Some quick thoughts..

04 Mar / by: M&R / 17 comments / tags :

We’re getting ready to leave for Game Developers Conference 2010, but we wanted to do a quick update before leaving, since it’s been so long since our last post.. as usual.


Concerning Office Yeti:

Prototyping went well, and we now have a 3D simulation/graphics system working and most of the graphics and gameplay mocked up. There are a few remaining technical tasks, such as adding a proper pathfinding system, but we’re more or less ready to begin making the “game proper”.

There were some interesting challenges that we came across during prototyping; depth-sorting ended up being much more involved than we anticipated, and we implemented a cell-and-portal system for the first time — typically we just throw everything into a simple grid, but that wasn’t the best fit for this game’s world. So we learned a lot, even if it took a few more weeks that planned. Very exciting.

We don’t know how much we’re going to be showing until it’s in a more advanced state. Definitely we’ll be writing something about our depth-sorting method, since we had a hard time finding any recent, useful information on this subject — these days everyone’s using graphics cards where z-buffers handle hidden-surface-removal for free. In Flash it’s not so easy! 🙂


Concerning Robotology:

In hindsight, a large part of the stress we felt was due to unrealistic expectations. We had assumed that two years (come on!!) worth of prototyping/R&D should be more than enough on that front, and proceeded to schedule production based on that.

What we should have realized, which is very obvious now, is that what matters isn’t how much time has been spent on prototyping, but what is actually working as a result of this work. Whether it’s because it takes a long time for us to figure things out, or because we were trying to figure out a lot of stuff, 2 years was apparently not enough time to get it all sorted and production-ready. Oh, it’s so obvious now.

There seems to be a disconnect between the best practices we’d like to follow — namely, as everyone suggests, “get a quick&dirty prototype knocked up to test your concept, then iterate” — and what we’re actually able to do.

This is something we want to figure out, because we can definitely conceive of how to prototype a game design which uses only existing solutions/technologies, but we’re unclear how we’re supposed to go about prototyping a game that requires e.g balancing self-locomoting bipeds if the technology for solving that problem doesn’t yet exist. Prototyping in general seems to imply that you start with a set of known solutions and proceed from there, but if there are unsolved technical problems then it’s not clear exactly how you can prototype anything without first solving the hard problems, which of course isn’t an easy “quick&dirty” process.

Philosophical musings aside, the bad news (or at least, the disappointing news) is that we’ve probably got at least another year of work to do before everything is fully figured out:

  • We have robots blindly following animations…but we have no control system to select the animations or procedurally modify them in order to achieve goals (such as remaining upright, walking to the left, reaching for an object, etc.)
  • We have a smooth vector-graphics system…but no animation system to drive it, and no editor to define shapes or movements.
  • We have runtime simulation of articulated characters…but no toolchain to generate the data which describes those characters.

Player movement is still a work-in-progress; there are many promising leads but each of the various prototypes still exhibits some unwanted glitches or other problems.

There are a lot of self-contained problems here, which we plan on approaching as small stand-alone projects. We’re very much looking forward to that.


Something we just finished doing was going through our collection of “ideas” files and combining them into a more organized single list. This was a really fun process since we had forgotten about a lot of the older game ideas, and it allowed us to see that many of the game ideas we’re interested in tend to cluster in groups of related concepts.

We don’t know what we’re going to do with these ideas; we hope to start banging out 2-3 week projects which explore the basics of some of them, such as “lighting/visibility in a 2D environment”.

Many of these little gems seemed amenable for use as smaller proof-of-concept projects en route to Robotology. For example, the player movement/control code could be the basis for a game where players explore a simple tile-based environment. The rest of the game would be simple (i.e no need to worry about animation, AI, etc) but the player movement would be a working model of what we want for Robotology. We test our player control theories, and create an interesting offshoot as well. Everybody wins!

And finally, don’t worry, a new version of N is definitely on the to do list as well.

We don’t know yet how exactly we want to approach things; GDC is always very inspiring and motivating, so we’re hoping that the next week or so of chatting with other game developers will get the creative juices flowing and lead to us deciding upon a plan of action for the immediate future.

comments ( 17 )

  • Well, I’m glad to hear things are happening! Keep at it, okay? 🙂

  • Thanks for the update guys. It’s interesting hearing the run-down on Robotology, sounds like you’ve put a lot of hard graft into it – with more still to do.

    I’m glad Office Yeti is coming alone nicely, but I was interested in what you said about “Many of these little gems seemed amenable for use as smaller proof-of-concept projects en route to Robotology.” Were you talking about releasing mini games whose production would lead up the slope toward Robotology being finished? Or are these just interactive demos which people can poke around in?

