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The continuing adventures of Charlie Dog and his blog...



Charlied Dog Games Title

Unreal Engine 4 – fail

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I recently decided to give Unreal Engine 4 a go. I was interested to see if I could make a game using it. I was attracted by the very reasonable price, quality of games I’ve seen made with it and the claims that Epic make. I rapidly discovered that it’s not quite as good as I had been led to believe. There shouldn’t really be a surprise there. People rarely describe their products accurately these days in my experience.

There are some good things about this engine. If you are an artist or a designer who wants to make something playable without having to write any code then blueprint makes this possible. There material editor is excellent also.

Unfortunately if you are a proficient coder then blueprint is an ugly and clumsy interface to use. Worse is the fact that Epic have made blueprint all but impossible to avoid. So the programmer is faced with having to use ugly work arounds to avoid blueprint or having to try and use it. It’s not all bad but it’s not great either. Probably the deal breaker for me though is that when developing new bits of code the workflow is hideously broken. The editor needs to be stopped and restarted every time a class is changed. That’s incredibly poor compared to Unity. I can’t believe they still expect people to work this way, but that’s Epic for you.

It’s funny because it’s true

I read Penny Arcade fairly religiously and although they sometimes miss the mark there is usually more than enough gamey related goodness to keep me coming back.

Mondays comic was particularly good and I enclose a copy of it here to save you having to follow the link…

PACOmmic

I have mixed feelings about my kids playing a lot of games. Part of me worries that it is so all consuming for them but I don’t see any evidence that they are suffering either mentally or physically. They are both getting really good grades at school (as in top of their class) they are reading books well above the level I was reading when I was their age, their maths skills are at least as good as mine were at the same age and they don’t have weight or health problems. In fact they have both decided they want swimming lessons again and are starting to get pretty serious about tennis. I think kids just need a bit of careful wrangling to get them into the right places, then they do the rest.

My son Joseph, who is nine, recently relayed this little gem to his mum. “Mum, at the sleep over Sam (name changed to protect his identity) said that he is really looking forward to his first wet dream, and I said I was really looking forward to getting nine million dollars from making my first computer game.” I couldn’t be more proud! :)

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2014/06/30/quantification

Barking

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I used to listen to a lot of music by the UK band underworld. But recently I haven’t listened to them as often. I still like Cowgirls, Perl girls, and the other great tracks they have done but for some reason their music doesn’t resonate with me as much. Maybe it’s because when I was really into them I was having a bit of a tough time in fact I ended up on anti-depressants for a few years. Now I’m off the medication and coincidentally I’m listening to underworld again :) I’m not sure if that says anything about them or me.

Anyway I’ve got their new albmum and I think it’s a bit of a corker (that’s a good thing for you none English speakers) The album is called Barking. My favorite tracks at the moment are the last four but they are all good. It’s not as experimental as their earlier work, almost more like their very early stuff like under the radar. But I like it a great deal. It’s a surprisingly uplifting and jolly album and reflects my mood at the moment. Recommended.

Tilt and Swipe available for windows phones

Tilt and Swipe Icon

Tilt and Swipe is now available for Windows Phone 8 through the windows app store

It’s free to play for the first 20 minutes then you have to buy it to continue. I think it’s a really good game, although obviously I would say that:) Anyway there aren’t many games which fully exploit the accelerometer but this one does. I enjoy playing it.

Next I’m going to do a release for the Amazon store.

Tilt and Swipe – Windows phone development

A while ago I blogged that I had been accepted on the Unity Windows Phone developer program. Since then I have received my free copy of Windows 8, my free membership of the developers program and my free windows phone. The latter is probably the best thing which has happened to me games related for a long time and my biggest and most earnest thanks to Microsoft for doing this. They sent me a Nokia Lumia 925. I really like it, it’s easy to use, fast and very pretty. Call quality is great, music playback is great, its got lots of features and battery life seems very reasonable.

