Development Diary #20: First Milestone…

Following quickly on from last week is the first milestone update. The puzzle dependency chart for Reel is now finished and I have a good solid framework to start work on the art and interactions…

  • 3rd Oct. – Project Start
  • 7th Oct. – Design Locked:  Story/Puzzle Dependency Chart finished
  • 7th Nov. – Environment Blocked:  Environment blocked in with temp. geometry, walkable areas defined and navigable with character stand­-in, cameras placed.
  • 21st Nov. – Character Locked:  Character design, modelling and walk animation finished, nav-­agent set up in environment.
  • 19th Dec. – Environment Locked:­  Environment geometry detailed and lit.
  • 9th Jan. – Audio Locked:  Spot FX and ambiance/music finished and implemented.
  • 20th Jan. – Game Locked:  UI and menus implemented, environmental interactions finalized, ­testing.
  • 31st Jan. – Final Delivery:  Final testing, bug fixing and delivery.

I talked a little about puzzle-dependency-charts before, as well as being a really good way to plan out puzzle-y/narrative games, they’re really helpful when it comes to visualizing how the elements of a game all relate to one another:

 

 

I started out with a very linear flow from the beginning of the game to the end, every puzzle depended on you having finished the one directly before it. By shifting a few things around slightly I was able to make certain sections of the game work in parallel. In one case I had an area obstructed by the solution to the previous puzzle, each time the player solved a puzzle, more of the area became accessible, all leading to a final puzzle at the end. The beginning and end of this section remain the same and the final puzzle still depends on the player solving all the previous ones, I just made more of the area accessible to begin with, allowing the player to work on more than one puzzle at a time. This is a constant balancing act though, too linear and the experience is restricted and potentially frustrating if a player gets stuck, too parallel and it’s easy for things to lose direction and become confusing. Here’s the final chart with the text removed:

dependencyfinal

White circles are environmental changes, being in a certain room etc. Orange circles mean a “physical” action has been completed, swishing, tuggingpoking etc. Green indicates that a specific item has been picked up, pink means an item has been used on a part of the environment and purple represents a piece of information has been revealed to the player, part of a code for example. There were originally blue circles as well, for inventory puzzles, but I’ve been working on removing as much non-diegetic UI as possible so those types of interactions have gone too.

I’m pretty happy with the overall flow, there are a couple of things that stand out that might require keeping an eye on; there aren’t any pink circles to begin with and then there are quite a few towards the end, I’ll need to make sure the process for using an item is clearly explained when it first appears. There is also a purple circle quite a distance from an interaction that depends on it, this is intentional but needs to be properly sign posted to avoid unnecessary back-tracking and potential frustration.

 

Alongside planning and charts I’ve also been trying to sort out some house-keeping bits and bobs. I’m currently trialing Arq as a backup solution, it feels sort of like a fancier back-end for Dropbox or Drive, handling versions and duplicates etc. without tying you to a specific storage solution or subscription. I had a look at Crashplan and few other, similar products but they all felt a bit overwhelming, so far Arq is doing exactly what I want and nothing else. I still need to test out retrieving files though! It encrypts and stores in some sort of proprietary fashion, seems pretty straightforward to drag-and-drop what you need and there is supposedly an open source tool to retrieve your files should the software suddenly cease to exist, probably best to check that process out before I really need it…

In a vaguely similar vein I’ve also been having a look at Unity Cloud Build. I’ve had a few run-ins with version control before and I usually just end up thoroughly confused so, rather than fiddling about too much, I just followed this tutorial to the letter. I have zero opinions on any of the various solutions they mention, I just went with what they recommended to beginners (SourceTree -> Bitbucket) and had it up and running without too much trouble. So far I’ve tested out several different types of build for Windows and Mac and all seems to work well, it’s not the quickest way to get builds but, for my setup, its handier than transferring folders between machines and rebuilding projects; as I add more build targets I’m sure that’ll become even more useful.

Lastly I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to deliver the game once it’s done. I’ll be releasing first on itch.io, not only is it where all the cool folks are, it’s really simple to set up, you get complete control over pricing/payment and they keep adding new developer tools, most recently their own version of early access called Refinery. A few weeks ago I had a quick look at butler, their tool for patching/updating builds:

 

 

I have a developer account and a separate personal account for buying things, it was really easy to give myself as a “customer” access to the game via a free key and download the latest compatible build. From the developer account I could then upload updates and have them apply themselves as patches on the customer end nearly instantly!

At some stage I’ll most likely be looking into Greenlight as well, once I’m at the screenshots and trailer stage probably, but based on how straightforward the process has been so far I’ll be going with itch for any kind of early-access I do, beta-testing, sending out keys to press etc. as well as my primary launch.

 

As ever, I’ll be floating around on TwitterTumblr and Facebook throughout development, if you fancy following along. If you just want to hear about the big stuff, release dates etc. you can sign up to the Arcto Games Tinyletter.

 

Reel is being developed with the support of Northern Ireland Screen as part of their eXP Project.

 

Nick

3D-artist and fledgling Unity Dev. Currently working on a wordless point-and-click adventure game...

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