Rett Syndrome Benefit Shirt

A good friend of ours runs Go Slo Wyo, an apparel company focused on a “slow down and take it all in” lifestyle. Not only does she run a cool company, she also volunteers for Needs Inc, a local non-profit that helps provide the underprivileged with basic necessities.

Now she’s doing even more! She reached out to my wife and I late last year asking if we’d be interested in doing some art for her clothing with the profits to be donated to a charity of our choice. We created two designs that are now available at her shop.

We chose Girl Power 2 Cure as the charity because our daughter has Rett Syndrome and we love the way they approach raising funds for the cure.

Here are our designs:

dreamcatcher-shirt

skatealope-shirt

 

Check out all the options here!

BrakeNeck One Month Game

Last year my good friend, Victor Chelaru had the idea to try to build a small video game in a single month. The goal was to create a game that was fun and polished, but also to identify and fix workflow problems and bugs that slow down the dev process.

We tabled the idea for a few weeks but resurrected it in December. On Dec 19 we committed our first rough ideas to github, determined to finish a small game by Jan 19. We wrapped it up on schedule! I’m proud of how it turned out. It looks neat, is fun to play and was accomplished in a very short amount of time.

This game is open source and uses the FlatRedBall game engine. It’s also a free starter project built into the FRB tools.

Youtube
GitHub
Starter Project

BattleCrypt Slow Progress

You may have noticed there have been very few posts about BattleCrypt lately. The development has been somewhat on hold. I haven’t written new code for the game in a long time (but I have done art….see!!!).

ruin-tiles
Rough sketch of new tile designs.

Additionally, the BattleCryptGame.com site is coming down because I don’t have the time to support both my personal blog and a dev blog for the game. The domain will forward to my personal blog and all future BattleCrypt posts will be written here on my personal blog.

ruins-sketch-vs-tiles
Progression from rough sketch (left) to finished tiles (right).

That being said, the game is not dead and work has not stopped. I have been working on art a lot and refining my technique. I’ve tested some new tools such as Lazy Nezumi (AWESOME) and I bought a Monoprice 22″ graphics tablet (poor man’s Cintiq).

foliage
Statue with some experimental foliage added.

Honestly, it’s unlikely that BattleCrypt will make a lot of progress for a while. In the meantime, thanks for your continued interest!

No Man’s Sky PC Thoughts and Tips

20160815214152_1
This beautiful planet was pink by day and purple by night with glowing bits and dangerous predators.

I have tried not to spoil the story or anything major much. But these are tips. If you don’t want to risk spoilers, go elsewhere! All pics in this post were taken by me and are actual places I went.

Let me get one thing out of the way: I love No Man’s Sky. I don’t consider myself a “hype-train fanboy” but, in my opinion, Hello Games has created a unique, amazing and worth-it experience. I’m going to hate on some glitches and design decisions. But I love this game. It’s exactly what I hoped it would be with the potential to be even more.

I bought No Man’s Sky the day it came out (I do not pre-order games) despite hearing stories of performance issues and crashes. The game has high resource demands but generally performs okay on both my PC and laptop (PC Specs below).

I was frustrated on behalf of Sean and the Hello Games team for all of the weird, psychotic gamer reactions to leaked streams and day one bugs. I have confidence that things will get better but the game has been very playable for me. I think they could have launched a lot better but I also have been in similar positions coming out of a software development crunch, trying to make good decisions quickly and having everything be on fire. It’s a sucky place to be.

PC Specs:

Intel Core i5 2400 (old!)
16gb RAM
GeForce GTX 760
Win10 Pro x64

20160812170759_1
This idiot was my friend after I fed him some rock dust.

Bad THINGS

These are the bugs, glitches and design flaws that I have noticed.

