<![CDATA[PIG RECORDS - Records]]>Thu, 03 Dec 2015 15:10:15 +0200Weebly<![CDATA[News, links, stuff]]>Wed, 02 Dec 2015 12:02:57 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/news-links-stuffBelieve it or not, we're still working on the game. We're moving forward with the editor & scripting and we're laying down more game concepts. It's slow, trust me, I get it. Meanwhile, look at this top secret snapshot one of our soldiers took with his helmet cam.

Ben has a 
nice post reviewing the last year of development (since the comeback).

On a completely different note, let's talk about inspirational stuff. Quite a few documentaries have sprouted lately on indie game development and some of them are pretty good.
  • Indie Game: The Movie - takes a look at the days prior to the release of three iconic indie games: Fez, Super Meat Boy and Braid.
  • From Bedrooms to Billions - "From Bedrooms to Billions' is a 150 minute feature length documentary movie telling the remarkable, true story of the British Video Games Industry from 1979 to the present."
  • Minecraft: The story of Mojang - "Minecraft: The Story of Mojang is a feature-length documentary that follows the young company over the course of its first year as their profile expanded across the world stage and into the homes of millions of gamers."
  • Us and the Game Industry - "This is a feature length documentary filmed between 2009-2012 in the USA and in Copenhagen, [which] explores computer game development."
  • Super Game Jam - "SUPER GAME JAM is a documentary series about making video games in 48 hours."

Some of these titles are also available on Steam.
<![CDATA[Achievements, use with caution]]>Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:24:35 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/achievements-use-with-caution

Ever since I played Freespace I got hooked on what's now broadly known as "achievements". In Freespace these rewards came in the form of medals, awarded after each mission. The system was intelligently based on your in-game performance. Even though they were nothing more than static images accompanied by some pretentious labels, they made me wanna play more and harder. I know this is going to sound crazy, but I almost played exclusively for the medal screen. The rewards seemed so real and vital that the game itself diminished in importance. It's weird, because the fun part of the game should have been the one in which I piloted a spaceship and shot lasers.

Medals and achievements are not exactly the same thing, but they work in similar ways. I'm not even sure when the first achievements came into existence. Maybe it's not that important. I guess XBOX 360 introduced them with their games in 2006, according to this Giant Bomb article. Valve started using them in 2007 with the release of the Orange Box and that's when achievements became really popular. Weirdly enough, many of Valve's games achievements are crap. They don't stimulate the player in any way, they're just there as if merely for showcasing purposes. I've seen other games failing pretty badly at this. Getting an achievement for doing the most basic of tasks (say for firing a gun for the first time - in a FPS game no less) not only strips away the value of that achievement, but it's annoying as hell too. That's like the devs' way of telling you you're the most incapable player ever. Last night I saw this cheesy movie everyone else loved... damn, I can't remember the name... oh, wait, I got it: Whiplash. The only part I liked about it is when some guy says that "there are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job". Damn right! Cheap achievements are saying "good job" when, in fact, the job is so trivial it wouldn't even be considered a job. I hate getting criticism, but I hate getting praise even more. I never trust anyone who tells me what a great job I did, unless they back that up with stats and graphs.
Here are some examples of what I consider good and bad achievements in Half-Life 2. Except my comments, all images, titles and descriptions from this section are the property of their respective owners.

