured overlays that were being used to define locations and areas on the map. Also of interest was the camera angle, but that’s an altogether different topic.

The overlays in question looked something like this…

…and what was especially of interest was the way the labelled overlays ‘pinned’ to the terrain. I was trying to think of a way of anchoring an overlay representing a in-game unit (e.g. a tank) to a map location. This is not a 3D game as such and the zoom level is too high so there is not going to be a concept of an actual 3D tank model on the map, it will probably just be a circle with a label. The problem is conveying enough info with something like this. I don’t want to use a google maps type pin or anything else synonymous with mapping apps so seeing this AIA video was a lucky break; I’m not above copying it.

Making higher res mock ups is in violation of my idea of quickly getting a first draft done but hi-res is good for eliciting different type of feedback than hand drawn sketches do. It also helps me visualise screen real-estate and how one might interact with units (e.g. tanks).

I’m still trying to find unit identifiers similar to what World in Conflict and Wargame European Escalation use when the map is zoomed out (gosh did my Mac Book Pro just go absolutely nuts running European Escalation just so I could get a screenshot. Meh, I don’t even need it; just take my word for it that those games look amazing). I’d like to use icons to represent units but for now I’ll just use plain text, e.g. a M1-A1 tank will just use that very text on the overlay unit label.

Regardless, here’s something to show off. There is an expectation that touch devices require bold UI elements and simple game play. Failed State is certainly not going to be a Eugen Systems game but one has to start from somewhere, right.

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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.