  1. UI: the patterns are confusing
    1. The intro screen gives no indication that it’s loading. It took me awhile to realize that the random time spent looking at a starfield was actually the game loading in the background.
    2. The press-and-hold to do simple things like change the resolution is a bad pattern that should be fixed.
    3. In general press-and-hold mechanic should only apply to things with consequences to the player such as crafting or destroying inventory.
  2. Performance: it could be better
    1. The game crashes to desktop. In 25 hours of play I have probably experienced 4 crashes to desktop. This sucks but I have lost, at most, 5 minutes of gameplay since the last save.
    2. Occasionally the game gets super sluggish, the framerate actually seems normal but the timestep in the game appears to be almost halved. This seems to happen most often right as you get into your spaceship on a planet. The only solution is to restart the game
    3. In general, taking off on a planet causes huge CPU spikes. This is probably related to generating more planet surface and is likely unavoidable.
  3. Space Flight: it is not fun at this point*
    1. Mouse and keyboard control in space combat is terrible. It helped to turn the sensitivity for flight controls to max but it was still subpar*.
    2. There’s no way to escape space combat. You can’t pulse jump away and you can’t outrun them in the early game. No allies come to your assistance so you pretty much just die if there are more than 2 enemies.
    3. Refilling shields during combat is a bad mechanic. You have to press tab to access inventory, click the shield, and fill it with oxides. Often I am pressing Shift to go faster and Shift + Tab turns on the Steam overlay.
    4. The death mechanic is kinda broken. If it wasn’t dead simple to retrieve your cargo, dropping all cargo would be a game breaker. Since it’s easy to drop all of your cargo because all of the enemies are gone when you respawn, you can exploit this easily, even by accident.
    5. AI gets super confused on planet surfaces. If you lead them to a planet surface sometimes they just stop moving and won’t follow you. Eventually you can kite them back up to space.
    6. Flying near planets is awful. This seriously needs to be fixed. I get that perhaps they can’t generate terrain as fast as you can fly but the game’s attempt to protect you from getting close to the surface destroys so much of the experience. Surface dogfighting is impossible, landing is unpredictable and flight control is like a wrestling match. This is the highest priority flight fix in my opinion.
    7. Finally, when you buy a new ship (the only way to really upgrade), you simply lose the old one. This makes zero sense and the continuity bothers me. Why not give you at least a small return on your investment? It’s so unrealistic that you’d just walk away from a million-dollar spaceship, and it’s so easy to fix as a concept, that it bothers me.
  4. Glitches: there are some random weird things
    1. Jetpack climbing often clips your view through the terrain. This is minor but it really bugs me for some reason. Seeing through the world breaks some of the magic.
    2. Sometimes taking off from a planet shoots you immediately into space. This seems to happen if you take off with a structure or mountain in front of you.
    3. I’m not sure what happens if you buy product or mine elements when your inventory is full. It just disappears? It seems to allow you to buy 5 things if your inventory only holds 2. I think the other 3 cost you money but are destroyed.. This is a big punishment for the gamer who’s trying to execute trades quickly.
    4. In the trade menu, cancelling a sale returns you to the main conversation menu. Cancelling a space ship inspection kicks you completely out of the conversation.
  5. Multiplayer: I think Sean was semi-dishonest about multiplayer. He spoke early on about his vision for players encountering each other in space. I’m reasonably sure that zero realtime-networking code exists. It’s a huge amount of work and planning (I’ve done it on a small scale). If they had built it, they would not dodge those questions so hard but would want to promote it to some extent to justify their effort. I believe multiplayer is limited to seeing others’ discoveries and that’s all it is likely to be. Most writeups have hinted at this but I think they should have been more clear. Personally, I didn’t expect or buy this to be a multiplayer game.
20160815202714_1
Oceans can be dangerous but also beautiful and, occasionally, filled with hidden treasures!

Good Things

Literally everything else. Seriously. The game has an over-arching hint of story and mystery that are light enough to ignore but intriguing if you pay attention. I like the flavor of the races, the language discovery element, the conversations, the simple puzzles. It’s fun!

All generated objects have recognizable components and planet variety has its limits but they are random enough to keep you guessing and make the life forms exciting to discover. Planets don’t just have completely random attributes thrown together. It feels like there is a distinct design to most of them. Or at least the randomization manages to consistently create emergent situations that enhance the gameplay experience.

The resource gathering itself is fast enough that it doesn’t feel repetitive. You spend more time hunting for the rare elements to mine. Hazards, wildlife, storms and other random dangers keep the exploration interesting. Finding and scanning creatures has been very enjoyable (and sometimes terrifying) to me.

I am very confident that I will more-than-reap the expected level of entertainment for the cost of this game.

20160812170026_1
Spelunking never looked so good!

Tips

Okay, this is probably what you’re really here for. These are unique tips that I have personally found, not just copied or aggregated from somewhere else. Also, these tips are to help you enjoy the game more. Not exploit your way to the center or riches.

