A couple of weeks ago, Auto Fire got taken out for some air at SIX, the Seattle Indies Expo. This show was an in-person event in conjunction with PAX, and featured indie games from around the rich development community around the Seattle area.
In preparation for the event I assembled a new teaser filled with updated footage and cool stuff. Hoooo boy that’s a tougher job than you think… It took the better part of a couple weeks, but I think it paid off. Enjoy!
A while back I made a video for the Seattle Indies Expo, who was doing a feature on local tactical games this past summer. The intent here was to show off the game with a bit of “talk from the developer” rather than a fancy trailer. I never posted it separately, but it shows some cool new stuff that you might enjoy.
I’ve been doing development streaming on Twitch lately, and it’s been pretty enjoyable actually. It’s early afternoon for me, Tuesday at 1PM Pacific, and it’s been fine. I worried about the cats disrupting things but I just embraced the cat break. I worried about boring people with some noodly code problem on camera but there’s always something I can pick up that’s interesting to work on and talk about. I’d like to think that people are learning things about game development as well, which it turns out is part of what it’s about.
I’ve saved some of these streams on Youtube, which has been good since there are sometimes concepts that I want to convey to people that are helping me out… and having a demo of its use is super-handy.
In stream #2 I showed off how patches are created in-game, and punch up some in-game objects. (The first stream was unfortunately lost to the fact that Twitch doesn’t save broadcasts by default). We also got our first visit from Sam.
Stream #3 started pretty weird because I had the mic off for a good chunk of the start. In this I actually crack open the very improved Blender after only an hour of watching tutorials and use it to update and break up some models, to improve the physics impact of destruction. Then we cut loose with some rockets.
Testing out my new hardware in the run-up to my first stream, I whipped up a quick video blog showing off the most recent changes to the build and its vehicle playstyles. Enjoy!
And hey, yes! I did stream for the very first time this week. I unfortunately didn’t know that Twitch didn’t default to saving past broadcasts so the first session isn’t viewable, but head over to my channel and give me a follow! I promise to save all future sessions!
It’s been a while since I put out a video illustrating the core features of Auto Fire, but a variety of reasons made me sit down and capture some magic. Consider this a vertical slice, although edited for length:
Over the past several months I’ve been working through some significant issues to get Auto Fire up to snuff…Â Good ol’ JimÂ talked me into going to the Roguelike Celebration 2018 in San Francisco this weekend so I could start showing my game to people more widely.Â Pretty exciting!Â Also pretty nerve-wracking given all the other stuff going on this summer.
Unfortunately there were a ton of things about my game that still drove me crazy…Â For exampleÂ I wasn’t able to save the state of maps between visits… which meant that the overworld in particular would regenerate every time you left a location.Â I had to finally take the plunge and deal with that particular issue.
Man I hate two-years-ago me.Â I did some real hack jobs to get that 7DRL challenge done, and I guess I wasn’t done paying off that technical debt. 😛
Luckily I got all the proper stuff to function, save off map states and basically am ready for honest-to-god savegames (although I don’t do save/load just yet.)Â I’ve also made a whole bunch of quality-of-life improvements based on early player feedback:
The camera is now behind the vehicle at all times.Â This way the WASD weapon keys are always consistent and understandable, and you don’t have to envision tank controls.Â I had always suspected this would be a problem, but I think I was so used to camera-always-north that I didn’t have any trouble playing.Â The added benefit is that the game has a fairly unique look as compared to other Roguelikes now.
Improved feedback for speed.Â This is always a work in progress.Â The player needs to know when they are speeding or skidding.Â Putting the camera at a shallow angle and adding speed lines is my current strategy.Â I also shake the camera a bit, but that may just be too much.Â We will see where things go as feedback comes in.
Recolored environment.Â A good friend did a paintover of a screenshot of my city environment a while back and it helped me gravitate towards dark ground surfaces, light obstructions, and bright colored gameplay elements.Â This wasn’t the case with deserts (because, y’know, desert), but I’ve been darkening things quite a bit and trying to get the colors to pop.Â Still a work in progress.
Revised balance and loot drops.Â This isn’t really finely balanced, but I did make the early-play experience quite a bit easier so that people that wanted to try out the build could get a good idea of what the game was about quickly.Â I also brought down the size of the average “loot pinata” that existed when I was testing loot out.Â I really still need to do a huge push towards making content, maybe after the RogueCel.
Revised location names.Â Â More on that next article!
New garages in the overworld and desert outposts.Â I’m trying to make sure that the player has plenty of places to equip all the weapons and vehicle components I’m dropping.Â That includes in hostile areas.Â That will be a balancing act in the future.
