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—April 18, 2017

Hit my first major bout of burnout.

Happens so suddenly. First you’re working, then you’re not, and it’s like everything your brain can do to not do the thing you want it to do. I sometimes feel like being a producer in this day and age is a lot more difficult with all of these immediate distractions. When you’ve got Reddit, Facebook, and Steam, I marvel that things even still manage to get done on people’s spare time. But they do, and so it’s time to get back at it.

VITACORP

  • Vitacorp officially functions from start to finish. As with the prologue run, it’s not pretty necessarily, but it functions. I had a lot of problems with a few triggers that broke when I changed a goal name but everything seems to check out.
  • Plugged in the final combat. It’s a trigger-laden mess that’s going to require severe playtesting with both decker and non-decker PCs.
  • Added one final “room” which is just a streetcar for a short getaway conversation.
  • Added a few dialogue options to some older dialogues. Because you can’t have too many extra dialogue options.

At this point, it’d be more helpful probably to talk about what I still need to accomplish, and how I plan on going about it.

  • I need to fix animations in the standoff vignette. I think I’m just going to teleport Kate and Ben to their respective positions at the start of the dialogue; the other option would be to steal them from player control and run them into place, but I think teleporting will work cleanly enough. The option to KO the elf may have to come in the form of a conversation end animation that launches into a new conversation. I’m going to take a look at the conversation in HK where Strangler Bao offs the captured cop to see how they pulled that off and see if I can steal anything from there.
  • I have a second High Threat Response Team waiting in an offstage closet. I need to check with playtesters to see if additional combat is warranted. Right now, I’m beating the final combat pretty handily with a 100 karma PC, but the players won’t have 100 karma; so I’ll want to check with some playtesters to see if more combat feels good or feels like it’s dragging out the end of the mission.
  • I need to add some effects to the streetcar so it feels like a streetcar. Just requires some FX testing, I think.

After that, it comes down to finishing up the player home and devising the hub. Sadly, I’m coming to the conclusion that the hub that I’ve been working on won’t work for the story I’m trying to tell. At least, it won’t feel New Orleans-y. This is not entirely unexpected; I was just playing around, largely, with exterior map assets and didn’t know what I was making. In fact, I based it off a much larger fictional cyberpunk city. But as it stands, I right now do not have a hub designed, and that needs to change, pronto.

For the playerhome, most of the architecture’s done. I need to go through and tag all of the props then create the trigger set that will build the garage around the character’s skillset upon first load, then start working on the mission computer and all the conversations therein; in these early builds, the mission computer will be my way of circumnavigating not having a hub for playtesters. So that’s pretty important to get up and running ASAP.

DevBlog—Mar 28, 2017

After last week’s slump, I really kicked it into high gear.

That said, there’ll be no new version for this week; not enough stuff connected to what’s already published to warrant a re-publish.

PROLOGUE

  • I’d been having a problem with Jae-Soon (the decker) turning to face the character for the dialogue, when, being jacked in, he should probably remain still. Turns out, after a bunch of fretting, there’s a check box that says “Turn to face character” when you set a character to have a dialogue interaction. I knew it was there. I thought it was unchecked. Now it is unchecked. So that’s fixed.

VITACORP

  • Added Matrix nodes with respective triggers for Vitacorp. This is a test-run of a larger concept I want to use throughout SR:New Orleans. The concept is largely translated from the game Hacknet_. Of course, being in SR:R’s system means the full concept can’t be ported over (plz don’t sue me, Surprise Attack). The short version is that the player chooses to unlock different Ports through various means (using HK’s Matrix rather than a straight interface as in Hacknet_), and when the threshold of Ports unlocked has been met, they gain admin access and all of the things that normally go with it.

After seeing a lot of feedback on HK Matrix design, I wanted to go with something that would let Deckers be able to specialize in different areas and choose how they break into the respective system. With SR:NOLA, if a player never wants to dodge Watcher IC, for example, they don’t have to.

