Happy Canada Day!

Date: June 30, 2014

Log Entry by: Max Shields

Happy Canada Day from everyone at Jellyfish Games!

Happy Canada Day from everyone at Jellyfish Games!

 

Enjoy this wonderful day, wherever you may be, whatever you may be doing, whether you are moving your goods to your new Astrobase, or simply enjoying a barbecued Ragnivian Blagnark!

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Jellyfish School of Design: Managing the Beast

Date: June 30, 2014

Log Entry by: Max Shields

By now, you know that we really like to talk about game design around here. However, making games isn’t just about slinging code, and pushing pixels.

 

What’s in a game?

 

Making them involves getting many tasks to come together at the right time to ensure that a working product eventually makes it onto your computers. Certainly, every little thing that can happen in the game needs to be thought out and coded, art and sound needs to be produced to give you something to look at while you’re playing. But we have to keep showing you that Astrobase Command is alive, well, and progressing at a good clip through periodic updates. We need to plan some events and come up with clever ways to keep building the community. We need to have meetings to keep everything on track.

 

The business end

 

There’s also a business aspect that we have to tend to, ensuring that proper the governance and processes are in place to give us access to the right tools to ultimately deliver the game around the world, and then keep making more games in the future.

 

Yep. Lawyers and accountants help make games, too.

Yep. Lawyers and accountants help make games, too. (Part of our general Trello business development to-do list)

 

Speaking of which, Jellyfish Games Inc. is a thing now

 

We're bonafide.

We’re bonafide.

 

Tools of the trade

 

Keeping track of all of the things that need to get done leads to expansive lists that could cover our office walls. We could capture all of the information on paper, but that would likely end up meaning we’d lose some important detail, or that a member of the team doesn’t realize he had something that needed getting done in less time than it takes to perform a Syraxian greeting ritual. Since we don’t have the benefit of having mountains of cash to bankroll our activities, we have to be creative and economical in selecting the tools we use to help us manage things.

 

Thankfully, there is a wealth of options out there for the new and cash-strapped devs. Some are free, and some have a minimal associated usage fee. They may not have all the bells and whistles that large corporations may need, but for a sleek (and good-looking!) team like ours, they work fine.

 

We’re currently using Trello as a way to keep track of general checklists of things to do, but there are other options out there like Jirga and Pivotal Tracker. Indeed, we’re using Pivotal Tracker’s more powerful management tools to track detailed task requirements and project velocity.

 

This isn’t an endorsement of any of the tools mentioned, but should help you find something that could come in handy if you’re currently looking.

 

Pivotal Tracker’s tools allow a high level of granularity in task management.

Pivotal Tracker’s tools allow a high level of granularity in task management.

 

So many files

 

Once you know where you’re at, and where you’re going, you need some mechanism to store files, communicate internally and to the outside world, and manage your calendar. We’re currently trying Google’s lineup of services for this, but we always keep our eyes and minds open for something that could work better. This allows us to keep things like spreadsheets and a wiki in an easy to access place for all of us to refer to as needed.

 

That’s it for now. It’s certainly not as sexy as showing aliens getting sucked into space through a hull breach, but just as important if we are going to get the best game possible into your hands.

 

Stay tuned for more! In the meantime, we’re busy tallying up other important features.

 

The most important feature for a space game.

 

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Powerful Art

Date: June 15, 2014

Log Entry by: Max Shields

This convo is making my nose bleed. Can we talk about space stations, please? And ‘splosions maybe?

- Adam

 

Time for another short update!

 

HIGH ENERGY ART

 

Fusion reactor WIP.

Fusion reactor WIP.

 

On the art front, Daniel has opened up the first Spacekea shop and designed a series of cunning storage systems that look good and shouldn’t leave any spare parts lying around by the time characters are done assembling them.

 

He’s also devised some appropriately funky power generators to brighten up station life and power the laser arrays and shields that will make your astrobase the coziest in the quadrant. A lot of time has gone in to researching existing power sources to serve as reference for what we are building in game. In this case, we really loved the look of a synchronized hammer strike fusion generator being developed by Michel Laberge. You can see his fascinating TED presentation here.

 

Max is still locked under the staircase and won’t be let out until he’s done with the 100 or so icons that are needed for the module builder.

 

CODEFINDER

 

Adam’s been working on pathing, making sure that the AI can figure out how to navigate through an ever-growing station without getting lost. He has also been giddily perusing the Unity store and finding all manner of inexpensive yet high quality solutions to help catapult his work forward. These time savers let us concentrate our efforts on the aspects that will help set Astrobase Command apart from the crowd.

