Category Archives: Creating a Game

Reactuate Games does Cities: Skylines

Last Friday, Ron and I played Cities: Skylines, a city-building game that closely replicates some aspects of our own video game, Guardian. Austin and Katey were out for the day, so this left Ron and I to sort through the busy role of city mayor and grow a city into a thriving metropolis.

Here’s the video:

The Pros:

  • The atmosphere and game play is life-like. Children actually need a school, the people really want electricity, and houses physically burn down. All the pestering tasks that come up when building a town in real life, such as constructing a water line, providing energy, and supplying a landfill and garbage trucks, are necessary in the game as well. Which makes us feel like they weren’t cutting corners in this virtual builder.
  • Clickable graphics. Players can click on the scurrying residents and find out who the individuals are and what he/she does for a living. Click on the houses and see how many live there. While this info may not be important, the intricacy of detail adds to the realism.
  • Chirper. This feature (not to be confused with the better-known Twitter) is a notification system that reports the goings-on to the player. The people of the city will congratulate the player on adding green energy resources or blame him/her for not having enough police officers. Criticism happens passive-aggressively. And just like we like it in the real world… through social media.
chirper
Thisweeksgame.wordpress.com

 

The Cons:

  • Can’t choose individual businesses. Unfortunately, as the mayor, you cannot pick which industries build in your city. Companies simply form once placed on an industrial zone. (At least, this seemed to be our experience.) Extra customization here would be more fun for those who love a little bit more control.
  • Taxes. Enough said.
  • Too technical. While the realism of the game is a large plus in Cities: Skylines, sometimes it just seemed too real. Any time numbers and percentages popped up, either to fund or tax people, I got squeamish. I personal don’t want to deal with that adult stuff. I just want to put my pizza parlor next to The
    cities-skylines-01
    Gamingshogun.com

    Williams’ and watch my town flourish. But maybe I’m wrongly remembering how my days of Rollercoaster Tycoon used to be.

 

Did you like Cities: Skylines? Leave your comments below or give a suggestion for our next Play & Learn!

 

“Five Minutes of Fame” — Week 10 Recap

Reactuate Games had an influx of visitors last week as the team prepared for bigger and better things happening with Guardian and the company. Among the special guests was Angel Rodriguez, who is now more like an official member of the team, co-hosting the Say Something Smart podcast with me.

Jon Sheppard of Sheppard Studios joined us in the Command Center, too; we listened to his take on our company’s musical interpretation. This theme encompasses some of the adventurous aspects we envision for Reactuate, but it also includes a hint of 8-bit to acknowledge our game development.  You can listen to the entire theme here.

IMG_7052
Ron on TV

Finally, Abilene’s KTAB news station visited us for a live interview last Tuesday. To say that we were as giddy as 12-year-old girls at a One Direction concert is an understatement. Sure, it was only local TV … but hey it’s a start! And as I’ve mentioned before, when you’re in a startup, you should celebrate the small wins. The KTAB crew was super nice and even complimented the cookies we offered (psst…. thanks United Supermarkets).

Task-wise, we got a lot done. Ron, who was on a task-slaying spree, accomplished much, writing and recording a couple of leadership vlogs (more news on those later), creating images for our podcast series, and installing some podcast plugins for our WordPress.

Ron was also our guinea pig for the first episode of Say Something Smart. Angel and I interviewed him and discussed a plethora of topics, including drug testing in professional gaming competitions and the real definition of gamer.  Before we started, I admit that I was a little nervous. The mic seemed to stare into my soul and stifle my voice from sounding natural. But as we eased into the podcast, we all started to mesh a bit more and flow with the conversation. Our first episode will be posted in a few days on our website, YouTube, and on iTunes.

I also sketched out some teaser trailers that we will hopefully create within the next couple of weeks. As of now, we have two visions: one lighthearted and the other … a little less so. We’re excited to finally get some moving video of the game out to the public and interest more people in Guardian.

Screenshot 2015-08-03 11.13.10
Power plant

Katey finished her recreation of the power plant (which now has a smoke feature). She also created some cool icons for the UI. They include simple images, so players will easily understand their function, but they are unique enough to be intriguing and admired as well.

Austin worked more on the UI system and implementing missions. He also put Katey’s icon to use. Buildings can now be placed in the game and rise from nothing upon command thanks to our code artist, too.

icons
Icons for UI

Reactuate Games does Super Smash Bros.

Last Friday, we had a blast playing Super Smash Bros. … and you can’t see it because our screen didn’t record any of it. But we promise it happened.

