So in today’s diary; The first diary actually, this is about the research you need to do when you are trying to take your game design somewhere good – there are a lot of examples out there of games that frankly look terrible, and a lot of the time its to do with a few factors, one of which is that you are wanting to rush things a little too much really, the other being that getting all the assets you need is somewhat of a nightmare.
So, here is the quay for the island, Pandora’s Rock. It has another name but I can never remember the pronounciation so its Pandora’s Rock still for the moment. I wanted the quay to have a look of a place that was fairly well used. If I was lazy I would just throw crates everywhere or just leave it empty however I have always been into the idea of built for purpose.
So when I planned out the area I considered the scale. At first with the area I considered just having a boat ramp for a rowboat, but the lighthouse is actually a large and pretty modern design and because I wanted it set in 1930 with electricity powered lamps and so forth, the idea that it was a larger area that was organised took hold. After all the builders would have needed to bring in supplies, people and so forth and of course supplies needed to be dropped off to the lighthouse keepers themselves once it was running.
Initially the idea was that the keepers would carry tanks of fuel, like large military style ones, up to the first landing where the generator (Jenny) is, however this proved to be unreasonable for many reasons. The player would not want to make lots of repeat trips to a landing seeing the same scenery over and over again, it would add nothing to the game and in addition would be wildly impractical. I did consider putting the generator on the Jetty level however I wanted the starting of the generator to be an introduction to a couple of areas and also break up the huge climb that takes the player to the actual lighthouse itself.
So from this the idea that the player takes a single tank of fuel up to the main engine to prime the pump, like you would with a lawnmower, which would then start bringing the fuel up to the reserve which in turn would allow you to start the generator was born. Fuel tanks were designed and built for this and also thanks to Quixel Megascans I was able to get a suitable american style fuel tank for carrying which I was able to make into a useable asset.
With everything that was needed charted out, I made hoppers to store supplies so that things could be bought in from the boats and decided on a split quay so that the player has to search a little for the fuel tank. Initially lights are out, so the player has to find a torch, which in turn led me to deciding that ONE BATTERY WILL DO. The torch has power, and Captain Malin will even tell you that theres enough batteries to last in it. I hate games that make you hunt batteries, which in turn last about 45 seconds each. A good proper old torch (flashlight) will last you as long as you need!
Im not going to go into the grasses and foliage, that took a while to set up and needs more tweaking however a big issue for me was the lighting and atmosphere. At first I was all for fog being everywhere and everything spooky however the island that I based Pandora’s Rock on is beautiful and I wanted the player to enjoy the last moments of lovely sunset on the Island as they arrive. I spent about 3 weeks tweaking the sky and in the end purchased some much better looking assets for clouds and so forth. My view is that if someone can do it better then I will pay for it.
On a side note that does not mean I want to fill a game with cookie-cutter assets. There is some merit though to using good, paid for assets, especially if you are a small or solo team. Some paid for assets were only there as placeholders and stayed as they were perfect. Others were heavily modified – for example the gannets!
So seabirds and fauna. The island has puffins and gannets. Gannets are slightly similar to seagulls and fly around in flocks and add a lot of ambience to a level. I was fortunate enough to get a free animals pack via Unreal Marketplace which had a black crow in it, so I rescaled it and changed the textures and did some tweaks to make a passable gannet instead. Using flocking systems I was then able to have clouds of gannets floating over the harbour which looks great! The puffins are still in the cooker (NOT LITERALLY) as I need to make them from scratch, rig them and make some flight, landing and nesting animations. The gannets live in the cliffs so I dont really need to worry about a player getting close however puffins nest and look cute AF at the tops of the cliffs in the grass, so I want the player to be able to get a bit closer, perhaps be able to observe a nest from a distance. Some puffins will be out at sea just floating as they like to do that around March as well, which will be considerably easier to manage as I have boyancy working (check out the boat leaving the harbour).
Anyway, for solo developers out there I say just three things. One. You can do this. Two. Research everything. Three. It’s going to take time. I see developers posting up that they made something in 4 hours and trust me, it shows. You are making a level that is to be viewed from ways you cant even imagine yet. players LOVE to go places they are not supposed to, so TEST, TEST and TEST again. If you are unhappy, tweak, tweak and tweak again.
Anyway, much love to all. And a yarr. This is Cris signing off!