The Plan

Thanks to those of you who have posted your suggestions, thoughts and observations about Alternate Reality X in response to my concerns and worries. These gave me a lot to think about and I now see a much clearer plan forming.

I agree it
seems a shame to not finish the City and Dungeon – my original goal was very
clearly to ONLY build these two existing scenarios and stop there. Looking back
this seemed to be a very sensible approach given how much I underestimated the
work that was involved in just the 2 original scenarios.

Based on suggestions and comments I’ve received I think I might have a better
solution in mind and now understand the real areas which concern me and how to
avoid them. I think when I stood back and looked at what I was trying to complete I felt the overall package just wasn’t achieveable. I was considering all the remaining work for the City and
Dungeon PLUS new brand new scenarios PLUS moving everything over to Unity 3D. Add that to my
concerns about putting my own original content and ideas into something which I
have no ownership of and you can see why I was concerned.

My plans probably won’t keep
everybody happy but I’ve outlined below what I have in mind.
  • Finish ARX as a combined City and Dungeon game using my existing code and software set up (e.g. C++, SFML, OpenGL). I will keep all the original place names, maps and content. This will give me the satisfaction of completing what I originally set out to do, bringing proper closure to ARX (for me) and hopefully giving most ARX followers and supporters the core 2 games in one nice integrated game that they can still enjoy. The experience would still be unique as you have the opporutnities and dynamics of being able to move backwards and forwards between both scenarios.
  • I would not develop the other scenarios within ARX but the option would be there for others to possibly take on further scenario or ARX development once the core City and Dungeon were completed. A number of people have expressed an interest in getting involved in coding for ARX and I think would be particularly interested in taking a completed City and Dungeon and expanding them.
  • I will develop my new game using Unity 3D as I planned. It’s fairly clear in my mind how this will shape up and what sort of CRPG it will and won’t be but I’ll save the details for a future post. A lot of my experiences working on ARX will be a big help with setting up what I believe will be some of the more difficult parts of the game. Comments I received on games in general were a great reminder or pointer of what I want to achieve in my own game. I want to capture some of those feelings I had playing Ultima, the Bards Tale and of course Alternate Reality and the spirit of these pioneering games.
Whilst there will be quite a lot of
common RPG style code and functionality between the projects I think it’s
unlikely at this point that I will move ARX to Unity. It really depends how
confident and quickly my development in Unity comes along in the next few
months.
 
By keeping ARX focused on the City and the Dungeon as I originally planed and focusing my new work and ideas on my Unity based project, I think I’ll avoid a lot of the problems that I was worried about. I’ll be taking things steady, take my time and whilst I will be providing a “roadmap” of sorts for ARX don’t be surprised if it doesn’t contain any dates, just be confident that work will continue.
 
Best wishes,
Acrin1

Thoughts about Alternate Reality X

Alternate Reality Online
 

I recently started reading through the old Alternate Reality Mailing List archives at: http://www.alternaterealityarchive.com/ and it made me think carefully about my own attempts to recreate / port the Alternate Reality series of games to more modern platforms. If you’re interested in Alternate Reality I’d recommend you take some time to read through the archives (starting with the oldest entries).

Back in the early days of the mailing list it was not uncommon to have the creator of Alternate Reality, Philip Price post on the mailing list. Dan Pinal and Ken Jordan who designed and programmed Alternate Reality: The Dungeon also posted regularly. Whilst browsing through the posts I came across posts relating to the new AR Online which Philip was set to create working with Monolith and later his plans for a version of AR which he was going to create in his spare time. Sadly neither ARO or the later version progressed beyond the early stages.



There was lots of enthusiasm from fans (including myself) who wanted to try and recreate their own version of AR. Some generated a lot of excitement, others had brief tech demos but that was as far as they went. My first effort was made using Mike Roberts excellent TADS3 Interactive Fiction system (see http://www.tads.org/index.htm ). It allowed you to move around an overhead map of the Dungeon and City (using the original data) but  you could visit Dungeon establishments, buy and sell items and join guilds. It wasn’t possible to create a real 3D view with TADS3 so I moved onto SDL, then using OpenGL and then SFML. I’ve become a parent again, changed jobs twice and moved house during the time I’ve worked on my Alternate Reality. I first started working on my TADS3 AR remake in 2004. Obviously development has not been constant since then but even so that’s quite some time on my part!

