Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Our Journey Begins

Let's Tarantino it:

Back when I was in high school, I took a programming class my senior year. This was a big mistake: I should have taken it much sooner! I loved that class! I learned most of what I know about programming from that class. The class was in C++ programming. I learned variables and declarations, how to manipulate variables through code and user input, loops, and switches. We also briefly worked with some simple graphics programs too. One of the two final projects was to make a bill tracking system that calculated what portions of a given user's payment went to interest, and what portion went to paying off the balance. The other was to make a screen saver program (not actually implemented, just the animation) what involved making a random number of circles, with random color assignments, that had collision detection with the screen edges and each other. Very similar to the bubble screen saver, but with solid circles and a solid white background. I don't have any idea what happened to my old code files. They probably wound up on a floppy somewhere, and eventually were lost.

In my early college years, I took "Computing for Engineers". I worked with another programming language (I think), Matlab, and Excel. I don't remember much about it. Later on, I did take an intro computer science class that brought me back to C++ all over again. It was much easier to learn the second time around, but I wasn't as thrilled about it as I was in high school. I think my brief loss of passion was due to my infatuation with research. I worked with Dr. Mark Merchant, who researches alligators and similar species, particularly their immune systems, which have excellent anti-microbial properties.

Flash forward to recent years: After graduate school, I came to realize that my lifelong passion for playing video games had evolved into analyzing and studying them as well, and has started to rekindle my passion away from research. One example, in my TF2 days, I used to spend a fair amount of time spectating and watching the top players on each team (or each class) and studying their play styles: whether or not they stuck with a group, if they attracted medics (pocket medics), direction of attack, etc. I also spent a fair bit of time on some TF2 forums reading and posting about the game, but my favorite posts were speculations on new weapon load outs (after the medic update), and proposing new classes.

I enjoyed posting ideas so much, I decided to look into the field of game design. I read Tom Sloper's FAQs and other resources, I contacted a few developers from Iowa: Intuition Games (the closest game dev contacts I was aware of at the time), and got started with Game Maker, with the intent to move on to Flash. I was getting excited about designing games and was hopeful about the future.

Recently, I discovered OGDA, a local game dev association! This group supercharged my interest in the field, and has been instrumental in establishing contacts right here in Omaha. I have met several aspiring game devs, who want to succeed in the business as badly as I do, and even a few who have! I cut my game testing teeth on Vince Twelve's Resonance. I also showed up for the last Ludum Dare, which had a low turnout, but was still an excellent experience! After meeting at OGDA for a few months, I decided that I wanted to learn to use Unity, so I changed gears, and started studying C# and JavaScript, as well as studying books and other resources.

Two weeks ago today I was informed that I was going to lose my job in 90 days. I was surprised at first, but I decided to make lemonade (so to speak) and use this opportunity to kick my self-training up a few notches. I now have redoubled my efforts to learn JavaScript and Unity, as well as game design exercises. At the same time, I am applying to a variety of biotech companies to take advantage of my current education and work experience. When I am ready, I will start looking for opportunities in game development locally.

As for my game dev progress:

I am almost done learning the basics of JS, I just need to learn how JS handles classes, and I will be able to complete the next set of WBS Unity exams. Incidentally, I passed the first two exams last week.

In Creighton's Unity book, I am about to learn how to make a GUI, which I did a small amount of in Game Maker, but only scratched the surface.

As for the Challenges for Game Designers progress: I have read chapter 2, and have created a simple race to the finish game similar to chutes and ladders, except involves racing up and out of a sinking ship before the decks flood and a player is eliminated. The game so far isn't playable yet, as I still need tokens to represent players, and the water level. I also need to determine how the players will move, and I am favoring 1D4, to keep the game slow paced for the players and keep the pressure of impending doom upon them.

The other game exercise is a territorial acquisition game, with triangular tiles on a star shaped map. Players draw tiles from a deck every turn. The number is dependent on how many tiles their opponent has captured (still working on balance: how many occupied tiles equals an extra draw?). The method of capture: rock-paper-scissors (RPS). a tile and capture token may be placed on the board tiles to capture that tile. Neighboring opponent tiles will contest the placement of the new tile via RPS. If a player wins the contest, his or her opponent's tile is converted to the player's by replacing the capture token. If they tie, neither player wins, and each players' tiles retain their capture tokens. If a player chooses to, he or she can also intentionally lose a tile to the opponent. The game tiles will have a random assortment of symbols on each edge: rock, paper, scissors, gun, or dynamite. Rock beats scissors, scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock. Gun defeats rock, paper, or scissors, ties to gun, and loses to dynamite. Dynamite destroys all 3 surrounding tiles, removing them from play but is destroyed in the process. I love games that involve strategic planning, combination strategies (combo moves), and a smidgeon of luck - so far I like this second game more (if you can't tell...).

More to come, wish me luck (again) on the JS exams!


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