It's been a good few years since I last maintained a daily diary (now called blogs) and I am not sure how much it will affect my development productivity, but I suspect it will be a riot for you guys so that's good enough for me.
My mission with this blog is to chart the progress of a new project I have started today called FPS Creator Reloaded. It is a sequel to a fabulously successful product we created over six years ago of the same name, and has gone from strength to strength with updates, new features, over 60 model packs and eventually open rebellion with the community themselves taking over responsibility for the source code and adding even more to it!
I pitched in a little in the last year, but to be honest it's thanks to the FPSC community that the product has survived to old age and when we had the idea of doing a proper big budget sequel to the product, the community where fanatic in their support for it.
Our opening salvo was to get the funding from Kickstarter, which was new to the UK shores back in November 2012. We did not success in this, but what was very clear was that our community wanted it to happen. Over 90% of the pledges in the Kickstarter initiative was directly from the community, and less than 10% from the Kickstarter site itself.
Angel to the Rescue
As the Kickstarter plan started to falter, a hero came riding into town and made an offering to fund the entire development. You can imagine how happy we were. Our secret investor had been a TGC customer for almost a decade and quietly got on with programming, making games and keeping an eye on us from time to time. It was thanks to his generosity and faith that this blog, this development, and eventually, this product will have come to exist. My thanks!
Variants of FPSC
I had been tinkering with the idea of giving FPSC a total overhaul for some time, and half started such a project about two or three times, for different markets. Mainly in the educational sphere, which is a process of making things a little easier to use and of course, getting rid of all the weapons, blood, guts, explosions, and anything else that would offend the parents :) We called First Person Game Creator and it is not surprising if you have not heard of it. We kept FPGC as an internal version and licensed it out to a company in the states called VR QUEST, who use it as the software end of a once in a lifetime experience to design and create Virtual Reality games and then share them with your friends and colleagues at summer camps and after school centres.
And then came Reloaded
Of course, there is no substitute for huge guns, massive explosions, rag doll sequences from atop fifty story skyscrapers. Each time I played an FPSC game my mind was already de-constructing how they managed an effect or a certain gameplay set piece, and internally mumbling 'that's pretty easy to do', and 'wouldn't that be good in FPSC'. Well now I don't need to mumble any more. I have been given the best part of a whole year to create what I want, which is a rip roaring roller coaster ride of game creation and game play. The best news is that the foundations are already in place, and most of what you might call the boring stuff has already been done. From here on in, all the development will be wow stuff, that can only enhance the experience and produce an awesome product for 2013.
I must also mention (as it's my diary and I can say what I like), that this will be a solo venture. I don't have a team of fifteen coders and twenty artists at my back, nor a well equipped and fully staffed testing department. I have me, my PC, my inbox, a part-time artist and the FPSC community (who will delight in both helping and hindering me in equal measure). In real terms, I only have four months of actual deep dark coding, the rest is testing, tweaking, distributing, testing, polishing and getting it in a box for the deadline. Of those four months, January will be a wash with backlog tasks from 2012, and a good deal of hand over as I hand Paul the reigns to the remaining parts of the AGK engine that I personally preside over; namely the Compiler & Player, plus the whole HTML5 Freedom-Engine build process and the beta/release build process too. So that's only really three months, which is about 240 man hours.
It's a tall order, and I am going to have to make a list of priorities to make sure everything gets done to the degree of it's importance. For example I will not be spending 2 of those three months making the HUDs look pretty. I will be focusing on eliminating the build step, improving actual in-game play and improving the overall visual fidelity to make your games look like they belong in 2013.
Help Is At Hand
I have been creating an list of my resources at my disposal, and there are a few that I might call on, such as the excellent work done by the mysterious Evolved (DBP land) who has produced some amazing shaders and techniques that will accelerate Reloaded development if I am cheeky enough to ask permission to use them.
We have a complete re-write of the PhysX library called Dark Dynamix already selling as a DBP module which would mean I don't have to update Dark Physics to the latest PhysX and all the labour that entails.
The Map and Game modules of FPSC where originally intended to be one and the same, and so the code is structures to allow it to be so. This could be another great time saver and allow for the possibility of editing a level and then instantly dropping into the creation in game mode.
I've also gained quite a lot of experience and new DBP modules since the original FPS Creator was created, so the idea of building a world out of gridded blocks and assembling them for optimisation no longer seems relevant. Graphics cards today can handle many millions of polygons and new occlusion techniques mean there is no longer a need for an exhaustive sort before you can get into the action.
Perhaps my most secret weapon is that I have in my possession a working prototype for a new, faster DBP compiler which can produce an identical FPSC executable five times faster than the current compiler. This amazing performance boost is only the tip of the iceberg and more gains are expected moving into 2013. For DBP fans reading, you will have to wait and see where this plot line leads as I am not open for comment ;) Keep reading this blog for insights and clues.
Another massive resource I have is probably one of the finest FPSC artists who ever graced our community over the years, and has 'tentatively' agreed to be my main artist throughout the development of Reloaded. None other than the living legend himself, Mr Blosser. here is an artist who when faced with the visual limits of the current FPSC product, broke into the source code and started adding his own shaders to add realistic shadows, glowing eyes, ice wizards and super-realistic horrors and all manner of effects to go that extra mile. With his help, you are going to receive a graphical extravaganza that goes beyond nice geometry and textures, and into the world of clever shaders and effects you'll be hard pressed to figure out 'how they did it'.
So How Long
That's right, how long are these damn blogs going to be? Well not as long as this one, I just wanted to get the scene set-up and leave you to do the wondering for a while. The project will conclude at the end of October 2013, my original calender deadline for the Kickstarter project. Even though I was not obligated to fulfil any of the Kickstarter items, I decided it was a very good list and so agreed this would be the list of features for the development. My deadline will be the successful mastering of the product with shipment dates to follow quickly after. We should also by then have an electronic version so we can start sending out viciously protected versions to everyone who has pledged as well. General sale will probably start when we have the stock in house and can guarantee delivery, but the hot news is that anyone who pledges ahead of time will be getting special treatment with an advanced copy as soon as we can get it to you. In addition, you will have access to all the betas we release along the way. To book your seat for the journey of a lifetime (well, sort of), here is the pledge link:
In addition to supporting continual development (i.e. keeping Mr Blosser well supplied with bread rolls) you will also be pushing the stretch goal marker further up the scale, which means each time we hit a £10K threshold we are obligated to schedule further development past October 2013 to add these extra cool features such as realistic trees, vehicles, third person, advanced weapon construction, ooh lots of things.
So Why Should You Read My Blog EVERY DAY
For those of you who are not completely insane, why would you commit a considerable amount of your day to read my rants. Firstly, they won't be this long which should be a relief. Secondly, I will be leaking all sorts of cross field information about AGK, DBP, TGC and anything else I encounter on a daily basis. Thirdly, I will be posting screen shots of progress and anything else I find interesting during the development. Fourthly, I might do a video from time to time which will be nice. Fifthly, you will finish reading and sit back with the happy knowledge that your life is NOT as busy and mad as mine.
It will be interesting if I can post every day. I will probably not do Saturday and Sunday as technical I could be anywhere doing anything, and I am not sure if Google Blogger works on a mountain, in a cave or underwater. Not that I am an outdoor adventuring type, but I keep my weekends relatively free just in case I want to take it up as a relaxing hobby.