Alternate Reality X – Modifying the display

Example Dungeon screen (672×480) from the Atari 800 Emulator

As mentioned previously I was investigating a possible move to using SDL as an alternative to the SFML media library. Whilst I’m not a 100% certain I’m going to stay with SFML it’s looking extremely likely. The main reason for this is that I understand from what I’ve read that unlike SFML, SDL isn’t able to easily mix it’s native graphics with an OpenGL view. One of the things I found useful with SFML was that I could limit my use of OpenGL to just drawing the 3D City / Dungeon view whilst using SFML’s 2D functions for everything else. The disadvantage I’ve found with SFML is that a number of people have had issues with the OpenGL support and video drivers on their Windows machines. There are a couple of changes I can make which might address the problems under Windows and flag up the possible impact on gameplay at start up for the player.

I’ve been spending some time trying out the City and Dungeon using the Atari 800 emulator (version 3.0.0). This emulator seems reliable and hasn’t yet crashed on and lost my emulator settings which I found to be a problem with Atari 800 Win Plus. One of the first things I’m doing is making some changes to simplify the display options to make Alternate Reality X look more authentic and make best use of the original Atari 800 graphics as I didn’t like the way some of them appeared when stretched by my multiple screen options. In practice this is likely to mean more limited screen display options (at least for the next release) but will hopefully make for a better Atari 8bit look which most players are apparently using when playing ARX. I will still be leaving in the support for alternative media but it’s not going to be a focus in the next few releases. 672 by 480 pixels is likely to become the base resolution for the game from the next release with options to have black borders or not. This will give you a very accurate, double sized version of the original and will allow me to match the display very accurately with the original versions.

One of the benefits about my investigations into the SDL media library was that I’ve been reading a SDL game programming book and this has made me rethink some of the ways the game programming could be improved to make better use of the features of C++. These would probably simplify development, improve my code reuse across multiple shop type modules and reduce the risk of crashes due to my ill informed programming techniques. These are general C++ game programming techniques – just as applicable to a SFML game as a SDL one.

These might seem like very trivial points for me to be focusing on but having the display “look right” for me will make a big difference to me. Release 0.8 is now under development so watch this space.

Alternate Reality X – Back to Basics

As I’d said previously I wanted to review what I’d achieved with Alternate Reality X (ARX) and what I needed to do to take it a step closer to completion. I’ve given the project a lot of thought and wanted to post an update.

I found some of my early AR images on the internet dated 12th June 2004. Eleven years ago! These are very old when I was using Mike Robert’s excellent TADS 3 Interactive Fiction system to read the AR binary map files and display an overhead view. Thanks to Mike for answering my often off topic questions when I should have been using TADS 3 to write more adventure games 🙂 Here are the images:
My early Alternate Reality port using TADS 3!

Another screenshot but with a different font and a very simplistic 3D view
My next move after moving away from using TADS 3 was to post a little SDL based demo of some randomised Dungeon combat with various Dungeon denizens things have changed a lot. My original demo looked very authentic and just worked. I liked that version 🙂

My original goals for my Alternate Reality remake were to:
  • Produce an easy to use version of AR that would run on modern systems
  • Allow players to move seamlessly between the City and Dungeon scenarios

It was not my original intention to improve the graphics and sound or to try and complete the other scenarios. The display and audio options as well as multiple screen resolutions have all added to the development time for me. Not ideal when this is really my first proper programming project 🙂
Since then a lot of time has passed and over the years the project has started and paused a number of times due to other commitments and changing ideas about direction. My conclusion now is that the best direction for now is to return to my original goals for the project and try to bring it to a sensible conclusion, or at the very least bring this stage to completion so that there is a solid foundation for myself or others to build on (e.g. adding a new scenario).
The original Alternate Reality:The City
The other conclusion I’ve come to from the emails and messages I’ve received over the years is that the vast majority of people are really looking for a fairly faithful port of the original games – including the original 8bit graphics and sound. I really need to pair back the project to its core so that I can rewrite some of the dubious code in the background. This is turn would provide a solid platform for possible future scenarios to be added – once the City and Dungeon are 100% implemented.
There are a couple of other things I’ve considered. SFML’s use of OpenGL causes a lot of issues foe people who don’t have fully compliant OpenGL video drivers on their Windows PCs. This is a big concern for me with Windows 10 now on release.  A switch to the SDL media library which I believe doesn’t use OpenGL would probably help a lot with this. I’ve also decided that for ARX any ports to Mac OS X or Linux would probably have to be carried out by someone else. Unity 3D I’ll use for new projects rather than ARX.
So where does that leave the project? 
Here’s my current plan and thoughts for Alternate Reality X development:
  • Microsoft Windows only
  • Staying with C++ and a media library (SFML or SDL)
  • Review each section of code, rewriting where necessary
  • Concentrate on adding the remaining functionality
  • Stick to the original 8bit look and feel for now

August 2015 Already?

