As I write this, the Milestone list is just shy of 50% (and in fact may be somewhat higher than that, I'm being conservative with my milestone advancements, I'm probably a bit over 50% at this point).
So I figure it's time to let those who are interested in on what is coming down the pipeline. I've already given out a bit of information in another thread, so some of this may be less than brand new data.
By far, my favorite type of game (in terms of mechanics) is the one used by Grand Theft Auto. I know, some of you are groaning already, but let me explain what I mean by that before you tune out.
Grand Theft Auto (GTA), if you take out its "over the top" violence, basically turns you lose on a city and let's you do whatever the heck you want to do, in a third person camera view (which just means you can see your character in front of you, the camera is looking over his shoulder). The game sets up a lot of things that you can do within that city, but essentially the order in which you do those things is pretty much up to you. Explore, check out the stores, find some collectables, run some missions, and so on. Lots and lots to do is the key to this type of game. If you don't give the player stuff to do (and goals to accomplish) it can get boring, so you have to make sure there is always something for them to do at every corner (or at least give them an easy way to *find* something to do).
By the same token, the game is also structured through its missions. So while there are many things you can go out and do, one of those things is run the available missions. This gives the structure to the game, because you can only do the missions in a particular order (or there may be a number of missions available at any given time, but there is still some order to them (for example, you may have to do mission A which opens up missions B, C, and D, and you may need to do missions B and D before E will open up, and so on)).
This mission structure allows the designers to tell a story, generally through cut-scenes which happen when the mission is started and after the mission has been completed (and occassionally during the mission as well, though that's a mechanic that should be used sparingly, as it can get to be annoying).
To be sure, there are other games that use this mechanic (Oblivion, for one), but I think GTA is the most well known and does it better than anyone else has (Oblivion, just for example, I thought went a bit too far with the openess, and not enough with the structured).
So that's the mechanic I want to use. But what setting?
Not a modern day city. That setting using this mechanic is saturated (by GTA, and the much better set of games Saints Row [and anyone that thinks GTA IV is better than Saints Row 2 (or even Saints Row 1) needs to have their heads checked, if you like the GTA games do yourself a HUGE favor and go get SR1 and 2, awesome games, far FAR better than the poor offering that is GTA IV]. It's been done pretty much to perfection, I don't want to go there.
I've always wanted to do a good RPG. I love a good RPG. But I want it a bit more structured and confined than Oblivion (which itself is quite a good game, it just had a few minor issues that I *personally* didn't like in terms of design).
This fit in perfectly with a prior idea that I wanted to do. We haven't really had a good dungeon crawl game since the days of Ultima Underworld. Well, I take that back, actually there was one that came out about five or six years ago called Arx Fatalis, which was a pretty decent game, but not many people played it (apparently). Actually, Arx Fatalis is a big insperation for me for this project.
So there is the essence. An open world (sandbox) game confined in a single multi-level dungeon.
Sounds a bit contradictory, doesn't it? There is a fine line there. On the one hand, it's meant to feel constricted and claustriphobic (as if you were underground), but on the other hand, it needs to be open enough to give the player plenty to do and explore while at the same time providing structure to the game through a series of missions that progress the story forward.
It's possible to do both, I think. We can give the player the feeling of "a maze of twistly little passages, all alike" while still giving them plenty to explore and many things to do. At first, your options will be very limited (in fact, you will ONLY be able to start up the first mission) but as you progress, more and more things will open up, which is exactly how a game like this ought to go. You don't want to throw the players into the deep end of the pool right away, you introduce elements a bit at a time for a while, otherwise they get overwhelmed. I think a lot of games make this mistake. It may irritate the players who are on their 5th playthrough, but too bad, heh. If the missions are fun, they are going to want to play them anyway, and I'll open up the non-story-mission stuff soon enough (in fact, pretty quickly, certainly before you are ready to delve into the deeper levels of the dungeon).
Now I want to discuss the RPG aspect a bit. In some respects, I'm going to move away from the traditional ideas of an RPG in terms of character development. In most of them, they take a page out of the D&D manuals and you "Level Up" after getting so much XP, at which point you get to select an attribute to raise and skills to improve and so on and so forth.
I'm not going to do that. Oh, there will be a character sheet and you will have stats, but there will be no XP in the game, and no leveling up. Instead, character improvement will be a function of some of those things you do while in the game. The exact details haven't been worked out yet, but let's say you have a stat "Strength", which determines the amount of damage you do on a successful swing of a weapon. If you want to raise that stat, perhaps you do a "side" mission (i.e. a mission not directly tied to the story line) that raises it a point. Or there are a series of collectables scattered throughout the dungeon that raise it a point after you get 10 of them. Things like that. If you want to improve your character, you earn it through specific challenges, not just mindlessly killing rats to gain XP (although there may be some of that in the form of challenges). Which I like better, to be honest. It may not give you the exact control over the direction of your character's improvements that you are used to in a traditional RPG (since you may not know exactly where that next collectable is that you need to raise your Intellegence, or the next Strength raising side-mission is another two levels down and there are hoards of undead between you and it), but to me, that is one of the challenges of the game.
