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Monday, October 16, 2017

Excited for new GG updates.

I realize I've been silent here for a while but I wanted to just say I've been off and on in communication with Lee Bamber with respect to the upcoming release of Game-Guru.  It's slated to be available by Christmas.

So a few important tidbits here and I'm going to list in no particular order, but they are all MASSIVE improvements over the existing system.

  • DirectX11 - Huge huge visual/processing overhaul. 
  • PBR (Physically based rendering).  This will drastically change the way lighting is done.
  • Unlimited dynamic lights.  Assuming this applies to PBR it's going to be a very cool addon.
  • Static lighting fix (removing sun baking into the final static lighting) which has been ruining indoor scenes since forever; maybe now I can actually finish my sci-fi game!
  • Drastically reduced load times, especially the outright evil AI pathing system.
Now let's go through some of these differences one at a time.
DirectX11 - The current version of DX is 9 as used by Game-Guru at this time.  11 provides a more up to date graphical experience as well as better hyperthreading and utilization of graphics hardware.  In laymen terms X9 is more CPU dependent, X11 is more GPU dependent.

PBR - See this link for more detailed information on what's going on here, but basically a PBR map is applied to the object and then the renderer applies lighting to that more realistically.  It's something I'm not super familiar with but the results are very good thus far.

Unlimited Dynamic Lights -  This is an important side effect of better lighting overall.  Currently Game-Guru works with  only two Dynamic Lights at a time.  Dynamic lights can light all objects including Dynamic objects such as AI driven creatures, collectable items, doors, etc.  It's very important if we want to get a functional system for lighting that we get more than two available at a time. Unlimited would be absolutely fantastic in terms of levelbuilding. 

Static Lighting Fix -  As reported on this thread I was able to find and duplicate the issue.  Once I analyzed the issue in detail I was able to report the actual problem being that the sun was baking in without any respect towards the level's sun settings and as such causing overlap and excessive shadows in baked mode.  This has been a major issue for a long time which has caused a lot of oddities and irregularities in Game-Guru's lighting system. 

Reduced Load Times - If you've ever made a level and exported it in Game-Guru you faced the biggest obstacle towards developing an actual commercial product - the incredibly long load times.  I'm not joking here but my old 'Silent Hill Game Guru' map that my son and I made for my wife's birthday had *15 MINUTE LONG LOAD TIMES OR HIGHER*.  Most of this was from the computation of AI paths.  There's literally no way you could sell a game in that environment.  It's simply not possible to explain to a user that they should go take a shower and come back and the level might be loaded by then.  Lee is claiming much improved load times, specifically in the realm of AI pathing (per an email I had with him).  So as a result we should see some really functional export capabilities.

In conclusion - I'm really looking forward to playing around with the newest iteration of GG though it might take a little while for it to show up given the massive amount of work being done.  I'll probably write some new lighting guides, tutorials, or a review on the engine itself.  I'm sure there will be some bugs to iron out, thing always slip past QA even in large scale corps these days.  So a one man show like Lee runs it's veritably guaranteed.  But still, these changes should really propel Game Guru to be a more mainstream capable engine.  Perhaps not AAA, but at least not bottom shelf.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lessons learned from: What remains of Edith Finch


I didn't think I'd do one of these anytime soon.  I mean I think the last time I did one was with my reviews on the 90's version of Doom.  Click here to see those reviews.

My wife recently introduced me to a game which apparently was impressively reviewed.  It was called simply:

"What remains of Edith Finch."

I remember her coming in and telling me to check out the video she took with some funny scenes.  I was impressed by the creativity of it on it's face.  Then, rather quickly I might add, she stopped talking about it.

This caught my attention.

She finished the game quickly enough, approximately 3-4 hours play time.  She came in, tears streaking her face and I thought - uh-oh.  This must have had a pretty heavy story.  She says to me simply: "You have to play this."


So I took the bait and sat to play on her computer.    I won't give away the plot or gush over it.  I willy simply say for my review that there are a few games in your life you *MUST* play.  

This is one of them.   There's no wiggling around it.  You have to play it if you want to see some of not only the most creative storytelling around but a bevy of impressive game design techniques which are keenly honed and exceptionally executed.

Warning - what comes next might qualify as a spoiler.  I am assuming you play the game first, then return to this.

Ok, let's begin.  The first thing that struck me was how obviously it was an Unreal Engine game.  If you know what you're looking for it's fairly easy to tell.  This initially gave me mediocre hopes for the game; I mean UE4 puzzle-style games are a dime a dozen.

The floating world text is usually a good indicator it's from UE4.
There's a lot of little things you notice right in a UE4 title.  For instance, the aforementioned floating text.  There's generally sweeping terrain that's quite striking with an obvious linear path.  This is often the way with these types of titles.  Nothing here is particularly original though you may notice your first tinges of feeling like something is different when you view the bizarre house's architecture.  You realize that something so magnificent and well detailed is probably a prelude of things to come.

Speaking of details..
The game play up through the first bit is fairly straightforward and normal.  In years gone by, they derided this type of game as a 'walking simulator'.  It really isn't though, as you'll soon see.   Throughout this part though you will be almost completely overwhelmed by the insane attention to detail.  Every nook, cranny, and edifice has some sort of eye-catching detail.  Clutter objects are on the by and large extremely unique.  Normally you get a lot of similarity as it's a situation where you feel as a developer a little rushed to finish smaller component pieces.  However this game is an excellent study in the concept of both exterior and interior design architecture.  The lighting and design draw you in the path you'd expect but the environment itself begs for you to scour.  I probably spent fifteen full minutes in each area just looking at the wide array of high quality clutter.

Detailed clutter like this literally fill the game from top to bottom.

I'm a big fan of well used clutter;  I feel like it provides a sense of reality to an otherwise boring or drab game.   This game at first comes at you with an overwhelming amount of clutter.  However soon you realize this game is meant to be viewed from a series of frames or slides in a sense.  It sort of underscores how utterly important it is to not only have a good artist to design such perfect clutter pieces but to also have a good eye for how to put it together like a director for a movie.

Next up, the narration.  A lot of story-based games (such as the Parable of Stanley) use some form of narrator.  However a great many low-level indy titles use fairly poor narration.  As a sometimes Sci-Fi writer of literally zero acclaim, I feel that totally qualifies me to provide some on-the-spot judgement here.  Right? Right.  So I have to say I really felt the narration here was absolutely fantastic and further underscored having some experience in creative writing.  If you haven't taken a creative writing course at your local college (often offered at very low rates) you really have no idea what you are missing.  This critical element of storytelling is often overlooked in the name of fancier graphics or big ideals.  

Of course, stories are about the stories.  This game clearly had an experienced writer working on it; the narration reads like a really familiar book.  You get a good sense of each individual character's state of mind and they truly come to life with every word in front of you.

It helps to have your text boxes be more dynamic and interactive as well.
One interesting element 'WREF' provided was highly interactive text bubbles.   Very often the text was portrayed in new and unique ways that were actually quite fun to mess with.  Sometimes they exploded, spun, or were wiggled off.  In one case a kite is used to spin them.  In another you shake them loose like dandelion seeds.  It's really quite interesting and is almost always relevant to the story.

