Oct 302016
 

Hello friends,

All is well here at Outlier Studios.  We’ve had a lot of fun reading parts for the game’s story.  Yes the game has a story, get over it.  I’m into the whole storytelling aspect of VR and while I am working on other games that are story-absent (like Skee-Ball, for instance!), my first work needs to have this.

I’m pleased with the quality of the voice acting. those of you who have read, THANK YOU for your contributions!  I’m still waiting on two more parts to be read.  I am in the process of importing the audio and linking it into the game.  It’s slow, I likely won’t finish by tomorrow.  In particular the ship’s computer has close to 40 unique messages, getting these tied correctly to their scripts is a bit of a process.

A lot of time this week was lost debugging things, I had issues with the hands I’m trying to rig, getting tripped up on making them play nice with the scripts I’ve already written to do interaction.  Something in there is breaking when I change the models, and I’m not sure why.  I also had a really weird issue where importing the project back into Unity resulted in ALL MY TAGS DISAPPEARING.  This was particularly tricky because it only happens in the runtime build.  So I had a fully functioning demo I could run in the editor, but the builds I was churning out were completely unplayable.  This same issue caused me to have to roll back a lot of my changes I made back in the last week of August, for Demo Day.  I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out what the hell was happening.  Now I know.

I guess the real reason I’m typing this entry is to come to terms with the fact that there’s no way I can meet a halloween release date.  It was good effort, but I just don’t feel good about pushing a half-built game up to the public.  I only shot for Halloween because 2016 will be remembered as the Year of VR.  And October, 2016, will be remembered as the MONTH of VR, in this Year of VR.  Getting something out in the same month that oculus gave us the touch controllers, and Playstation VR ate half my life, while Elite Dangerous’s 2.2 release ate the other half… that was a critical goal of mine that I have fallen short on.

They deserve my best, and if it takes another two weeks for me to give it, well, that’s whats going to happen.  I know I’ve already lost a lot of time, four solid weeks in august, and a smattering in September (I was doing more in September to set up my studio and company), but I’ve run as far as I can in October and the finish line is still dauntingly far away.  I’ve had a very productive Agile Sprint this week, I just need to accept the progress I’ve made, and look forward to what’s going on in the future.

My teachers warned me about this, better devs than I told me that stuff would take longer than you plan it to, and that there’s a big monster called “overscoping” and you will have to fight this monster, and when you do, it’s nice to have help from team mates who stop you from making mistakes while prioritizing.  Do I really need to be recording audio while there are Crit 1 bugs that make my demos completely unplayable?  Well, it took this long to get the script written and the actors up here to read it.  Honestly, I dragged my feet for so long on finalizing the script it’s a wonder I got it done at all.  Writers block is a real thing, the struggle is real folks and I’m in it.  I feel like I never fully beat the blocks though, I just wake up every day and change my mind about what I’m procrastinating about today.  “Which awful, vitally critical task will I avoid doing today?”  It’s not to say my time is wholly unproductive.  I’ll tinker with the environment for four full hours to get it perfect.  But I will avoid opening up that script that I know is broken, even when it’s very often just a 5 minute fix.  Sometimes not even that much.

Here’s whats holding up the release:

  • Repopulating the tags.  I didn’t use a lot of them, but there are enough to make it a real PITA.  I need to go through every script I’ve written and make sure everything that needs a tag, has one.
  • Some small lighting tweaks, related to one of the stars
  • Rigged hands
  • Haptic feedback – just one part, at the beginning, for fun.
  • Two more roles need to be read in.
  • Mix, import, and link up all the audio.
  • Do some kind of fun UI that pops up when the player interacts with a datapad or touch screen.
  • Little environment fixes to deal with the still occasional teleport error.  I am SO sorry for my testers, I’m always disappointed with myself when I watch you fall to your deaths for no reason.  Well, disappointed and slightly amused!
  • Probably swap out the skybox for a more photorealistic one.  It seems to be what the players want.  The cartoony stuff doesn’t help with immersion.

