Friday, October 11, 2013

001 - First Impressions

This screen comes up every time a game is loaded for some reason.
Okay, so here's how things are going to work, at least for now. As touched on at the end of the last post, I think I'm going to try concurrently working with one new game creation program and one old one, the latter being either the first in the lineage of the new program in question or the first (that I know of) in its genre. Since the first program suggested in the comments was 001, that's the first new program I'll go with. And that means the first old program will be the oldest general game-making program I'm aware of, GameMaker.

Now, when I say "concurrently", I don't mean I'm going to go over them in the same post; I'll alternate posts about the two programs. (Or intersperse them, in any case; I won't promise the posts about the two games will always exactly alternate.) I'm inclined to think I probably ought to post about the old game first. But, on the other, hand, there's a part of me that can't resist taking the opportunity to put a program called 001 in the first position among the games discussed, so... 001 it is. The introductory post about GameMaker will be next.

For my first post about each game, I'll begin with my briefly stated first impression about it after taking a glance at the webpage and some of the documentation and perhaps some preliminary experimentation with the system. Keep in mind, however, that this is just my first impression, and my final impression after I've had more experience with the program may of course end up being very different. So, concerning the subject of today's post:

001: First Impression: A versatile program for multiplatform game development.

Okay, that first impression may sound unreservedly positive, but there are a few things I've seen so far that have given me pause. One was what 001's webpage says in big letters right at the top: "MAKE GAMES NO CODING". So... does that mean there's no way to direct events in the game with any sort of scripting language? If so, that seems quite limiting; I don't see how a game can be fully customizable without some sort of coding. Fortunately, though, a glance at the feature list puts that particular fear to rest; there is indeed a scripting language included (and the About page gives a little more information about it). So apparently it's not so much no coding as no coding necessary; I'm guessing it may be possible to create a game without any coding at all using default procedures, but that the scripting language optionally allows you to change things around if you want to. Good to know.

(Also a minor turnoff: On the main page of the game's site is a quote disparaging RPG Maker. Not that I'm an RPG Maker partisan, but it always rubs me the wrong way when a company specifically ridicules a rival by name. I loathe those Dish Network commercials jeering at DirecTV for the same reason.*)

Though 001 Game Creator (as its full name is given on some pages) can be downloaded for free, there's also a paid subscription version available. The subscription model's a bit odd, though: instead of just buying the program once, you pay monthly or yearly. The free version already seems pretty feature-rich, but the subscription version adds a few other bells and whistles, including support for 3D model file formats and further distribution options. For now, of course, I'm using the free version, though it's not impossible that I may upgrade to the paid version in the future if I like the program, if I want to use one of the features in the paid version, and, of course, if I have the money to spare. While the website makes a point of the ability to export created games to any platform, this seems to be one of the features that requires a subscription.

So, having downloaded and extracted the program, I fired it up to take a look.
A karateka, a knight, and an astronaut walk into a bar...
To get a feel for what the engine could do, I decided first to try out the sample games that were included in the distribution. There are four sample games included: a card game, a role-playing game, a space shooter, and a tower defense game. For no particular reason, I tried the tower defense game first—I'm not generally a fan of tower defense games, but I figured I'd give these all a try. Anyway, this game turned out to be surprisingly easy. While there were some moments during the first few waves when I thought I might be in trouble, that didn't last long; I didn't have to erect a single new tower after wave 20 or so, because every enemy entering the screen was almost instantly obliterated anyway by the ones I already had. After that, I just let the game run to see what would happen. I guess I won, because after wave 50 no more waves came, so despite the lack of any winning message that seems to have been the end of the game.
None of the guys not clustered around the top left intersection have seen any action in more than twenty waves.

So... yeah, a lackluster game, but it was only intended as a demo to show the system's capabilities anyway, and on that regard it seems to have done adequately enough. The graphics, effects, and controls all seemed decent, and I didn't notice any glitches or problems. So next I tackled the card game. This turned out to be Go Fish. Not much to say about this, except that the default controls that can be shown at the beginning were wildly inappropriate. (I gather, however, that it's possible to disable this control display, and/or replace it with a customized version.)
I guess magic and weapons might make Go Fish marginally more exciting.  Or maybe not.
The space shooter was similarly underwhelming. It just had endless waves of enemies, and power-ups that changed the player's weapons. The biggest problem with it was that there was no indication of what the controls were. By trial and error I eventually figured out that the control key was used to fire, but if there were any other controls beyond that and the arrow key I couldn't find them. Still, again, it served its purpose to showcase the program's abilities.Then I tried the role-playing game.