There was screaming and jeering and vengeful laughing– mostly from me– but everyone seemed to have a good time. And after some intense 4-player action, we talked about the pros and cons of this wildly entertaining game.

Pros:

  • So many characters to choose from! Not only do you have the regulars like Mario, Luigi, and Peach, but you also have Pac-Man, Pokemon characters, and the Wii Fit Trainers. Yes, the lady trainer pulls a yoga move. No, it didn’t do much — but it’s cool as an option anyhow.

    Screenshot 2015-07-27 17.03.18
    smashbros.com
  • Up to 8 people can play. Why would you want 8 to play? To add to the chaos, of course! As the saying goes, the more the merrier. And the more to demolish.
  • Developers still focused on details. If you attack someone with a shield, you’ll get hurt. Even with all the craziness happening, Jigglypuffs flying left and right, it’s nice to know that even these minute details work.

Cons:

  • We still don’t understand the controls. As Ron mentioned, he was just hammering buttons the whole time and played a lot of defense because he, like the rest of us, couldn’t really grasp what the controls specifically did. Nor could we find a tutorial. (But that’s kind of the fun, right?)
  • Controls vary with remote. This may not be a con so much as just an annoyance. We couldn’t help Ron, who had a Wii U gamepad, because our setup was so different. On that note …
  • The wii remote doesn’t have any effect on game play. The movement censor means nothing in this game (at least it didn’t seem like it). I see a missed opportunity.
  • Camera view plays favorites. Sometimes the camera would follow a character to their death besides focusing on the remaining players left on the platform. What gives? This sometimes made it difficult to continue fighting when others were defeated.
ssbyoga
en.wikipedia.org

 

Do you love Super Smash Bros.? Let us know in the comments below, or give us suggestions for our next Play & Learn!

 

 

 

 

“Fine-Tuning” — Week 9 Recap

As Reactuate Games gains more support and Guardian comes into focus, we have begun to notice the details that were once not a big deal — the things we said we’d get back to at a later date or work on once we get the bigger priorities complete. We did a lot of this fine-tuning last week.

We largely focused on a new podcast project we’re starting. Angel Rodriguez (find more about him here) and I will be co-hosting the series and discussing anything from video game development to how society can benefit from playing these kinds of games.

I worked with Ron, who has past success with multiple podcasts, to reconstruct a lot of his ideas. We sketched out our theme, some question topics, and the outline for the episodes. The title is something we’re still wrestling with, however. We’ll be recording some of those episodes this week, so be on the lookout for those soon.

Ron also contacted a music tech who will create our company’s sound– meaning, he’ll produce music that embodies what RG is about. This music could potentially be on podcasts, trailers, and other videos that we create. Eventually, our music man will make a theme for our game. But first things first.

Screenshot 2015-07-27 14.10.00
The new power plant

Over the course of last week, Katey concentrated on fixing and revamping some of her older work. Our digital artist added more realistic lightning to the colony portal, shrunk the warehouse to be a more appropriate size, and recreated a power plant with an interesting design. 

While still coding the game into existence, Austin also managed to take on some art duties by putting together a thumbnail for our YouTube videos. Though this seems like a simple task, it’s important to incorporate the right amount of details and simplicity for YouTube audiences scrolling through clips. He also wrote up a programming blog post and continued testing UI elements. 

Besides working on the podcast, I uploaded a new video to YouTube, entitled “Why We’re Not Free to Play.” It’s an interesting talk on why we’ve chosen not to go with the trend of F2P. Watch that below or check it out on our YouTube channel

I also created an email subscription survey, completed some courses in YouTube Creator Academy, and wrote up a document on our target audience avatar. These tasks are fleshed out a bit more in my marketing blog post.

To end the week, we invited Angel over for some shawarma in our office. And it kind of felt like this … 

Avengers-shawarma_510x317
ew.com / Shawarma provided by Big Country Wraps in Abilene, Texas!!

The RG Team does Civilization V

Last Friday for our Play & Learn we wanted to play Star Trek Online … but, unfortunately, I am inadequate at remembering passwords two minutes after I create them. So, we played Civilization V instead.

Here’s our video of the Retrospective and Play & Learn:

While Katey took over observer mode, Austin and I played. An hour of game time flew by as we established our empires, conquered brutal bandits, and waged war on Germans who didn’t want to be our friend.

