Monday, September 21, 2009

What's in the works

As a recently formed independent games studio, we've been asked a number of times what our game plan is (pun intended). Starting the studio in Western Australia after working for some big name developers and publishers in Europe represents quite a change. Not only a simple change in geography but a huge change in proximity to the big market zeitgeist, talent pool and investment/funding opportunities.

Despite having some experience in the industry to fall back on we're under no illusions as to what we can realisticaly achieve in a given timeframe. Not to mention we're all a bit older now than when we first entered the industry. No midnight crunches for us while trying to support families and preserve relationships. Initially we're going to keep things simple.

For me that means the first and most import goal is publishing something. Set attainable goals and achieve them; get the dev cycles going and something on the table. Don't get me wrong, I want to create something special, but even Speilberg didn't create his finest films on his first foray out the door. So something special, but achievable.

We were thinking about how this studio might work months before we left our industry jobs and made the migration to Australia. Looking around at opportunities to achieve our goals we did find a path that we think is a good place to start.

It's always been my feeling that to create something worthwhile, it never hurts to understand what makes something worthwile. This thinking walks hand in hand with the ability to identify greatness in others or another's achievements. It was this thinking and a fortuitous meeting of minds with the developers from Data Realms that laid the path we would choose to take for an initial foray into Indie Game Development.

Data Realms have spent years crafting a beautiful indie game known as Cortex Command. The first time I played it was a hurried affair in a lunch break. My initial exploration didn't do it justice but my interest was perked. A few weeks later with more time on my hands (and with a freshly downloaded build) I was able to spend enough time playing Cortex Command to begin to truely appreciate it. I felt then and still feel now that Cortex Command is one of those creative products that has some sort of destiny. With an idea in mind and a fanboy's appreciation in my heart, that motivated me to bring Cortex Command to the Macintosh. Spiritually, the Macintosh version of Cortex Command is the first title for Kruger Heavy Industries. The fact that it was mostly completed by myself before the company was formed probably only matters to the record keepers on Moby Games.

Later in the piece we were very happy to have elected to be involved with Cortex Command. It did very well at the last Games Developers Conference 2009 in the Indie Games Festival, picking up two awards (Technical Excellence and the Audience Award) (some video coverage available here).

Cortex Command is still actively in development, but is largely code complete - at least as far as the Macintosh porting effort is concerned. It's bugfixing and build making for the most part until release. A day we look forward to greatly. Dan, Prom and the rest from Data Realms are doing a fantastic job.

So, what else is in the works for Kruger Heavy Industries? Fresh from our experience porting Cortex Command we picked up another great game we felt deserved some love on the Macintosh. Currently in active development is the Macintosh version of Eets: Hunger. It's Emotional. It was developed by our friends over at Klei Entertainment. One of their first titles, it's been lavished with much love and attention to detail by the Klei team. We won't tell you too much about Eets right at this moment as we're looking forward to that in a future post. For now we would like you to know we're really looking forward to having Eets playable on the Macintosh and putting that second building block into the foundation of our little studio here in Western Australia.

Monday, September 14, 2009

First Experiences with Unity 3D

I first heard about Unity 3D early last year when some rumblings were made about it in Indie Games Circles. I wasn't really doing much with regards to Indie Games at the time and the company I was working for at time had it's own technology. On top of that Unity 3D was only really available for the Macintosh platform at the time (Windows version was still in Development). With all that in mind it didn't seem like I was going to get a chance to try out Unity 3D any time soon.

Fast forward now to last month. I've just started a new contract for a local mob. We're using Unity 3D, predominately on the Windows platform. So I've finally got the chance to look at Unity 3D properly. My first impressions have been predominately positive.

Unity is probably best described as a Game Engine and Editor “all in one”. It's an IDE, a level editor and properties tweaker. The professional version also has some source control functionality. There is a lot of functionality included in the package an it has the potential to save an enormous amount of development time.

The User Interface

The User Interface is visually appealing, I suppose it would have to be to suit the fashion concious Macintosh crowd. The main interface is broken up in to several areas, the Game View, the Scene View, the Hierarchy View, an Assets View and the Inspector. The game view allows you to review the status of your Game, it's essentially what the game would like. It can be set to run, pause and stop basically allow you to run the game and see what's happening as you build it. If you want to see an animation running in your scene all you have to do is hit play.

The scene view is similar to the Game view but is more orientated towards the actual development process. The scene view will show the scene and level objects in a simple form as well as many of the other implicit objects required for the game logic. The Camera in the scene view is free moving. Models and Game objects can be orientated, placed and scaled all the in the scene view. The interface is quite a lot like 3DS Max in the basic controls.

