Blimey, where’d January go?

February 1st, 2011

Blimey, where’d January go?

On the one hand it’s that dark, cold, dreary month of the year (in London, anyway) that you just can’t wait for the end of. The post holiday slump. The failed new year’s resolutions. The extra inch around the waist. It’s best we put that behind us.

On the other hand, February brings the short, sharp shock of realising that we’re already a month down, and we start wondering what we’ve been doing for the last four and a half weeks, and whether we’re still on track for the rest of the year or if we need to pick up the pace.

So, where am I at? I feel like exclaiming no idea! But that’s not true. I’m not quite sure I’m where I thought I’d be, and I think I’ve taken a bit of a tangent, and seem to be doing too many things at once. But that’s ok, my mind likes to wander several paths simultaneously, and there’s really not that much I can do about it. Best leave it to its own devices.

So, where was I? No, where am I? Aha, let me explain…


I’ve spent the last few months (or so) toying around with Unity 3D. This is the graphics engine I’m using to build my games. I’m currently working on PC, but Unity allows easy cross-platform development. An initial attraction was that it closely resembled tools I was using professionally not so long ago, but that it was complelely free to use the ‘indie’ version of the engine, which provided pretty much everything I could dream of using, and even the pro versions are remarkably cheap compared to a lot of other engines on the market.
It is also fantastically simple to use, and I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with it and discovering how flexible and powerful a development tool it is. I wish I’d been using tools like this 12 years ago!

Project ‘Q’

This is my long term project, and I’ll reveal more on this throughout the year as it progresses, and at some point I’ll even say what it’s called. I’m actually afraid to name it right now, because I feel the name is just too cool and gives away too much and I don’t want anybody else running off with it before I’ve established my intentions. Oh, the trouble a single word can cause! I might just be a bit paranoid about that. It’s a character flaw of mine. Hand in hand with babbling too much.

Anyway, it’s a quirky, story-led 2D platform game, with a lot of mad science and science fiction influences. And probably a lot of sci-fi and pop culture references. I’ve got the core mechanics of it running, that was pretty much the first thing I got my head around in Unity – how to make 2D, sprite-based games in a 3D engine. You’d think it would be simple, but it’s a bit like choosing a Ferrari for a caravan holiday when all you really needed was a nice, sensible Volvo, with a tow bar. Or using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Or something. 3D engines like Unity are almost too good to be used for such lowly purposes, but once you’ve got your head around them you realise you can use them to do things in a 2D game you’d never have dreamed of doing 20 years ago, and that’s when you find yourself hyperventilating and spilling your afternoon tea all over the keyboard while a silly grin spreads across your face.

Project ‘F’

I’m still working on the title for this one. Something about filaments. Like, hyperspace filaments. Hmm. It’ll come to me… So, Filaments is a shmup. A horizontally-scrolling shoot-em-up. You’re a little spaceship, there’s thousands of aliens, and millions of bullets, it’s bullet hell, and you’re going to blast every last one of them to smithereens. Etc. That kind of shoot-em-up.

Yeah, I know, there’s millions of games like that. That’s ok. When I realised how big a project ‘Q’ would be, I wanted something simpler to do on the side, so that I could put something playable together relatively quickly so that I’d feel at least I had some more visible signs of progress. And both projects would be able to share some of the same code, stuff I’m writing specifically for 2D sprite-based games, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt too much. Now, remember that tangent I mentioned…?

Mesh Tools

As a direct result of core-tech I’m working on for both Project ‘Q’ and Filaments, I’ve been getting down and dirty with manipulating 3D models in code. Unity gives you some of the usual geometric suspects to play with when prototyping games, planes, cubes, spheres, etc, but for anything more complicated you need to use modelling software like Max, Maya, etc. These are rediculously expensive bits of software for indie developers. There are cheaper and free alternatives, but not many, and not everybody likes them.

This has lead me to play around with procedurally generating models directly in Unity. I’ve been working on flexible tools to make things like cubes and cyclinders that plug in to the editor, and would allow indie developers to build test levels for games more quickly without reaching for a separate application.

Now I’m working on code for slightly more complex shapes like staircases (anyone remember the staircase builders in the Unreal engine?), and I’m planning to release these tools through the Unity Asset store. I’ll put some work-in-progress screens up on the website soon.

It occurs to me that I could even add some simple mesh-editing tools directly into the editor, though I’m not quite sure if it’s worth investing the time. I might have to see if there’s any real demand for this. And I don’t even need these tools right now, I’m supposed to be working in 2D! Meh. I’ll be back on that track soon enough.


While writing out these musings I’ve watched the sun set through the blinds, the sky fading from a gradient of light blue over smoggy burnt orange, to deep blue, and pitch black. Or the light-polluted equivalent of pitch black. Still, at least the days here are getting longer again. Here goes February…

And so it begins…

January 6th, 2011

…although it’s just gone half five in the morning, so actually it’s going on hold.