February 13, 1998Edit
We're now going over reactions to our prototype, cleaning up some things that were getting a bit neglected in the deadline rush, and getting geared up on mission production. Dorian and Mark have been further sprucing up Lord Bafford's mansion, our most ancient level (and aside from a training mission, the first one anyone will see in the game). Sara's trying her hand at a mockup of the Sewer level, which is starting to come along pretty well. Mike is bending his mighty will to rough drafts of the Lost City, Nate has done a good architectural mockup of Boss Ramirez' villa, and Randy is just about ready to start polishing up his Cathedral and Cloisters.
All of which means, a lot more variety of screenshots soon, at long last. All the better, our technology group is polishing up our D3D support, so we'll have screenshots in lovely 16-bit color and that signature 3D card fuzz-o-vision. Stick around. -Tim
February 6, 1998Edit
Our first playable mission brought with it this week our first real pre-alpha playtest. Sara and her minions did a super job of helping us polish up our demo mission to put on a plane with Greg to go present to the publishers. As Tom put it, "Although it's still quite rough around the edges, we believe it is truly playable. And fun!"
Now we're just 20 missions, several more game mechanics, one serious overhaul of the AI system, and who knows what else away from being done. Oh, you say you want that figure in months? Sorry. -Tim
January 30, 1998Edit
People sometimes wonder what game designers actually do. Well, the team had a flurry of email the other day which captured a design flame in text for a change, so Mahk suggested we put it up on the Web page. The whole thing is much too big for that, but I think I can offer some coherent excerpts. Good idea, Mahk. -Tim
Randy: Another comment concerns the ability to sneak around. A spiderman-esque walking-on-walls-and-ceilings power-up was suggested, which seems like a fine idea on one side and a monstrous can-o-worms on the other. More realistically, it was suggested that we could get the invisibility potion working which seems much simpler to implement and perhaps can demonstrate the visibility elements in the demo in some powerful ways. But without AI's having the ability to hear, this seems a bit rocky as well.
Tim: I agree, though for "monstrous can-o-worms," read "total madness." An obvious idea to consider, but only until you think about it a bit more. Extra physics and biped animation work for a power-up that destroys our ability to keep the player in the mission area, extra work to keep him from walking on the sky, etc. Consider the restrictions we put on the rope arrow precisely to control where the player could and could not use it, then think how much worse Spider Climb would be.
One cool thing that this would get us is cool, odd perspectives, which brings us back to Doug and my idea to let you hang upside-down from ropes, maybe as a way of freeing your hands while climbing. The main fly in this ointment being complicating the problem of sorting the rope and the PC together during climbing.
While we're on the subject though, it seems like a good time to advance Tom's Shrinking Potion idea. Potentially relatively lightweight work to implement (feasibility comments anyone?) but it profoundly affects your visibility and access to certain spaces in a straightforward and constrained way.
Randy: What happens if you are in a small space and the potion wears off? Do you die? Are you effected by gravity to the same extent or less? Do you suffer absolute falling damage or relative to your size? IE - lots of little issues need to be considered, none of them seem too difficult to handle.
Tim: I don't really have a problem with having (shrinking) just not wear off until you've got clearance. You can't stay stuck in a hole forever.
(Are you effected by gravity to the same extent or less?) Ask Galileo.
(Do you suffer absolute falling damage or relative to your size?) We're the kind of people who would make you take less, but only 0.5% of our players are the kind of people who would notice.
Dorian: I wonder how hard to would be to have small rodents who scuttled about in certain parts of the game... small, mindless AI's who generally ignore people. But when you're shrunk, the rats become actual monsters to worry about. You could lure them away with cheese, use your tiny rope arrow to flee up to the undersides of tables...
MAHK: Invisibility is just as huge a can of worms, because you can never really be sure whether it's working. We've done (and will continue to do) a whole lot of work to make the AIs tell the player ("Is someone there?") when they've not quite been seen/heard. I'm wary of unleashing a mechanic that completely emasculates all that yummy feedback.
Chris: Well, hopefully their feedback will be of the sort that they convey not only how much they've detected you, but also the means by which they do so. So they'd say "did you hear that?"-type things if you were invisible. It seems to me that this could really illustrate how the AIs are perceiving the player... so you'll know that you don't have to worry about being seen, but still have to pay attention to noise you make.
Randy: Whatever was the UI for informing the player about being shaded or not could be used to inform the player about being invisible or not.
Tim: Ding! Point to Chris. The point isn't that there won't be UI feedback to the player that he's invisible, it's that he'll be invisible and guards will detect him anyway because they hear him, and the player will then say "this invisibility potion doesn't work. It's a bug." This is exactly what happened with the invisibility spell in Underworld 1, where we had a very plain icon on your spells-currently-in-effect bar which told you you were invisible. Which is why the invisibility spell in Underworld 2 (as I recall) also made you silent.
It's been our hope that the AIs' broadcast (speech) feedback about sense information would obviate this problem, but in the presence of non-sense-specific broadcasts, the problem remains. We can hope but not guarantee that we'll have trained our players sufficiently in the existence of different sense modes that the mere fact that they were detected while invisible means that they were heard.
All of which suggests that if a player is detected while invisible, AI's should use their hearing-specific (speech) schema exclusively if they have them.