  • As the PC and crew are on the heels of another shadowrunner team, Vitacorp’s Matrix defenses have already been compromised, meaning there’s an in-game reason for this run’s challenge to be easier than later ones, giving players a sort of “trial run” to see how it’ll go. In fact, in the current build, with ESP Control 1 (which their NPC Decker has), they don’t even have to do any Matrix combat.
  • The ability to vary available ports and corresponding nodes that comes with it actually allows me or other designers to create sub-puzzles for the Matrix, which means this concept actually serves as a framework for myself or others in later runs. This initial setup is a ton of work, but the payoff will be that a lot of these triggers/functions can be copy-pasted over for later runs.
  • Added a 4-drone combat encounter in the turbine room, and scattered/fixed props in the room for cover. It’s a relatively easy encounter, and necessary to point out that Kate has the Stunbolt spell for an optional vignette later. Pop Kate on a ley line and watch her go to town.
  • Added a 4-NPC merc encounter at the lab elevator. This one’s a bit more difficult, and may need some tweaking depending on what my playtesters find. I might at least add a dragon line or summoning point because right now my mage-y folks aren’t seeing a lot of love in that room.
  • Finished up the scene’s opening dialogue between Kate, Ben (see below), and the PC, adding a boolean option for some dialogue shifts throughout the scene depending on how warmly the player receives the tagalongs.
  • Added a confrontation scene between the crew and a pair of unfortunate businessmen, one of whom being a jumpy elf with a gun. This is one rat’s nest of a conversation tree with several different variations on outcome, including getting the gun, not getting the gun, knocking out the elf, killing both the businessmen, talking them down, and so on. Some of the animations still need work.
  • General prop additions to existing rooms. Too many to effectively list.
  • Added some payroll-security in a side lounge. And man do they have some fun dialogue.
  • Added a wounded NPC for interrogation purposes. She has the alternative method to grabbing the Manager’s ID for folks who have an allergic reaction to all things Matrix, though she is placed such that actually getting the item before it’s necessary is kind of difficult.

Vitacorp now looks like an actual scene. And it ain’t even done yet. I always kind of dreaded looking at my scenes and comparing them to HBS scenes because they feel so bare-bones; so many fewer interactable props, so many fewer regions, but now I’m looking at my first actual run and it feels right. I’ve got Matrix, I’ve got vignettes, I’ve got dialogue (and it flows!). It’s just a real confidence booster to look at this stuff and think, “Hell yeah. Now we’re cookin’ with gas.”

Meet Ben Jameson, aka “Boot”

Ben’s the crew decker for SR: New Orleans. Personality-wise, he’s Kate’s foil: where she is an impulsive spitfire, he’s the guy who just wants to go home (or rather, to the bar) and “wait for this all to blow over.” He’s Kate’s Matrix/camera tech for her online journalism, and also her friend.

In combat, Ben’s a crack shot with the pistol, a weapon he favors because of its concealability, and a decent medic, which places him in a funky middle ground between Monika, Glory, and Blitz. A PC decker will likely outshine him in damage, but if lacking their own Decking ability, Ben’s a fine addition for mid-range DPS and utility. Likely, when I get into building crew advancement, Ben’s tracks may go down either boosting his Decking on one track and healing/ranged abilities on the other.

I’m considering switching Boot over Assault Rifle, because that’s a very plain way to have him as hybrid-DPS. That way, if the player’s a Decker, they might still bring him along, or at least not feel bad for doing so, because AR’s are great even in the HK engine. It doesn’t feel as good story-wise, but hey, Monika was AR/decker, so it’s not like it’s out of the question. But she was an actual cyberpunk, whereas Ben is…not.

The other option is to give him Glory’s machine-pistol so he can pump out burst fire attacks, and later get some better abilities in that field. I like that idea better, but the AR is still on the table.

FUTURE PLANS

My goal (short term) is to finish up the Vitacorp run and the player home and make those available for playtesters by next Tuesday; after that, the rest goes into the hub before and after the Vitacorp run, and I should be happy with the amount of content enough to release Episode 1. I’ll just throw in some cheat options for playtesters to be able to move from scene to scene and at least get the framework established in the absence of a hub for now.

In order to get Vitacorp finished, mostly I need to design the final floor and decide how I actually want to end the scene, where I’ll introduce the final essential crew members. Other than that, the standoff vignette needs a bit of work with its animations, I spotted a few typos on my last test that I’ll want to correct, and I want to add one or two more conversation options for the player where right now there’s only a single track. With regard to the confrontation, I suspect what I’m going to have to do is assign a few variables and end the conversation mid-way to let some physical acting happen and re-pick the conversation up with variables to direct the flow. That’s just a bit larger a project and, I mean, if you look at all the stuff I did up there, you can see why I put it off for later. I’m very much a “get something down, fix/smooth it in later passes later” kind of worker now. And I like the results.

