Sunday, April 30, 2006

League leaguey leaguey league. League.

Some things are supposed to be easy.

Things like leagues. Leagues are easy, right? Teams go up, teams go down, some simple rules and bongio - you've done it. If only. Leagues in TCFG are fairly complex beasties.

As in real life, an entire league system is split into levels, and each level is further split into a number of divisions. At the top, there's one division. At the bottom, there could be as many as 30. It all depends on the nation. These levels all reorganise themselves each season to maintain some sort of regional distribution of teams, and all is good.

The hard bits come in when you start to think about forced relegations or promoted teams not making the criteria. Then you end up with some levels having too many teams, and others being relatively empty, and then you have to start messing about with relegations and promotions in order to get them in order again. And that's not easy, especially as you can't forcibly relegate a team just to make up the numbers. That's a bit unfair.

And just when you think you've got all that done, a giant monster comes along and stamps on it all, screaming "What about when leagues split into two very separate halves?"

Some league systems are really made up of two or more leagues, that converge as you get higher. If you're in one of these smaller leagues, you can't be moved to the other just to make up the numbers. Oh no, you're stuck there. You know where you are, and you know where promotions and relegations go. It's not too bad until the same problems as before jump in through the window. What if it's not even? It just gets messy.

Meh. It'll work out, I tell myself whilst crying into a pot of soup. And if it doesn't, at least it might generate some spectacular fractal displays on the screen.

Smashed screens are fractal, right?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fucked Over

I'm sure in many industries, you'd expect competitors would do whatever they could to get one over on a direct rival. If Cadbury are making a killing marketing Fruit & Nut at mental hospitals, Mars might well start tipping off news reporters about the lack of consideration being shown, knocking Cadbury down a peg whilst they introduce their new Spacer bar.

The games industry is surely no different. However, I am quite utterly baffled that a company who deal mainly in music games have decided they need to get one over me, hindering my progress in a subtle yet horrid way.

I'm talking about those bastards at Harmonix, who have cruelly decided to release Guitar Hero in the last few weeks, sapping any time I actually have had to work. Since getting the game I've done nothing but badly play my way through a selection of riffs and feeling like a true golden god.

Curse you Harmonix, and your evil, Satanic ways. Clearly a collusion with the Dark Lord.

Of WRAWK. The more W the better.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Kudos on your Gibbage

There are other blogs out there. Blogs with news about kittens dying horrible deaths, blogs with news about kittens being horribly born; I have witnessed this, it's not a pretty sight and it only means that the books I read as a kid have lied to me. Even blogs with news about kittens being raised from the dead for sacrifice. They're out there.

There are also other blogs by games developers looking to chronicle their efforts for historical purposes. Armies of bearded net archaeologists drinking lots of tea might want to know why The Mysterious Sofa Man never got a worldwide release, and how to beat level four where the fat man attempts to sit on you.

One such blog is Dan Marshall's effort, Gibbage. I implore you to read it for a multitude of reasons. It's funny, for a start, and it's actually well written. Presumably because Dan knows how to do that sort of thing without tripping over his own convoluted metaphors. Another reason is the game itself, er, Gibbage.

Gibbage. I was a bit frightened when I first heard about the game. I don't know what Gibbage means so I looked it up in a dictionary. Imagine the horror when I found out that a "gib" is a castrated male cat. I had had enough of blogs about kittens that are sexually active, the last thing I needed was one where Tiddles is without his winky.

Thankfully, it also appears to mean something else, along the lines of horrible desmemberment of spikey haired, cartoon people, which was much more pleasing to my ear after having to put up with a Pokemon obsessed little sister.

Gibbage is, at its heart, a two player single screen action game, the aim of which is almost certain death. You bound around the level, chase your opponent and attempt to produce a kaleidoscopic image of limbs, blood, eyballs and tattered clothing. Also, there's something about collecting power cubes and returning them to base in order to win, like a platform capture-the-flag, but I was too busy dying horribly because I thought that was fun.

If I was playing with a friend, I'd possibly have tried to kill him instead. Six quid to kill as many friends as you like, even top professionals cannot match that price. If you like Worms, you'd like Gibbage.

