Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dev-corner: 48-hour Reddit Game Jam Postmortem

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Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of "leading" a large (20+) team of dedicated artists, coders, and writers in the creation of a wonderful (if a bit rough around the edges) 2D platform game called Last Escape. I put "leading" in quotes, because my position was more of organizer and first-among-equals (save for a couple of executive vetoes, mostly to save time and keep things moving). It was an amazing experience, and I'm very proud to have been a part of it. It was also highly educational, so I'm going to try and take stock of what we did right and what we did wrong, and write about it here, in hopes that it helps other teams develop games later on.



First off, a little more about the project. Last Escape was ambitious from the outset. Before the project began, we decided that we were going to work with C++ instead of Flash or JavaScript. This decision was of a practical nature; the two coders who had committed the largest amount of time to the project ahead of time (myself and FLARE creator Clint Bellanger) were the most comfortable with game development on C++.

The art in Last Escape is a combination of digital painting and pixel art. This effect is a bit jarring, but given the 48-hour time constraint, we had to make full use of all the artistic talent that was available to us. By and large, the vast majority of the art in the game is brand new, although we used existing assets where we could.

The basic premise behind Last Escape is that you're a person who has made a forced landing on an alien world due to your space ship being out of energy. The object of the game is to collect enough energy to power your ship, and, in the process, you run into some interesting alien ruins as well as some giant insects.

We started out by planning certain things beforehand. Since we didn't know what the prompt would be, we were somewhat limited in the planning we were able to do, but we did create a rough road map and timeline in advance to give us some indication of where we should aim. You can see these on the OGA forums. While we eventually fell a bit behind schedule on certain milestones, these documents were absolutely essential to keeping everyone motivated and on track, and I would not recommend undertaking a team based game design project without them, no matter how small.

When the contest theme was announced (it turned out to be "Energy"), we got the group together and immediately started brainstorming. I set the time limit on brainstorming for game ideas to 45 minutes, and we created a google document and began typing up a list of ideas as they came up. I attempted to steer the ideas in various directions to get a wide variety of suggestions, because I noticed that the discussion tended to get hung up on whatever game genre we were talking about at the time. We had to deliberately move things from puzzles to action to strategy, etc, and this is one place where I put on my "leader" hat in order to make that happen.

Following the brainstorming session, we put things to a vote. We went through a two-step voting process -- the first step was to ask for an approval vote, and just have everyone list all the ideas they liked. We used this to narrow the choices down to five. After that, we had a second vote and everyone picked their favorite. As an aside, it's interesting to note that in the craziness of brainstorming, I accidentally copied an idea from the main #opengameart IRC channel into the list, and that was the idea that was chosen. We discovered later on that the person who's idea we used was submitting their own entry into the game jam, so we ended up with two games that had a very similar premise. Fortunately, Xiphias3 (the originator of the idea) was cool with this, and said that we didn't have to mention it. We did anyway. :)

After the voting was finished, we put together a brief todo list and started frantically coding and doing art. This is where the real learning kicked in, and, knowing what I know now, there are some things I would probably handle differently.

First off, probably the biggest issue I ran into personally were merge conflicts. We hosted our project on GitHub and gave a number of people commit access. This was all well and good, but we were poorly organized (IRC can be a double-edged sword, since at any given time you have no way of knowing who is paying attention). Consequently, there were several situations where more than one person ended up working independently on the same feature or bugfix. I personally spent at least five hours cleaning up merge problems brought about by pieces of perfectly reasonable code interacting in unexpected ways.

As such, I would strongly advise anyone working on a large, rapid team project such as this one to have a web-based task tracking program ready to go at the outset. Google Docs proved inadequate for this.

Another related thing that I learned is that when you're managing a team of 20 people, the director doesn't really have time to code. This made things difficult for me, because I had already budgeted most of my time for coding, but as the project lead, people looked to me to know what was going on. On a large team, people generally need to be broken into smaller groups and given tasks; as such, you need someone whose job it is to know exactly who is doing what at any given time, and that's one area where I would make an effort to improve on if I were to ever undertake something like this again. Real task tracking software -- something simple with a quick and easy learning curve -- would have been very helpful for this.

One place where I would consider myself fairly successful is keeping a large group of people with differing interests and talents moving and motivated through a stressful project. Here's the advice I would give to anyone needing to do this:

