Devblog—May 23, 2017

Where the hell did this week go?

I swear I was set to get more stuff done. But then, John Oliver said it best, “This past week has been about 150 years in 2017 time.” I’ve been eyes fuckin’ glued to the news in every spare minute—I think my F5 key is about to organize a strike. So much shit going on I feel like I’m off social media for 2 hours and it’s like the world’s straight up passed a day forward. This shit’s unhealthy. Unsustainable. Especially if I want to get a project done.

Real talk, though; I’m getting close to another playtester release. I can feel it in my bones. But with every inch I crawl myself closer, it feels like the murk between myself and release stage gets thicker and thicker. Problems mount. Discrepancies appear. Mistakes pop up.

This is the stage where the project goes from islands of raw creativity made manifest to actually needing bridges built.

If creators are like God, look, any bitch with some sand and lava can make an island; sprinkle it with bacteria and you’ve got yourself a thriving ecosystem in a few billion years. It’s engineers who build bridges, and look, respect to higher powers and all, but God’s only got a scant few of those to His name.

What I’m working on now are the bridges; the critical chunks of storytelling architecture that link these islands that I’ve built together, and that is hard. It’s harder than mashing a bunch of walls and floors and props together like, “I LEIK DIS RUME.” This is no insult to people who do those things, and do them well. Working with raw creativity is its own beast, and it’s one that I’m (at this point) a bit more familiar with. Dare I say, even gettin’ kinda good at. But a bridge is more than just architecture. It can’t just look pretty; it has to bear weight. And it can’t just bear weight, because I’m an egotistical bastard—it’s gotta look pretty.

Maybe that’s too much to ask.

Here’s my philosophy on creativity:

Everyone has great ideas.

You have great ideas. I have great ideas. That crazy guy on the forum writing headcanon fan fiction and only posting “wouldn’t it be cool if…”? He’s got great ideas, too. But these ideas are like pictures. And man, if we were all kickass painters, there wouldn’t be a need for video games or novels. But here we are, and where the creativity, the actual craft of storytelling comes in, is how we connect our great ideas together.

There’s a writer (I think it’s either Ernest Cline or Andy Weir) who said that they didn’t feel like they were a particularly great writer—they’re just the one who got the novel done.

If you’ve ever written anything—a novel, a game, whatever…anything with a cohesive Point A to Point B narrative, you’ve surely encountered the problem that you’ve got this cool thing over here, and this cool thing over there…and you’ve got no fucking clue how to get from here to there. That’s where I would wager 90% of projects that get started, stop.

That’s not counting the projects that never leave headspace.

That’s where SR: New Orleans is at.

It feels like every sentence I write, every line of script I put in, the gelatinous goo of potential thickens closer and closer to cement. The harder I work, the harder the work gets, and it feels like the me working today is fighting the me who was working two, three, four weeks ago.

I’m trying to make this not sound like an excuse. I’m trying to communicate this to anyone else who dares something as dumb as this is. I get it now. This shit gets hard. This is where the work begins. This is where I decide if this project gets done or not.

And I’m not giving up yet.

PLAYERHOME

  • Added an “Automated Domestic Assistant”, aka HelperBot to the game. Their purpose, essentially, is to do what Paul Amsel did in Dragonfall: instruct the player on where to go between the prologue and the first run. This is a bit more complicated because I’m giving the player the illusion of control; rather than having an authority figure or expert say, “Go here, do this,” the player is the expert, and thusly, I have to build the conversation such a way that the character serves as something more like the sounding board and it’s the player character who rattles off ideas. Don’t ask my why I made this more complicated than it has to be.x3s41y1
    • At the moment, the HelperBot’s “tone” is all over the place. As I add more dialogue for them, hopefully I’ll get a clearer vision in my head as to what their attitude towards the player character is, and what sort of speech patterns they have. For now, let’s assume most dialogue is placeholder except in function.
    • In just talking with playtesters and sharing screenshots of existing dialogue, there are already dramatic changes for HelperBot in the works (see below).
  • Added an email that should hopefully get the player at least started on their search for Greyvein. Though I’d really still like to get them over to the vendor areas first. Fortunately, a bunch of that dialogue’s already written. I just haven’t devised the actual hub exterior yet.

HIGHTOWER

  • I changed a few lines of Cain’s dialogue so it’s him and not HelperBot compiling data about Greyvein. Because it’s weird that he’d send the player character on a mission and be like, “Well, have fun storming the castle!” I also took out the line for now of liquidating the player’s assets.
    • Look, I still don’t know how the playerhome is going to mix with the vendors hub. Right now, I know I’m in a rough spot. I don’t know what’s going to work, and how it’s going to manifest. There’s going to be a lot of finagling in the coming weeks as I figure out where what information is coming from. Let’s just leave it at that.

