Brawsome Speaks About Unity and Hero-U Programming
I'm getting this update in the mail a little earlier than usual - I have this strange idea that just once during the Hero-U Kickstarter I might get to bed before 2 a.m.
Hamwizen posted a new interview about the game. Read it at http://talesofham.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/so-u-want-to-be-hero.html.
With about an hour to go, we added 160 new backers and about $13,500 to the till today. Welcome to the Hero-U student body! We need to make another $115,500 in the next 4-1/2 days. Of course, the more we bring in, the better we can make the game. Extra funding means extra art, music, design, and programming.
On the latter topic, today I'm going to let Andrew Goulding, head of Brawsome, talk about the development process in Unity. He has lots of examples from his two most recent games, MacGuffin's Curse and Jolly Rover. Both games are available as add-ons to Hero-U; check the main project page.
Warning: Some of this is pretty technical. If your eyes start to glaze over, look at the pretty pictures for a minute, then skip to the next part... or to the next pretty picture. I know that's how I read tech specs, after all. :-)
Bringing Unity to Hero-U
For Hero-U we’re using Unity. Why is this good? Well, Unity is a professional grade engine that can make anything from a AAA blockbuster to the smallest indie project. What this means is we have a powerful and professional game engine that can do just about anything a modern game can do, for a reasonably low price. In addition, it supports many of the top platforms, including PC, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux, though that’s not to say it’s just a matter of pushing “build” to target these platforms, but that’s another story entirely.
Because Unity is so flexible, powerful and cheap, it’s being used in a lot of projects, so has a large and active community, which means if you’re trying to do something, chances are someone has already done it.
One of the downsides of Unity though is it’s never been that strong on the 2D capability, because of this Brawsome uses 3rd a few party libraries to bridge this gap, these include Sprite Manager 2 and EZ GUI from Above and Beyond Software. It’s not that I *couldn’t* write this software myself, but writing the software is the easy part, the countless hours of robust testing across a number of platforms and game types, and performance optimization and bug fixing is where the real value lies.
This is another reason Unity is great - Because of the volume of people using it, there are many great 3rd party plugins and add-ons at a reasonable price to plug any gaps in the engine, such as supporting iOS Cloud, or Steam integration. And now with Linux support being added, I’m certain we will start seeing Linux-related plugins popping up as well, mostly like from the Linux enthusiast community.
One of the reasons I haven't yet ported Jolly Rover to iPad, where it would fit perfectly, is because it was created in an engine that only supported PC and Mac, and because the engine was a closed system, porting it would essentially require writing a new engine. When making MacGuffin’s Curse the first thing I did was look at the available engines and determine which supported the most platforms, had the best features, support and community. Unity ticked all these boxes.
If I had made Jolly Rover in Unity, it would be on a number of platforms today instead of just PC and Mac – in fact, work has already started on a full engine port of Jolly Rover to Unity, but the golden quantity of time has been one that has been hard for me to come by. It’s actually just about there, but work and family life has left scant hours to dedicate to this fully.
Study Pays Off - Lessons Learned
For Hero-U, it will benefit greatly from the lessons learned and the hard yards gained through development of MacGuffin’s Curse. First and foremost being an understanding of the engine, its capabilities and how to get the best performance out of it across desktop and mobile devices. Also the tile system and editor which allows rapid development of levels. And important high-level systems such as audio, sprite animation, character state, movement, AI, global state variable, and the powerful trigger-action system that allows heavily scripted events to be quickly hooked up.
These systems were all fairly straight forward for me to put together, having worked in game content programming for the last 10 years, though one system bears talking about because it is fundamental to adventure games and especially handy for localization – the string system.
String 'em Up, Lads!
The string system I developed in Unity was based on the one I used in Jolly Rover, which used Excel documents to contain all game strings in <ID, string> pairs. This is great for localization because when it comes time to translate them, you can hand off a series of Excel documents to the translator, and when you replace them in the game it’s more or less localized (though there are always font issues, and string lengths to deal with).
The way it works is in game, instead of writing a string such as “Press start to play” I can reference an id such as “press_start”, then when the game runs it looks up the string table and replaces “press_start” with the appropriate string – in any language. Though this is all well and good for simple strings, but adventure-style conversations are an altogether more complicated beast.
I first extended the Excel string system to let me specify the character name, pose, and so on. But I wanted more flexibility, so I came up with a way of inserting C# code into Excel spreadsheet cells. This allows the conversation system to do literally anything supported by the game engine during a conversation. Saying the wrong thing could even lead to combat!
