Hey everyone! Hope you’re all enjoying the festivities. 🙂
Thanks to everyone for playing! It’s heartwarming that so many people like the game so much, even though it’s in such a raw state. And thanks again to the people who’ve purchased the game. While I certainly can’t make a living out of the earnings yet, it does let me purchase things like a license for a multiplayer networking package. Everything is being put right back into development.
Back in October I wanted to do a quiet release, just something to keep folks happy while I worked on a first ‘proper’ release. Of course, there’s no such thing as quiet on the internet, and the game got way more attention than planned. Rock Paper Shotgun and PC Gamer US both picked up on it for example, and many people enthusiastically shared the game with their friends.
While this was all very flattering, it also caused some pressure. Everyone was trying to play, but without configurable controls and a boatload of performance problems the game left a lot of people wanting. I thought I’d get some essential features done in about a week, which turned out to be a preposterous assumption.
Read what’s been happening since October below the jump.
So Where Is Volo 0.03?
You will no doubt be aware that 0.03 is still not available. That’s frustrating, both for you and me. The reason for the delay is twofold, but it basically comes down to my own inexperience. Please bear with me while I figure out how to be a game developer, I’m diving into the deep end here and I don’t have much swimming experience.
I do freelance game programming besides making Volo, and this is how I currently earn my living. It’s a rewarding experience, and I’m learning a lot from it, but it also means I can’t work on Volo full time. To make things worse I underestimated the scope of two paid projects! They took way more time than I anticipated, and thus weren’t particularly lucrative. I’ve since learned this is a very common problem for many starting freelancers, but it goes to show how much I still have to learn.
Deceptively Small Features
Configurable controls? Sure, how hard can that be. Keyboard and mouse support? Surely just a matter of remapping your keys. Split screen play? Just put two players into the scene, with two cameras, and everything should work, right?
Except no, none of those features are that simple.
Unity doesn’t offer any built-in way to rebind inputs once you’re in the game. But other than rebinding keys in-game, I also want you to be able to map buttons to things the game reads as an analog axis, and vice versa. So it turns out the input configuration system needed a big, non-trivial solution.
Split Screen Audio
Unity doesn’t support multiple listening perspectives in your game. If you add two cameras, only one of them can hear audio. Theoretically this doesn’t mean you can’t do split screen audio, it just means you need to write a complicated, messy system that merges the perspectives of multiple players into one. Again, a non-trivial thing to implement.
(It turns out many Unity users run into the above problems, so I’m turning the above two systems into products for the Unity Asset Store. If you’re a developer and you want to help test them, contact me.)
Keyboard and Mouse Controls
Keyboards and mice are vastly different devices. Some lend themselves well to a particular game, some don’t. There’s a reason you don’t often play flight simulators and racing games with a keyboard, and that’s because keyboards don’t offer you a whole lot of control over the way those vehicles move. Volo requires a lot of nuance in user input, so to make it playable by keyboard means redesigning the way you play the game. So much so that it turns into quite a different game altogether. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means it takes time and consideration.
Other Things I’ve Been Working On
I’ve been occupied with more than just the features for 0.03. Here’s some highlights.
I’ve been playing with several Unity networking packages. I’ve narrowed my selection down to two, and I’m in contact with the developers of both to figure out which would be the best fit for Volo.
Finding a balance between interesting level design, graphical fidelity, scale and spacing is an interesting challenge. The levels are huge, and you can see everything in them from up high. At the same time we desire lots of detail when you’re skimming the mountain sides. You can’t just keep every little bit of detail in memory, nor can you afford to spend a lot of time rendering a very detailed tree that takes up less than a pixel of screen space because it’s miles away. This is a problem many games have tackled before, but every game has it’s own unique solution. I still need to work out what is best for Volo.
Sound Design and Music
A while ago I was contacted by Michael Manning, a sound designer with experience working on such titles as Transformers and DayZ. He told me he really liked Volo, and offered to help create audio for the game! Coming from a sound technology background myself, we were able to communicate quite well. After some brainstorming we have some very interesting concepts lined out. Procedural audio, tightly linked ambient music and sound, some actual narrative… We’re looking to give everything a sense of place, something more than just some geometry you can fly close to. I can’t wait until I can focus more on these things.
Community: Blog Comments & Feedback
I have to apologize to all the people who have commented on previous blog posts and have not heard back from me. I thought I was getting email notifications for all new comments, but instead I only get them when someone new posts. I missed a heap of feedback this way, which is a terrible thing. I’ll read through everything today and get back to you! If you left a comment in the earlier posts you might find a reply there now. You can also ask any questions again in the comments below.
This is also a clear indicator that we need better community tools, so I’m looking into forum, issue tracking and feedback solutions.
New Year’s Resolutions
I need to get into the habit of weekly updates. Both in the form of keeping you up to date on what’s happening, and producing actual releases of the game. I have to learn to chunk development up into manageable pieces, otherwise I get bogged down in details. I need to Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Expect frequent updates. Demand frequent updates.
A Note On Crowdfunding
I’ve been asked repeatedly to do a kickstarter for Volo. While I like the idea, there’s several reasons why I feel I can’t.
If I do a kickstarter…
- I have to know exactly what the game will look like when it’s finished, and when that would be. I don’t know either, nor do I want to. I need room to experiment.
- I will suddenly have thousands of customers whom all have their desires and wishes. Having payed me, those customers will have bought considerable influence over the direction the game takes, and the direction of my attention. With the current way of thing I have a small group of enthusiasts providing me with valuable feedback, and that’s enough for the moment.
- Managing a kickstarter campaign would consume a lot of my time. All of my time. That works okay for teams, but not for me.
- Volo will take on the shape of a fixed product, meaning I work on it for a while, and then it’s done. Instead, I favor a fluid approach like Minecraft, where the game is ever changing, adapting. I like the idea of continuous, organic growth.
- It might not meet its target, and that has it’s risks! With the current way of funding I know exactly how much the game is worth to people, and exactly where to put my efforts.
- I would need to be quite proficient at scoping and planning. And as I’ve demonstrated time and again, I’m just far too inexperienced for that.
So maybe later. When the game has crystalized a bit more, and when I can be more confident in my estimations.
Thanks again for everything, you are all wonderful people. Blue skies!