Changes

Heyo, it’s Fri- um, Saturday!

As I sit at my computer on a Saturday evening, I wonder, really, why did I decide to make Friday blog-day? Two weeks running it’s been much easier to blog on the weekend proper. Maybe just because Friday’s supposed to be my day off and I am more likely to work a Saturday shift that a Friday shift? Or maybe just because I want to force myself into blogging before I get completely vegetative on the weekends.

Still, let’s not get our knickers in a twist should a blog come later in the weekend.

Unity

Oh dear me, I’ve been studying it this week. Unity.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Unity Indie changed its name to plain ol’ Unity last year and decided to go completely free. It’s marked down from $200 to $0.

When I first decided to tell the story of One-Eyed Monsters, it was maybe going to be a short story, with one character and outside of the most basic premise, not really at all the same. Then I started to expand it, and soon after visiting the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco, decided I wanted to make it an ongoing story, as a comic,with four main characters and far more compelling setting and subject matter. Around the same time I first discovered Adventure Game Studio and was trying to come up with an idea for a game.

Durr.

So when I fit the characters and story of One-Eyed Monsters to an adventure game format, it came to life to me. It wasn’t a story that was going to be told in static panels; it was dynamic, it wanted to move.

I tinkered with AGS a while, working on a little game called Grey mostly to teach myself the engine, and abandoned the project and the engine when I realized it was going to take a lot of coding to hack AGS into the engine I needed. At the time, AGS could only do scripting in C#, which was almost completely undocumented in the tutorials. For someone with zero coding experience, this was impossible.

I looked into other systems that might let me get away without coding, and for a while used Multimedia Fusion 2. MMF2 is a nightmare, each complex action having to be carried out with hundred of checkmarks, and still, pretty poor documentation. I messed around with trial versions of Torque (rubbish) and even Unity, briefly, but Unity was a $200 3D engine that still required a fair amount of scripting to use.

I let my trial period expire and decided “if I have to know how to code to make this game, I might as well learn Python since it’s apparently the most user-friendly coding language.” I downloaded a long tutorial and started learning Python, ground-up.

By the end of the tutorial, I knew I’d never be a true coder. That’s when I made the recruitment video and Francesco climbed onboard. That was a little over a year ago.

What do we have to show today? The engine has been under construction off and on for almost 400 days. And I’ve realized how it was, perhaps, incredibly naïve of me to think building an engine from raw code would be roughly as efficient as learning a scripting language and using an existent framework. I downloaded the (now free) Unity engine again, since Alec Holowka had raved about it so much, and even made a few video tutorials. I figured I could at least use it for prototyping, and we could reverse-engineer what I made in our own engine; at least I’d have something to look at finally.

I opened it up, and from the start I was yelling at it, because everyone saying it was “so intuitive” was obviously a coder, because it wasn’t something you could just open up and use, which is what “intuitive” should mean.

Then I sat through Alec’s first video and squealed.

It is a fucking phenomenal engine.

Unless some horrible obstacle comes up along the way, One-Eyed Monsters is switching to Unity. And I think development just sped along considerably. Keep your eye on this space, you’ll be seeing output soon.

storytelling

I’ve been trying for some time to piece together exactly what I think about linear storytelling in a game medium. I am telling an unavoidably linear story, and the only way to tell it right, I’m certain, is as a game. But since going through Jonathan Blow’s lecture about story, I feel I have to justify telling a story with gameplay, because his ultimate argument is that we shouldn’t.

And I don’t have an answer to his thoughts, which is maybe okay, since what he said was that he didn’t really have any idea of what large, impactful games without narratives would look like. Alexander Bruce‘s TIGRadio audio essay last week encouraged indies to submit audio essays to TIGRadio in future weeks (whoa, meta), as a way of becoming involved in the community. Well, gauntlet thrown, sir; one of my housemates has been borrowing my mic all week to Skype with her beau in Ireland, so when I’ve got a clear idea of what I’m saying I’ll get it back from her; I expect I’ll have it submitted by next week.

Basically, we humans are storytellers by nature, and if there is even one tool in gaming that we can use for storytelling that we can’t find anywhere else, we’re going to use it. We’ll have to grapple with the ways the medium doesn’t want to be used for stories, which is nothing new really (anyone who’s read Finnegan’s Wake or seen Un Chien Andalou can see that both prose and film can be a lot more expressive when not chained to a traditional story). But the question remains: is there something fundamentally irreconcilable between gameplay and storytelling? Interactivity might imply that games are better suited to enabling players to make stories rather than to play prefabricated ones. I don’t know the answer to that; it might be true.

One thing working in Unity does for me is it makes me feel less like I’m designing something for a lot of people to experience but instead using a set of tools to tell a story, tools that anyone can use with little study. More like one person in an act of sharing, less like an arbiter of meaning.

Point is, I’m going to do it no matter what.

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