  • First off, have a leader. You need someone with veto power in order to keep things moving in a good direction.
  • As the leader, understand that it's not "your" project -- it's everyone's. This means that it's not your job to tell people what the direction of the project is; rather, your job is to facilitate the team finding a direction and keep things from getting sidetracked.
  • Democracy rules. The main direction of your project is often best decided on by brainstorming and then a vote. This gives everyone a chance to make their case and have their idea judged by the entire team, and not just the leader.
  • Large groups of people can tend to get sidetracked very easily in discussions. As such, it is very important that you limit discussion time in advance and make sure that you designate a time by which brainstorming is over, and a time shortly thereafter when you have to reach a final decision. If you don't set up these times in advance, people who are trying to make their case may assume that you want to silence them. Plus, it's not particularly fair to people if they're not aware when their time to speak is going to be over. To avoid putting yourself in the position of even appearing partial, it's best to set time limits in advance.
  • If possible, keep votes in the open. When I took a vote, I asked everyone to send me a private message with their vote (because it was easiest to keep track of), but also vote publicly, and then verify my count.
  • Remember, your project depends on your team. People will come and go, as is natural with any project, but people will be a lot more likely to leave if they feel that their input has no chance of being heard. This is to some extent reiterating what was said above, but I cannot stress enough that leading is about facilitating and not ruling with an iron fist!
Another thing that I think we did well (with certain caveats) was the selection and use of tools. If you're developing a game, even "from scratch" as we were, there are a lot of tools out there that you can and should use to make things easier. Here are my thoughts:
  • Where possible, be tool-agnostic. Not everyone is comfortable in the same software. Some people may prefer to use closed-source tools, and it's important to accommodate these folks if you want to keep your dev team happy.
  • You should not be format-agnostic. You need to decide in advance what formats are acceptable for your media files. Stick to well implemented open standards, and make sure people understand that they are responsible for providing their files in these formats. This means that media editors that can't output to these formats are essentially out, unless the people using them have a quick and clean way of converting both to and from their proprietary formats. The rest of the team should not be burdened with these conversions.
  • Version control is an absolute must. As much as I complained about merge conflicts, things are a lot worse if you're sharing a code base without version control. I recommend using a system with web-based tools that as many people as possible are comfortable with. Most coders prefer Git, and by and large GitHub turned out to be a good choice for us (with one major caveat that I'll get into below).
  • Tiled (the Qt-based FOSS tile map editor) was absolutely excellent for putting tile maps together quickly. I strongly recommend it to any project considering making a 2D tile-based game.
  • Try to avoid reinventing the wheel when possible when writing your code. You may have specific requirements that no existing game engine meets, but there are plenty of frameworks you can build your engine on that provide things like easy, cross-platform graphics, sound, and I/O. We used SFML to great effect, but there are plenty of other good choices.
I mentioned above that we had a major caveat with Git; namely, version control is complicated. I don't have any good solution for this. Artists don't always think like coders, and a lot of version control systems require a certain level of comfort at the command line. This is particularly true of Git, which can work with several different protocols, some of which have issues when going through web proxies and the like. We also had confusion about how to generate public keys for connecting to GitHub.

While it may not be possible to avoid these sorts of issues completely, I would strongly recommend setting up your team with version control before you start coding.

Another issue we ran into with Git is that it tried to merge Tiled's XML map files. It did surprisingly well at this in most cases, but machine-generated XML isn't always the best thing for code merges, since it often needs to be in a very specific format. I'm guessing there's some way of turning this off for certain filetypes and forcing the merge to be resolved manually, as you would with a binary file.

Finally, some thoughts on coding. On one hand, you're trying to develop code quickly. On the other hand, you need to make your code easy to expand. Generally, you have two types of people -- the ones who want to code as quickly as possible due to the time limit, and the ones who want to code as cleanly as possible, time limits be damned. You need to be prepared to listen to both these sorts of people. Sometimes going off half-cocked can end up wasting a lot of your precious hours because you end up having to replace code or work around nasty hacks. On the other hand, when someone wants to take a while to do something the "right" way, you need to take stock of how long it will actually take them to finish what they're trying to do. If they can't do it within the allotted time, there's not much of a point, and they may as well have been working on something else.

What's important is that you be practical and strike a balance between the two. Your code needs to be at least somewhat maintainable and readable, or else you'll run into roadblocks long before your time is up.

So there you have it. No doubt some other folks from Team OGA will read this -- if you do, please chime in in the comments, and I'll try to work your thoughts into this post. As always, if anyone has any comments or questions, please feel free to post them. I tend to reply to almost everything. :)

A final, encouraging note: Last Escape has taken on a life of its own, and the project is continuing. You can follow our work (and download the latest version) on GitHub, although for the moment you'll need to compile it yourself. Here's the link:

https://github.com/lendrick/Last-Escape

Bart K.
OpenGameArt.org

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tiny game: Stop the Zombies!

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I'm so proud of saving more than killing...

I discovered a tiny and minimal Java/Processing game through future superstar game designer William:   Stop the Zombies!

Launch nuke circles. Save human pixels. Kill zombie pixels. Or just kill everything.

The code is under a "Do whatever you want with it" license as far as I'm concerned, as it says in the code, it was based on someone else's code already.

It should be noted that that code will no longer compile due to changes in the Processing environment over the years.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dev-corner: Making unlicensed fan games -- why your time is better spent elsewhere

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If you're reading this blog, you're probably like me in that you feel that current copyright law vastly overreaches in favor of the "content industry" and at the expense of culture as a whole. You may or may not also enjoy playing unlicensed fan-made games -- games that make use of IP from other games without the original owner's permission.

Today I'm going to talk about a little game company named Squaresoft(*). I liked Squaresoft -- a lot. I never cared for the company Squaresoft all that much one way or the other, but I loved their games (as you may have figured out from my previous blog entries). Chrono Trigger, in particular, is a game that frequently shows up in the ubiquitous "Top 10 video games of all time" lists and polls that gaming magazines like to do from time to time -- and it's also one of my personal favorites.

Among Chrono Trigger fans, the Chrono Trigger franchise is generally considered to have been treated very poorly by Squaresoft (now Square Enix). After a dissatisfying sequel, the only attention Chrono Trigger has received at all has been in the form of multiple re-releases, none of which have changed or added very much to the game.

Arguably, when a company can release the same thing over and over with minimal modification and keep selling it to people, it's become part of popular culture and the copyright ought to have expired, seeing as how the stated intent of copyright is to encourage innovation and progress as opposed to cultural stagnation. If you look at the original intent of copyright as stated in the U.S. Consitution (To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries), fan games actually look like a fairly good idea. If copyright is leading to cultural stagnation (remakes of remakes of remakes), maybe it's time to take culture into our own hands and follow the intent of copyright, rather than the letter of copyright, which exists in its present form entirely because of the lobbying efforts of the content industry [author's note: the intent of this blog entry is not to advocate violating copyright law -- there are other ways to fight bad laws. Please read to the end for the full context of this article before reaching any conclusions about what I'm writing here. Thanks!].