One of the things I came across was a roadmap from Philip Price for his remake in his spare time which interested me after my own attempts to produce a roadmap for this project. It was high level but what struck me was that his new Alternate Reality was always going to be very different to the original game, even back in 1997.

Alternate Reality Online – Creating your character

I’m now at something of a crossroads regarding my own efforts to port or recreate Alternate Reality. I still haven’t completed the basic port of the City and the Dungeon let alone start work on the new scenarios other than outlining the content on paper.

Philip was understandable tight lipped about his ideas for the new AR back in 1997 – 2000 and I can understand why. For whatever reason he hasn’t been able to or has decided not to revive AR but he may still create a new AR game. There could be a Philip Price AR kickstarter just around the corner for all I know and that would leave my efforts where? My investment in creating new scenarios would be very significant and would really be almost 100% my own ideas so why would I tie myself to copyrighted material that I can’t control. Alternatively Philip could contact me at any point and ask me to cancel the project because there was something he wasn’t happy with. If that happened I would respect and adhere to his wishes.The unknowns and the copyright issue concern me a lot these days with so much significant work still to do.

I’ve been asked to put together only very small expansions for the Arena, Palace and Wilderness but that’s never appealed to me for this project and I don’t think would be respectful to Philip’s original game. Sure I could slap a couple of quick maps together and a handful of new encounter types and some basic quests but that wouldn’t be the AR most of us were hoping for.

Many of you have suggested a kickstarter for ARX or alternatives. I would love to do a CRPG kickstarter and whilst I might not get a single backer at least I would be failing or suceeding on my own merits and need have no concerns about copyright issues or that I’m on dubious legal ground. I can’t do that for an AR related or copyrighted AR type project. If I do a kickstarter it would be for a game of my own which did not contain any copyrighted material or names. And yes I would like to make some money for my work when we’re talking about a significant investment of my time.

I have lots of ideas for new gameplay which I haven’t really seen elsewhere and don’t really want to tie my own original ideas to someone else’s copyrighted work. I realise some of you will be disappointed with my comments or planned approach here but I’ve given it a lot of thought. I didn’t have the skills or tools back when I started my AR remake to have the opportunity to create the game I wanted but I now feel that is possible. My investment in time for development projects needs to be considered against my family, work and financial commitments.

Alternate Reality Online – New tavern interface

I sometimes feel I’ve made a rod for my own back by sticking too closely to the original games, trying to emulate the originals AND provide a more up to date alternative. What I do want to do is create a CRPG which is as enjoyable as AR and learns from its innovation but I no longer feel I can afford to be tied to its legacy or its original look. It has been a bit of surprise for me how even minor interface or content changes from the original have upset people. However on the other side many people feel my AR if far too close to the original and limited by the content or technology style of the original series. The feedback I have is that many people don’t want a carbon copy. I don’t feel I can continue to attempt to serve everyone’s needs within this one project. I’m not talking about creating a bland AR rip off with all the names removed but one which players of AR (and other classic games) would enjoy which is providing a gameplay experience and level of detail which the popular RPGs today don’t necessarily meet.

Let me know what you think whether via the blog, forums or by email to acrin1 @ googlemail.com

Nothing is set in stone of course and anything could happen in the next few months or year but this is the general direction I’m intending to take with my development project for the time bring.Thanks for all your support and encouragement they have been greatly appreciated and I hope you’ll continue to keep an eye on developments here.

Future CRPG Developments

Thanks to those of you who were kind enough to send me documents, resources and even your own 3D models for Unity 3D. I’ve not had the chance to go through everything yet but they look really useful and have given me a real flavour of the possibilities of development in Unity. I’ve decided that I will be moving my development projects over to Unity 3D from now on; the benefits far outweigh the negatives in my opinion.

I believe I must have spent hundreds of hours working on my Alternate Reality port development and if I’m honest it’s not as complete as I expected it to be. If I’d known when I first started looking into it and poking around with the maps that I’d still be working on it in 2013 I think I would have run a mile! It’s become very hard work at times as the project has reached a significant size. I’ve learnt a lot from working on the project and I’m still learning all the time as well as improving my skills but a lot of my time has been spent “recreating the wheel”. At this point with some significant code changes needed in ARX to properly handle objects I don’t feel it would make sense for me to continue using my current home brew system.



