shawn's blog

Experiments with music

Posted in Music, Other by Shawn on April 25, 2013

I’ve been working on a new project which has been full of a number of experiments. From musical experiments, to hardware, to controls, and even how players will interact with each other. My biggest fear with this current project is whether or not I’m trying to branch out too much in regards to too many unexplored areas in a single project. Now, these are things that many people have tried, or may have attempted, in the past, both successfully and unsuccessfully. Whether or not I’ll emulate the path of success has yet to be determined, but I hoping for the former.

I’ve been trying to compose and create music for quite some time now, before game development, so the musical experiments may be the area that I am currently the most comfortable with. What I’m trying to do can actually be compared a bit to a previous project, Tone Def: Revenge of the Square Bots (sidenote: I think that game is actually going to be a free game with volumes added at later dates…..). TDROTS required a bunch of music shifting and blending. Music had to fade in and out, while sounding good. What was easy about this, however, was all I needed to do was create individual song which could basically be stripped for parts as I put them in the game. The song would be composed, then I would import the bass track, the harmony tracks, and the melody tracks separately. When you would start playing, you would know that there was something missing, thus, leading to a more rewarding feeling when you eventually progress far enough in a level to where the entire song is playing. Normally, this meant that you were doing well in the game, so in addition to receiving the explicit rewards of a job well done, you were rewarded with a full musical piece which enforced the success of destroying your enemies. On the flip-side, when you did not perform as well, the songs felt rather empty and lonely, begging to have a harmony or melody to accompany it.

Now, with the new project, I’m starting out in a slightly similar position. You still have an effect on the music that plays in the game. However, the music is not a secondary indicator or whether or not a player is doing a good job or whether they’re failing. Rather, the music corresponds to a certain option that the player has picked.

To explain in more detail, there are two players in the game, and they each have the same set of options. For now, let’s call them, Red, Green, and Blue. When a player chooses Red, then they will hear track 1; green plays 2 and blue plays track 3. Players can cycle between these options as often as they would like, and the tracks would follow them as they cycled the colors used in this example. They could even both choose Red, and both have track 1 play at the same time.

The experimental part, for me, comes from trying to create a song that will sound like a complete musical experience as long as it always has two tracks playing at the same time. This means that any combination of two tracks will need to complete the auditory experience. The individual tracks need to be compelling enough as to where it can be played with the accompanying drum track (which is played throughout an entire song, regardless of options chosen) and stand on it’s own. However, if also needs to be compatible with a different track, for example, if player one currently has Red, and player two currently has Green.

I’ve also placed a few restrictions on myself in order to try and keep this from getting out of hand. I have a tendency of making things overly complicated, and the same goes for songs. It may start with adding a bell or two, and end up with multiple synths paralleling what the strings just played, except, this time, in time to the new drums that came in halfway, as opposed to the original set of drums. Instead, what I’m planning on doing is always have a drum track that plays consistently throughout a level, have a bass track as a musical option, and have a melody/harmony mix, either composed of one or two instruments. In the song I’m working on now, I have the drums and bass, while the melody and harmony are handled by the same instrument.

In addition to the tracks complimenting each other, they need to be shuffled in and out rather quickly, akin to a DJ mixing up an individual track. Quite often, a DJ will take out the bass of a song, or the vocal melody, which simplifies a track, while still keeping it interesting. Or they may mix in the harmony of a different song to the one that is currently playing. What I need to do with this project is balance them both carefully. Furthermore, it needs to be determined whether or not this musical shifting is actually something that fits in the overall game, or just sticks out like a sore thumb, detracting from the entire experience. I will say that during some moments, such as when both players choose the same colors, the track playing does get amplified, since there are two audio sources playing the same track. It seems to create the feeling of, “Hey, there’s something a bit more direct that we need to take care of”, and it actually does reflect the current state of the game if players find themselves forced to pick the same option.

But that’s it for now. I do hope to continue this musical experiment, and really do hope that it is successful. Of course, only time, and play testers, will tell. Over the next week or two, I may put up some samples of music that I’m working on for this project.

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How to develop a game solo

Posted in Other by Shawn on April 10, 2013

So, currently, I am an independent game developer. At the moment, I handling all of the aspects individually; art, code, music, etc. And it’s fun. I definitely enjoy it, even though I haven’t been doing such for too long. Over the days of development, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to develop a game on my own, and I’ll continue to learn everyday. Here are a few things I’ve picked up.