So yeah, I have nothing against fan games. Given that Chrono Trigger has received precisely zero attention from Square in recent years, I would have loved to have played Chrono Resurrection or Crimson Echoes, both of which looked very promising. If Square had purchased those games from the developers and sold them, I would have happily paid for them. Instead, Square hit them (and their fans, indirectly) with legal threats, shutting both projects down (a week before conclusion, in the latter case). By the letter of the law, this is entirely their right.

Now I don't know about anyone else, but this really cheezes me off. Square has taken something that I like and turned it into a cheap cash cow, and I'd really like to stick it to them, which is why I'm advocating against spending time making more fan games. Allow me to explain.

Fan games, like it or not, do these big fan-hating companies a favor by creating buzz about their games. Chrono Trigger is 12 years old now. I think maybe it's time that, instead of talking about it and spending our time adding to the Chrono Trigger mythos, we ought to relegate it to the black hole of dead copyrights. That's right, I think we ought to move on and stop doing Square a favor by spending time and effort promoting their games only to be slapped in the face for it. Instead, take that massive effort that you wanted to pour into a Chrono Trigger fan sequel (or whatever other game you want to make a fan sequel of) and use it instead to take the buzz away from big, fan-hating companies by either making something original or expanding on some content that's already available in the Creative Commons (like the many different Wesnoth campaigns).

Wouldn't it be nice to have some open franchises that people can expand on without fear of being sued? This is something that I think the Creative Commons needs more of, and there's nothing stopping us from doing it.

Bart K.
OpenGameArt.org

P.S. Feel like working on a game this weekend (3/25-3/28)? Join Team OGA and in the 48-hour Reddit Game Jam!

----

* Now Square Enix

Dev-corner: Bart K. explains (and rants about) C/C++ pointers

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C pointer syntax is an egregious design flaw. It's so bad, in fact, that it's solely responsible for multiple generations of programmers struggling with pointers, which frankly aren't that hard of a concept. I'm going to take some time today to explain pointers and, in the process, point out exactly what it is I can't stand about C/C++ pointer syntax. If you've never been able to wrap your head around pointers up until now, please give this a read, and hopefully you'll have a better understanding of them by the time you get to the end. I'll start with the basics (which you probably already know, but please bear with me).

Conceptually, a pointer is a variable that points to a location in memory, generally another variable. In C and C++, the actual data stored in a pointer is a memory address, which is just a number that signifies a particular location in memory. You can interact with a pointer in two ways. You can either look at the actual value of the pointer, which as I said is a memory address, or you can
dereference the pointer (I'll explain this in a bit) and look at the value stored in the memory address that it's pointing to. A pointer can point to any type of variable. What's important to remember, though, is that pointers are their own type, distinct from the type of variable they're pointing to. A pointer to a character is not the same type as a character, which brings me to my first major beef with C/C++ pointer syntax. I'd like to introduce you to our recurring villain: the asterisk (*). The asterisk is a villain because he does two completely different things that both have to do with pointers, and he does them in a way that's very confusing. I'll address the first of these things now. Let's say you're declaring an integer.

int i;
Now you want to declare an integer pointer:
int *i;
When you're declaring variables, the asterisk signifies that the variable is a pointer. Easy enough, right?

Ha! If only.

A pointer is a type, the same way that character and integer are types. And yet, you don't declare them the same way as you declare other types. In fact, you can mix them in with declarations for different types, which is horribly inconsistent. C doesn't let you declare a mix of integers and characters on the same line -- so why can you declare a mix of integers and integer pointers on the same line?

Here's a better way to think of pointer declarations:
int* i;
Note that the space is now between the asterisk and the variable, so you're seeing "int*" instead of "int". This is conceptually a much better way to declare your pointers, because it stresses the fact that pointers are a distinct type. Unfortunately, here is where the evil asterisk rears his ugly head. Let's say now I want to declare two integers:
int a, b;
Good so far. Now I'm going to declare two integer pointers:
int* a, b;
Simple, right? No! The above code is wrong, even though it should be correct. What the above line of code actually does is declare 'a' as in int pointer and 'b' as a regular old integer, making it very difficult to treat pointers the way they ought to be treated -- as a separate type.

You either have to declare them one per line or declare them in a way that's conceptually misleading:
int *a, *b;
The above code correctly declares two pointers but makes the evil asterisk appear to be in his other role, which I'll get to in a bit. First, one other important note about declaring pointers: Never leave them uninitialized. It's 2011 at the time of this post -- the overhead of initializing a pointer is utterly minuscule compared to the amount of time it will save you later on when it's time to debug your code. The real way to declare a pointer is like this:
int* i = 0;
So, what am I doing here? Remember that a pointer is its own type, and it holds a memory address that points to a location in memory. When I set a pointer equal to something, I'm actually changing that memory address itself, not what's stored in the memory address. Hence, the above variable declaration is creating a pointer that points to memory address zero, which is invalid.

Now why on earth would I want to do that? Simple! When C looks at a pointer, it has no idea if the number contained in that pointer is a valid piece of allocated memory or just some random number that points off to Tux-only-knows-where. So what does C do? It just trusts you. It assumes, sometimes wrongly, that the number that's sitting inside that pointer is a valid memory address, and will happily write to that address if you tell it to, regardless of whether you've actually allocated memory there. Often times this will overwrite some of your code or another variable, and your program will continue humming happily along with no idea that it just made a huge mess of itself, only to mysteriously crash later on in a way that's very difficult to trace.

The thing about zero is the C knows it's not a valid address, so when you try to do something to memory address zero, your program will crash in an immediate, clean, and traceable way, which makes debugging a lot easier. If you're super hardcore and you're writing code on an embedded system where processor power is expensive, you can always remove the "= 0" bit later, although I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.