Here are some pros we found for the game:

  • Animals move like real animals! We noticed that whales jumped from the surface of oceans and horses seemed to do horse-like things, too. These small details make the game play more realistic and fun.
  • Viewer mode. The observer mode that Katey was on is similar to a feature we hope to implement in our own game. Like our Colony Cam, this position allows the person to look at the game play in a new and unique way.
  • Automatically takes you to the action. This feature helps prioritize the big battles that occur during game play.
  • The mini-map is clickable. Katey could click on where she wanted to go using the mini-map. (However, she had mentioned that clicking on the users’ names would be more helpful.)

Screenshot 2015-07-21 16.01.40

  • Enlarged images. These large-scaled images help players understand what to do. A huge group of cattle or giant glittering minerals give players a hint at what’s supposed to take place.
  • Option to change pace. This is nice in that various personalities or gamers can play at their own speed.

And here are ALL of the cons we came up with:

  • It can get dull if pacing is too slow. Sometimes I found myself clicking “Next Turn” just because …
  • Observer can get lost. If you’re the observer, you won’t really know what’s going on with your friends. No info is available on them, and you won’t be able to see political relations. (But this may be a good feature because you certainly don’t want a spy helping out an opponent.)

Have you played Civilization V? What did you think?

Remember to join us next time when we do another Play & Learn on Twitch!

“Checkpoint”- Week 8 Recap

Last Friday, our company let go one of our digital artist. We were saddened by the decision, but it was one that the company felt needed to be made. The RG team shared a tearful goodbye with the artist and then tried to get through the rest of the day.

This is the ugly side of business. Sometimes things just don’t work out.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 3.24.03 PM
Guardian’s colony portal

Though we are one man short, we still have a dedicated team working hard on getting Guardian’s demo out by September 1st to begin our Kickstarter Campaign. Austin, our programmer, has been implementing the UI into the  game and creating the introductory missions that will advance the player through different levels. Katey, our digital artist, has nearly completed one of the most important pieces in Guardian— the colony portal. This gigantic contraption will transport humans from earth to the foreign planet by  using tremendous amounts of electricity. Because so much energy goes into this process, colonists won’t be able to come and go all willy-nilly.  The decision to populate this new world will not be an easy one.

Katey also revamped our hydroponics farm, a building that will act as a greenhouse for agriculturally-inclined colonists. More windows= more sunshine = happier plant life. (Katey will be doing a majority of the artwork from now on, except for a few graphics that will be contracted out to other artists.)

Hydroponics farm
Hydroponics farm

This last week I focused largely on finding new blogs and bloggers that are primarily interested in indie games.  From Kickstarter’s website, I searched for other indie game companies’ campaigns and saved their games’ images. After using Google image search, I found a few blogs that covered these games. Eventually, I will reach out to these bloggers in hopes that they will want to write about Guardian, too. It could be a long shot, but there isn’t any hurt in trying, either. This marketing strategy stems from Tim Ferriss’ article “Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days.” It’s a great read if you or your team are planning to do a crowdfunding project.

The RG team faced a difficult week, one that stretched us as game developers and as individuals. But a new week is upon us, and we’ve taken the time to rejuvenate, refocus, and reset our mind on the ultimate prize.

“Tea, Earl Grey, Hot”-Engineering Log 3

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just tell the computer to make something and have it done (also food replicators would be cool too)? How the user interacts with the computer and/or game has a dramatic influence on the overall experience. While our user interface (UI) won’t be voice activated like the computer from Star Trek, we are working to make it easy to understand and accomplish tasks without a lot of hassle.

oldUI
placeholder UI from older method

That being said, let me go back several weeks ago to talk about the beginning of our UI system. Those of you who remember (or have read my past blog posts) will know how I ran into some issues in the organization of code early in development. Luckily, I found a tutorial to help me get my bearings and better organize our code. There was just one problem with this tutorial: it was written for Unity 4.1. We are using Unity 5.1.1 and a lot of changes have been made, especially to the UI system. The UI the tutorial used was the outdated way of doing user interfaces. So while I worked on some other mechanical things, Ron started working on our new User Interface. The biggest inspiration for our design came from Jurassic World‘s website. Ron thought that having the ability to dismiss certain elements but still having easy access to them was a nice idea. So Ron got to work animating and creating placeholder UI elements.

newUI
New UI with placeholder graphics

Here is where I come back into the picture. Now that the placeholders are set up, it has been my job to link the functionality that has already been coded from the old UI into our new interface. It’s actually kind of weird to get it to work since now I have to go find all of the elements to change. I have been working to make things as efficient as possible and only update when needed. With some basic functionality now tied into the new UI, our Digital Artist, Katey Bluel, will be working on creating amazing graphics and symbols for the UI, and I will begin work on creating some of the more in-depth UI elements, such as a pop-up command window and in-depth unit/building stats page.

