Thursday, July 7, 2011

Narrowing Focus

First of all, I want to thank all of you that gave feedback on my last entry. I have taken everything you guys have said into consideration and used it to formulate this tentative plan for future creature creations. That said, I am still open to feedback, and this not by any means set in stone, but more an update on where my line of thinking is.

The first thing I want to address and get out of the way is Project Underground. After going through my notes on it and giving it a lot of though, I have regretfully come to the decision to put it, for the most part, on the very back burner. It really is just too big. My ultimate goal with that project was essentially to make creatures as attachable as the engine might allow. Throw them into conflict, a dangerous world where they need your help and eachother's help to survive. Add as many random elements as possible to make each play session a different experience. But the more I thought about it, interacted with my Mixed Berries creatures, and leafed through pages and pages of notes and plans, the more I realized that getting attached to creatures just isn't something you can formulate, no matter how many dangers you have to save creatures from or how much the world may change, suspending your disbelief enough to get attached to your creatures is something you have to choose to do-- it's not something a bunch of mods can do for you. Yeah, they can help, and I don't doubt finishing the project would help, but there's a lot of other things I can do to help without rewriting the entire game. In the end, I just don't feel it's worth it. I have more faith that when Grandroids gets into a playable state, it will blow anything I could do within the limits of the DS engine out of the water, as far as realistic and emotionally attachable A-life is concerned.

Now that said, this doesn't mean I'm scratching every idea related to the project. Some of the ideas I had for the project are still viable under the regular DS world-- namely the notion of a randomized metaroom system. That still sounds like quite a bit of fun, and I'm fairly certain I'd like to try and implement some version of that if I can amass a large enough collection of plants, critters, background imagery, etc to make it viable. Ideally, I'll be able to code it in such a way (probably relying a lot on catalogue files) that it will be possible to construct a very basic version with just a few options that will be easily expanded with new possibilities over time. But I'll find time to ramble on that more in later posts.

As far as LNA goes, I'm leaning towards fixing up the status window and coding very basic client/server agents (the things that let you adopt/retrieve norns) somewhere in the near future and see if it sparks any more interest. If so, I'll look into developing it further, but if not, I'll probably have to retire the project as just another one of those ideas that was way better in theory than practice rather than putting more energy into it (that's not to mean I'll take down the stream by any means, just that I probably won't develop a lot more for it)

I probably will make an effort to use the LNA computer for development too, though. A few people seem interested in watching the game crash and bug out, haha.

As far as my old agents, Mind arrows, SERU, Population Control Options-- I think it's best to just leave those as they are for now (though I probably should at least update SERU's readme since a lot of people running Exodus still aren't aware of its issue handling catalogue files). In the future I may develop better agents that serve similar purposes, but for now I think they stand quite well on their own for what they are.

My unfinished agents... I think I'm going to try to finish them. The critical hit script isn't that far from completion and the crossbreeding script probably only needs an hour or so of work to at least get into a testable state. The lift-ring things will take a little more, as I'm hoping to get them better sprites (from Caos of the Creatures Realm, a rather promising blog for us not-so-artistically-inclined coders) and idiot-proof them a little more as right now they throw errors if say, you stick one in outer-space and then try to port a creature to it. And as much as I dread it, I will prod selective muco a bit more and see if I can make anything of it. I've learned quite a lot since I last touched it-- maybe this time around it'll be a bit less daunting.

I was a bit surprised to hear how many of you were interested in seeing Project BattleStance finished (considering the grand total of zero comments achieved by previous posts about it, hah!). Personally, it's a project that's always been a little dear to me and if people are interested in it, I would be more than happy to oblige-- plus, this could be quite a fun thing to develop live on LNA.

Meanwhile, stuff like revamping the blog, caos tutorials, and documenting nurturing worlds will probably just be done on an "as I feel like it" basis. Though I have a new method I'm trying out for nurturing-world documentation that hopefully I'll get around to finishing/posting in the next few days.

The fanfiction podcast, sorry to say, probably just isn't going to happen, both due to lack of interest and the fact that it's been a really, really long time since a creatures story has really caught my attention. However, if anyone else wants to pick up the idea and run with it, you are more than welcome!

With all this in mind,  I have been working on a project/progress page that I will try to post in the near future, so keep an eye out for that, and if you have any comments, questions, complaints, or concerns, as always, do feel free to leave a note!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Focus, or lackthereof.