The use of lighting in this game was particularly impressive.
If you've read my previous blog posts on game design or game development (specifically for Game-Guru) you already know that I am a huge fan of intelligent lighting principles.  This game really took the things I already knew were capable and pressed them to their limit.   Some of the area lighting is .. well just beyond impressive.  Especially considering how there's virtually no power available in the game's 'house'.
The lighting provides a clear sense of both ambience and direction without beating you over the head with it.
There's skylights that let in just the right amount of moonlight, blacklights, blinking buoys in the distance... dim candlelight, bright studio lighting... I didn't feel as much like the developer was trying to impress me with a bag of tricks so much as just use every sound lighting principle ever conceived for a game in a purposeful and efficient fashion.

And yet - none of this really is anything particularly noteworthy.  

Don't get me wrong - it's great, shocking even - with it's lush details and environments.

But what absolutely astounded me - what blew me completely out of the water were the game mechanics.

Yeah.  If you played the game, you know - you KNOW what I'm talking about here.

This game had the potential to be a rail shooter without shooting; a simple walk and click game that told a story.  And yet, it takes the time to provide a wildly variable experience that not only gives you differentiation but also makes you feel like you're learning something.  The fish packing plant is one of the most incredible scenes I've ever seen in an indy title.  I will get back to that, however.

Shortly after you begin the game you play as a young girl.  Her story is ... intriguing to say the least. 

Yeah, that's a shark.
Time for some unvarnished truth.  My wife told me about the shark scene.  It was probably one of the funniest things I've ever seen.  It's insane, wild, and fun.  I do kind of wish she'd not ruined it, but what can you do.  During this phase of the game you evolve through various creatures.  EACH one has a different way of interacting with it's environment. 
The use of the camera on the tentacle monster was particularly interesting.
The cat can jump and run across thin ledges.  The owl flies and swoops down on it's prey.   The shark... kind of flops around until it lands in the ocean, then rushes forward to much on seals.  Each one represents it's own challenge in reverse engineering for the purposes of figuring out game development.  The one that was of particular interest was the weird tentacle octopus monster.  It took me a little bit to realize that the camera would move when it pulled itself and then simply used the tentacle as an actor on a static camera (until it pulled forward with left click).  Pretty ingenious and definitely worth playing around with to try to figure out.
Most of these were done in a simple fashion but above all they worked rather seamlessly.   I found that it was very easy to navigate, locate, and complete the objectives as stated by the narrator.  The game was structured in such a way that the scenes were mostly fairly loose; they consisted of a smaller arena that would simply loop back in on itself if you got too far off track.  This helped keep the players  from accidentally breaking out of the bounds of what amounted to a very simple minigame.
The games start simple - move the fish over, get the head cut off, throw it up.  Then they add complexity - walk through a maze while performing the fish-cut-toss minigame.  It's really quite impressive.
This of course changes and evolves as the game goes on.  There are several minigames ranging from snapping pictures with a camera that has a manual focus to a fish packing game where you literally play two separate minigames at once to illustrate how people can do a menial task while doing something creative.

Yep, there's a sailboat there, that the player controls!

The games evolve at times, in the case of the fish packing plant they start as a simple 2-D wireframe maze to a 3-D isometric view, culminating in a first person view.  The entire time music builds to a rousing crescendo as the 'world' develops.  It's really incredible.  All while still doing the fish minigame with your mouse hand.  I couldn't believe it and I really can't describe it - you have to experience it to really understand it and that's saying something.  I consider myself extremely verbose and this really should go to show how awestruck I was by this.  

This picture doesn't do this scene any justice.

This is more than an uncommon game.  This game is special.  I mean that.  It's something that if you play it with an open eye and open mind you will maybe pick up a fraction of the work that's been put into it and will never forget that.  It will teach you things about game design and yourself that you didn't know.    The story is brilliant too, of course.  Truly powerful stuff.  It's an experience I will likely revisit like an old movie once in a while to really refresh the memories.  This combined epic scoring, fantastic art, an incredible plot, brilliant writing and innovative gameplay all into one neat package.  I'll be hard pressed to ever make something even approaching it.

I'm sad that it's over.  Play it.  Learn from it.  Take your time and really enjoy it.  Just like life really; which is kind of the point of the game in the first place.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Interesting Developments

So as you may have seen, my weather system finally got to the store.  However...

I got some great ideas for 'version 2' which will probably just be an upgrade for existing owners.

Namely as I was explaining to my wife how to achieve a 'wet' look in a game (specifically Black Desert Online) I realized I could probably do the same with my own system.
So now, I've implemented specularity control.  It works wonderfully :)

Note the shine on the texture, giving an appearance of wetness.

I've also resolved a problem with shadows on highest settings for the decals.  It looks vastly better with them disabled.

Lastly I plan on improving the actual decals themselves, which look frankly too chunky for my tastes.  The rain is ... ok .. but only because I've already meddled with it.

Lightning is working again!
It needs some cleanup but so far I'm pleased with the results.  Timing's good, colors are acceptable (I had to use brightness to avoid interfering with the interpolation engine) and the overall effect is quite good.

Good progress tonight makes Mike a happy man :)

More comparison shots:

Friday, July 21, 2017

Weather system is FINALLY ON THE STORE WOO!

It took a lot of emails, a lot of time, and even longer development but it's finally there!

You can check it out here:

I'm sure problems will arise in some capacity but I'm very happy just to see it finally show up on the damn store.  It felt like an eternity but here we are :)

I may do a video tutorial of it's use/function as well.

I need to do some updates for the mad lobster stuff because he just keeps adding more to his mad scientist lab.  It's gone from a good deal to a fantastic deal.  I'm reminded of the amusement park kit that just kept getting better and better.

Anyways right now I'm extremely happy about my weather system being available.

A few updates were made to the previous attempted upload:
1) You can now add a lightning sound.  Granted there's code in there for a lightning effect but it's non functional at the moment. When I make that change I will release it as a module for free.

2) There's a semi-smart fog system for weather conditions.  Having been playing a lot of Fallout 4 (specifically with the TrueWeather mod) I found I really enjoyed the combination of fog AND weather environmental effects.  So right now if it's NOT nighttime (it uses a less than stellar method of determining, specifically the color red of ambience) it will NOT override existing fog settings for that specific state.  If it DOES override it is done with some fuzzy logic that will basically determine if it's a storm, a heavy storm, a snowstorm, a duststorm, etc.  Basically there's a light fog for light storms, heavy fog for snow/thunderstorms, and a dust storm setting which gives it orange colored fog.  It also tempers the nighttime fog orange (this is the one exception to the night rule). 

3) I managed to get the environmental systems (rain, snow, dust) installed.  I also use my improved rain, which was accomplished by simply running a better smoothing and alpha texture on algostep's original rain model.  Snow and dust are unaffected currently.

 4) I fixed the errors with the demo level which includes a lot of extra moving pieces now but they all worked flawlessly for me.

Again if you get a chance, swing by over here: and check it out!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Another rejection on the store

So my offering got rejected.  I sort of expected that, given it's complexity.  It takes time to dial into the right setup for the store to deploy to customers.