Trying out a free model in a Unity scene

Unity 3D has the advantage that it’s an all in one development system so I can do a search on creating a mini map, an inventory system or rain effects for example and I will get dozens of links and videos suggesting how to produce the effects or functionality I’m looking for. It’s all provided in one, nice integrated package. You only need to do a quick search on YouTube to see there are hundreds of tutorials and examples of Unity and how to use it. Compare that to my current development where I need to read up on issues relating to C++, OpenGL (for 3D), SFML for my media library and Visual Studio or Code Blocks for my development environment. That’s a long list! SFMLs use of OpenGL has also nagged me a bit as many Windows players don’t have the correct OpenGL drivers installed. I’ll be doing some tests on older kit with Unity to see how well it runs.

Once you have a working Unity game you can publish it to Mac, Linux, Web and mobile platforms relatively easily (ok I’ll need to buy into optional upgrades of Unity for Apple IOS and Android versions but it’s there ready to tap into when the time is right).



Web Player, PC or Mac?

Now I’m not naive enough to believe that Unity is going to write my game for me but I do think it is likely to make me more productive and so far I’m having fun using it which is why I started doing this in the first place. I’ll still have to write lots of code (in javascipt, C# or Boo) but there are thousands of examples online and it all appears to be well documented and a lot of the core game functionality can be handled through game objects or properties. So far it’s been a pleasant environment to work in. So far I’ve had an on screen graphical inventory up, a menu system and and my own mountains and wilderness to explore created in very little time. I think once I’ve got a better grip on the basics I believe I’ll be able to make much more rapid progress.

When it comes to creating additional scenarios or environments the other problem we’re already running into is limited art assets. Unity has an extensive asset store with a mixture of free and payable assets, many of a high quality. It also supports a variety of 3D model types. It took me minutes to find and download some reasonable free models and import them into my Unity scene.

From the messages I’ve received most people seem to think that Unity is a good move forward. I think it will provide some security for the project as Unity seems to have a large community and in the event that I stopped working on it, others would be able to pick it up and continue work. A more polished engine and game are likely to get more players interested in the game who will in turn improve the chances of the complete series being developed.

Hopefully you’ll agree that this is the right way forward and still feel supportive towards the project. One chapter may be coming to a close but I think an exciting one is about to begin.

Exploring Unity 3D

I’ve just got home after being away for over a week so I’ve not done any further work on Alternate Reality X during that time. However I spent a few hours today familiaring myself with the basics of the free version of the Unity game development system and I’m pleased with the results so far. On first use it seems like a very powerful system to use.

Exploring the Wilderness in my first Unity 3D effort?

I’ve tried out Unity before but have never really sat down with a clear objective in mind and tried to learn some of the basics. I’m reading Beginning 3D Game Development with Unity by Sue Blackman and so far I’ve managed to put together a few scenes and have my character move around in a full 3D environment. After creating some simple terrain using the built in tools and then adding mountains, hills and clearings I was able to add my character and walk around the landscape I’d just created. I have to say I enjoyed the moment where I climbed to the top of a clearing and a series of mountains loomed into my view.

My map from above and players view in the game window

I also played around a bit with creating the user interface and found some nice free assets on the Unity web site for creating menus, text and buttons. I’ve also been researching how Unity would work for more traditional 3D Dungeons and walls such as those in but without the limitations or visual restrictions that my current system has. From my research and the contents of the book it seems that people have used Unity to create all sorts of games from role playing games, first person shooters to 2D point and click adventures.

The next thing I’m keen to try is converting one of the City or Dungeon maps into a Unity scene with a few nice extras which I would have struggled to implement. I’m excited by the possibilities but I won’t rush into making any decisions just yet.

Let me know what you think.

Alternate Reality X – Release 0.61 Now Available!

“New” Dungeon gate graphics

Release 0.61 of Alternate Reality X is now available from the downloads page at www.crpgdev.com.

I’ve switched from Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 to Code Blocks for development and also upgraded to a newer version of the SFML library. These changes uncovered some bugs which had previously gone unnoticed but might have caused players to experience crashes. Compile times on Visual Studio 2010 were much slower for me than the 2008 version and I liked the option with CodeBlocks of using the same development environment and project files to compile native versions of ARX on Linux and Mac.