Another perfectly valid thing that you can do is just allocate the memory immediately when you declare the pointer instead of setting it to zero (or null, as they call it). In C, you'd do this with the malloc() function, and in C++, you'd use the 'new' operator. Here's how that looks:
/* In C: */
#include <stdlib.h>
int* i = (int*) malloc(sizeof(int));

/* In C++: */
int *i = new int;
Egad, what's all that craziness in the C version?

Let's look at the C declaration again, this time in glorious technicolor!
#include <stdlib.h>
int* i = (int*) malloc(sizeof(int));
First we'll take a look at malloc(). Malloc is actually a function that's declare in stdlib.h, which is why we included it. What malloc() does is allocates a block of memory and returns a void pointer to the allocated memory address.

A void pointer is useless on its own, since 'void' is a type that doesn't actually store anything. The intent, in this case, is that you cast the void pointer to whatever kind of pointer you're allocating, which brings us to the (int*) bit. If you're familiar with C and C++, you've probably already seen a cast, which is where you convert one type of variable to another. What we're doing in this case is telling it to change the void pointer that malloc() returned into an int pointer, so we can then set i equal to it. [edit: There are some good arguments in favor of omitting the cast, although my own C++ habits lead me to include it (not that one ought to be using malloc() in c++ anyway. See this stackoverflow link here: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/605845/do-i-cast-the-result-of-malloc (courtesy of
A2889261)]

The last part, the sizeof(int) is telling malloc() how much memory to allocate. Since we want a pointer to an integer, we're allocating enough space to store an integer. Sizeof is a function that's built into C that returns the size in memory of the given type. Hence, sizeof(int) returns the size of an integer in bytes, which can vary depending on your system architecture.

So, to summarize, the above line of code creates an integer pointer, initializes an int-sized block of memory, and sets the new pointer to point to the memory address you just initialized. Ugh.

C++ is way simpler in this regard:
int *i = new int;
When you say "new int" or "new char" or "new whatever" in C++, you're going through the same process as above, but in a much more readable way. The "new" operator looks at the type you gave it, initializes the memory for that type, and returns a pointer to it.

Hmm, now where'd that evil little bastard asterisk go? Ah, there he is! He's off dereferencing stuff!

So what does dereference mean, exactly? Well, remember how we when we initialized the pointer to zero, we were actually setting the address to zero, and not the contents of the address. One has to wonder at that point, how do we interact with the stuff contained within the address the pointer is pointing at? You dereference the pointer.

Dereferencing is an operator. An operator works essentially like a function, in that it takes a value and returns a different value. When you dereference an integer pointer, you get the integer that the pointer is pointing to in memory. When you dereference a character pointer, you get the character that the pointer is pointing to in memory. What's important to remember here is that when you dereference a pointer, it returns a different type than the pointer itself. This is because a pointer isn't the same type as the item that it points to -- a pointer to an integer is a pointer, not an integer.

So how do we actually dereference a pointer? We use... the asterisk! (dun dun DUNNNNN!)

This brings us to my other big problem with the asterisk. It does two completely different things. In one case, it signifies a type. In the other case, it's an operator. Let's look at this little piece of C++ code:
int* i = new int; // Here, I'm using * to signify
// a type.
(*i) = 100; // Here I'm using * as the dereference
// operator. I'm setting the value of the
// memory address that i points to to 100.

cout << "This is a memory address: " << i << "\n";
cout << "This is the value of that memory address: " << (*i) << "\n";
Notice that when I'm dereferencing i, I write (*i). The parentheses aren't strictly necessary, but they're another way to differentiate between using the asterisk to declare a pointer type and using it to dereference a pointer. In this case, the asterisk is an operator that operates on the pointer i and returns an integer variable that's located at the memory address i points to. I can then treat the result of that operation the same way I would treat any other integer.

Now, some more explanation on why I like to write my pointer declarations the way I do ("int* i;" instead of "int *i;"). Look at this code here:
int i = 0;
i = 0;
These above two lines of code do the same thing, the only difference being that the first line also declares i as an integer before it sets it to zero. Now look at this code:
int *i = 0;
*i = 0;
Any reasonable person would assume (wrongly) that the two above lines of code do exactly the same thing, with the exception that the first line also declares i as a pointer. In actuality, the first line ("int *i = 0;") creates a pointer an initializes the address that the pointer points to to zero. The second line dereferences the pointer and sets the value stored at the address to zero. In any case, if you try running the above two lines of code in immediate succession, you'll get a null pointer error, because you've set the pointer to a null address.

Instead, consider writing your code this way:
int* i = 0;
(*i) = 0;
Now, it's a lot more clear, despite the efforts of that thrice-damned asterisk, that the first line is initializing a pointer and the second line is dereferencing a pointer and setting the value of its address. (Note that running these two lines in immediate succession would still cause a null pointer error, for the same reason as above).

Finally, there's one last thing that you need to know about pointers: C and C++ don't care when pointers fall out of scope, which means that you need to explicitly get rid of them when you're finished with them. If you don't, the memory will never be de-allocated even once the pointer falls out of scope, so you won't know where it is to be able to de-allocate it or reference to it. This is what's called a memory leak, and it can cause your code to run slowly and eventually crash when it tries to allocate more memory than the machine has available. Delving deeply into memory allocation is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but here's a quick note about how to do it:
/* In C: */
#include <stdlib.h>
free(i);
i = 0;

/* In C++: */
delete i;
i = 0;
The free() function is essentially the reverse of the malloc() function, in that it tells the computer you're no longer using the memory that the pointer points to. The computer then releases the memory back into the pool so that it can be allocated again. The C++ delete operator does the same thing. The only catch here is that if you're writing in C++, even though it's possible to use malloc() and free(), you can't mix malloc() with delete and new with free(), since internally they work in different ways. In C++, it's best practice to avoid malloc() and free altogether, and you should never delete a pointer allocated with malloc(), or free() a pointer allocated with new.