Bad Half-Life 2 achievements:
Escape the apartment block raid.
Trusty Hardware
Get the crowbar.
Anchor's Aweigh!
Get the airboat.
Zero-Point Energy
Get the Gravity Gun in Black Mesa East.
For those of you who didn't play HL2, you can get all these achievements by simply moving forward through the game. You don't need to have any special skills or bouts of luck to get any of these. [minor spoilers ahead] You're going to escape the apartment block anyway (Malcontent). You're gonna get the crowbar whether you want it or not (Trusty Hardware)! All the stuff in these achievements is forced on you. So how can they be achievements? Do I need a pat on the back for simply playing the damn game?[/minor spoilers are over] These rewards are useless and it's not how achievements work, in my opinion.
Good Half-Life 2 achievements:
Bug Hunt
Use the antlions to kill 50 enemies.
Disintegrate 15 soldiers by throwing them into a Combine ball field.
Kill an enemy with a toilet.
Keep Off the Sand!
Cross the antlion beach in chapter Sandtraps without touching the sand.
In order to get any of these you must actually do something out of the ordinary.
So, what I was trying to establish is that achievements can be good when done right and pretty bad when done wrong. If that would be all, it would be swell, but that's not all. Achievements can be bad even when done right. This happens when you keep playing solely for getting those rewards, while the game itself turns to an annoying routine. You can argue that players become achievement whores on their own accord, and not because of the developers'. Yeah, okay. That's a bit like saying that the heroine producers are model citizens, while the users are the real issue. Did I just compare high risk drugs to videogame achievements? That's my cue. In a minute.

What about Backfire? Will it feature any achievements? Hopefully, yes. I really want that, and not because of that marketing bullshit either! I firmly believe that achievements can make things more fun - if done right, of course. Moreover, I think that Backfire is the right type of game in which achievements can work beautifully. We explored this feature a bit and implementing it seems doable. It remains to be seen what kind of achievements we'll want to have in Backfire. Once we know that, we'll be able to collect specific data from the game instance and feed it back into the scoring system.

I'll conclude by giving you some examples of Backfire achievements. These are only half baked ideas, so they may be changed or not make it into the final game at all.
Bullet Dodger
Finish a level taking minimal damage from enemy fire.
Battering Ram
Kill 6 enemies in a sector by direct collision.
Trigger Happy
Fire over 10.000 shots during the game.
Salvage vital tech by not detonating the SW.

Relevant articles discussing achievements in videogames:
<![CDATA[Beardy got excited! - news, links, stuff]]>Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:04:02 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/beardy-got-excited-news-links-stuff
Unreal Engine 4 just went free. This means we drop whatever we've made so far and start over, adding a whole new dimension (going 3D!) and succulent DX12 awesomeness. It's gonna be amazing! (No, wait, I'm kidding. Sorry for the cheesy stuff. We're not dropping anything and we're keeping the 2D - for better or for worse. Maybe if we were 10 years younger we'd have fallen into this trap. Anyway, the UE4 going free is great news!)

Recently Ben gave me some article on game making, more precisely on game finishing. From there I went to this other article, which is better written in my opinion. I discovered that the entire blog (focused on game developing) is pretty fun to read.

More stuff on indie game developing from various people (many recurring ideas ahead): 
<![CDATA[Scroll, scroll, scroll your layer, gently down the screen]]>Sun, 15 Feb 2015 08:43:22 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/scroll-scroll-scroll-your-layer-gently-down-the-screen
A word of caution: this post is about some of the concepts that went into the design of the level editor - abstract stuff that I'm not even sure how to explain. It's a long post and it might not always make sense. Revisions are plausible, but I'll mark them down.
If there's a Master Demon that haunts our Backfire dreams, that must be the Demon of Content Syncing. He's also known as the Demon of Adding and Syncing Content on Layers that have Different Speeds and Lengths. That's a mouthful, I know. Ever since we started working on Backfire seven years ago we knew that one day we'll have to face The Demon. How will we ever manage to make everything sync nicely? Before I reveal the answer, a bit of context. 