 

COGENT GENERATION

 

Dave’s concocting yet another series of procedural generators. His efforts have focused on planet generation over the past few days. Using real-world science and math (see why you have to pay attention in school, kids?), he’s putting together a system to ensure that planets are generated using a range of physical parameters that end up making sense as a whole.

 

Needless to say, this has led to deep conversations this week. We’ve wandered from gas math (the gas laws) to the nature of DNA’s influence on the origin of consciousness.  These tangential discussions will add depth to the exploration of the Astrobase universe. Thankfully, we’ve got Adam to keep us on track.

 

CONNECT WITH US

 

We’ve started a little IRC experiment to generate a more present discussion with all of you. You can find us at http://webchat.freenode.net/ under #jellyfishgames. We tend to have someone up between 9 and 11 PM Eastern Standard Time, but feel free to try your luck at other times. Hit us up for a chat!

 

SHOUT OUT

 

Last, but definitely not least, a shout out is in order. We’d like to thank Ethan, whom many of you will know from the forums, for lending a huge helping hand. He’s putting his talents as an analyst to good use, gazing into murky pools of statistics to produce concise and immensely helpful reports that are helping us figure out where to put our publishing and marketing efforts.

We couldn’t ask for a keener mind or a more professional touch!

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Astrobase Dev Update: Combat, Mining, and Pricing

Date: May 27, 2014

Log Entry by: Max Shields

First off, let’s get this serious business out of the way:

 

Go Space Habs, go! Beat the Star Rangers! This zero-g hockey game should be a good one, tonight, folks. Keep your eyes peeled on the projectrons and don’t miss a second of the action. May the best spacers win!
Ok, now it’s time to talk Astrobase Command. We’ve had yet another busy couple weeks, so let’s get right into things.

 

Your autopsy is ready, Commander

 

Work on art has been moving forward, and we now have a lovely new autopsy module in which your crew will be able to poke, prod, and probe all manner of alien lifeforms they encounter on their travels across the galaxy.

 

Astrobase steadycam

 

We’ve implemented a neat camera controller that will let you swoop around the station to rapidly find what you’re looking for, and is set up to nicely allow us to zoom into the corridors and let us get some up close and personal footage if we ever need to do so. It’s a little bouncy right now, but with a little tweaking should be quite elegant.

 

Fighting googly-eyed monsters

 

Combat now works nicely. It’s all running behind the scenes and spitting out text-based results for now, but we’ll tie it in with graphics down the way. We’ve run several test cases between trial characters using procedurally generated weapons and equipment. We’ve also got the creature generator up and running. It’s producing some suitably freaky critters that should keep your away parties on their toes.

 

One of our test runs of the system even spat out a giant flying jellyfish without our prompting, so we’re quite happy where we stand right now. This will lend our text-based away missions plenty of flavour, but it poses a huge challenge in displaying a visual representation of those creatures should they pop up on the station. We have to be very careful about the work bill such features represent, because we only have one 3D artist on the team.

 

Generating variations of bipedal creatures that look roughly human is a good deal of work. You need to consider modeling any major differences between the creature and a human, and then you need to create new texture sets. When you start getting into the weird and wonderful possibilities of alien life, you rapidly get into monopods, gastropods, multi-limbed monstrosities, winged creatures, blobs, etc.

 

Most of these are far more difficult to model and rig than a biped, and therefore represent more time to deliver a finished product. This takes careful balancing, and letting ourselves get carried away could lead to falling into the trap of scope creep and we really, really don’t want to go there.

 

So, we’re keeping these good ideas for 3D alien lifeforms in the back of our mind for when we have more time and money after we get the game onto Steam Early Access. We’ll be focusing on bipedal foes for station action events, and possibly simple-to-represent enemies such as blobs and viruses at first. This will let us get some challenging and exciting events in for you to deal with, but not break the time and money spacepiggy banks in the process.

 

Strangely enough, the philosophy we’re adopting is much the same that drives special effects for science fiction TV series. You rarely find high end CG critters on sci-fi shows because that costs a lot to do. Instead, you’ll find an actor wearing makeup and some minimal appliances to give the impression of being an alien without being radically divergent from the human form.

 

This isn’t to say we won’t make more extravagant creatures later on, but the smart move is to start small and build up from there.

