Wednesday, September 26, 2012

September update - Job Hunting, Learning Frustrations, Back to School, and Great Anticipation

Greetings all, long time no post!

The following is what I have been doing over the past month. There's a lot of personal stuff and some game design stuff mixed in. If I figure out how to make a page jump to the GD stuff, then I will link it HERE.

The Job Hunt Continues...

I've been spending most of this month trying to find a job. Since my formal education is in Biology/Chemistry research, I haven't been seriously looking at any game design jobs in the Omaha/Lincoln area. Don't get me wrong... I am looking (and dreaming), but not seriously yet. I've been focusing my efforts in restoring my soon to be lost income at either academic research labs or industry. Recently, I've had a couple of phone interviews with Novartis, a pharmaceutical company with a plant in Lincoln. I'm being considered for their Microbiology QA position that is open at their Lincoln branch. The interview process is the longest one I've ever experienced: I've waited nearly a month just to get the first phone call to schedule a second phone call for a first interview (phone tag), followed by waiting another week to receive a third phone call to schedule a fourth phone call for a second interview (phone tag 2: the redialing), and finally a fifth phone call to schedule an on-site interview (2 hours in duration), two weeks later (Friday, September 28th, wish me luck!) Overall, the process has taken about 2 months since applying (not uncommon for jobs like this, but the interview process is over a month long!) I really hope they offer me the job, as I do miss my microbiology roots.

Over the past 2 weekends, I have been suit shopping in preparation for the upcoming Novartis interview. I finally settled for an inexpensive black suit from Men's Warehouse with a nice wine colored dress shirt and a black tie with white and silver designs (the ones that kinda look like leaves/drops). I feel quite snazzy while wearing the suit, and my wife gave me a nice buzz cut to go with it. I clean up quite nicely, I think.

 The Joys of Parenthood... Again!

In addition to job hunting, my evenings and weekends have been dedicated mostly to getting my house ready for the new addition to the family: Dexter Alexander Williams. Dexter's room has been ready for him for a while now, but we still needed other supplies like clothes and diapers. Fortunately, about a month ago we had a baby shower in Des Moines, and got loaded up with lots-o-swag, including a pimped-out Radio Flyer wagon. This thing has cup holders, seat belts, all-leather interior, satellite radio, GPS, and a spoiler! Well, only the cup holders and seat belts, but WOW! All my red wagon ever had was hot metal, rust, and the ever-present threat of tossing me overboard. (good times) Dexter should be arriving any time within the next 15 days, and hopefully not the day before my interview.

We also celebrated Celia's second birthday a few weeks early by having a party at our house with my in-laws. Happy Action Theater stole the show as the best party game, and the only one, really (she is only 2 after all).

Back to School... Back to Work!

In other news this month, my second job is in full swing now; teaching Introductory Biology at IWCC! I have a small class this semester (only 14 students), but every student seems enthusiastic and energetic during the lab/lecture. (that's 40% of week nights no longer accessible for game dev or game play) I'm not a huge fan of teaching this particular course, as it covers a broad spectrum of topics, but does not go very in depth. However, of all the possible part-time jobs I've found around here, this one pays VERY well for the time invested. Teaching is how I generate extra funds needed to pay down my debts. If it weren't for people like Dave Ramsey, my family would probably worry considerably more about my recent layoff.

Finally... Some Time to Make Games!

Immediately following Celia's birthday party, I hopped onto my computer to view the OGDA live stream interview of Raph Koster! I very much enjoyed his talk, but was not able ask questions before the stream ended. Of course, I didn't have anything to ask at the time, and haven't taken the time to think of any.

Other than missing out on the Raph Koster interview on site, I haven't really made any earth-shattering progress on my game design training. I've hit a roadblock of sorts attempting to complete the Robot Repair game in "Unity 3D Game Development by Example Beginner's Guide" By Ryan Henson Creighton. The problem I've found arises from trying to pass a string from one function to an array. The Guide uses nested arrays in JavaScript as the original method of storing these strings in a grid for making a memory game. unfortunately, the code does not work while #pragma strict is being used, and I'd rather work the solution out without removing that. I've been trying to replace the arrays with generic Lists instead. I'm close, but the same problem arises. I think the real problem (for either method of making a grid) lies in the fact that the Guide's code passes a string to an array/list that is intended to hold Objects. I could be totally wrong, but a few small changes may fix this.

While trying to divide my desk in half with my forehead working on the above problem, I've also been working on learning C# (my intended programming language of choice). I completed the four tutorials (and a few of the challenges) included in Visual C# 2010 Express. (Picture viewer, maze game, math quiz, and matching game). All of these tutorials were very well written, and I really like the IDE; the intellisense works much better than MonoDevelop IMO, and you can hide more unnecessary lines of code than with MonoDevelop. Unfortunately, I am out of the general tutorials, and have yet to try any that combine C# with Unity. I found a handful of Unity/C# tutorial options by googling for a while, but I haven't settled on just one yet. I will update/tweet later if I decide on one.