Watching a ship moving through space can be extremely boring in real life. Stars are so far apart from each other that to a ship moving through space, even at very high speeds, they will be no more than static dots of light. Space would look even more boring if the ship was traveling at the speed of light, as some (1) boffins claim. That's why game, cartoon and even movie makers exaggerate the speed of background stars, so as to create a sense of movement and ultimately make things more interesting. Backfire uses a top-down perspective, meaning that the stuff on the screen - ships, stars, bullets, everything - is viewed from above. We simulate forward movement by scrolling stars and other objects downwards, while keeping the player's ship static. We simulate depth by scrolling stuff downwards at various rates. In our scenario, the objects that are furthest away from the screen scroll slower than those that are closer to it. We thought of defining 3 levels of depth under the player's ship and 3 levels of depth above it. We called these levels of depth layers, because they were sitting on top of each other. It's even easier if you imagine that each of these layers house various entities that share one common attribute: their speed. In other words, all the entities from a layer scroll down at the same rate, along with that layer. The bottom layer is the slowest, the top one is the fastest.

The main issue is figuring a way to edit (i.e. put content on) all these layers which - due to their different speeds - have different lengths. Time out! Imagine you have a sammich, much like the one I drew for you here. Everybody knows how to eat a sammich, right? You shove the sammich in the mouth and take a bite, then repeat the process until there's no sammich left. I mean this is how most people eat it. Now imagine you have a weird sammich, made by someone who knows close to nothing about sammiches. The only thing normal about this weird sammich is the lettuce. The lettuce is fine, just a regular sized lettuce, but the bacon below it is too short and the cheese below the bacon is even shorter. Guess what? The bottom slice of bread is down right ridiculous, that's how short it is! Wait, there's more. (I know, it's a very weird sammich!) The cheese above the lettuce is too long, if you can imagine, and the bacon on top of it is even longer. The slice of bread at the very top is so long that you probably can't even see it end to end. Now try eating it in several bites, say 10, with each bite going through all the layers at once. Yes, this means that all the layers at the front of the sammich should be in line when you take the first bite. It also means that all the layers at the back of the sammich should, too, be in line when you take the last bite. Do you see how weird this is? The same goes with our in-game content, which lives on all those independent layers. Our layers must start and end at the same time, even though they have different speeds/lengths. This, when talking about empty layers, is not even that hard to do. No, but placing entities on the layers and synchronizing them to fit a certain scenario, is.
Do you remember those corny karate movies in which a master tells his student that in order to get to the highest level of skill he (the student) must forget everything he learned until that point? Well, let's do the same and forget everything about layers. You see, all these layers I kept raving about since the beginning of this post don't even exist. They're completely abstract. They just help us visualize and organize the content better, but there are no build-in layers into our engine or levels. We knew this right from the start (2), but we focused so much on these damned layers that we kind of intoxicated ourselves into taking them literally.

Luckily, in one of our recent brainstorming sessions Ben had a revelation. The solution was right there in front of us, more or less, but nobody found it. Until now. The idea is simple: edit everything on one layer, then assign to each entity a scrolling speed. Some entities will share their speed with others. Take a look at the mock-up "screenshot" in the column on the right: you can see a galaxy (yes, the one that looks like a turd, hehehe), some stars, some ships at the top, the player's ship at the bottom and a satellite of some sort in the top-left corner (that also partly masks a ship that's below it). All that stuff scrolls down, except the ship at the bottom (the player's). The galaxy is the slowest in terms of scrolling and the satellite is the fastest. Just to make things clear: the player and all the active entities (e.g. enemies) are in between the satellite and the galaxy, OK? Using this simple approach of assigning speeds to entities instead of entities to layers solved nicely an otherwise ugly problem.

Now we're ready to learn about layers, again. Kidding... partially. While they're still abstract, we simply can't banish the layers for eternity. We still need order in our galactic chaos. Consider this: a) entities at the top (of the screen) must obscure the ones below them; b) entities at the top are faster than those below them. You see where this is going? If you have no idea, don't worry, I'm gonna tell you. It's going to Layerville. You can always group similar stuff together to make it easier to manage. We can call these groups, if no objections are made, layers.
A normal sammich.

The complex layer system; note how the length of a layer is directly proportional to its speed.

The position of the layers during a level. The dotted line shows where the player would be at that particular stage in the level.