It’s really not that much.  There’s other stuff I want to add, that will take longer than a week.  For instance, actual gameplay!  ALL OF WHICH IS 100% STORY-DRIVEN.  I swear this solemn vow, you will not be doing random shit in my game for no fucking reason.  The gameplay will closely mirror the story (which, by the way, I’m fairly pleased with, and the actors who read my script agree!)  Right now there’s just three small puzzles for the player to solve.  The complete vision for the game has additional puzzles that the player will have to solve in order to escape.  Some of these features will make the first release, but it’s more likely they will come in future updates:

  • The player needs to disable a neutrino field particle effect, in an attempt to stop the Anomaly from destroying the station.
  • So far there’s only two ways to “die”, so I’d like to build on that, make some more hazards that are life-threatening and perhaps a bit scary.  The Energy Sphere should be able to kill you if you touch it, right now it can’t.  However after I get it’s voice recorded it will be a great deal more menacing, and the deadliness should just flow from that.
  • Moving a power conduit to unseal a door.  Think Han Solo trying to open the blast doors kind of thing, but with bulkier, easier to manipulate components.
  • Using the viewscreen to control a little robot or drone to perform some kind of task.  Probably retrieve a power cell or tool you need for some additional task.  I think this will be very fun.  I’ve got drones working in other demos I’m messing around with.  I’ll probably import one into this project and then mess around with it until it’s ready.  Also have viewscreens working in other demos, will do the same for that.
  • I’m considering putting in a UI/UX dialogue tree with the Station AI, from one of the terminals.  Player will have the option to save the computer’s Data core and take it when they leave.  Just curious to see how many players take up the task.  This one might actually make it into the first release.
  • Flushable toilet.  Heck.  I put a toilet in the game, and everyone wants to make it interactive!  Sure, why not, y’all want a toilet that flushes, I’ll give you one.
  • Full embodiment.  Right now it’s just hands, but it might be cool for the player to have a body, and then rig up some mirrors so you accidently glimpse yourself once in a while, very spooky

Deciding to do my project solo when there was a pool of talent right there at Make school ready to help me may not have been the wisest choice.  The teams ended up making the best products.  If you have the vive, you should check out “Found VR” and “Live in Color” both in the steam store.  And “Broom Ball”.  They are great little demos, they have fun gameplay, they’re well built and easy on the eyes.  For me to publish, my work needs to be at least close to that level.  I have a lot of things working.  The art is slightly campy but largely together and consistent from a creative standpoint.  Super realisim isn’t really something I can do at this point of my training – I’ve got Maya and Blender, but have only taken baby steps with them.  It will take several thousand of these baby steps for me to get anywhere good.  However, this is the road I’ve chosen.

No developer can be an expert at everything.  But we can add new capabilities to our own knowledge portfolio, and you’d be astonished how quick and painless the process can be.  Honestly, spending half of September grinding through tutorials to fill in the gaps was something I had to do, and it’s something I will have to do again in November.  The problem is, once you identify a weakness in your knowledge portfolio, it takes some time and effort to remove it.  For instance, I don’t know how to mix sound.  But I had to do it for the game.  So just mixing that first monologue I recorded back in August took a big block of time.  I think for the sake of efficiency, I need to become better and faster at not just those tasks, but others too.  Hell, even my powerpoint slides are pretty weak.  Why?  Because I learned all that stuff years ago, used it for lots of business school nonsense that I really didn’t care about, and promptly forgot it when it I decided to pursue some other interest.

I’ve been programming in one kind of code or another since I was a little kid, and I’ve been a gamer for nearly as long.  But tying all that stuff together and building a complete game is a unique challenge, and until recently it was if not impossible, than at least dauntingly difficult and arduous.  I didn’t even make the attempt back when I was in college.  We were still learning Fortran back in 1995.  Development environments have undergone a bit of a revolution since the early 2000’s.  All in plain sight, no less.  Unreal engine’s not new, neither is Unity.  But I was exhausting myself doing stuff in C++ for so long for other applications.  Games were something that were built by big, huge studios.  But I’ve been on Steam for, well, it says 7 years.  Playing tons of indie games, made by little teams.  Some of my favorite games are indies, like FTL and Terraria.  Can’t get enough of those.

But I never thought this would be the kind of work that I did.  Not that I didn’t think myself capable, it’s just that back in 2000 I was reading a lot of blogs by other developers.  I read Slashdot religiously.  Jesus that was 16 years ago!  Anyway, I read about life at some of the larger video game production houses and I was horrified at how some of the bigger studios treated their employees!  Demanding impossible working hours, rampant mysogony in the workplace, putting whole teams through the ringer in these semi-permanent “crunch times” that were popular back then before folks started wising up and doing more agile “sprints” instead.  Pay was lousy for the rank and file, because there were lots of people who wanted your job, or thought they did until they showed up and saw how these huge companies operated.  They’d sack you for any reason, or no reason, just generally treating people like garbage.  EA was the worst offender, and you can read about their awful practices elsewhere on the web, it’s pretty well documented.  The won the “Worst Company in America” – TWICE!  And this wasn’t back in 2001, it was 2013 and 2015.  And I didn’t care much for their habit of buying other, really good gaming studios, and then cannibalizing them for talent.  Westwood Studios was probably the greatest loss.  Such great games, abandoned, cancelled, or otherwise just mismanaged, so EA could herd more warm bodies to develop the latest Madden game I’m not going to play. Westwood was basically liquidated, and it was criminal.  I really loved their last release, Earth and Beyond, a fantastic space MMORPG you’ve never heard of because they EA actually shut it down and shuffled around the staff to other projects.  I am still angry about this.