One of the most important things I’ve learned on how to develop a game solo is:

Don’t.

Don’t do it.

Now, that’s a pretty odd thing to say, especially coming from a person who is currently doing things on his own, and enjoying it thoroughly. But I don’t do it alone. It’s important to find a community, even if it’s just one or two other people. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to live in Philadelphia, where there’s an ever growing group of people creating games every day. We even have weekly dev nights dedicated to such, and there are new people who attend each and every week.

A community is great for a number of reasons, in terms of growth for your game and independent works. Honest feedback can be found among any of your peers, as long as you’re looking for it. Developing a game for too long on your own can create all types of vision issues. Elements of your game may seem terrible or nonredeemable , but if it’s looked at by a different set of eyes, then maybe you can gain feedback on how to fix the element to make it something game worthy. It may not even be a major detail that needs to be fixed. On the contrary, you may have something in your game that you feel is the most amazing feature that has even been implemented. A fresh set of eyes and hands can inform you that what you have is actually the complete opposite, and quite possibly something which requires heavy fixing. Of course, positive and negative feedback should be taken with a grain of salt, as opinions and preferences vary. Regardless of level of agreement, feedback will open eyes to a new set of ideas, potentially something you wouldn’t have been able to think of in solitude.

A community can also be a fountain knowledge. Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re a seasoned veteran, there are going to be people around you that know something that you do not. While the internet is great for learning and gathering information, a community of people may be able to provide better assistance, as opposed to a forum post from CoolGamerDev12212. Not to say that forum post of useless or unhelpful. I have had a number of questions answered by looking at things on forums. However,a lot can be lost in translation over the internet, which can be easily be explained in person. Not to mention the rate and speed of a response is commonly higher.

Now, if you’re unfortunate enough to be in a low game dev population, then try to stay connected via the internet, via Skype, IRC, etc.

But enough about communication. It’s important, but there are still things that you’ll need to manage on your own. If you’re working by yourself, be sure to plan your project accordingly. This goes beyond a design document. I’m referring to planning development days, and if you can to some degree, weeks. Don’t set up a simple To-Do list, rather, set up a list of things you want to do, when you want to have them done by, and organize them based on sense of urgency. Put some of the more important task at the top of the list, or in the urgent pile. Put the less important things at the bottom of the list. Then, take the task that aren’t necessary, but more along the lines of ‘fun for me to implement’ in another list, and don’t touch them yet.

What I like to do, which is something I stole from groups of others, is work in two week iterations. I set up the two weeks to accomplish a reasonable amount of task or issues, leaving room for potential inevitable bugs that are discovered during my development. If I manage to accomplish those task within the scheduled time, then I dip into my list of ‘fun for me to implement’ task list. I will admit, from time to time, I go into that list before I should, and more often then not, when I do that, I miss a deadline that I wanted to reach. This could be due to a number of things, and the amount of time I spend on each task.

Speaking of amount of time, find a way to track your time. If you know how much time you spend doing certain things, you’re more likely to manage your time more efficiently. If you find yourself spending 2 1/2 hours on something that you estimated to be a 20 minute task, then maybe you should step back and re-evaluate what you’re doing. It’s also great to measure your growth. Maybe the first time you worked on a new system, it took 3 hours. Then, the next time you implemented a similar system, 2.15 hours. If anything, it will (hopefully) provide a sense of motivation, along with a way to measure some of the progress you’ve made in development. Finally, the next time you work on a similar system, you can estimate how long it will take you, and plan accordingly. I’m pretty serious about my time management, and maybe others aren’t. Some people may be more relaxed, and others may need more structure. That’s a balance that you’ll be able to find on your own.

There are a bunch of others things I could mention, such as not locking yourself up indoors for days straight to work on your projects. Yeah, it’s a common stereotype that computer type people are introverts, but if you spend all of your time just working on your game by yourself, and don’t spend any time experiencing anything that the world has to offer – in real life, not behind a screen – then the your game will only go so far. Actually, this applies to life as well. Go out, and do something non-game related, maybe something physically active.

But that’s it for now. I definitely try to practice what I preach, and I’ll admit, it’s easier said than done. But when it is done, the benefits will be visible and have a positive impact on games and life.

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