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Bulwark in the City of Flesh

Developer Diary #007

March 8, 2019

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I turned 30 today. Good time for a progress update.

Since January 1st, I’ve had 18 days on which I completed at least one Bulwark task. That may seem grim (~27% of the total days in the year so far), but it’s already better than last semester. Some highlights of what I’ve gotten done:

  1. Verified that all the branching dialogue works correctly and triggers the proper audio clips. I could count how many lines there are, but I’m not sure I want to know.
  2. Produced and animated more than half of the radio-drama scenes, including the most complicated one.
  3. Revised the audio-puzzle control scheme to (hopefully) make those levels more playable, testable, and accessible.

This past week was my spring break, and I basically dropped everything else to make progress on this project. Most of my work was on audio production. I prioritized this because it’s the biggest single task left, and it’s difficult to divide into smaller chunks. Whereas it’s feasible that I’ll look at a script at 9pm after a long day to debug something, it’s less feasible that I'll muster the energy to spool up FMOD, Unity, and my enormous Reaper project, run my mic into the other room, and start fidgeting with audio clips. So, I tried to get the fidgeting out of the way while I had the time.

There was some programming, too. One problem I recently had to solve was that I needed an animation system (a rudimentary one: positions and rotations only) with the following features:

  1. The animations must be synced with the playback of an FMOD audio event.
  2. The camera’s position and rotation are sometimes controlled by the animator and sometimes by the player, with those regions defined by the timeline.
  3. Keyframes are inserted by typing in data (milliseconds), not by dragging points around.
  4. The system can pause, scrub backward, and scrub forward.

I finished making it yesterday. It was a bit of a puzzle, but it works now. Many of Bulwark’s scenes are long, so being able to scrub is essential if I don’t want to lose my mind while testing and polishing. (I played HEARtREAD so many times while debugging that I swear I could eventually play it subconsciously, with one hand on the keyboard and my eyes on a different task.)

On a different note, although I poured almost all my time into Bulwark over the past week, I also tried to recover some mental energy. Running and hitting the gym helped. I also finally finished Hyper Light Drifter, and I started a game I’ve long known would be right in my wheelhouse: Darkest Dungeon.

I was on board with the stress-management mechanic from the get-go, but it hit me hardest the first time this happened:

A hero responding to the onslaught of stress by becoming virtuous (i.e., stronger).

The experience of

  1. Seeing a hero hit their breaking point
  2. Coming to terms with the fact that they were going to crumble
  3. Having them instead rise to the challenge, becoming stronger in the face of overwhelming odds

was pretty powerful.

Hyper Light Drifter gets an A, too. That’s a gorgeous game, and those boss battles don’t mess around.

I was going to spend the rest of this post thinking aloud about what I want to do after Bulwark, but it’s probably better that I don’t start to mentally box myself in before I’m free. I expect that the first item on my agenda will be to chant “why did I do that? why did I do that?” and then collapse in a fit of laughter, but it’s blue sky afterward.