Saturday, September 4, 2010

Progress? Yes, that would be lovely. Thanks.

I think Praetor has finally gotten past the Hard Part.

Every project reaches a point where multiple subcomponents have become functional--maybe not finished, but at least functional--and it's time to integrate them. That's when the real hairball begins. Integrating the audio, the rendering engine, animation sequencing, the storage subsystem and so on turns the complexity knob up to eleven. If the subsystems aren't individually stable or if their interfaces were designed poorly then the whole thing usually cracks and the project ends. On the other hand, if it hangs together, the the rest of the project gets easier and easier.

Being such a large project (okay, large for a one-man outfit anyway), Praetor has had an unusually long period of integration. Fortunately, though a number of minor problems have turned up from time to time, its separate subsystems have held up very well indeed and I believe the worst of the work is over.

At this point one can start a new Campaign, read through some filler RPG elements, mess with the world map, challenge enemies and actually play a full battle against the enemy. If the player loses there's more RPG elements and the player gets to retry; after a victory the world map expands and new options appear. The computer AI--rewritten three times--plays a tough game and moves quickly. Changes in the game are saved persistently, and one can pop in and out of the game without any ill effects--perfect for handling inbound phone calls for example. In other words, it's acting like the real, final game should.

But having passed the tough part doesn't mean it's anywhere near halfway done.

This project is unusal for me in many ways, not the least of which is that it involves a lot of content. Most games I produce rely on either fixed or random initial conditions; they don't have narrative, they don't require a series of fifty different playing boards or anything. I pick projects that are simple like that because I don't have time (or adequate creativity) to fill in all those details.

Praetor, though, needs a lot of content. The campaign alone involves a hundred different battles, each with its own playing field and custom opponent, and most of them use new types of cards. There are narrative elements throughout the campaign, and unique graphics and sounds for all this stuff. And I only have a small fraction of that finished: one territory's battlefield, seven or eight different cards and "TODO: show something meaningful now" text appearing for the campaign RPG elements.

All that stuff is bulky, but none of it is particularly risky. So at the point the game looks like it will make it--it's just a matter of time.

Hey, look, new screenshots!