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When I started doing these devlogs I wanted to do at least one a month. I skipped last month’s due to the holidays and some initial lack of progress on my part. After New Year’s weekend I kicked it into gear and started making real progress in order to get a build out for feedback gathering & I did it! You can download a very early pre-alpha build of #UntitledDrivingGame on itch.io now!. This devlog will talk about what went into that, the initial feedback, generally what I’ve been doing since the last update & what’s next for the game.
Watch the video version of this devlog on my YouTube channel!
I stopped doing the daily Twitter threads: it was beginning to get to me. I'm not a huge fan of social media in general and it got to the point where I felt like I was just posting to keep the thread going instead of making progress on the game. It was a fun experiment while it lasted!
That said I still post updates when I make real progress so be sure to follow me on Twitter for updates on #UntitledDrivingGame and other future projects!
The first pre-alpha build of #UntitledDrivingGame (my fast-paced combo based stylized driving game) is available now!— Tristan Cole (@elocnat) January 13, 2021
Download via #itchio: https://t.co/CP0BqzwtNC
Give it a try & please let me know what you think!#indiegame #indiedev #gamedev #IndieGameDev #IndieDevHour #UE4 pic.twitter.com/XDLjJpw0ys
Since the beginning of #UntitledDrivingGame I’ve been struggling to nail down exactly what the goal of the game is going to be. I know I’ve talked about this before but it’s consistently on my mind: a fun pawn to play around with/some fun gameplay mechanics usually can’t stand successfully on their own. I’ve always pointed towards objective based gameplay but I can’t get past needing something wrapped around that; a overarching story or “theme” that gives a reason for the gameplay. THPS makes sense: you’re a skateboarder who does tricks, completes objectives and gets points -- how would it make logical sense for a vehicle to do that? It might be a waste of time & not matter to anybody else but it’s something I can’t get past personally.
The one idea I kept coming back to was working for a street crew of some kind with a boss that makes their crew drive with style. This gives a reason for the player to do tricks and collect points. As for the objectives, the boss (through your handler, more on that later) gives you a list of things to complete ranging from getting enough points to causing destruction or taking down rival crew members in order to move up in the ranks. Additionally this backdrop allows for easily slotting in other mechanics like combat & potential chases from police/other enemy AI who may try to take you down as you complete objectives. I decided to just start working on that direction: worst case scenario the core gameplay advances and I just redo the ‘story’/objectives mode if it doesn’t work out or I come up with something better.
Some of my early unorganized chicken scratch notes
First look at UI overhaul & radio voice popup
One of the earliest driving games I got hooked on was Smuggler’s Run, and one of my favorite parts about it was the radio voice that gave commands & quips. I decided to test that system out see if it fits by generating some voice lines and playing them back with a basic UI representation when triggered. Initially I implemented the trigger only when the player goes out of bounds and respawned, but I liked it and decided that I would use that system for in game dialogues. The usual voice over the radio, “Alexa”, is your “handler” and gives out objectives and directions to you as required (with little quips thrown in now & then). I figured this would be a good way to easily provide information to players and keep them on track while adding a little bit of “flair” to the game.
To be completely honest I am still not sure if #UntitledDrivingGame will really work as a commercial release just because of how niche a game it is. While I think I could make a fairly well polished product given the time & know how, when you’re spending the majority of your time working on something that isn’t generating any money and doesn’t have much hope of doing it in the future, it becomes less and less of a priority. That’s where I feel like was/is heading towards however bad that sounds. I knew some of the risks I faced when I started on the project but have continued down the path because I’ve enjoyed working on the game for the most part. Enjoying your work (more realistically: full time hobby) doesn’t pay the bills though.
I wanted to have a vertical slice demo ready for people to play at this point but with my lack of knowledge and clear direction that was a lofty goal. Even so I decided to hunker down and work on releasing a build to garner some early feedback. I started building a new tutorial level in a city surrounded parking lot to serve as an introduction to the game. The level is very basic, it has a few ramps and two grind splines but otherwise just serves a purpose to try out the game mechanics & vehicle controls. The tutorial mode takes you through all the current tricks & makes you complete objectives to unlock the next control set but there’s also the option to free roam.