Another such blog is Cliffski's. Cliff's actually got loads of games under his belt, like Democracy, in which you become the elected head of state of a real-world nation and attempt to please everyone at the same time (and fail), and Starship Tycoon 2 where you run a fleet of interstellar transport spaceships. Which is clearly better than a theme park, yet people keep buying theme park games. I believe the two games should really be merged into Capitalist Space Pig-Dog-Monkey 3 With Added Elections, but perhaps its good that Cliff doesn't listen to me. Also, there should be talking quaggas.

His latest game, which isn't finished yet but actually exists (unlike... um... moving on) is Kudos, which he cleverly attempts to describe as "a life sim that's not like The Sims but more like Animal Crossing which I have not played".

I'm sold, at any rate, because Animal Crossing is excellent and The Sims was just boring. In Kudos, you live life - go out drinking with your buddies, make more friends, get a job, realise you hate the people you work with, get a girlfriend, find out that the girlfriend hates all your friends but loves your work colleagues... and so on until an anthropomorphic duck tells you he's a hammer whilst looking whistfully at a phallic constellation in the sky.

Ideally. That's easily the best bit about Animal Crossing.

What I like about both Kudos and Gibbage is that they are indicative of the independent developer's range, variety and imagination, with which the major publishing houses can rarely compete. It reminds me of the early 8-bit days when the hobbyists were at the forefront, when every new game that wasn't a direct clone of an arcade hit was delivering something new.

That's how I see the indie scene, that's where the passion can be. Guys like Dan Marshall and Cliff Harris making games they believe in, and the quality can often shine through into the finished product. It doesn't stop with those two. There's Si Read, creator of New Star Soccer 3, pretty much the only game out there where you get to live the life of a footballer since the days of Gremlin's Footballer of the Year. There's Introversion making games like Darwinia, or the forthcoming Defcon which allows you to attempt a bit of Global Thermonuclear War without the help of WOPR, and has the genius touch of "office mode" so you can finally nuke the guy from accounts and the boss will be none the wiser. Games built by guys and girls
who've thought, "You know what I'd love to play?" and then gone and fucking built it.

You can only be urged to support them if you like their games. Help them make more.

And help me as well, my blog needs traffic.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tons of Lovely Data

Yup, that's a screenshot. Unfortunately for you, it's just of the editor. Remember what I said earlier about funbots (clearly in a moment of drunken madness, may I add)? The editor is currently the main focus of my work, as it's through the editor's creation that the database structure is defined. But look at the snazzy kit colours! Ooooh!

If The Complete Football Game is to successfully simulate the entire football world, it would need a lot of data. Teams, players, competitions, nations, cities, stadia, league systems, regions, ex players, defunct nations and clubs, currencies, spoken languages, injuries, rivalries and more need to be stored to keep the game ticking along, and with over 250 nations in the game you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a struggle to get them all in.

Yet TCFG's database currently weighs in at a relatively paltry 63MB, uncompressed. The structure is not yet complete - leagues still need to be catered for - and when the game's running it needs a lot of space to store all the fixtures and results that don't get stored in the database, but ultimately TCFG is surprisingly space friendly.

The above screenshot shows the main club edit screen. Now, I dunno if Newry City are that rich in real life, and the layout isn't fantastic, but the editor's more about function than style right now. Each club has two kits, three teams (each with their own stadium if necessary), a maximum of 80 players (which ought to be sufficient), and various other titbits of information. Enough for a club.

Players are even more detailed. Each player in TCFG has his date of birth, nationalities, international record, spoken languages, a rating for each of the 16 positions in the game, his career history, which foot he kicks with, how good his weaker foot is at various tasks - enabling a right footed player to have poor accuracy with his left but still be able to give it a hefty whack - forty-eight attributes and information relating to his overall ability. And on top of that, there's his height, skin colour, hair and beard styles and colour, and even an attribute to let the game know that he changes his appearance more often than Djibril Cisse.

All that - and the database is capable of storing 375,000 players.

Now, that ought to give some insight into how complex the game is, and why it's bloody taking so long.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

How many microbots?

I got up early this morning and rushed off to the post office. The reason? FM Handheld, Sports Interactive's new version of Football Manager for the PSP. Good job too, as I've done nothing all day but play this beast. It's rather good. And it got me thinking.

