Game Over. Continue?

4 September, 1998

Wow, have I been busy since the last diary entry! I suppose most of the people reading this will have played Mud ‘n Blood, and are therefore wondering why I have any right to feel so pleased with myself. Heh. Go jump off a cliff!

    Thank God I have something other than ‘Amateur Wars’ to post on this website! If nothing else, the previous four weeks of mental, social and physical isolation are worthwhile for that alone. If anyone thinks I’m being melodramatic, well, you’re probably right - but I have been one busy puppy recently. It all started when my girlfriend went off to Pakistan for a 2 month (was it something I said?) backpacking trip. Hmmm, travelling around what I imagine as one of the least tourism-friendly countries on the planet (well, out of those *not* currently concerned with wiping out their ethnic minorities) doesn’t sound like much fun to me - particularly with the US of A gamely deciding to piss off most countries ending with "-istan" by dropping a few Tomahawks on that chemical weapons/mothercare factory (depending on who you believe) . But these are my personal worries!

    Anyway, if "her indoors" (how ironic - given our respective activities over the last month) hadn’t decided to go off and discover herself, I wouldn’t have got this game done so how can I complain? Answer: I can’t. In fact, I took to my new-found role as "computer programmer" with a zeal I found rather alarming. I had a week off work over the beginning of August, during which I worked pretty much all through the day (and night) on my game, pausing only for -yes! - take-out pizza and Diet Coke (actually, I always drink a lot of ‘DC’, as we affectionately refer to it in the flat). More scary - I chose not to shave for nigh-on two weeks, thereby letting my (potentially-not-inconsiderable) facial hair take hold of me in a new and scary fashion. It was when the checkout girls at Tesco’s started crying when I joined the queues I suspected I might need to shave (read: chainsaw) it off! Thank goodness I did, or I might have been raided by the police in that recent kiddy-porn crackdown ("Look at yourself you filthy pervert! Now, what have you done with those JPGs?") etc

    So, semi-bearded and laden with phenylaninine (an "essential amino acid", according to the Diet Coke hotline), I was in the perfect position to get on with some serious coding/learning experience. The first week was largely taken up with drawing and animating the soldier sprite - in fact, getting the little bastard to run, fire and move decently on a black background was the first step. I figured that if the control of the character wasn’t right, then nobody would give two hoots about playing the game. And after the "technology demo" that was Amateur Wars, I was mainly concerned with writing something people would actually, actively, want to load up and play! So, many, many hours were spent getting that little dude drawn in Microsoft Paint and tweaking the animation so the four-frame motions didn’t look too cack. Since I discovered there is no such thing as a "collision detection" library for the Yaroze (ah such naivete), I wasn’t too surprised to discover there is no "animation library" either. To be honest, I found animating my sprite pretty easy - those of you who’ve read my clumsy source will no doubt have realised that all the motions are tied to a "animation timer" variable in the player function. Oooh, how original. I guess that’s how everyone does it? I also got a bit of help from "Mr Frosty" re: getting diagonals working, and he introduced me to "The Joy of Enum", which I keep by my bedside just in case.

    Progress slowed as the game got bigger - I found that some of my clever time-saving ideas actually messed things up later on, and as I kept adding things bugs kept appearing. The closest I got to actually ever planning any code was a morning at work when the "network was down" (turned out some Neanderthal engineer had yanked out the wrong wires downstairs) and I was thus severed from "processing" the precious data for the British Survey of Fertiliser Practice (of which I am/was "Data Manager" - I finished today. Woo-hoo!) Anyway, I had a morning free which I geekily spent planning which pointers were going to go where and how the explosion structures were going to work. Lo and behold, I managed to get the explosions working in about 2 hours! Hmmm, maybe this "planning" lark is a good idea.

    Despite all my "Chemical Warfare" hype-mongering, I wasn’t ever *that* sure what the game was going to be, other than a 2-player battle fest where you get to twat each other. Incidentally, mentions of the game’s similarities to Snowball Fight bother me not one whit, but I was never intending to try and copy it. As "World War One meets South Park" slowly morphed into "World War One meets South Park meets Goldeneye" - except about 50% of my original vision - I was more concerned with getting stuff like the "sniper mode" and the power-ups working correctly than ploughing forward into uncharted boundaries of gameplay. Maybe next time, eh? The multiple death animations were done purely for my own amusement, but proved so popular with my flatmates that I decided to put 6 in rather than the original 3. This is why the winner animations are so crap (did you notice the guy who looks almost as if he’s doing a John Travolta in SNF? That’s because originally, he was).

    Unfortunately, I did a rather silly thing at the end of July - I went and spent about 50 on Edinburgh International Film Festival tickets. This meant I was seeing a film a night for two weeks at the end of August! I am glad I did it, because staring at a computer screen all day was driving me nuts (much better to stare at a cinema screen, eh?) and I also got to see some class movies ("Last Days of Disco", "My Name is Joe") and got to a talk with Tim Roth and Ray Winstone, and one with Terry Gilliam which was just... cooooool! Sorry, but these things excite me. All this top-class cinema-going action meant that my GDUK entry suffered a wee bit - it was only a couple of hours each evening, plus walking time, but you know how it is - you want a solid, 3-4 hours chunk of time to just WORK and then you can forget about it. Does anyone actually code seriously in chunks of time less than a couple of hours? I just can’t do it. Yet.