But what about game development I hear you ask? Well, turns out getting Unity projects to run is very easy, much easier than IOS or Android in my opinion. You need Windows 8 and a recent version of Visual Studio, and you need the phone SDK. But none of that is particularly difficult for a developer to set up. Unlocking the phone for development involves running an app which comes with the SDK. Then you just load up Unity, select the windows phone as the build target, build the project, fix any bugs and deploy it. Bugs for me simply involved removing some Android specific functionality.

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The game worked pretty much first time. There are a few things which need fixing though. Vibration didn’t work but I wrote my own plugin for that and it works great. Saving and loading of progress doesn’t currently work so I need to look into that but I suspect it’s just a matter of using the official calls. Then of course I’m going to have to add some mechanism for making money which will be specific to the Microsoft store. It looks like the latter is fairly easy to do using the standard, trial mode, system which the store supports. I’m going to try and implement that first anyway.

All in all it’s a nice device and a really good experience from a developer point of view. I’ll blog about it again when the app goes live.

A book review

I have almost finished reading Stephen Kings new book Doctor Sleep.

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It’s the follow up to his seminal horror work The Shining, which I talked about in an earlier post. Doctor Sleep is a good book in my opinion, but at the same time it is a very different book to the Shining. It has it’s horror moments for sure, but at it’s heart it’s more of an action romp than a horror story and readers should be prepared for that when they read it to avoid disappointment. But it’s still a very good read and at the end of the day an average King book is still better than a good Koontz. It’s nice to know what happened to Danny and that things work out for him in the end :)

Life is like that…

I have to make a video tutorial explaining how to set up GPGPU acceleration on a physics simulation tomorrow for a lecture course I am preparing on game physics. GPGPU is the next big thing in computing and is supposed to offer amazing performance improvements. Setting it up with PhysX is a complicated process and took a long time for me to get working. The end result is anything but impressive providing an astounding 1% reduction in performance on my GeForce GTX860M (I have a rather nice MSi gaming laptop for use at work). I have no idea why performance is so bad but I have decided to come clean with the student and simply tell them that life is sometimes like that: you work hard, do all the right things, and still it just fucks you over. This is an important lesson I think.

And finally, for no other reason than because we must have pictures when we blog otherwise people don’t read the blogs, here is a picture of a Vulcan playing a harp and a women playing a bicycle wheel.

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Windows Opens Doors

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People often say that it’s not the size that matters but what one does with it… I’d also say that it’s not the size of the market which matters but the impact that one can make in it. I’ve released two, what I consider to be great, games on Android and IOS, both received really good player feedback and reviews but neither have had much of an impact in terms of downloads or sales. I think it’s probably because the market, whilst undeniably huge, is very crowded.

But I now have a third chance to make an impact, on Windows mobile devices courtesy of an amazing offer from Unity and Microsoft. They are picking a few developers to give free SDK and development devices to and they’ve picked Charlie Dog Games as one of them! This is great news for me and I am looking forward to porting Burble and Tilt And Swipe to Windows devices like the Surface and the Windows Phone. Sure, theses devices have less market share than their two cousins but I think the games will work very well on the hardware and with a bit less competition it’s very possible the games will make an impact. Also this might be the push I need to get started on another project. I have a couple of ideas I’d really like to prototype.

I should get the SDK soon and then I need a Windows 8 machine to do the builds on. Once I get that I will set the SDK up and hopefully have a build running fairly quickly. I intend to have a version of the games up for sale before July. I’ll post again when I have more news! In the meantime I need to buy a new machine.

Pokemon Online Card Trading Games

Pokemon

I know I am a little late getting to the party, as they say, but I recently discovered the online version for Nintendo’s Pokemon card game. The reason I looked it up is that my son has got into collecting the cards but he doesn’t understand the rules for playing the game with them, which is understandable because they are very complicated and incredibly badly explained in the instructions :) .

The online game handles all the rules for you so if you play against a trainer in single player mode you get a great opportunity to learn how to play. So I got him started playing it. Then I started playing it so I could battle with him and now I am enjoying playing it for the sake of it. I think it’s a pretty good game system. I like the use of energy, hit point counters, weaknesses, I like the way they’ve worked evolving into the game and use trainers and stadium cards kind of like wild cards. There is still quite a bit of luck in it, but the luck works well too because it keeps you playing. There is a lot of strategy too though and once you get used to playing you can spend hours putting your own custom decks together. The art is great as you would expect.