To do:

I’ve gotta figure out how the variable $scene.numUnreadMessages works. As in, how the game adds emails to the mission computer on every individual hub load without re-loading and adding to this variable. It’s a really wonky variable that I’m sure has a lot of stuff going on under the hood, but the Mission Computer is critically tied to it. It breaks a lot of things when it doesn’t work right. That’s going to be the major puzzle of this week.

Already, in just talking with playtesters, new options for HelperBot have come up. So what you see above…that’s all placeholder. And by the time you read this, hopefully I’ll be on second draft of writing HelperBot’s dialogue. I’m actually super excited, because it solves a lot of the problems I was having with the iffiness of this scene.

I’m starting to think of the scene immediately after Vitacorp…or, not scene. Call it a “wrap up vignette.” It’s just as essential, if not moreso, than the actual shadowrun itself, and will be a critical part of this phase 1 rollout. I don’t want to start building the dialogue yet because it’s a bit reliant on what goes on between Hightower and Vitacorp, but I’m thinkin’.

We are setting the stage for greatness, y’all. Here’s some city beats. Hear it!

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Devblog—Mar 21, 2017

I took a little more time off of working on this than I’d intended, and so I wound up coming close to Tuesday with very little to show for it. In all honesty, I’ve gotten to a point where I have to start making a bit more difficult decisions—storytelling events I hadn’t considered or planned for, or said “I’ll figure it out when I get there.” Well, now I’m “there”.

So, I set some more realistic short-term goals shoring up a few of the maps currently in-design. When the big distance looks too great to cross, best to measure progress in steps one can achieve.

General

  • Made character sheet templates for Lv 1 crewmates Kate (Salem) and her videographer/decker, Ben (Boot). More on Boot later. They’ll be joining the player on the Vitacorp run, so for testing purposes, it’s important that they have sheets.

Playerhome

  • Several variations of the garage now exist, and I’m happy with how they look. I haven’t gone through the tedium of tagging everything and then seeing if the tags work; once they do, I’m going to do very little further changes because of the pain that’ll come with that, so I want to be as done as possible before actually testing the prop spawns for different classes.

As you can see, the Adept-based room is the least-developed of all of them. And I might just leave it that way; sort of a monastic, spartan dealio perhaps. But it still needs lights, and maybe a few of the rooms need some grunge, then it’s just a matter of tagging the props in each room, overlaying them over the main garage room, setting the trigger so only the right props appear, and we should have a totally variable garage built around the player’s archetype (or dominant stat). Same trigger pattern that decides starting equipment, basically.

  • I resized a few of the other rooms and added some inspection interactions for various items.

I’m now pretty well confident that the abode itself is almost work-ready, meaning it can be added into another map or serve as the base for a larger map of its own when the time arrives. It doesn’t have any dialogues, and if it winds up being where I place the mission computer (like I want), then that’s a whole ugly mess of dialogue and functionality that hasn’t been written yet.

Vitacorp

  • I put some stuff in the two side rooms I’d ignored and actually connected a farther hallway to an earlier side room. They’re now a sort of lounge, and a storage area, respectively.

This next week is going to be largely focused on Vitacorp and finishing up the Player’s abode. If I can make Vitacorp a testable run and get it functioning start to finish, all it’ll take then is connecting what I’ve finished so far to the hub and the hub to Vitacorp and I’ll have Episode 1 ready to go. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, the hub is an immense project that’s going to take a great deal of time and effort, and I’m still not sure what of what I’ve designed I’m actually going to use.

The Vitacorp scene itself has a similar problem in that, now I have this map and I don’t know what to do with it. I mentioned last week that I’m starting to figure out what parts of the design aspect I enjoy, and what still feels like work. Right now, architecture feels fun to me; when I get bored or overwhelmed on my current focus, I’ll open up a new map and just start building for funsies. Actual level/gameplay design is a new thing for me, and in lacking experience, I sometimes stare at the screen for minutes on end just trying to figure out what I should do, or what I even can do.

Since this is a small update, I’ll write a bit about design tricks!

I watched Adam Savage’s One Day Nerf Sniper build recently. In it, he talks about the beauty of weathering—how, essentially, the thing he’s working on becomes “real” when it’s given weathering effects. I’ve had a bit of similar experience with this in the shadowrun editor insomuch as some props are just glaringly bad when placed in a sterile room. The one that really gets me is the basic secretlab crate—a nondescript cubic blue-grey box that’s literally just there to provide cover and fill space.

I’d used a lot of different crate assets in the Rig, which was my first ever real editor build, and each time I put one down on a clean floor, it bugged me. It looked out of place, like the lighting on it was wonky somehow. After multiple builds now, it occurred to me that the magic of the editor comes in its weathering effects. By typing the word “grunge” into the asset library filter, you get a host of ground and wall effects that are just…shit. Dirt, rust, general funk…weathering. By placing some of these effects on a floor, all of a sudden the tile-repeat texture effect vanishes. It’s like fuckin’ magic. Spaces suddenly feel real, lived in. Even more than debris and trash piles, somehow the “grunge” effect just really puts the finishing touches on any room that feels like it’s “lacking character.” As Adam would say, it’s not finished until it’s weathered, and it’s good to know that I found something in the editor that can help create that effect.