This release also has a few visual changes with the addition of some new encounter artwork from Ted to replace my placeholder images. I think they work really well and can’t wait to see what Ted comes up with for some of the other characters. I’ve also added some images you might not have seen before from the 16bit Amiga version of the City and the unreleased Amiga version of the Dungeon. Hope you like them.

The main changes in release 0.61 are as follows:

  • Switched to CodeBlocks and MinGW for development
  • No longer requires Visual Studio C++ runtime installed
  • Switched to latest version of SFML 2.0 (downloaded 1st March 2013)
  • Improved compatibility for players using Intel graphics cards
  • Fixed Bug #019: Offer menu won’t page back when offering to Pauper
  • Added check for arx.ini configuration file when the game is run
  • Flags for Trolls, Goblins and Oracle now correctly included in save games
  • Added “Loading…” message when loading image resources
  • Added 3 new encounter images from Ted for use with alternate wall textures
  • Removed the Might & Magic 6 encounter placeholder images
  • Added Amiga City & Dungeon interiors for use with alternate wall textures

With the major changes behind the scenes in this release there are likely to be some new bugs I’ve not seen yet but hopefully you enjoy the release.

Thanks for your continued support,
Acrin1

Alternate Reality X – Release 0.61 Status

Release 0.61 of ARX will be released as soon as I fix a bug when entering guilds
which leads to a crash.

The main change in this release is that at
least on a temporary basis I’ve switched to the CodeBlocks development
environment using the MinGW C++ compiler. There were 2 main reasons for this –
firstly compile times increased significantly with Visual Studio 2010 from a few
seconds for a change to about a minute which was really making small changes
very tedious, and secondly CodeBlocks is available on Linux and Mac making
native versions of ARX much easier to produce as the same environment can be
used across all platforms. The switch of environment has raised a few new compile
bugs though which I need to deal with before releasing 0.61.

From a
player perspective the other major change I’ve made is that I’ve almost 100%
dropped the use of “RenderTextures” in the SFML media library. My use of these
created lots of problems for players with Intel onboard graphics and a few
issues on newer machines I had access to. My code was also messier and harder to
debug when I had these in. My new 0.61 version works much better on old harder
which I’m much happier with. I don’t see why a player shouldn’t be able to use
an old laptop to play something based on a 25 year old game series just because
it has intel graphics.

I’ve also added code to better handle monster
vulnerabilities and invulnerabilies to various damage types. Bit more work to do
there though to make it complete.

There are a few new encounter images
which I’ve been sent as well which are included for players playing ARX in a
full window. These will hopefully gradually replace the handful of placeholder
MM6 images I’ve used currently.

Hopefully I can have this release wrapped
up fairly soon.

All the best,
Acrin1

Alternate Reality X – Release 0.60 Now Available!

Release 0.60 of Alternate Reality X is now available for download from:

https://www.crpgdev.com/downloads.html

It contains the following additions and bug fixes:

  • Implemented City and Dungeon encounters as a single set using same encounter object format
  • Combined encounter images into single set using Dungeon images for majority
  • Added all Dungeon fixed encounter specials (32 in total)
  • Added weapons for encounter specials above
  • Added a Dungeon Quest
  • Fixed Bug #002: Delay of a couple of seconds when entering some shops / modules due to music loading
  • Fixed Bug #003: Mini map edges don’t refresh properly
  • Fixed Bug #004: City map wrapped at some points instead of leading to Wilderness
  • Fixed Bug #013: Lyric strip appears over shop / module image at 800 x 600 resolution
  • Fixed Bug #014: Daggers only type of weapon dropped after winning an encounter
  • Fixed Bug #001: Goblins and Trolls don’t recognise that you’re carrying rival ring half
  • Fixed Bug #016: Oracle offerings did not include weapons etc
  • Fixed Bug #017: Pauper could not accept all positive items and never rejected offers
  • Fixed Bug #018: City encounters didn’t drop weapons

Hope you enjoy it. There should be another release out soon in February.

Thanks for your continued support and feedback- greatly appreciated.

All the best,
Acrin1