OK, well, if you’re still reading, congrats, that post went way long and way off topic, I really don’t need to spend any more time than I have been bitching about an industry I’m not even in yet.  Guess it’s good to get it out of the way ahead of time!

Oct 292016
 

So, I know I’m a true dev because I skipped karaoke to fix some bugs and push out a build last night!  Problem was, my build was buggy – but everything ran fine in the editor.  Took most of the night to sort out.  Apparently, there are things you can do in (or to) Unity that make all your tags vanish!  Yup.  Lost my tags at some point.  And I saw this behavior back in August when I was struggling with this same symptom, I can only assume that was the issue then, too.  So, I gotta rebuild my tag library.  NBD but I wasn’t going to try to do that at 2 AM so I left myself a sticky note and hopped to bed and dreamed about frank Herbert’s Dune (which I read a bit of before bedtime… Recommend it.  I’ve heard the sequels are worthy too)

Thanks go out to Chris, Zach and Erin for voicing 3 of the roles in the game!  At some point I will upload and link all that audio.  It is unlikely to be complete for release.

 Posted by at 11:03 am
Oct 282016
 

Having a grand time here working on the game.  Here’s the latest!

  • I have a playable demo!  I break parts of it each day but manage to fix most of it before pushing my changes in the evening.
  • Usable Datapads are in the game!  Just need a little UI work and some data.
  • Lots of cool new features coming in – haptic feedback, animated hands, little mini-games being dropped in here and there.
  • More usable objects, related to the mini-games.
  • Script is finished, and we are recording voice actors this week.  Thanks to Chris, Zach, and Erin for contributing your talents.  Still waiting on three more of you to come in here and read.
  • It’s also well appreciated to have my voice actors help out as demo testers.  That thing where I messed up the hands and made the game unplayable?  And that thing where I took the gravity off something important, and it just went floating away?  And the falling to your death repeatedly?  I appreciate you finding these little problems for me.  Happy to say these are all fixed (well, 2/3 of them are).
  • Made some visual changes to the Key items, so they now better catch the eye.
  • A pile of bugs fixed.  These are mostly stuff that got wonky when I migrated the codebase from my other PC.  I ended it doing some wacky git nonsense where I made a new branch master and force pushed it up.  I also broke that rule where you only open repos with the Unity version they were written in, so after pulling the repo down it was necessary to re-import a lot of the assets that stopped running smoothly as a result.  The most blatant example of this was a mesh and some materials for one of the ships that just went missing, and had to be re-imported.
  • Exceeded the max repo size on Bitbucket.  OK well this is not really an accomplishment, it’s really more of a problem, but one I think I have solved by taking my codebase and starting a brand new repo on Github.  Where 2 gigs is chump change!  Anyway, I am pushing that repo right as we speak.  I’ve been blogging for almost 10 minutes, and it’s still only up to 71%.  Eventually I will finish, and it will be time to push out today’s build.  Hurrah!

Still some issues with performance enhancement (runs fine on my machine, but gotta try it out on other hardware), and I have a feeling my lighting maps might need to be repopulated.  Lighting needs tweaks in a lot of places.

The good news is, each night I end the day with a stable build, and soon it will be stable enough for y’all to give it a try!

I remain in good health and spirits, despite my  daunting Halloween release date looming over me like a shade from hades.

 Posted by at 11:13 pm
Oct 262016
 

Hello Friends,

So, I created my company last week to cover my VR self-publishing activities.  Here’s a quick update on the projects I have in development:

  • I’ve broken ground on my skee-ball game, still messing with the physics of it, haven’t made any real effort to get the graphics nice.
  • Concept development on my glyph-magic game, I still want to use my Leap Motion controller so players can actually use gestures to cast spells.  I have been using Leap’s Interaction Engine, and I’m really enjoying it so far.
  • Simon Clone is on the back burner, it’s fun and it makes cool sounds and flashy lights, which I like, but I’m not sure where to go with it next.
  • Pokemon No is marching towards it’s more publishable alter ego, Ball Pit Mania.  I have fun ideas for puzzles but I’m hung up on building the environments.  What I have is a pretty fun game ball physics game/simulation with a single level to it, so the way forward right now looks to be building additional levels to the experience.
  • My flagship game, Escape from Zellman Orbital, is in progress.  Like a flagship, it is big, bulky, slow and cumbersome.  Originally, I wanted the game itself finished, done, complete by August 19, for demoing at Upload in San Francisco.  And I certainly demoed something, but what I had at the time was not the game I had envisioned weeks before.  Is that normal?  To look at what you’ve created and wondered how the hell you got here from there?  Regardless, there were bumps in the road from getting my Steam store set up, apparently my account had not been populated with the right hooks to add all the publishing information I needed to set up my storefront page.  I was shooting for a steam release of August 19, and then set that back to September 15.  At this time I had JUST resolved my storefront issue and not ready to release.  I was also preoccupied with the construction of my studio space (more on that later) and doing all the new-company things you have to do when you start a new company.  By the time I returned to EFZO, I could see from my continuing testing experiences that I had made some misjudgments on the scope of the game (yes, overscoping) and to deliver the product I wanted would require more time.  And that is where I stand right now – pinned, in a vice made of time itself, between the present (This crisp Wednesday afternoon in October) and my true deadline of October 31, at 12:00 noon.  My current struggles are recording and implementing some of the additional audio which tells the story of the station.

Anyway, I need testers to come help me test some of these experiences, I can’t work in a bubble, so if any of you feel like helping, please get in touch with me.

Thanks

Ken

 

 Posted by at 5:28 pm
Oct 182016
 

VOICE ACTORS WANTED

for Escape From Zellman Orbital

an “Escape-The-Room” Style
Sci-Fi / Horror Themed
Virtual Reality Experience
by Outlier Studios

Set in the Distant Future,
Around a Large Red Sun About 300 Light Years from Earth,
Liberally drawing Inspiration Direct from the Mythos of Lovecraft
This 23 minute long “Escape The Space Station” Virtual Reality Simulation

Will Literally DRIVE YOU INSANE!

OUTLIER STUDIOS is looking for actors to voice the following seven roles: (All Roles open to All Genders)

DR CALEB GLASSNER – Lead Scientist of project Wassergass. You were a talented student of astrophysics. Good, but not great. Your studies focused almost entirely on theoretical conjectures on the behavior of dark matter – a poorly understood and, until lately, never observed phemonemon. It exists perfectly well on paper, but until now, nobody has ever actually observed any up close… until now. With the discovery of the Dark Matter Orb near Alpha Vulpecula, you were the only choice to lead up the mission, and it is under your leadership that everyone on the station is marching headlong into madness. (This role calls for a wide range, from sterile reporting, to excited babbling, to ranting lunacy. )

KAY ALDEBERAN – Graduate student at the University of Sirius. You have only one purpose in life – to get your PhD, and you need Dr. Glassner to do it. So you followed him here, to the edge of nowhere to study this highly dangerous physical anomaly in a bizarre station that looks like it was cobbled together by a lunatic. You wish you were still aboard the Andromeda. This is a nice place to visit, but living here is fraying your nerves.

THE STATION COMPUTER – Your designation is OZiE – Orbital Zellman Intelligence Entity. You are a standard shipboard AI, adopted to a station role. You are responsible for carrying out the stations core functions to the best of your ability. (For Casting purposes, we’re looking for a gentle, relaxed, female tone to calmly convey messages both informative, banal, and downright chilling)

CAPTAIN BARRY ANGERS – You used to serve in the Interstellar Officer Corps as an operations officer. You thought that if you worked hard enough, you know, distinguished yourself as an officer, well then you might be able to have the job that every kid growing up on Mars dreams of: Captain of an OIC Cruiser. Instead, you got stuck here. Yes, it’s a command position, but you still view this station as a coffin for your career.

DAVE RODGERS – You’re the facilities manager. A technician with a fancy title. You inspect systems, clean and replace components, run diagnostics, keep the cleaning bots in working order, and try not to step on anyone elses’ toes. That last part is the hardest. Still, the pay for taking this job in the back o beyond is truly stellar. You look forward to your early retirement. (looking for a generally provincial tone or light accent)

THE VIPER PILOT – You are a tough-as-nails single-seat space fighter pilot. You take your life into your hands every single day running escort, courier and survey missions on the edge of the bubble of colonized systems. You routinely expose yourself to ridiculous amounts of danger in exchange for ridiculous sums of credits. Of the situation you have stumbled into, all you can say for certain is you are not being paid enough for this.

THE SCRIPT CONSISTS OF:

A SINGLE SCENE with 5 characters interacting together. (In future releases, we plan to graft this onto some character animation.)