Erin: Perhaps this has already been considered/taken care of, but if your invisibility runs out while you are standing in front of (a) guard(s) will they react appropriately, or will thier usual "they've spotted you" reaction just come off as canned...? I guess I'm saying perhaps there is a large surprise element that might be lacking...
Tim: Aha, and yet there is a notion of "surprise" in the AI spec which is being implemented even as we speak, so that in any case where you reveal yourself to an AI too suddenly, he'll be surprised.
Chris: Another problem with being tiny is object interactions. I know that if I suddenly became a foot tall (in the game, not in real life) one of the first things I would try to is is hide under a table, or under other such things...which won't work with the table's current physics model.
One of the reasons we can get away with using sphere or bouding-box physics representations is that most of the objects are relatively small compared to the player. If we suddenly cut the size of the player by a factor of 3 or 4, we've decreased the apparent fidelity by which we physically model objects by the same amount.
Overall, I'm not too keen on the shrinking potion...it seems like a neat idea, but the more I think about it the more I'm unsure about the interactions (both technically and gameplay-wise) that it will cause to become problematic. Does it really fit into our stealth gameplay? Are you effectively both invisible and inaudible while shrunk (or just nearly so)? If guards can detect you, can they step on you?
The implications of having objects interacting of wildly different scale seem pretty unexplored, and is certainly not just as simple as changing the player's scale.
Tim: It's not clear to me that "wildly" different scale is called for. I confess to not knowing about the shrinking effect in Duke Nukem, but it seems like even going down to 1/2 size or 1/3 size is potentially pretty relevant. This may still raise some of these issues (like walking under tables, ugh), but it doesn't make you "invisible and inaudible" nor raise the prospect of guards stepping on you.
(Regarding rats, even if you're not shrunk): And fish. Doug and I have been craving fish.
As to whether I could "interact with them directly," I'm sure I'd still want to kill the little buggers every once in a while, and find it pretty satisfying... 8-)
And so on.
January 23, 1998Edit
Well, technically it's January 23, since it's 1:00 am. We're pulling an all-nighter in preparation for a company demo tomorrow.
We had the first project-induced suicide this week. It was one of our AI's. He'd just got his shiny new physics model on his sword, and provoked by the appearance of the player-character, wound up and swung with mighty abandon. Following through less than adroitly, he managed to hit himself and promptly keeled over.
I love this phase of a project, because your bugs get so much more entertaining. -Tim
January 16, 1998Edit
We're still churning away on our prototype, which looks like it's slipping out into next week. I'm popping a Peter Gabriel CD into the hopper, and Peter is gonna sing: I know something about opening windows and doors I know how to move quietly- to creep across creaky wooden floors I know where to find precious things in all your cupboards and drawers
And that's gonna be pretty damn inspirational. We're in the home stretch on a bunch of our goals, having all the systems implmented and just needing to set a bunch of data. So I'm going to go do that. -Tim
January 9, 1998Edit
We're busily churning away towards an internal prototype next week, where we plan to have two reasonably playable (if still rough) missions. On the big checklist we've got: locks and keys (and basic lockpicking) working door-and-lever systems in the prison mission prescripted voice-over hints and color commentary by the player-character a bunch of new speech samples for NPC chatter basic swordfighting, with several attacks and a block better-polished weapon art for the PC's bow our first cut at inventory, with items you can pick up (since, after all, you're supposed to be stealing stuff) and use new mockups for interface art and the in-mission maps and no doubt a bunch of stuff I'm forgetting. Eric's got us a bunch of new sounds from our recent recording sessions, while Josh has been working on our mission briefing movies. In general the programming effort has been geared towards tools, mainly in developing the game services available to the object scripting language. The designers have been all working madly on the aforementioned missions, editing levels, writing scripts, writing dialog and documents. I've been motivating them by stalking around the design pit imitating Bela Lugosi in Glen or Glenda, shouting "Pull the strings!"
Okay, I made that last part up. -Tim
December 30, 1997Edit
This was a quiet week for the Dark team - many of us were off visiting family and friends for the holidays - but some of us continued to make progress. Tim spent the week analyzing scripting needs, and working on script language implementation of the jailbreak mission. Doug, Tom, and Mahk have been coordinating on implementing object scripting services, including animations, object usage, and AI decision-making. On the design and art side, Mark and Greg continued to improve the aesthetics of the Bafford Mansion while I was on vacation.
All of us on the Dark team hope that you had a pleasant time celebrating the wintertime festival of your choice. -Dorian
December 19, 1997Edit
Looks like pretty much all the code we wanted in before Christmas break is getting in, including the scripting language and door physics stuff I mentioned last week. Doug is back from a brief vacation and beset by a backlog of consultations as usual. Dorian's been burning the midnight oil at both ends (as it were) working on a much-needed radical reconstruction of our first demo level, which we finally decided had acquired just a few too many demo barnicles, especially considering that we know much more about the tools at hand than we did at its inception. As good as that level was, it was becoming hard to work with, and I must say the new version looks like it'll be even better. Mike and Randy's mission work also proceeds apace (some hints for the curious out there; the missions in question are "Lord Bafford's Mansion," "Cragscleft Penitentiary," and "The Haunted Cathedral," respectively).
Mark is getting a bunch of new objects in and doing a fine job of putting up with me telling him whenever an object which should be "flat" shaded is "phong" shaded. Art's been a bit short-staffed since the departure of long-time LG stalwart Robb Waters, who's moved on to greener pastures. Now subbing in for Robb is the newly-acquired rookie known only as "Nate."
