Where I Went

Occasionally I may disappear from time to time. I should hope that anyone who knows me at all would realize that my disappearing does not mean that I have ceased to be actively engaged in something. In fact, when I neglect something like my “thing” here it’s usually because I have something more exciting going on.

In fact, over the last week I have had several more exciting things happening than this.

In small news, we rented a fun game over the weekend. I loved the movie “Wall-e” so much that I just had to try the Wii game. Overall, my impression of the game was a good one. I think the developers rushed through parts of the game, but the majority was well thought out and fun.

The real time sucker for me the last week or so has been related to my last post about the game project. Shortly after writing that post, I came up with the bright idea to set the actual game portion aside and continue with an aspect of my original idea – the part where simple games could be made even by a novice or child.

I remembered the days when I had a TI-eighty-something graphing calculator that allowed for some simple code writing (scripting) in its native language. I was able to program it to play a number guessing game. It would print out on the screen “guess a number between 0 and 100” or whatever two numbers I chose, then I could guess. It would tell me “too high” or “too low” until I got the answer and it reset to “guess a number…” The experience with programming that simple application was enough to spark my interest in computer and web programming and has led me to better learn linear/sequential-thinking skills (I guess I’m a visual/spatial person, and linear or sequential thinking is difficult for me).

What I’m getting at is this: I thought, “wouldn’t it be great if I could write a program that would ease my son into the world of programming!?!” My son is definitely sequentially challenged and could certainly benefit from a bit of computer interaction at the programming level. How do you teach a five-year-old to write code though? So, I devised a plan (like I always do).

The plan was only complicated because of how elegantly simplistic and straightforward it was. It would be able to teach anyone the basics of a simple web programming language known as JavaScript. I developed an outline for a set of lessons that would walk the user through various levels of difficulty in programming functions. The program itself would adapt its interface to grow with the user as he progressed through the lessons and became more proficient.

I may or may not create the JavaScript teaching program, but I am already nearly done with one of the projects the program would walk the user through creating.

In fact, the project has grown into something far more complicated than anything I would ever ask a new programmer to attempt. It has even stumped me a couple of times in big ways.

When I finish it, I’ll try to upload it to my Google page so you can try it out. Quickly, before I go off to bed, I’m going to explain what it is and ask for your input and suggestions.

I’m making a simple game that will be played in the web browser. It is programmed entirely in JavaScript and is (as of right now) designed to be played in one sitting, though each time you play it your choices will create a different experience. If I go back and review techniques for writing and reading cookies to your local machine, I may be able to allow you to save your progress, but for now the entire game resets when you close the browser, refresh the page or load the page.

Right now, the entire look of the game is achieved with text. Here are a couple of screen-shots to illustrate:

Eventually I may take screen-shots like these into Photoshop and modify each individual character to better represent its item (saving the modifications as small images and having the program assemble the images in the same manner as it assembles the text).

For now, I would simply have to explain what each character represents for a person to be able to play the game. The @ symbol represents the main character. The & represents other people, the s and S are snakes, the $ is money, * is health and the C is a lucky horseshoe. Of course, the e is an enemy, as are the Q’s and the snakes. The H’s at the tops and bottoms of the screens are doors, and the I’s are also doors on the sides. The ^ represents a hill that can be walked on, but an A is a mountain and cannot be initially transversed (perhapse special shoes could be obtained allowing one to scale a mountain). The w is water, and a raft (#) is required before one can cross rivers that do not have a bridge (=). Sand and grass are represented by periods, semicolons and commas, and trees are exclamation points.

Of course, there are many other characters that I have used, but it would be a simple job to have the Javascript replace each letter or character with an image and thus create a much less jarring visual experience for the user.

Essentially, I have too many ideas (just for the game engine, the inner-workings of the code that drives the game) to outline everything here. The room on the right in my example was dark (represented by a screen full of E’s) until I used my candle to light it up (many ideas are drawn from games like the Zelda and Link series). I have set my code up to be flexible enough to do almost anything. All I need now are more ideas.

What kinds of stories would you tell if you had an open ended game like this? What kind of adventure would you go on? You can’t bring any friends with you, and your items may be limited (with no features for animating, enemies don’t move and it would be nearly impossible to actually use the bow and arrow – for now I don’t plan on animating anything), but many quests and adventures are still possible. Send me your best ideas and I’ll see if anything sounds fun to me.

My wife has already contributed (Burt and the gummi worm are her handiwork). What ideas will you contribute?

Once I’ve finished the basic game engine I’ll try to post it online somewhere so you can see what it’s capable of. I won’t have a story fully developed by then, of course, but everything should function properly (as of right now, it is possible to lose a battle and end up with negative health points, but you don’t die). I’ll work out the bugs and you can come up with ideas for me. If your idea requires a reworking of the basic engine, but it’s good, I’ll see what I can do. Remember, I’m keeping things fairly simple, but complicated enough to be fun.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… The portion I expected an intermediate beginner to be able to code was finised within the first day. It consisted of a few lines of code to draw the map and some buttons that moved the little man around in the map. From there I just kind of went crazy… And what if you could collect items? Oh, and what if you could have a raft? Wow, and how about doors? Let’s put some enemies in! We need weapons, and battles, and candles for darkness, and keys for doors, and guys to talk to, and boss battles, and stores, and dynamic items and terrain, and conversations, and why won’t he die?, and, and, and… … …

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