Finally, 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.
As 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.
My 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?
Stardust 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.
Ben 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.