I think I might need some help, guys.

I'm getting to the point again where I have so many creaturely ideas that I'm in danger of getting overwhelmed and burned out and vanishing for months like I have so many times in the past. I really don't want that to happen, especially since (it seems like, anyway, maybe I'm just conceited) I'm getting a lot more community support for my projects this time around, and I really don't want to let you guys down.

At the same time though, I need to stick to working on things that I'm interested in-- I find that forcing myself into working on projects that bore or frustrate me, even if they're my most popular ideas, tends to make me burn out very quickly as well.

So I'm going to try to make a list here of all projects currently on my plate, and I would really appreciate it if you guys would comment and let me know both what sorts of things here interest you the most, as well as what interests you the least. Don't be shy-- I really would like to know before I waste a lot of time if no one is interested in something! So without further ado:

Revamping this blog -- It's something I've been wanting to do for ages-- mostly in terms of layout; I'd like refresh the look as well as add links to other pages, a way to easily subscribe to feeds, and so on. It's not something that would take more than a day's work or two, but I keep putting it off because it's just not the highest priority I guess.

Writing more CAOS tutorials -- My tutorials are of a different sort than most; while general tutorials show you how to make basic objects, I like to write about individual commands and how they work, or how to make certain scripts function. Most of these are more or less notes of things as I'm discovering them myself and cater to people that already have a decent grasp of CAOS, but I do enjoy writing them and wouldn't mind doing more articles on how more basic commands work too. Of course, the tutorials would only be as useful as readers made them, so I really want to be sure there's demand for that sort of thing before sinking time into it.

Documenting nurturing worlds --  I've been having a lot of fun with Mixed Berries and I will probably continue playing with it, but documenting it, screenshots and all, takes quite a bit of time. I certainly enjoy doing it, but I'm not sure how many people actually enjoy reading that stuff.

Work on Live Nornish Action stuff -- LNA is a bit of a favorite project of mine, but one that relies heavily on viewer interest, which there honestly doesn't seem to be a whole lot of. So one side of developing this is that further improvements could spark more interest; the other side is that I could put many days and nights of work into something that two or three people in the world really enjoy watching/participating in. There's also the risk of the warp server going down indefinitely, which makes the stream mostly pointless and the hours wasted. There are several things I can work on here:
  • Redoing the status window so it actually wraps properly and is a little more flexible, as well as exploring the possibility of creating a larger font for it.
  • Writing the client-server agents, which should allow people to interact with LNA remotely, with functions to retrieve your creatures or adopt native-born creatures from the world, drop food or toys in front of creatures, move creatures that are stuck or have wandered into unfortunate places, and so on.
  • Planning and running some script-assisted competitions-- such as a fighting tournament with modified hit scripts so immortals don't have an unfair advantage, obstacle courses (sort of like an advanced IQ test) that rank creatures according to how fast they can get through them, or breeding competitions that keeps score of how many eggs a creature has laid, and so on.
  • Another option is to use LNA for showing live development of other projects-- I'm not sure if that would interest or bore people, but it's open to opinions.

Finishing unfinished projects -- Most notably the Crossbreeding script and Critical Hit script falls under this catagory, as well as the Selective Muco, as much as I dread picking that back up again. But Project BattleStance is also very much on the table, which sort of has my interest now that I believe I actually have the skills to finish it if I wanted to. While not an agent, the Creatures Fanfiction Podcast is still a possibility too. And would anyone actually be interested in the lift ring-things if I were to polish them up and turn them into an actual agent?

Polishing old agents -- I always wanted to give the Mind Arrows a bit of a makeover; get rid of the sezz lines, allow them to be turned on/off as needed or adjust the range, possibly even allow filtering according to age/genus. SERU, hands down my most successful agent, might also benefit from a few tweaks and additions, and though I'm willing to bet most people would rather me release a version that scrapped all the cute storyline stuff in favor of making more weird creatures as fast as possible, I could have a lot of fun developing the interactive stuff further too. Population Control Options is another agent that could use a revamp to include support and filtering for ettins and grendels, and a few more options as well.