That said.. some of this stuff becomes inordinately frustrating as it ends up delaying projects by weeks or months due to their slowness.  It took two weeks for a reply this time.  How long I wonder, will it take for them to do the next version - and what if that one fails?

It's no wonder people sell their scripts directly.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Slowness, turtle club, etc

Waiting on my weather system to be admitted to the tgcstore site.  Spoke with an admin today and.. nothing yet.  Eventually maybe?

I've already begun work on version two. 

And grown a new beard.

And it's still not approved... let that sink in.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Weather System Status

So recently I posted an update to the forums.

I resubmitted my weather and time of day system last night to Game Guru's store.  I made significant progress on some pieces that have been outstanding for quite some time.  I added a modified version of my function library that shows how to transition to a specific state and also a simple 'instant state change' script. Added better documentation, made a test map, bundled it all properly so the store would read the weather stuff etc.

I made some pictures and sent it on up.  We'll see how it goes. 

In the meantime though..
Recently though I had a spurt of inspiration and have begun adding some minor improvements to it. So I might already have to revise my update... assuming they actually accept the submission which has always been a chore.  They're needlessly bureaucratic on the site and it's frustrating to work with in that regard. 

Rant aside, I'm planning on adding some really interesting things to the weather system such as:
  • Random rainstorms will have a 1/3rd chance of being a lightning storm (with sound)
  • Heavy/light fog conditions which will override preset TOD settings.
  • Possible ambient music/sound using 'startrain/snow/etc' trigger zones.
Little things like that ;)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: Mad Lobster's 'Scientist's Laboratory & Lair'

It's been a while since I've been compelled to do a review.  I generally have little free time and these reviews receive very little looks or comments so in general I don't feel like it's very useful.

As such I'm not going to do my usual spate of pictures/etc.  I am going to keep this clean and succinct.

The Mad Lobster is a relatively new artist in the Game Guru world.  New artists are always a mixed bag.  They either are an old pro who is intimately familiar with model making or a new guy just looking to release his poorly textured objects for some attention.  I understand and can appreciate both positions.  Often the old pro runs into the issue of not knowing the limitations of the engine (20k polys, for instance) or can't get the textures to look good.   It's a fine tuning act in most  cases where they begin their forays and you can SEE the raw talent but it's just ... not quite built around Game-Guru's limitations yet.

This is a rare exception here; The Mad Lobster is obviously an experienced modeller.  The poly counts are good, the textures are excellent and properly positioned and there's clearly some good normal mapping.  It's the best first go I've seen done in Game-Guru in a long time (probably a year and a half, really).

The first foray was a whole kit called the 'Mad Scientist's Lab and Lair' - it's a huge array of beautiful objects with tons of work put into them.  Moreover it's really got just about everything you could ask for.  Tesla coils, panels with buttons on them, big robot arms, ominous looking walls, the works.  It's really impressive on a level I wasn't prepared for.

All told you get *43* exceptionally high quality objects that look fantastic in Game Guru for a very reasonable price (18 dollars).  I'd reckon this kit is easily in the top 10 of all available products on the store and is easily on peer with Wizard of Id or Rolfy's products.

So if you're still hanging around here for the odd periodic review, here you go :)  The best new product of 2017, IMO.

TGCStore updates and weather system delays

A few weeks ago I put my weather system in queue to get put on the site but unfortunately was rejected (as expected).  However, I've emailed support about the issue and heard nothing.

So at this point I'm kind of floating in limbo.

Should I sell it here directly?


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What's wrong with Game Guru?

Long post warning!

Let me start off by saying I don't want to diminish Lee's hard recent hard work.  A little context before we begin.  About a year ago, Game-Guru had stagnated.  A great many of us felt that the project was being let go in favor of another, bigger project.  After all, we've been through the following already:
  • Several kickstarters
  • FPSC X10's failure
  • A C-code rewrite
  • A few years of semi-active development
  • A few "big updates" that were little more than content drops.
  • A rebranding (Reloaded to Game-Guru)
  • Several new product launches for unrelated projects (AppGameKit, MyWorld, etc)
  • A very long stagnation period (on the order of about 6+ months).
Despite not reaching stated milestones for the initial project, I think it was felt that this project was probably nearing it's endpoint and that we wouldn't see much coming in the future.
I for one, started to drop off the radar.

Then, suddenly, Lee really got his shit together.
Like monthly updates became a thing but not only that - they were substantial.  The EBE (easy building editor) which was stagnant for like.. literally around two years got off the ground.  This is, was, and will remain seriously fucking cool of him. 

Multiple codefixes were done.

Major updates were included with some hard work by one forum member who rewrote a number of shaders and was selling them separate.   Lee opened up the LUA code significantly.

Yet recently I dove in to try to get my weather system finalized for sale (it is, though I have to get it on the store yet which is always a monster, monster chore).

So my son has been making some really awesome stuff lately.  My weather stuff is almost done for the version 1 weather and time of day system...

That's when we run into problems.  Things which are glaring, GLARING monsters in the room that need addressed.  I'm going to go into them in no particular order.

Culling, culling, and more culling.

If there's one thing that absolutely DESTROYS this engine, it's the seemingly total lack of culling being done.  Here's a prime example.

My son built a nice little house using the EBE.

Not my son's house, but a good representation nonetheless.

This house had probably a few hundred trees around it. They weren't anything special.  Trees, by the way, are the Anti-Christ when it comes to Game-Guru.  They have too many polys at too odd of angles and it just nukes performance.


So anyways, we're inside this house and literally there's nothing in there - just a few floors, no windows, and some solid walls comprising a room.

And at this point I notice it's running like a leg-less dog.  I mean it's just absolutely CHUGGING - 8 fps.  12 fps.  My machine is no slouch.  I have a  quad core AMD 3.2 GHZ, 16GB of very fast gaming DDR ram on top of a gtx 960.  It isn't top notch, but it's damn quick.

8 FPS is just painful. So I open up the tab screen and check and it's got massive computations for polygons that aren't even showing.  I notice it's only happening when I look in the direction of the trees.

There's ZERO good reasons for this.  Those trees should be completely occluded (occlusion was at 100%) and completely out of the graphics processing pipeline, for all intents and purposes.

Performance is a major issue right now and culling would fix 75% of this, by my estimate.

Trees for instance would be significantly less obtrusive if they weren't trying to render all of them simultaneously (including ones three layers behind the current front row).

The goddamn sun!

So obviously this one is near and dear to my heart.  The Sun is a fixed object, immovable from a level standpoint. While some good progress was made by breaking out the sun's shadows into their own source, it is something that I just cannot see being a viable thing - a fixed sun makes level building difficult on so many areas.  Your skies have to be perfectly aligned or it looks absurd. Sci-fi levels (in space, no ground/etc) always have a mystery light coming in.  Nighttime maps have 5pm shadows.  On and on it goes.

The inconsistent handling of third party objects by AI.

AI supposedly has come leaps and bounds over the past few months.  I honestly couldn't tell.

