ISSUE #51                              THE VALE, QUILL                              11 MAY, 2019                              ONE BRASS

The Short Report

Issue #50 is still lukewarm off the presses, but we're back to our usual pace of things this week with another issue on your virtual doorsteps. As planned, work is happily continuing along on the optimisation update. The team's been keeping most busy with preparing new art assets and UI improvements. Meanwhile, Neal has moved on from working on bits of Prologue polish and is now sorting through team feedback on our developer tools, such as the Cutscene Editor and UI Editor.

Polishing and enhancing those tools will make a world of difference for speeding up development across the entire team. The more the whole team can use and access such tools, the less burden it will be on Neal having to do everything code side, thus freeing him up to work on higher priority systems and features. As a result, new cutscenes and UI tweaks are being worked on as we speak, though it might be an update or two before these actually show up in-game.

Lastly, for anyone who may've missed it, you should check out the recently released Special 50th Edition of The Post. It features a few extra appearances (like our character artist/animator and our icon artist) as well as a neat look at old Kynseed prototype screenshots. Though best we get back to work for now, as there's new sprites to make and new cutscenes to edit. So we'll see you all again in another issue soon!

Noteworthy Notes

For Week 2 of the optimisation update, I managed to get further into the little bits and pieces of nagging issues that affect the making of the game along with working on a skill tree editor and trying out the adult anims which are starting to come together. In our situation where the engine is custom, the editor is also custom. So it's effectively two engineering projects for the price of one! As the project has gone along I've been slowly iterating on the functionality for the editor to fill in shortcomings and improve the process of making the game, but there's always more to be done.

Often this leads to me making a mental or physical note and then trying to ignore it - which works to an extent. But it always leaves that question of how much time might be saved by improving the editor, both for iteration speed and for the removal of such thoughts needing to pop up and be ignored! That question can hopefully be answered a little after this update is complete, but it certainly feels satisfying to knock down some of those issues.

One aspect of it that is a bit of a crossover for editor and game is that I worked on improving text input. I've done some work to make the cursor movable to edit the text at any point, which turned out a little less straightforward when having to factor in how the DEL key works and using the CTRL key to jump between words. I've also been looking into fixing leftover placeholder images from changes in tiles over the last 2 years. That has proved a time consuming process but is coming to an end (down from 1,000 tiles to 100 or so left now).

It's tricky making changes like this because of having a live data set to work with. One which encompasses some 20 odd levels, meaning mistakes are quite costly to track down. If I was going it again I'd definitely look to plan for these kinds of situations more.

All in all, a better week than the last one though with more variety of work and the feeling of tidying up loose ends - all of which will prove handy in the coming months. For now I better get back to work on some bugs, along with the Cutscene Editor and a dozen other useful bits!

Foraging for Ideas

Games. We all love 'em (or we wouldn't be here). So many to choose from over a wealth of platforms. So many stores touting their wares and throwing super cheap or free games at you. Humble Store, Game Pass, Games with Gold, Epic Store, Steam, GoG, PlayStation Plus,, GameJolt, Uplay, Origin, and so on. My backlog grows and my desktop grows ever more full of icons. (Matt has a meltdown over my chaos.)

It really is a flooded market out there. There is good use to be found though, amongst this sea of games, for a developer. You can find inspiration even in titles that disappoint. Example: I have been playing Forager this week. It is quite moreish to start with, then unravels itself to be a glorified clicker game with no real point to it. However, the game gave me two huge jolts of inspiration.

The game is made with such love and the developer has his own story as a cartoon for you to read. There are also warm messages and a constant sense of it being a passion project. Secondly, it has lovely popping menus that feel lively, look colorful and clear, and even function well. We can learn from these things and one of our eventual aims is the UI to look, feel, and sound nice.

So many games, yet we can take something small from each one, even if it is not how we do things. Now excuse me, I just noticed a few more free games on Game Pass...

Noteworthy (Musical) Notes

With the current optimisation not requiring new assets from me (so far), I've been able to focus on some prep work for E3 next month. Quite a bit of work goes into traveling to the states and making yourself ready to meet the developers of the world. There's also some music related to the shops that I hope to get done before I go state side.

There are two important themes in the game's soundtrack that I want to put in numerous places around the game. The thing about themes, or rather 'leitmotivs' as they're called, is that you need to repeat them quite a bit before the brain makes the right connection between the theme and the thing the theme represents. It then subjects it to memory. So I'm looking for all the places in the game where these themes can be repeated and associated.

The acquisition of shops is one such place. The theme I want to put there represents personal growth and development. I want the acquisition of each shop to have its own iteration of that theme, using the instruments that I also use in that shop's music. In turn, each shop is influenced by the instruments used in the region's music they're based on. So just from the music alone, you'll be able to hear what shop you're acquiring and where the shop is located. Plus they need to give you a feeling of personal accomplishment. I hope it works in practice as well as it does in my mind!

Making a Scene

Dang, just thought of a better name for 'The Short Report'. I could've instead called it 'In a Nutshell'. Ah well.

Aside from lamenting missed naming opportunities, I've been busy spending time in the game's Cutscene Editor. This tool was initially put into the engine earlier this year, but there's been so many spinning plates for me to tend to in recent months that this is the first chance I've had to really sit down and sink some time into it.

Though for now, the goal isn't to create the cutscenes themselves. Not yet, at least. Right now the goal is to note down any problems, bugs, or quality of life improvements that the Cutscene Editor needs. I've already compiled a first pass list of feedback notes and have sent them on to Neal, who'll be sorting through them over the next day or so.

Here's how the Cutscene Editor currently looks. There's still work to be done on it, but soon I'll be able to use it to create scenes and story moments in the game. (Click image to enlarge.)

Something that I'm particularly fond of with the Cutscene Editor is that Neal and I worked together to make it behave and feel like a video editor. Specifically, Adobe Premiere Pro. It's the video editor I personally know best and I've been editing videos with it going back as far as when I joined the Lionhead community, if not longer. As a result, I tend to handle any and all video work needed on the team - our current trailer being one of the most recent.

So what this meant was that when Neal and I began the initial groundwork for the Cutscene Editor, I was able to give him a rudimentary design to follow which was, at its core, a very simplified version of a video editing interface. This included things like: a project timeline at the bottom, a moveable playhead marker to denote which frame the editor is on, timeline blocks/objects with expandable in and out points, a properties window on the side to alter the behaviour of timeline items, and so on. It also shares many of the same hotkeys as Premiere Pro, so I'll even be able to use all the little video editing shortcuts that have become muscle memory over the years.

Everyone does their layouts differently, but here's how my Premiere setup looks. You can see the basic similarities when compared to the Cutscene Editor above. (Click image to enlarge.)

There's still work to be done polishing up the Cutscene Editor for regular development use, but the recent round of feedback notes compiled this week will likely take care of the brunt of it. Once that happens, I'll get to start making some new cutscenes to be included in future updates!

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