Life, Level Designs and Unity

It's been a little minute since I last posted. The past few weeks have been... unstable.

The week after my last post I decided to take some time off. Bit of a long and personal story, so I won't go into it, suffice to say, I needed it.

The following week consisted of me struggling to get back into the swing of things after taking time off, it's part of the reason I don't take much time off. And then Starfield launched, and whilst I spent half a day playing that (Bethesda games are a huge favourite of mine, all their jank included) I was still out of sorts.

This week kicked off strongly though. I picked up on the major thread of Level Design for Exoloper. I'd toyed with some procedural generation techniques that... didn't work. More precisely the early experiments showed that (as I expected) I'd need to put a lot of dev time into each biome type and that there wasn't really much of a quick and easy solution. With that in mind, I switched gears and started looking into building my own level editor tools. I approached a bunch of options, but eventually decided that an asset would be the way to go, if your'e also a unity developer and looking to use something simple and extensible then I'd highly recommend MAST.

My level editing suite in all it's glory. Yes it's mostly default unity with a grid placement system.

Making the levels tile based, prefab inherited and importantly, relatively blocky makes it super easy for me to crank out new levels quickly, whilst also making it easy for me to make geometry kits for new biome types. I'm pretty happy with the way this has all turned out.

After that I spent the rest of the week doing some.. what I'd like to call stream of consciousness development. It's a super complex methodology that involves just bouncing from one shiny idea to the next bug, to the next shiny idea and so forth. None of it was structured in any sensible way. One minute I was tweaking projectile speeds, the next implementing exploding silos (thanks moe_from_famly_guy). Then onto improving the sound effects for the Exo's, through to fixing splitting up torso armour and then fixing bugs from all the chaos I'd done.

legendary suggestion

I try not to do this fugue-state style of development too much, as it's where most of my bugs come from, but conversely it's where a lot of my game's feel tends to kick in. The moments of going "hey wouldn't it be cool if..." and then just putting that in the game.

I distinctly remember the first time I did this. I was about six months into developing Unstoppable, I'd had some breakfast, and was sipping coffee when as I was idly thinking through some implementation ideas about putting a pneumatic hammer into the game, I realised I could create a damage zone and attach that as a weapon to the trucks. Boom! Buzzsaws! It's was a trivial idea, but I genuinely had no idea how to do it before then. I spent the next hour or so on modelling + animating and coding the buzzsaws, and then the rest of the day ripping enemy trucks to shreds with them. I knew I had something good right there.

Anywho. Good Times.

Onto Unity.

I'll be upfront. All my previous games have been a pay once and play situation. I personally hate the idea of microtransactions and in game currencies. I strongly believe that if you've bought a game you shouldn't have to think about the money side of the fun equation again. But. My business plan for Exoloper was to make it free, and then charge for additional campaigns, which would come with not just new maps but new scenarios, new weapons and new enemies. A way of monetising not just the core initial offering but also covering the cost of ongoing development. It was the fairest way I could conceive of making a free to play game.

Then on the 12th of September Unity released a blog post changing their pricing structure and effectively charging for each install once a set of (not as high as they seem) thresholds were met. They also deleted the payment plan that I've been using for years now, which will force me to pay nearly 2.5x more per year for Unity. The issue here is that if I have to pay per install, and I'm expecting a small percentage of installs to pay, then I'm setting myself up for failure.

After the initial shock and disappointment faded I knew I had to drop the engine, it was just a question of when. I spent a day evaluating the next best thing, Godot, and whilst it's good, it's not quite ready for me to jump ship. Particularly, it's iOS support is a little bit lacking. Thats all good though, I will switch to it once Exoloper is released, just... not right now.

In the meantime I've made some adjustments to the business model for Exoloper that I think will both work pretty well, and should cover me in the case of runaway Unity install fee costs. I'll talk about this in more detail as the game comes together / as Unity reveals more details about their price changes.

I'd like to leave on one last note: Be kind to the people working at Unity, they likely didn't have much of a say in all of this, as at the end of the day the decision really feels like a top level business decision more than anything else. So please be kind.

I'm sure there's good business reasons for Unity to change their pricing model, I just wished they'd talked to some devs first about it and come up with a change that was reasonable.

Exoloper Tasks completed: