Road to alpha 2 and streaming

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Hi everyone, a quick update to keep everyone on track with development. Recently I started streaming my side of development on Mutant Gangland via twitch. The reason I’m doing this is simple:

  • Early access buyers get to see how things are going in-between releases
  • New people could follow development and decide whether they want to get in on the action

I’ve released a new website regarding my streams. In the future I hope to release articles and document the streams (as in, what happened during X stream, where I implemented what) hoping it might be useful to others.

As for development updates, here’s were we stand:

  • Commanders have been coded in the game. From now on, they will not act just as profiles with strengths and bonuses but as playable characters (and main characters during the campaign).
  • Mods are in. Now in order to mod/change the game the players can place their mod files inside a /Mods folder. For example you can create a media folder and place the image you want to use for the Tank, or change the way the AI works. Later on I plan on creating a launcher from where you can select what mod to use.
  • I moved my main development environment to Linux in order to better support linux users. Previously I was mainly developing the game on Windows but problems with the Linux version have risen. Since the game’s logic is in lua working on the main mechanics will not be affected. The Windows host works pretty well I decided that I can take some time to get the Linux version working nicely, and what better way to do this then actually working in that environment. I’ve also rolled a new SDL host (based on the one made available by the guys from Stirfire studios) so this should solve some other issues people have been having with the Glut host. For alpha 2, the SDL host could be an optional download and starting with alpha 3 it will replace the standard one.
  • Keyboard support for the game has been added. Some minor issues with navigating through the menus only with the keyboard, but I’m working on fixing this. As soon as that passes I’ll add support for gamepads in order for people to play the game connected to their tv.
  • Halfnelson (MOAI user and developer) released a wonderful tool that allows me to build a web (HTML5) host for the game. I plan on using it to during streams, so people can play the latest build, and maybe during FeedbackFriday on reddit.

Thomas has been present both at GDC and at Rezzed this month showcasing Mutant Gangland and Penarium (a wonderful little platformer made with the guys from Self Made Miracle). You can read his thoughts on how GDC went over on his blog. For now, this is were we stand. I’m announcing every stream on twitter but you can also follow me on twitch and get notifications on what time it goes live.

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Coding with the aid of MOAI and what it means to me

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Before I get into depths with the article/post itself I would like to make one thing clear: I am a bad, bad, BAD programmer. Most of the stuff that I implement is based on many iterations and hacks that, in the end, somehow get tied together nicely and function (almost) properly.

In my last article I stated that I started out making games back in 06-07 on the TGC forums, using DarkBasic and later with DarkGDK. This statement is important to this topic mostly due to the fact that I “grew up” with a code editor in front of my nose and not a visual tool, fact that influenced my decision to use MOAI. Back in the early days, DarkBasic was the closest thing to magic that I ever encountered. With just a few lines of code I could get a “game” up in minutes (and by game I mean interactive thingy with cubes moving ’round) and share it with everyone who had eyes to see my “masterpiece” (which I did, having posted 3 projects on the WIP section in 2 months). It had literary no visual tool there to help you with anything and I never bothered (nor had the knowledge) to make one myself. And I liked it, made me feel more in control. Later on I moved to DarkGDK which was the C++ flavor of DarkBasic, in order to learn the language “most-used in the industry back then”. Again, same thing, visual studio was my one and only tool. Now, 8 years later I still feel most at home in an environment that places a textbox with syntax highlighting in front of me.

I tried using using Unity 3D (even acquired a license at one point) only to get scared by interface not 10 minutes after first opening it up. It reminded me of Blender’s UI and I wanted nothing to do with it. With DarkGDK reaching it’s limits (and mine) in terms what I could do with it without something going hay-wire unexpectedly and crashing the whole damn thing I was in search of another framework to use. As stated, I’m a bad coder and writing my own from the ground up would mean loosing allot of time and ending up with a square for a wheel. I searched for a framework that would be high-level enough for me to string together a prototype in little time while also giving me access under the hood. And this where MOAI hits the nail on the head. Continue reading

Looking back on 2013 and plans for 2014

So I’m officially 1 year in as a wanna-be Indie Developer (since I have yet to release my game). It’s a tough ride governed by many decisions and mistakes. I’d like to take the time and share my experience after this first year. Hopefully it will be useful for people starting out or a good read for those without content to consume after the New Year’s party.

