Deep Space Noir Development Diary 2: The pre-alpha

700 man-hours down the road, Deep Space Noir has entered pre-alpha.

Technically the game was out of prototype phase long before that moment. Maybe at around the 350-hour mark in August 2020. At that point it was apparent it’s already way more than a proof of concept used mostly to convince myself whether it’s worth wasting another good few thousand hours and euros on the development. But yeah, there was certain amount of game in there already. Station droid was freely roaming on its own, player controls were in place, loads of interactive shenanigans not obvious to the player but contributing to the overall atmosphere were implemented, tons of new HD textures were created and generally almost every single object got reworked multiple times.

So the foundations were almost laid. Almost.

See, I’m a lazy person. Yet, I’m a sick perfectionist too. And one may think these two contradict themselves, but through the years I have figured how to make these so called hallmarks of mine work in conjunction. I just take my time to plan out things as much as possible before rushing into mindless work. Used to go “fuck it, I’ll just work it out in the process” when I was younger, but guess I’m too bitter, too experienced in a bad way and too lazy for this now.

There were all-important fundaments I wanted to have even in the prototype, so I wouldn’t have to think about them later on when it would be significantly more difficult to implement backwards compatibility for key mechanics. To be fair, I’m talking about things point and click game does not necessarily need. But things I personally need. Things that make me feel good. Things that are enormous time sinks, but would also make the game feel alive and me happy.

There had to be life in it. The whole place needed to look alive. This is not some narrative-driven walking simulator in which player is the only moving thing. This is an adventure. It takes place in busy environments. And while I’m alone in this and that’s hell of an extra effort for a solo dev, it needed to be done right. From the start.

So I decided to effectively call it pre-alpha once certain basic features have been implemented on top of unneeded ones that were already in place —i.e. the advanced free camera suite for taking glorious screenshots, 4 degrees of freedom manually controlled ships, jamming doors, planetary scene, asteroid scene and realistic colorful spinning star map that lets you warp between these via random organic loading screens.

Here’s the important feature checklist, parts of which turned out to be much more of an obstacle, than anticipated.

✔️ Interaction
✔️ Inventory
✔️ Passive narrative
✔️ Automated traffic control
✔️ Make ASMR mode part of gameplay
✔️ Lay down the foundations for ship interior scenes
❌️ Dialogue
❌️ Have additional entities roam station.

“Entities” above is used on purpose, as one of the biggest challenges in front of me is having variety of semi-realistic human NPC’s in the game. The way I see it, there need to be at least 20 different models with loads of features and clothing variants. Even better, a body generator. And that is something of an ambitious goal, so it wasn’t realistic it will be available upon entering pre-alpha.

So I went through various tools just to find out that

in 2021 it is [nearly] impossible to have your game decently populated using 3rd party tools.

For various reasons. Some technical, some in the realm of legal restrictions. And just so there is some foundation to my words, I went through following tools, while I was getting increasingly annoyed:

  • UMA
  • Poser
  • Daz Studio
  • Character Creator
  • Character Generator
  • MakeHuman
  • Mixamo

None of these would actually work for me the way I wanted and needed or even at all. And that’s a huge setback. Because, truth be told, I have never planned to spend few grand on character modelling and rigging. I’d rather pay extra for a full-fledged tool that has it all, but apparently that would not be possible the way I imagined it. So this is a major pain in my butt I’m yet to figure out.

As far as dialogue is concerned, at first I thought PlayMaker would feature a dialogue system. Don’t know why, just did. Then I bought up Node Canvas, which has dialogue module, but honestly, I’m not super happy with it. What I am however, is pissed with Unity’s refund policy and the fact I can’t apply for refund for both and seek another alternative, as there are a lot of compromises to be made if I’m about to use either of these.

Last, but not least, I wanted to finally launch the site.

All that proved to be pretty time consuming and there are at least 50 hours in addition to these 700 that were consumed by the site alone. Frankly, initial item interaction only took a day or so and ended up unexpectedly sweet. And I’ll tell you the secret to that. Separate postprocessing layer with narrow depth of field to pin player’s attention on the object. It then took 2 weeks to complete and automated traffic control alone took more than 2 weeks. These were probably the most time consuming features of the game so far.

And while I was striving to draw the line, additional issue became more and more apparent, especially so with the introduction of the multi-level structure of Ætherius Main.

Pathfinding along navmesh proved to be a bitch for this and my initial point and click concept is not looking as sweet as I thought it would be. Which is a whole new world of pain to deal with.

