Devblog—June 6, 2017

Was moving last week, hence no devblog. Didn’t make a whole lot of progress anyways, and a lot of my stuff’s still in boxes or just non-existent because I moved into a larger space.

However, I’m going to be taking a short break from SR:New Orleans.

While I was waiting the few days for internet to get set up, I went out and picked up a copy of Neuromancer by William Gibson.

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Obviously, highly recommended—some call it the “father of cyberpunk” (though I later learned that the movie Tron came out two years before it, so the aesthetic of “the Grid” existed before Gibson called it “the Matrix”. But that’s all details and I’m sure smarter people than I have written lengthy papers about it).

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I know I’m not the first person to look at Case’s near-death experience in the Straylight Run and then look at Monika’s death in Dragonfall and go, “Wait a minute…”

I believe there’s a mod called Random Access Memories on the Steam workshop that explores something like that, but it’s set 1 year after the events of Dragonfall. I, however, just want to do a really short story (like, an hour, tops) that’s just Monika’s jaunt into the Harfield Manor Matrix. Really, it’s going to be an exploration of death, and a sort of test for me as a writer to implement basic story “steps” as a cohesive narrative through the gaming medium. Also, being much smaller in scope than New Orleans, it’s a project I much more realistically hope to accomplish, so New Orleans isn’t the first thing I’ve ever vomited out onto the workshop.

I’ve drawn up a few sample/proof-of-concept screenshots, merging “meat” architecture to Matrix architecture, and I like the aesthetic.

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So I’m moving into initial dialogue and first triggers to get the scene framework setup and from there I can move into building combats and subsequent dialogues. I already have a plot outline sort of established, and I’m working on fine-tuning the plot points because there’s no point building a story without knowing where it goes.

Expect an announcement post in a day or two with more screenshots and the working title. Right now, the difficulty I face is just a lot of programming/scripting things setting up the initial walkabout. Once that’s done, I suspect the rest will be easy peasy.

Okay, nothing’s ever easy peasy when you’re still a rookie. But I’m super excited for this project!

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I Need a Wonkers

Okay, I’ll admit it—I mostly used this title because it’s funny.

I’m trying to figure out how to link the end of the Hightower scene to Vitacorp. This is where actual storytelling takes place, because no combat should be happening here, and this is where Dragonfall really succeeded. Dragonfall made use of a “guide”—a character whose purpose was to move the story forward by telling the player where to go and what to do. The character is Paul Amsel. Paul is the one who says, “Go out and get the DVD player, talk to Maalit to get the DVDs fixed, go talk to Altug to get info on Green Winters.”

In SR:New Orleans, this is supposed to be an “investigative” phase, similar to the Dragonfall sequence where the player character is tracking down Green Winters. But just plopping the player down in what may be a two-loading screen hub would be super overwhelming at first. So I need someone or something to be able to tell the character at least what their options are, if not where to go, and I need a way to plant ideas in the player’s head.

In Dreamfall: the Longest Journey, the player character (assuming the personality of Zoë Castillo) spends a lot of the early chapters in their home, coming and going, and it’s unoccupied save for themselves and a…little AI-pet-helper-thing called a Watilla, Zoë’s being named Wonkers.

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Characters like Wonkers serve a unique purpose: they’re there to tell the player what the player character knows.

Alternatively, they serve as the “bouncing board” for the player character’s ideas, rather than the player’s. Because the player character has existed in this space since before coming into the player’s control, they have a relationship to the environment and its people.

Say you want to guide the player to one of three locations. The “helper” NPC says something to the effect of, “Where are you going to go?” The player themselves doesn’t know this world, but the player character using a limited dialogue selection has three options. Just picking options out of a hat, let’s say “Warehouse” “Dockyard” and “Bar” are the options. Player clicks “I could go to the warehouse…” and the helper NPC says, “Oh, that’s a good idea…[here’s some exposition as to why].” You’re giving the player information about the world that the character already knows while simultaneously setting them up to advance the plot by eliminating non-options in a way that feels organic without thrusting the player into an open world.

While the Mission Computer (specifically, the Shadowland BBS) can give the player a peek into the world and its occupants, it’s difficult to design functionality of the Mission Computer that gives the player a sense of choice and independence until you get into the modular design of the mid-game (if you’re doing what I’m doing and stealing HBS’s plot layout). Having another character—in this case, a subservient one—to let the player feel in control while actually guiding them down the path towards the next run will actually give me an opportunity to fill out not just the world, but illustrate the player character’s place in it.

Originally, I was going to give only select “classes” a helper NPC, and mostly for flavor.

When I was drafting up ideas for the variable prop garage, the idea of giving summoners a helper spirit and riggers a helper bot to round out their “uniqueness” was really appealing to me. While I would have loved to give every class a unique NPC, that just isn’t a realistic goal to set. What I might do now is a bit of a compromise—give everyone a helper drone like a Watilla, but maybe give players with appropriate Drone Control some additional options at some point.