One of the biggest benefits of using Game-Guru versus any other engine is the massive library of cheap or free objects.  These objects give you a huge amount of models to work with at a tiny fraction of the cost you'd spend in other engines.

Let me just stand here, at this fence and try to figure out why I can't walk through it.

I use a wide variety of objects and while there are fixes for this, they don't work most of the time.  AI still doesn't know how to navigate around half of the stuff out there, specifically dealing with interiors.  It's frustrating to have them just stand there unable to move while you have this beautiful level made up.

Water levels and terrain generation.

Over the past few months I've tested out other engines (Unity, Unreal, Lumberyard) and come to discover they have a major advantage in terms of rendered terrain.  I will say I'm happy to see the random terrain generator has returned to it's previous iteration but that's not to say there's not room for improvement.

The fact there are two modes really doesn't escape any new users.  Flat level vs 'Random Terrain'.  Cool.  I'm not asking for much more than that.  I would, however, love the ability to actually import my OWN terrain from an actual terrain generating system that provides far more realistic looks and value than what's available from me spending probably on the order of hundreds of hours making my own terrain.

I'm lumping water in with this because the fact the water plane cannot be adjusted in-game is a major travesty.  This simply not tenable to have a single water layer that is completely and utterly immutable.  I don't know what else can be said on it.  Before any other work is done with water, we need controls inside of the GUI which will allow adjustable water planes or better yet, MULTIPLE water planes with their own individual controls.  Now that, right there, would be some seriously cool stuff.

A real development environment.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again:  I would be willing to pay more for a professional-grade version of this product.

Simple? Yes.  But it feels like using crayons to try to paint a Rembrandt.

This is tremendously important to me.  I use several enterprise-grade tools in my day job as a Linux Systems Engineer at a Fortune 500 company.  I've grown to appreciate their simplicity on the surface while having a deep undercurrent of customization for those looking for it.
I've also worked with a plethora of engines in my 20+ year journey doing indy-video-game goofing around  and let me tell you that unequivocally this is one of the worst interfaces I've ever used.

To be fair, at least it's not Blender Game Engine...
I don't know what it would take, but I'm tired of the tool being aimed at people making indy games but having kiddy-pool level controls.

There is literally NOTHING I hate more than the inventory management system. NOTHING.

It just seems like a cop-out at this point.  I mean how hard would it be to add a simple set of checkboxes for options that are ALREADY in the engine?  It can't be that difficult.  These are settings that are already being assigned.  Why not have a search function or meta tags for your objects?  Why do we *HAVE* to scroll down through that terrible little list on the left of objects for our levels?   Why not have a simple game properties pane?  Something where you can adjust settings outside of being IN a test loop of the game?  I shouldn't have to load the damn thing just to configure it.  This is *ESPECIALLY* onerous when you have a large level that needs a simple edit and you spend 10+ minutes waiting for the AI to compute it's paths (which don't work anyways) just so you can change the skybox or fog levels.

We need an option for level properties.  A properties pane.  A way to pass variables through the GUI to objects (say to pass a specific starting value to AI).  Lots of little tweaks.  I don't mind if you keep the kiddy-tech exterior, but give us more under the hood here! 

Better component pieces.

Let me just say the Character Creator has REAL potential.  The EBE was a great piece and if he keeps at it, it will add a massive amount of value.  These pieces come to us raw and unpolished though.  The original thought is good.. mostly.  But the implementation is kind of ugly at times.

This is about as good as you can manage for a custom character.
The female characters, for instance, have some godawful hairstyles available.  But moreover, there's a lot of potential for the character creator.  There's a huge amount of variability there and it really gives the engine the feel of being a REAL engine with big boy pants and everything.


I realize this comes off as a bit of a bitch-fest but we're talking several years of development and it's just ... disappointing.  Less so than previous years, but still disappointing.  The performance is abysmal.  The interface is atrocious.  The fixed sun is a throwback to 2004.  The AI is embarrassingly bad.

All that aside, it's come a long way.

Given Lee's current pace I can only hope he sees this and gets inspired to bang out some quick, meaningful changes that will produce big results from low hanging fruit.

With all that I just want to say thanks to my readers for sticking with me, the community for Game-Guru for sticking with the engine, and Lee for sticking with the project.  It's been a long road and there's miles to go but we're getting there one patch at a time.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

WTF is up?

I've been super busy with work.  I work as the Chief Linux Systems Engineer for a fortune 500 company so I'm ... pretty loaded down right now.

I want to release my weather system code soon but I can't get time to do it.

I may talk to Lee Bamber directly and see if he's interested in it as part of the game-guru package.
The fact is the money I make these days makes anything from Game-Guru store sales peanuts so it's not really worth me doing much with as is.  It's hard to find the time aside from that with two kids, a wife, homeschooling, etc.

I like the changes I've been seeing with the release to Lua code for GG which allows full FPS/3rd Person controls.  This should really allow the engine to take off and while I realize some people want this engine to be a simple cookie cutter builder I believe that this is an important step towards legitimacy and allowing people the real tools to work.  I'm a huge fan of open source and crowd sourced intelligence.  Let me quickly explain my rationale on that.

Let's say you're a highly intelligent person.  You design and make an awesome widget.  This widget is a revolutionary leap forward and as such, it provides the common man access to high end tools at a fraction of the cost.

However, it's laden with side work such as debugging, test, analysis, etc.  These unavoidable components which simply eat up your time.  Progression falls behind and soon the product is unavoidably behind even the worst competitors.  Sound familiar?  It shouldn't.  It's the story of Game-Guru.

So given your inability to pay for a large service staff you're forced to do all that work on your own.  This eats up your one truly finite resource: TIME.

Now imagine you take say 30% of that widget and you open it up in a modular fashion.  You break out components into individual chunks which are easily digested.  You then allow several hundred people access to do whatever they want with it, but it won't modify core components.  This is effectively what Lee has done. 

Now what you've done is created a human parallel processing array of sorts.  It's an engine of great power; you have hundreds of people all designing and modifying - creating new things you'd never have time to even conceive of, let alone implement.  It provides a near-permanent longevity to systems that dedicated people will use out of familiarity even in the face of something newer or better.  Take the Fallout New Vegas modding community which is STILL extremely active to this day and makes fantastic, HUGE projects that are whole games in and of themselves.

THAT is the power of open sourcing your code and allowing modding to really take it's course.

Monday, May 15, 2017

How to actually get a job in high-end IT and/or overcome huge odds doing it - Part Two

So last time (see part one) I went into depth (ok, a little too much depth) about my past as a bit of background to show two key features of my life which I feel are important for the readers of this to know.

  1.  I am of minimal formal education.  As such, I am not a massive proponent of going to college (especially with the modern emphasis on useless degrees instead of more rational ones like comp/sci).
  2.  I have been through some serious shit* in my life.
*serious shit includes but is not limited to: family upheaval, near fatal physical illnesses, crippling bills, lack of income, tremendous pain/physical injury, emotional turmoil from relationships, etc. For a more complete (but still partial list) please reference the 'part one' link above.

While I am grateful to eventually to have ended up being a 'phone monkey' it was a massive downgrade from being a junior sysadmin or programmer and I wasn't content to stay there.  For years, I tried in vain to get out of that position.