A Battle of Wits Against an Unarmed Opponent
For Hero-U this conversation system will prove VERY interesting as it can be easily extended to give us a dynamic fight system, not to mention giving Corey and Lori the tools they need to make interesting and surprisingly dynamic conversations – something they might not have been able to do with the AGI, SCI or other Sierra engines. If we’re able to go ahead I expect lively battles of wits and weapons in the conversation system – not to mention any manner of dynamic puzzles involving the physical or intellectual world.
The first game that is created with an engine normally takes a long time, much of which is spent developing the tools, it is normally the second iteration of a game in the same engine that allows it leap further, adding polish and bending the tools in new and exciting ways (i.e. Maniac Mansion - Monkey Island - Monkey Island 2). In many ways the hard yards of the engine development are behind us, and all that is left is for creativity to shine through. With the team backing us on Hero-U I hope you’re as excited as I am to see what we can produce!
Backer Video from Bashar
One of our very active backers, "Bashar", linked me this video explaining why he thinks it is important to fund Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.
seconds to go
Pledge $5 or moreYou selected
Friend: Thank you for your support! Your name will be added to the Hero list on www.hero-u.net/leadersroll.php, a small first step towards immortality.Estimated delivery:
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Freshman: You will receive a DRM-free digital game download, access to discussion forums to help us improve the game, and your name will appear on the Hero list.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $35 or moreYou selected
Sophomore: Digital Reward 2: Receive everything from the Freshman level, the downloadable Hero-U Soundtrack, and the gorgeous Hero-U Art Book in PDF form. The art book contains production sketches, final art, and insider commentary on the making of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.Estimated delivery:
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Junior: Get a head start on your education by playing one of the development team's previous award-winning games. You will receive all of the Sophomore class benefits plus a digital key to your choice of MacGuffin's Curse, Jolly Rover, or the complete Quest for Glory collection.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $65 or moreYou selected
Beta Tau Initiate: All-Digital reward. Everything in the Junior package, including your choice of one game key. PLUS you get early access to the Hero-U Beta and Combat-Balancing tests. Help us shape and tune the game the way YOU want it!Estimated delivery:
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Senior: Get physical with a high-quality boxed copy of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption containing the game on DVD and a printed game manual. You will also receive all of the Sophomore benefits (including an additional digital copy of the game). While you wait for your box, enjoy a preview with early access to our Beta and Combat Balancing Tests. All Seniors may add any of the Junior-level previous games at $15 each.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
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Big Man On Campus: (Super Digital Rewards) You're special, and everyone should know it. Your name (or your favorite character's name) will appear in the in-game DIGITAL YEARBOOK along with a brief statement of your/their accomplishments. We will also email you the Secret Thieves' Guild Password. (Other players will need to discover this in the game.) You will also receive everything from the Sophomore level as well as early access to our Beta and Combat Balance tests. (NOTE: This tier does not include any physical rewards. It's highly International-Supporter-friendly.)Estimated delivery:
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Frat Rat: Halloween Special – You love Meeps, and that's why you will get your very own Toy Meep along with your boxed copy of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. That's on top of all of the Senior-level physical and digital rewards and eligibility for add-ons. You will also receive your own entry in the in-game DIGITAL YEARBOOK. International Customers please add $15 for shipping costs.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
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Graduate Edition: Unique Kickstarter-Graduate-only Collector’s Edition Box containing the game DVD, manual, a Music Soundtrack CD, your own Varsity Letter, Hero-U button, and everything in the Big Man On Campus digital reward tier including your very own entry in the in-game DIGITAL YEARBOOK.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
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Exchange Student: The *ultimate* all-digital package, perfect for international backers. You will start with everything in the Big Man on Campus edition. Then you will have the chance to follow the development of Hero-U with insider access to developer discussions and Alpha tests. To give you more insight into our games, you will receive digital keys to ALL EIGHT of our currently available previous games (Quest for Glory 1: So You Want to Be a Hero EGA and VGA versions, Quest for Glory 2: Trial by Fire, Quest for Glory 3: Wages of War, Quest for Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness, Quest for Glory 5: Dragon Fire, MacGuffin's Curse, AND Jolly Rover). NOTE: The previous game keys are part of this tier only; we are not adding them to the higher physical tiers.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $200 or moreYou selected
Research Assistant: You're practically a team member, so you will receive a very-limited-edition Team Meep Hat plus insider access to developer discussions and Alpha tests. You will also receive everything in the Graduate Edition, and your chosen picture (subject to team approval) will appear in the in-game digital yearbook.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
Pledge $250 or moreYou selected
126 backers Limited (674 left of 800)
Alumnus: As a proud Hero-U Alumnus, your chosen name, preferred photo (or other image of your choice, subject to team approval) will appear in the Very Limited Edition physical Hero-U Yearbook. Of course, alumni like to collect signatures from their University friends, so Lori and Corey Cole will autograph your yearbook and Graduate Edition premium game box. You will also receive Research Assistant privileges and a Team Meep hat.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
Pledge $500 or moreYou selected
33 backers Limited (167 left of 200)
Master Rogue: The rewards of your advanced education include a limited-edition art print of the school on Canvas, everything in the Alumnus package including the autographed premium game box and autographed yearbook. You will also receive a Limited Edition Kickstarter Superfan T-Shirt, and digital keys to ALL THREE previous games – the Quest for Glory Collection, MacGuffin's Curse, and Jolly Rover.Estimated delivery:Add $25 USD to ship outside the US
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6 backers All gone!
