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5. June 2013

As I said earlier, I am about to start work on a mobile/web/desktop game and this is the initial design details i've sketched so far.  This is just a mind dump of the game in my brain right now, so obviously its subject to change.



Game brief


Project Starlord Overview


You are charged with running a weapons factory in the far flung future. Starting from a simple factory on a single planet, the player researches and creates new designs, decides which factions to work with, has to deal with marketing and government negotiations as well as defending your factory from pirates and other hostile forces.


There are other arms manufactures that you can compete with, trade with, or both. Beyond building a single weapon system ( for example, laser or missile system ) you can eventually research complete platforms ( such as tank, jet or mech ). You can either make all the required components internally, or source the parts you can't make. Once your enterprise reaches a certain size, you can move beyond your home system and become players in the local solar system.


There are prestigious competitions you can can sponsor teams with using your weapons. In addition you can form your own team eventually, with your pilots piloting your own unique design.


The world evolves around the player. By making generous offers to one side of a conflict, you can tilt the balance of power. You may however make an enemy as a result. Back the wrong side and you may find yourself with a client unable to pay you! Or you can try to sell weapons to all sides, although eventually your customers may eventually force you to choose a side.


Of course, in a world without war, there is no need for weapons! You can't have that now can you? Keep an eye on political situations and apply a bit of pressure when it's in your best interest. Careful though, don't get caught!



Game Components



So essentailly I am looking to create an economic simulator where you run a weapons factory.  I have always found turn based strategy games the best fit for mobile gaming and some of my favourite experiences ( Civilizations, XCom, Game Dev Story, Lemonade Tycoon, etc… ) have been in this mold.


Obviously Starlord is just a code name, as I am fairly certain Marvel holds the copyright.  Do to the nature of people cloning games, camping URLs etc, I don't think I will be making the name public anytime soon.  Next up I'm going to start modelling the various systems I am going to have to create.  Divide and conquer, repeat and rinse.


Does this sound like the type of game you would play?


4. June 2013

I think I must have bad karma or something.  I spent several weeks looking at what technology to use for my upcoming game project.  After much research and community feedback, I decided to use Haxe with NME using the Awe6 framework.  Well, that plan didn't last long, dying with this statement:

OpenFL is an advancement of everything there is to love about NME, and NME is taking a backseat so it can focus on being a stable, powerful C++ backend for native platform support


You see Joshua Granick, the creator of NME just recently announced OpenFL a replacement of sorts for NME, or more accurately I suppose, a replacement built on top of NME.  Here is a blurb from the OpenFL announcement:

OpenFL combines years of work to provide for the industry-standard Flash API without the Flash plugin.

In order to succeed on mobile, it is important to take of advantage of device hardware, and to be as native as possible. That is why OpenFL allows direct access to device features using extensions, why OpenFL makes it possible to target iOS, Android and BlackBerry as fully native applications, and to accelerate the Flash API using OpenGL for a fast, productive development environment.

OpenFL can also target JavaScript directly, thanks to the Haxe Toolkit that powers the platform. Today, users of OpenFL can target HTML5 or the beta support for Emscripten and WebGL, while supporting the Flash Player runtime, for flexibility when providing content for the web.

OpenFL is free, hosted on Github under the permissive MIT open-source license. We invite to join as we build the best 2D development platform for the next 5-10 years.

Though Flash is a popular API, we believe in allowing the community to innovate in new ways to build games and applications. That is why OpenFL seeks to also provide an open platform, including OpenGLView, an accelerated way to build content for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, BlackBerry and HTML5 using the WebGL API.


Elsewhere in the comments he says:


NME is going to become a "native media engine" that can enable Haxe frameworks to run on native platforms. It is used as an internal dependency for openfl-native


On one handed, this could be simply looked at as a rebranding of sorts of the NME project as well as a port to the (just released) Haxe 3 language.  That said, I personally think its a really stupid move.


Moving closer to the Flash branding seems… dumb.  Perhaps I am in the minority in that my interest in NME had nothing to do with it's Flash roots ( I have zero prior Flash experience ).  To say nothing of the fact the Flash brand isn't exactly thriving at the moment.  With some people it's an outright swear word!  Another thing I really didn't like about the above comment was:

and HTML5 using the WebGL API.


Suddenly it sounds like the HTML5 target just became HTML supporting WebGL.  Basically meaning Internet Explorer and 95% of mobile browsers just got dropped from the supported list.