Is it really over six months since my last blog post and even longer since my last game upload???

You might have wondered if I was still interested in CRPGs and game development or whether I had hit some serious problem in my personal life. I’m pleased to report that there have been no major disasters but plenty of other things have taken up my time and my personal interests including my game development has suffered as a result.

I’m taking part in a year long training programme which has seen me travelling away from home a lot more than usual and whilst it’s been enjoyable and interesting, it means that when I’m back home there is a lot more to catch up on with my family and around the house . I’ve also completed some other training and exams (work related) that I’d wanted to do for some time. I’m doing some major redecoration and clearing out of our house which has been really time consuming. To top everything off numerous things in the house have broken, developed faults and either need fixing by me or more often replaced or fixed at great expense by others. Additional hassle I didn’t need. Net result that the last six months of 2015 have been a total blur.

On the more positive side I did complete a review of Alternate Reality:The City for inclusion in the excellent The CRPG Book Project. This is shaping up to be an excellent book once it’s complete. The current version has over 200 pages with around 100 game reviews. Felipe Pepe has done an amazing job putting this together so please check it out if you haven’t already. You can find the current version at: https://crpgbook.wordpress.com/

I have also really enjoyed playing Rocksmith 2014 which I bought just before Christmas. If you’re unfamiliar with this “game” you plug in a real electric guitar or bass and play along with real songs and play the actual guitar parts.You can slow down sections to practice and vary the difficulty or accuracy. As you improve and depending on your level and playing style (rhythm or lead) the computer gradually adds in more notes until you’re playing the authentic guitar parts with all the notes and nuances. It hasn’t made me a guitar master but it really is a lot of fun and feels very productive compared to something like Guitar Hero as my guitar playing really is improving as result.

On the game development front I’m thinking through a few ideas at the moment – some about how to progress Alternate Reality X and one of my own CRPG projects which isn’t AR related. Unity 3D looks like the most likely choice of platform for anything I do though, mainly due to its rapid deployment to other platforms including web options. Anything I produce I suspect will have a distinctly “classic” look. It probably won’t look anything like a normal Unity 3D game 🙂

Thanks to those of you who have asked how things are and for your continued support and interest in my projects. All the best.

Two Paths to Alternate Reality

Over the last few months I have been giving a lot of thought to my two Alternate Reality related projects and with the move into 2015 have been thinking about my next steps. I think I’m now fairly clear on how I’m planning to develop during 2015.

I’ve spent many years working on my original project (Alternate Reality X or ARX) which was originally focused on bringing the City and the Dungeon together into a single game which could be played on a modern PC without the inconveniences that sometimes come from using emulation such as swapping virtual floppy disks. I think I succeeded in meeting the majority of those goals allowing players to move seamlessly between the City and the Dungeon as well as making a number of adjustments so that (hopefully) moving between the two scenarios isn’t too jarring. Over the years I introduced a variety of display and audio options with replacement art from Ted and myself and music by Furious. However the flexibility in the options has meant that a lot of time has been spent on say for example making display elements appear in sensible positions across multiple resolutions. Whilst some people will appreciate all the effort that went into these, I suspect may just want to play the game. In addition I found myself in a slightly odd position where I was trying to please everybody retaining the old and new. In a single game there were limits in how successful I could be with this approach.

ARX had become a bit tangled code wise and needed some significant work to make it more stable and less buggy before I could really complete it. This in part made me decide to put a hold on it last year and start work on a new version of Alternate Reality which used the Unity 3D game development system. I’ve released a couple of short demos using Unity and I like it as a system. It’s relatively easy to use but provides a lot of power for someone like me that I couldn’t hope to develop myself. In addition it’s cross platform support is amazing. I was able to create Mac OS X versions of my Alternate Reality demos with a few mouse clicks compared to the weeks of work it took me to produce one Mac build from my ARX SFML / C++ code.

The conclusion I’ve reached is that I would like to continue to work on both projects but change the focus of each of them so that they are more clearly . From the feedback and comments I’ve received from players it looks like there are a sizeable number of people who enjoy ARX with its traditional graphics and sound but with the flexibility of the City and Dungeon being a single game. There are also a lot of people who are looking for a much more dramatic update to AR. This just wasn’t possible to produce whilst retaining the old look and feel in a single game. I’m now considering focusing ARX on its original Atari 8bit roots whilst my Unity 3D project (with a working title of Return to Xebec’s Demise – RXD) can focus on new graphics and sound, an updated map and a more flexible environment closer to more recent games but still attempting to retain the classic Alternate Reality atmosphere and spirit. The wonderful encounter graphics and music Ted and Furious produced can hopefully be used within the Unity project. This approach will make the ARX downloads much smaller as well.

