Abandoned Mine has been an interesting experience in diving into the Creation Engine and getting myself familiar with the tools and practicing some design fundamentals. That said, there's elements that I've taken away from the experience that would have helped speed up design and iteration time and would have made it better quicker. These lessons I call 'answering the why': creating an answer to your design question before you actually get the point of asking it. These questions are ones that you generally wouldn't think about if you are both inexperienced and/or getting swept up in your idea: 'is this space the right size?', 'do I have all of the gameplay sections I want to explore?', 'what do I do now?'. The biggest aspect of this is understanding how to plan, take iteration one step at a time, and play test as soon as you can. I'm going to be taking the steps of what makes each progressive pass and breaking them into digestible chunks over the course of the next week.
Well, I've built something that I'm, so far, happy with as a playable level. I still think it will need tweaking after some people get their hands on it and it is missing a playable quest to guide someone to the level itself, so it is version 0.2.
To play it, subscribe to the mod through Steam over here: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=717000496
Doubling the size of this level led to a complete overhaul, and, thus, quite an extra workload. In many ways, I was redoing most everything I had done with repurposing old areas and developing new. So many parts I had built had to be removed, re-created, and reimplemented; this is why you prototype first. But I've caught up to where I left off originally, and am now going through lighting.
There isn't a whole lot of conclusion I've come up with when it comes to lighting, much of it I'm fairly new at when it comes to more enclosed spaces. However: I have a couple of screenshots!
This week was all about learning about game flow of the level. It didn't start right off the bat, but it quickly became the theme. With the initial Navmesh completed, which allows the AI to know where it can go, and thus pathfind around, it was time to test, test, and test again. Adding little details, fixing walking areas, moving clutter around, finding new areas for loot, over and over again I came back to the same conclusion: the play space was too small for these multiple encounters.
Often going from one encounter would trigger another that were in too close proximity. This is an issue for several reasons: first and foremost it lowered the player's control over their experience, which is not a fun prospect. It's not enjoyable to accidentally back away from an enemy into another unseen enemy that you couldn't have guessed as there until its much too late. The other major issue is that it also leads to an inconsistent flow. There's no natural transition from one encounter to another with the natural downtime between encounters lost. This leaves the whole area feeling stilted and confusing to the player. To add to that, finishing the dungeon yielded little sense of rising and falling action. There was no crescendo to accent that a dungeon was cleared.
In my mind, my fix was to take what I already had as a base and add a little more to it, limiting the amount of paths while making the experience a lot more authored and nearly doubling its length. This actually ended up working well with staying with the Bethesda design structure in a few ways. It helped keep the pacing present in their own authored spaces in my own, on top of fixing the problems at hand. I'll take the two critical paths and re-purpose them: one to be closed off and instead act as foreshadowing: allowing the player to peek into the room containing the necromancers/warlocks while keeping the pathing for it as a separate room, the other only temporarily closed off, with it opening through a prefab lever that would be accessible after the player had passed a boss encounter; leading them right back to the entrance after a much more lengthy exploration of the space prior. It's what I will be working towards in the next week.
Most of this past week has been figuring out what I actually want the final product of this level to be: defining rooms, figuring out what is excess and what isn't, learning of the Creation Engine's referential grid system, ect. I've been trying to document my learning and work in a more real time environment by streaming on Twitch 3 times a week (twitch.tv/driadon) in hopes that both I can help dedicate my time, as well as possibly get real time feedback. (in the future, when I actually have viewers)
Since feedback has indeed been scarce in my case, I sort of did it the other way around: I dove into some of Skyrim's dungeons, specifically Bleak Falls Barrow and just looked for a good 2-3 hours. Looking for aspects such as when a light would guide the player, how combat encounters were framed, when loot was given and why, how environmental storytelling is done throughout the whole of the environment - which I took some umbrage with how it is done in this case, how some tiles were hidden, (or not in some cases) there's just a lot at play. Now I took that and applied that to my own creation while keeping in mind that Bleak Falls Barrow is supposed to act as an introduction to the game's dungeon delving as a whole. It's big compared to most areas, it touches all elements of what makes the games' elements what they are. And with that, I was able to scale the whole of everything, really thinking about each area and what I'm doing to get the project to be exactly that. It helped immensely.
Progress has been tangible within screenshots below. I now have a solid idea of what I want to see in the final product, and I've learned a thing or two about the tools at my disposal. I'm hoping my next update of this will be it complete!
So in these last few months I've went through a bit of a change: I quit my job, packed up my things, and relocated to Montréal. As one would expect, it put a hamper time on my work schedule, but it did give me a lot of time to just think. On the just-under 40 hour drive from Edmonton to Montréal, I went through and categorized my projects: what can I get done in a reasonable amount of time, and with the limited art repertoire I have, and would actually run on my laptop since my desktop is now in storage. As such I've shifted gears a little bit, moving a project I had in Game Maker to the shelf for the intimidate future and instead, jumping to the Skyrim Creation Kit which is more the subject of today's post.The Initial plan was to work on more VFX work; I wanted to sit down with the editor and see about editing some of the particle emitters for some of the water effects. While digging around I got distracted, a lot distracted.
It had been the first time I had sat down and played with the Creation Kit itself, so I ran through a few tutorials about using the kit, and found myself playing around with their quest system, and really having a fun time planning out the scenario. I ended up veering off the tracks from the tutorial and, in the end, I wanted more! But I didn't want to simply use what is already there for locales; I wanted to create stories that are told through the environment themselves, as well as getting around a good means to record audio dialogue. So over the past 5 days I've gone through some teachings about the level editing portion of the kit and have been bashing the tool, much like a caveman on rocks, to learn proper kit usage, transitions, ect. Below is a little screenshot of it as of right now. The next part is to fill it up so it feels alive and organic. My hope is to update this blog on a semi-daily basis with new screenshots and details.
So, as hinted at prior, I have been dividing my time between Game Maker and Unreal Engine 4. While the former mostly being prototyping until I get comfortable enough with the tools to sit down and get a basic project out; the latter is more to expand my VFX knowledge, specifically. So, without further ado: some screenshots of the VFX work.
Since I've been back in the saddle in August, I've been plugging away with Game Maker Pro; working on concepts that I've had for a while. What Game Maker has done for me has been largely making a very simple scripting engine that allows me to throw ideas at in a Java-like concept, and have it all work as expected. It's been refreshing and a large case as to what got me back into making things again after the long needed rest of Gauge's demise. Using the very simple concepts that makes the core of Game Maker's logic, I've been able to quickly build simple AI routines, create sound path finding algorithms, and try my hand at something that I need way more experience with: procedural generation. I think with continued time and effort I may have at least something playable, that I hope is worthwhile. The few I have shared some of the designs I have been plugging away at have really liked what they have heard, and some have even let me try the idea with them in a tabletop setting. As such, being able to get this into a medium that actually makes sense has me incredibly excited, and has made me realize just how finding the right toolset and workflow can make a world of difference in the moral in a project, and, thus, the progress that can continually be made.
As things start coming together more and more, I'll be sure to share more details and the nitty gritty.