I released & announced the build via itch.io/Twitter on Wednesday the 13th by posting a short video and a link to the game. I also posted a Reddit thread in /r/IndieDev later that night with the trailer and a comment linking the game/asking for feedback. As of noon on the 18th, the itch page has had 91 views & 26 downloads in total. I’m not actually sure if I expected more or less than that; to be honest I didn’t have many expectations at all. It’s hard to judge your game when you’ve been playing it for so long because you understand the flaws and tend to gloss past them as they’ve been addressed in your head. I also don’t like self-promotion & I wasn’t sure how many people I wanted to have access to the early build so I didn’t post anywhere else and haven’t yet posted any follow up advertisements.
I got some good feedback from Twitter but the Reddit thread was by far the most helpful post I made. Normally I avoid most subreddits due to things like awful moderation (/r/gamedev for example) but the /r/IndieDev community has been a great place to discover & gather feedback for indie projects. The things I took away from that thread were:
There’s a lot I got done in the week and a half leading up to the alpha build but I did make at least a little bit of progress before that push. One of the most visible things is that started to rework the UI - I updated the font, added a minimap, and rearranged the boost & style points information to the top of the screen. Otherwise before I committed to that branch I:
I decided to create a brand new branch for the pre-alpha build because I knew that I would be going into “get-shit-done” mode and creating a bunch of spaghetti code: and that’s exactly what I did. The thing is I was planning to just work on the tutorial level and throw on some bandaids but I actually got a little bit more involved and made some good progress on the general gameplay. While I’m proud of the work I got done to get the build out, it didn’t do me any favors in the long run. I still don’t have a firm grasp on UE4 Blueprints architecture and it feels really messy to me but I was casting and setting everything anywhere that worked at the moment. For instance the vehicle controller has a bunch of tutorial specific logic in it that I’ll now have to decouple and move into the game mode or level blueprints where it should have been before.
List of commits to the itch_alpha branch
Tutorial gameplay: flips section
The other issue with Blueprints is that I have no idea what changed outside of my commit messages (which I make sure are descriptive enough for myself to remember things) because I can’t see the code diffs. This makes it hard to just cherry-pick good changes I made without checking out every commit I need and combing through it. Like I said, I did get a lot accomplished though and the game feels better because of it. Here’s a list of things I added/changed before releasing the first build:
A lot of those don’t matter to anybody else and especially not to the average player, but they matter to me and I’m happy I got all of that done in the short amount of time I did. Now I’ll just be paying for it in code refactoring before I merge to back to the main branch, no big deal! The one disappointing thing is that nobody has filled out the survey so far: I can’t tell if that’s because nobody played the tutorial/wanted to or because the tutorial isn’t completable by anybody else. The survey also gives you cheat codes at the end so I wonder if anybody has tried those yet?
At the end of every devlog for I write, I always step back and ask myself the same question: should I continue developing #UntitledDrivingGame or pivot and work on another project? The pre-alpha build was my way of getting rid of any sunk cost fallacy thoughts in my head: there’s a rough playable demo that I’m not completely ashamed of. I think that to really have a shot at any kind of commercial success the game would need an artistic overhaul, multiple well designed levels, and online multiplayer from the jump which would take an extreme amount of time & resources as a solo dev. As it stands I don’t see #UntitledDrivingGame making any real money. That wouldn’t be a problem if I was also working a full-time job alongside development but I’m not (I’m currently taking a break from devops). And while I’m confident I’ll never be making enough money doing indiedev to survive without a day job in the future, I still have the urge to work on something more commercially viable in the meantime.
So to answer the question, should I continue developing the game? I don’t know. My gut says probably not but there’s two reasons I do want to continue: I want to really finish a game from front to back + release it & I really do enjoy driving around and doing tricks with the vehicle controller I’ve developed, it’s a fun concept. On the other hand I don't see the game being commercially viable & ultimately I don’t think indie dev as a non-hobby pursuit in general is for me (I’ll elaborate on this another time). Due to my current lack of UE4 experience & art skills I will need a lot of help to get the game to a place I’m comfortable with releasing it commercially anytime soon and to be completely honest I am more comfortable working solo for a broad number of reasons even though it realistically limits me drastically.
At worst I think #UntitledDrivingGame will evolve into a passion project instead of my first ‘real’ release. I’m not planning to drop it entirely but I am going to start exploring some other ideas I have. I’ve been tinkering with some non-gamedev projects beside development & will likely throw the game into that mix as a project I continue to build on & learn from when I have the time. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up getting a second wind when exploring other projects & decide that #UntitledDrivingGame is really the game I want to finish. Regardless of what happens with the game's future, I appreciate you reading this & following the game’s journey thus far!
Make sure to follow me on Twitter to stay up to date with my work & see any future #UntitledDrivingGame updates!