Going Indie

Doesn’t seem like a hard thing. To be honest, it looks allot like pledging to participate in a ludumdare event. No formalities, no signatures, no contracts and NDA’s. For me it’s more like a state of mind which translates to “Now I can be in full control of my projects and do what I want”. Another way to put it would be like having a cigarette smoker (like myself) saying “Today, I will quit smoking”. It’s easy to say, easy to get into that mental state but it’s hard to keep at it. Most people advice to not take the plunge until you have enough money to sustain yourself for at least 1 year. I think that’s a good, sane idea. I did not listen to it but that’s because I took another approach.

Moving back to my hometown

Sometime in December 2012 I moved back to my hometown after quitting my job at @Gameloft. My mother’s illness really progressed and I was expecting the worse. I proceeded to finish my last year of University/College by commuting to Bucharest almost daily. Thankfully things have gotten better for her since then but she’s not out of the woods. After I finished college I was faced with a huge problem: My funds we’re bellow 0, commuting daily burning all my savings and my folks we’re in the same boat. I couldn’t afford to move back to Bucharest and search for a job (renting an apartment there is expensive for Romanian Standards and you have to pay at least two months in advance) so I decided to make the best of it.

The bright side of things

The idea was to try out the indie life, make a game, release it and see if I can in any way afford to live off of it. My goal was simple: Make enough money from my first release in order to afford to buy a pack of cigars daily for one month, and two beers each weekend. The total sum amounts to: 105 euros. If I could reach this goal then there might by a chance of being able to turn this into a viable business.

By moving back home I don’t have to worry about paying rent each month, nor having to buy food or pay for transportation, which allowed me to focus on one project full time with no other distractions. Living in Romania also provides a huge advantage as, compared to other countries, the cost of living is relatively small and I can get away with earnings that otherwise would be considered less than sufficient in other places.

The project – Mutant Gangland -

Last July I took part in the Mini-LD hosted by @sorceress, #7DRTS challenge. I wanted to go head to heads with a friend of mine and ex co-worker @Radu Chivu. In the end we both took part but only for two days. I ended up with a messy and sluggy tbs which I dubbed Mini Wars. I was heavily disappointed in my creation and set up to remake it (more details on that here). First rule of order was to fix the broken pathfinding implementation I used and design a proper AI.

With a bit of luck I manage to get @Thomas Nopper’s attention and enlist him to help me out with the graphical assets of the game. Over the course of 6 months Thomas waved (and keeps on waving) his magic wand at the screen and kept on producing new graphics and sprites for the game, while I kept tuning, balancing and polishing the game. Looking back on it, things have changed quite a bit:

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Continue reading

Mutant Gangland – road to v0.2.6

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It’s been more then a month since the last update and this is due to us working hard on getting the game ready for the 12 days of indie stream. Now that the AmbushedGamer hosted event has ended we can start pushing updates and posts about the changes the game went through, the new additions and future plans. The AI posts will resurface once I’m done balancing the unit special abilities (healing, empowering and self-destruct). For now, here’s a brief change-long since the last post:

  • Units received new “racial” abilities: All mutants can heal themselves during their turn, and robots can be armed to self destruct on impact.
  • Top tier units (Bam Tanks and Mechs) can now sacrifice 50% of their initial HP to empower units in close proximity, by boosting their attack and defense stats for one turn.
  • The User Interface went drastic changes, having remade them twice till now, with one future re-skin planned.
  • Victory conditions for normal battles have been updated. Unless otherwise specified at the beginning of a map, victory is achieved if the enemy has no more units available on the battlefield and cannot produce new ones during his turn.
  • Commander stats have been tuned. They no longer have 2/5 points in each stat + a preferred stat, and their tactics are strongly influenced by this.
  • The game now contains two new sound tracks (courtesy of @Grace Zarczynska) and lots of sound effects.
  • Changes have been applied to range attacks. Ranged units can now attack from their location if the targeting reticule (cross hair) flashes green (indicating they are well within their range).
  • The AI focuses less on creating scouts during mid or late game and will try to balance a ration of units present on the battlefield.
  • A unlock system and a war room are getting slowly integrated into the game. Levels and commanders will be unlocked by completing objectives (winning a map by not capturing any factory, winning 3 games in a row, etc)
  • Hotseat/local multiplayer can now be started from the commander select menu.
  • Players can now export their battle details from the victory screen and visualize the data from the war room.
  • The game content and ui elements now adapt to any resolution.

