GDUK and Other Stories.

7 August, 1998

I think that these diary entries are going to be less frequent than the early days. Why? Because I spend so much time coding and doing graphics at the moment that I don’t really have time to write *exactly* what I’m doing any more. Don’t worry - the diary WILL NOT DIE! In fact, it’s just going to get more interesting...

    A month has passed since I last wrote, and I have learnt so much since then. The release of Amateur Wars has benefited me far more than (I think) it could have anyone else. Special thanks must go to SCEE Yaroze members James "Gravitation" Shaughnessy (who rewrote the code, improving it to utilise structures, bit-shifts and a more sophisticated control method) and James Rutherford (who dutifully went through and pointed out all that was wrong about it - that boy is sooo far ahead of me, it’s just not fair). It’s true what they say, y’know - you DO learn a lot faster from doing something yourself, and then listening to all the helpful criticism and tips that you get as feedback! Looking back at my Amateur Wars source is painful in many ways, although it’s only 3 weeks old! I guess that’s testament to how much more I know about setting up the basics of a 2D game. Don’t fret, fellow beginner Yarozers - pending permission from my aforementioned tutors, I’ll put their handy comments on my code in a special "Amateur Wars Plus" download (sometime this weekend, hopefully).

    Armed with my new-found knowledge, I’ve been busy planning my Game Design UK entry, which has been under the development moniker "Chemical Warfare" for the past few months. This is not going to be the final title, as what I really had originally was an idea for a great game mechanic that, to be honest, I’m probably not going to be able to get done in time for GDUK or until I get a wee bit better (no, I’m not telling). So, I’ve stepped back a bit from the original design (currently a design-only GDUK entry - expect to see it running for GDUK ’99, or perhaps the 2nd Anniversary Yaroze competition) and come up with a simpler idea (scribbled on a few bits of A4) which I suppose I can discuss briefly to keep you interested...

    The World War I picture and poem on my ‘Projects’ page give it away a bit, really. My GDUK entry is (drum roll)... a World War I trench warfare game! No, I’m not some ‘Commando’ comics nut ("Scratch one for Jerry!", "Die, Englander, die!", etc), but I feel that the First World War is a pretty rich (and relatively unexplored) picking ground for a simple "2 player versus" game. It’s in dubious taste, perhaps, but I find the idea of controlling a battalion of troops trying to gain territory over a network of trenches (think Worms-meets-Cannon Fodder-meets-Bomberman) quite intriguing - the only major problem is my still-elementary coding ability. At the moment, I have a potentially dinky generic soldier sprite and a semi-decent background, but I feel that I need to work out the play mechanics before I get down to my main coding blitz on Monday (I even got the week off work!). The basic idea seems to work in my head, but when I focus on the nitty-gritty, things go a bit fuzzy. One thing I learnt from Amateur Wars, piece of piss tho’ it was, is that you can’t just come up with something and expect everyone else to go "Wow!" (for any reason other than politeness, anyway). In that case, I was chuffed to bits just because I finally had a game running in a loop, with ships reacting to pad input - and you could shoot! I was especially chuffed with the lasers because they really were 100% my own ideas, and I got them to work (using the limited C understanding I have) starting with almost no idea how to do it.

    With "Chemical Warfare" I want to write something that people will find fun for more than a few minutes (or, indeed, just fun), which doesn’t look or sound totally awful and functions as a more-or-less complete game (menu screen, options, end sequence, credits etc). Alas, I don’t think that I’ll get all that done for the end of August - but I’ll be giving it my best shot! My initial take ("WWI meets ‘South Park’") was in exceptionally bad taste; there’s still going to be a few traces of the Grand Theft Auto-esque ‘look how naughty I am’ element, but hopefully the gruesome/funny death animations and mass carnage will add to the game play experience. God knows I’d love to be basking in glory at Stirling Castle for the GDUK awards ceremony November 5th! Hmmm, where’s Satan when you need to make a deal?

