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The One Man MMO Project
The story of a lone developer's quest to build an online world :: MMO programming, design, and industry commentary
Pretty is Not Optional
By Robert Basler on 2012-07-05 11:35:39
Homepage: www.onemanmmo.com email:one at onemanmmo dot com

I struggle a lot with wanting to share my excitement over how things are going with all the cool things I'm building, and with my internal quality bar which says which parts of the game aren't ready to have people judge them.

Indie games don't get any sort of pass on presentation just because they're put together by small teams. Like it or not, you're competing with AAA. If your product isn't immediately visually appealing you are putting yourself at a huge disadvantage. People won't even give it a chance. Sure you can put out an ugly game and slowly build a following with amazing gameplay, but you're putting up a significant barrier to casual interest. Look at all the big indie game successes of the last few years - can you think of any that weren't pretty in their own way?

I struggled a lot with putting up a screenshot on screenshotsaturday.com back in May because it was the first screenshot which wasn't simply to illustrate a programming point. It was an actual in-game screen which people might use to judge the game. In the end, I took the risk because I wanted to be able to judge the effectiveness of Screenshot Saturday to draw attention to my game (I got 6 hits from Screenshot Saturday.)

The Gallery also makes me uneasy. The pictures are there so people can see there is some real technology being developed for the game. My optimistic hope is that by putting dates and Work in Progress on the images people will cut me a break - a lot of the shots are old and things have come a long way since some of those screenshots were taken. The other part of me really wants to take it all down.

I'm not saying there's nothing there yet visually with my game. There are a couple things that I look at and am amazed by how much they exceed the hopes I had for the art in the game. At the same time, there are a whole bunch more things which are working technology, and look alright, but aren't going to wow anyone with their looks because the art effort hasn't been put into them yet. This puts me in a position where I have lots of cool looking things, but not enough finished cool looking things to build a complete in-game screenshot.

Something non-developers often don't appreciate is that in game development, there is a horrendous amount of work required to put together a pretty in-game screenshot. And this is in addition to building things like gameplay, ai, patchers, servers, UI, asset systems, audio, networking, websites, and on and on. If you're not careful, games can really come together with the last 10% of the effort.

I did another post about this back in November, promising to put together a gameplay video and get some decent screenshots. I'm still working on that promise and I have finished a whole bunch of appearance stuff in the last 7 months. I've added new models as well as a system to customize their appearance, spiffy maps, shield and beam weapon effects, some rudimentary animations and improved the lighting. The big things I'm still missing are a particle system (for smoke, fire and weapon effects), shadows, additonal models, SSAO and some things to make the terrain look prettier.

This week I'm revamping the HUD to address an appearance issue I was never going to be able to fix with the original HUD implementation. The original HUD was built in Corel Draw, and then I exported differently scaled versions of one giant bitmap with all the HUD elements on it to use at runtime. The problem it had was that the scaling resulted in different versions of the same button having single pixel variations in size. Which is ugly. It was also super-painful to alter due to all the giant tables of hard-coded coordinates in the Javascript. The new hud uses HTML layout and CSS for styling, the challenge will be to make it pretty enough.

Screenshots are coming. And they will be pretty. Please stay tuned.

By omeg on 2012-07-09 03:06:25
Homepage: omeg.pl/blog email:omeg at omeg dot pl
I feel your pain. Although my game is mostly an exercise in design and "for educational purposes", I hope to finish it some day. All the work required just for the engine to work is very hard for people to understand without some pretty pictures.

Also your game concept seems quite intriguing from the few bits of information available. Can't wait to see it in action! :)

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