Once Rasternauts was done, I doddled about for the rest of the year. Hey, it’d taken nearly four years of my time (it’s not easy to tell at first glance) so I figured I deserved a rest. I did pick up a book, Programming Game AI By Example, and tried implementing a few things within that worked kinda well such as path finding, but never had much energy or will to push through and get a new game underway. Free time pretty much died out once October kicked in and study resumed, so the end of the year was probably best marked by flying a ship around in Elite Dangerous and marvelling at the little specks of starlight. They’re just as pretty as in Rasternauts.
This year, then, I want to get stuck into something new. Tom Francis, the creator of the rather spiffingly good Gunpoint, has started a tutorial on GameMaker, and I figured that’d be a fun way to play around with things without having to spend evenings and weekends looking at the same Visual Studio windows that make up the majority of my day job. His tutorials are geared towards the non-programmer, to the point that he clearly states it’s about getting things done rather than necessarily getting them right, but that’s absolutely fine for me – it makes for an engaging introduction to the environment from someone who’s already seen success from it.
And at the very least, it should speed up some of the experimentation, even if it doesn’t end up being something I use to produce a final game. I haven’t quite decided what I’ll be making, but it’ll be interesting to see how easy it is to apply the AI concepts I’ve been learning about to GameMaker’s own scripting language, for example. I decided soon after making Rasternauts that I’d shift focus to systems rather than hands-on design, so it’ll form a nice little testbed for things like procedural level generation, AI, and so forth.
Anyhow, it’s high time I got stuck into a new project, so I’m going to commit to making more regular posts here to chart the progress of anything I do. If I can have something more concrete in mind by the summer, I think I’d be pretty happy with that. So let’s see!
Rasternauts was released on Desura on the 16th April, making it almost ten months since the original Xbox 360 version came out. I do wish it hadn’t taken so long, and the chief cause wasn’t really anything technical. Most of the main changes were done last summer, with only the fixing of a few niggles and a desire to polish up a couple of the things I didn’t really like taking more time. That sort of fell down my list of priorities for ages, which can’t have helped.
What definitely can’t have helped was releasing a PC version with a bug that prevented game profiles – your progress, your preferences, etc. – from being created. I can only thank the Desura user Kloodge for bringing that to my attention. The basic issue there was that a save folder should have been created in the user’s Documents folder. At some point in the really stage of development, some change or other stopped that from happening. If the folder already existed, you’d never see the problem, and it worked fine for my testers, so evidently I broke it after I’d sent those out and then never really expected any further problems.
Now that’s pretty damn stupid of me.
Still, I was able to patch it within a few hours of discovering the cause, which means that the lovely folk who’ve bought the Indie Royale Mixer 3 Bundle won’t be affected by it. That’s good, because the vast majority of people who’ve actually purchased the game have done so via that very bundle. The game hasn’t done particularly well on the Xbox, teaching me valuable lessons in promotion that I have singularly failed to apply to the PC release thus far. So many respects, it’s nice to be able to reach a large number of people. I hope they give it a whirl, and I hope they like it.
Away from Rasternauts, I’m not entirely decided what I’m doing next. I like the idea of a football game, but I already spent the best part of a decade getting nowhere with one and I’ve come to enjoy my regained sanity. I will, however, play around with AI, and take the opportunity to get to grips with some new things. Rasternauts took me three years to learn how to write. I like to think the next thing won’t take that long.
I don’t know why I referenced Pokémon there. I’ve barely even played it.
Anyway, Rasternauts on the PC has been all finished up and submitted to Desura, and all being well it should be available at some point next week. Here’s hoping it does somewhat better than the Xbox 360 version, but more importantly, here’s hoping that the people who do give it a try will enjoy it. I think they should. It’d be awful to think they wasted their time.
I’ve been doing other things. I did an interview with the fine folks at The Experience Bar, which was fun, and you get to read many things there about the whole process of developing the game, and whether or not I’ll bother submitting it to Steam Greenlight, and also about the wondrous new animated mouths the PC version has and I’m definitely proud of.
But mostly I’ve been busy with both working and studying, which is why it’s been about five months since I last made a post here. I’m quite looking forward to June when I can have my weekday evenings back. At least for a week, then there’s the small matter of a football tournament.
I probably won’t get picked though.
The PC version of the game is taking me longer than I expected. I could cite a number of reasons for this, ranging from the not-so-mysterious appearance of Grand Theft Auto V in my 360’s disc drive, to the completely fabricated story of how I was promised umpteen pleasures by a small man playing a golden ukulele if I delayed its release.