Mock-up screenshot. This is the top-down view of the game. All the stuff on the screen scrolls top-to-bottom, except the layer's ship, which is static. This creates the illusion that the ship moves forward through space. The entities on screen scroll down with different speeds; those that are farther away scroll slower than those that are closer to the screen. 

(1). Some scientists argue that when traveling at the speed of light one would see a bright blob of light in the distance. No star trails, no special effects, just a boring orb of light.
(2). I guessed that layers were abstract, but wasn't completely sure until I asked Ben about it.
<![CDATA[Is the "fun" in Crowdfunding a lie?]]>Thu, 12 Feb 2015 16:25:17 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/is-the-fun-in-crowdfunding-a-lieAnybody with an idea - or without one, for that matter - wants to have a piece of the crowdfunding pie. Sure, it seems easy enough to set up, and the fact that no investments are needed to start such a campaign makes people jump in head first. There are quite a few projects out there that really deserve all the funds they can gather and I tip my hat to them. Then there are the piles of questionable projects, some of which get ridiculous amounts of attention. Luckily, most of these jokes don't get any attention at all and are buried fast, but the simple fact that they exist makes everyone's job harder. Sifting through garbage is not pleasant nor efficient. Something similar happened when the blogging services became popular. People suddenly had access to some fantastic tools to spread their ideas around. Many did it simply because they could. The information got diluted and finding relevant stuff became ever so harder. 

Our little game project is serious enough to provide solid grounds for a crowdfunding campaign. What's the problem, then? Fear. The truth is that I fear what might happen if the campaign would be a success. More precisely, I fear of what we need to do to make it successful. We might need to start doing things differently, in a more organized and corporatistic manner. We don't fancy that. We are already working in the system and taking on another job would probably kill us. If not literally, then spiritually. If Backfire will ever feel like work, we'll drop it. It's not even a principle we live by (we don't want to drop it), it's just something we cannot avoid. I know, it sounds vague and philosophical.

The differences between a game with a budget and one with no budget, in our particular case, are not that significant. The funds will buy mostly cosmetic stuff, like professional voice acting and maybe some great sound effects, but nothing vital that could bring the project to a halt. The game can be completed either way, with or without bling. It can't be completed, however, if we burn ourselves up trying to meet deadlines for the sake of contributors. It might seem like I'm making a fuss over nothing, like we could actually harden the f#&! up, bite the bullet and dive right in. No, not this time. Perhaps in the future, when we're in a more comfy context. For now, the question remains. I'll have to get back to you on this.
<![CDATA[Intro and 1st sector drafts completed, plot unfinished]]>Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:19:59 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/intro-and-1st-sector-complete-plot-unfinishedFinally, after more than a month, the drafts of both the intro and the 1st sector are complete. Some rewriting is bound to happen, but, for now, we've got something to chew on. The plot / timeline, which should have been our go to document for all the subsequent story details, isn't finished yet. This is partly because I have no clue how to end this story. I have an idea of what will happen, but the why and the how still eludes me. To make matters worse, I realized that my original details which explained the intro (I'm not talking about the intro itself) are not going to work in their current form. Fixing story inconsistencies is hard, but trying to write a compelling story and make it believable at the same time (as far as sci-fi goes) is even harder.]]><![CDATA[looking for Voice actors... and some workflow thoughts]]>Mon, 26 Jan 2015 14:12:04 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/looking-for-voice-actors-and-some-workflow-thoughtsAs much as I'd like to think of myself as a good planner and organizer (on the projects that I take, not in my real and personal life), I have to admit that it's not the case when talking about Backfire. I think I avoided approaching this project in an overly geometric manner to compensate for my rather ordinary life. We seem to be OK with it so far, even though Ben would like doing things in a more standardized manner (setting micro-deadlines and stuff). Anyway, I'll get to the point. The game making process in my mind, in this semi-chaotic system that I run, is comprised of bricks that need to be developed (they're in dust form at first) and integrated into a final working product. These ideas are chewed a bit as they come and, based on their potential, are either kept or scrapped. Instead of developing them in a structural and productive way, I often find myself playing with the most appealing ones when there's higher priority work to be done. So here we are, looking for voice actors. 

