Approaching Beta

I am slowly but surely approaching beta for my new game Mercenary Company. The obvious time constraint I have at the moment is that I am only working on this in my spare time (so evenings / weekends). However, despite this limitation, I am pleased with the progress that is being made. Things are taking a little bit longer than anticipated, but that is, unfortunately, the reality of developing software.

I now have most of the abilities for the various Unit classes implemented. I have also overhauled the entire UI so that it is a lot less in your face. It is starting to feel a lot more polished and usable now, which is nice. Of course, the down side to this is that all of the menu related UI now needs to be rebuilt so that it matches the same style. This should be straightforward to do, but it all takes time.

Mercenary Company UI

Mercenary Company UI

The image above is not quite the latest version, but it is getting close to it. There is still lots of work to be done on level design and balancing. But overall the whole thing is starting to come together.

One thing that has amazed me is just how many resources are out there for use free of charge. For the complete game that I want to make I will want to work with an artist (or team of artists) to create something a lot more unique and consistent. But for an initial version that showcases where I want to take things I am happy enough with the free art assets I have managed to discover.

If you are interested in knowing more, or would be interested in doing some beta testing feel free to get in touch with me. I cannot guarantee anything, but I will see what I can do.

New Mobile Game

I thought it was time that I should give a quick heads-up on what I am up to at the moment. In part this is because further progress on the tutorial has taken a back seat at the moment. I still want to bring it to a close, but it does not have a very high priority at the moment. I know this will be a disappointment for those looking to finally make it to the end, but I do have to focus on what works best for me.

The tutorial, and the original project that underlies it, were started out of a desire to stretch myself in a space that was outside of the confines of my job. On top of this, my long term goal is to release a real time strategy game of my own. But I have always known that this is a long term goal, one that would take years to really bring to fruition. I am aware of this and content to take the time that is needed. And the core element of wanting to push the boundaries of what I can do has definitely been accomplished. So far I have written a lot about what I have done and why things have progressed the way that they have. However, the scope of the tutorial is also a lot larger than what I had anticipated, which is not too surprising given that I did not really give it much thought beyond “Let’s give this a crack”. So there has been a lot of learning along the way on my part too.

Despite all this, there is also a part of me that actually wants to get a finished product out there, in people’s hands, being played. And the reality is that I have had ideas for complete games (ones that I actually want to release in the not too distant future) for quite some time now. These keep running through my head, keeping me awake at times with the possibilities that they contain. Earlier this year I sat down and wrote out a lot of the concepts that I had. These were related to games, a shared universe, other ideas that came to me, etc. This was a useful process to begin to go through. It was also exciting to begin to see a lot more creativity beginning to spark than I was aware was actually sitting inside of me. It is easy to focus on the logical elements of programming that make up the work that I do and to forget that the creative elements that are a part of it. This is especially true when it comes to finding solutions to problems. Creativity is critical to creating products and services that connect with people in meaningful ways.

The end result of this creative process was a concrete outline of a game that I was very interested in making. The entirety of the game that I want to make is, however, too broad to make in a short space of time. Thankfully I have found an easy way to break it down into coherent layers that can build on top of each other. This means that I can make version 1 which includes the core concepts that I want to see. Then later versions can work together to eventually produce the full game that I have in my head. Hopefully this also means that I can get a viable game out there and see how much interest there actually is, and whether it is worthwhile putting in the effort required to create the entire thing.

Things finally came to a head for me in early December. I hit the point where I felt like I could not keep this game inside me any longer. It had been brewing for months and finally began demanding to be let out. On the one hand I felt a responsibility to complete the tutorial and bring it to a close. But I knew that I had reached the point where I was not able to focus clearly on what needed to be done any more. And so thoughts of that have had to go onto the back burner until I have the time / head-space to be able to really focus on it once more. I will come back to it, but it may not be for a few months.

I am happy to report that the last 6 weeks or so have been productive when it comes to this new game. This has been helped by being able to spend some solid time on it over the Christmas holidays. And the project is small enough that I really do want to see this completed. I am hoping to reach Beta by the end of January / middle of February. There will then be lots of play testing and balancing required before I will be ready to release the initial version. I’m definitely hoping that it can be out before the middle of this year, though.

Of course, by this point I can hear people starting to ask what the game is, especially since I am a reasonable way through making it. Don’t worry, I am prepared to share some details. The reality is that I am aware that making a game is only part of the process. The flip side is letting people know about it, spreading the word, building a community around it – all of the things that programmers tend to avoid as much as they can. I’m not expecting to go out and make a whole lot of money from this first version. However, I am aware that it is a good way to begin to lay a foundation for later games – to build a reputation for myself. And to do so I need to begin to tell people about what I am doing and where things are heading.

The game itself is going to be called Mercenary Company. It is a turn-based tactical game focused on controlling a squad of soldiers, similar in many ways to XCOM. The underlying conceptual idea is that you will be establishing your own company of mercenaries to help out in various conflicts on a planet. I’m not seeking to remake XCOM, but it has definitely served as a reasonable source of inspiration for me. While many of the core elements remain similar there are also several ideas I have had for mixing things up a bit as well. Of course, how well some of these things work will only be known in the next month or so once I actually get them implemented and balanced.

The goal is to release this on mobile devices: both phones and tablets. Since that has been my aim from the beginning it means I have been very deliberate in some of my design choices. I am very aware of the limitations that are present in terms of both screen space / size and input precision. This process has also been an interesting learning journey, since I have never been this deliberate about something that I have made before. I am hoping to release this on both Android and iOS, and possibly even the Windows Store at some point. The joy of Unity is that it does the majority of the cross-platform work for me, so I know that it is a viable option to do so with little extra work required on my part.

I decided to use the latest version of Unity for this project (4.6) which includes their new User Interface module. This has been very nice to use, and I may end up posting a couple of quick blog posts at some point on some of the cool things that you can do with it. I have also learnt a number of things that would be useful in the tutorial. Many of these are to do with the new User Interface elements, which make a number of things more manageable. Unfortunately, any of these insights will need to wait until a much later date. The nice thing is that the projects I work on complement each other, offering insights into design and structure. So when I do come back to making an strategy game (or working on the tutorial) I will have a lot more tools that I can utilize. Thus I am still learning and growing, while also making something that I am passionate about. It really is a win-win situation in many ways.

Anyway, I think I have talked on long enough for this post. It has grown to be a lot longer than I expected, but I think that should be familiar territory by now. I do try to keep things short and sweet. But sometimes the words just refuse to stay away. I hope that this has been a useful insight into where I am at. I will be in touch regarding progress on Mercenary Company (though I will not be writing up an in-depth development blog on that, sorry). Until I release that, however, keeping working on cool things.

Mobile Demo

I have been working on a demo mobile game using Unity3D (targeting Android at the moment – a Samsung Galaxy Note2 to be precise). This is mainly to see what sorts of things can be done. I have an idea for a game that I will be using this trial as a foundation for. I will not be writing anything serious up about it (since that would take up too much of my time). But I thought that some people may be interested in checking out the code (and following the changes I make to it). It is all up on my github account under the project unity-mobile-demo.

For those of you following the RTS tutorial: Don’t worry, this is not a replacement for that. I am still working on the tutorial. This is a much smaller project that I can work on in small snippets (rather than the extended period of time required to write a tutorial post). I started playing with it because I had too many ideas buzzing round in my head.