The other thing you'll notice here is that I say "i = 0;" after I deallocate the pointer in both cases. This is just so that C and C++ will know in the future that the pointer no longer points to a valid address. If (as is often the case) you're deallocating a pointer at the end of a function, it's generally okay to skip this step, since it's just going to fall out of scope anyway. However, if you want to be as safe and clean as possible, it doesn't hurt to just leave it in.

So there you have it. My pointers rant. I predict that there will be at least some comments below saying that you don't have to do it my way, and that it's shorter to mix your pointer and non-pointer declarations or that it's better to not initialize your pointers. If you're new to pointers, ignore those people. Once you've gained a solid understanding of them, you can start breaking the rules a little bit. What I've written here isn't necessary in terms of language syntax; it's simply a good set of habits for beginners to get into in order to keep their understanding of pointers as clear as possible and also ease debugging.

If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments. If you see any real, actual errors in my code, please point them out.

Peace,

Bart K.
OpenGameArt.org

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dev-corner: Primer to texture creation

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So you got this shiny 25 megapixel camera from your grandma last Xmas, and are getting bored making photos of your cat with it? Put it too a good use and make some environmental pictures and upload them to the burning well!
Wait, you don't have a rich grandma?... well take some photos from the website above (all public domain) and convert them to some nice textures to use in games ;)

And of course FOSS is to the rescue and provides you with all the tools you need:


Most importantly THE GIMP of course! Which is the premier open-source image manipulation software, that doesn't need to hide behind other commercial programs starting with Photo and ending with Shop (the other major FOSS contenders being Krita and MyPaint both in that order aiming more at digital paining then image manipulation. Oh and check out Alchemy for a funny sketching app.).

Creating a seamless texture


So what you will normally want to do is take a picture that shows a relatively flat surface with an interesting pattern and not too strong shadows (a cloudy day with a lot of diffuse lightning is best is you want to take photos yourself).

Based on this you take a small part and try to make it seamless, e.g. make the edges fit to each other so that it can be tiled endlessly on a 3D surface in a game.


The guys at OpenClonk have a pretty nice tutorial about the manual process.
However nowadays there are also some smart algorithms available as GIMP plug-ins that try to do the job for you (with better or worse results, but it is for sure a lot faster). Here is an example with a short tutorial of what I did in less then 5 minutes with the perhaps most advanced of these plug-ins: Resynthesizer. Another, which looks good too but I have not tried is Texturize. However the latter does not remove your ex-girlfriend from your favorite holiday shots, so 1:0 for Resynthesizer :)

Making a normal map for your texture


So your are working on the next super MMORPGFPS super Counterstrike killer with next-next-next-gen graphics? Well then your texture (don't go for anything lower that 10,240 x 10,240 for your toilet door textures!) needs a normal map of course!



But don't worry, there is a GIMP plug-in for that too!

So there you have it... start making some texture packs and upload them to OpenGameArt!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Xonotic Player Interviews

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Do you like Let's Plays (Commented gameplay videos)? I do. Antibody of Xonotic made something similar with pro Xonotic/Nexuiz players and sometimes developers: Interviews during playbacks.

Um, I hope you like YouTube..


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sintel The Game mini-update

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The Sintel The Game crew contacted me and asked me to take down the post due to a misunderstanding, will keep the couple of screenshots here though. ~Goat





Awesome.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Red Eclipse 1.0

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The Red Eclipse project, forked from the now-defunct Blood Frontier project, has made it's first release - Red Eclipse 1.0: Ides Edition. It has been continuous under heavy development, as was BF before it, but the RE team took their time over a release opting to "Get Things Right" first*. Thus, the '1.0' should be an accurate reflection; solid gameplay, stable game, and embodies the majority of the game design the developers first envisaged.

It claims to have both single- and multi-player modes. At time of writing, the website has no about page, no details on the game other than the very basics (genre, platforms, etc). I am told that, in the single player game, you lead a squad through a series of zombie-infested maps. Who doesn't love zombies?!

Gameplay is described as 'agile' so it's frantic and fast-paced with acrobatics and super powered weaponry.

Red Eclipse is based on the Cube 2: Sauerbraten engine, so comes with a very powerful built-in map editing and the stability and graphical capabilities of one of the most mature Free Software FPS engines.

EDIT - updated to a better trailer. If you want to see the previous trailer, go here, but it's naff so just watch the one below.

Also Red Eclipse has applied for a forum on FreeGameDev.net which is another boost for the community.

* Note that I am a big believer in 'release early, release often' but the Red Eclipse team had the activity levels and situation to be able to be successful by holding off, partly because Red Eclipse SVN was nearly always playable and partly because a lot of the work had been done in the guise of Sauerbraten and the play testing, tweaking, and feedback from Blood Frontier.

Spaced Out - Vega Strike and Pioneer betas plus Multiplayer Simutrans and MotoGT

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The recent blogging activity, spurred on by the growth in official Free Gamer blog authors, is a pleasure to see. When I started the blog back in 2006, I didn't think it'd ever be so popular, let alone last this long.

* Casual reference to remind readers that I am the original author and, should I ever be displeased, I will smite thee with banana flesh limbs.

^ Reference to IVAN; LIVAN or IVANX are better - see community site for variants.

Vega Strike Shaders

There's a new beta release for Vega Strike. Version 0.5.1 beta 1 (forum announcement) is a bigger point release than the 0.5.0->0.5.1 step implies. Improved planet shaders, lots of bug fixing, lots of general tidy up, video support (mainly for mods) and a lot more ships.