It doesn’t play much like the arcade version of the game it’s much more strategic with a lot more depth to it. So if you like card trading games and haven’t played this I recommend you have a go. it’s free to play and if you have bought a real Pokemon deck then you can import it into your game using the code which comes with the deck. Games take quite a while to play though so be prepared to give up most of your spare time once you get started…

WLToys WL922 Collective Pitch Flybarless Helicopter review

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I recently bought a new helicopter, a WLToys WL922. Regular readers will remember that I bought a Skyartec WASP V3 about a year ago. Unfortunately it was a bit of disaster and I don’t think I ever had two successful flight in succession. It was also very expensive for spares. It was a flybarless collective pitch helicopter and I eventually concluded that the flight systems where defective and I chucked it away in disgust. It put me off flybarless helicopters for quite a while.

Eventually I bought another fixed pitch flybar helicopter a Twister 400. I had a lot of hours of flying with that helicopter but I found I was beginning to reach the limits of what it could do so I wanted something which would stretch my skills a bit. Eventually the receiver stopped binding with the transmitter and I would have had to spend $40.00 to fix it. So I decided to get a new helicopter instead and one which I hoped would help me develop some skills, the WLToys 9WL22

The first couple of flights, we’ll call them flights because the helicopter did leave the ground for a few fractions of a second, where dreadful and resulted in serious damage to both the helicopter and my self confidence. Fortunately I have been able to repair both. By about ten attempts in I’d probably managed to get maybe a minute, total, of flight. I was still unhappy but making some progress. Then I did a bit of investigation and discovered that the pitch of the blades was very negative when the motor started and this was pushing the chopper down so hard on the skids it was bending them and that caused it to go out of control. I found that the blade axle was a bit loose and so could move the head up and down and that allowed the pitch to go very negative. After fixing that the next two flights were really good, about five minutes of hovering, mostly in control. Then the tail boom came off in flight… That’s not a good thing to happen to a helicopter and the result was fairly spectacular. But I think other than having to solder the tail motor wires back together and a bit of glue to stop it happening again it should be OK.

All in all though it’s a really difficult helicopter to fly, very sensitive and requiring constant control input to keep it hovering in one spot. Its much harder to fly than the WLToys 911 I have or the Twister 400. But it definitely has a lot more potential than either of those FP. I hope to get it repaired later today and try some more flights. Collective pitch is much nicer to fly when it’s working and the flybarless system looks a lot neater and sounds much cooler than a flybar head:)

Build quality is good but I think the boom needs attaching better and the skids are very lightweight. I’ve broken both of the spare blades which came in the kit so I need to order more. The transmitter is really nice to use and I like the look of the bird. All in all I’m a lot happier now that I’ve had a few decent flights and have had chance to get used to the controls a bit.

In conclusion I think I may have been a bit harsh on the old Wasp. Flybarless CP just seem to be really hard to fly. considering how more experience I had with my fix pitch I’m still struggling to control the 922, so maybe the Wasp was just too hard for me at the time. I’m still enjoying learning to fly model helicopters two years after I started and I’ve a long way to go yet.

Addendum…

Since I wrote the above I’ve flown the WL922 quite a bit. In fact I’ve had 8 consecutive flights with no incident. Once it’s in the air it’s great, the controls are really sensitive and it can cover a lot of ground really quickly, but if I concentrate it’s relatively straightforward. I’ve had to order another set of blades because I’m already using the spare pair and they are pretty badly chipped now because of bumping it on the ground and other obstacles. Occasionally I still have problems taking off and I find that sometimes I need to hold the helicopter in my hand, run the motor at full throttle for a few seconds, unplug, restart it and that seems to cure the problem. I suspect that maybe when the one of the batteries is fully charged the motor is too powerful for the flybarless system, I could be wrong though but that process seems to work for me. I’m starting enjoying myself with it. Collective is really much nicer than fixed pitch :)

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