The hierarchy view (a panel really) is clearly inspired by a Scene Graph. It is essentially a list of objects in the scene, it also displays (via it's heirarchical nature) how these scene objects relate to each other. With it you can quickly find any object in your scene. In the Hierarchy panel, you can select an object, then when you move your mouse pointer over the scene display, pressing “F” will focus the scene view on the select hierarchy object. This without a doubt saves a lot of time. The hierarchy view is also useful for attaching components (behavior modifiers, graphical sugar and script/logic) to your scene objects.

The inspector panel works closely with the hierarchy and asset views. All objects, behaviors and such in your scene have properties associated with them. These properties are exposed by the inspector and can be directly manipulated. Running the game in real time and tweaking values in the inspector allows you to rapidly tune settings for a visual effect or game play behavior.
Finally the last main view or panel is the Project or Asset panel. This is where you can see all the assets in the scene. It's also where you can import new assets into the scene and construct prefab objects (objects that can be used again and again). All assets that have been imported into the assets can be edited from their new locations. Changes are re-imported and applied almost instantly.


The actual programming side of is done via scripts written in Javascript or C# . Although there is the ability to use plugins in the professional version which are written in C, C++ and or C# - I assume on the Macintosh version we can also use Objective C). The Javascript is really UnityScript I suppose, while sharing many similarities with Javascript there are some notable differences as well, particularly when it comes to the way objects work.

Scripts are typically assigned to game objects where their interfaces are called as the game logic progresses. Scripts assigned to game objects are known as behaviors. The script editor built into Unity 3D is Scite which is a well known simple editor. For more professional programmers who are used to the fully feature code environments such as the likes of Microsoft Visual Studio they may be disappointed. The environment notably lacks any easily accessible debugging, so you'll probably be spending a lot of time doing the old print debugging thing of yesteryear. Thankfully as everything else about the environment makes achieving results easy, this probably isn't as painful as it sounds. At least for small projects.

Under the hood Unity basically creates dynamic libraries with the code that is compiled from the Game scene in development. This is most likely how the Unityscript/Javascript is so fast. Indeed the it becomes apparent that the Javascript i really just a thin veneer over the C# innards and as you start to realise the Unityscript's differences to Javascript it becomes clearer what is going on underneath. Of course it's not Microsoft .Net implementation but rather the C# implementation made available via the Mono project.

Source Control

In the professional version, Unity's own source control functionality is available. It's not brilliant. It's some hodgepodge or Unity 3D UI, with a backend of a Postgres database. Over low latency links it's horrible and generally it lacks features. Strangely it's also one of the most expensive accessories for Unity. I can sort of the see the logic in it, those requiring source control will most likely be the ones cashed up enough to be able to afford it. In effect subsidising the cost of Unity's development and cheap price to Indie Developers and students.


I'm overall feeling positive towards Unity 3D. I've still got a lot to learn but I can see enormous utility in the package for what amounts to (especially for Indies) a lot of bang for you buck. Depending on how my experiences go I may consider using the Engine/Tool myself on a title I've been mooting. I hope to post updates on my experiences as I go.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Net2Max is in my good books

I've been using Net2Max for a couple of months now and I've been pretty happy with it. It's not exactly user friendly but once you understand the basics it does the job better and cheaper than everything else I've tried.

My business number runs on the system. I just chose the country and state I wanted the number to be associated with and connected it to my Net2Max and account and voila - I've got a business number. I've connected this number to a PABX system that I configured on Net2Max to do call routing exactly how I want. For the most part it goes to my voicemail box. Messages that are left get emailed to me immediately, and since I'm almost always online I can check them immediately.

If my business ever wants to expand or have a presence in another state or country, I can easily select a local presence number in just about every significant country. All the calls get routed back to my account.

Alternatively I can can configure any voip phone to receive calls for this number, of my skype account if I so wish. It's extremely versatile. I've got a Belkin VOIP router at home, I've got four standard phone ports in the back. One port is configured for my home phone number, the 2nd port is configured to my business number. During the evening, I plugin my wireless handset into port 1. During the day, if I'm working from my home office, I plug the handset into port 2 and switch off the voicemail.

All that flexibility is very useful and it comes at a reasonable price too. I'm currently spending about $3.00 Australian a month on business calls, the business number rental, voicemail and the pabx. I don't know how they do it so cheap. Best of all I think is the complete control I have over everything. I don't have to call up some dope on the phone and ask them to change the configuration of anything, it's all handled through a website online that I can login to from anywhere.

For me calling up is one of the last things I like to do, so this a huge plus to me.