Coincidentally, one of the original Vega Strike authors is working on a project called OurBricks for online collaboration of 3D resources. Lots of the Vega Strike ships are already uploaded.

The ever impressive Pioneer Space Sim project, an Elite-inspired game, continues its activity with the release of Pioneer beta 9. Changelog includes rewritten combat AI, lots of HUD work, some even nicer planet terrain, trade ships, and more.

Also there's big news for Simutrans fans. There was a lull in releases after Simutrans 102.2.2 as the team worked on introducing multiplayer. After nearly a year, version 110.0.1 (and 110.0.0 before it) has arrived with the usual plethora of fixes and well as full multiplayer support.

Our final exciting release is for the fourth beta for MotoGT. Changes include new tracks, effects, joystick support, full championship mode, and more. A video:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reddit Game Jam 06 (March 25 to 27)

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 All the screens I could find of RGJ 1-5 submissions

Reddit Game Jam 06 starts March 25 and ends two days later (22:00 UTC).
Anybody can participate. Those who can't code should get together with coders in a team. Team size this time is unlimited.
FOSS is encouraged, not required. [full rules]

From the subreddit's sidebar:
A game jam is an event during which all participants create games according to a provided theme within a short amount of time (usually between two days to a week). The Reddit Game Jam hosts game jams as part of the wonderful Reddit community.
Anybody can participate, experienced or newbie, flash developer or C hacker.
The main goal of this game jam is to be a learning experience for everyone involved. There is nothing to win except for fame, comments and of course karma."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Holy Crap! M.A.R.S. 0.7.0!

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Grave-Itation Pit!

I don't like gravity shooters. In fact I don't like them so much I don't play them. They require more precision and skill than I want to give and are unforgiving.

It is ridiculous that I like one gravity shooter though. A ridiculous one. M.A.R.S.

So.. new version.. let my just copy-paste that changelog.. OH MY DOG THEY HAVE A VISUAL CHANGELOG!
  • new music (by Obsidian Shell)
  • new game mode (Grave-Itation Pit)
  • improved AI (collect powerups, use specials, kick more butt)
  • new planet gfx
  • new ships
  • new specials (Freezer, Fire Wall)
  • gamepad support (tested with Xbox360 controller)
  • more languages (total of 15)
But seriously, check out their changelog!


Updates since the 0.7.0 release:
The web needs more visual help requests!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

SDL job offer, open art funding opportunities, tiny java/Slick game competition...

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SDL-makers Galaxy Gameworks are looking for a talented developer who would be interested in developing and maintaining SDL.

Pfunked might support artists starting their own funding campaigns for creating art for FLARE, as he did with Justin's. Here are some asset ideas.

Then there's the option to offer high-quality art for being 'funded into free' at OpenGameArt. The current target is $130 for this dwarf warrior.

I wish there were (more) open source projects at 8bitfunding, Kickstarter, Fundry and IndieGoGo. The only open source game dev projects I found are a flash game (successful), FAR Colony and an interactive fiction engine iphone port (successful). I'm sure not only full game projects could make use of these fundraising services but free content creators as well.


Slick contest - art by danc

Then there's a game competition by the Slick java game engine. Check the image above for rules and prizes.

That's about all I can find and think of right now. Got anything to add? :)

PS: do you use flattr? Then share your data for great justice! If you're not using it yet but are sharing content on the web, then start using it already! :D

PPS: Wesnoth is still offering $200 for a swamp sound loop.

News from 0 A.D.

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Well I certainly didn't see this coming, but 0 A.D. has decided to switch their game-play concept and turn the game into a Diablo like hack and slash RPG (while keeping the historical accurateness of course). For the first teaser pic see below:



Ok bad phun, I admit...in reality they decided to turn it into a FPS game, which I really can't understand at all :( I mean, just look at these horrible screen-shots they are putting out as a 'proof of concept':


However, unrelated to these shocking news... check out this boring new alpha 4 RTS release, code named Deadalus. It features a boring new AI, and a bunch of other boring stuff (including boring additional celts stuff)... so don't bother with it until the new and shiny 0 A.D. RPG, errm FPS arrives ;)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

icculus @ Flourish! 2011: Gaming and Linux - also an interview!

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icculus will be talking about gaming on Linux in Chicago April 2nd.
Ryan "Icculus"  Gordon is a former Loki Software employee who is now responsible for icculus.org, which hosts many Loki Software projects as well as several new projects created by himself and others. Gordon's site hosts projects with the code from such commercial games as Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, Quake III Arena and many other free and open source projects for multiple platforms.
I can tell the  Flourish! conference is a good one because it does not have "Free", "Libre" or "Open" in its title directly. ;)

Last year's conf was documented in videos and hopefully the same will happen with icculus' talk.

There is a recent interview [Czech version], in which icculus talks about himself, graphics programming, a better world and porting.

FPS release weekend?

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As the self proclaimed FPS expert here on FreeGamer (who doesn't have a PC to play any FPS right now :( ), I have to keep you updated on the newest released and developments of course!

So what is the big news for this weekend? Well looks like the Cube2 engine powered Red Eclipse is finally getting an official release tomorrow :)



Head over to their IRC chat to not miss the release, which is expected for Sunday 13th of March, 2am GTM! Oh and they are also having a small donation drive to fund their new player-model which will be released as all art assets of the game under a FOSS compatible creative commons license (170 Australian $ still needed at this time) AFAIK.

Alien Arena 7.51 released


A smaller release comes from the Alien Arena team today. Not much changes in version 7.51 in regards to gameplay or media, but under the hood the engine got some serious performance upgrade (full change log).



