Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The match engine has been put on hold for now, every time I approached it I just got some sort of block. I think the problem is that the animation is utterly woeful, yet in order for the game to feel right it needs to have these frames of animation in place. Things like dragging the ball when turning, swinging to connect with shots and so forth. Given that the rest of the game still has plenty of work to do, it makes no sense to keep running up against a brick wall and I certainly can't afford to draft in someone else to get those animation frames done for me. I'll focus efforts elsewhere and return later with a clearer head.

The first thing I've done is refactor the game's interface to an effective resolution of 800x600. As mentioned in earlier posts, I went with a larger resolution so that I had more room, more detail, and so that in windowed mode it didn't look like playing on a postage stamp. However, a few things since then have made me rethink the decision. The main one is my laptop, which has an SiS graphics card that has caused me a few headaches. Higher resolutions put more strain on the damn thing, producing frame rates that were satisfactory today but not something I could guarantee would be the case further down the line. For as long as these things exist, it makes sense to cater for them.

But why do I need more room in the first place? I'm not looking to create a stat-heavy game on the outside, I want things to be clean and attractive without looking like a spreadsheet. 800x600 gives more than enough space to produce the game - in the past I developed a management title on a 320x200 resolution CPC6128 and it still included everything I needed. By restricting the space I just need to come up with better ways of conveying the data than throwing text around the screen, which is precisely what I want to do anyway.

Leading me to the second problem - detail. I'm no artist, and with the match engine I already made the decision that higher resolutions will simply show more of the pitch rather than the existing viewpoint with more clarity. The same principles can largely be applied here - less resolution means a greater margin of error. That's not to say I'll be making a half-hearted effort or even relying on my own dodgy art if I can't get it up to scratch - absolutely not. I'll be striving to make the game look good. Lower resolutions keep the download size down as well, which might be nice given the database size.

As for the windowed mode, well, my GUI is fairly powerful as it is, but more tweaking should allow me to display it in any screen resolution simply by adjusting the OpenGL or DirectX properties accordingly. As a result, you could play in a 1024x768 window if you like. It won't even have to be all scaled if I've got my numbers right, as it should be possible to get the GUI system to adjust the locations of gadgets if you choose any other resolution. All the different resolutions will be supported in order to get the game looking right on LCD monitors, but the only difference will be some things look sharper.

In slightly related news I've spent a lot of time in the last week (when I wasn't lying around in frustration with the match engine) playing LMA Manager 2006 for the Xbox, which I managed to get for about six quid. I'd be lying if I didn't say that the game's attractive appearance on my telly wasn't a major motivating factor in the switch down to 800x600, they've done a wonderful job there. But there are other aspects which, whilst traditionalists may scorn upon them, have an awful lot to say in how much I'm enjoying the game. The stadium building aspect is like toying with Lego, and that's always fun. You can browse every team in the game and have a look at their stadium, most of which appear to be reasonably authentic. Sure, they're not the incredibly detailed representations that surround the pitches of FIFA 07, but where EA's effort has 51, LMA's number in the thousands, especially when you include your own concoctions.

It adds nothing whatsoever to the management aspect itself (where the game does reveal itself to be very shallow in comparison to the main PC efforts), but does an awful lot for atmosphere, and personally I find it a motivator. I'm managing East Stirlingshire, there's no North Stand, just a brick wall behind the goal and every match day I can plainly see that there aren't many fans there. We averaged about 430 in our first season where we nabbed promotion against all the odds but with a capacity of 1,880 there's no need to take any of the investors up on their offer, we're good for another while. Eventually though, we'll need to expand. When Firs Park has a 60,000 capacity stadium and every game it's packed to its fullest with drunken Falkirkians, I'll know we've made the big time. As big as time gets in Scotland anyway.

Stuff like that interests me in a game, because it stops your mind from wandering. There's no questioning the accuracy and depth of Football Manager's simulation but text screen after text screen can grind a man down, and blobs engaging in an entertaining game of football makes it all feel somewhat sterile. It's a game that needs a technological advance or two to really start getting the blood pumping from day one, rather than requiring several game-seasons of play to really sink in. Playability is most certainly everything, but every now and then you need the visuals. You need to treat yourself.

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