For reference on how soul crushing this kind of work is to anyone of meaningful intellect, watch this video (which was actually given to us as part of our training at Earthlink, if you can believe that).

As you can see, it's a miserable experience.  A minimum of forty calls a day.  I moved up quickly to other things in the company (livechat support, email, etc).  But at the end of the day, it was all the same only more of it. 

Then came the day Earthlink fired us all.

Well that's not necessarily accurate as it happened in waves, but the first wave came and I recall it being the largest.  They got severances, good deals, etc.  The latter groups (such as mine) were basically screwed on the way out.  No big deal, water under the bridge at this point.  Even at the time, I was happy for it.  I hated working as a support person.

So I tried opening my own business with some seed money from my grandfather.  And while the business was successful in the sense of generating money, it was unsuccessful for a lot of other reasons - namely insufficient money to pay the bills.  So it was income positive but insufficiently so.  The time came for me to find another job.  I heard through the grapevine Sprint was hiring and so I went there.  They paid well but the work was savage.  The environment was extremely rigid; the calls non-stop.  At least at Earthlink it was laid back and there was a break.  That said, it was "real money" so I was satisfied at least once every two weeks (i.e. payday).

After six months I realized this place was even worse than the last in terms of spiritual drain.  So I tried everything I could get out of it. I applied at state jobs.  I got my civil service exam done.  I received offer letters to interview then never got calls back.  Something was torpedoing me and I couldn't figure out what.

Seven years pass.  During this time I sought internal promotion, got it several times, but was still unsatisfied. At some point it was recommended I talk to a headhunter.  I did this, but really not on a broad enough basis to matter (as we will discuss later).

The headhunter promptly lined me up with one phone interview (for a woefully underpaid Linux Asterisk Server Admin job) that I didn't pass because I didn't have existing experience with Asterisk PBX.  Well news for you buddy, no one is going to take 50k a year for a job that pays 90+ when they have the experience.  But hey, that's life, right?

Which brings us to our next lesson:

Employers always ask for more than they can feasibly get.  If they ask for 10 years, they'll take five.  If they "need" a degree from college, they'll take substituted years in work experience.  If they want you to know x,y, AND z but you only know x, q, and b - that's probably enough. 

The above is *MOSTLY* true.  However, as I found out later, sometimes they use unreasonable qualification lists to disqualify American candidates to hire H1B workers.  Video for emphasis:

I've been to the second round interviews for companies like this.  You'll know pretty quickly by their ambush-style tactics and methods that they don't want to hire you.  Just dust yourself off and move on.

So after ten years in internet telecommunications doing support work of varying degrees and rank I decided it was enough to take drastic action.  I applied to dozens of jobs and emailed my old boss (the one who I quit from shortly before being sick).  I devised a plan to get a good job within five years.

He invited me to lunch and we discussed Linux, work, home/family life and providence.  Providence, for those who don't know, is effectively 'God and his subtle guidance on your life.'

I was offered a job strangely at 1am the next day (a Saturday).  The pay was an approximately 10,000 dollar reduction but the experience would be solid gold.   I took the hit for the experience which I realized was crucial to get where I wanted to be.  A nice side bonus is I'd work more normal hours, vs the awful schedule I had at centurylink (which is what Sprint, LTD eventually morphed into).

Lesson: Sometimes you really do need to go a few steps back to go many steps forward.  It's a completely accurate platitude.

The next few years were hard.  I had frequent clashes with my boss the first year; our personalities were still very abrasive to each other.  I made stupid mistakes that he in turn got frustrated with.  I learned, however, and improved.  I scraped my way to higher pay, though it was ... not enough.  I ended up making slightly less than I did at Centurylink and after 3ish years I ran into another situation with my boss at the time.  Ironically I was going to ask him for a 5k pay raise (which from 52k was not exactly significant).  However he came in that morning and raged at me about something absolutely stupid.  While normally this would be depressing I instead got furious.  I held back my tongue and immediately applied to several Linux Admin positions I saw online.


Why?  Well, in retrospect several things of note happened during this time:
  • I got relevant work experience.  I had it before, but now it was in my recent history. 
  • I asked for a copy of a resume from a co-worker so I could compare against my own.  I don't recall how this went down but he advised I clean mine up using his as a template.  I did.  I think this alone had a huge impact on return contacts.  Simply put - get your resume professional revised or find someone who has a good resume and copy it's format.
  • I accomplished some actual things of value.  This is important because employers will ask you for specific situations during interviews and you need to be able to say "Yes, I did this".
What's important here, and I can't stress this enough, is you have to put in your time.

For some people that time is college.  Other people, like me, do it through work experience.  For almost a decade though, I was trying to jump the line to my 'Linux admin dream job' and only after I  took myself down a few pegs mentally and went to do some grunt Linux work did I actually get a shot at a real job.

In prep for this, I did the usual spat of pre-interview stuff you'll read anywhere:
  • I researched the job. 
  • I cleaned up my resume and tailored it for the job I was applying for. (I often use multiple versions of the same resume depending on the job I apply for)
  •  And most importantly, I bought a good suit.  I went to kohls and got a 600$ fitted suit (learn to take your own measurements first here: which was on sale for 50% off.  I made sure to show my prospective employers that I took their job seriously enough to buy a new suit; this remains my 'get a job suit'.  Every interview I've gone to in it, I get a job.  It's that simple.

Lesson: Buy a good, fitted suit.

I got the job.  It was a contract job, which is another important piece.  So many little things here.  Most people, myself included, are scared of contract work.  However having done it, it's so much easier than regular work.  You get paid more, the expectations are lower from your employer, and you get into 'the network'.

Lesson: Get into the IT-contract pool 'network'.

There's a magical place in IT where people actively try to hire you.  They find you.  They email you. they call you.  You get offered jobs without being asked.  This only happens when you are in the contract pool network.  After I took my first contact job (making 20k more than I made at my previous full time job, mind you) .. I started getting calls from headhunters.  Eventually I moved off to another job making around 100k six moths later.

Let me reiterate.  Once I made the necessary life changes, put my time in for Linux administration, adjusted my resume, bought a suit and became willing to do contract work... I went from scraping by on a single income of 52k per year to 100k+ year.  This contract job turned into full time work paying approximately 85k/year.  This is the price you pay for security (and health insurance).   And honestly, I was satisfied with that. 100k+ was nice, but 85k and a secure job were hard to beat.

Of course, I was still in the network.  I kept getting emails.  I kept seeing headhunters - never spurn the headhunter call.  Stay on their radar as much as you can - at worst you get a free lunch out of it (they always love meeting you for lunch).  When a big job comes in, you are their go-to.

So there's a lot of moving pieces, as you can see but it's really not that complicated.

In part three, we'll go into the interview process and how to approach it.


Monday, May 8, 2017

How to actually get a job in high-end IT and/or overcome huge odds doing it - Part One

So I realize that a lot of people out there really don't come to this blog for this, but that's ok - I'm going to talk about it anyways.  This post has been a long time coming.  I've told people this story one on one but never written it down and posted it.

