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Friday, January 15, 2010

~Forward March

Friday, January 15, 2010

Forward March

I've been making real progress on The March of Bulk lately. Mostly my new Thursday policy is to thank, as I spend over five hours on the game-work on Thursdays. That might seem like nothing to those of you with actual jobs, but keep in mind where I'm coming from here. A few years ago, five hours of continuous work on anything was unthinkable to me.

I'm not going to spoil any specifics about the game, for those of you fortunate enough to have not heard me give away all the details of the experience already. So I can't describe exactly what it is I've been working on. But I can tell you that the main game is going to be made up of 15 separate.. um, things, and I've made 12 of them. Most of those pieces are roughly how I planned them out a year ago. The rest I figured out as I went.

I think I've probably said already that The March of Bulk is a movement game. And even if I haven't, that's no spoiler. Now, the thing you have to understand about movement games is that their primary content is their controls, and that's something you can't really appreciate as an idea. You need to feel it for yourself. So I could plan out what the basic structure of it would be like, I could set out certain goals for myself in terms of how the game was supposed to end up, but I couldn't stick to those plans too faithfully. Ultimately the design comes down to intuition, not cleverness.

I almost never pull off the motion I'm going for on the first try. I try something, and if I'm not even in the right ballpark I throw it out, but if it's close I keep tweaking the numbers until I get there. I add complexity, I take out complexity. I break it into sections, so that I can do different things in different parts. What I'm doing here is halfway between programming and animation, and I'm good at neither but I know what I like and I can work out how to get there.

I could have asked Kyler to do the animations, of course. But that wouldn't work right. If he gave me some intricate animation, that's not subject to the player's interaction. I need it to react to exactly how the player is playing on a subtle level, or else it won't feel right. So the animations need to be pulled off through math, which takes into account all the variables of context.

So the pieces of a movement game only come together when I can play around with them as a gamer and see how it feels. (How the game feels is my main concern here. Those who don't care how their games feel have no business making movement games.) My old composition teacher Eliezer used to say that he couldn't tell me what to do with a piece of music until I had written it out. Similarly, I can't tell myself what to do with a piece of movement until I've programmed it in. And sometimes what I find surprises me. I had to throw out a few bits I liked in the planning stages, when I realized they would not mesh with the tone of the rest. And other things just occurred to me as I was working. There was one bit that wasn't even meant to be funny but turned out being hilarious through what's almost a glitch in the programming, so I played that up and added in a lot that I hadn't anticipated needing. Other times I unexpectedly feel as I'm playing like I'd like to do something at a certain point, and it's something I'd never considered, so I need to rework the design to add that in.

I'm trying to imagine what it would be like to be the main gamist for a big movement game with lots of people working for me, and it's hard to picture. Whoever programs the animations is making the game. If I want it to be my game (and I do), I can't pass that job off to someone else. Which means that no matter how high up I go as a gamist, I'm still going to need to program sometimes. I guess what I need to do is get a programming environment better-suited for movement games, like one with a built-in physics engine. Or I could try to reduce all the movements in The March of Bulk to some sort of notation system and try to find logic in that that I can consciously use later. But either way, I'm always going to need to get my hands dirty. I can't consider myself a gamist otherwise. I'd be at best a manager.

It could work. It'll all work out fine.



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