UI improvements.Â Again from feedback, I flash the weapon when you try to use it but can’t, and flash the grip meter if you are skidding and try to accelerate.
Music and sound improvements.Â Â I got some new weapon sounds and hooked them up.Â The quality is steadily improving there.Â On the music front, I went back toÂ Michael La Manna‘s excellent western apocalypse music… The quality is really high and fits the feel of the game really well.
My next step is to get the game out onto itch.io so that more people can play.Â That will be sooner than you think!
Brass Tactics was a really invigorating project to work on and I felt that we as a company (and I personally) learned a tremendous amount about VR in general as well as general player interaction and behavior.Â Over the past several months I’ve brought the key takeaways and posted them on the Hidden Path website.
Since them I’ve cleaned them up as a series of blog/articles on Gamasutra.Â I also will be giving a talk at the XRDC conference at the end of the month talking about some of our particular solutions in more detail.
Over the July 4 holiday I managed to get a good, solid, 5-day weekend, which in turn gave me great blocks of time to work on Auto Fire.Â It felt great to get some really nagging things out of the way.Â There’s a bunch of stuff here that is new since last time I blogged about it:
Site System.Â Â I created a new structure for holding what I call “sites”, which is any point of interest on the map.Â This can include cities found in the overworld, highway entrances and exits, garages, and even regular landmarks and points of interest.Â The sites are what I use to guide road plotting, so roads can connect exits, cities, garages and even just weird old non-functional shacks out in the desert, which I constructed from groups of tiles.Â It gave me a system for sprinkling them into a map from a table, which adds more life to most maps.
Encounter System.Â Â The encounter system is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while, to allow the player to deal with random stuff that they meet along the way.Â Call itÂ FTL-style, although I associate the concept with pen and paper games as well as wayyyy back to ancient games likeÂ OdysseyÂ on the Apple II.Â This allows players to consider some simple risk-reward propositions, or to choose between acts worthy of fame or notoriety.
Stylized Visual Effects.Â I took some of the realistic visual effects for weaponry, explosions and smoke and returned them to the stylized versions I had used a year ago.Â I found that these stylized VFX had extra punch and grabbed the player’s attention among a lot of noise, but more importantly, fit the oddball scale of the world in Auto Fire.Â With buildings and cars and chests all coming in at unrealistic sizes when compared to each other, I found that realistic visuals just made that mismatch even more pronounced.Â Somehow having unrealistic smoke and fire just helped with the suspension of disbelief, and I think it can look just as compelling.
Western Music.Â I took a break from the (really fantastic) western/post-apocalypticÂ soundtrack by Michael La MannaÂ to try something different, namely anÂ Ennio Morricone-flavored Western soundtrackÂ I found.Â I really do love La Manna’s cool-as-ice Badlands music, but those stingers and jaw harps just got me in the feels.Â I’ll be playing around with various configurations as time goes on, not sure which way to go.
Walled Outpost Generator.Â One of the biggest things I got done over the holiday was to finally prepare enough ramshackle walls, dirt roads, windmills and metal-roofed buildings to create a special generator for badlands outposts.Â This is a heightmapped terrain map that sets aside a center section as the “core”, where buildings and certain visual points of interest will lie.Â Around the perimeter is a wall made of scrap, cars, wood, and anything else…Â I had to make a version of my patch generator that would stretch and rotate this wall in any direction with repeating motifs.Â Dirt roads are then stretched to the various sites around the map. I’m really happy with how it came out.
Smoother Driving Feel.Â One thing I did fix in recent months came from feedback I got from right after the 7DRL that spawned Auto Fire…Â For some players the movement felt stuttery and halting.Â Part of that is unavoidable with a turn-based game, but some of it was fixable.Â There is no longer a single-frame stop between various units executing their turn, and if the player cues up multiple moves, it executes smoothly if possible.Â The movement from square to square in slightly slower than it was as well, creating an subtle improvement that I feel when running the new build versus an old one.
Wall Deflection.Â Â This last one feels intangible as well, but I implemented it because the more I played, the more I felt cheated that the mechanic did not exist.Â If the player is heading diagonally towards a wall at high speed, he or she can get deflected off the wall and into a new movement path parallel to the wall.Â This is a fairly common occurrence in the city maps in particular, and even lets players use it to their advantage if they wanted to keep shooting rather than steer (this is an option in Auto Fire!)
Okay, so there’s a lot more work to do.Â I feel that I’ve hit some fine polish points, but I mainly need to assemble content together into something more playable, to have more of a reason and tension in the overworld.Â All that will hopefully come next.