So yeah, there is an awful lot of work to be done before game moves from pre-alpha to alpha. And it will take an awful lot of trial and error. And the problem is, the deeper I go into the project, the harder it gets to fix previously created things without breaking something badly.

What’s next

I need to focus on the gameplay itself. Which will be interesting feat, considering everything I wrote in the initial script is already obsolete, as the story moved in different direction.

I’m aiming for at least 2 hours of gameplay per episode. And I mean good, meaningful gameplay, not just bloating out game time by adding annoying time sinks, like passenger saving in The Long Dark Episode 3, which was the most annoying thing ever to come out of that studio after their [let’s hop on the bandwagon, it’s free marketing and builds favorable character] stance on BLM. And frankly, politicizing game development is fucking disgusting. More on that comes in the form of a rant just below, so if you are too sensitive on certain topics, now is a good time to end your stay.

Next dev diary format

I think this shall put an end to text dev diaries on Medium or wherever. Instead, I will move on to video on YouTube and that will also impact frequency, as it takes way too long for me to write meaningful text now and talk about everything that happened in the meantime. It’s okay for retrospection and I may actually write a long essay every now and then as the game goes through major milestones, like alpha, beta and release, but for the time being, progress tracking will be covered on Pornstache Productions YouTube channel, so make sure to subscribe.

A short manifesto

With the release of Cyberpunk 2077 and the following uproar, it became apparent that for the wide majority of what used to be gamers, but has presently reduced themselves to a bunch of bitches,

games are like toasters — a product that is bought to meet certain practical role and personal expectation.

That’s the new fucking norm. The whining bitches are the new fucking norm. And the whining bitches are not your mama’s boys these days. They are politicized to fuck and back. Everything, every-fucking-thing, is boiled down to race, gender and discrimination and if you disagree with such ridiculously shallow setting, you are either insert-random-shit-here-phobic, insert-another-random-shit-here-ist or simply, a bigot. Generation woke has spoken and there’s but one righteous point of view. Theirs.

Well, let me simplify the situation for you. That’s fucking disgusting!

You are fucking disgusting! You fucking tools! You dumb fucking fucks! You self-important pricks! You depressed, confused, ignorant, destructive assholes!

Every creator can do and say whatever the fuck they please in their own work!

It’s an original creative work, set in fictional environment, portraying fictional characters and events. If you would like to project your real self in that environment, that’s fine, that’s what it was created for. If you would like to push your psychotic shit upon one’s original creation however and twist it in a manner that seems to fit your perspective for the time being, I have bad news for you — you are fucked up in the head. And somewhere deep inside, you know that, but refuse to accept it for reasons I can’t care less about. So let me repeat it — you are fucked up in the head and you don’t belong in this fictional world. So just do not force yourself into it and ruin it for everyone else with your humble fucking opinion how bad it is, just because you feel you are entitled to publicly announce your point of view.

One doesn’t expect a game to indulge their fucking expectations. One doesn’t expect a game to be tailored to their fucking taste. One doesn’t expect a game to be their reason to live. In fact, one shouldn’t expect anything. Ever. And if you do, it’s your own fault. But if you take your expectations seriously to a level that justifies you to harass developers in any way or form, I’d say the world will be a better place without you and your kind. Shiiit.

No one ever forced you to spend your hard earned money on their game. It was educated personal decision, motherfucker. And let me tell you a secret — your money don’t mean shit. It buys you nothing more than the right to play a game. And it certainly does not make a difference to the developer. Because every developer would rather not have your money if they know they will have to deal with your fucked up crap afterwards, you insignificant self-important twat!

And you know something else? Outside of your bright multi-colored bubble, no one gives a fuck. Neither about what you think, nor about you in particular. Of course, you may be under the impression this is not the case. That your opinion is in fact relevant and you are in power to actually influence things. Cancel them, if you will. But the reality is you can’t cancel cheesy donkey dick. You are just a tiny generic gear in a broken machine that will soon serve its purpose, get thrown out and be replaced by the next. Just like many others before it. It may not seem that way and you may feel almighty now, but this too shall pass. You shall pass. Unimportantly.

Deep Space Noir
Meticulously crafted point and click dark tech-noir/cyberpunk adventure

Solo-dev-obscene-mothefucker-one-man-army. Creator of Deep Space Noir adventure game, Zenith:Unknown board game and a metric shitton of popular media.

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