Points, Templates, Immobility

immobility

2 weeks to the day since I got the Netbook and it’s become unusable. They say you get what you pay for, but to my mind anything that costs $300 for 2 weeks of work ought to be some kind of Pretty Woman scenario. It appears on Monday I’ll be shipping the lappy to Newark, CA to have the folks at ASUS either fix it or send me a new one.

Upside of a broken Netbook? Shipping is cheap, the thing weighs about 3 lbs.

Downside is I returned to Rhode Island yesterday and already my wonderful plan to move my workspace out of my bedroom has fizzled. Predictably, it fizzled on the very first attempt to do it properly.

So much for portability. It’ll be at least a couple weeks til I get the lappy back in working condition, so I guess it’s just me and the desktop. This brief foray into Windows 7 has taught me that all benefits of being on a PC instead of a Mac are gone. So much usability has been stripped out of Windows 7 – many programs don’t even have a task bar. The out-of-the-box program that records off the webcam will let you email your file to a friend (if it’s under 20 megs, and it won’t compress for you) or post directly to YouTube. That’s it. Can’t save it to a unique location, can’t rename it, can’t even bring it into a video editor unless you search around in your directories for the original files. It’s just like Apple’s “we’ll tell you what you want to do” ethos, but without the reliability.

End rant.

templates

Wasting my entire evening on a busted laptop makes one bitter, so I’m forcing myself to prototype tonight just to ensure I am productive today. I shan’t be losing a day to that damn little box!

If I’m going to get to work in earnest, the first step is to make a basic template. I’m building a very simple prototype tonight, with all four characters and the basic movement controls. Single room, four characters, switching between them with Tab, movement with A and D. That’s tonight – over the next few days I’ll put in basic running and jumping and object interaction.

With this template I’ll be able to bang together all my future prototypes using the existing animation and movement controls, instead of having to rewrite whatever I need each time. And it’ll be more interesting for other people to look at than blue and purple boxes.

points

Finally, I’ll now be stealing Nifflas’ point system, which he elucidates here.

The idea is this: a game developer gives themselves points for game content. It must be game content, not mock-ups, not plans, not design documents, not research. Something that will go into the game and not be replaced later (unless you change your mind about something down the line). So, one point for a new sprite, two points for a new animation, five points for new sound effects, etc. Nifflas’ rule is 10 points a day.

The hardest part of development is finding a balance. There’s the assumption that you’ll want to sit down in front of a machine and just work. This assumption is often faulty, and whole days will get wasted in front of the computer waiting til you feel more productive. When good days come around, you pour hours and hours into your project and burn out, not wanting to touch the game for the next few days. It all averages out to a fairly low output, as well as weak eyes and weak bones from sitting at your desk day in and day out.

Many game devs will advise you to make sure you enjoy your life, not only your work (Matthew Wegner, Chevy Ray, Derek Yu, Edmund McMillen). I agree with them. Sitting by a computer waiting for inspiration isn’t going to make you feel happy, but then, how do you make sure you’re doing enough if you keep going out and doing other things? Often giving yourself goals like “work on this part, then go out” fail because you’ll find yourself not wanting to work on that part and spending forever trying to muster the energy (often the thing that makes “that part” unappealing is solely the fact that you’ve said you can’t do anything else). The flipside, “work on anything, then go out” can easily spiral back into “stay at the computer til something, anything, gets done.”

I’ve tried giving myself discrete units of time, saying “work for 3 hours and then do something else,” and it comes the closest to working, for a while at least. I have to get fairly flexible, though, because sometimes the first hour won’t be as productive as the 3rd and at the end of the 3rd I will be half-finished with something and then I’ll go over-time. Letting myself bend the rules from day to day chips away at the rigidity of it and then I realize 2 months later that I don’t have a system at all anymore.

Nifflas’ point system is pretty damn smart. It gives you a daily goal, a quantity by which you can measure your day successful, but one that is broken up into units of actual productivity, instead of units of time. It simultaneously keeps you from slacking and keeps you from overworking. And it’s open-ended, so if you really don’t feel like animating you can do whatever else, and if you don’t feel like working at all you can do small menial tasks for low points, or just do a big push on a single large thing and then take the rest of the day off.

This is all theory so far, of course, and I do seem to love theory a lot more than practice.

For the time being, I’m putting myself on a 5 point system. Almost everything I need to do takes longer than it would for an experienced dev – the time gets doubled as I spend the first half learning how to do it and then doing it (and extra time for fixing it because it doesn’t work). The most important things for me to work on now are prototypes, and they take a damn long time to get working properly, even though they’re very simple. Seems like making a lot of them would brute-force my understanding of Game Maker into something more usable. And the sooner I finish prototyping all my ideas the sooner I can be building usable gameplay.

I haven’t worked out just how much each thing I need to do is worth (nor exactly how many things I need to do) but I know that a finished, working prototype, with a full post-mortem, will be a full 5 points. Each prototype reveals things that I need to do, i.e. what animations the game needs, what objects need to be drawn, what mechanics need to be prototyped next, and what problems I need to research.

I can “take a day off” still, but it’s going to mean doing 5 1-point tasks that are easy to perform, like making a few unique animations and incorporating them into the template. It’s never too early to put in fine brushwork.

Anyway, that’s enough talk, time to get back to the prototype. Hoping to get it done before midnight.

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