Back to OpenFL and NME, even if it is a simple rebrand, that has dire side effects, especially as many of the library names are being changed.  Suddenly there isn't just one place to go for information, or one source of documentation.  Now you have the NME version and the OpenFL version.  If it is not just a simple rebrand, that is even worse.  I love shiny and new, but no way in hell I am going to start a new project on such a bleeding edge technology, especially coupled with the fact it is also tied to a new Haxe version.  As we have seen with Lua and Python, new versions don't always take!


So why not simply use Haxe/NME as it exists today?  Well frankly, one of the biggest downsides to NME was the bugs that crop up.  I encountered a couple during my evaluation and often this would have been a deal breaker.  That said, the NME folks moved fast, released fixes often the same day, so I had faith that any problems I might have encountered would be quickly fixed.  Now that NME support is "taking a back seat", I no longer have that confidence.


Don't get me wrong, I am not saying OpenFL is a bad thing, it's really too early to tell that.  In a few months/years time, OpenFL might be vastly superior to NME.  That said, I can't hitch my boat to a technology that is that young, nor can I hitch my boat to a technology that has been basically retired.  Maybe for my next project I will be able to use Haxe and NME…. er OpenFL.  Just not today.


Guess it's time to take a closer look at libGDX?

News Programming

3. June 2013


As I am just starting out on a new game these days, I am in the most wishy-washy stage of development, design.  Over the years, the way I went about designing an application has changed greatly as technology, my team size and frankly, me, have changed.  Now that I work mostly alone I find I am a lot less formal than I used to be.


In the ancient days, I ignored design completely, or used a spiral bound binder and a pencil.  On my last large scale project I worked mostly in Visio for object design and program flow modelling.  For idea capture and design documents, OneNote was my loyal ally.  If you find yourself working using a paper and pencil most often, you should check out OneNote, it is probably the greatest application Microsoft make and I say that without hyperbole.  It is an under-exposed and under-appreciated application.  Whenever I see websites comparing Evernote or Google Keep I laugh and laugh and laugh.  Those two programs aren't in the same league as OneNote.  That said, the OneNote mobile offerings, at least on iOS and Android are pretty terrible and the web version is only ok.  The application version though, its just great. 


That said, this combination of applications has definite limits.  These days I am working more commonly across platforms, splitting my time about 50/50 between MacOS and Windows.  Unfortunately Mac Office doesn't include OneNote and Visio isn't available either.  Also, I am no longer part of MSDN and Visio is stupidly expensive.  The other major change is the rise of tablets.  I find myself on mobile much more often now, either the iPad or my Galaxy Note ( which you can pry from my cold dead hands! ).  So, if I am out and about and an idea comes to me, its nice to just whip out my phone or tablet, which are on instantly, jot the idea down and move on.  Additionally, I find touch a much nicer interface when working on a fluid design.


One of the flaws of working with code modelling software is it is often too advanced for me.  I don't need it to validate my class design, I am not working in a team or with contractors, so I don't need it to create formal design documents or strictly defined interfaces.  At the end of the day I generally just like to enter a class name and description, then model relationships between other classes.  That or create flow charts that illustrate user or application flow.  Visio can do this, but it is massive overkill.  Enter the mind map.


In my life, I always had a bit of a mental block towards this kind of software…  I don't really know why, but I never really looked into it closer and I regret that, as mind mapping is basically what I've needed all along.  Essentially mind mapping is just a diagramming software that models relationships.  That's about it and exactly what I am looking for.  There are reams of mind mapping applications out there, from downloadable applications to web services, from free to very expensive.  If you want to try one out free, you can try FreeMind or XMind to get started.  If you haven't tried one yet, you really should.


Myself, I am using a combination of applications for program design.  My design documents and "raw text dump" application of choice is still OneNote.  I vastly prefer authoring in the full application in Windows, but the web application and mobile apps work in a pinch, at least for reading.  On iPad I use iThoughtsHD, which you can see in action below:


I haven't found a mind map application that works well on my Note, but I've also barely looked.  I like iThoughtsHD because it's quick, intuitive and supports the functionality I need. On top, it is compatible with most other Mindmap applications including FreeMind and Xmind that I mentioned earlier.  So I can design on the go, then open on my desktop on any platform.  Truth is though, I vastly prefer working on the tablet, it is just such an intuitive format for this kind of work.


If there is any interest, I will go into a bit more detail on Mind mapping and iThoughtsHD for game design.  I know this is a topic that isn't generally discussed very often, although that could be because people find it boring! ;)


So, that's what I use these days to design my applications ( and other projects ).  What do you use?


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