Who we are, where we're coming from, where we're going

No, I'm not kicking off a deep philosophical discussion. I'm going to kick off this devlog by introducing myself and the project, how it got started and where I plan on taking it.

I (sort of) know what I'm doing

I'm a mostly-solo dev who's kicked out quite a few games that you can and should check out. My experience in the past has been mostly with GZDoom and RPG Maker, as well as a few things in HTML5/JS, Java/libGDX, and even one text RPG written in PowerShell. I'm a stronger programmer than I am an artist, but I have a pretty strong grasp on design (or at least I like to think so). I've committed to and taken projects from start to finish and this one is definitely happening.

With that being said, game development isn't easy, and there are lots of challenges in this project.

Firefighter Simulator: It's not really about fighting fires

I don't want to spoil Firefighter Simulator 2016/2017 for those who haven't played it (you can try it right now), but it's not really a firefighting sim if that's what you're expecting it to be. It's a bit of a parody of off-brand games that come from other countries, a bit of an homage to 90s shooters, and a bit of a satire. You do fight fires in the game, it starts off looking somewhat serious, and that's about it. It's kind of a hard game to describe, and again I encourage you to try it.

You may have noticed a lot of this carrying through to Firefighter VR already. The gratuitous Cyrillic in the trailer, the blatant lies in the description, the strongly-worded warning and the first mission in the beta. Firefighter Simulator 2016/2017 looked kind of awful, and Firefighter VR will look better while retaining that knockoff/shovelware aesthetic (though I've backed off on it a bit).  I think Firefighter VR will be a really entertaining experience, but it's not for the faint of heart and it's never meant to be a realistic firefighting sim.

New engine, new platform, new challenges

Firefighter Simulator 2016/2017 was built on the GZDoom engine. That's a derivative of the Doom engine, and I don't mean the one that just launched. Granted, it's a lot more advanced than the original Doom engine, but it's still fundamentally 2.5D. I'm familiar with the engine and its tools, and it allowed me to quickly build a game that worked remarkably well, all things considered.

This time, I wanted to do VR and I wanted to go cross-platform. That meant a new engine, and I chose to go with Unity.

Unity is not new to me. I've used it in class, at a game jam, and for a few side projects. I'm by no means an expert, but I've got a pretty solid grasp of its paradigms and features. Firefighter VR is the first big project I've done with it, and the first I intend to release to a wider audience. Unity is really great to use, and I'm learning a lot as I go, but I'm also hitting a lot of obstacles and having to find my way past them.

A lot of that has to do with VR. Virtual Reality is new, not just to me but to everyone. The APIs are often confusing, there isn't a lot of documentation, the community is small and the barriers to entry are high. The reason I'm hitting Daydream and Cardboard first is because they're relatively inexpensive and I have the hardware. I'd really like to do Vive and Rift, but that's just not possible with my current resources. Even just trying to do Daydream and Cardboard- which use the same APIs- I've run into compatibility issues. I guess what I'm trying to say is that VR is a challenge and it's far from mature. With all that being said, it's a growing sector, and VR is getting more and more accessible each day.

It's (not) an asset flip

I'm a firm believer in taking what's out there and transforming it into something new. As a solo developer, I simply can't make everything from scratch. Philosophically, I don't believe this is unacceptable or even a bad thing. A lousy asset flip is a lousy asset flip, but there are many ways a creator can inject their own creativity and make a great game.

With that out of the way, I'd like to do a few shout-outs which will be the first of many. First and foremost, OpenGameArt. I'm putting them ahead of the Asset Store because they have a great mission and they're hugely unappreciated. Second, of course, is the Unity Asset Store, which is basically the go-to place for Unity resources and will probably be the subject of another post.

I'd also like to single out one Unity addon in particular. One big thing Unity is missing is the ability to really build levels in the editor, which doesn't matter for some games but is a really big handicap for others. ProBuilder Basic isn't perfect or complete, but it's free and lets me build environments in a way that's very straightforward and familiar to me. If I didn't have a tool like this, Firefighter VR wouldn't be possible, and again I'll probably devote a post to it.

The End Goal

Okay, so that's the "who we are" and "where we're coming from" parts. It's time to talk about where we're going.

The beta as it stands represents about 80% of the mechanics of the game, 20% of its length, and maybe 10% of its polish. You can put out fires, set them, break down doors, and rescue people, but fire doesn't spread and I'm still tweaking hot zones. There will be five levels plus an intro and an ending; the intro and first level are done. A lot of details- death animations, fire effects, sounds, voices, UI, just aren't there yet, and VR support is a work in progress.

There's definitely a lot of work to do, but I'm making good progress. The mechanics are mostly done and just need tweaking. I've gained a lot of experience building levels, and each one comes together quicker than the last. The details aren't there, but everything is set up for them to be added or polished. The teething issues with VR are mostly solved and it's mostly testing and tweaking now.

At first, I was hoping to release this at the end of the summer. I don't think that's realistic anymore, so I'm targeting Fall 2017 now and I think I can hit that and still deliver a polished game. The mobile version will be released first, along with a (non-VR) PC preview, with a full VR PC version later. In a nod to the games of my youth, there will be a free demo and a full version, with no ads or microtransactions anywhere.

Stay tuned for more progress updates- the "how we'll get there" if you will.

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