It got me thinking about structure, which highlights what an interesting life I lead. FM is pretty much a database with some funky bits attached. There's no getting away with it. At its core lies information, and every time you hit that continue button some little microbots get to work whipping that information inside the game to make things happen. Little microbots with different jobs like "transfer AI", "match", and "cheating AI", or so we all think. Not to mention the miniscule robots that can see into the real world to make sure you're superstitiously holding your nose with your big toe whilst singing the first three verses of Sweet Child O' Mine, and woe betide you fall below an octave because you just know that the opposition will score. Yes, those microbots are there too.

So I was thinking about all this, and not smoking anything at all, and wondering what bots are in my game. The Complete Football Game's (still that wondrous working title) main feature is the scope of its world - tons of leagues of all shapes and sizes and cliches. Other than the match engine itself, it is the most important part of the game. Teams get results, results power competitions, little compobots run around moving teams around accordingly. I never imagined it would be so fucking hard. Really, if I had known this at the start I'd have given the game six generic leagues and left it at that. But now I'm close, real close.

Close to the funbots. The competition engine, as I've named it in a bout of ingenuity, isn't too far from completion, and when it's done the game will be able to take results and shape them into something not too dissimilar to reality. At that point, I'll be able to look around the gameworld at all the lovely stuff going on. I can almost smell it, it's that close. And it's just information in the end, the problem was getting the right information.

Then the true fun comes. Well, I say fun, when I really mean stuff that produces instantly visible results. The whole competition structure doesn't produce anything until it's finished, yet it's a year long project so you can see how motivation can drop. Working on something you can't even tell will work for twelve months... man. Soon I'll get those results. It'll work, I'm sure about that. Took long enough. Then the funbots. The transfers, the media, the weather system, the tiny little animated bits on the menu. If I have any of that.

Who knows, I may just die if this damn thing doesn't work in the first place.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Why I'm a bit of an idiot

One thing about trying to develop a very large game is that it's very, very easy to get sidetracked. I could be working away trying to get the interface working when suddenly I find myself thinking about different ways a guy might kick a ball.

This, as you might expect, leads to problems. Leaving one thing to go work on another means nothing gets finished. I had a lovely little target for this Sunday that I was well on course to meet until my little bit of bridge finally met a gaping hole. A gaping hole that I hadn't a clue how to fill.

Normally my musings are carried out anywhere I can be alone. In my bedroom, in the hallway, or in any one of the fifteen trips to the toilet I might take on a regular "working" day to help pass the time a bit quicker. I pace about the room and talk to myself. That's why I'm alone when I do it - it looks fucking stupid but it gets things done. Yet unless I write down everything I say or carry a dictaphone, things get left by the wayside. There's no way of finding out how the hole was supposed to be filled.

About a month ago I decided to take a different approach. I opened up WordPad and started typing, in a style akin to making a presentation but without any unnecessary fluff - explanatory and detailed where necessary. And lots of stupid bold writing, which always comes in useful to make things readable. As it turns out, this was great. No longer did I have to look like Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap when trying to work out the best way to transfer teams between competitions. Nope, I just rattle away. And I can do it at my work desk too. Excellent!

Better still, it meant I could organise my targets a heck of a lot better. Everything I wrote down over those few days has been finished, and works better than any of the other stuff I have. No headaches, no trying to remember what I told myself five days ago - just sitting down and getting on with it. Certainly, I'll be doing this more often as part of my design. I had to learn the hard way, eh?

So that left me today, well short of meeting that target for Sunday (especially given as I can't actually do any work Sunday, meaning I've just got tomorrow to do it) because I've got to fill holes from months ago. Never again. Sweet fuck, never again.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Back again. Time again to do some bloody work and get things back on track. I've done nothing whilst away, mainly due to a lack of time, so it'll take a short while to get back up to speed. Luckily, I've got slightly better at planning my work, so I know exactly where I am and what I'm doing.

One thing I do from time to time is think about other games I'd like to make. I've had this one idea for quite some time - essentially a puzzle platformer in the style of Flashback or Abe's Oddysee, that I'd really like to develop further. I was lying in bed then on Thursday night when I had one of those flashes of creativity, a whirling rush of things I'd like to include in the game, ideas for a story, a theme and so forth. Pity it was 3am and there was no way I was going to fire up the laptop to make notes, and wake people up fumbling around.

So I turned to Animal Crossing on the DS and sent myself a letter detailing the info. Very useful.

But first, TCFG. Then I can worry about puzzly-platformer game. And any of the other games I have in mind.