And here there was some possible cause for discouragement.

Like the other demo games, the role-playing game was short, with only two areas. In the first area, the player character interacted with some NPCs and collected some items, and in the second area he killed some spiders. So far so good, except I found that after the spiders were killed I could suddenly wander off into the river. At least, I could for a while, until the game suddenly remembered that the river was supposed to be an obstacle, rather inconveniently when I was standing in the middle of it.
...And then the hero decided to stand around in waist-deep water for the rest of his life.  The end.

It may be that this is just a problem with the coding of this particular demo game, and not indicative of a problem with the 001 Game Creator itself. I hope that's the case. Still, such a game-killing bug in one of the demo games included with the program is a little worrying.

Regardless, I figured if the demo game had an ending I may as well see it all the way through... and it was short enough that restarting and playing it through again wouldn't take much time. So I started over, collected all the requisite items on the first screen, went down to the second, killed all the spiders again, and then left the screen.
You can't tell me what to do, demo RPG!  You're not my real father!
Or tried to.I couldn't find any more spiders, but the game wouldn't let me proceed. So I tried going back.
And was foiled by bad grammar.

Couldn't do that either.

After wandering all over the map (except into the river) and not finding any more spiders, out of frustration I attacked a random tree.

And thereby purely accidentally killed the final spider, which had apparently been hiding behind that tree and for some reason hadn't run out and attacked me like the others. I guess this may not technically be a bug, but it's certainly bad design.

...but of course this epic finale made it all worthwhile.
Issues with the demo RPG notwithstanding, though, this program looks like it has a lot of potential, and I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do with it. So, of course, having gone through all the demo games, the next step was to take a look at the editor.  When I go to create a new game, the first thing I get is a choice of what kind of game I want to make:

When you select one of the demos, you just get an error message about the game already existing.  So why are you given the option to select them in the first place?
Now, this is an issue I knew would come up when I got to a general-purpose game creator that can be used to make games of multiple genres. (I just didn't necessarily expect to be dealing with such a program as my very first entry.) What type of game should I make? What if the program happens to be better at creating one type of game than another, and I happen to pick the one it's worse at? How can I ensure I'm giving the program a fair shake? I guess maybe the ideal thing would be to try to make every type of game the program is capable of making, but obviously that's not going to happen any time soon... it's going to take long enough to try to make one game with each program, let alone multiple games.

I foresaw this question arising, but I never did come up with a good answer. I think I'm just going to have to take it on a case-by-case basis. And in this case... well, let's see. I said in the ground rules that if the program came with a set of resources I would use them, and it seems that there are resources included only for action RPGs and platformers, so I'll go with one of those. Of the two... well, when you click on the Beginner's Tutorials, the first tutorial that comes up is for an action RPG, so I'm going to assume that's the type of game the program is most geared toward, and that's what I'm going to go with.  (Plus there are two different action RPG resource sets and only one for platformers, which again indicates that it's action RPGs the developers were most focused on.)

That still leaves the decision between the "Pro" and "MS Paint" graphics, but what the hey... I'm going Pro.

Now let's look at what resources the game comes with. There's a fair assortment of tiles... maybe not enough to give enough variety for a large game, but there's certainly enough to get started with, and I was planning on eventually adding my own resources later. The tile are divided into three categories: Floor, Lower Object, and Upper Object, presumably affecting whether they're drawn over or under the characters and each other. There's actually a bit more variety in the tiles than is initially apparent, because when you put floor or wall tiles of the same type next to each other they automatically adapt appropriately.
I'm not sure what purpose these walls serve here.

As for the sprites... well, those are interesting. There aren't separate sprites for different characters. Rather, there's one sprite for the body, another for the hair, and so on, and they can be put together in different combinations. Furthermore, most of the sprites are predominantly grey; I'm assuming when you create a particular character or monster (or, in 001's terminology, "Actor"), you also define the hue... meaning you can use the same sprite with different hues for palette shifted creatures. While all this may end up being a little more work to use than just a single sprite per character, it's actually kind of nice, in that it means I'll be able to make a wide variety of distinct NPCs without needing a separate sprite for each one.
Something tells me adding new sprites isn't going to be simple...

But we'll pick up from here next time. Or rather, we'll pick up from here after I take a look at GameMaker.

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