I think I can have some fun with this character. I’ve already played around a bit with story variable names (even though I later learned I didn’t need to, using the Speaker option), but by setting a story variable that looks something like $+(story.botName), I can actually let the player name their bot from a limited list, similarly to the Bolthole name options in Shadowrun: Hong Kong. That’ll be the first thing that happens, I think.

So, into the editor I go!

Devblog—May 16, 2017

Whew! Been a while since I’ve done one of these!

In all reality, life happened a bunch these past 2-3 weeks, and I kind of mentally shut down. My confidence flagged at being able to do stuff with the editor, and just looking at the icon on my screen became mentally painful.

But, now we’re back to (hopefully) our regularly-scheduled programming.

PLAYERHOME

  • Added the home matrix node, which allows players to jack into the Matrix; from here, they’ll be able to connect to the New Orleans LTG (currently under construction).

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  • Added the Mission Computer dialogue, which is to say I stole the Mission Computer dialogue from Hong Kong and stripped it of all of the entries save for menu decisions. From this framework, I can build my own emails, Shadowland BBS threads, etc.
  • Added a VidPhone dialogue, allowing players to remotely talk to other NPCs. Should they not be a Decker themselves, the VidPhone will allow players to hire a decker. Boot, being the crew decker, will come significantly cheaper (or just be free), but a merc Decker will cost nuyen to hire.
    • As of right now, the only Decker available for “hire” is Boot. Making other mercs will be a late-stage process.

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  • Added functionality to the front door to send away NPCs tagged “isGuest”, which includes hire-on deckers, but this also sets the framework for the VidPhone to be used to bring NPCs into the space (and send them away).
  • Continued work on functionality of the garage. All items in every iteration of the garage are tagged so they all vanish on the scene load, and then the game looks at the player’s class from when they started the game and reveals a template of items suited to that class.
  • Added functionality to the Mission Computer that allows playtesters to change what the game thinks their player’s archetype is for purposes of the garage’s furniture, then re-sends the events that hide and reveal the respective prop sets. This way, playtesters can see all the garages without having to make new characters. This functionality may or may not make its way into the public release build.
  • Added stashes to each of the different garages, so they’re not just pretty rooms—they each have a function. This was one of my concerns about having customizable rooms (that is: “why?”), but giving the player a stash that’s represented by their starting class feels like at least the garage is functional.
  • Began writing some BBS conversation threads, because why not? Actually makes the setting feel very New Orleans-y, talking about New Orleans things. One is already complete, another’s in the works, and I’ll probably try and punch out at least one more for Episode 1. Maybe another 2 that unlock after Vitacorp.

One possibility I’m toying around with is shoving more hub functionality into the playerhome. With the Mission Computer there, it feels like that’s where my hub is going to be anyways, so I might as well get used to it. But I can’t imagine “investigation” by way of clicking on the right prompts on the mission computer is fun. Maybe. I’ll take a look at it and maybe draft up some investigation options and run it through playtesters. Right now, I can only handwave the events of the Hightower scene and Vitacorp, so if I throw in anything resembling an investigation, maybe it’ll actually work. We’ll see.

PROLOGUE

  • In order for the garage customization to work, the game needs to know what “class” the player made. So I’m piggybacking off of the script for the game’s initial equipment vomit (“Event_Addgear” for folks who tinkered in the editor) onto the player and adding a story variable that essentially matches the player’s class, or ties them to a class based on their favored attribute in the case of the “none” option.
    • Should the player for whatever reason just take no points in karma—not enough to trigger any “type”, the garage defaults to Street Samurai build. So something will show up.
  • Per playtester suggestion, I added a time limit to the amount of turns a player can spend in the “Hell escape sequence.” Essentially, the building is collapsing on itself and the player has to get out. Failure to do so before the bar indicates and it’s back to autosave. As of right now, the timer is set to 10 turns, but I may increase this to 12 because I interrupt the player’s movement twice. Hopefully people will stop fighting the overpowered fire spirits and make a break for the exit…*cough, cough, Dave, cough*
    • What might be fun is add some debris or make some more stuff collapse every turn or every other turn. Right now, the collapses are all on tripwires and behind the player to force them forward (or, rather, not let them retreat) and make sure to not block off their path, but having a few props “turn into rubble” would really give that organic “collapsing building” feel. A project for a later date, surely.
  • While testing the new countdown mechanic, I discovered a misscript (is that a word? It wasn’t a bug; I just scripted it wrong) where, if Sobeksis died, because he was on team Shadowrunner, it resulted in a game over. So I switched the game over condition to anyone with the tag “isClearTeam” meaning your human teammates. I also gave Sobeksis a built-in healing mechanic so he still takes a lot of damage from the fire spirits, but it should be a little more difficult to kill him.
  • With the new countdown timer, and now having read some Shadowrun fiction, I decided to go back and make the fire spirits in the Hell sequence resistant to normal damage and take normal damage from magical sources, which seems to fit the Shadowrun universe. The point is that they should still be incredibly difficult to kill, so much so that a player who attempts it will find themselves swiftly out of time to actually escape.