Enemy Territory Xreal development picked up again


To my surprise it stayed really quiet after the Enemy Territory source release last year, with ioET never getting even seriously started, and no other interesting releases showing up :( The only exception was the Xreal renderer partially ported to ET, but development stalled and their website recently went down, with no further signs of development.
Now however someone else seems to have taken up the source code and released a updated developers version. Let's hope for the best and I am really looking forward to play an updated version of that multiplayer classic again!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ryzom now nearly free to play

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In a bold (desperate?) move the guys behind the nearly completely FOSS but still commercial MMORPG Ryzom have decided to make their game free-to-play, but with some smaller limitations (which are supposed to make you buy a subscription at some later point of course ;) ).



We mentioned it before, but Ryzom also runs fine under Linux (as seen above), and check out their developers page, and art asset repository if you are thinking about contributing.

Personally I feel the game shows it's age a bit too much on the desktop platform, but a mobile version (lets say on Maemo and Android) could really shine and attract a lot of users. But now is your chance to try it out as long as you like ;)

Besiege - 3D RTS (Java/Ardor 3D)

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Besiege
Besiege is a space based real time strategy game where you conquer planets to let them produce new ships (and eventually research new technologies for you). Somewhat inspired by Eufloria and Galcon.

The description resembles Qonk.

The project did one thing that I think is very, very right: BIG SCREENSHOT ON FRONT PAGE.

The ardor3d game runs on Linux this way:

java -Djava.library.path=native -cp lib/*:Besiege.jar net.playbesiege.Besiege

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ManicDigger & ArdorCraft - Open Source Minecraft-likes

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 Manic building on a ManicDigger server

ManicDigger started as a third-party client for Minecraft Classic. According to the FAQ only Windows is supported but if you have Mono, you can do the following:

Get nightly binary (.zip: warning, it is a .rar), unpack.
mono GameModeFortress.exe
Thanks to gustavo for the instructions!

Must.. build.. house..

Unfortunately ManicDigger has the "most commonly used textures (grass and dirt) are ugly"-feature (just like Cube2/Sauerbraten for example).

ArdorCraft

ArdorCraft runs in Java (Ardor3d) and I got it running with its webstart file. I'm not entirely sure, but it seems that development halted four months ago.



By the way, Notch (Minecraft lead dev) just posted his first (technical) article about terrain generation. How is this open source related? Weeell.... not that much, except for the following scrap of text (from here):
Once sales start dying and a minimum time has passed, I will release the game source code as some kind of open source. I'm not very happy with the draconian nature of (L)GPL, nor do I believe the other licenses have much merit other than to boost the egos of the original authors, so I might just possibly release it all as public domain.
So it's future open source, right? :D

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

PyWeek 12 is upon us! - Also: Python Game Book wiki and Spielend Programmieren

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Take this for not doing your own "thing, number" logo! ;)

PyWeek 12 is a game challenge/competition. It goes for a week. It starts on 2011-04-03.

It's kind of open source: code needs to be visible, FSF license list is recommended, open source license appears not to be required though. See rules for rules.

Screens of PyWeek11's entries

Here's the initiator's blog (+feed) - in case you're the stalker type. I know I am. :)

PGB and SP banners/logos

Horst, a Wien-based friend of FOSS hosts the Python Game Book wiki and Spielend Programmieren ("Programming by Playing") which is a wiki used for his courses teaching kids to make games using open source tools and libraries. There might be a guest post by him on this blog sooner or later.

Some cool kids on his YT channel.. I hope you like das German.

PSA for psychodelic PyGame Hirnschoner

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Blender Game Engine Air race

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We recently featured another air race kind of game, but this on has much more eye-candy:



And believe it or not, but it is made with Blender3d 2.49b's game engine (update to 2.5/2.6 planned at some point)! Another video with a nice terrain you can find here (beware crappy sound). And an in-game track editor is under development too!

You can have a look at the development of it and download some old versions of the .blend over at the Blender artists thread. But don't expect visuals like above, as the awesome Blender artist Martinsh just recently started to overhaul the graphics like that.

So where is the catch? Well licensing is a bit unclear... in a recent BlenderNation news posts the main developer stated: "This air-race related project is a non-commercial open -source freeware and source .blend file will be released for common good", but I am not sure in how far this will extend to the new art assets, and a clearer commitment to a Creative Commons license and an actual release of the source .blend would make me feel more confident about the licensing status ;)
But hey... at least I assume it was completely done with FOSS software (e.g. Blender3D)!

OpenDungeons: Huge Progress

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OpenDungeons finally released version 0.4.7 of their Dungeon-Keeper like game, now with a new UI, better team colors, and many more animations. Very exciting to see the project develop! Download the new release here 

The Peragro Tempus project also kindly enabled DAMN asset managing for the OpenDungeon's media repo, which could really help with getting artists to contribute in the future (go to the DAMN link, then browse, and you should see the OD assets).

Sunday, March 06, 2011

FLARE leaping forward to 0.11 .. and problems with FOSS games

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Flare v0.11 gameplay (spoiler warning)

v0.11 of FLARE got released and developer Clint Bellanger writes in the FLARE blog about how it is tempting to add features (like adding more skills or replacing old ones) instead of moving to the next target (in this case vendors and action bar customization). Luckily what leads to a complete game wins in this case. :)

Note: polish != re-inventing/re-creating.
FOSS games are vulnerable to feature-creep and in many cases just don’t feel “finished” because they never really are. [...] It may be more fun to add new features than it is to polish those you already have, but polish is far more important if you want your game to be any good.
- William
In his 4 problems with FOSS games the author identifies following weaknesses of FOSS:
  1. Technical problems
  2. Lack of originality
  3. Lack of personality
  4. Design by committee
By the way: if you haven't read the challenges of developing long, plot-heavy FOSS games by OpenGameArt-admin Bart K yet.. you should.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Mapping for Purity

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Last month MCMic reviewed Purity and now he started making maps for it.