In addition to the blog posts on the site, Katey and I have started individual stream series on Twitch that appear throughout the day where we show you what it is we are doing and you can watch the development of the game in real time, make comments, and ask questions. Also, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel, as well as our email list here on the site. We are now 41 days away from the start of our Kickstarter, and the game is moving along quite nicely.

Engineering Log Supplemental: 7-27-2015

details
UI with pop-out details window
command
The Command Center’s detail view.

A lot can happen in just a few days, and instead of another short blog, I will be adding onto my last UI blog. Last week, I was able to get a pop up window of detailed information and commands to show up. The idea is to give the user a great deal of information in a nice and neat little area. Here the user will have access to different commands, various progress updates, and other miscellaneous information about buildings and units. This is only brought up when desired from a flag above the selected object. The graphics are still all placeholders until our artist has a chance to sit down and switch from modeling to 2D art. Now that most of the UI framework has been set up, I will be adding a few small additions here and there and continue working on the missions for our “Simplest Path to Portal” Epic.  The end of this week will mean we only have one month left before Kickstarter, and we are all working like crazy to get content out before then. We’re giving it all we got!

P.S. I tried Earl Grey tea last week for the first time! It was great.

Next Engineering Log:
Engineering Log 4

Previous Engineering Logs:
Engineering Log 1
Engineering Log 2

RG Takes on Heroes of the Storm

Last Friday the RG team played Heroes of the Storm, a MOBA by Blizzard Entertainment that merges multiple characters from their other games. Video of our trial is on YouTube now — WARNING: opinions expressed by individuals are his/hers alone, and in no way  represent Reactuate Games … except that they kind of do because we are the company. So, yeah.

Here’s our video of the Retrospective and Play & Learn:

And the summarized version of our pros and cons that we discussed after playing an hour or so of HOTS:

Pros:

  • The game provides a good walkthrough for beginners. Devs made sure that the players knew how to fire a weapon or call on their faithful steed before letting them flail around too much.
  • Animations are super detailed, and it’s apparent the artists dedicated some time to them. Even the extra animations on the sidelines, which weren’t even supposed to be noticed, tell a story of their own and complete the atmosphere.
  • HOTS made it simple to select items. A red outlining shows the player exactly what can be demolished or attacked, so you don’t have to wonder or waste ammo.
  • The music and sound effects work pretty well with the game. No unbelievable, out-of-place screams or horse-trampling sounds occur, which is a bit refreshing.

Cons: 

  • The AI for HOTS is a bit too predictable. Of course, we played on the easiest of easy levels, but still …
  • As one of our artists noticed, there is no racial diversity in this game. All humans are white, excluding one who is a witch doctor and completely covered anyway. What’s up with that, Blizzard?
  • Pop-up text, like the level-up signifiers, tend to show up over the action, causing some distraction.

Here are some issues we discussed that don’t necessarily fit into the pros or cons. Basically, we disagreed on these ideas.

  • The WASD keys are a hassle. Some of these same keys are used for powers, and the arrow keys are used to move the camera. This caused issue when someone had to either take his hand off the mouse or use his left hand to move the camera. In HOTS’ defense, one doesn’t necessarily have to move the camera if it is locked and they like it to be controlled.Screenshot 2015-07-16 12.04.32
  • On the beginning level, a small screen is visible in the top left corner that doesn’t match the UI theme. This screen has computer-ish text and lists what the controls do. Some believe this screen should match the rest of HOTS’ theme, but for new players, this screen stands out, helping them read and learn the controls quicker.
  • HOTS makes us want to play another game. Now this statement could be taken in two ways. The ongoing battle made Ron think of Blizzard’s other works. He said HOTS made him want to play those games. However, I wouldn’t want to make a game that someone leaves because it reminds them of a game they would rather play. I want to make a game that players would rather be playing or can’t quit– because it’s that good.

 

Overall, we know HOTS is a well-loved game, and thousands can watch it all day long on Twitch. It was fun to play, and we definitely learned a lot from it to implement in Guardian.

What do you guys think of HOTS? Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments.

“Halfway Point” — Week Seven Recap

We’ve spent 7 weeks on our game.

We have 7 weeks until Kickstarter.

And that is terrifying.

kickstarterpig
mashable.com

Last week, it finally hit me how little time we have to get to a playable position with Guardian AND to build a fanbase for our Kickstarter campaign. Forty-nine days. I may or may not have had a mini panic attack.