Devblog—March 14, 2017

 It’s starting to feel like work now

With Version 0.1 now actually being played by people outside of a test scene setting, I’ve begun to get feedback, and feedback means tweaks and adjustments. This is good, but I’m discovering what parts of the process I really enjoy, and what parts of the process feel like work.

Version 0.11—Changelog

  • I tweaked the final combat sequence in the prologue. As it was, I was using copy&paste fire spirits, which have 242 spent karma. That’s obviously far too powerful for a chargen player; even though the combat is meant to be avoided, there are better ways of conveying this, and the risk of the player getting one-shot was simply too high. So I made a new character sheet for the fire spirits closer to 100 spent karma, and a bunch of it is in useless stats for them like Intelligence (holdovers from the C&P sheet), so realistically they’re probably closer to 60-70 spent karma. This, along with some AI tweaks, should keep players from getting nuked down in a single turn. If it’s still too tough, I already know what further tweaks I’ll make, so it’s just a matter of getting fresh players on it.
  • Moved Penny the secretary in the hightower map a bit over and switched her to a seated stance. Took a few tries to get the chair to line up beneath her just right but I think I got it. May have to change the chair, though. It’s kinda ugly.
  • Added 5+ rooms on what I’m calling the “Vitacorp” map (see details below) and am now assuming it to be the shadowrun for episode 1.
  • Built two new vendor hovels. One is a gun shop designed for ye olde generic street samurai armaments. I f***ing love this room. The stairs lead to an upstairs attic area where an elf monk named Kanon Kai resides. She’ll sell adept wares.
  • I built another bar room, mostly out of idle boredom, but also in the case that my current bar design proves too large to integrate into the hub. This one’s supposed to at least maintain the appearance of some swank (hardwood floors!). The upstairs, where the real fun happens, hasn’t been designed yet.
  • Began work on what may become the player’s abode (see below). As of now, it’s 4-5 rooms, mostly done. It’s a pretty small map. If I’m going to do a NOLA LTG hub like in Mercurial, I should have the space and memory to attach it to here, so that’s what I’m gonna do.

Vitacorp

A few weeks back, I mentioned getting bored/burned out with doing things to get 0.1 ready and started making a new map. I based it largely off the few rooms we get to see of the Jita Corp office in the game Dreamfall: the Longest Journey.

Originally, I’d planned for this to be an Act 2 shadowrun to be released with Episode 2, the plot revolving around a sort of opposite experience to the Ares run in Hong Kong: Team Shadowrunner arrives on the scene after another group of Shadowrunners and has to catch up to them while fighting off the quick-response teams arriving elsewhere in response to the first shadowrunners being there. I might still utilize that plot at some point, but with some minor tweaks, this could easily be how the player encounters the shadowrunners they are pursuing in the meta-story, making this akin to the Drogenkippe run from Dragonfall.

The “point” is to fill the hallways with a bunch of corpses, bulletholes, burn marks, and blood stains, and let the player see the “wake” of a shadowrun.

I still have some rooms I don’t know what I’m going to put in them, but I ripped a bit from some other games and am kind of hashing together a frankenrun off of a hodgepodge of stuff from Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, and elsewhere.

Eventually, I’ll hope to have some kind of cohesive narrative, as well as a better name for this corp than “Vitacorp” and at least some idea as to what they actually do, though if this equipment is any indication, it can’t be good. The double-edged sword that comes with a light-content setting is that I can make up stuff as I go, but like with all fiction, it has to make sense. So, I’m taking applications for A-rated “megacorp” or conglomerate names!

Player’s Abode

Rather than use the normal safehouse option, one idea I’ve been tossing around is that the player has their own abode. In the current writing of the script, it gets taken from them as a security precaution when they go deep undercover, but I don’t really see a reason for this. Instead, what I may do is design an abode that serves as the safehouse where they can go to the hub or to the New Orleans Matrix LTG. In other words, their abode is where the player will accept contracts, diddle on Shadowlands, and do all of the normal safehouse-y things except for interact with the rest of the crew, and there’s a reason for that.

I don’t normally make a habit of talking about things I intend to do, but one thing I’m hoping to try out with this map is to give the player a “personal” room; one tied to their history before becoming a shadowrunner, as decided by the archetype they choose at character generation (or skills, in the case of “none”; same way initial gear is given to the player in Hong Kong). By tagging sets of props and attaching them to the player’s archetype, I can hide or reveal a “series” of props along a theme. Say the player is a mage, this “personal room” will be full of arcane accoutrement. Say they’re a rigger, maybe there’s a vehicle and some drone bodies off to the side instead. This gives the player a sense of agency, that not only do their choices matter, but their identity matters. And this is a story about identities; masks. So I think, if it works, it’ll be really fun.