Whit that being said, I have uploaded a video here showcasing the progress and a battle on a new map (designed initially for the 12 days of indie). In the next update, we hope to include a new UI re-skin, the war room and objectives. The game’s release date has been moved to early 2014 (January most likely, but only if we manage to get two weeks of play tests with no bugs or performance issues).

Here’s a bonus image of the commanders:

Commanders - both colors for both players

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Let’s talk about the Graphical Update

About the graphical update:

While I was neck-deep in code Thomas decided to revisit all the graphical assets for the game and boy did they change. Both factions got a huge re-skin and the terrain tiles and buildings were updated. I now play the game, almost exclusively, on the 3rd zoom level, just so I can see the little murder machines up close. All the units come in two colors, blue and pink allowing each player to play as any faction he chooses. Battles can be fought between mutants and robots, mutants and mutants, etc.

About the commanders:

As stated in the previous news post a new, big, gameplay addition were commanders. There are 8 of them in total, available for both players. 4 commanders for the Mutant Faction and 4 for the Robots, each with it’s own bonuses and play style. Even better, commanders on the AI side have started to receive their own AI scripts. Thus those with bonuses to the income might prefer to spend the first 3 days conquering buildings and the following 5 chasing the player with their Mech’s. Defensive commanders will prefer Tier 3 units (Attaka’s or Killbots) instead of costly battle-tanks while others might take a more balanced approach. This is pretty much still work in progress but things seem to move along nicely.  Have a screenshot (their portraits are placeholders. For now…):

Terrain Modifiers and game modes + ui updates:
To go along with the new tile graphics I’ve added terrain modifiers. Each tile can boost or lower a unit’s defense. Standing on plain sand will not stop a bullet but a forest might. And what about the game modes? Skirmish has finally been implemented. As opposed to the normal mode, in Skirmish you cannot build units. Both players start with a pre-defined set of units and must battle it out. The player that runs out of units at the end of the battle looses.

Now, the UI is also undergoing a few changes. Since my goal is deliver a TBS to be played in quick session I dare not have loading screens. The goal is to get you in charge as soon as possible and the new UI is being updated with this thought in mind. As with all other things, it’s still a WIP and will undergo a major reskin once finished. Here’s a gify gif gif:

That’s about all for now, but stay tuned as more updates are to come in the following days.

P.s.

Here’s a video with the skirmish battle:

Let’s talk commanders and modding – Mutant Gangland Devlog

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One thing I really love about board games is how different the same game feels when played with other people. Everyone has their play style, everyone thinks and acts in a different way and this affects not only the outcome of the battle, but also the way it unfolds. Playing against an AI opponent most of the time leads to a somewhat similar early game in most TBS games and this is something I’m trying to avoid or, at least, make it less visible in Mutant Gangland. And I think I’m heading in the right direction with the latest additions from this week: Commanders.
Continue reading

Let’s talk Irene – Developing a good enough TBS AI

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Disclaimer: I haven’t dabbled much in Artificial Intelligence before beginning this project. This article is aimed at developers starting out to develop a TBS game with no prior experience, looking for a place to start their journey. I’m not claiming this is the right way to handle AI and I won’t vouch for the sanity of the code (or anyone reading it).

Welcome to part II of my ongoing attempt to document my progress in designing a “Good enough” turn based strategy AI for my upcoming game Mutant Gangland. In this article I will focus on documenting the improvements I added to Harrold (the 8th AI iteration). This new version will be dubbed Irene and she will, hopefully, play a even better game then her older brother did. My focus in this iteration is on smart unit creation. Till now I only worried about getting the AI to move the units across the map and accomplish each units goal. One thing I notice from play tests, and from other people’s feedback, is that it’s easy to kinda rush the AI with a bunch of units early on and catch them of guard. Previously Harrold created his units pseudo-random, based on a few tables (or arrays) for predetermined situations. Continue reading