[2012-Jan-21] #5 - Every time ... they pull me back in!
Hi again, happy new year! As promised, here's a new dev diary and you didn't have to wait a year for it!
Quick summary update: Yeah, I'm working on this
I had completely overhauled
the basic structure of the code to be more object-oriented, which had made
it much easier and faster to continually add new capabilities. My
characters could do interesting things like fly, turn invisible, shrink,
and grow. Tommy had added new art assets like buildings and
trees. He had updated his models to have facial expressions which he could
animate. He had conquered the big hurdle of creating animations that would work for all his
meshes (male/female, caped, non-caped) This made it very easy to have add new
meshes and have them come alive!
The cat's out of the bag ...
As I mentioned in the last Dev Diary, it was around this time in 2010, that news of the project slipped out on the FR Forums. I personally had not been active on FR in a number of years, but Tommy did still post there and he shared some screenshots.
I really had no problem with this, as it wasn't like I was actively keeping a secret, it was more that it was just something I was working on and hadn't even thought if others would find it interesting, especially if it never got finished!
Well, it turned out there was plenty of interest and lots of good questions were asked. Tommy and I did our best to answer what we could. The publicity was actually kind of nice, after having worked on it for so long without much feedback other than a few people. I started these Dev Diaries to share a bit about the history of the project and the current status.
Even more monumental (well it was to me, anyway) - I actually got to meet Tommy face-to-face in person (3D even!) for the first time. It was a blast to finally get to speak to someone I'd only known over the net for years. We had just a few hours, but spent a great evening chatting about ideas for the game and where we needed to go next.
With things out in the open, we agreed that we needed to perhaps start introducing more of our original creations into the game, so as to not be seen as infringing on the Big 2's (DC & Marvel) stuff. We had been testing with familiar characters as it was fun, but this was always intended to be an original game with original characters.
Tommy showed some of his on the FR Forums: Sgt. Shield, Green Goddess, and Granite Girl. I quickly whipped up "work-in-progress" skins for Hyperwave and Pulsar (see pics for the first glimpses ever of these charcters), some heroes I'd created years ago but never used. Backstories for them? Well, I have a few things, but we haven't gotten to the big storyline portion of this project yet, so I'll leave that for another day.
Our good friend, Lightning Man, also gave us permission to put his original characters in there somewhere and he provided a nice splash screen.
But then ... Break #2!!!
Work continued steadily - Tommy was optimizing the use of textures on his meshes and continually tweaking the many animations. I added a simple animation viewer so he could test. In addition, I was doing a lot of code cleanup and optimizations. Really boring stuff actually, but necessary for the game to work.
My immediate goal was to get into ranged combat (which was going to be tricky) and the object/map editors. Maybe even release a quick demo or character viewer so people could check things out.
But then ... it happened again - an unplanned break.
It was October 2010, and just like the previous year, all work slowly came to a halt. It wasn't any one thing, but various ones: Tommy started having issues with his hard drive and had to rebuild his PC (it's possible he may have lost some of his work, I'm still too afraid to ask how much).
I got really involved with my job and family, as often happens to me at that time of year. Maybe we also were feeling burnout again. We had accomplished even more than during our first stab at this in 2009, but we did not keep going.
Days and weeks turned into months passed and before I knew it, it was 2011. At some point (I don't recall exactly when), the FR forums got hacked into oblivion and so we had even less reason to keep at it. The Panda3D forums also got kinda quiet and I lost interest in reading them for new improvements and bits of information. It seemed that there was no real interest from anyone anymore.
I honestly did not think about the game for a long while. Not until Nov 2011, well over a year later.
A new hope?
A few things happened around Oct-Nov 2011 that pulled me back into the project.
First of all, I completed an important project at my job that I had been responsible for and working on since 2009. Completing this gave me not only more free time, but a general feeling of "wow, I have my life back".
Secondly, DCU Online went free-to-play. I had been interested in this game since I heard about it (even got on the beta), but could not justify the expense or time to play it. With my work project done and no money barrier, I dove in.
Turns out I really enjoyed DCU Online. I've played other superhero MMORPGs, but this one just worked for me (doesn't hurt that I'm a DC fanboy, probably). I any case, as I played, I started noticing little things that reminded me of things I'd been working on for my game. The way that you pick a combat-type in DCU (brawler, martial artist) was very much like what I had in mind for my own game. The character customization was something that Tommy and I had discussed a bit and seeing (and liking) DCU's made me feel like getting mine completed.
Finally, I discovered BiL (BeardedInLair's) posts at the FR forums on his experiments with Unity3D. His excellent stuff inspired me to take a look at what I had done again. (and I also realized that the FR forums were back up again thanks to BiL!)
I actually started looking at Unity. It seems like a fantastic tool, but, at least right now, I can't get the hang of it! I read a post from someone who said "Unity provides a really amazing art pipeline, and an adequate programming API. Panda provides the opposite: a really amazing programming API, and an adequate art pipeline. So, whichever one of them looks better to you will depend on whether you're looking at it from an artist's point of view, or from a programmer's ."
At the moment, I tend to agree. And I'm a programmer not an artist, so I started getting my Panda code running again.
It had been over a year since I'd even looked at this stuff. So I started slowly - installed the latest Panda SDK and changed my game font to an opensource one. Looked good! I started a reorg of the Character Editor (see pic) and started squashing some coding bugs I'd left a year ago. I'd left off as version v0.3.1, so I started a new one, v0.3.2.
In just the couple of weeks I've been back at this (which included Christmas break), I have made the latest version a lot more stable. Mainly by adding more classes to my code (boring techie stuff, but it's made a difference). I've also started programming the game UI in a lot more detail. Inspired by DCU Online, but even more by Warcraft III and World of Warcraft. The latest UI can be see in the pics.
I am glad to see that the Panda forums seems active
again and a major new SDK version (1.8) is just around the corner. My
immediate plan is to stabilize the UI by adding action butons (I know all
the power keys, but no one else would) and after that maybe even releasing
a pre-pre-pre-alpha version for people to play around with.
TO BE CONTINUED ...