As for those "things to do", I've amassed a fair number already. I won't reveal here the number of levels of dungeon there are to explore (quite a few, but that's something to be discovered). Of course, there will be the main story-line missions (and I've got a what I think is a pretty dang good story to tell, and it's going to take quite a few missions to tell it).
So we have basic exploration and the story line. What else? Well, there are the side missions (don't add to the story, but they will give you some form of reward in terms of character or equipment improvement), collectables, challenges, and a few other things which I'm not going to reveal here (some things have to be left for the player to discover on their own). And wait until you get a load of the player's "Home Base"
The game will track your progress through the main missions and all the side activities, and is going to give you a percentage completion, so there is going to be that carrot for those of you (and me) who like to get that 100% completion score.
So, who is involved? There's the bad news. Right now, it's just me. I thought I had someone who was going to help with level design and 3D modelling, but that's evaporated, unfortunately. So, at least for right now, I'm wearing all the hats. Hopefully after a couple of milestones are done, and I have something interesting to show off, I can attract a couple of artists to the project and get some better art assets in the game, heh. (on the good side, I'm getting better at both level design and modelling, I have a player character avatar in the works that is pretty close to done in terms of geometry that isn't half bad, and a few areas of the first level of the dungeon are pretty far along).
The tools. The tools I'm using to create the game may be of some interest to some of you.
The engine is C4. I've made the decision to go with a premade engine rather than roll my own. This allows me to skip over the tedious bits (e.g. programming a scroll bar) and go right to the game design. There's a lot of programming still involved (in fact, C4 has a very limited scripting ability, you are expected to produce your own game logic through C++, which suits me just fine).
For 3D modelling, I'm using TrueSpace. I've had this program forever, and in fact since they overhauled the entire system with the introduction of something called WorkSpace, I've found that using it is quite easy, and the more I learn the more I like it. I've found that I'm fighting the tool less than I'm fighting my own limited artistic abilities, which is how it should be. I'm also using this package for rigging and keyframe animation files (which get played in the C4 engine).
For UV unwrapping I use UU3D. Not much to say about this, it does the job, and I like it better than I like TrueSpace's native UV unwrapper (tS's one failing, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's unwrapper is very poor).
All texturing is done in Photoshop CS4, as you might expect, with a sprinkling of Paint Shop Pro 8 thrown in (I've had the latter for a long time, and there are a few things I know how to there better than I know how to do them in CS4, though as I learn CS4 more and more, my use of PSP is dwindling, I pretty much only use if for screen captures now).
I'm also using something called Seamless Texture Generator Pro to help out with tilable textures (although this is with heavy input from photoshop as well), and I'm *attempting* to learn to use MapZone to produce procedural textures, although to be honest, so far, the methodology is still a bit of a mystery to me (I haven't been able to spend as much time with it as I need to so far).
And of course for my compiler I'm using MSVC++ 2008. Now, I'd prefer to use Borland Builder as I like that compiler better, but it was one of the comprimises I had to make in order to use the C4 engine (not that I *couldn't* have ported the source code of C4 over to borland, but it would have been a project, and one I'd have to start over every time there was a C4 update, which happens pretty frequently).
So that's where I'm going. I'm only trying to impart information at this point, this is not yet an attempt to generate buzz. We'll get to that after a few milestones are done and there's something interesting to show off. But I will say things are going VERY well considering I'm trying to be the artist (which is not where my talents lie) as well as the programmer and designer.
Milestone 1 is a lot about "proof of pipeline" which is to say, can I get the art assets from the tools over to the engine and have everything work? That's not as easy as you might think, in fact, some of it has been very time consuming and frustrating (it sucks when your carefully designed, rigged, and animated model imports as a blob of twitching parts, something you might see after a transporter accident on the Enterprise, heh). Most of that has been worked out now (with the notable exception of sound, which I haven't even begun to approach yet). It also involves a lot of testing of the scripting system and programming, pretty much a "one of each" approach, just to make sure I know that I can do more advanced stuff later on and have it work. Of course, I also needed some level design to be able to test all this stuff, so the first level is scheduled to be completed at the end of this milestone (and a good amount of it is done already, enough for the player to walk around in).
Milestone 2 will be a lot more programming intensive. Although I'm sure there will be plenty of artwork to be added in with M2, I intend to focus a lot more on game systems, like the mini-map, for example, and the "shell" (the out-of-game interface you see that allows you to start a new game, load, save, and so on). Maybe bits of the character sheets. Oh, and physics, although perhaps not the ragdoll effects yet.
So there ya go. That's where things are going.
(oh, and in case you are wondering, it will be getting it's own forum catagory, but I don't yet have a name for it. Currently I am using the working title "Dungeon Crawl" but that's certianly not permanent. Something perfect will come along, and when it does, I'll set up a forum for it [MD was originally called "The History of Warfare" as a working title]).