I know how much better an idea is conveyed with the clever use of voices compared to text only. Our own voices are nothing to brag about. I sound like a piece of dry wall, no use in hiding it. Besides, voice acting is not just about a cool sounding voice, you also need some acting skills. 

My only approachable English speaking fellows are around the sdf.org community. I tried there and had some luck with one guy who agreed to do the narrator (intro). His voice was good, but his microphone was lousy and the quality of the files were lacking. We decided to buy him some better equipment - nothing fancy - but the guy, who seemed very into it at first, backed down. No reason was given. Boo-hoo!

It's true that I haven't made clear to him what the deal was. While we can't afford to pay money for these voice services, I should've told him what we can offer. It's not much, but maybe it's not exactly nothing, either. All the actors will be featured in the credits, plus they will receive a digital copy of the game and a digital booklet containing juicy story details and some game history, along with an invitation to participate in our future projects. Of course, I do realize that the entire "package" mostly appeals to gamers / geeks, so I wouldn't be surprised if our voice actors - provided we find some - would come from this demographic.

So far we need at least five different voices. Some of them could be played by the same actor.
1. Narrator - provides the narration of the intro and outro
2. AI - the voice of the ship
3. Admiral X (the name is unknown or not released to the public) - provides the voice for the radio communications between the HQ and the ship
4. Allied voice - a voice of an allied pilot
5. Alien voice - heavily post-edited

Finding myself back to square one, I got distracted and abandoned the search - for the time being. This makes things worse, probably, having this chunk of unfinished business just hanging there. ]]>
<![CDATA[Soundcards today - A rant]]>Sat, 24 Jan 2015 17:32:27 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/soundcards-todayMy on-board sound card was faulty since day 1. It's working, but in Windows 7 it snaps, crackles and pops more than a posse of dry cereals. I used XP for a long while and when I switched to 7 I had to get a new sound card just to get rid of the issue. I'm not very picky, but I do like a clean sound. My stand-alone card that I bought was a cheap Creative Audigy (under $30). To see its shared Mic In/Line In jack was, to say the least, f-frustrating. It didn't even cross my mind to check for that when I ordered it. To my surprise nobody (else) complained about it. Yes, I need two inputs and that's that. Older cards had separate inputs for mic in and line in, but not the newer, fancier ones. I usually use fancy as I pejorative. With the help of my biological brother (we look totally different, so I'm wondering about that) the on board aux was patched through to the panel - which had to be drilled to mount the new jack connector - and I used that as a secondary input. It worked, but they could only do so one at a time. There was nothing else I could do, so I just resigned myself. Until the card failed, that is, about 3 or 4 years later and without any obvious reason. The system would lock up, freeze completely. I tried a bunch of things (extensive RAM and CPU tests) without success. I started pulling cards out from the PCI slots and this is how I found the culprit. I reverted to my on-board cereal card and used it for months, 'till I finally gave in. My brother had a SB Live laying around and decided to try it out. The SB Live, otherwise a decent card, is apparently too old to work in Windows 7 (no drivers). It was high time I searched the market for a new card. I quickly understood that the sound card business is not a business anymore. There are so few options out there that my head spun. None of the lower to medium priced cards had separate inputs. Even the external sound cards - where space shouldn't be a problem - featured the same combo crap like their slot-mounted siblings. The more expensive stuff had - iirc - such an option, but I'm not prepared to pay hundreds of euros for this kind of functionality. I know, for these pricey cards you get much more than two damned inputs, but I just want a regular joe sound and them-damned-inputs. I bit the bullet and went for one in the cheap-o category. Xonar DG SI. I had to compare the specs to find out what's the difference between the DG and the DG SI. These acronyms... they're telling me nothing. I got the DG SI simply because it was available, I don't care about 5.1 or 7.1. To tell you the truth I was excited and glad to get rid of those crackles. There was also fear, and for good reason too. I plugged it in and in a couple of minutes I knew something was wrong. The drivers installed OK, the sound worked, but the level between the left and right channels was uneven. I checked my speaker configuration settings and they were correct (stereo, 2 speakers). I checked the software balance and it was even. I switched the speakers with my headphones, no improvement. I changed the drivers, same deal. Do I need to express my opinion? I wish I had a deep and enlightening conclusion. I don't. My conclusion is plain and obvious. Quality of stuff is degrading. Are we allowing this to happen because we suck, or is this driven by the machinations of a higher collective force that we can't control because we suck?]]><![CDATA[backfire, a bit of hazy history]]>Fri, 23 Jan 2015 14:46:35 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/first1Stardust is the working title of a 2d shmup that will probably be called Backfire. It's currently in development for PC, Mac and Linux. The earliest records of Backfire date back to 2007, when Ben first came up with the idea of making a game. We were in the demoscene movement at the time (we hung out on the Romanian Demo Party IRC Undernet channel, #rdemoparty), or what was left of it. In fact I was more like a male-groupie, since my skills (or lack thereof) never helped me do any work at demoscene accepted standards. What I did back then - and still do today - was vector graphics. I started with pixel stuff, probably around 2002, but impaired by laziness I promoted myself to vector graphics. Even so, I would rarely "release" anything and soon I barely drew anymore. Drew Barrymore? One thing was certain: I loved games. Ben was already a pretty good coder, but he's even better nowadays. So when he came up with the idea and asked me to join the project, I was instantly hooked. Yes, I had zero knowledge of what I were supposed to do or where to start. Right from the get go we established that the game should be kept simple, but even a very basic shmup would present plenty of challenges to an inexperienced guy like myself and was, in lack of a better word, scary. I'm pretty sure Ben felt the same way. We both understood that in order to make it work we would need to contain ourselves. We had some examples, too, as other demo sceners got stuck for various reasons while developing their own games. We didn't wanna trap ourselves, so we had to cull our ideas mercilessly.