But really, the major reasons are twofold. The first is that life has done its usual thing and got in the way a bit, so with a combination of work, study and trying not to be too much of a shut-in it’s not easy to always find the time that I had during the summer. The other, perhaps more pertinent reason is that my ever-curious mind has decided it’d be a lot more fun to muck about with something else.
Still, where time is found, time is spent, and the game’s shaping up nicely. A few kind friends spent a bit of time with some builds and gave me useful information so I’ve been able to iron out a few issues I’d not considered myself, and I’m still experimenting with how the mouse controls should work given most characters only fire in 8 directions, but I think I’ll get something useful together. Two new characters have the ability to aim in any direction and that works quite well, so I’ve also got to make the player somehow aware that these guys are probably the ones to use if you’re using a mouse.
I’ve also been demolishing walls. I’ve never been happy with the brickwork in Pixel Plateau (yeah, the research lab has a name, even though I only mention it once), it was a clear placeholder that never really got the love and attention that was required. As the game doesn’t use tiling for the terrain, a simple solution eluded me during the Xbox development but I’ve got one now that I think looks rather neat, and all I have to do is painstakingly go through a bunch of levels and start moving things around in the terribly clunky editor I wrote all those years ago.
It’ll be done soon, and it’ll still be balls hard. I can guarantee that. I haven’t even finished it on Extreme yet…
Imagine playing Rasternauts on the PC. Wouldn’t that be great? Of course it would. For a start, you would be able to play it in Ireland, and I think that’s an absolutely brilliant thing for the people of Ireland, to take their mind off… whatever it is that’s going on there at the minute. Teams getting knocked out of tournaments, I’d imagine.
So that’s what I’m doing now – creating a PC version of the game. Thanks to XNA, this has been a largely painless process but there’s plenty of PC specific changes that need to be made. A few of those have been already done, such as supporting multiple resolutions, mouse driven menus, creating save files, error logs and so forth. Still to come include some minor graphics settings in case your machine is as bad as mine, redefinable keyboard controls, and a keyboard and mouse control method.
So it’s all tremendous fun, as you can imagine. I’m having loads of fun trying to work out why the splash screens suddenly cut out on one of my computers but not the other, and finding out that XNA has no built in keyboard buffer support so at the minute all your profiles have fantastic names like “Profile 1″. It’s this thrilling sort of work which really got me into games, let me tell you.
It’ll be sorted, though. As for the release, I’m aiming for this month or next, depending on when I can manage to get it all working. Then the people of Donegal will have something to celebrate.
Over the last while, I’ve been taking on board the feedback I’ve had from various reviews, friends, commentators and imaginary critics, fed them into the Game-O-Matic 5000 and produced a new, more exciting game that absolutely does not feature Noel Edmonds.
That update has, after some teething problems and utter stupidity on my part, made it through the XBLIG peer review process and should be winging its way to an Xbox near you just as soon as you next decide to play the game. Which I definitely recommend doing, because of the changelist below.
Of particular interest is the reworked trial mode. I felt that it was likely people were getting turned off the game by the fact that the intro takes – if you sit through it – a good two to three minutes. It’s skippable, but it’s still an irritant. So I’ve crafted a new intro story with a new character to go along with it, which showcases a bit of the game without the baggage. Let’s see how that fares.
The other big change I’m very happy with is to the controls. I mentioned earlier that a lot of people found the game too slippery or floaty, with momentum causing the characters to take a while to come to a stop, often colliding with enemies in the process. There’s now a new option, accessible from the Controls screen, which reduces this. Indeed, the new option is so good that I actually prefer the new system to the old, but the old one’s still available because people have bought the game, dammit, and I don’t feel good about breaking something people have paid actual, real money for (well, Microsoft Points, but the principle stands).
I hope you enjoy the update, and I hope it makes Rasternauts a less frustrating and more life-affirming experience for you. Though I do not guarantee the latter.
- New 3-level trial story, “Being Frank”
- New character, Dr Frank Milton, for use in above trial mode and main story upon completion of that trial.
- Fixed crashes caused by errors in the checkpointing system (never fun)
- Fixed crash related to asteroid collisions
- Fixed the minutes on the level timer rolling over to 0 when it hits the hour mark.
- Fixed the bug not allowing you to return to the main menu from the character selection screen when continuing the main game.
- Fixed glitch in one tutorial room where the scientists would bounce up and down
- Fixed crash occurring as a result of the gems not being returned to the object pool
- Fixed level select not highlighting the last level or world selected when you back up a screen.
- New control option to stop the player from slipping around so much
- Main trial mode in the Rasternauts story only goes to the end of the Linking The Past level.
