Looking Forward and Looking Back, 2018-2019
New year, new goals for Home Point Games, but before we look too far forward, let's do a quick review on how 2018 went.
2018 was an okay year for Home Point Games and specifically Mythlink. Wasn't too good, wasn't too bad. The middle-late part of the year was the most rough as there was an extended hiatus where not much got done. The networking did however, get mostly implemented as evidenced by the previous blog posts videos of me playing against a friend online. I consider that a big win and the best accomplishment of 2018.
The end of the year was especially difficult, as several issues popped up in the past few weeks. Some of these problems will severely affect the future of Mythlink. These hurdles are as follows:
1) Loss of Computer Documents (RESOLVED)
Early in November I had found that the majority of my files on one of my computers had disappeared. I still have no idea what the root cause of this was (though I have read issues of a Windows patch affecting an unlucky few people with my exact problem), but in any case I lost some of the work I had done. Luckily, I was busy in late October/early November with a move so the resulting deletion only cost me about a week's worth of work. This did however prompt me to do some massive computer clean up and create far more comprehensive backups than I have ever had before. Nothing like a catastrophe to scare you straight, right?
2) SteamVR Input Update (MOSTLY RESOLVED)
A few months ago (not sure how long exactly) Valve released a new version of SteamVR that completely changed how input worked. Usually, I keep up to date with these things so I created a quick test model using the new SteamVR and saw how it went. Long story short, it broke a ton of the game and between reading documentation and doing coding updates it would've taken me several hours/days to get back up and running. At the time I didn't want to be bothered with it and according to the documentation that I did actually read the legacy system would still work, so I decided to ignore it. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was demoing the game to someone and went to the gym room only to find that virtually none of the games worked anymore. Not only did they not work, but it would crash both the game and SteamVR as a whole. This was very odd as I hadn't touched the gym room in months. I then booted up the current Steam version (the most stable release of Mythlink) that any user can access and found the same problem. Eventually I narrowed it down to the new SteamVR input system. Seems that the legacy support was not as stable as the documentation originally claimed. So then, during the holiday break most of my spare time was dedicated to getting this new input system implemented so that the rooms would be functional once again.
What exactly is this new input system? It's actually kinda neat and forward-thinking. Essentially, it allows support for any and all controllers that users may play the game with. This includes controllers I may not own or may not have even be released yet. Even though it was a pain in the butt to fix, I hope this current solution is more permanent and in fact I actually like it now. This update is mostly complete but took most of my December development time to implement and will help Mythlink be more accessible to users regardless of what control scheme they want to use. You can see an example screenshot here of how the, now built in, input system allows users to customize their controls per game and per controller.
3) Mythlink Game Changes (NOT STARTED)
With the new input system, some of the game itself needs to be changed. Lots of Mythlink was designed with the idea in mind that users could customize and change their controls on the fly. Now that this system is built into the SteamVR engine itself, these components are unnecessary and confusing within the game. This means that some of the game "menus", options, and sometimes entire training rooms will need to change. Off the top of my head, the Copycat Keep Up game now makes little sense based on the current input methods, as it would only work if someone has the exact same setup as I do (which at one point was assumed, but can no longer be so). Some drastic changes will need to occur in parts of Mythlink, but I haven't exactly decided what or how I want to change things.
Another major game change I want to make is with the current landscape of "Mythlink Park" i.e. the fundamental visual world. Part of the idea with Mythlink was to try and keep the user immersed in the virtual world as evidenced by the workbench "menus" and how you need to deliberately act with each and every component to make things work- just as you would in real life. After giving it some thought I believe I may have taken it too far and it is somewhat a hindrance to the actual game. Gameplay is still king in Mythlink and it is not meant to be any sort of realistic simulation. I will be evaluating things to make the overall process more smooth and find better ways for people to get "lost" in the virtual world while not taking away from the fun. I also may remove the whole "outdoors" world and transition things to an "indoor" environment. Something tells me that could be a better call, but we'll see.
4) Game Engine Networking Changes (NOT STARTED)
Last but not least, easily the worst bit of news I received this year. The networking system I created which took me all year of development, and works quite well in my opinion, is no longer being supported. This is a huge blow to the game and very frustrating to me. The method I use creates a "peer to peer" system, where one person connects to another with very little in the way of a middleman and works great for this type of game. Peer to peer minimizes costs and SHOULD HAVE BEEN supported for virtually forever as it doesn't require any sort of extra hardware for the game to run, just two people and their basic computers/internet connections. Instead, the game engine is going to be forcing all networking users to use a server hosting service, which is great for some games, but not all.
The current system that Mythlink uses will be supported until 2022, so I might leave it and hope that I actually release the game long before then! Either way, this news was devastating to me and might make me consider switching game engines, unless someone far more clever than me can find a way around this new restriction and decides to share it with the world. I'm crossing my fingers that this happens. Honestly, I haven't done too much research on it so there are probably many ways I can go about implementing a solution.
Well now, that quick year in review ended up not being so quick, but I think there is all good info there. Let's look forward and take a sneak peek at what Home Point Games hopes to get done in 2019. This will be a very high level view and won't get into specifics too much, as this blog post is already getting far too long.
There are two major things I would like to accomplish this year under Home Point Games. These are not necessarily set in stone or promises, rather just some nebulous guidelines for me to follow.
1) Mythlink Final Prototype Demo Release
A little late from the original plan, but releasing the final Mythlink prototype demo to Steam would be a huge win for this year. This would mark the end of Mythlink as a prototype and then finally begin the transition into full-fledged game. This is actually surprisingly close to completion! The input fixes are almost done, the networking works, battles are (somewhat) smooth, and the games are mostly functional. What needs to be done is basically finishing out a lot of the rough edges so that the consumer experience isn't all too awful, this means smoothing out battles even more and making sure things like initial load times (which are currently abysmal) are fixed.
2) Tipsy Hamster Re-release
This is a project that I just recently thought of and could be a fun and quick break from Mythlink. For those who do not know, I individually released a free app to the Google Play store several years ago called Tipsy Hamster. It was a pretty fun little stupid game that gave me something to do and got me back into game development. Tipsy Hamster was released under my personal account and was made completely from scratch using Java (fun fact: a coding language I had never used before). This game being released under my personal account sort of splits up my portfolio and makes it a bit difficult to keep track of things.
Therefore, my plan with Tipsy Hamster is this-
1) Remake the game using an existing game engine (likely Unity, as I am familiar with it now)
2) Add some replayability features to the game like unlockables
3) Release the game both on Android and iOS (Huge maybe on the iOS release, the first time I tried to do that it ended up being such a big pain in the butt that I gave up)
4) Release the game under Home Point Games and remove the original listing (this will help consolidate my portfolio and give Home Point Games the accolade of having a single fully released title)
Since the game is already "done", porting it over to a new game engine can't be too bad...can it? Famous last words, which is why I'm not committing to having this done in 2019 or doing it at all. I think it's a nice idea but I haven't begun investigating exactly what it would take to accomplish this. We'll have to wait and see how things end up happening.
3) Website Update
Currently in the talks of doing a website update. Should offer a more streamlined and comprehensive experience if things proceed as planned. Still very much in the early stages, might not even happen.
And that is it for this month! Besides the Tipsy Hamster stuff, I anticipate especially the beginning of this year to be a bit slow so the blog posts will probably be fairly void of any new and exciting content. They do still serve as a good motivator to keep me focused on the projects and provide some useful tidbits here and there. Happy New Year and Good Luck to All!