As far as the ending goes, I’m in a bit of a creative bind.

Right now, I’m trying to avoid a rescue situation. I hate the idea of the plucky heroes swooping in right on time. These are Shadowrunners we’re talking about, not damsels. I also don’t want to do the exact opposite, which would be something closer to Megaman X where you walk up to the room outside Vile, hear a bunch of combat in the next room over, and pop in…only in this case it’d be the Shadowrunners around a bunch of corpses, because that overshadows the PC with NPC coolness.

I need to make a creative decision, and I don’t know which way to go.

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—Feb 28, 2017

First of all, HAPPY MARDI GRAS

Kind of a big deal down here, so I’m glad I write these ahead of time. If all goes well, I won’t know who or where I am by the end of tomorrow. I would like to do something parade-ish for Shadowrun: New Orleans, something like the Final Fantasy VIII assassination, but man…scripting that out would be a goddamn nightmare.

Still. Ambitions.

I thought I was at Proof-of-Concept stage. I was wrong.

  • I finally began working with combats and more complex triggers. After getting frustrated at the finicky-ness of the Hong Kong editor, I finally managed to push through and get some real work done.
  • The game is now functional through the first combat. Also, I added some combat. There are currently two sequences, with plans for a gauntlet-style third to wrap up the prologue.
  • I fleshed out the dialogue in the prologue as well as added a new NPC just to vomit some more exposition at the character.
  • One of the guys at Shadowrun Identity made this custom loading screen for me; here’s what it looks like with the (current) prologue chapter loading text.
  • I began work on a new map. Don’t know if it’ll turn into anything, but I just enjoy architecture so I made stuff.

This is starting to look like a real project!

My goal for…probably next Tuesday, is to be able to link the prologue and the recruitment chapters together. This may take more time than I think, but if I can get up to that point, I’ll basically be at where “How We Live, How We Die” is at. And while I made fun of that UGC for being short, only now am I beginning to realize how much work actually goes into these things. Originally I wanted “Episode 1” ready to go, or at least in editing/playtesting phase, by end of March. I’m still wary about being able to make it there, depending on where I cut off Episode 1.

The good news is, while I’m sometimes a bit scattered, everything I’ve done seems to be largely able to be built off of. Meaning it’d be very unexpected for me to take a map or a scene and go, “AW FUCK IT” and toss it in the trash. This last map I worked on because I was kinda burnt out doing stuff I should be doing may be the first one, but it’s so fun I think so far that I’ll try to keep it if at all possible.

That’s it for this devlog. It feels like not a lot got done, in terms of reporting in, but this feels like a profound turning point in the development of this UGC. I feel far more confident with the editor than I ever have before. I wouldn’t dare declare “mastery” (if such a thing is even possible), but I like to think I’m doing all right.

Devblog—Feb 21, 2017

Last week, I talked a bit about thinking about the hub. So, I began building one.

The concept is fairly simple: a 3 “tier” superstructure which the player will bounce around and hit some further exterior sites like the railcar line that will take them to shadowruns, the bar that will serve as the safehouse, vendors, so on, and etcetera. So this week’s notes will be a little scarce, as most if not all of my efforts for the last 7 days have revolved around getting over my fear of exterior maps and working on this hub.

  • Built a “plaza” superstructure that serves an unknown function, but looks pretty. Still needs to be populated with ambient actors and other microstructure (vending machines, clutter, etc) but I like how it begins.
  • Built an “upper tier” area beginning that has a cool overlook. Will definitely use this for a dialogue at some point. It’s just too cool a view to not (though I have to change the fencing).
  • Built the rail car station. New Orleans is known for its streetcar lines (surely you’ve heard of the fictional “Streetcar Named Desire”). Hypothetically, in a cyberpunk future New Orleans, streetcars will be replaced by rail cars with larger capacity and faster function. As of right now, the rail car station is attached to an exterior map, but as work on that continues, that chunk may get relegated to a camera teleport, very similar to the HBS games; Subway ambience works better when it’s in a camera region, and going from exterior to interior almost always requires a transition to move smoothly.
  • Began work on the “street level” chunk of hub, which eventually will attach to the plaza, above. Shamelessly, I’m just stealing Berlin assets and rearranging them. However, the kickass thing I just did is make a facade. If you take a look at any pictures of New Orleans, you’ll see that buildings particularly in the French Quarter, but also in Treme and the Marigny, have these balconies held up by poles. I was able to achieve a similar effect in the Shadowrun editor.
  • Added Shadowrun Identity’s neon signs mod to the content pack’s dependencies, joining Geeked HK. This should allow me to absolutely overburden urban areas with sickening amounts of neon. I took a gander through the assets and have a few ideas about what to use, but haven’t directly implemented anything yet.