I also had an extensive conversation about LD24's evolution theme with Zembar, my old friday night game night buddy. We talked about how metroidvania games have characters who grow as the game progresses: each power-up adds new tactics to the game, and new ways to explore earlier areas. Evolution is often misinterpreted as the improvement of a species over time, when often these "improvements" are context sensitive (e.g. growing thicker fur in a colder climate, or growing less fur in a warmer one). Thicker fur in a tundra is beneficial, thicker fur in a desert is detrimental. Also, certain features of evolutionary ancestors are lost over time (often as vestigial structures). True evolution makes the new species unable to mate with the ancestor species, so in a video game, if the main character is to "evolve", it must become radically different from its original form, losing some features and gaining others (setting aside the whole "individuals don't evolve, populations do" concept).

Take Super Metroid, for example, imagine being given the option to choose between using the charge beam, (with a single powerful shot) or using a new hypothetical power-up that when charged makes normal shots moderately more powerful or faster, but individually not as strong as the single charge. Both options give you potentially limitless attacks against bosses, but tactics will vary based on what the player is fighting (e.g. Phantoon is only vulnerable when his eye is open, so single charges would work better, but Kraid only opens his mouth after getting hit in the face, making the mini-charge a better option.) Providing the player with two options for an equivalent powerup gives the game more potential for replay. This would be an example of divergent evolution - one origin that results in more than one ancestral lineage.

We also talked about how it would be fun to make/see a metroidvania game where every power-up had a counterpart, but choosing one meant losing the other (and subsequent areas of exploration that they unlocked), but both powers would grant the player access to enough new areas to complete the game. Once the player beat that game, they would have the option to play a new game+, where they got to keep any power-ups they found the first play through, and got to choose the other power-ups they missed out on. Also, a special area would have to be accessible at the end that required the use of all power-ups to find, which would house a special boss mode: a randomly chosen battery of bosses with a gate that required the temporary deactivation of about 75-80% of the player's powers to enter. All bosses are beatable, but may be more challenging without certain powers. ...There I go again, designing more than I could possibly create by myself in one lifetime...

Games, Games, and More Games!


My sugar-daddy, GundamX, AKA Vinnie the Fish, has bestowed upon me two highly anticipated titles for which we are to play until the holidays (when new addictions pile up).

Borderlands 2

The first shiny new game is Borderlands 2 (BL2). BL2 is the sequel to BL. It takes place some time after BL + DLC. I've encountered Roland (Soldier class from BL), and I hear the other characters make appearances as well. The game has the same look and feel as the first, just with new story/classes/characters, etc. I'm playing the Gunzerker class when I play Co-op, and the Assassin when I'm derping around solo.

I chose the Gunzerker first because he represents the best of the two classes I loved in BL: The Hunter, and the Berzerker. I loved both of these classes in BL, but each had drawbacks that left me wanting more...

Brick the Berzerker had awesome survivability, and an action skill that was amazing for survival, but not my preference for offense. Losing the ability to shoot during berzerking really frustrated me later on in the game, as it felt more like a free heal and escape than a viable offensive tactic. Brick also didn't have many good gun skill options - rockets or bust seemed to be his motto.

Mordecai the Hunter I liked a bit more than Brick - he had awesome firepower, and a few more offensive options than Brick... but he was made of glass. Mordecai's action skill didn't seem like it was worth it to me. I felt that Morty functioned much better with insanely powered mashers and revolvers than with the bird.

Both classes I played in BL had major drawbacks directly related to their action skills, but Salvador appears to get the best of both worlds: survival and guns! I'll write more on this later when I play some more.

Torchlight 2

The other addiction I'm nursing is Torchlight 2 (TL2). Torchlight 2 feels like a mix between Diablo 2 (D2) and Diablo 3 (D3). D3 had a slightly better control scheme than D2 by adopting a skill bar in addition to left/right mouse buttons. However, having only 6 active skills is a big part of what gives D3 so much of a challenge. A major flaw in D3 is that all max level characters have the same base stats and access to the same skills. This loses the specialty classes we saw in D2, and causes the endgame to degrade quickly into cookie-cutter builds or FotM builds (based on skill changes after new patches). In D2, the skills were diverse, and required a certain level of commitment to a character theme or role. Early on, D2 had a huge variety of ways that people specialized their classes. Stat points and limited skill points made these builds so unique. Torchlight 2 capitalizes on the best of both: limited stat points (not predetermined), and limited skill points (but no prerequisites other than level). The idea of skill tiers is also fantastic! Certain skills that may be cast the wayside have more chances to be useful if their tier unlocks are worthwhile. E.g. Heal Bot skill for the Engineer class: early on, the bot heals seldom, for small amounts of HP; pumping points into him unlocks tiers that also add mana regen and other benefits while improving previous stats as well (more healing, more hp/heal etc).

I'm still trying to adjust to the play style of the game, and I'm faced with the same problem that I encounter every time I play Diablo 2: What is a good build, and how do I progress to it. Diablo 3 spells out in plain language on their tool tips what each stats affects and what classes benefit most from which stat: (Str for Barbs, Dex for DH and Monks, and Int for Wiz and WD, although there are variants here too (e.g. high strength witch doctors for high armor stats which pass over to their summons)). As usual, I will read countless builds and guides for each class until I find a build that suits me. I'm leaning towards the Engineer as a class of interest, but I'm also enjoying the sheer killing power of an Embermage.

That's all for today, folks! I'll post again (hopefully) soon!


Edit: This just in... Vinnie the Fish says: Resident Evil 6 ships next week! My life just got busier...
(-_- " )