- Default controls now have Run on the right bumper
- Jumping at the edge of a platform has been made more forgiving
- Enemies above the player, but off screen, should not attack nor drop down
- Enemy spawn areas given a cool off period on all difficulty levels apart from Extreme
- Many more checkpoints added to levels to reduce frustration
- Levels tweaked to avoid unfair or overly hard sections
- Tutorial door in Armed and Ready made more obvious by having a scientist call out to you.
- Aiming + Climbing tutorial now has a ladder and targets, to help practise aiming while on a ladder.
- Control setup now appears when setting up the first play through on a profile (including first play of new patch)
- Can now set the difficulty when starting play via the Level Select
- Enemies will only attack from off screen on Hard or Extreme
- Selected menu item now flashes so you can tell which one is highlighted when only two options are available.
- Enemies will not respawn continuously on Easy mode
- Enemies will tend not to spawn behind you on Easy and Normal mode.
- Implemented a pause between respawns on lower difficulties to allow you to catch a breather.
- Improvements to the camera to help it focus on what’s important
- Small enemies with multiple hitpoints will now be knocked back when shot
- Changes to help reduce visual glitches when enemies are killed on slopes
- A little motion added to lava and water
- Rain now splashes on pools of water during the forest levels
- Lava in the cave levels now bubbles
- Some lights during later Raster levels made to flicker on and off
- Improved the power of Joe’s gun
- Flame turrets now give of a little puff of fire before firing, as a warning
Well, there is no dust really. More a particle vapour caused by when you hit the vector ground.
Now that the game’s out, hopefully I’ll see some reviews in time (feelers have been put out there, in a non-creepy way), but I won’t just rest on the game. Already there’s been feedback to take on board, and I think I can improve the game, so that’s precisely what I’ll be trying to do.
In the main, I think the trial experience isn’t good enough. If Microsoft didn’t enforce an eight minute timer on the game then people would be able to play about a third of the way through before they hit a paywall, getting comfortable with the controls, browsing the menus and enjoying (or hating – it’s up to them) the story. Instead, if they want to maximise their playtime they have to rush past all of that and try to get a feel for the game as soon as possible. And I think that isn’t showing the game in the best light.
So I’m looking into offering a separate and short trial campaign, which drops you right into the action from the off. It’ll sit alongside the main story mode and be offered up to the player as an ideal way to jump into the game without doing so completely blind.
Another tweak I’m considering is an option to adjust the effects of momentum – some people just aren’t gelling with it. I quite like it, but many others don’t. I’ll play around to see if putting in an option to reduce it has any negative consequences with the level design later. I won’t remove it completely though – just as there are people who don’t like it, there are those (like me) who do, and I’m not going breaking the game for anybody who’s halfway through and quite enjoying it.
As ever with an XBLIG update, it could be a while before it’s ready, but as I haven’t actually started working on it yet, it’s safe to say it won’t be tonight…
In the meantime, a big thanks to everyone who’s bought and rated it so far. You’re making an inexperienced developer rather happy.
Less than 36 hours after the last post, Rasternauts was approved and is now available on the Xbox website. I’m rather chuffed, because it’s the first game I’ve ever properly made. There have been half hearted efforts before, but nothing ever reached this point.
So, I hope you – whoever you are – like it. It’d mean a lot to me. Maybe even if you just think it’s ok.
Buy it now on Xbox.com, for only 80 MSP!
And now, I must get around to tidying up this place
Rasternauts has been in peer review for a while now.
In fact, it’s been there twice. The first time was going really swimingly right up until it was pointed out that a “Level Complete” message would appear at the end of a level (this was good) and then stay there at the start of the next (this was bad). Sure, I could have forged ahead and released that, but I’ve standards to maintain. Or create. Or something.
Anyway, there was a more troubling bug that didn’t get noticed, and which was actually causing the levels to become depopulated the longer you played. And not the good kind of depopulation, using your gun to off enemies as intended, but the very bad kind where they all disappeared right at the start.
So in many respects, it was a good thing that I pulled it from review. Now it’s back up and hopefully shall come through. In the meantime, I’d better sort out this website. It’s a trifle… bare.
Well, here we are. A new game means a new site, a new blog, and a new cup of tea. Actually, that sounds like a good idea. Tea it is.
Right. Rasternauts is a platform shooter for XBLIG, and I’ll post again about that when I’ve finished faffing about with all of this stuff. It’s an actual game that I’ve virtually finished and everything, so there’ll be no more lengthy posts about something I never got anywhere near completing.
This blog will be, well, whatever I decide it to be over the coming weeks and months. Don’t ask me. I’ve only started.