    The actual story of me writing the game isn’t that interesting in itself really. I know it isn’t the world’s most amazing game, but I’m proud of the stuff I got in it considering the time it took me to do, and the film festival and catching mild flu in the week before the deadline meant I probably lost about 30 hours worth of time that would have been used to add more sounds, add the oft-mentioned, mythical "chemicals" and perhaps even dabble with scrolling and using BGmap-type stuff. Still, the very fact I actually sat on my ass and wrote something whilst the Edinburgh Festival (which I love) was going on has kind of reassured me that, yes, I obviously really want to try and do this - or something like it, preferably involving less maths and more money - for a living. Kewl.

    I really got my act together the weekend before the Monday deadline - the game was still just booting into the action straight-off, and there was absolutely no provision in the code for the existence of a title screen, options (which never materialised, sadly) or even the addition of sounds. Most of Friday was spent panicking and putting together some sort of feeble information package for SCEE and the GDUK people to send thru the mail - the vast majority of which is the drivel in Mud N Blood’s readme file. It was tricky writing instructions for a game that wasn’t yet finished - a load of options has an asterisk next to them, meaning "May not be available in final version". Yes, I can see it now: "I removed the chemical attacks, not due to lack of coding ability as many have speculated, but because their free-flowing, awesome three-dimensional beauty just showed up the rest of the game". On a dubiously-related note: I read that Turok 2 is one of the first games to use proper polygonal fire (rather than cunning use of bitmaps) for a flamethrower-type weapon - is it just me or is that not sooo cool? Oh, so it’s just me then...

    The sound (all of it) was chucked in on Monday. You can tell, can’t you? Yes, that’s my deep, booming voice you can hear - as James Rutherford so kindly pointed out it’s my telephone voice ("What are your hands doing now..?" etc). I stretched my illness out as long as I could and got Monday off too, and I am eternally grateful to the anonymous boyo who wrote the "Sound Programming for Dummies" tutorial as using that I was able to get pretty much everything I wanted to done! You could have mentioned the different pitches, though! Took me a while to work out why my voice sounded like Mickey Mouse and for a while I was thinking "Hey, maybe I really do sound like that..?" (not really)

    In celebration, James R. and myself had a curry - I’m sure many of our fellow GDUK cadets rewarded themselves in some other way (a top-shelf video, perhaps, or a call to 0898 P-A-R-T-Y-T-I-M-E that night)? It’s going to be at least, ooooh, a couple of weeks before I get Yaroze-ing again. In the meantime I’m looking forward (very very very much) to ECTS this weekend, and I have a fortnight in Hong Kong after that. Unfortunately this means I won’t be about to update my page (or the Member Demos Hub) for about three weeks, but I suspect most people working on something cranked it out for GDUK anyway!

    A brief word on the quality of the GDUK entries I have seen so far: wow! You guys have now raised the benchmark for the average Net Yaroze game, particularly Charles Chapman with his freakish "Total Soccer" and Rob Swan’s hilarious "Adventure Game". To single out these two seems a bit mean, but that soccer game is sheer class and Adventure should win "Best NY game" for the "You are tenacious. But I am very scary" bit alone... Even my old fave Snowball Fight returned, a notch smarter, with *much* improved graphics and the (frankly, sinister) hidden ‘Ninja Mode’. And how much better can Jim Shaughnessy’s Gravitiation get? I look forward to a booming Grav race demo ‘scene’, now that Jim has removed his freakish scores from the lap times chart! I shall be working hard on my P.B.’s in Hong Kong (when I’m not playing my spanking new Colour Gameboy, that is).

    I’m not sure what I’m going to do upon my return from "the Orient" (hah!) - whether I’ll tidy up Mud ‘n Blood and add the stuff I wanted to (sensible option) or start another project (appealing option). There’s the Yaroze World compo to enter, and I suspect there might be another Yaroze anniversary competition - tho’ perhaps without EDGE this time? Yeah, just being paranoid...

    To those of you going to ECTS - I look forward to (hopefully) meeting you. To everyone else, I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer as it draws to a close and you can comfort yourselves as the nights draw in by looking forward to some of the great games that are finally beginning to do more than loom enticingly (can you "loom enticingly"?) on the horizon. Apparently, when quizzed about the footage of the new Star Wars movie he had just seen, Spielberg just uttered "Oh. My. God." I think you guys will see a similar reaction come over me when I finally get to play the N64’s Zelda: The Ocarina of Time! Finally, if any of you guys find yourself looking for a book to read, can I recommend Alex Garland’s "The Beach"? It’s been around for a few years now, but if you haven’t read it... well, I don’t want to ruin the surprises. Just trust me!

Next page?

Or return home?