(The following story is true and without my usual embellishment)

First, a little backstory.

I'm an IT professional. Specifically, by trade I'm a Linux Systems Administrator/Engineer (depending on what company I worked for).  What makes me an aberration in most people's eyes is I'm minimally educated from the standpoint of traditional education.  I spent time at four separate high schools and was primarily pursuing an education in programming.  I was, at the time of my graduation, a fairly proficient C programmer.  I could program in Basic, Pascal, C, Hypercard, and a few other languages.  It was a good smattering of skillsets.  My last two years were spent in a local Vo-Tech High School.  This ultimately prepared me for my path.  My teacher at the time felt it was important for us to know Unix (specifically SCO).  So we were taught some basics about Unix and shellscripting.  I had an advantage having already been familiar with  writing some fairly complex batch files for DOS.

Anyways from there I went straight into industry.  I worked co-op my senior year (which means I spent my shop week at an actual job).  Then I was picked up by said job to work full time.

Sounds easy right?  Just turn back the clock to your late teens (19, specifically) and away you go!

Then it all went wrong.

It started with an intense amount of stress at work.  I'd been demoted because I was 'better with hardware' (code words for: "I want to pay you less and still need a sysadmin").  My boss was not an easy man to work for.  He and I clashed regularly.  I began getting sick.  I was puking every day at lunch and assumed it was the stress.  So one day, after a particularly heated moment, I handed him my "I quit papers" as he handed my "You are fired" papers.  By the way, this is a bad idea.  Let them fire you, because I found out later I had invalidated my ability to get unemployment compensation by handing him an "I quit" notice.

A week later I had a bruise on my hip that really hurt and kept me from moving much.  I also felt MUCH sicker.  The vomiting increased and the lump on my hip got huge.  Like 'literal size of a grapefruit' huge.

I saw my doctor, who referred me to a specialist.  Side note: when I quit we were switching insurance at my previous job so I had no coverage, not even COBRA.  This becomes relevant shortly.

The specialist informed me that my lymph node was necrotic (the tissue was dying inside me) and filling with fluid.  The vomiting was caused by the pressure it was exerting on my lower intestine, making me unable to process waste.  He said this was all extremely bad.  Given my age and the size/disposition of my physical symptoms it was a fair chance I had Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  I was also told that IF I had it, given my state, it was safe to assume I had three or less months to live.

This is a pretty rough thing to hear when you are 20ish.   I took it by basically going numb and saying 'well.. fuck it, not much I can do about that, right?'

Up to this point there'd been a lot more in my life that'd gone wrong.  My father was abusive.  My parents divorced, remarried because of me, divorced again.   I'd been disowned by my father about a year prior, etc, etc.  A lot happened in those previous years.  Point is, I was no stranger to problems.  This is helpful.  I think if I'd have lead an easier life, this might not have been so straightforward.

As it was I'd already lost 30+ pounds to this point from a starting weight of 155.  I looked and felt like shit.  I'd lived through some shitty years already.  Being told I had possibly three months to live was just another step in a trail of bullshit stretching back years.

The specialist then drained the black and purple bulge on my hip with a huge needle called a lance and scheduled me for surgery (a biopsy).

When I went in for surgery my blood pressure was 80/60.  I know this because the nurse said "Your blood pressure is 80/60... how are you still conscious?!"

I shrugged and got my surgical work done.  I awoke high as a kite (I recall talking incessantly about wanting to go to college for programming with my eyes closed to the guy next to me and him saying 'can I be on what he's on?').  This eventually calmed down... They then informed me that they removed two lymph nodes because they could tell they weren't cancerous because it was just laying there and not wrapped around anything.  They sent them down for biopsy and I'd hear back soon what it was for sure.

Lesson One:  Never, ever, just 'give up and die'.  And believe me, when death is hovering around like a vulture, you WILL feel like you can do that.

I felt okay for a while and they let me walk.  This is where I discovered I had an allergy to morphine.  There's nothing better than having to violently vomit after having abdominal surgery - ask a woman who's had a c-section for details.

Anyways, fast forward a bit.  I spent a week on a couch recovering.  At this point, my fiancee at the time quit her job because of stress.  So now I was neck deep in medical debt (approx 21,000 dollars) with no savings and now no income.  I had to work .. and I had to work fast.

In retrospect, I should have declared bankruptcy  or asked for more help from family at this moment.  But I didn't because I'm proud and stubborn.   Consider that lesson on the house.

At this point I was in deep shit.

Lesson Two:  No one else can dig you out of your own shit better than you.  So shut up and get busy digging.

I need a job and I needed one fast.   So I applied at <NONSPECIFIC POSTAL COMPANY>.  Now imagine this, if you will:  a sickly, pale, 121 lb waif of a man going to apply at a job that requires you to be able to minimally lift 70 lbs.

At the <NONSPECIFIC POSTAL COMPANY> center I worked at, the first thing they would do was try to make you quit.  They'd deliberately put you on the worst jobs in the building to beat you into submission.  From what I saw there, it was overwhelmingly effective.

I did not quit.  What choice did I have?  I would get up at 2:00am, throw a bandage over my still draining surgical scar and drive to work to do heavy lifting for 5 hours at so-so pay. At one point I slipped a disk in my back and didn't have enough money to see the doctor to find out what it was.. so I just kept working in excruciating pain until one day it slipped back.  To this day, I have back issues.

For the first two months I came home, looked at the full length bruises running up and down my arms, slapped on some Ben-gay, and passed out for a few hours until I had to get up to live/eat/work again.

I guess the lesson here is sometimes the best you can do is all you can do.   Sometimes it's not enough - my money wasn't sufficient to pay bills.   Sometimes you need a little faith in god (sorry to be preachy).  I'm not the begging kind, usually.  I would simply say my prayers and try to remember that sometimes these types of things served a purpose.

Lesson Three:  Trusting in god is hard, but will help sustain you.  Even if you can't, just do the best you can and know that it's enough as long as it your best.

After Six months I was at a martial arts tournament (weapons fighting with foam padded sticks) and broke my hand as well as tore a ligament in between my knuckles.

Here's the thing.  Everyone told me to go to work and pretend I did at work to get unemployment.  I couldn't do that because...

My work ethic matters to me.  (Even though I missed out on short-term gains).

This isn't a lesson really.  Just a statement of fact.  Your miles may vary, but I find that personally speaking, I couldn't be unethical. I'm not saying my life wouldn't have been marginally easier at that point.  I could have coasted by doing nothing for a while, for sure.

Instead I used my union health insurance, got my hand in a 'beer can cast' and went out and found a job by using my newfound dogged persistence.  On top of that, I was in much better physical shape.  My nickname at <NONSPECIFIC POSTAL COMPANY> was 'The Ant' - because I was one of the smallest guys there and could regularly lift more than my body weight.  Kind of silly, but I took it as a badge of pride.

A week later I was employed at Earthlink, Inc. doing basic phone internet support.  Now previously (for almost two years, mind you) I'd worked at the other company doing programming and systems administration work.  This was a big step down, but they paid really well compared to <NPC> or my previous IT/IS job.