    Hope you have a great time at GDC10!

  • It’s nice to hear that N has not yet been forgotten 🙂

  • I really hope that the second paragraph of the Robotology section of this blog entry is tounge-in-cheek or something. “We should have realized, maaaaaang, that it’s not the destination that matters. It’s the journey! It’s always been the journey! It’s so obvious now! I… am… awake!”

    I dunno. Things just keep getting weirder over at the Metanet office.

  • Yesssss. 😀 <3

  • Have a good time at GDC!
    I wanted to go this year and see if I could meet you guys; I even got accepted into the Conference Associate program so I wouldn’t have had to pay to attend the actual event… But I didn’t end up being able to afford travel or food expenses.
    Oh, well. Maybe some other year.

    Thanks for keeping us up to date on what’s going on.

  • @Tanner — What we meant was more that there was a disconnect between theory and reality, where something really obvious is overlooked because we weren’t really thinking about it the right way, it was just some abstract item on paper.

    For instance: when planning N+ XBLA, we had a really hard time trying to get the budget to balance — we had a fixed amount of funding and we had to make sure that our costs weren’t more than this. Eventually while juggling the numbers around, we saw that if we just set two of the entries to “0”, we could get things to work out. However, this solved one problem (the budget was balanced) but introduced a hidden problem that wasn’t obvious just from looking at the spreadsheet — we had no income for a year, because the “0” amounts were how much we would pay ourselves! This was super-obvious to us when suddenly we had no money and we realized that it was, of course, because we weren’t being paid, but at the time we were making the budget, we didn’t consider the practical ramifications of making some of the numbers “0”.. we were just focused on getting the math to add up and figured “well, we can work for free”. We were thinking “work for free”, which was an acceptable sacrifice, but we _should_ have been thinking “have no income”, which makes the resultant problem immediately obvious.

    Anyway, analogously, what we were trying to say about Robotology was that we were not understanding why we ran into problems, but then realized that it was because our R&D progress was being measured in terms of “amount of time spent working on the problem”, which in hindsight is obviously not useful since that’s a measurement of *work*, not of progress. Measuring the R&D progress based instead on “how much is working/solved” lets us see clearly what the problem is — we still don’t know how to do some things, regardless of how much time has been spent.

    As with the budget thing above, this seems super-obvious in hindsight but was completely overlooked at the time.

    @PurpleSquerkle: yeah, it’s crazy that the GDC passes end up being a smaller price than travel and hotel! Maybe next year 🙂

  • I love you all, have fun at GDC! Hope to see some new games in the future!!!

  • Are you guys a part of Slick Entertainment or did they just port your game over to XBLA?

    From the looks of this quick look on giant bomb, people seem to think that slick created N+.

  • I love to hear that N isn’t being forgotten, but I would like to ask for one thing. Please spend a couple minutes (hours?) cleaning the highscore boards. With so many hacks, its become impossible to even see the 0th scores because there are so many hackers on the boards. It’s really gotten out of control!


  • It’d be great to hear just a little bit more about N v1.5, but the rest sounds awesome. Grats on progress!

  • hey are gonna make more games or does it take
    to long? and when are you gonna update more stuff on the n game?
    last… how do i get n game on my psp?
    thanks plz reply… :}

  • It’s awfully quiet ’round here.

  • 🙁 come back!

  • We will! It’s just that we want something worthwhile to post about.. right now we just have a bunch of half-finished stuff 🙁

  • Is there any use in pleading with you to bring N (or N+) to the Wiiware service??? I have the original on my computer, and it is honestly one of my top 10 favorite games ever. However, I really prefer playing games on a TV screen, and it would be a dream come true if I could download the game to my Wii.

    Considering N and N+ are already finished products, it seems like there would be minimal costs in bringing either of them to Wiiware, so it would be a sheer profit strategy for you guys. I’m sure I can’t be the only one who would buy the game in a heartbeat.

  • Thanks 🙂

    You’re right, it would definitely be possible to bring N to Wiiware, however we really don’t want to just hand it off to someone else because that hasn’t turned out well in the past, and we don’t want to just port an existing version of N, we’d want to make all new levels and other stuff tailored to the specific platform.

    Right now we really want to focus our efforts on a new game. Frankly, doing the XBLA and DS/PSP versions of N+ at the same time was pretty hectic and burnt us out a bit. However, we’re interested in both PSN and Wiiware and we do have some N-related ideas we’ve been tossing around. One of these days..

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