So what can you expect to see? Firstly I’ll be updating both SFML (now on version 2.2) for ARX and Unity 3D (now up to 4.6) for Return to Xebec’s Demise so that I can produce small updates of both to get my development environment up to date. Internally things like items, encounters and the player are likely to be very similar so I’m playing with a few ideas as to how to possibly re-use some code between the two. One option would be to use the C# language with SFML as this is the language I use for scripting in Unity 3D.

Hopefully what I’m describing above makes sense and will be pretty clear once you have an update of both projects to try out. Let me know what you think and any better titles you have for the two projects. Thanks as always for your interest and support.

CRPG Dev – Still here for 2015!

You may have wondered whether I had been dispatched by a Nightstalker or become hopelessly lost wandering the streets of Xebec’s Demise but I’ve simply been very busy with work and home commitments as well as the build up to Christmas and New Year. I hope you had a good Christmas / holiday if you haven’t been working.

I’ve also been looking into some of my other interests, reading up on them and I’ll post about them over the next few weeks as they are relevant to computers and gaming to some degree. I’ve also just found that after work and family things all I’ve wanted to do some nights is sit down and catch up on some TV or movies that I’ve been wanting to see for a while. My working environment is also less than ideal at the moment which isn’t conducive to game coding and development or even blog posting. I’m surrounded by clutter. It will be easier once the Christmas decorations are packed away in the next few days.

Unity 4.6 is now out of Beta so I’ll be using this for some projects and have found it works very well. The on-screen GUI development will speed up game development a lot for me I think as you can see what is on the screen as you’re working without having to go through a slow modify / run, repeat process for every little change. My plan is to focus on gameplay mechanics and coding within Alternate Reality X and put the cosmetics to one side for now until the gameplay is a little better established.

Some of my other computing interests have sparked an interest in dusting down my older SFML Alternate Reality X as I’d still like to bring that to some clear conclusion (Windows only though for this one). I’m toying with a few ideas as to how to complete this without it taking too much additional development time. I could for example strip it down to a single resolution such as 800×600 and 8bit graphics and sound as the new versions from Furious and Ted have a natural home in the Unity 3D version of ARX. I’ll give this one some further thought.

The website and blog are likely to be merged together into a single site using Blogger as the basis. I’m looking at ways to make updates easier to maintain and You may notice some oddities whilst I experiment with various options on the blog and website(s).

Thanks for following CRPG Dev through 2014 and taking the time to comment and offer suggestions for the games. If you have supported my development through Paypal, Patreon or by contributing code or content then I am especially grateful. I would have liked to have done much more development this year but it hasn’t happened and I’m not going to beat myself up over it.

I hope you’ve had a good 2014 and would like to wish you, your friends and family all the best for the New Year in 2015. Hope you have a good one.

Supporting Future Development and a New Game

If you have supported CRPG Dev through Paypal or Patreon over the last few months then I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you and say how much I appreciate it. I’m also very grateful for the messages of support I receive via email or facebook. It’s a hugh boost to my motivation to know that you are interested in what I’m working on and prepared to get behind me to help my future development. Particularly when development is hitting a blockage or a particularly troublesome bug is standing in the way. Unfortunately the number of hours that go into my game development don’t always appear to justify / tally with the output, especially if it’s something behind the scenes which is essential but doesn’t necessarily translate to much gameplay on the screen. I think that’s just a normal part of game development. If you are considering supporting then thank you. The Paypal link is on the www.crpgdev.com homepage and you can sign up for Patreon over at www.patreon.com/crpgdev. Every donation really helps, however small. Also please keep the feedback and suggestions coming – I read them all and take them on board.

I’ve had a lot going on over the last few months which has meant I’ve had less free time than usual and been away from home more than I like but pleased to say things are settling down again. As I’ve mentioned recently the next focus of development in Alternate Reality X will be on adding some meat to the bones of Release 0.2 so that it feels more like the Alternate Reality we all know and love. This will come in the form of encounters, items and shops.

In addition to ARX I’ve been itching to start an all new CRPG which would be developed alongside it. As I’ve mentioned before I don’t see any side projects as taking time away from ARX development as they are more likely to take up time that I wouldn’t have spent on ARX anyway.It’s healthy to not be focused 100% on just the one project and get burnt out or start to dread working on it. This game isn’t what I envisaged Stone of the Citadel to be as it’s distinctly different in atmosphere and approach to that design. I would be using Unity 3D to develop the game though.

