Idea time!

Project A25 is a working title for a little game that I am secretly making for my wifey. We’re on a budget this year so I am making everything from scratch. It’s definitely a challenge doing basically everything from scratch but I think it’s great because it makes the whole thing more personal. If you’re wondering why I’m blogging about it publicly its because she never visits the site and will definitely never read this until I show her the project and tell her there’s a blog about the process. Maybe she’s reading it now for the first time though – Hey Jen!

She’s a big Mario fan and likes simple little cute games with some puzzle elements so I thought ‘hey, why don’t I make her a cute little linear rpg like Mario 3d with cartoon art just for her?’. We’ve had a lot of fun playing together in co-op Mario games for date nights and playing other little puzzle games. She regularly destroys me at Mancala.

I’m planning on a few-hour linear story about us rescuing our adorable (stupid looking) dog from a villian who wants to use him in experiments to steal all his adorableness (stupidness) and monetize it. It’ll be super lighthearted and hopefully contain parody characters from people we know in our social life. There will be a hub to replay mini games that resemble things we like playing, and lots of comedy plays on our personalities.

Prototype time!

Seemed like a really fun idea so I whipped up Unity and made a 3D Mario clone over the weekend to see how it might work out and feel. Turns out it’s pretty darn cute! Someone has a fan site with a bunch of 3d models and animations for Mario that’s been sitting here for ages so I used those as placeholders and they looked amazing while running around the mockup map. I felt pretty inspired to go ahead and do the project after that!

Once I got the character controller tidied up I added features like booping blocks, stomping on enemies and getting hit by spikey things in the world which opened up lots of design options at that point, but I didn’t have any Art to use and the greyboxing was starting to look pretty drab.

Art time!

Unfortunately, there’s not enough affordable or free assets to justifiably make a whole little few-hour rpg game that doesn’t look like a Toy Story blob of random stuff thrown together so I had to undertake learning Blender if I wanted to actually finish this. I’ve got a lot of experience doing Mesh Modelling and CAD Optimization in 3dsmax but don’t have access to a license these days so I needed a simpler, free solution.

You know where this is going… Sooooo I have always hated blender. After using Max since the discreet days it feels like trying to invert all of the controls I’ve ever known. It was like it was deliberately trying to do the opposite of what I wanted at all times and I never got far any time I tried learning it. But now it’s the only way to create what I need for free. After mentally accepting that, I found a nice video on transitioning from max to blender and it helped ease the mental load and frustration when I felt confused. Once I got the hang of it, I could do some basic mesh modelling and find shortcuts I needed by watching tutorials that recorded their keystrokes. This was really helpful, and basically got me on track.

I made a few houses and some miscellaneous stuff that looked good enough, and started moving it through the pipeline to Unity.

Here’s where it’s at today:

The girl model is from Jose Diaz. The water shader is from Alexander Ameye. The gpu grass instancer is from Critter Entertainment. I might end up just rolling my own grass and water, but meh, this is fine and helps me paint some decent scenes out.

The interactive chat bubble is something I made a couple of years ago when testing out Unity’s Graph tools. I wrote a blog post about those tools but it was just really negative so I didn’t post it. Instead, just shelved the code and moved on. I called the module “Whisper”. It’s modular like all of my other tools so dropping it into the prototype was insanely easy and let me do at least conversation mockups to see what it might feel like so that was really convenient.

I’m pretty happy with it, but I don’t know if I want to design all the dialog with that interface. I also want to do localization because Jen is tri-lingulal so it might be fun for her to play it in multiple languages. I don’t think she’s played any games in other languages so it might be a cool first!

Next up I’ll be looking at adding more characters to this little tiny village here and doing some conversations with them. I’ll probably need a quest system and a save system of sorts to track some data so I can adjust the conversation paths. It’ll be a fun challenge to see how simple I can make it and still get what I need done.