From the vault: The Majestic Conspiracy

One morning in 2004 or so, I got up and decided I wanted to make a video game.

I was about 15 or 16, I had just finished Broken Sword, and went in search of a program that could let me make an adventure game myself. I tried a few different ones, and eventually settled on Adventure Game Studio. With it I started my first game, based on a 44-page comic I had drawn the years before. It was called The Majestic Conspiracy.

It even had a dvd case sleeve ready to go.

For the next ten years I worked on it off and on, through several iterations of the script and the art style, through multiple versions of AGS, four years of game design college and an internship. It was the classic too-ambitious-to-finish first project. So today I thought I’d write about it, to honor its demise.

TMC was a celebration of all the 90s cop stories I loved – Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Rush Hour, Turner & Hooch, 48 hrs, Max Payne, and even some special agent fiction like Mission Impossible and Metal Gear Solid. The protagonist was the default wavy-haired, leather-jacketed badass detective, with the double-crossing partner and the gorgeous female colleague. It told of a grand conspiracy by a shadow organisation, led by a white-haired man with a scar over his eye, trying to take over New York. Why and how exactly changed many times over the years. It was basically every trope ever.

Cutscenes based on the original comic, an idea borrowed from Max Payne

an early dialogue tree in-engine

The big bad was based on Majestic 12, a secret government agency I had learned about in Deus Ex. After I was working on it for a while I saw that there was another game about a shadowy organisation called Majestic. I cursed a little under my breath. But back then I wasn’t too serious in thinking about marketing and things like that. The game was going to be free anyway, so I kept going. I was mainly making it for myself.

old and new versions of the three main characters

When I started out, I used a mix of photo paintovers for the backgrounds with pixel art characters at a resolution of 640×480. Over the years I started to understand how spaces and geometry worked and so the art became more and more hand-crafted. When a new version of AGS came out that supported widescreen I decided to completely change the look to my signature comic-like style I had grown into by then. It definitely looked better, but by that time I was almost graduated and I had so much other stuff to do. There was no way I was going to rebuild an entire full-length adventure game AGAIN. And so the folder has been collecting dust in my dropbox ever since.

all those walkcycles...

Maybe someday I will revisit this universe, see how things are going with Adam, Jennifer and Frank.

old and new versions of Adam and Frank's office

The evolution of the NYPD bullpen

lights off, lights on

But as big failed projects usually go, I learned a lot from it. About puzzle design, compositioning, game assets and resolution, writing, dialogue trees, and mostly about programming. When I started I knew nothing of game development or coding in C#. By the end I was writing my own editor extentions, and pushing the boundaries of the engine with my graduation project. Even today that knowledge enables me to make the games I want to make in Unity.

So whatever you’re working on, if it doesn’t pan out, don’t fret; you probably learned something that will make your next game much better.

You can still visit the old TMC website here, including a handful of screenshots from its pixel art days.

Patreon

Today I’m trying something new:

If you like my work and want to see more of it, you can choose to support me by becoming a patron. This means that you give me money not based on any single thing I put out, but for my work in general. It’s like you’re buying yourself a subscription to me. This means I don’t have to put up annoying ads or do dumb assignments that you don’t get any benefits from.

My work will always be freely accessible, I’m not hiding things behind a paywall, but with your patronage, I will be able to produce even more, games, comics, illustrations, books, and keep a roof over my head to boot! That would be pretty rad.

Week 56

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

A strange week in indie land.

At the start of last week I was moved by Dom2D’s post about the state of his life. I admire Dominique‘s artistry and optimism, so it’s not great to see he struggles with things. I can identify with a good number of his sentiments from various periods in my life, about making ends meet and feeling like an imposter sometimes, which I wrote about before. But it was heartwarming to see all the nice responses he got. I hope he’ll feel better at the new studio he’s working at now.

Further good vibes were obtained at the Idle Forums, were responses to Black Feather Forest were positive, and some great constructive feedback was given in terms of writing and character development. I was stuck in a rut a little bit, because once you have a project that shows promise it’s sometimes hard to decide in which way to proceed with it. Especially in games there are so many variables, and everyone has a preference for a different thing. But discussing the narrative got me going again.

During the week I edited some dialogue, converted each existing scene to a new workflow method that solved a few strange bugs, and I reworked the interaction icons. I’m ashamed to admit it but I completely overlooked those when polishing up the demo, I was so focused on other things I forgot they were still using the low-res default icons supplied by Adventure Creator.

gui

I was quite pleased, then over the weekend a shitstorm broke out. It was like everyone had to get their bad vibes out at the same time. Zoe Quinn, Phil Fish, Rami Ismail, they all got mangled on the social media. A delegation also decided to hate on me for even trying to tell a story a subject more grounded in reality than your average videogame, which shook me up pretty bad on Sunday. I wish people wouldn’t make assumptions based on a headline and a cursory glance at my blog, I’ve done my research.

Anyway, new week, fresh vibes.

Next week: fresh vibes.

Adventure Creator and the great workaround festival

I love the Adventure Creator plugin for Unity. It’s no secret. Chris Burton has made an essential piece of software for me to make games with, and continues to improve it dilligently.

That said, there comes a time in the life of any piece of software where you get so familiar with it that you want to do things that go outside the realms of its functionality. Many of these dreams I had became official features, but sometimes you gotta break open Monodevelop and just start hacking.

Here are a few examples.

By default AC only supports 10 inventory grid slots, with 30 slots max. I needed 12, with a maximum of 36, so I followed the declaration tree, deep into the jungle of AC’s core code base, and modified the values there. Because of the cumbersome way Unity has decided to handle the plugin upgrade process, I have to remember those modifications so I don’t accidentally overwrite that file.

The reason I needed that many inventory slots is because I am using them for something other than carrying around items – I wanted a 3-row grid of icons in the dossier that you can click on to read information. So instead of making 36 buttons and hooking those up, I made 36 items and used their interaction functions to call on an actionlist (essentially a piece of code).

menu

And it works great! This greatly simplifies the code I need to unlock a new entry in the dossier, and because it is based on items, it integrates very neatly with the Dialogue System For Unity plugin, which syncs items and variables between itself and AC.

Don’t even get me started on making the Dialogue System GUI style look the same as the subtitles menu made with AC’s built-in menu editor… Both methods of making a GUI are radically different, but I’m proud to have gotten both up to the same standard.

dlggui

Another problem I had was that a character’s collider would flip to the wrong axis if he or she turned around, which made the clickable area much smaller.

This would be corrected if I switched to the newer and better Unity2D mode, which I’m in the middle of now, but that is a big endeavour so I solved it by making a direct call to the right-facing animation of the character. This means that to the engine the character had not turned around, but did have that appearance because it used a different sprite.

Converting the game to AC’s Unity2D mode is not free of challenges either. I have to flip every game object to a different axis, use orthographic cameras instead of perspective ones, and swap some components around for their 2D counterparts. This might result in a scene like this:

Not that it’s not entertaining, but I’d rather it works normally.

AC is a great plugin, and these workarounds are only a testament to its flexibility and extensibility. If I think of any more examples I’ll write more about it. And check it out if you’re working in Unity. Or is anyone reading this out there working with it? Share your experiences or projects in the comments.

Blur architecture

One evening, I don’t know why, I was thinking what it would be like if instead of a glass house architects would build with thick milk glass, to mimic the sort of ios7 translucent style, so I did a quick skecth. I guess this is what it could look like. YOu can sort of see a heatmap of where the activity in the house is without being able to see what is actually happening.