We had our first big recording session today, for our prototype's voice actors. Not to malign what is otherwise a kick-ass game, but I've promised myself that our voice talent is going to be better than in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which I only mention because I've been playing it lately). -Tim
December 12, 1997Edit
First, I must apologize for the irregular updates lately. With intensive work going on for a major proof-of-concept prototype next month, the Dark joint is really jumpin' lately. Likewise, I haven't been keeping up on our reader email, so if you've written in the last month or so, rest assured I haven't just snubbed you; I'll dig through it all "real soon now," as they say. Plenty of stuff going on since the last update. Mark has started working up some new interface screens, with cool clunky-looking steam-punk machinery. Doug, Mahk, and I are strategizing about inventory, using objects, damage models, and suchlike gameplay goodness.
Chris, in his guise as physics guy is getting doors in this week, much to the joy of designers everywhere. Tom is in the final stages of getting our scripting language together, which will really unblock our upcoming (mid-January) gameplay prototype. Many correspondents have noted that our current "gameplay" movie is heavy on bow combat and light on thievery: the simple reason is that bow combat is just about the easiest part of our game to implement. The next month or two will be when we really get into the meat of the gameplay, with lockpicking and pickpocketing mechanics coming on line, plus hand-to-hand combat, and AI and scripting support for more interesting creature behaviors.
We've got two missions now pretty firmly in development for the January prototype, with architecture and concepts being developed on the side for several more. With twenty-odd missions ahead of us, I'd say it's none too soon.
In other news, Josh, Dan and company have put together our first between-acts movie, and I must say that even at this early stage, with much editing still to be done and real voice actors yet to be cast, it looks pretty cool. We're trying to get away from the all-computer-rendered look that's so common these days, and I think you'll ultimately agree that the mighty artwork of Mr. Thron more than justifies the decision.
That's all for now. Until next week (no, really, I mean it this time). -Tim
November 17, 1997Edit
You know what it's like when you talk to someone you haven't seen in a while? "Hey, what's up?" "Oh, not much. You know."
"Ah, come on, it's been months."
Well, that's what it's like writing the team diary sometimes. Especially when you kind of copped out on the previous week's entry and you're late with this one (I admit it all). So, let's see. Randy and I have been working with Doug, Dorian, and Greg on planning tuning strategy for our AI's, to try to make sure they're just competent enough to constitute a continual threat of capture, that the player always knows what's going on, and such. Laura did such a good job of orgainizing our AI speech plans that she's now got the same job with respect to motion captures. I promise Randy and Laura that there'll be plenty of mission design for everyone (which there will be) despite the fact that only Mike is currently working on missions.
Dorian and Mark have been working on interface mockups for our metagame UI, like splash screens, main menu, options and save/load panels. This is a job with no glamour. Mark's also working on the map of the city in which most of your adventures take place, coordinating the aforementioned motion capture tasks with Laura and Kate, and God only knows what else.
Meanwhile, Tom's been out the last two weeks, claiming to be on his honeymoon or something, but I think it's just his secret plot to prove that we need him. Similarly, we just got Doug back from being requisitioned onto Flight 2. Infer what you will from the fact that we just got Doug back and from last week's "demo movie for the Flight 2 CD." I will neither confirm nor deny anything that the actual Flight 2 team doesn't seem to have announced yet because of their all having gone home. -Tim
November 7, 1997Edit
All I got to say is, Greg took a bunch of us to go see Starship Troopers this afternoon. I love this job. Oh, and we got a promo movie on the Flight Unlimited 2 CD, which I guess those among you who buy Flight 2 will get to see.
Okay, I admit it, it was a shameless plug. Gimme a break; those guys've been working pretty hard, you know. -Tim
October 31, 1997Edit
Things are really gearing up around here. I'd like to welcome a new member of our design team, Randy Smith. Like Laura, Randy's new to the games industry, but he brings much-appreciated programming skills and a background in AI to the team. (In the credit-where-credit-is-due department, I might note that Laura has an impressive background on the amateur scene with the MIT Assassins' Guild). Production of our early-alpha prototype is proceeding apace, based on Mission 3: The Haunted Mines & Hammer Prison. Mike's been doing a bang-up job on the prison factory in particular. This also means we're finally getting to use a bunch of cool industrial object models produced by Mark Lizotte, and there's more on the way. Thanks to Dorian for taking charge of integrating our backlog of Mark's work.
Meanwhile Laura and Dorian have been polishing up the design of our NPC speech systems with input from me and Greg. We've already got some pretty cool search-and-pursuit chatter out of our guards, and it looks to be getting better. -Tim
October 24, 1997Edit
The other day, Dorian told me a little story about something that happened to him while he was tuning the game. He was working on AI parameters, trying to get get it to the point where you could sneak up on the AI's, but only if you were really careful. This is clearly a basic premise of a game about thievery, and specifically we need things tuned that way before we can test our prototype game systems for back stabbing and pick-pocketing.
So, waiting in the shadows until a guard passes on a patrol, he slips into step behind the guy, being careful not to go too fast so he doesn't make too much noise or bump into the guy. After following him for a bit, trying to get a bead on his belt (where anything worth filching off the guy would be), he notes the guard turning slightly ... just enough to catch a subconscious glimpse of the thief shadowing him.