PhD: You will be immortalized. Not only will you receive all of the benefits of a Master Rogue, your chosen name, hero biography, and picture will appear prominently in-game as well as in the yearbook. Your canvas art print will be supersized, and you will be one of the proud few to complete a graduate school education at Hero-U. We'll also provide you with the secret location and key to the Faculty Lounge. (Other players will be able to break in later in the game.)Estimated delivery:Add $40 USD to ship outside the US
Pledge $1,050 or moreYou selected
19 backers Limited (6 left of 25)
DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts): You will be featured on an in-game painting. When players click on it, they will see your chosen name, image (this could be you, a favorite character, pet, or other approved image, converted by our artists to look like other in-game portraits), and humorous description. You also receive all of the benefits of a Master Rogue, You will have a listing including your chosen image in the yearbook, and of course will receive an autographed copy of the physical edition. We will send you a canvas art print of your in-game "portrait" in addition to the school art print, and you will be one of the proud few to complete a graduate school education at Hero-U. We'll also provide you with the secret location and key to the Faculty Lounge. (Other players will be able to break in later in the game.)Estimated delivery:Add $40 USD to ship outside the US
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5 backers All gone!
Art Collector: In this extremely-limited reward tier, we will send you an original, one-of-a-kind production painting that was used to create a Quest for Glory game. We only have a few of these paintings available. You will also receive all DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts) benefits, including having your picture and biography immortalized in-game. The Quest for Glory artwork will be shipped separately in January or February.Estimated delivery:Add $80 USD to ship outside the US
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3 backers All gone!
Benefactor: As one of the top alumni contributors to Hero-U, we will name one wing of the University after you or a loved one. The name you choose (with team approval) will be prominently displayed when any student enters your wing. We will send you a customized architectural drawing of your wing. If you send us a suitable video clip, it will appear in the launch video for your wing. You will also receive all benefits of the PhD reward tier. Free shipping worldwide!Estimated delivery:
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3 backers Limited (7 left of 10)
Monster Lair: You are so diabolical, you are the master of a dungeon den. We will collaborate with you on designing your own custom monster lair, likely including a sculpted image of yourself or a friend. Your lair, complete with the monsters and traps you select, will be placed somewhere in the catacombs. You will also receive all benefits of the PhD reward tier. Free shipping worldwide!Estimated delivery:
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0 backers Limited (2 left of 2)
High-Roller: You're a serious role-player, or just really want to support our game at a high level. In addition to all of the PhD-level rewards, Corey and/or Lori will run a D&D game for you and friends at a convention anywhere in North America. Or add $1,000 for our additional travel expenses, and we'll join you anywhere in the world. Does not include the Benefactor reward – The school doesn’t have enough wings. Instead, you’ll have a large statue in the main wing celebrating your or your hero's accomplishments.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $7,500 or moreYou selected
2 backers Limited (3 left of 5)
Philanthropist: You really care! And we care about you too! Spend a day visiting Yosemite Park and touring Sierra landmarks in Oakhurst with Lori and Corey Cole. We'll share a nice meal or two and discuss game design or anything else you want. You'll also receive all the rewards of the PhD level and we'll find a prominent place in-game to thank you for your awesome support. We will cover a one-night hotel stay, but you are responsible for transportation to and from Oakhurst, California.Estimated delivery:
- (32 days)