We laid down the basics and started working on the game. Ben would code, I would draw sprites and maybe design the levels. After a couple of months we got a very basic working model. The hard work was only beginning. That's how it should have been, anyway. At some point Ben was working on the editor and we bounced ideas back and forth, trying to make it as functional as possible. I kept writing and rewriting the story, updated the wiki and toyed around with some sprite designs - all at very basic levels. Soon things started to fade out for no obvious reason. Probably we got tired and bored and lost sight of the objective. Not before long we dropped it altogether. We tried to revive it a couple of times, once in 2009 and once in 2010, if I remember correctly, but until late 2014 nothing major had been done in terms of game development. I guess life happened.

Then, in 2014, Ben asked me once again if I wanted to give Backfire another shot.To tell you the truth I never gave it up, not completely, and I was kind of hoping that Ben will ask me about it sooner or later. After almost 4 years of complete Backfire silence, things moved again. We've matured a bit and I really think we can pull it off this time. 

Most of the old game stuff was scrapped. The basics are still there, but a lot of things changed. The code is new, the editor is new and the story is more detailed.
<![CDATA[First!]]>Thu, 22 Jan 2015 14:45:29 GMThttp://pigrecords.weebly.com/records/firstBen gave me the idea of keeping a log. I tried before and I always ended up running it into the ground. That happens when you think you got something to say, but - in fact - you don't. So, why should now be any different? Not sure. Now, at least, I got something to blog about. That's right, I got involved in this little video game project called "Stardust" - this  is the working title. It's fun and challenging and it might give me something to talk about. This (even though you can't see me, I'm pointing at the screen) is it.

The posts will be mostly related to Stardust and developing challenges and video games in general. Sometimes I might go over board and post totally unrelated stuff, but hopefully it would still be relevant in some ways.]]>