Did I mention they had a typing test where you needed a minimum 40 words per minute to get in?  I passed the test with one hand in a cast.

Lesson Four:  It's amazing what you can do when you are REALLY REALLY DETERMINED.

That's probably enough for now.  I'll write more as it suits me, though luckily this is a topic I'm passionate about so you'll probably see more soon.

Oh and for those interested... the illness wasn't cancer.  It was CAT SCRATCH FEVER. 

And here I always thought that was a fake illness made for a song.  Nope, it's real and it nearly killed me.  So if nothing else, you learned that.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Killing replay value

So this is a #gamedev related post based on a discussion I had with a friend recently.

It was primarily centered around the lack of replay value in a lot of modern games.  Whereas previously in the 90's the games had a significant amount of replay value.  This I think goes beyond a level of nostalgia; it's actually I think more a product of the engines being worked with and the types of development being done.

There's a lot of really fine games out there; things that are absolutely superb - that I simply don't want to play again.  Or that replaying is simply a monumental task.  Games like Fallout 4 or Dragon Age Inquisition.  I love these games but can't bring myself to start over in many cases.  Yet I'll play the original Doom 1 (brutal doom modified included, of course) over and over again.  I mean probably at least a hundred times a year.

Why is that?

The answer hit me while having this discussion with a friend and recommending him play the new Doom (which was also a fantastic game).

The levels are simply TOO - DAMN - BIG.

There, I said it.  Wow, do I feel better now.  I mean that's the truth of it, isn't it?  These great games that we absolutely loved - simply require too much of us as an investment to want to replay.   Bigger levels and games mean bigger time sinks.

Ironically there's an answer to that.

Actually there's several but first we need some case studies.

There's an exception to this (from the standpoint of modern-ish games for me) - and that's Fallout: New Vegas.

I probably have over a thousand hours (easily!) in that game.  Now FO:NV was a huge game in it's own right.  While the base story is rather fast and easy to complete the game itself is huge in every sense of the word and rewards exploration.  Many games do this, Dragon Age Inquisition (DAI) did this pretty well too.  So what's different?

FO:NV has an absolutely UNREAL level of detail on the play variations and event markers for things happening.  It makes every game play a dissimilar experience (if you so desire).  Now this is accomplished with rogue-likes but I'm not a big fan of those because those never really feel like you're getting anywhere.  It's just another new randomly generated level with new randomly generated challenges.

FO:NV's level of detail is more linear but acts more like a series of alternate realities.  Sort of like "Al Gore beat George Bush" things.  The world is MOSTLY the same, but say 30% is different.  Couple that with a massive set of different endings.  I mean most games offer 'variable endings' in some sense but in many cases it's just the same thing with different screens.

And while most people complain about that happening with Mass Effect: 3, virtually everyone forgets the 'different endings' of games like Bioshock 2.  Now Bioshock 2 was an excellent game in every right - it played well, was innovative, but was terrifically linear and brought absolutely NO value to replay in any sense.  Not only did the game have only a superficial attempt at meaningful player choices, but the endings were literally 7 different versions of the exact same thing.  And I mean maybe a few words were changed or the color was slightly darker.  And there was the 'perfect' ending.  That was about it.  Sigh.  I literally played it once, got the perfect ending, and never played again.

Doom on the other hand (the original), specifically the first episode, was effectively short, fast, and furious.  It represents the other end of the play ability spectrum - massively fun, short romps. 

So back to FO:NV, as it fits the modern format a lot better.  FO:NV's level of detail with a huge plot and story allow me to go back and do all kinds of crazy things like wipe out whole towns, convert population alignments, or say kill a mine full of raiders who killed well meaning scavengers, keeping it clear, and allowing the scavengers to return.

Virtually every big box game these days does NOT do this.  They provide a linear experience that is easily managed and controlled.  One that allows them to figure out a simple story without drastically different endings.

So what can the average indy game dev do?

I think that the basic things we need to focus on is to provide a fixed set of a game that is basically the same every time in many ways:
  • Fixed, easy to grasp game mechanics
  • Mostly fixed environment, enemies, characters
  • A fairly basic trajectory for plot lines.

This is not unlike most of the games out there, right?  So what do we do different?  How do we increase replay value?

  • Don't make the game zones too long.  Break it up into easily digestible chunks.  If you can't finish a segment in 30-60 minutes, then it's probably taking too long for most people to want to replay.
  • Take 30% of the game environment, enemies, story lines and either randomly generate changes each playthrough (with procedural techniques ala roguelikes) or with meaningful player choices.
  • And lastly offer WILDLY DIFFERENT outcomes for player playthroughs.  Don't just give different colored screens and different words.  Give them completely different aftermaths.  Give them completely different endings.  
  • Allow minimal or complete modding.  I didn't mention this above but the proof is in the pudding.  Dragon Age Origins (the original), Fallout New Vegas, Doom - they all had very active modding communities centered around very open modding policies by the devs.  Even a little bit of modification allows a huge amount of replay value; open a door - let them change things like values, colors, sprites, you name it.  They will propel your product further than you EVER could by yourself.
THIS is how you make a game that has lasting value (and thus, creates a more permanent space  in the player's mind) which in turn allows future games to cash in on older IP's.


After a bit more discussion with friend it's worth mentioning that it's not just the ending that needs to be variable.  I probably didn't express this well enough but when I was saying 30% of the game should be changed, I meant story as well.  Your journey matters just as much as the ending; factions should hate you based on your actions.  Stories open and close based on who you are friendly with and whom you are not.  You get the idea.  It's not that hard to do, offer maybe three paths for say thirty percent of the faction alignments in the game.  Each of them affects things in a different way - maybe a little (ooh I'm helped by faction X during the end fight!)  or maybe a lot (end fight happens completely differently in different location).   

You get the idea. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

A month of minimal progress

Unfortunately my weather system isn't done yet.  Like.. it's done - but not done. Why? 
The investment of time required in one solid block (5+ hours, uninterrupted) is very hard for me to find as of current.  My new job (Linux System Engineer for Rite-Aid) has kept me busier than expected.

I also have been unable to do my usual forum perusals to keep my interest on boil too.  Will it get done? Yes.  When?  Not sure.

That's the honest truth.  I'm putting together a few things for MWDA too in my javascript game and I hope to post that on the website here when it's reached something appreciable but that's probably a solid 6 months of real development away which let's be honest, means probably more like 2 years in my world.

It's a shame, but that's how time is managed.  Life priorities are simply soaking too much free time.
What would be awesome is if someone wrote a Lua interpreter that could syntax check Game-Guru style Lua language without actually running Game-Guru.  Then I could build and test without actually testing, at least on a very superficial level.

Ah well.  For now, things stall.

Monday, April 3, 2017

MWDA, javascript, and weather system updates.

With my surplus of 'thinking time' for javascript coding, I find myself making progress inexorably towards a real, functional item.
So this isn't available yet but it will be soon.  I'm currently working on making this thing safely output to a page and I'll post it up on my blog eventually.