Game play will be significantly different to Alternate Reality featuring a party of adventurers and a high level wilderness map to explore. Across the wilderness there will be a number of towns, dungeons and other locations to explore. It will be heavily text and menu based with turn based combat. One area I’m considering for this game is procedurally generated content (PGC). This could be used for the towns, characters or items. As many of you may have read previously I’m a big fan of the original Elite space exploration and trading game. I spent many years with my Commodore 64 exploring the galaxies of Elite which used various seed values to consistently generate its 8 galaxies each with their 255 planets. My use of PGC will be very much dependent on the quality of my results though. Another example is the clothing you can buy in the AR:The City – there are effectively hundreds of different items that can be generated based on colour, fabric, quality etc.

My initial objective just now is to build a small but fun game in a relatively short space of time and leave the design open enough that it can be expanded as I see fit. Expect something to try out soon on this front.

Alternate Reality X – Beyond Release 0.2

Now that Release 0.2 of Alternate Reality X is available I have been thinking about what I want to tackle for the next release.

To recap, with Release 0.2 I added:

  • Three Encounter types – Thief, Master Thief and Nobleman
  • Encounter code and interface for attacking and defending, switching weapons and conversations
  • New 3D models to represent solid walls, doors and windows which I created and textured in Blender 3D
  • Initial shop interiors for the Smithy, Tavern and Bank using assets from the Unity Asset Store
  • New music versions of “Armor” and “Waves” by Furious
  • Two new “encounter themes” by Furious
  • Atmospheric, environmental sound effects such as birds chirping (provided by Furious)
  • Rolling textured terrain to replace the flat City floor including trees and grass which sway in the wind
  • Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X versions released at the same time

My main focus for the next release will be on adding some shop functions, expanding the encounters and updating the items / inventory. I think with what I have planned for this release a lot more of the “Alternate Reality” identity and atmosphere will start to appear in the game. I’ve said it many times before but for me a lot of the heart of AR is really about the encounters and the items you find. One difference with this version of ARX is that it will be easier (not easy though!) to find out information about the specific strengths and weaknesses of items and encounters. This may come in later releases though. I’d also like to add the other information screens possibly as part of the Inventory or as part of the player display.

I’ve now switched over to the Unity 4.6 Beta release for development of ARX 0.3. The main reason for this is that it features a brand new, highly anticipated GUI system for building the user interfaces in your games. Previously GUIs in Unity games were typically created through code which had some disadvantages, the most noticeable for me the time it took between making a change and running the game to see the changes in action. The new system allows you to build your user interfaces on screen using a similar workflow to the other elements of Unity. It looks very powerful so far and I think it will speed up development a lot – ideal for what I’m wanting to focus on just now in ARX.

The physical construction of the City will continue but is likely to be less of a focus in this next release. The approach I will be taking though is to gradually replace the old, flat walls with 3D models to give the buildings real depth – walls, doorways, furniture, roofs etc. Where possible I will model these around the original Alternate Reality shop artwork and dimensions. I really need to add some doors and windows to my buildings though!

Things have been a bit quiet on the feedback front so not sure what your thoughts are on the direction and the current status of the project. It will take a bit of time to get up to speed to the point where there is enough content to make it really feel like a new Alternate Reality and a real game but I feel very positive about the direction the project is heading in and think there should be plenty of gameplay in another release or two. What is there currently is really only the start and it’s hard to fully describe what I’m visualizing in my head but I think it could be something special and worthy of the Alternate Reality series. I would certainly like to be putting out a lot more releases out – for myself as well as any players of ARX – but I can only use the time I have available sandwiched between work and family time. Either way it’s going to continue to expand and improve and I’m been itching to get back to developing ARX when time has been tight so that’s a very good sign.

For those who would prefer a more traditional 8bit style AR closer to what I’d done previously, I haven’t ruled this out completely but would treat it as a separate piece of work rather than trying to capture it all in one project. I think this was one of the mistakes I made previously. However if you want to see this you will need to let me know. Please do let me know what your thoughts are on any aspects of the projects I do as CRPG Dev and as always I really appreciate any support you can offer through Paypal, Patreon, Facebook or Twitter. I will be updating the www.crpgdev.com website soon as well as it’s a bit out of date and would benefit from a facelift. Thanks for reading.

Alternate Reality X – Release 0.2 for Unity 3D

Just a brief note to let you know that I’ve a new release of Alternate Reality X available for download. There are versions for both Windows and Mac OS X created using Unity 3D.

Windows: https://www.crpgdev.com/downloads/ARX_0.2_Unity3D.zip

Mac OS X: https://www.crpgdev.com/downloads/ARX_0.2_Unity3D_OSX.zip

Release 0.2 features initial Encounters, the addition of sound and music as well as various changes to the environment such as the use of terrain and the beginnings of shop interiors. It also illustrates the use of free models to make the environment more interesting and my first models made with Blender 3D. Thanks to Furious for the music and sound effects.

There isn’t much interaction in this release but it hopefully gives you a good taster of things to come. Thanks for your support.