From: Burlington, Ontario
Hello all -
This week saw the long anticipated arrival of scads of brand new animation clips for the game. Guess what - there were, well, scads and scads of new bitmaps to wade through, organize and incorporate into the game. That was good for many late night hours of quiet enjoyment in front on the monitor. Just another example of being careful what you wish for I suppose! Darn, they sure look nice though.
As often happens, integrating them in the first instance was easy enough technically but then the 'look and feel' of the game had changed markedly from what we are used to. Is it better? Is it worse? Who has fresh eyes any more? I play it for a while and try to form an opinion, then I change the timings and/or the scaling of the animations, and then I play it some more. More changes, more playing. All the while I see things that the new artwork breaks (last night is was the new nuclear contamination markers negating the LOS overlay in locations where both apply) and so I go back and rewrite that part of the code again. Then I test to make sure that the new changes haven't broken anything else in turn, and the cycle continues.
The week before I received scads of new sound files and it was much the same story. We have gone from perhaps 20% content complete to 95% content complete in the last 4 weeks. That is really, really good news. The unit testing went really well which is also good news. The integration testing is more of a challenge but that is less of a technical issue than an artistic one. Do I play the animations at 20 fps, 25 fps or 30 fps? Should I let them be individually varied? If I change the speed of the animation clips then the sound effects no longer match up very well. Is that really a problem? If I have to change one or the other, which is the easier one for the artist to do? What if I like it one way and David likes it a second and Marc a third? What if after all this, it doesn't run properly on one of the playtester's machines? Even if the timings are now right, is the scaling OK? Marc likes bigger explosions and I like smaller - if I give him the option to vary them on his machine and he doesn't come back with a directive, does that mean he is happy with what I gave him? So many questions...
This is all fun and easy stuff, but it does take a while to get a general agreement that it is good to go with. I have over 2500 private emails now on the project and the development forum has another 2000 of which half are probably from me. I can assure you that it is not for lack of effort that we are running late on this one.
I really wish the game had been done ages ago but it was not. Matrix doesn't release a game until it is properly done and Flashpoint is just not _quite_ there yet. I want a really good 'out of box' experience for everyone and that requires constant polishing and refining at this late stage.
It doesn't help any that the blasted day job keeps getting in the way either. I used to be able to close the door and work on FPG for all but an hour or two each day. Sadly, business has picked up and that is no longer possible. Some days I am lucky to get to the game by 10 p.m. but I work on it every single day nonetheless.
The AI received some serious tweaking in the last two months and that is part of my final testing too. It spun off nearly a gigabyte of post-mortem text files during the automated overnight smoke testing for me to read.
Finally, the herioc person we know as Catgh has championed the scenario creation end of things and is bombarding me with constant new versions. All of these need to be examined and tested too. I try to do that automatically in the smoke test but tracing down an issue turned up by it is often good for an hour or two of work. I should mention that Catgh and the others have worked above and beyond the call of any conceivable duty and their work is very much appreciated.
Oh yes, and there is the documentation. No programmer ever likes to document his work. I ended up writing virtually all of it even though one of my very few desires up front was that someone else do that particular job. There are constant little updates required now for that too. The final screen captures will have to go in shortly.
All in all we are sitting pretty right now. The punch list is down to less than a page and I just need to finish what is nearly done and not introduce any problems at the last minute by letting my focus slip. All I really need is one more wave of sound files and then we are ready for the final reality check.
Cheers all, Rob.