"What was that?" says the guard. He stops. Listens.
Dorian freezes. Seconds pass.
"Huh. Must'a been rats," says the guard, and continues on his way as Dorian finally exhales.
I can't tell you how gratified I was to hear about this. -Tim
October 17, 1997Edit
We've gotten into that aforementioned follow-up on our December prototype plans, with some feedback from LG Studios head honchos Paul and Eric. In general, work proceeds apace, with everyday work too varied to mention it all. Mat has in some new special particle effects for flames, and much-awaited hooks for associating light sources more easily with objects. Mahk has new, hip object-editing tools in that finally give us better hooks into Windows library UI in the editor without "contaminating" (his word, not mine) the portability of our game-only compiles. Hey, it may not sound like much to you, but you're not the one editing levels. -Tim
October 10, 1997Edit
We've been planning our short-term gameplay prototyping goals (short term in this case means December). Greg and I did a great deal of fleshing-out of the gameplay in the Prison Breakout mission. Now we just need to compare that to what we think we can actually get done in two months. Either way, Mike is off and running on the mission architecture based on our working assumptions. Meanwhile, I'm finally cooking up what I think is a decent lockpicking system after a long dry spell on said topic, much to at least my own relief. Dorian is refining the design for AI speech.
Kate and Mark continue to work on the touchy matter of creature animation, ironing out the matter of getting different skeletal frames looking right. Robb finally showed off a bunch of creature models at a much-belated review, and now everyone worships at his sandalled feet. Robb also did almost all the creatures for System Shock, so it's not like anyone's surprised. Danno is working on more movies in general, and mission briefings and maps in particular.
Everyone else, well, it's all a big blur to me. -Tim
October 3, 1997Edit
It was a hectic but productive week. We had a big project review earlier this week with our corporate masters, and there was a lot of enthusiasm with what we're doing both with Dark and planning for future games. Meanwhile, Mark and Kate have been getting together a new round of creature-animation refinements, so everyone moves much more fluidly, and we're starting to get interesting variations in skeletal proportions among creature types. On the design side, we've brought on a new designer part-time in the person of one Laura Baldwin. She's getting started on mission design, just as Mike is transiting from his multi-player prototype mission onto a single-player mission. Dorian and I have been working on finalizing the mission structure and plot, and have some pretty good ideas for the endgame which we've yet to spring on an unsuspecting Greg. -Tim
September 26, 1997Edit
Mark's busily tooling away on more object models, mostly of zany steam-punk gizmos. Some of them, I even know what to do with. Tom is optimizing our AI, which is performing much more speedily now. Chris continues to refine and optimize our physics. Dorian and Josh are working on our NPC speech system. When Dorian's not being siphoned off by the Flight Unlimited II team to proofread their manual, that is. -Tim
September 19, 1997Edit
Hmmm. Clearly I should be reading our own web page more often. I'd have noticed earlier that none of this stuff had actually been uploaded to our web server since September 3 (thanks to Mr. Yaus for pointing it out). Heads will roll. Mind you, it makes it a lot easier to do this week's web page update, since everything's already done from previous weeks except for this diary entry. -Tim
September 9, 1997Edit
The final touches are now up on our new look for the web site, and we've got a cool promotional CD out to the press using the new (much better, thievier) concept art. Not that we ever entirely stop revising the web site, but here's our big revision push for ECTS. Dorian makes fun of my new promotional copy on the main page. Speaking of ECTS, it turned out that Greg had to do the first day of the show without our patch, which is certainly something that could have gone better. Still, we got in a bunch of new special effects and a good part of a new level (thanks to the brilliant work of Steve Canniff), plus new creature types and one new magic arrow type, which is good. -Tim
September 7, 1997Edit
(Special ECTS crunch Extra!) Well, it's 4:00 am in Cambridge as I write this, which means it's 9:00 am in London. And, worse luck, that means that we're still here stoking the smoky furnaces of game development, getting some final touches ready to upload to Greg at ECTS. Looks like it's coming together pretty well, though. Still, we had a lot more breathing room back at E3. You can tell we're segueing out of design and into production, because our bugs are getting more entertaining. Like when killing a creature shuts off its AI but not its biped handler, and it just kind of staggers around very much not thinking, until it runs into a wall. That's entertainment.
Everyone's been pitching in like crazy, which is great. Doug's got animating textures in and has of course been putting out everybody's fires. Kate's got our mesh-rendered bipeds in, with several new creature models courtesy of Robb. Mat's got new special effects in ... well, new to Dark anyway. If you played Terra Nova the special effect on our fire arrows will be strangely familiar to you. -Tim
September 3, 1997Edit
You will note that we've fallen off our web page update schedule. The reason for this is good news and bad news. The bad news for this are that our ECTS demo crunch hit harder than I expected, leaving me with no time to get new screenshots, keep up with everybody's work, and such. The good news is that part of our ECTS plan involves publicizing a new revision of the web site, so there should be loads of fresh new info come next week. Next update'll be Tuesday, September 9. -Tim
August 21, 1997Edit
Mark and I are getting ready to enter mortal combat with the final creature list. Earlier this week we suffered the battering of the inventory panel and the eternal truth that there's never as much space as you would really like.
Several efforts on the special visual effects front are gearing up for our ECTS demo. Mark, MAHK, Doug and I have been brainstorming techniques for representing fires and explosions, and Mark and Matt have been working on refining our water animations.
