Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Killing Time...

Well, I suppose it's about time I wrote a blog post. It's been a while... Since I last wrote a post, Hiive has brought on two part-time employees - both of whom (after a couple of early hiccups) are working out pretty well so far.

The initial plan was that they would free up more time for me, and I guess they have - but not as much as I'd hoped for... Part of that is ramp up and training, which is to be expected, so hopefully once they are fully up to speed on my idiosyncratic ways of running a company I'll have more time for the things I want to do rather than the boring management stuff. I clearly wasn't cut out to be a manager so my employees effectively have to manage themselves...

Anyway. That's boring. Onto some interesting stuff... We're currently performing a grand experiment with the Monkey programming language. You've probably read about me alternately complaining and/or praising it since I started experimenting with it. In fact, even in the short time I've been using it in earnest, the quality of the product has improved leaps and bounds... It's very good, if a little rough around the edges. For quickly getting up and running it excels. However, I'm not convinced that it will be a good fit for me to take a product from conception through to release. It will get me close, but when it comes to matters of polish, the 'one size fits all' targetting method isn't ideal. It gets me 90% of the way there, but doesn't really feel right for the last 10%. For example, if I want to add in custom shaders to make the game look more impressive, then there is a mechanism for doing so - but it's target specific and relies on getting your hands dirty with the target language to implement correctly. This is all fine, of course, but if I'm going to go to the trouble of writing in target-specific languages, I'm wondering why I didn't start out in the target language to start with.

There are other things I don't particularly like about Monkey as well... The main one being that class inheritance isn't as fine grained as I would like. You can have private and public members of a class, but there is no concept of protected. (Note that the previously mentioned lack of a debugger is still an issue - but there are workarounds for that).

So, I've been mulling over a plan of action for how to proceed with the platform game, and I think I've decided on making the gameplay 'feature complete' within Monkey and then mothballing the monkey code. Further development will be continued using a heavily refactored (Thank $deity for ReSharper!) version of the XNA target.

This still allows me to target multiple platforms (thanks to Monogame) and gives me the advantages of being able to have very fine-grained control over the graphics pipeline. I have some great ideas to up the presentation that require the use of shaders. Of course, this means that Josh will have to learn a new language (as he is currently familiar with Monkey) but I think that the extra productivity boost from being able to use a mature development environment and world-class debugger will outweigh any slow-down from having to learn C#.

As an aside, I noticed that GameMaker is now available on Steam. I may well be looking into that at some point. (Although who knows when that will be... I still have Unity installed on my computer from a couple of months ago, and I think I've only fired it up for a quick look once in that time period. I guess I'm just not that excited by 3D for the sake of it.)

Hmm. So what else have I been up to? Well, I've actually managed to find some time to play a few games. My current addiction is Subset Games' FTL. It didn't grab me at first, but I persisted for a few plays and quickly became hooked. And this actually brings up a wider point. As I've grown older (I turned the big 4-uh-oh about a month ago) I find that I have less and less time (or inclination) to play games that require a substantial time investment. Instead I find myself looking for games that I can delve into for twenty to forty minutes at a time. Now, I know there are a whole slew of casual games that fit that bill, but I've never really been into casual gaming. What I tend to look for are the more 'hardcore' style of game that feel deep and involving and yet only require small amounts of time. Up until now, boardgaming has been scratching that itch fairly well, but I can't always rustle up a group of friends to play a quick boardgame. FTL, on the other hand, is almost perfect for a quick hardcore play session. Note that I said almost perfect... It's not quite the game I want to play. It's very close, but not quite... I'm hoping that they come up with a sequel that goes more in the direction I want, but if not, then I know what Hiive's next game is going to be!

Another game that's captured my attention just recently (if only to make me weep at how much my reaction time has diminished over the years) is Terry Cavanagh's Super Hexagon. It's a beautiful piece of minimalist design, and extremely addictive to boot. It could use a couple of playability tweaks with the movement of the player, but I'm also perfectly prepared to accept that I may just suck at it. The music is also absolutely fantastic. In fact, it's the only game soundtrack I've ever bought (mainly because I don't survive long enough to hear the tunes in their entirety and they surely deserve a listen). I'd even go as far to say that it's better than the VVVVVV soundtrack. (Note: It's no secret that the current platform game we're working on is inspired by the latter!)

Okay. That's enough random blathering from me. Hopefully we'll have some more exciting posts about the platform game coming up in the next few weeks and then we'll start working in earnest on our Rogue-like. Watch this space (if you're so inclined!)

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