VITACORP

  • I broke the absolute goddamn tits out of my jumpy elf confrontation vignette, trying to fix/repair it to where I can have some animations in the case of an action(or actions) taken during the confrontation. A lot of this is similar to the Thibaut conversation situation (way back when I was working on the Hightower scene…remember those days?), except this time what I didn’t know was how to integrate actions mid-conversation.
    • The short version is…you can’t. You have to end the conversation on an event, trigger the event with the player selection, use the event to do your animations and then restart the conversation.
    • I’m still not really happy with where this conversation’s at, so work will continue on it next week. Chalk it up to being a learning experience!
  • Fixed a few problems with the Vitasec boys, so now they won’t (or rather, shouldn’t) react to the drone combat sequence, and when the conversation with them ends poorly, the door will close behind them (for good) when the player walks far away enough.

I still need to polish up the end of this mission. It just feels really loose and barely held together. As of right now, I’m sitting on 972 CPU, so any more triggers and I’m going to start pushing the limits of the scene. On the one hand, that feels cool. On the other…that’s trouble. So, we’ll see.

Dang. Looks like I got a lot more done this past week than I thought. Here’s to hoping we keep this momentum going!

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—Mar 7, 2017

Scenes 1 and 2 now function start to finish

Okay, so what does that mean? It means a player can go from curtain up in scene 1 through scene 1 and get to the end of scene 2, click on the final door and be transported somewhere. The triggers work, the dialogue all…works, or at least doesn’t result in an infinite loop anywhere (at least, so far as I can see…yet).

What it doesn’t mean is that everything is pretty, or that maps are populated and full of props that make things look nice and/or realistic. It means that maybe combat doesn’t function exactly like I want it to. Maybe the player’s able to do things I don’t want them to do or can’t possibly predict they’ll even try to do. So, I’m about a day or two off of playtesting at the time of writing up this devblog.

  • As predicted, I spent most of this week in the Hightower map, which is essentially “Scene 2” fixing dialogue from the tangled mess of spaghetti code I’d originally written for it. Dialogue now flows much more nicely under the hood, allowing it to be added to/taken away from/edited much more efficiently than what I’d had it as before.
  • I added Kate to the Hightower map and gave her dialogue.
  • I added an exterior and small interior lobby section to the Hightower map; originally the player was just spawning up on the high level; with these added interactions, I needed a place for them to be and adding to the Hightower scene is the option that made the most sense. This is what took the most of the week, as building exteriors is not my specialty.

Introducing: Kate Burnside, aka “Salem”

As of right now, Kate will be the first crewmate to make an appearance in Shadowrun: New Orleans. She’s descended from some of the original witches to land in the American colonies, which is where her street name “Salem” comes from; an honorific for the traditions passed down in hers and others’ family lines since well before the Awakening.

When you first meet Kate, she tries to read your fortune, only to reveal that she’s aware of the swamp raid due to her main interest: independent journalism. She’ll wind up joining the character later as camera fodder for her next big story. While she might at first seem like the type to wind up as a damsel in distress, Kate is more than capable of handling herself in combat, and as a thrill-chaser, she’s eager to rush face-first into danger.

I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to build crew advancement, but likely Kate’s paths are going to put her down an either direct damage role or support caster role.

So where do we go from here?

Speaking chronologically, the next scene will be the hub. But, like Hong Kong, it’ll be a hub unfriendly to the player, as they have not yet thrust themselves completely into the world of shadowrunning. This of course means I have to build the hub, and the hub is one of the most intense builds in the editor.

In other words, this next chunk is going to be as time-consuming as it is critically important, and it’s very realistic that I may take a break from “chronological order” development (especially after putting such heavy focus on the goal of a functioning Scene 1 and 2) and focus either on a shadowrun development (as in, an actual shadowrun).

I originally said I wanted “Episode 1” to be done by the end of March.

That gives me 3 and a half weeks. If my design for the hub holds true with no kinks, I do believe that being in playtesting for “Episode 1” by end of March is a perfectly achievable goal. If the hub proves too large to do in one load, meaning I have to break it up, I’ll have to start making critical decisions about its development, and that takes time, testing; and it’s looking like that could very well be the case here depending on what all I want to be a part of the hub.

It also depends on how I want to end “Episode 1”. As of right now, there are only three combat sequences, and that just doesn’t make much of a “game” now, does it? If I want to add a run that’s roughly synonymous with the Drogenkippe in Dragonfall or the first Walled City run in Hong Kong, I have to actually start designing it, and that could take two weeks just by itself, maybe three. If that turns out to be the case, then we might be looking at an April playtest/QA phase for May public release. But, hey, if it comes down to having an actual Shadowrun in this Shadowrun game, I think I’m willing to push back a date I’d entirely arbitrarily set up with 0 experience in the first place.

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.