Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Space Chunks 2: v0.98

CrunchyFrog recently came out with a new version of one of my arcade favorites: Space Chunks 2! I reviewed the previous version over at my old blog. This is going to be a kind of follow up, so I recommend you read it, especially if you're considering the game.

Anyway, lets get down to business. I'm not here to review the new version, but more to express my own reaction.

There are a good deal of changes and upgrades, the most immediately noticeable of which is probably that there are a bunch of new fragments you can collect. A couple new things they can bestow upon you include extra lives and ship upgrade points. Also of note is that all asteroid bases now yield fragments rather than replenishment powerups.

The upgrade system has been quite renovated, now having a lot more upgrades available. This system has been tweaked to further imitate an RPG system, making each new upgrade point harder to get.

This new upgrade system is where my only remaining quibble with the game lies. The way the system works is quite good; the balance is the issue. You see, like most games with upgrade systems, this one has two curves. As time goes on, each level is harder to reach. At the same time, enemies get harder to defeat. As it should be, you continue to become more powerful as do your foes; at the same time, the game rises in difficulty by making your enemies more and more stronger than you. The problem comes in where on medium difficulty, at least for myself, I was less than half as powerful as my foes when only halfway through. This confined me to hit-and-run guerilla warfare in which survival was nearly impossible. I ended up having to restart on an easier difficulty for my first play-through.

The above problem is forgivable for a few reasons. One of them is that the game is still in beta. Things like this are usually still being tweaked just before release of the final version anyway. Another reason is that for people like myself who aren't ready for the difficulty can still have a food time by playing through on an easier difficulty level.

There's more. Also new in the game is the addition of new bosses. There is now one for every stage, ensuring a fun ride all the way to the end. Planets in the background give you a sense of depth, and serve to make it seem more like you're actually fighting a huge battle in the vast expanse of space. I obviously can't list every change here, even the creator of this game hasn't taken the time to list every change.

So yeah, that's the new version of Space Chunks 2. It's a shameless shmup with beautiful art, huge amazing space battles, awesome music, challenging bosses, an engaging atmosphere, and interesting strategy. Adventure game people will probably hate this game, as well as explorers or those of you who like a good story. This game isn't for you. But if you like explosions, stress pounding, and a good dose of shmup action, this game is your friend.

Final rating: 8.5

All the things about the old version give it 8 points, the additions give it another one. It loses half a point for balancing issues. 8.5 is a great score, and I have no doubt that successive versions will be even better.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Projects and plans

If you've been following this blog, you probably already know that I had to put my current game project on hold and start doing episodes for my webshow only half as often. This is because I've had so little time outside of school and work to do my own stuff. My blog has recently had more and more music stuff on it and less game programming and design. I actually prefer game design/programming, but it takes a lot longer to get something presentable together.

I've been thinking about what my current project should be. I obviously don't have time for Infiltrator, but then I'm not willing to consider giving up programming or game design either. One option I thought of was starting work on some smaller project. Some retro styled 2d game would probably fit. The problem with that is that I don't want Infiltrator to get pushed to the back of the shelf and forgotten. I've got several options I'm considering, mostly the one which involves restarting Infiltrator as a simpler 2d game that my schedule can handle. It's just an option, but I'm still considering it.

Anyway, all that aside, I'll unfortunately be going offline withing the next for days for about a week. This means the next post here probably won't be until next Tuesday or Thursday.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Advanced LMMS - another week another episode

Here it is:

After this episode, I go to an every other week schedule. The next episode will be two weeks from today.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Gibson for Linux

I've finally got the Linux version of my Gibson screensaver almost done. I'll probably be releasing in a week or so, depending on how long it takes me to figure out how to set it up as a screensaver.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Music work

Hey all. For some time, I've been learning and producing music. Starting with playing piano, then learning to compose and improvise, then moving on to computer synthesis with ABC2MIDI in FreeDos, beast, Audacity, FL Studio, LMMS, and more, I managed to stick a little experience under my belt.

I recently realized something. I've almost always worked under one program or instrument. I never mixed things together. Only recently have I began to change my perspective to more of a studio point of view. I even shelled out the space on my HD for Ubuntu Studio, which I highly recommend for optimal music production on Linux.

I realized that many people have several synths and programs running, and link them together using JACK or something similar. I've started doing this a bit myself. I'm even considering throwing in recordings of my piano with the rest of a track.

I also picked up a new open source synthesizer:

This, my friends is Phasex. It's really a pretty cool synth, although missing detune knobs on the oscillators. It's not a VST, and it's not an LMMS plugin or anything like that. It's stand alone, which means I can't open it in LMMS. However, it does support MIDI I/O. So, I just have to open up JACK and plug the output of some track into phasex and I can sequence that way. The major disadvantage is that I can't figure out if there is a way to automate it yet.

This same solution is how I can fix the delay problem on my keyboard, should I ever end up playing live. I guess the delay problem is exclusive to LMMS, which apparently has really frumpy MIDI latency.

So yea, I'm still experimenting with a lot of this stuff, including trying to see if I can hack together VST automation through this setup. It's pretty fun right now, even though school still takes up most of my time.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Infiltrator - Season 2, final part

Believe it or not, I'm not posting this session because I got anything done on Infiltrator. Specifically, I'm posting because I didn't get anything done. You see, as my school continues to get more intense, it gets harder and harder to find time for things like programming or my webshow. What it comes down to is this, I don't see myself having time to work on Infiltrator right now, much less in the near future. Thus, I unfortunately have to put it on hold until I can empty some of my time bucket. Whenever that is, I will start back up with season 3.

