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This week has been far too "business development" heavy, but it has led to some interesting potential. Here's why.

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Its been a slow week for development (of the programming kind) this week, but I've actually been quite busy with what you might think of as business development. On monday I spent the day at an event being jointly sponsored by the "Technology Strategy Board", which is funded by the UK Government to try and promote industrial research and development. I've actually been involved with a TSB project before and figured it would be interesting to attend this meeting and find out about a new fund they had for my local area (Greater Manchester area of the UK).

It turns out that what they are looking for, are small-ish (approx £100k) projects of industrial research. Which is quite useful because it falls in line with my thinking for a particular project I'd want to do related to the game.

One of the biggest issues most indie developers face, especially if they are programmers, is the sheer cost of "content". The 3D models and 2D images that form the core of the games artwork. Ultimately if you have almost no budget and you are a programmer or designer, chances are you are limited to "stock" content, or saving up for an artist, or doing things yourself and accepting the poor quality that usually leads to. But it doesn't have to be that way for everything. My focus is always on video game characters, so I've been thinking about this issue a lot. If you consider the games with the largest character count, you'll see that there's a way to fix the issue of character content at least. I'm talking about procedurally generating them, in much the same way an MMO would.

Now there are various technical approaches to character generation, but they are all relatively well known, if entirely proprietary. I've linked a couple of character generation videos in this post to show the kind of thing I mean.

I particularly like the APB Reloaded character generation system because it provides a huge amount of visual flexibility and customization:

The APB character creation system is very nice texture wise and has some pretty nice shaders and base meshes. But I also particularly like the idea of having proportion editing too similar to the City of Heroes character creator:

So my thinking is, that I'll pitch a project to the TSB to create an SDK to generate characters procedurally, that can be then used by developers of all sizes to create characters. Essentially make an embeddable library that can generate character content for any size or style of game (I've got a few ideas on how to achieve scalability across really-high-end devices and down to mobile/tablet). This of course is going to be a long process and its always difficult to gauge exactly what the judges are looking for from these kind of funds, but if nothing else it will give me a reasonable costing for that functionality for the game.

What I really want to do, is make it relatively trivial to have great looking video game characters available to all sizes of developer. Perhaps opening up a way for artists to get content out to a greater audience (think the hats thing for Team Fortress, only targeted at indies).

More on this later, when I've prepared the pitch video (the initial round of competition for funding is a 2 minute video).

So there have been a few other dull "business" issues to deal with this week, which means that development has been slow. But I have managed to get some time to work on a feature that didn't occur to me until a few weeks ago. That is, you can now drop and pick up items! OK, I know its dumb, but I completely forgot about this type of feature when working on the inventory system. I guess I was too focussed on the "building" aspect of the game that I didn't think about what the player would want to do with items in her/his inventory beyond "using" them or "crafting" them etc. But being able to drop stuff into the world is actually quite useful.

I'm not going to make a video of it this week, because right now I've still not updated all items in the item database to have the correct settings for dropping into the world (for instance right now if you drop a jetpack from your inventory, it turns into a wooden bedside cabinet) but next week I'll show it in action. I still need to add some code to check that when you drop things that they actually drop correctly, so for instance if you drop something onto a container (something with an inventory) I'm going to make it that the item gets added to the inventory, same with the AI characters and buildings with storage. What this should mean is that you can quickly move stuff around inventories, place them in the world for use, or just throw them off the rig if you don't want them.

Of course there is the traditional "do not drop" checks on this stuff. Right now a vast majority of things in the item database are no-drop, but I suspect that at some point almost everything that isn't too big will be droppable.

The next question I've been thinking off to try and finish this inventory handling stuff off once and for all, is the notion of encumberance. Is it right that a player could carry literally tons of junk around the rig? Or should there be a weight associated with each item and have some threshold where it starts affecting movement? I'm leaning towards implementing encumberance because it will add a feeling of importance to the items you have in your inventory. It will also mean that having a way to automated movements between inventories (i.e. helper robots) will add value to the gameplay.

As ever, these things are "experimental" in nature. I'm not going from a set feature list here. So if they don't feel right, they will get reversed. But I really want to make progress on this stuff and it is relatively simple to implement.

What do you guys think? Does being encumbered in a game with lots of inventory put you off? Given this isn't a combat-oriented game, does it matter if you move slightly slower or can't jetpack as far?

Gilgamessiah - - 315 comments

Hi first I'd like to say that's a great pitch for the TSB I like the idea very much.

On the encumbrance I don't think its worth putting in to the game, if this game was combat-oriented it would add a type of strategy to it being prepared or being quick. Seeing the game as it is, the encumbrance would only get in the way of actually playing though I can see how it would work in this game.

Thanks for the update and good luck with your pitch

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sgmongo - - 53 comments

If you look at the psychology of games I think you'll find that not many people actually get a kick out of sifting through hundreds of items. Moreover I can think of many games that have failed due to clunky or overlarge inventory systems. Encumbrance encourages a item light inventory. Kiss rule applies here.

You can spend weeks coming up with a craft system with a thousand regents and the graphics for them, or you can have just a few regents and just vary the outcomes to what you actually will use in game. Not a soul complains about Vespene gas and Minerals, but you always here about wow players complaining at their inventories being clogged.

Don't make work for yourself where it won't pay off. Add encumbrance and keep the inventory light. People love making working systems though, and having to move about resources to fuel this or that project with robots would definitely add a sense of accomplishment when it all works correctly. In fact there is a whole genre of games that are just about that concept of creating working systems, and they do just fine on the market >.-

Just my two cents.

Also the SDK you are proposing, I think the idea is brilliant. I would request a feature by which the dev could add "packs" of models for clothes and characters, and some modeling conventions to standardize the whole thing. That way if you pick a convention, you can mix and match the "packs" that correspond. Otherwise everyone will follow their own conventions and the packs would only be useful on their particular set. Thanks for reading this wall of text and keep on working on this amazing project. I'll continue to follow.

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zoombapup Author
zoombapup - - 69 comments

I agree that in general you don't want inventories clogged up with tons of items. But in this case, you wont necassarily have tons of items, but instead have tons of inventories. Basically almost all machines in the game will produce things for an inventory. There are a huge number of storage options (the world being full of metal containers helps there). So inventory management isn't such a problem as the issue of tranferring things from one inventory to another (i.e. from the trade area to the industrial area for crafting into goods for sale).

Noted about the packs idea. I'll no doubt do some testing with the API and some indie devs to really figure out how it should work. But I agree. I want to make it so you can buy/sell "add-on" content. Pretty much exactly like that Daz3D thing, but not crap and more game-dev focussed.

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