June 30th has come and gone and the game has become far more playable now. I've completed some essential artwork, gameplay, and storyline content. It feels richer as a result.
I'll keep things rather short today. There have been a lot of additions to the game and I'm hoping to get a version of the game finished by June 30th. There's a game competition I want to enter and hopefully it will provide me with an opportunity to get some publicity for the game and maybe get feedback. The competition is called the Indie Game Maker Competition and the grand prize is $10,000.
The game doesn't have to be long. In fact the judges will only play each game for about an hour. That means I really need to tighten things up here.
The game I will submit will be a survival simulator, with the goal of going as far South as possible before having to return home. The player will be reliving all the events that Shackleton, Scott, and Wilson experienced so he/she will have to make educated evaluations about how much risk there is in continuing South. Meanwhile, the historic events from that journey will play out through dialogue, journal entries, and survival tasks - fleshing out the characters and adding context to the player's actions.
Not an impossible job to do, just difficult. 28 Days and counting!
This is another relatively technical post to do with the Ruby scripting system or RPG Maker VX Ace. If you like following the logic of programming and want to see under the hood of my game read on. There are gaps in the information presented here, mostly because the information is tedious or covered in the previous post, and shouldn't affect your understanding.
I've made a major step forward in an important aspect of my game: exploration.
For exploration to matter in a game like this one, we're going to need bespoke maps that are randomly loaded as the player moves to new areas. Those maps must then become integrated into the environment so the player can return whenever they want. There's no point in exploring if there isn't something new worth finding, and there's no point doing all that traveling if the game doesn't keep track of where you've been. So what does this mean for the game? It means I can make map after map after map, content will be easily expandable! We're done here but keep reading if you want to know more about Arrays.
This week was spent setting up the movement framework. The game already has the basic mechanics built in (up arrow to move up, left arrow to move left etc) but storing data related to the player's movement and position needed work.
I programmed in a few variables that the game will keep track of as the player moves through the Antarctic. Namely, the total distance travelled, total Southerly distance travelled, and the constant tracking of the player's X and Y coordinates. The last piece of data will be used for some basic vector mathematics. It's the most simple version of what NASA scientists do when they're trying to figure out where the rockets are going and when they'll get there. But rather than land a rover on mars, I'm figuring out if a couple of guys pulling some sleds will ever make it to the South Pole.
The data collected by the framework can be manipulated to make energy cost deductions and reveal useful information to the player. As I introduce useful tools like the compass, altitude scale, sextant, and distance measuring wheel into the game, the player will be able to retrieve the information stored in the framework in a more human friendly way, but also an early 20th Century way too. Miscalculations will be added.
So, the data is all being carefully calculated and tucked away in the background until the player reaches for it using in-game tools. Meanwhile, the data will also be used to calculate which map to load next, remember the order in which those maps appear, and store unique geographic locations. This way, as a player travels forward from map to map they will almost always encounter a randomly (most likely hand crafted as opposed to procedural) selected map, and yet on the return journey encounter those same maps in the order they appeared. Random away, ordered return. That is the primary work I am doing this week and the following weeks, along with continuous efforts to get The Formula under some sort of earthly control.
Here's an inkling of what the programming looks like "in words:" (it reads right to left.)
The Formula is a function of several equations all working in tandem to establish the energy cost of moving a fraction of a mile in the antarctic at any given point in time. It is complex. When complete, The Formula will model terrain types, wind conditions, weather conditions, visibility, sledge weight, type of transportation, temperature, wind chill, and some smaller factors. And beautifully, the player won't have to worry about any of the math, just understand their surroundings as if they were a century old explorer.
Just to give you an insight into the complexities of some of these formulas let's discuss visibility - how far the explorer can see. In historical terms, that would mean our heroes Scott or Shackleton would have to stop every few yards, place a large unstable compass into the snow, wait for it to stop wobbling, and then spend several minutes calculating their direction and compensating for any errors. It slows down travel, and the idle time spent waiting makes the explorers feel colder. That costs energy.
If you graphed the visibility formula, it would be S shaped (the top half of the S). At Maximum visibility, the energy cost will be zero. As visibility drops, the explorer becomes less and less sure of his direction and spends more energy making sure he isn't lost. But the energy difference between no visibility and almost no visibility is quite minor because there's a maximum impact that lack of visibility can have. The result is an S shaped graph and to calculate the exact number requires the of use of the natural logarithm.
So yay math to work out.
Meanwhile, two new books have arrived that I'm diving into - one is a biography of Shackleton and the other is a biography of Scott. I'll add them to the research page soon. I'm using the information in those books to give me perspective on the diary entries I've been reading. I've also been reading some excellent journal articles that discuss human physiology and travelling on foot through the Antarctic.
The Prologue is starting to take form. There are more maps, dialogue, events, tasks and things to explore. The real effort has been deciding what not to put in the Prologue. The principal mechanic that drives gameplay in this demo will be resource management. It's the most difficult and important aspect of the game, and it needs to be put on the table early so the player knows what kind of game they're getting into, and so I can tweak it as needed. Going to the South Pole is incredibly dangerous and mismanaging your food and fuel will get your team killed. Therein lies doom!
Pixels and programming weren't the only driving force this week. I researched extensively, and have put together a beginning-middle-end for the Prologue that will make it feel less like a demo and more like a mini-game. Surviving each day will be rewarded with increasing exposition of true story; the 1902 journey South taken by Scott, Shackleton, and Wilson.
I worked hard on various programming scripts and had a laugh pretending I was good at pixel art. The sad thing is that pixel art is fun, a time suck, and I'm terrible at it. Not a good combination. I managed to make some snow look like a different kind of snow, and some rocks look like ice. Move over Kandinsky! There are at a minimum 10 kinds of snow to be walked on while in Antarctic, and I haven't even started on the ice yet. The Antarctic has so much color, much of it in the form of some kind of solar effect. I can't wait to translate that into the game, but it's going to be tough.
I've also added a new name to my game: Antarctic Simulator 1914. I couldn't help it. The game is developing into a simulator in so many ways and there's going to be so much historical detail that I thought it would be really fun to make the comparison to modern day simulators and just change the date slightly.
Also, please take a look at my research page, which is an ever growing bibliography of the books and articles that I use to make my game. Many of the books are free and available online.
Much of the work up until now has been divided into three categories: research into the history of Antarctic exploration in the early 1900s, testing out various gameplay mechanics, and coding. I recently switched programming languages, which has afforded me more flexibility. Development has become a lot easier now that I've made it more database driven.
Work on the Prologue for Heroes of the Antarctic is in full swing. The Prologue acts as both a demo/prototype of the game and a way to experiment with gameplay mechanics while I write the script for the full game. Many of the graphics are placeholders and will be replaced. The user interface, in particular, is likely to receive a major change that isn't as pixelated.
I had fun making the faces, although I will need to rework them to match the photos I have for the various crew members.
Here I take a look at the work I've been doing and share status updates and any of the interesting bits that might appeal to you.