Following new sparks -- There are too many of these to count...I'll write the ones at the top of my head right now:
  • Project Underground is probably the most prominent of these, but I really can't help but feel that the time I put into this is just going to go to waste-- it's such a massive undertaking and I'm still not sure I can pull off everything I want to that I'm almost certain sooner or later I'll hit a wall or get bored, it'll never get finished, and all the work I put into it will become nothing, I don't want to sound pessimistic, but well... I really am. Still, I love the idea and I have a lot of fun working on it-- if nothing else I feel like working on a near-rewrite of the game will help me improve my skills and gain a better understanding of how the inner-workings of the game work. I wouldn't count on anything else coming from it.
  • I've been making extensive use of speech-bubble activated scripts to test agents and personal scripts and things, and I've been thinking of putting together a core module that allows speech-bubble activation to function, while making it extremely easy for other developers to incorporate the feature into their own agents-- it would be as simple as including a variable containing the activation word/phrase and the script to run when the word is said, allowing the agent to respond to speech-bubble commands (as long as the core module was installed) without having to rewrite the speech-bubble-searching bit themselves.
  • An in-game photo album/journal. Just a weird idea I had recently and after fiddling with a few scripts realized was actually possible. The agent would consist of a little camera agent you could use to take pictures in your world (like those that you take of your creature, but anywhere, and with more size options) and then add them to a sort of scrapbook where you could write a description of the photo or whatever happened that day and so on. Kind of a big project and a pain in the rear to code, but a cute enough idea that I'd be willing to try it if there was interest.
... As you can see, I have quite a pile of projects to work on and some days I am just so overwhelmed by them all that I would much rather go read a book or play another game than decide what to do, and consequently no progress is made. So, maybe you guys can help me prioritize a little? Any and all feedback is appreciated; let me know what projects you think the community would benefit most from, as well as the ones you think are better left on the back burner!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Downloads Page

Just a quick update-- I finally get around to adding a static downloads page so you don't have to go rooting around through all the pages to find a specific file. You'll find the link right below the banner on the main page. Hope this makes life easier for you guys!

The Case of the Lonely Grendels

It occurred to me while interacting with my little berries today that it's been so long since I've played with regular creatures, or even CFE creatures, that I really can't tell if the seemingly odd behaviors of these creatures are due to their being instinctless, or due to being CFE, or if they are just regular creatures traits. So I may just have to leave that up to you more experience nurturers to determine.

I didn't think starting off right away with all six helpless, instinctless creatures right off the bat was the best idea, so I just started out by importing the norn pair

I decided to auto-vocab everyone in this world because while I do love the charm of spending time to hand-educate your first handful of creatures, I've discovered in the past that after the first or second generation, it becomes this generally mundane and repetitive chore that results in temptations to just lock the little guys up in the learning room for all their babyhood instead of doing any actual nurturing during those important formative years. Well, minutes anyway.



So I was a bit surprised when I first imported the pair and it was apparently love at first sight. I know CFEs are more expressive of their emotions, but it seems a little weird for even them to pop out of the egg and begin declaring their undying adoration for the creature beside them.



They sat cuddling in the corner for the first few minutes of their little lives before getting bored, when I suggested they play with the ball. They...took that idea and ran with it, chasing the ball all the way to the end of the hall, sticking with each other every step, before stopping to express their joy.






Ahh, the innocence of youth.

I looked away for just a moment to respond to a message, and came back not a moment later to see that Icepaw had developed a sudden streak of wanderlust that landed him in the jungle, and was starting to regret it. His little playmate didn't seem too happy with the arrangement either.



But they seemed to be getting on alright-- they weren't starving or throwing themselves into bodies of water, so I thought I would progress to importing our scalier pair.



They didn't have the cute cuddle time that the nornlings had right out of the shell, but they did express their likings for each other a few times before Gnaw decided to go prove her bravery by dancing on the piranha pool bridge. Wish I had a picture of that one.



Was it really safe to let Icepaw wander so close by? I'll admit, I was curious if instinctless grendels would have a better chance of getting along with other creatures. Norns still genetically make them angry to be around and hitting creatures does release that anger, but they aren't born knowing that, so they would have to learn that hitting creatures makes them feel good before it became a habit, and maybe I could teach them to take their aggression out elsewhere before they realize that small helpless creatures are the most effective punching bag.

But it seemed all they wanted to do was play with toys anyway.



So the really weird stuff started when Leo became separated from his bonier counterpart and began expressing his sadness.



