Development progress report, week 13

Well, as predicted, I didn’t end up with very much time to work on Argus and SNAFU this last week.

did however, have a couple stretches (mostly on Saturday) where I was able to buckle down and really hammer away, though.

One thing I achieved was rigging the story-compiler with enough smarts to recognise when a character was trying to refer to themselves using the model that is reserved for referring to other characters.

This generally means one of two things. Either, I’ve accidentally gotten my role-identifiers switched around for the subject of the speech/narrative, or I’ve gotten them muddled for the enactor. (That is, the character is trying to refer to itself because it is supposed to be someone else speaking/narrating!)

So, get code in, test code. List every case where this seems to be happening and … wow! I can’t believe I messed up so many!

The compiler now treats those as hard-errors, so it won’t generate a story-file. Lots of fix-ups, but the fix-ups are simple ones.

While I was doing that, I remembered that two characters (who had very short roles in the demo) had gotten their missing narratives written during the previous week (week 11), and I shifted things around include a bit more of them in the demo.

While testing that, I realised that the new demo feedback system for the Alpha 2 build was a bit broken in a very particular way. I’d jammed in a couple ugly default Windows buttons into the interface to allow users to like/dislike a given passage.

Problem was that as soon as you used one, it stole keyboard focus from the rest of the window. Hadn’t spotted that sooner. The quick-and-dirty solution was to hide the feedback buttons quickly after the user clicked one, and then show them again right away. Focus defaults back to the main application window. Thankfully, they’re only there for the Alpha demo builds.

So, that necessitated pushing out an Alpha 3 build. Did all of that.

That brought me to Saturday, and that’s when I sat down to hammer on the narratives some more.

The next milestone is proving somewhat elusive. From a technical perspective it represents the demarcation between Act One of SNAFU and Act Two. From that point, the way the underlying technology handles narrative will progressively shade from one model to another. There will be a lot of new code to write, problems to solve and so on, but actually writing the story parts should end up being somewhat simpler than they were for Act One.

For the player/reader the transition between the two technical models should be relatively seamless. Or so I hope.

Nevertheless, the milestone (for me) is getting all of the playable character narratives up to the same point in time. This would be easier if the characters didn’t have entirely plausible and necessary conversations and choices popping up in the last couple of hours of narrative time to my target.

So, despite getting a lot of writing done towards the mark (7,069 words, lifting it past the 200,000 word mark quite comfortably – and even managed to spend five minutes writing a poem for something entirely different), the remaining work to hit that milestone hasn’t seemed to decrease significantly. I still have roughly 23 narratives to write to get there. I’m not sure I will quite close off Act One without hitting the quarter-million word mark.

So much for a week when I didn’t get much done!

One thing which does concern me a little is that four of the ten playable characters in the demo have considerably more storytelling and development to them than the other six do. This is something of a consequence of the way their stories unfold. Four of them get some defining and interesting scenes during the prologue of the story. The other six, however, are still largely in ‘establishing shots’ by the time the demo ends, and their narratives don’t properly begin until after that mark.

However, testers trying the Alpha Demo always pick one of those less-developed characters first – and it is an entirely valid complaint that they’re not as well-developed. It just hasn’t happened yet.

It probably happens because those characters are marked as having shorter narratives, which makes testers prefer one of those for the first time, and then doesn’t really encourage them to look at the others.

Perhaps it would be better if I restricted the playable characters in the demo to just four, instead of ten.

That said, I’m seriously thinking about limiting the number of playable characters for release to about eleven. There are easily four more I can add in as playable characters in a subsequent release or expansion.

It’s Melbourne International Games Week, by the way. Not that you’d know it if you read the regular papers and news sites. Hoping to get together with some very cool games developers! Which, again, will restrict my opportunities to work on things.