The big challenge theme of this week was dealing with sub z-level illusions.

As with everything in the Shadowrun: New Orleans build 0.x, a lot of what I’m doing is just experimenting. Doodling, basically, if such a thing exists in the Unity engine. And as always, I’m playing around with 3D effects and really pushing the system to its limits. Without the pressure of time, I can play around a lot more with some of these illusions, which means I uncover challenges and force myself to adapt.

In the Shadowrun editor, it’s technically y-level, but I come from Dwarf Fortress, so a horizontal plane will always be a “z-level” to me. I was using a sub-z-level wall asset from the Factory tileset, which can stack and make big, grand walls or pillars for illusions that go beneath the level that the actors are standing on. I used this in the original Rig concepts to make the big giant pillars that go down to sea level.

However, what I discovered is that these specific wall assets still function as walls on their footprint when it comes to breaking line of sight and blocking movement. In other words, while they looked like they were beneath the player or beneath the ground, they still stopped them from crossing bridges or seeing on the far side of them as though they were at the actor’s eye level.

As a result, I had to delete or move…basically all of them, and trade them out with Kowloon Walled City sub z-level assets, which do not break line of sight. This is a relatively minor and yet massively profound change. The KWC assets look like sides of buildings, sure. But they look like slums. And on the higher tiers, I don’t want it to look like slums, so I have to mask the assets with pipes and panels and other decor. Which is fine. I’m up to the challenge, but it is still a challenge for the time being, and it will eat time when the time comes to send the maps to “art”…which would also be me.

Let’s talk about plans for the future.

Obviously, this week is probably going to go into continuing work on the hub. My big dread fear is that my ambitions for once outstrip the capabilities of the engine, meaning I’ll try to build too much, too big, and push either the engine’s CPU or memory limits into the red. I mean, I want to add Rio’s hovel to this map, the bar I’ve been working on in the other screen. And considering the actors, dialogue, ambient actor patrol paths that I had set up in those locals, I’m just not sure it’s all possible, and I’ll probably have to make concessions somewhere at some point. I’m endeavoring to reuse assets wherever possible, but I fear as I begin to add actors that this will become a serious problem I’ll have to negotiate, and there just isn’t a rulebook to help me out.

I’ve at least got a checklist to work on. I know I need vendors with their own spaces, and I kind of have ideas for the ones I haven’t yet designed. So I have dreams and desires, which aren’t quite the same as a roadmap. But I’m committed to nonzero days, and that really helps.

Devblog—14 Feb 2017

Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. I finally remembered (or realized) that I can open other content packs. Namely, the Hong Kong ones.

Yes, I’m an idiot sometimes. You can be too, I’m sure, so shush. But now that I’m going back and looking at how HBS set up their variables and conversations, this opens up all new paths to me. I’m not going to say it’s brilliant because, hey, they got paid to figure this shit out and had teams and training and probably an education, and here I am, a snot-nosed writer crapping this thing out between bouts of shifty employment and coughing fits. This is a gold mine of potential for me. Writing, I can do. Editing, I can do even better. Scripting, on the other hand…I’m like a pimply virgin at a titty bar. Everything’s new and exciting and I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing but I’m trying and at the same time I’m sure there’s a hundred more efficient ways to go about it.

Anyways, on to progress report.

  • I’ve found that by maximizing the editor and undocking the scene data menu while working with it, I can greatly increase the editor’s stability. This is a huge deal, working on a Mac. There are still some things that will unquestionably crash the editor (trying to write inspection text is the big one) that I’ll probably need to still find a workaround for, but still, this adds significantly better functionality.
  • I created a new sub-environment, and with it, a new character. It’s only two rooms and a hallways, but I’m quite happy with how they turned out, minus lighting, and I’ll just never be happy with lighting, I’m afraid.