Icepaw responded with "maybe get norn Leo," which I have to mention because it actually has some significance with instinctless creatures. As they are born without knowing what to do, it's easy to tell what they have learned when they respond to other creatures' complaints-- they will express what they think should be done in that situation. Without instincts to pre-program those reactions, they will usually respond with "maybe left/right something" unless they have learned a better way of dealing with it. So it is a little exciting to see that little Icepaw has learned how to deal with loneliness.

So I attempted to tell Leo to approach grendel in hopes of teaching him the same thing. But....it didn't help?



Come on Leo, she's right ther-



Sigh. Gnaw, poke him or something so he knows you'r-



....oookay. So you guys are invisible to each other or something.

This continues on for quite some time-- Leo seems to be the more emotional one, complaining of loneliness regardless of whether or not Gnaw is right there. Gnaw occasionally complains of loneliness but is more likely to complain of boredom. She also seems to be directionally challenged as I caught her banging her head frantically into the wall in some attempt to approach me.



Alright, well at this point I decided to import the ettins, so I guided Icepaw back to the norn area so I could focus on the new pair without worrying that one of the grendels would suddenly learn how punchable norns were.



Cookie has an adorable little sprite defect in the form of a tail. I'm certainly not complaining; it's a bit charming! Unfortunately though, I am not very good at caring for ettins. They, quite unlike the norns and grendels, showed no affection at all for each other upon importing, and instead complained endlessly about boredom. And I tried everything. I gave them toys, I gave them gadgets, I gave them food! But it doesn't help that the stubborn things refuse to listen to what I have to say.



Within only seven minutes they had advanced to adolescence; I forget how fast these things grow! But after more attempts to cure their boredom to no avail, I went to check on the others again.



They're growing up so fast and getting along so well! And look! They even appreciate me. ;_;



Next time I'll redouble my efforts to make the ettins happy. Hopefully I can get them to pay attention! And the lonely grendels....I don't even know what I'm going to do with them. They're technically of breeding age now-- maybe I could convince them to produce a child?

At least the norns are happy and learning well!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Return to Nurturing. Sort of.

I was on a coding roll this week. This kind of stuff tends to happen after I get a new order of tea.



Okay, and I wanted an excuse to post this extremely pointless video. Anyway.

So I was coding along when out of the blue I get this weird urge to like...um... actually play the game I'm coding for. What a weird idea.

I'm pretty sure I haven't run a serious nurturing world since Mixed Nuts back in September '09, and lately I'm wondering if I need to rediscover the experiences that made me fall in love with this game so long ago.

With this idea in mind, I promptly went back to coding. How effective.

No, really, my ambitions had a purpose-- I wanted to start a nurturing world with instinctless creatures, and in order to do that, I had to make some lifts that didn't require call buttons, since without instincts, creatures don't have the call button/lift system programmed into their brains. So grabbing some random sprites from the hoverdoc, I hastily and sloppily coded these goofy little lift rings.



They're not much to look at and don't really make much sense in design, but they're practical and easy to work with. Shift-clicking one makes another ring appear with the same ID as the original, ctrl-clicking creates a ring with a new ID, shift-ctrl-clicking deletes the ring.

When a creature pushes/pulls the rings, which are classified as elevators, the rings look for the next highest/lowest ring with the same ID and teleport the creature there. It stims the creature in the same way lifts do, so for all intents and purposes, the rings are identical to lifts, just without all the call button complications.

At least, so I hope. Hopefully this nurturing world I'm planning will give them a thorough testing.

I set up the world (which I named Mixed Berries) for my instinctless creatures first by killing all the lifts and replacing them with the rings. I then killed all the vendors, since those too rely on the half-strength instinct trick, and replaced them with various plants instead.

Then I created my starter creatures. In the spirit of my old Mixed Nuts world, I decided to start with two norns, two ettins, and two grendels.

I opened the CFE breedfile for each species, disabled all instincts, and then chose the sprites for the creatures. It's important to mention the sprites do not reflect on the creatures' genome in this case-- all I did was change the appearance genes in the CFE genome to the sprite slots I wanted; they are more a skin than anything. Thus aquatic breeds are not actually aquatic, and so on.

So, meet the creatures of Mixed Berries:





I will try to document the time I spend with them in some attempt to learn more about instinctless creatures, and maybe just for a while set aside the logic and rationality required for coding and suspend my disbelief long enough to get in touch with my nurturing side.

That, or I'll get bored and forget the whole thing, as I am so prone to do. We'll see how it goes.