Stepbouncing for Purity by MCMic

p00 and p01 for Purity by MCMic

Friday, March 04, 2011

Maratis - Simple 3D Game Editor

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Maratis' editor

Maratis is a simple and visual game development tool designed for artists and developers. Tested on Windows, Mac and iPhone. [full feature list]
Simple is good and Maratis' Interface is very pleasantly simple. I suspect the same thing (without iOS support) could be achieved by providing a simple blender UI setup and a few instructions. The default Blender interface is quite intimidating for beginners after all.


Maratis and Blender demo tour
Data Yo Frankie copyright Blender Foundation | apricot.blender.org.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Terrain Editing in WorldForge

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Self-built fort in WorldForge

The trend of environment shaping has reached WorldForge. The building seen above is one static model piece though.


This video makes me dream of an open source Populous3-like. :)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Techne, Aviation & Airrace slash community-funded game development

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Billiards, a Techne game

Techne is a simple real-time physics engine.

Aviation

Aviation is a simple flight sim framework.

 Airrace

And then there's Airrace.


Airrace is a proof-of-concept Application written on top of Aviation implementing an air race game where the player has to pilot a light-weight aircraft through a track consisting of pylons or air gates. Although its written as a test of Aviation and in order to promote its development, it's still a full-fledged game. Currently there are 7 training courses and 5 race-tracks but adding more is a piece of cake.
We seem to be talking much about funding lately on this blog.. Well here's another one: the developer of all these wrote "an idea about a community-funded game development project but as this probably sounds like a cheap scheme to profit out of free software please consider reading the full text for the rationale behind it."

The author speaks of open source games and their origins, of game production methods and the dilemma of game dev versus engine dev (milk vs. cow).

I think I should quote the (quite long) core message:

I'm therefore proposing the following: I'm starting a fund-raising campaign with the purpose of allowing me to work on this project full-time. The original idea was to quit my job if enough funds could be raised to sustain me for a certain period of time, say a year although the game should take far less that that time to become playable. Still the devil is in the details which include documentation, thorough debugging and different game modes and these take time as well. Anyway I'm currently unemployed now so the plan can be simplified. If enough funds can be raised I'll continue working for as much time as possible on the game full-time. The goal will be networked gameplay and various modes such as duels, dogfights and bomber escort missions. I'm very open to suggestions of course, these are just some preliminary thoughts. If funding goes better than expected everything apart from the minimum I need for myself will be directed towards hiring other people fore side tasks. This may include artists and web-developers for the game GUI and pages. If funding fails I'll just create the core technology as I've done until now and move on to the next project. This is the only alternative if Techne is to be developed further. I just hope temporal restrictions will allow at least that.
I like the idea. But it lacks a progress bar. A.. donation widget.. wait, let me run Inkscape..
A donation widget idea (source)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Inside a Star-Filled Sky (Public Domain For-Pay) + Video Review + Jason Rohrer on open source

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Inside a Star-Filled Sky (IaSFS? InaStFiSk?) is a game. And art. [You want a game?=art discussion? Go to page 9! ;)] This art runs on OSX, Linux and Windows.

So you move around in procedurally generated mazes in real-time, shoot enemies, pick up stuff and change between levels. Sounds like.. GoblinHack so far (the graphics are softer though).

But.
The mazes are people.
Or pixelated monsters for that matter. Or upgrades.
You control a thing inside another thing. the thing is a maze.

The game costs at least $1.75 because it's pay what you want + fees.

I was lucky to get Jason to answer two of my questions.

Q: Is IaSFS in the public domain?
Jason Rohrer: Yes, it's all in the public domain (which is why no license file is included).

Q: Why do you release your games as open source? Why does open source matter (to you)?
Jason Rohrer: I release all of my work as open source because there's no reason not to.  People mostly "hide" their source code out of fear, but I think that fear is unfounded.  In the game world, releasing source code is almost unheard of, except for decades-old abandonware projects.  Long ago, I used to harbor the romantic hope that some other coder would benefit from reusing or at least studying my source code.  But over 12 years of releasing all of my source code, that has happened only rarely.  Instead, the main benefit has come from making my work as portable and as long-lived as possible.  Binaries break eventually as platforms change, and they cannot be repaired.  A source distribution can survive and remain functional much longer.  My passion for open source has transitioned from idealistic to pragmatic over the years.

IMHO Jason is a very interesting guy to listen to [video search "Jason Rohrer"].

About public domain: There is no PD statement in Jason's code as far as I can tell but I was told via email that it is PD. UPDATE: fortify dependency has been removed. The game code contains (depends on?) the non-free fortify.

I could upload the game and share the link. It'd be legal. I would feel guilty though. So instead I offer you my help at buying the game if you can't use the payment method available. If you can transfer to a German bank account or are located in/near Berlin, Germany, contact me and I'll buy the game for you if you somehow give me the money you want to pay.

I guess we need screens...
Enjoy! It's from the official gallery!

I guess a video can't hurt (I'm probably wrong)...

Enjoy the video! (F-Word Warning!) +1 and I commented it! (Here's another by me, without comments but boring gameplay)
If you have problems with video/flash/youtube... youtube-dl!

After making the video, I realized that playing on higher (lower?) levels (levels?) is amazing fun and reminds me of Meritous. Meritous is a hard punisher though. In (In a) Star-Filled Sky is is awesome getting destroyed in all these amazing ways just to get destroyed in even more amazing ways few seconds afterwards and sometimes even get to destroy something in amazing ways by chance or even skill! Awesome.

I really need to hear people's opinion about 1. this game 2. this payment model.