Josh has cooked up a cool new gameplay demo movie (warning: it's a whopping 9.9 megabtyes) that gives a much better sense of our game dynamics (such as they are at this stage) than you can get from a screenshot. -Tim
August 15, 1997Edit
Of course, the big news this week is LG's merger with the games division of Intermetrics. Obviously, there's a lot more to be said about such a thing than I can say here, and really the only relevant thing is that through the whole deal everyone was really psyched about both The Dark Project and Flight Unlimited II, which is gratifying.
Having caught up on our backlog of viewer mail, I noted we actually had some frequently-asked questions, thus giving rise to a new section here on the web page.
Briscoe's back in town this week to consult on our AI. This has meant intensive design work by yours truly and lots of technical design and system architecture mind-melding with Tom and Doug. The system we're planning on will give us pretty realistic coordinated behavior among the NPC guards, and highly distinctive AI behaviors for about a dozen of our creature types.
Kate and Mark are back from SIGGRAPH and are all fired up over techniques I don't understand. Kate does have the mesh renderer now to the point where it's drawing a whole motion-capture-animated single-skin biped model, instead of just an elbow. As soon as said biped is actually texture-mapped, maybe we'll get some screenshots (for what it's worth when you can't see them moving). -Tim
August 8, 1997Edit
First, let me apologize for our not getting a web page update up to the net last week. It actually got written but Customer Service and I got our wires crossed and it was never published. So we're putting up the screen shots that should have gone up last week, and putting up two weeks' worth of diary entries.
The `Project got a really nice feature this week on The Adrenaline Vault. "Nice" first in that it's favorable, but also in that they're really into the thieving, sneaky, commando-style game we're putting together, and they're up-front about how this is different from the mainstream "shooter" genre. Getting that across in the press is something that really vexed us with System Shock.
Kate and Mark are away at SIGGRAPH this week. I suspect it's just a ploy to enhance their professional mistique. I'm digging myself out from under a backlog of reader mail, so if you've written lately and wondered whether your mail disappeared into the void, I'm reading it now. While I type this diary entry with my other hand. -Tim
August 1, 1997Edit
Level-building for the shipping missions has officially begun. We had our first level review in a while this week. Eric's work on the catacombs for mission four is starting off nicely. Looks like Steve is going to get started on "The Lost City" for mission eleven, hopefully in time to have it finished enough to show at ECTS.
Kate's got the bugs worked out of her polygon mesh renderer, and it's gleefully drawing a bending elbow. Hey, it's a start. -Tim
July 25, 1997Edit
Firstly, I should correct my oversight and formally welcome Chris Carollo to the `Project. This is Chris' first project at Looking Glass, but he comes to us with a strong background in 3D modelling for a certain other first-person game, and it's great to have him aboard.
Kate is in the debugging stages of the new polygon mesh renderer, which'll bring our graphics for creatures up to the state of the art. Unsurprisingly, Robb has been up to his elbows in polygon creatures.
Eric and Josh have been getting up to speed with the level editor. Dorian has been working out multiplayer scneario and feature ideas (with plenty of input from the team).
And I've been thinking we should update the What We've Been Playing Lately page. Hints: Richard Garfield, Klaus Teuber. Evil is Good (now there's a sentiment that we on The Dark Project can agree with). -Tim
July 18, 1997Edit
That feature push in our level editor which I mentioned last week bore more fruit this week, as we finally got cylindrical and pyramidal geometries integrated into our core set of building blocks. By itself this is nothing too special as these sorts of things go. But some other features we've got help us take better advantage of the new geometries, such as being able to cleanly join cylindrical sections of "pipe" at corners fairly easily (I'm putting up a screenshot of a sewer-pipe level to show the kind of thing I'm talking about).
Meanwhile we're giving a few interested parties tryouts on level editing to help fill the gap left by Jeff's recent departure from the team (looks like for good this time). No, that's not a job opening as such ... but you may be seeing some further changes in the team coming up. -Tim
July 11, 1997Edit
More great E3 feedback. All About Games online magazine is giving The Dark Project their E3 Best of Show (Roleplaying) Gold Medal. Hopefully this bodes well for our reentry into the CRPG/Action-adventure field after our satisfying but distracting efforts on our millitary strategy game Terra Nova.
On the project front it's been a productive but considerably less flashy couple of weeks, as we've concentrated on absorbing the lessons from our demo effort. The design team is putting the finishing touches on the final production version of the design specifications (especially our novel multiplayer "Theftmatch" mode, which owes a lot to the efforts of Dorian and Doug). The programmers have been finishing up systems which had to be nailed down half-implemented for the demo. Finally, we've been collaborating on a final feature push for our level editor, using what we learned from putting together our demo level to pave the way for better production work on our final mission levels.
Okay, I said the magic words "final mission levels." Yep, we're getting perilously close to jumping down off our ivory-tower game design pedestals and getting up to our elbows in bits. So far most of what you've seen has been proof-of-concept levels' screenshots and other flavors of elaborate ruse. Just goes to show the difference between a 3D engine (which we've essentially had since January, though refinement continues) and an actual game. -Tim
June 27, 1997Edit
Fearless Leader is back from E3 with good things to report. Apparently interest in the 'Project was high, though naturally Flight Unimited II captured the lion's share of the hype, being much closer to shipping. On that topic, however, I should note that some of the promotional material we had at the show was pretty far out of date, listing a release date of Summer 1997. In fact, our current projections are for Winter 1997-98. For those of you interested in why games slip their release dates, this has to do with some team reshuffling involved in shipping British Open Championship Golf, plus some project redesign I might actually go into some day.
