So last night was the latest Utah Indie Gamer night, and I couldn’t make it. Bums me out a bit, because I enjoy connecting with those folks and following along with some of their projects, especially Jay Barnson’s Frayed Knights. At the same time, though, each successive gathering just seems to highlight the fact that I still haven’t reached any major milestones on this project.
It’s now the end of October, and still no Vespers. Still no demo. Seriously, what gives?
Fine, so four and a half years into the project, I’m willing to admit it’s taking slightly longer than anticipated. It was a struggle to finally reach that conclusion, but there you have it. I thought I was choosing a relatively small, concise project for my first go at 3D/IF, but I suppose choosing a project should probably be kind of like packing for a long trip – set out what you think you’ll need, and then eliminate half of it. “What you want it to be” is probably a lot more than “what it really should be,” no matter what your starting point is.
This is my hobby, so while it tends to consume me at times, it still falls relatively low on the Life Priority scale, even when there are deadlines approaching. And I’m still highly dependent on others for needed content, and those deadlines don’t necessarily apply to them. Nevertheless, we continue the slow, plodding, inevitable march forward. Oh yes, it is inevitable. Like erectile dysfunction or a colonoscopy, it’s coming whether you like it or not.
I’ve made no attempt to hide the fact that animation has been the greatest challenge of this project. Hard to imagine how many different animators have come and gone on this project, but let’s face it: this is not your typical 3D first-person animation job.
That said, I did find a wee bit of stability with one animator, Kevin Grove. New to the project, Kevin took on the unenviable job of animating Cecilia during the first Act, which is anything but a simple task. Unlike the other characters, Cecilia exists in multiple stages throughout Act I, so there are different root poses, different meshes, and a number of sequences that have to be timed and positioned just right. Very different from the other characters to this point. I’ll go into that more in a later post.
Kevin was just what I needed, and he slowly worked his way through all of Cecilia’s animations for Act I. This was incredibly tedious work, with a lot of back-and-forth between us so we could get things just right. I still have a number of animations to implement in the game, but it’s a relief to know all of the content is there for Act I now. It’s all just a matter of putting it together within the game.
Same goes for the first cutscene, which is the longest and most involved of the cutscenes. Fortunately, my other animator, Lem, came back into the fold long enough to knock out all of those animations. This was a seriously complex task, requiring him to animate four characters in the same scene, all interacting with each other, while following a storyboard. The results look fantastic so far.
But it’s not just the animators holding things up, really; it’s the whole Torque animation system, starting with the exporting of animations as separate files (.DSQ files) from the modeling and animation software, and ending with the proper loading and execution of those animations in the game. It should be the easiest part of the process (compared with animation development itself), but the reality is that Torque’s animation system is old, cryptic, and unpredictable. Animations may or may not work when exported, body parts may fly in unexpected directions (if they appear at all), and results may look different even just on successive playthroughs. Documentation on the process is nearly nonexistent. It’s maddening at times; in fact, seeing animations work they way they’re supposed to is uncommon enough to be surprising. The instant you think you’re getting the hang of it is the moment Torque throws something completely new and baffling at you, knocking you back down to earth.
The good news is that content is slowly but surely getting done, and I have enough content at this point to essentially finish the demo, which will consist of Act I and the first cutscene. I’ve been working with N.R. to finish the remainder of the modeling content for the rest of the game, and although we’re close, things may slow down as he concentrates on other work. The problem, as always, will be the animation. But I have an idea about that, and I’ll talk about it more on a later post.
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