It won’t be a full environment on its own; just a side-room kind of area off the hub map, whatever that turns out to be. Like Club 88 for Hong Kong…only smaller, with just enough room for the tech vendor and maybe one other NPC.

  • Work on the bar has stalled, though I’ve made major progress from what it looked like a week ago.
    • I scripted a cute little “tripwire” for a holographic “clothing advisory warning” that “blocks” the way from the front bar to the seedier dance club in the back. When the player runs through the hologram, it sort of crackles and fizzles. It’s not the best set of vfx, but it’s what I’ve got to work with and I like it.
  • I’m trying to mix interior and exterior environments, which I understand that one shouldn’t do, but until I beat my head against this brick wall a little longer, I’m still gonna try it. I think there’s a clear enough transition point, but I may want a playtester or two as the map gets closer to fruition just to make sure others see what I see and I’m not just seeing what I want to see. Illusion is everything in this system. But the human brain—imagination—must do a lot of the work.
  • I’m very likely absolutely going to have to rework dialogues for Cain’s secretary and Thibaut. And probably Cain. This wasn’t an unforeseen probability. Discovering how HBS does dialogue opened new paths to dialogue routing I hadn’t considered before. The good news is that I don’t have to rewrite the dialogue so much as reformat it. A lot of cutting and pasting, then running it through tests. Tests, tests, more tests.

In other news, I spilled my first cup of coffee on collected notes. I keep my laptop elevated so it wasn’t at risk of shorting. But now my notes are all coffee-stained. Like a true writer!

So, the new character’s name is Rio. He’s a dwarf, a tech vendor , and one of the first people the Runner will have contact with after beginning their first major “meta” quest. Rio runs something like a “secondhand tech shop” for people who know where to find him.

Story/dialogue-wise, Rio offers something of a mixture between Maximum Law and Maliit Holyey. Being one of the few characters that knows of the Runner’s law enforcement affiliation, he’ll serve as a link back to the Runner’s “other life.” His name is drawn from the Naval Officer position…think Goose, from Top Gun. This is a character who’s supposed to be confidante to the player character, more than just a tech vendor. Of course, the player has every choice beyond perhaps the first one to interact with them or not, but they should have some rich exposition to drop on the player.

Let’s talk about future plans.

As I continue to work on the story (and steal ideas from other, better stories), I keep revisiting the idea of giving the player an abode. As in, their own place, personal. The player character hasn’t had a true private space in a HBS game since Shadowrun: Returns. Originally, I’d planned to have Cain liquidate their assets and put them in blind trust during their time in 101, forcing them to find a flophouse somewhere in the Quarter (or wherever I decided the hub to be).

But the more I think about it, the more I think a personal abode in somewhere like Algiers could be incredibly useful in multiple areas of the story. It gives me a place to throw the player character between the prologue and meeting Cain. It also illustrates the life of a mid-class citizen compared to the gutter.

I am trying to figure out where I want the hub to be, and what I want it to be. Dragonfall and Hong Kong both used fictional neighborhoods. I may decide to do the same, because replication of something like the French Quarter in the HBS engine would be a Herculean task, but creating a place like the Kreuzbasar or Heoi and fitting “New Orleans” into it with actors, ambience, and atmosphere, should be a lot simpler. More on that next week, I hope.

Stay frosty, friends.

Devblog—7 Feb 2017

I added a character named Thibaut to the Hightower map, mostly to give me practice on creating secondary goals, working on the fine art of branching dialogue paths, how to open up a conversation to a branching Q&A session and what to do if at any point the player walks away and then wants to come back and ask questions again, and stuff like that.

I think I wound up making a lot more work for myself, as the entire dialogue path start to finish took roughly 6 hours. In an office environment, working 8-hour days, this might not be a problem. But if I’m only putting 1-2 hours into this project a day, that’s simply unacceptable.

Thibaut’s a fun character. He’s a cajun drone mechanic for the New Orleans Police Service, one of hopefully a few characters that will utilize the traditional N’awlins greeting of “Where y’at?” At one point, I thought people were pulling my leg and that New Orleanders didn’t really say that, until I wound up wandering the city one weird day with a concierge friend of mine and that’s precisely how he greeted others and was in turn greeted by them.