  1. Inventory management is key and it’s hard to know what to keep at first. Plutonium, Iron, Carbon and many other elements are everywhere. Keep just enough to fly and recharge your systems and don’t be afraid to discard them if they are wasting space. I sell valuable artifacts quickly, even if I don’t make a lot. Tying up the inventory slot costs me more than the value of the item. Try to keep any elements with a purple background. These are difficult to find and usually used in higher-level crafting. If you want to expand your inventory, explore those question marks and look for drop pods. Or, you can move down the Atlas path a little quicker for another option.
  2. Your ship inventory slots hold twice as much as your suit. This is a big deal! If you’re harvesting large volumes of a resource, keep your one-off items in your suit inventory and use the larger ship slots to hold big stacks of Gold, Plutonium or whatever you are going to sell for cash. Note that you have to stay fairly close to your ship to transfer inventory but that’s usually a good idea anyway.
  3. Selling elements is an important way to get cash. Every time you enter a system, look at the station trading system and focus on the gold-star items. These do not seem to change regardless of how much you sell. So if Plutonium is at a premium, you can make some good cash by harvesting it and selling it at 90% over market average. Gold also sells high and can be plentiful on many planets. Look for shiny, greenish blobs as you fly over the surface. Most of the other elements are either too rare or two low value to harvest in bulk.
  4. Speaking of harvesting, your multi-tool has limited inventory slots. Many of them come with the bolt-caster mod. I destroy those mods. Bolt casters don’t seem to do tons of damage, consume “ammo” quickly, and modding them to be powerful takes a lot of slots. The mining beam is pretty good at dealing damage. I forego the boltcaster and grenades in favor of an uber-powered mining beam but I also stay out of heavy combat.
  5. You can make money fast by in-station trading but it feels a little “exploity”. You can trade with any ship that lands on a station. Find a station with a gold-starred, high-value cargo and clear as much suit inventory as you can. Talk to every pilot that lands in the hanger and buy all the inventory they have of the item. Sell to the station any time there’s a pause in ships landing or your inventory is full. I did this with Dynamic Resonators, making about 30k per item and filling 12 inventory slots at a time. I made over 3 million credits in about an hour while also watching a movie and I had fun doing it.
  6. Finding all of the species on a planet can be difficult but you get a lot of credits to complete a planet (and it feels good!). Use your scanner a lot and look for red dots. These are animals you have not yet discovered. Animals you have already scanned have a green dot. Don’t forget to look for flying and swimming creatures – both can be tricky to scan. Finally, some animals only seem to appear during special times such as night or storm events!
  7. Pay attention to a planet’s damage type and use an inventory slot to build a protection mod if it deals high damage. Sometimes the damage type changes during storms, times of day or other conditions. Armor consumes Zinc, which can be hard to come by in bulk. If you have unlocked the Shielding Sheet recipe, you can recharge your shield with one of these, which can be crafted out of plentiful iron and save your precious Zinc! Finally, I haven’t noticed a big advantage between the cheapo shields and the nice expensive Theta-or-better shields. They both seem to stop all damage and consume charge at the same rate. YMMV.
  8. Dead moons and planets usually have better mineral resources and the lack of foliage makes them easier to spot.
  9. Find beacons, build Bypass Chips and scan for the type of settlement you want. This is much faster than just randomly hunting. You can use the beacon multiple times and Bypass Chips are cheap to build. Search for Shelter to have a chance of finding drop pods – which usually contain an inventory slot for purchase!
  10. Jetpack traversal is fun and a much faster way to get around. Press your melee button (Q by default) and immediately press your jetpack button (Space by default). You keep the forward momentum from the melee attack and can quickly coast across the ground. This is a tiny exploit that I hope they don’t patch out, it’s a fun skill-based way to move around that carries it’s own occasional risks.
  11. Falling in the water doesn’t deal fall damage. You can jetpack high across water without worrying about dying when you run out of fuel.
20160817193529_1
The first planet I scanned all the wildlife on!

* UPDATE: Turning up sensitivity actually did help a lot. It also helped to improve my ship with some mods. But space combat is still disappointing. I do hope they add to this because it could be a really fun mechanic.

Character Selection UI

Commit 53f13f0.

I’ve been working on two big things.

First, my buddy Vic helped me with the math to make my procedural animation 1000x better. I was close before but things just weren’t right. My code was a spaghetti mess and the maths were what can only be described as wonky. Now it’s much smoother and looks really nice (my opinion) although this low-framerate gif doesn’t do it a ton of justice (hosted on imgur b/c my cheapo server pukes trying to thumbnail big gifs):

BattleCrypt Animation Interpolation

 

Second, I have been working on various UI things. From a game-design standpoint I’ve been trying to decide if characters are highly defined, meaning that character “Bob” would always look the same, have the same taunt phrases, the same elemental power, etc. Or, if characters should be kinda customizable. Like maybe you pick the heady, body and legs separately.

I started with characters being immutable. Then I entertained the idea of allowing mix-and-match because I think that would really appeal to some players. Now I’m leaning back towards immutable characters because I can create stronger personalities and recognizable styles.

Anyway, here’s some work I did while puzzling out what the customizable character UI might look like. The image at the top of the post has arrows that let you select each customizable part separately. Another take on that would be to have buttons that toggle through each body part. Whatever direction I take, the UI style will probably look something like these.

BC_Concept_016

 

BC_Concept_014