This week's been largely taken up in mopping-up from the demo frenzy, trying out the demo some more, and getting everyone back on track for longer-term goals. So, until there's another great leap forward to tell you about, why not do as we do and surf the Dark E3 buzz on the web?
c|net Gamecenter's article on The Dark Project Next Gen Online's article calls us a "shooter" but likes our concept and level architecture. The guys from Computer Games Online have clearly been taking the mind control drugs we've been sending them. Finally, since next Friday is a holiday (that'd be Independence Day, for those of you outside the U.S. who didn't see the movie) we're going to skip another week of web page updates. Come back July 11th; we'll still be here. -Tim
June 20, 1997Edit
Loads of stuff to report this time, both because it's been two weeks since our last update and because everybody's been taking to heart the unofficial company slogan, "Work like a dog, or you're fired!" (In the real world, of course, firings happen on a much more arbitrary and capricious basis, as evidenced by my upcoming story about Kate).
Warren's minions in our Austin office got basic spherical-object physics in, so objects can collide with each other. Mahk wasted no time setting up our first bow combat system. Doug revisited the outer space rendering code from System Shock and got in starry night skies. He also prototyped our footstep sounds, so you can now hear enemies coming (and vice versa). Briscoe got AI's hooked up to Jon's speech system, so they bark out appropriate guard-like phrases when they begin to detect you. He also implemented some new behaviors for non-combatants (sleeping, fleeing, general helplessness).
Kate and Mark's biped animation work is finally starting to bear fruit, though we almost fired her when we discovered she'd never heard of Ray Harryhausen. We can say stuff like this about Kate because the thought of firing her is so absurd. For one thing, her presence may just be the bulwark against the project pit's descent into locker-room-like squalor.
Robb continues on object models, including a new set of flickering-torch models and broken versions of various fragile things. He's also got us our first mock-up of the player's view of his own hands, which does more than you might expect for making our pre-Alpha look polished. Meanwhile, Dan and Josh finished up our promo trailer for the E3 demo.
Dorian's been working closely with Steve on our prototype mission architecture, with a smidge of polish from Greg and much kibitzing all around. Jeff's been finding the bugs with AI behaviors in our level, both on general principles and 'cause we all live to cause vexation to Briscoe.
I've been working over our database of object properties, making profound statements like "arrows are solid." Grungy work, I admit, but without it our largely data-driven system would be, as they say, all dressed up with no place to go. -Tim
June 6, 1997Edit
Jon's got the first cut at his AI speech system running. With all AI's currently using a tuneless whistling as their idling noise, and sounds not attenuating in volume according to distance, our levels sound a lot like some sort of twisted piece of concept performance art. Mahk has started work on bow combat, only to discover that our 3D arrow model is oriented pointing backwards. Which looks a little funny shooting away from you.
Mark and Steve are back from France, and claim to be working again. Danno is still working on our "trailer" cutscene. Robb, Kate and Mark are all generating object models in one sense or another.
Jeff and Dorian continue work on our demo level, while I've been hunched over our design document actually informing the team about all the decisions we've made in the past couple of months.
Also, we've decided to skip next week's web page update, due to the project team's well-known crippling triskaidekaphobia. Next update: June 20. -Tim
May 30, 1997Edit
We got back the results from our voice-talent auditions last week, and picked out some guys for minor roles in our prototype. When asked to fake a scottish accent, one of our actors put on a flawless Sean Connery impression which floored us all. Now, if we ever do a Dragonheart game, he's all set.
Another big revision of our level prototype got signed off this week, with Greg doing some good concept work on the exterior city street and Dorian reworking the interiors to refine the flow of gameplay.
I spent a good part of this week going over our hypothetical feature set and starting to decide what to cut. This is part of that effort to freeze our design and get into production gear I've mentioned.
This was also the week of the "minutes of gameplay." A minute of gameplay is a short description of what a typical one-minute period of playing our game would be like, which is used to focus your concept of what play is central to the project. We put out a general call to the team for these things this week as part of our finalizing the design spec, and we got a lot of interesting stuff out of it. We also got a lot of stuff which is probably going to fall casualty to those feature cuts I mentioned, which is why I'm not going to put any of those description on this site.
Or let our marketing people see them. -Tim
May 27, 1997Edit
Dorian and Robb did a rough draft of our mission prototype this week, and submitted it to the jeering ... er, that is, the "critique" ... of the team in general. Dorian's back in the level-building mines now polishing it up for another draft based on Robb's input and that review. We're all getting antsy for our actual object-placement functions to be implemented in the level editor so the whole thing can look a lot more lived-in. Luckily, that's allegedly supposed to be happening in the next week.
In audio-visual land, Jeff has been writing sample phrases and putting together auditions for voice actors, while Danno swears he's on to something with respect to video mission briefings, but he won't unveil it yet.