Fun fact, I studied accents in college. I like to think I’m pretty good at them…at least, the ones I studied. Creole, Cajun, and Creole-Cajun (all different accents) I did not study and am in fact terrible at.

Thibaut’s working on a security drone called Tyke, who has a sort of Superintendent (Halo:ODST) speech pattern, but his auxiliary logic core is overheating and so he rarely says the right thing for what he wants to say, and I unknowingly created a sort of pirate-parrot kind of relationship between Thibaut and Tyke.

Chatting with Thibaut will wind up yielding the option to help him out in fixing Tyke for some karma, and hopefully a chuckle or two. I hate options that are only limited to Drone Control, so I added a few of the rarer-utilized Etiquettes as well.

The rest of the week went into brushing up the receptionist and Assistant Director Cain’s dialogue, and fiddling with the lights on the map. I found out that taking off Fog of War actually, uh, works, and makes a noticeable difference. Who knew? Since the Hightower is, at least at this point, friendly territory, I’m taking off Fog of War, but I have to be doubly vigilant that the skyline then doesn’t bleed out into nothing, and I may need to rebuild the sides of the skyscraper itself to complete the illusion.

Unfortunately, that’s about it for what got done this week. Fortunately, I guess, I set a realistic goal for myself. I wanted the Hightower scene to be 90% done by today, and I feel like that’s about where I got it. It’s ready for final touches, which I’ll apply when I can start linking scenes together. Final touches will consist of making sure the dialogue is all still in sync with the story as a whole, adding some ambient actors that don’t speak, maybe giving one or two props an inspection interaction, and then adding story variable flags and scene transition stuff.

So, let’s talk about the future!

Storyline-wise, I’m in a bit of a pickle. I want a second female lead NPC.

The idea came to me at some point during the week, when I was figuring out what I want to do for this week’s Tuesday deadline. And it intrigues me. As writers, we all get into these habits, right? I have an idea about a female character, as many writers do. As I’m a dude, I’m not even going to pretend like I don’t have subconscious biases and preconceived notions about female characters in storytelling and literature. A second female character would be an immense challenge, because I’d have to distinguish her enough from the character I already have envisioned; I wouldn’t have someone I could lump all things “WOMAN” onto.

I was thinking back to Final Fantasy VII, how you have this juxtaposition between Tifa and Aerith, and how Tifa in her own right broke a lot of conventions by being a martial artist. While these days you can’t get away from the women = healer trope in video games, creating a character like Tifa opens up a world of opportunity along with the significant challenge of splitting one character into two and keeping both of them, well, interesting. Also, it could be one of the few (let’s be real: one of the only) Adept-based NPC crew, though I have to admit that part of me is worried that there’s a good reason why HBS never made an adept crewmate.

The more I think about it, the more I like this idea of a Tifa character. The trouble is I don’t have a backstory for her. With the main NPC + female lieutenant I had already planned for, I know generally who they are, what their interests are, what their relationship to one another is. Adding in this other character feels really challenging and totally out of left field.

The good news is I don’t have to make a final decision now.

My goal for next week is to work on the bar, which will first be seen immediately after the Hightower—assuming the player doesn’t go for the Early End.

I think I finally have an idea in my head as to what it will look like, finished, and it’ll be gloriously New Orleans. Right now, I’m thinking of re-naming it La Maison des Moineaux—”The House of Sparrows”. Perceptive folks will note that’s the name of one very important song in the Hong Kong soundtrack.

I’m just not convinced it’s a great name for a bar/strip club/whorehouse/house of shadows.

Devblog: 31 Jan

Introducing…

Shadowrun: New Orleans

Perceptive folks will note that my last post previous to this one was months ago, and I hadn’t touched the editor at all.

Well, apparently that all changed, as now I believe I’m far enough into this project to announce a title and begin releasing a devblog and really starting to ramp up production. It’s amazing, actually, despite even having taken a couple weeks off here or there, and not really having a direction to work in, that I’m at a place where I’m confident enough to say I have a Proof of Concept.

So, let’s talk about what I have and where I am.

At this moment, I have four scenes—two combat, two non-combat, at various stages of (in)completeness. I also have enough of an idea of the big “meta” plot that I feel like I have enough direction to start linking these scenes together.

