Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ghost of Crapsmas Past and a Little History (Because you care [not really, but there IS a free download at the end!])

     Last quarter I was enrolled in a class in which we were tasked to create a game from start to finish in 10 weeks.  Out of the group (~4 contributors in total) none of which outside of myself had ever touched the Unreal Development Kit, and additionally none of which (including myself) had any experience with Unrealscript.  When our Professor declared we had the quarter to create and finish an entire game, the rest of the students's eyes glazed over with the sparkles of their hopes and dreams.  Unfortunately (being the only one with any experience with the UDK) I started feeling the beginnings of what ended up being a quarter-long panic attack.
     The problem in dealing with a group of people that have never used a game development toolkit is there are certain rules that have to be followed in order to implement the models, textures, events, animations, etc into the game.  I was able to give a bit of a heads up to the group as to how things worked in that respect, which basically left me with the crap-tastic job of learning unrealscript.
     Let me emphasize this: I am in no way a programmer.  I took a basic, basic Java course back in high school, whose largest project was to create a "break the bricks" style game.  In the end, I completed a basic game with a bit of a storyline added (as pictured below):

The opening "Cinematic" of Guardian of Earth
     Fortunately, I remember enough of the concepts from this course that I was able to sort of dig through the code that comes with the UDK to create a working user interface and behind the scenes handling of the character assets and camera settings (a lot of trial and error and a TON of help from the official UDK forums: ).  Overall, just getting the interface to work (report back the player's health, ammo, and jellybean count) took around 7 out of the 10 weeks to implement (with some time devoted to helping the modeling and concepting team hammering out assets and ways to consolidate the storyline to basic platforming elements).  The last 3 weeks of production was basically me twiddling my thumbs praying that the remaining people could get all the assets delivered before the deadline, which they did...the night before the deadline that is.
     Essentially this game took 1 night to put together.  In the end I ended up having to resort to a lot of kismet-fu that probably would make anyone cringe (I know it grosses me out to look at).  However, on the plus side it got done and turned in.  After turning the assignment in that morning, I gave ONE copy to my Professor, and then removed any and all traces to the installer and source files that I could from the school's network and my own home machines.
     As a bit of history - I have been involved with 3 major projects using the UDK:  1 that was contracted through our school by the FBI, 1 that was contracted to me by a Fortune 500 company, and the Stretch project.  The most successful of the three being the commercial Fortune 500 project, while the rest being (in my eyes) big nasty letdowns.  It's because these two ventures didn't live up to my expectations that I decided to work on my current UDK Senior project (updates on that in the near future).
     The main point being that I was very unhappy with how Stretch (and the previous projects) had turned out - despite the very short deadline we all had to finish the game.  I thought I was done with it after that class but in recent weeks the damned thing has returned to haunt me.  As of last week, someone, somewhere, somehow had gotten a hold of the Stretch installer and was showcasing it to a class they were in.  Unfortunately for me, our Department Chair happened to be there, though he (and the rest of the class [oh, and including my original development class]) all gave it pretty high praise.  When a good friend of mine told me about this I was dumbstruck - both because I don't know HOW someone got a copy of the game and also because of the universal acclaim it's been getting around the school.
     In short, despite my better instincts I'm putting the finished game up here on this blog for download.  I'm hoping that if anyone will give it the damaging critique I originally expected it will be the internet hate machine (though that's not to say nice comments aren't welcome either!).  I mostly want to know if my standards are too high or if Stretch is as cool (for an all-nighter-production) as everyone seems to think it is.

Stretch the Game (UDK Install - 174 MB)

Stretch battles 3 Rabbit cutouts
The notorious (and obligatory) platforming section

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