I know my projects have been what covered most of the content output, so I might end up doing more reviews or something. If worst comes to worse, I might have to cut back the number of weekly posts as well. I'm hoping I won't have to, and I'm also hoping I can get some time freed up to get back to normal sooner rather than later, but one can never tell what the future will bring.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

LMMS and a MIDI keyboard

I think I mentioned a few times that I have a wimpy little MIDI keyboard. It's basically just a sampler with a few instruments built in. It always had MIDI ports, but I hadn't given them much thought despite having had the keyboard laying around for more than a year. Then I got to thinking, "I wonder if I can plug this hunk of junk into LMMS and make it sound super awesome."

The first order of business was getting the thing to plug into my machine. I obviously don't have one of those uber-expensive soundcards with a MIDI port built in. I was happy to find that MIDI to USB coverter cables are not at all abnormal. I went to eBay and got me the cheapest one. The cheapest one happened to be in China (figures) so it took around three weeks to show up at my door.

After a bit of trial and error trying to figure out which parts of the cable to plug into which parts of the keyboard, I finally got it to send MIDI events back and forth. My first attempt after that was to get it running with ZynAddSubFX by using Jack. That didn't work, so I gave up on that hoping LMMS had something easier. It did. I was able to set up LMMS to pipe the MIDI events from my keyboard to a particular track with absolutely no problems. Except one.

I can push a key, and the instrument in LMMS with play the note just fine. It just won't do it until about half a second after I push the key. Half a second may not seem like much, but it's a huge problem when it comes to music playing, especially when I'm trying to sync with other stuff. I looked around online, and apparently a lot of people end up with this problem. This is also apparently one of those really devious problems where there are a hundred fixes each of which only work for one or two people. Great, just great...

Still, keyboard with too much delay to play live is better than no keyboard at all. I'll probably get this sorted out eventually, but until then I'll probably still be confined to manual note sequencing in the piano roll.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Infiltrator - Season 2, part 5:

Progress on Infiltrator has slowed way down, mostly because school is taking up most of my time. I've only got a little bit to report this time, but let's have a go at it anyway.

I finally upgraded my internal HDD to a new Terabyte drive. I moved my Mint installation over to the Terabyte drive of course. This impacts Infiltrator because of the screwy NTFS support Mint has. It doesn't allow me to run Linux executables from an NTFS filesystem. Until now, I've had to store most of my files in one giant NTFS filesystem because I had so little space on my internal drive. That effectively made development on Linux a big pain in the face. Now that I can compile and run programs from Linux just as easily as windows, I've moved my Infiltrator development over to Linux. That's right, Infiltrator will be designed and created for Linux, and ported to Windoze if/when I get around to it.

I'm also working more on the enemy framework. It's the biggest part of the game yet(other than the engine I had to write, but that's separate.) The way I'm doing things now, the level file specifies how many enemies will show up at one time maximum. Infiltrator then reads that value and creates a set of memory slots for each enemy using that number as the size.

I don't like this because it doesn't look like it will be easy to adapt and use for other features later on. Mostly, I can't just say "create a new enemy right here of this type," and forget about the rest. I have to worry about size limits and other such things. On top of that, the current version takes up memory for every single enemy, even when none of them are spawned yet. So if you have a level with 100 enemies, Infiltrator will take up enough memory to hold 100 enemies the entire time, even before any of them spawn.

That's okay though, because I've essentially broken the entire thing down in order to re-write it anyway. XD


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cutting corners... wisely

Have you ever heard the term "programmer art?" It's a common thing. It's where you have a game programmer who only has enough time to be an expert at programming, and thus has very little skill in the art department. A lot of people will argue that this isn't a problem, and that innovation will make your game a success regardless of art. Minecraft has become a classic example.

This concept is only partially true. If whatever innovation you have really sticks out, and if it's what people want, and if you can get word of the game to your target audience, you might end up with a success. I will note that I am NOT talking about graphics, or fidelity. I am speaking of visual style. Even Minecraft has a somewhat unique and appealing art style.

So if having good art is part of the game(pun intended,)  what other things are? The list is huge. Maps, physics/mechanics, music, sound effects, and story are just a few. This raises an even bigger question. How do you do all of these things yourself? The answer is that you aren't likely to. If you are working on a fairly big project, you aren't going to be able to do the work of experts in all these areas alone within a reasonable amount of time. So whenever possible, you need to try to scrape together a team and delegate some of the work.

To be honest, I myself have never successfully put together a team and come out with a successful project. It's just not easy to do unless you happen to be an already successful company with a budget containing millions of dollars. It is still possible however, and we know of some extremely successful or high quality projects that have come about from things like open source(which I happen to be a fan of).

So it's great if you can get a team together or even just one person to do art or something similar. But what if you can't get a team together, and you don't have a multi-million dollar budget either? The solution is simple. It's this wonderful thing called cutting corners. All the kids are doing it these days.

Basically, you start by taking what you're good at(like programming,) and using it to pick and polish the main feature(s) that make your project special. Then, rather than trying to do a perfect job on everything else, just try to do a fairly good job in half the time. Polish is always a good thing, but don't feel bad about not having the uber-cool new weather effects if that's not the point of the game.

Yet another way you can cut corners if you do it properly, is using third party content for things like art and sound. You must choose carefully which things you go to third parties for, and which things you take the time for yourself. Just make sure you don't go to www.smallSetOfMediocre3DModelsWhichDontReallyFitYourArtStyleAndEveryoneCanSeeEveryWhereElse.com. Use third party content sparingly.

You probably won't end up being a one man show like I am. You haven't had my horrible people skills blessed upon you. ;)