Our Twitch followers have asked if we are on schedule, and to a certain extent, we are. Colonists’ structures and worker units are being put into the game every couple of days, ominous beasts are being reimagined and designed, and new ideas, like Colony Cams (an interactive option for gamers that allows them to watch their colony grow at ground level), are popping up every day.

Support for our game and the company is not where we wished it would be, unfortunately. Exactly how long does one need when marketing a video game? I’m not sure. But a few months certainly doesn’t seem like enough time. Even then, the finish line approaches with more haste.

Inspiration personified visited the Command Center last week, easing our anxiety some. His name is Angel Rodriguez (@dirOFawesome). Angel is a professional gamer who travels the world to compete in game tournaments and gives inspirational talks related to the benefits of gaming. Oh, he also works full-time in the U.S. Air Force AND has a family.

Angel reminded us why games are so important; besides simply being fun, video games teach us about problem-solving, making decisions, and taking on pressure. After our chat, I realized that Guardian will be more than just an entertaining, intriguing, and addicting hobby. It could make us better at life, too.

***

In Guardian-related news, the team has made great strides in their own work. Katey (@BluelKatey) conquered curves while modeling more luxury houses in Blender, Austin (@Austin_Graham24) worked on navigation, having builder units move across rough terrain, and Ron (@rondavis007) created a new UI for the game that follows our futuristic theme.

Our current UI
Our current UI (Click to watch in action)

I also did an interview with Austin, our code artist. In the video, he talks about programming, the foreign language of coding, and what someone should do if he/she wants to become a programmer. There’s tons of great information, so go check it out on YouTube or click here.

 

 

“Portals and Particles”- Engineering Log 2

Read Engineering Log 1 if you missed the first post detailing our first few weeks and the struggles we faced early on.

So how does one travel across the universe when warp speed isn’t fast enough or even an option? A Starga… I mean portal, of course. Call it what you will, but there is no faster way to travel than simply stepping in on one side and stepping out on the other halfway across the galaxy! This is your first main goal as colony manager: build a portal. That’s easier said than done, and it is our goal to be able to show you just how to do that in the next coming months.

We have been working hard here at Reactuate Games moving along with the game. The Epic (i.e., a large collection of tasks) we are focusing on for our Kickstarter event this fall is called “Simplest Path to Portal.” In other words, these are the mechanics that are essential for the user to land his or her colony ship and eventually construct a portal to bring colonists to the newly found colony. All information about portals and colonists is restricted to personnel with Level 3 Security Clearance (i.e., anyone signed up for the Reactuate Games newsletter) or higher.

ghostBuilding
Ghost Building

One of our past milestones has been to get building construction up and running. There are some slight alterations that can be done in the future as extra things to make users happy (you’re welcome future players), but the core mechanic is in place. We have “ghost” buildings as a means to help the user find the perfect location for the building (with the color green meaning it is a valid location and red meaning it is an invalid location). Once construction begins, the building slowly rises from the ground until it is fully constructed. Additionally, when two or more builder units work on a building, the building is constructed faster. In contrast, if all of the builder units are destroyed or leave, then construction is paused and the building remains unusable until it is complete.

particles
Simple particles around a building

Just before our three day weekend for the Fourth of July, I began looking at particles and experimenting with them in different places and uses. Particles are a very interesting system in Unity, so I took the time during our short week to experiment and familiarize myself with particles. It was actually a lot of fun playing with the settings to see what different kinds of effects I could get from simple particles.  If we are going to have a science fiction, futuristic game, having good particle effects are pretty important. I’ll revisit particles in another Engineering Log once we have more fleshed out particle systems and effects.

While I was working on game mechanics, Ron generated our alien landscape. As we are moving our project to integrate this larger terrain, I have also been working on our navigation system to keep units moving smoothly over the rough terrain. We are still working on how to do our pathfinding to keep our units moving along the terrain. I will continue with pathfinding, optimizing our code, and simplifying  the interactions between units and buildings over these next few weeks.

PurpleLand
The New World: “The Purple Land”

This past week we have been creating “missions” that will guide new players to the point of witnessing the power of their fully operation battle statio… I mean portal. I am hard at work getting these basic missions set up in our new environment. The first of these missions is to have the colony ship land and “beam” down units and allow them to carry out orders. Now that I have probably ruffled enough feathers by referring to Star Trek, Star Wars, and Stargate all in one post, I will end this Engineering Log.

Next Log:
Engineering Log 3