 

Ore rush

 

We’re now taking a break from procedural generation and starting to look at mining. Since Astrobase Command is at its heart a survival game, acquiring resources is a central element of gameplay. Mines will provide the ores which you’ll be able to refine to provide the raw materials needed to manufacture items and modules as well as fuel the power sources that keep your station and your crew alive.

 

Because we’ve over-engineered the procedural generation mechanics, we’re working on developing mining mechanics that feel as logical and realistic as possible. However, even our first talk-through of the system has led us to believe there may be simpler ways of doing things that may ultimately be more fun for the player.

 

This becomes yet another important tradeoff as we design Astrobase. We need to find the sweet spot between realism, believability, and fun. We want the rule sets to be intuitive, and we want the procedural mechanics to be as flexible as possible to allow you to invent anything you can imagine.

 

However, we don’t want you scratching your head and getting frustrated because something needs to be forced upon you to get the procedural aspects to work. So, even though we’ve brainstormed several potential ways of mining, we’ll keep things simple at first and iterate based on your feedback until we can find what’s right.

 

Picky pricing

 

Even though there’s a lot of game development going on, we also need to be mindful of the business side of the house. High up on everyone’s mind is how much money is needed to make Astrobase a reality, and when does that money need to come in?

 

As you can imagine, it takes money to feed ourselves and keep a semblance of a roof over our heads. It also takes money to get the right hardware and software to make the game. Since we’re a small team, there are also gaps in our skill sets that we must cover if we are to make a polished product. This means hiring the likes of composers and sound engineers, or at the very least purchasing high quality stock.

 

We’ve also been in contact with other devs who have been living the Early Access experience. The community’s tolerance for unpolished offerings appears to be tapering, and there is an apparent growing demand for games that appear more finished to be published, even in such a forum. This is a little paradoxical, since the whole point to Early Access is to allow the community to shape and influence the development of a game so that it more closely reflects their needs and desires. By definition, games at this stage will lack polish and content.

 

There are a few philosophies in approaching the delivery to Early Access. In one case, we can pick a lower price point as a means to encourage early adopters to hop on and begin growing a fan base. This can be good for generating an early spike in sales and funding, increasing exposure. The risk here is that a mass of people could shell out money and never actually play the game, or worse yet, become upset with the game early on and start providing negative comments or feedback that isn’t very useful to improving the game.

 

In another, we maintain a constant price all the way to delivery. This provides a sense of fairness.

 

Finally, we can pick a higher price point for Early Access than the final game price. This view sees the opportunity provided to early adopters as a privilege that is offered at a premium. It helps ensure that those that get involved will be dedicated to the project, and ensures a tighter base that is easier to manage. The downside is that it limits the amount of revenue we can generate early on in the project.

We’re curious to hear what you think Astrobase should cost, and what our pricing strategy should be. Leave your comments in our forums at:

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Jellyfish Spreading Round The World

Date: May 13, 2014

Log Entry by: Max Shields

Global Reach

 

It’s been quiet for a while because the team was spread across the globe, working our magic on intrastellar goodwill away missions. Although this has slowed our work somewhat, our wayward tribbles are quickly being herded back home where they will be put to good work or tossed out the airlock.

By the way, if you’re asking about that incident with that thing in France, Adam had nothing to do with it.

 

Manic Mechanics

 

Don’t fret, though. We’ve taken great strides in implementing several of the core game mechanics. We’re steaming hard towards our goal of having a complete game loop in place for our first playable. Having front end loaded a significant amount of design effort by prototyping many iterations of the concepts in Excel, we’ve been rapidly converting it into playable code over the past couple weeks. We recently got item procedural generation worked out and now have our set sights on implementing the combat system.

 

Tweaks and Polish

 

Coding isn’t always pretty, so even though all of our work is now being done in production code, there’s an ever-present need to look at what has been done and tighten up loose ends. We’re busily cleaning up what has been done to date, as well as hacking away at a large list of “to dos” that we need to have in place for the first playable. There’s also the ever-present bug list that we have to take swats at. We are now starting to see over the horizon, and have even begun tallying up the list of items that we have to start thinking about for the work that will come after our first internally-playable version is complete.

 

Animated Masters

 

We’re also getting a grip on the new set of animation tools, and are really liking what we’re seeing. After a bit of effort we now have a pipeline that allows us to take raw motion capture and plop it down into the game with a minimum of hassle. Our setup so far is quite nice, for basic motion at the very least, and should help us save a lot of effort when it comes to animating googly-eyed aliens to invade your beloved astrobase. The low-cost solutions that are now available have really made mocap accessible to small indie projects. It is an exciting time indeed.

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