Apr 112020
 

Extra life is not limited to just game day! For the last two years, we have been going out with our mobile VR station on the Friday before game day, bringing VR to other Extra Life Events within our local Children’s Miracle Network of Hospitals and Outpatient facilities.

Only hospital staff were allowed to take photographs – some of the kids we were playing with were sensitive about having their photos taken, since many of them have very rare and serious medical conditions. But Children’s Miracle Network did their own writeup of one of the events, held at their 80 bed facility in New Brunswick, NJ for Extra Life 2018. Check it out:

It was quite a fun time with every genre of game represented, lots of board and card games, some console gaming, but wouldn’t you know, VR stole the show. We all have seen what kids are like when they have their first VR experience, and the delight and surprise we brought to to the table were well worth the effort. Nobody was happy about being stuck in the hospital for Halloween, but getting to try VR for the first time really made their day.

This was a great event for all of us for a few reasons! First, it was Halloween, so I got to cosplay as Rick Sanchez. Second, we provided very first VR experiences to a lot of kids who are stuck in the hospital and can’t just go out to an arcade due to their health conditions. Third, we got to mix and mingle with a ton of other Extra Life streamers. Finally, it didn’t cost us anything, just my own time and effort. As a bonus, one of the streamers I met that day ended up coming to play at the Arcade, and I managed to convince her to join the team as a VR Specialist. Lindsay turned out to be one of our most talented employees, and no small part of that was her dedication to helping kids through Extra Life. Anything for the kids.

All the Extra Lifers!
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!