    Aside from loooong periods of time spent writing dubious code and animating sprites pixel-by-pixel in MS Paint, I have also been pondering a career in the "Games Industry" recently. Yeah, this is partially inspired by the current thread in the ‘freetalk’ SCEE member newsgroup, but it’s also something I’ve thought about a lot before - and I suspect many of my fellow Yaroze owners have, too. Thing is, until about a year or so ago I was pretty clueless about what I really wanted to do after university - working for the BBC, going to film school, writing for a proper newspaper/magazine or getting into some media/arts permutation all seemed like the way to go. Although I’ve always dreamt of being a games designer (cheesy, but true), I never really considered it as a serious option until I got my Yaroze. And BTW I *know* that there are no serious job openings for a ‘game designer’ as such, so I’ve always planned on getting involved starting with testing, level design or any "bottom of the ladder" job. I doubt I’ll be good enough at programming for any half-decent company by the time I finish next summer (won’t stop me working for a crappy company, tho’)! What the hell - hopefully I’ll have one or two completed games or substantial demos which I shouldn’t be too ashamed of. With regard to level design, I might also get into designing maps for 3D PC games like Quake or Unreal - but with all this Yarozery, my final year at uni and all the other stuff I like doing (movies, web stuff, keeping the girlfriend happy), I’d have to not sleep for a year to get it all done (didn’t Margaret Thatcher manage on 3 hours a night?)

    The other option that appeals is journalism (again) - I enjoy writing (just as well, eh?), have always been quite good at it which probably explains why I ended up as Associate Editor of N64 Gazetta (unfortunately, I’m struggling with my Gazetta commitments since I got the Yaroze). I’d love to be a staff journo on a decent games magazine like EDGE or one of the other more reputable publications. God knows, I might take o job with a rag like Playstation Power if only to get my foot in the door but the truth is I absolutely HATE what those magazines do. I also find that ‘lads’ magazines like FHM, Loaded and Maxim get my back up a bit - do they really need to cram so many shots of cleavage, erect nipples and bum-clefts into the mag? It shows something about the purpose/relevance/quality of the writing (and the people that buy it) when every issue of these titles has the latest pair of tits on it, and an interview with some wannabe Page 3 girl is meant to be interesting... Anyway, my feeling is that mags like <whatever> Power and Total <insert system name here> are just the same sort of light masturbation fodder, but with respect to games rather than sex. "Oooh, look at the light-sourcing!", "Oooh, look at the size of hers!" - it’s all the same crowd-round-in-the-schoolyard, hide-it-from-teacher British schoolboy mentality. I can stomach CVG because behind their "Gee whiz!" veneer I think it’s written by people who seriously know their shit. Similarly, even though T3 feels compelled to have some lovely young lady holding/caressing its cover item each month, there is at least genuine soul in their writing. Alas, the illiterate "me-too’s" of the British games journalism scene seem to have cut-and-pasted their articles from press releases and newsgroup posts. Maybe any country that lets a class act like the old SNES-covering "Super Play" die out doesn’t deserve quality games journalism. Mmmm, maybe this last paragraph should be stuck in Mr Frosty’s rants section..? And at least I don’t live in the US, where the number of decent games magazines can be counted on one hand...

    I’m getting quite excited about ECTS in September. As long as Sony pull through with the tickets, I’ll definitely be there. Half of me is just dead keen on seeing the games on show (Metal Gear Solid, Perfect Dark, Zelda, F-Zero X etc) and getting to see or meet Shigeru Miyamoto would make my month - autograph/photo opportunity ahoy! Maybe I’ll get him to sign my SNES..? The other reason I’m quite keen is to meet some of you lot - as most of you know I see James Rutherford a fair bit during university as he’s a fellow Edinburgh Psychology student (see diary entries passim), and I’ve also now met the rest of the vaguely-local Yaroze crew (Graeme Evans, Scott Campbell and Peter Dollochan). At ECTS, DEnnis is someone I just *have* to meet, anyone else is a bonus (only kidding, guys)! The Middlesex Net Yaroze short course seemed like a real success - I won’t be able to make it to any of the rest of them, but I wish I could. Ah well... It’s not that I don’t have any friends or anything (!) but I guess I do have a very long-standing reputation as "Mr. Video Games" amongst my peers and it would be nice to meet (as I imagine it, anyway) all the other "Mr. Video Games" people in the UK! James R. is a Mr. Video Games, but there must be more of us out there!

    Oh, what *am* I going on about...? Tune in next, er, um, fortnight (no promises)!

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