For your reference: MWDA is Mechwarrior: Dark Age.  It's a wargame using mini figures on the clix system.  It ran it's course a few years back and has since become something of a collector's item.  I collect many, myself.  That said, there's virtually no one to play with or against locally.  My sons aren't old enough yet.  So I have been humbly trying to migrate this to a program I can use and run to eventually build up to a full fledged game (similar to megamek in principle).  Then, eventually, I'll rip out the guts and rebuild it with my own game that I have been working on.

That said it's a great exercise in building something from nothing in javascript.  The current iteration builds it's own objects, a data table, a huge volume of information which only covers about 60% of the objects in the original Dark Age game.  There were many expansions of course, all of which will have to be added later.  The current version can do combat between two infantry units in direct contact.  It has no game board to speak of, no ranges, no graphics.  It's just the guts of a combat system and a very simplistic database.  

Once I have it mapping everything to a webpage properly I'll post it up on this site along with some updates from time to time.  I may obfuscate my code first, not sure.

We'll see.

 For now, that's what's up.  Once I sit down and hammer out my weather system (hopefully tomorrow) to make it consumable for the general public at large, then I will put it up for sale after final testing.  Price will range between 10 and 20 dollars.  Probably 15 with a sale price of 10-12.

Final checklist items needed for the weather system:
  • inclusion of my lightning scripting to provide realistic weather effects during a rainstorm.
  • ambient sound of various weather effects.
  • better methodology for deploying weather and time of day.
  • a general 'time of day' global variable based on loop counter/time.  Shouldn't be hard to do.  This will give a means to pull a time of day for secondary scripts (to allow shopkeepers to close up at 9pm, for instance).
  • better weather randomization.  Right now it's simply selecting based off a probability matrix.  This isn't really a great way to do things.  I'd rather it be for a percentage of the day vs just randomly selecting based on a time of day state change.  
I've also been thinking about just calling it early, wrapping it up, and saving other changes for a 'version two'.  Feature creep is a real bitch and sometimes it's better to just cut it off at the knees and save the rest for another time.  Some of this stuff is really easy.  Other stuff is more complex theoretical work (like how best to initiate/ramp up weather).

Anyways that's the status.  Take care and see you around.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Found these two gems today (Javascript)

So I'm not some uber-JS programmer, let's just get that right out.  I know how to program and Javascript makes sense to me, until you add all those stupid extensions people throw at it like some kind of tacky christmas tree.

For a long time I've wanted to make a pure JS version of my MWDA (Mechwarrior: Dark Age) game for the browser.  However, my limitation was that I didn't understand how to get past the portion of actually outputting beyond using the alerts and stuff built into JS.

Enter the canvas element.  A cursory search today revealed an incredibly simple fix for this conundrum:


So the canvas, which is apparently a newish HTML element is one that is specifically made for people trying to do what I'm trying to do. Which makes it perfect for this iteration.   You basically get a blank drawing space.  I feel kind of dumb for not finding this before.  So when I've got time and I don't feel like reading RHEL Clustering Tech manuals, guess what else I'll be thinking about?

So .. WTF Mike?

Yeah, this is kind of how I feel.  I'm missing deadlines pretty regularly here with my weather/time of day system.  That's because it's not being worked on.  I have been in the process of switching jobs and it tends to occupy me completely until I develop a new routine.  So expect a few months of upheaval.

That said a few things have been done lately:
1) I've been working on my book project intermittently again.  Note, it's not related to the Neo-Monagasque books.   Thank god.  It's a one shot single story.  I'm hoping to bundle it and some others into their own collection of novellas.

2) I am finalizing a really simple script I'm going to put on the store.  It's for a truck game I am making for my son.  It lets you pick up loads and earn income.  Very basic stuff.  It's a series of about 5-6 scripts which all perform different functions.  I want to make a simple demo game to go with this.

3) Every good list should have a third item.  Uhhhh... yeah

Games-wise I finished Dragon Age Inquisition.  It's probably the best game I've played in at least ten years.  The Trespasser DLC absolutely makes it though; as good as DAI is, the ending is weak without Trespasser.  With Trespasser it's just perfect.  So since then I've been playing StarPoint Gemini 2 - primarily because I've been watching The Expanse, which is a really excellent Sci-Fi Show.  I commandeer some 'upgrades' for my ships, sell the excess, make a big profit.  Fun game, I'm hoping finishing it won't take too long.  I know my wife and her WoW account are calling so I'll have to start spending time there soon too despite my disdain for WoW.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

So apparently, this is a thing.

Amenmoses managed to do this in Game-Guru using the updated AI stuff from 2.28.

Relevant thread:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Updates and changes, misc errata

I'm moving to a new job soon so that's occupied most of my energies.

It was rather unexpected, but is welcome.  We'll see how it turns out.

Also still mucking around with Unreal; which reminded me of this which I will add to the links on the right for game-guru; it's a visual Lua editor someone made a ways back.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Weather system update info

So wow, Lee gave us a great big gift basket of stuff. (SEE:

I'm going to implement a few extra controls based on the new Lua commands and then prepare this thing for launch.

My biggest issue right now that I am not satisfied with is I don't have a good way to deal with the weather systems.  I've monkeyed with the shaders, created a custom decal, etc, and just can't get it the way I want.

Unfortunately this is becoming a time sink and will need revisited in a future version.
Currently what I have supports:

Random weather if selected via variable
Random Time of day if selected via variable
A set time of day (you walk into a zone and it sets it to that time of day, single use)
A set weather (you walk into a zone and weather is enabled)
All weather turning off indoors via trigger zone
A progressive day/night cycle based on both step interval speed and delay between cycles.  Totally within the control specified by the user.  This is the on you see shown in the video.  You can add random or set weather to it as well via trigger zones or variables.

What needs added before release:
1) one final tuning run on the blue zone which I have a good fix on making how I want
2) new lua implementation of sun surface/lens flare (disabling for night specifically).
3) modified versions of algosteps decals need a last tune.  I don't like his originals that much because the decals are too thick or not transparent enough.  If anyone wants to step up and provide nicer looking visual elements for those Rain/Snow/Dust boxes I'm sure I can provide you a free of charge copy of my final product.
4) a final test run, really comprehensively.  I'm sure bugfixes will inevitably be necessary after users get their mitts on it but overall it should be a good clean setup.

Current cost for this package will be 15$ and I'm not sure I'll be doing it via the store since there are some complex elements which need to be done manually (like you pretty much need the updated sky shader if you want a good result from here: 

Thanks for the support and interest.  Please keep an eye out as this will likely be released in the next week or so.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Current statuses

A) I'm finally off of my 'on call rotation' which is a brutal slog every time.
B) I'm working some private home stuff things that need attended to.
C) I've also been playing a lot of Dragon Age Inquisition (For the first time, yay I'm only 5 years late or so) and it's pretty amazing.
D) I got weather functioning good but I need a better transition for the weather sequence which is the only real hold up at this point.  Once I master the shaders and get things where I want them I will have a potential release candidate for my weather system.

On an aside, Lee is making incredible progress on Game-Guru.  Like.. talk about knocking off items off your to-do list!  AI - check.  Cubic Mapping, check.  Better graphics, better performance? Check.  Etc etc.  It's impressive to see it coming along like this.