Meanwhile the team leads have been nailing down our remaining hanging design issues and generally manhandling the whole Project out of design/technology/tools mode and into actual product production mode. The rest of the team, ever-vigilant, siezed the day and seduced us all into a giant spontaneous design flame ... which was what everyone was doing Friday instead of updating the web site. -Tim
May 16, 1997Edit
Dorian's finished roughing out a level for our E3 milestone, which is incidentally similar to our first post-tutorial mission. This being our big litmus test for level development, we've been going over it in detail over the course of the week.
Greg has been locked in a steel cage grudge match with Warren and Microsoft Project, which can only mean that we're shifting from the design stage of things to actually bringing a product to market.
Mark and Steve are off to Paris to do some sort of artist thing (I hear they're big on that in Paris). Before he left, Mark supplied a mockup of our main on-screen interface art, which doesn't mean that he and I actually came to agreement last week, but that's what mockups are for. -Tim
May 9, 1997Edit
Well, Dorian's off and running on our E3 demo. Robb has done not-yet-jointed versions of a couple of new creatures, plus prototype models for a player powerup we'll code-name the "fungus bomb" for now. There's new code in to resize objects at run-time in one or several dimensions, and it's just that sort of rain which makes the fungus grow. Whatever that means.
Mahk and Briscoe are integrating the creatures' AI settings with our spanking-new object system and editing tools.
Mark and I are wrangling a bit over the main on-screen interface, and we're both right. -Tim
May 2, 1997Edit
Greg is back from CGDC claiming that there was a lot of interest in The Dark Project. Despite the fact that this means we have a guaranteed audience of several hundred other game developers, we've decided not to rest on our laurels.
We tackled and nearly pinned down our plan for non-player character speech, so that the collections of polygons who are supposed to be guards searching for you will actually chatter something like guards searching for you. This is beyond the idle humming and mumbling they do so that you can hear them coming. Life is so much easier when you stick with non-humans, but humans are more fun to outwit. The speech system is being headed up by Jon Chey, whose previous work at LG we can't really talk about, but who knows his Artificial Intelligence from Artificial Stupidity. Whatever that means.
Robb's been working on polygon-modelled creatures we won't be able to see until Kate does several weeks worth of work on our jointed-mesh renderer. Impatience reigns.
Jon and Briscoe sound like they're discussing the economics of Czarist v. Soviet Russia, and Dorian beat Steve at speed chess. Mahk, Dorian and Kate didn't invite me to their game of Settlers of Catan. -Tim
April 28, 1997Edit
The astute among you will have noticed that it has not, in fact, been seven days since the last update. This was due to the unexpected absence last Friday of our stalwart customer service (and `Web page) manager Steve Pearsall. Oh, how we missed him.
Firstly, it behooves me to note that reports of Jeff's demise were exaggerated. Would-be replacement Ken Levine is going to be leaving LG for greener pastures (I'd say who and even link to their `Web page if I only remembered, honest I would). Actually, I just wanted to use the word "behoove."
The big news this week is of course that Greg and Doug are off at the Computer Game Developers' Conference. The rest of us toil here cranking the lumbering, ponderous gears of the game design machine. By which I mean the week was largely taken up in design meetings and scheduling, centered around the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Exposition. But in case I just got your hopes up, our own exposition at the event will probably be private and for press only. I understand that Flight Unlimited 2 is going to be putting on quite a display, though.
What the art squad was up to this week... well, let's just note that many of history's greatest artists were insane. -Tim
April 18, 1997Edit
Well, a strange report this week, as literally half the team takes vacation time. Combined with the imminent arrival of British Open Championship Golf on store shelves, office moods have been quite out-of-the-ordinary. Among those on vacation is Tim, leaving me (Jeff) to write this entry.
Unsurprisingly, with over half of our programmers and designers out of the office, that leaves most of the new developments in the art department. Danno's been working on storyboarding of cutscenes (for both between and during missions; we've got some innovative video ideas). Robb has been building bipeds for enemies while we work on how many polygons we can get while still having a healthy framerate. New artist Steve has been building textures for one of the mansions in the game, and Mark has been busy with lead-artist tasks like scheduling and getting materials to marketing.
That leaves me doing product document revisions and object database work, and Ken working with Danno on the storyboarding. Mahk, as usual, has been 1)doing user interface development 2)working on object editing 3)plotting world domination. -Jeff
April 11, 1997Edit
Okay, I finally got sick of our screenshots page saying "This Week's Screenshots" when we weren't updating it every week. So, starting with the next update (April 18th), we'll have fresh, piping hot screenshots every week. No, really.
The results came back from our trademark search, only to start us thinking that maybe we don't have to name the game all that descriptively, after all. Hey, "The Dark Project" has worked fine for us so far. Why be conventional?
Oh, and somewhere in between working on how to promote the game, we really did do some work on mission-building and such. But that'll speak for itself. -Tim
April 4, 1997Edit
Mahk attempted his return from Austin just in time for the big blizzard earlier this week. This basically paralyzed the city of Boston and closed LG down for about a day and a half. Mahk eventually did get back, and brought a heaping stack of new code to integrate next week, along with vital intelligence on the efforts of the Austin office, whose inventory interface it sounds like we might steal.
Meanwhile, our new art squad has been getting up to speed, sweating over our level-editing tutorial, mocking up level designs, and such. They won't show them to me yet.