ABOUT 22 SHORT MONOLOGUES, consisting of a variety of Radio Transmissions, Research Log Entries, Personal Log Entries, Station Log Entries, Letters To And From Home, Recordings of Research Findings, Research Journal Articles

A COLLECTION OF SHORT STATEMENTS – This is mostly the Station Computer, delivering a wide variety of simple messages – “Yes”, “No”, “Affirmative”, “Station Shutdown Imminent”, “Nine Minutes until Impact”. … and so forth. The AI character has a lot of them, so be prepared. We’ll run through them as quickly as possible. They’re short so just one take for each.

YOU WILL GET:

* TO PLAY IN VR! * A $5 DUNKIN DONUTS CARD * $50 CASH *
* A CREDIT IN THE GAME’S LAUNCH SCREEN! *
* A FREE STEAM DOWNLOAD OF THE GAME! * UNLIMITED PLAY TESTING! *
*A NEAT LITTLE THROWAWAY PROJECT WITH WHICH YOU MAY LEGITIMATELY PAD YOUR RESUME!*

AUDITIONS STARTING NOW, RECORDING WILL TAKE PLACE IN A SINGLE SESSION AT OUR STUDIOS IN LONG BRANCH, NJ
YOU CAN READ FOR YOUR PART OVER THE PHONE OR ON SKYPE, IT’S COOL

Voice Acting for VR Game
Call Ken at (732) 861-9293
or Email krichlin@gmail.com

 Posted by at 1:06 pm
Oct 162016
 

Outlier VR,is an LLC I founded solo in October of 2016 to self-publish and market my own VR experiences, code snippets, and original art. It also represents the Lab and Studio space I am building in order to create this work – we are one part Game Studio, one part Virtual Reality Arcade, one part Innovation Lab, and one part Tech Startup, and one part… well, we will probably start introducing influences of a Media Lab or get involved with some consulting work focused on deploying Arcade Style VR experiences, like the ones that are all over China but for some reason hard to find here in the States. The company is also safe harbor in which I may stay safely anchored while waiting for a larger, established development house to pluck me from ship and provide me with what I REALLY want: full-time software development, and business development work in the VR space.

In terms of products, our flagship product will be a Sci-Fi themed Escape Room, “Escape from Zellman Orbital”. We are currently targeting a release date of October 25, 2016. But I can assure you we will almost certainly extend that target to October 26. At OutlierVR, we are dedicated to quality in both story-based and game-driven VR experiences. But only those two genres, so if you have other ideas, like fun things with 360 degree video or cinema-style short films, I’d be interested to learn about those projects, but hesitant to embark on one myself. My company is me, myself, and I, and together we three Titans will conquer the VR world! (However we welcome collaboration)

Additional Projects that are also in Early phases of Development:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Pokemon No (or, as my lawyers advise me, Super Ball Pit Mania)
Unnamed Glyph-Magic Game (using the Magic Leap Motion Controller)
Saitek X55 Control Schemes For Ships, Planes, Cars and Tanks (Unity Store product)
Simone (a clone of Simon)
Battle Bridge
Super Skee Ball

more info on my blog here: http://kenrichlin.me

 Posted by at 1:08 pm
Oct 132016
 

Doing a mobile update from my phone.  Look, here is a picture of Outlier VR Labs!  Ok I know it doesn’t look like much right now, but still!

 Posted by at 12:24 pm
Oct 132016
 

Good News, Everyone!

On Monday I founded my new company, OutlierVR LLC! Here at Outlier Labs, we are all about just hanging out and self-publishing a few VR titles here and there. That’s all. This is just the home of a few pet projects I’ll be sharing with you in the form of FREE Steam experiences, and maybe some private demos to close personal friends and non-enemies. At some point I will probably start asking for $1 or $4 for some of the more mature products I plan to put out, so I’ll be publishing those through this LLC, mostly for liability purposes. The company will also be my foil as I navigate the waters for a more permanent position with an established studio.

So, to conclude, I want to make it clear: I have no greater ambitions for my Virtual Reality company at this point, and anyone who claims otherwise is a LIAR! I am certainly not interested in complete world conquest. That is not even one of my stretch goals.

You can visit my (other) non-website here:

Outlier VR Labs

 Posted by at 11:39 am
Oct 082016
 

It should resolve nicely in most mobile browsers. All this stuff was built into the beautiful suffusion theme for WordPress I’m using! Chrome at least looks good, I’ll try the rest shortly! Anyway, I hope you will enjoy reading my nonsense on the device of your choice.

 Posted by at 1:25 pm