THE BAR

What I began with was just a sort of vague idea. “Let’s build a bar and see what happens” became “Oh wouldn’t it be cool if there was a hallway lit by red chinese lanterns” to “Oh, this reminds me of the Hustler club that I went to, and wouldn’t it be cool if I…” and that became what I’m currently calling Le Chat Noir, or just, “the bar” for the time being.

There’s another back room of course with dancers and lights and stuff, and there’ll be even more back rooms beyond that where some dialogue will happen, but the dance room’s not done and the back rooms not started, so I’ll just leave that there.

HIGHTOWER

This map I’m calling “Hightower” for right now. It’s based off of an actual building in New Orleans, though I really just used the exterior as an inspiration and built my own interior. This map grew out of, 1) me liking the building, and 2) wanting to learn dialogue. I’ve already got a couple meaty dialogues here with branching paths and skill/etiquette checks, and I’m working on a couple more, and then I’ll fill it out with some ambient actors.

The other thing this map taught me is that I really need to go back to lighting class. I mean, I took one in college for stage lighting, so I’ve got basic concepts down, but I’ve been stealing camera region light settings from HBS’s scenes and they’re just so absurdly dark. Which, when you consider the nature of shadowruns, makes sense, but in this case, this tower is open during business hours. So I turned up the ambient lighting for this, and while it fixed the issue of the building looking totally unoccupied, now all my point lights are too bright, and it’s a white floor so that explains the glare you’re currently seeing.

I’m particularly proud of this corner, even though I’d be lying if I said I made the background from scratch. I did have to touch it up to get what I wanted from it. Stuff like this is ultimately why I decided to work in the Hong Kong engine—I wanted to do 3D stuff, big city stuff, and the Dragonfall and Seattle assets just didn’t allow for that really well, but the Kowloon Walled City and Repulse Bay 3D/background assets have been incredibly helpful in creating the illusions I’ve sought. It’s a subtle effect, but the way the tower itself moves at a different speed from the background just gives the coolest illusion of being in a skyscraper in the CBD. Unf.

THE RIG

The Oil Rig (or just “The Rig” as I call it) doesn’t need much introduction. I haven’t really touched it since I introduced it in its own Reddit post a month or so back, other than to go in and poke and adjust a few props here and there when I was totally not putting off other work. I do still need to build the upper deck and the Matrix nodes and build the combat encounters, but I’m happy with where I’m at with this scene for right now.

THE PROLOGUE

The prologue chapter will be set in the swamp, because you can’t have New Orleans without the swamp. This map I was working on before even the Rig, and I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, or that deep rural environments were an absolute god-awful pain in the ass to design. The SR:R assets were absolutely not designed with forests in mind. I mean, cemetaries, okay (and we’ll get into one of those I’m sure; New Orleans is kinda famous for those). But not forest, or in this case, swamp.

I still have to build an interior where the actual gunfight will occur, and then spice it up with some dialogue and finalize the NPCs in this level and figure out how we go from here to the Hightower scene, which is where we go next, chronologically.

So let’s talk schedules and planning

As a single person who’s never worked in any editor before (I was a console gamer almost all my life up until about 2010), I am by no means promising a speedy development process. Bear in mind, this is also just a hobby. While I’m optimistic that I’m going to finish what I’ve started here, if I took the time to do everything I’ve written down that I’d like to do, with all the big twists and turns and loops and flash, I estimate it’d take most of if not a full year. Even if I put 1-2 hours in it a day.

So instead, I think I’m going to do a more episodic release. Maybe get in the prologue and some exposition with a shadowrun or two to keep things interesting, and let folks give feedback on that while I work on the meat and bones of the mid-story plot and have more experience in level design and working in the SR:R editor under my belt. So with that intent, I feel like if I decide to just do The Rig and maybe one other Shadowrun for “Episode 1”, I feel like I could have this at a playable state by mid to late March. Maybe sooner, but I’m anticipating a wrench somewhere in playtesting given that I haven’t designed a single combat, but I’ve seen enough of how HBS did theirs in Hong Kong that I think I can figure it out relatively quickly.

From here on out, I’m going to try to do a weekly devblog, but it might become biweekly. Or monthly. It kind of depends on what life decides to throw at me. But given that I’ve been pretty solidly pumping an hour, sometimes two, into this thing, I feel like I’ve got enough of a pace to where I can come back on a weekly basis and say, “Here’s what I worked on. Here’s the plan.”

So then, hopefully I’ll see y’all in a week.