Intermittent team member Ken Levine now looks to be on board for the long haul, filling the designer slot soon to be vacated by Jeff. Jeff in turn is heading off to work on the Golf line. Ken and Dorian have come up with a draft of that stealth system design I mentioned, which is looking good. As for the quest for a real title, we've settled on a pair of alternatives to go to trademark search, and if at least one of them clears we can put the issue to bed.
No, I'm not going to say what they are until we've decided, `cause I don't want to jinx the deal. So there. -Tim
March 28, 1997Edit
Our first motion capture shoot went off without a hitch this week. We got an even 100 short animation scenes shot in one hectic day. Jonathan, our model, is a sword and bow enthusiast himself and ad-libbed some lovely sword kata at the shoot. Now comes the long process of sifting through and editing the animation data.
Welcome to LG's new director of marketing Jim Veevaert, who's spearheading our effort to eliminate those pesky "(working title)" notations from the Web page by finalizing our game's title. We seem to be down to a few frontrunners, so expect the big announcement sometime soon. Not to worry, though, I don't think we're going to get the other project teams to call us anything other than "The Dark Project" any time soon.
In a related effort, superhuman artist Dan Thron has mocked up some truly amazing prototypes for the box cover itself, which may make their appearance here once we've ironed out that little "(working title)" problem.
Until then, you just have to take my word for it. -Tim
March 21, 1997Edit
The `Project geared up for school this week as Greg and I played guinea pigs for our 3D guru's level-building tips, covering how to keep your polygon counts low and your frame rates high. Work on actual level construction held its breath pending the outcome of this and other experiments. Well, that and the fact that there was much playing of British Open Championship Golf.
Looks like we only thought that that thing last week was our real maneuver list, and much time this week was spent reviewing the technology with our animation programmers (when it could be wrangled from the hubbub which is Golf Beta. and revising, and revising. It ain't rocket science, but it is a big, painstaking process.
On the whole, it was a strangely quiet week, with all the `Project's programmers who weren't out on loan to a certain sports title (that would leave Mahk) working with our associates in LG's Austin, TX office. The phrase "calm before the storm" somehow comes to mind. -Tim
March 14, 1997Edit
It looks like we're getting a bunch of additional talent on board, as British Open Championship Golf gets closer to shipping and art resources get freed up. Chief among the newcomers is System Shock's own Mark Lizotte, coming on as lead artist. This is good. Soon he'll have to sit for the bright lights and get a creepy photo on the team bios page. Work on the object models continues. The new combat system design has been firmed up and we're sending our maneuver list to the motion capture studio.
We've moved on to nailing down our design of the creature list and stealth systems. Since we're concentrating on a thief as player-character that last bit is going to be particularly important, and we've been putting our heads together over AI models, audiovisual cues, and a number of game rules to bring it all off. There's not a lot of precedents for a game concentrating so much on stealth: I told a friend of mine that we had a two-hour flame comparing our game to a submarine battle. She said she didn't understand how I got paid to do this stuff.
Amen to that. -Tim
February 26, 1997Edit
Sound is now appearing in the game, hooked up to the AI. Hurrahs to Eric and Briscoe. Guards now hum, mumble, and otherwise talk to themselves as they patrol about (this is important, so that you can hear them coming and plan accordingly.) Biped -- full skeletal motion -- is also in, which looks excellent. This has also gotten hooked up to the sound, so that each footstep a guard makes resounds with a clomp.
The guards also react to you as you move around; if they only sort of detect you, they'll mutter something like "what was that?", and make sharper shouts up to when they detect you and raise the hue and cry.
We did a demonstration of all this technology (as well as showed off our architecture) to the rest of Looking Glass last week at our company meeting; feedback was very positive, which is always nice. :)
Lots of other, less glamorous but equally important work behind the scenes. We can now clump pieces of the world together and move them around as if they were only one block -- sort of a "block protect" for geometry. This will make staircases a hell of a lot easier, and the designers are praising Doug's name for it (in addition to all the other obvious reasons to praise Doug.) The artists are now making objects with which to fill the world; the programmers and Tim are working out the combat system; Dorian's testing Briscoe's AI code; Greg's in six zillion meetings; me, I'm back being Web Guy again. -jeff
January 31, 1997Edit
The programmers pushed the game to a new milestone; we can now save off objects, AI paths, and most other elements of the game that are in yet. Before, we could only save physical geometry, and had to re-set all that other stuff each time we loaded up. Briscoe's gotten the AI stuff, especially the enemy detection code, into shape far ahead of schedule, and now we've all got to test it to hell. Sneaking around and avoiding detection are key elements of the game, so we need to make sure his algorithms are sound.
The artists have been re-structuring the textures for our new texture regime, wherein we can use any number of texture or texture groups we want. Before, you could only use one texture "family" at once, so if you were making catacombs, you had to make sure all the textures you wanted were in that "family". Now we can cross-match as we see fit; this means the levels will look a lot more realistic look than they already do, since we're not tied into artificial groupings. Objects are also popping into the game -- full bipeds real soon.
On the design end, we're busy going over the levels, making sure they flow together right and have the right amount of "coolness". We're also checking for the right "ramping up" of game events -- don't want to top-load all the good stuff and have the rest be dull. We also want to make sure we're teaching all the skills at the right rate, so that you don't have to keep looking at the manual during your first hour of play.
Robb's been taking our pictures for promotional material. This involves going to our A/V studio, turning off all the lights, and sitting right over a spotlight pointed at your chin. Don't look down -- damn, you're blind for minutes!