Good news and a difficult decision

Submitted by Roots on Tue, 10/30/2007 - 18:49

There's been a few important developments here in the last week that I felt we should share. First some good news. The most critical and difficult-to-find bug in our video engine has now been resolved. This was the last major barrier to overcome before we could make our next release. Now we have to complete the following:

* Fix a few more minor bugs in the engine
* Polish off a couple of the new features we have added
* Adjustments to the map scripts and game content

It is just a matter of finishing all of these small and relatively easy tasks. If you're interested in helping us test our pre-release build, make sure that you are registered on the forums and an e-mail will be sent out when we reach that stage.

The second piece of news involves recruitment. We've added a few more programmers to the team in the last six weeks so we're not entirely understaffed in that department now. We had a meeting this weekend and decided that ideally, we could use three more programmers to work on the graphics engine, map exploration code, and game editor areas. We're also still interested in getting a 3D modeler/animator on our team if you're in that area of work.

The last and most important news item is a design decision that we must make. We have a critical problem with our battle artwork requirements: they are simply too high for us to continue along our current path. We've proposed and debated 3 solutions to this problem:

1) Generate 3D models and animations for the characters' battle sprites, and translate those animations from 3D into 2D for use in the game.

2) Re-use our map sprites for battles in place of separate battle sprites, and have battles take place on the maps themselves rather than on a battle background

3) Keep everything in battle mode as it is currently, but replace the battle sprites with enlarged map sprites.

There are of course many benefits and downsides to each approach. We have a thread on our forums which you can find here where our community is actively discussing which approach we should choose to take (you have to have a registered account on the forums in order to view this particular thread). The outcome of this decision will no doubt affect the design and gameplay of Allacrost, so we encourage you to voice your opinion about what you personally think is the best option.

October 2007 Update

Submitted by Roots on Sun, 10/21/2007 - 21:27

Our progress has been a little slower so far this month, but we're far from a stand still. There have been several very difficult-to-fix bugs in the new video engine code that have been slowing a lot of us down (especially myself). Hopefully within the next week or two, we'll have everything patched up and ready for prime time. Our map editor has been making some great progress though, thanks largely to gorzuate. We do intend to begin making public releases of our map editor sometime in the near future once we have a couple more features available in there, and we hope that will attract more people who are interested in helping out with editor development. I personally hope that our editor can become on-par with the editor for StarCraft, as the SC editor really helped to boost that game's popularity.

Anyway, artwork has been making some nice progress as well, even though many of our artists are inactive right now. Most of the artwork focus lately has been on map sprites, including new non-standard (non-walking) animations. They haven't been yet added to the game (because I've been spending all my time fixing engine bugs), but hopefully we'll be able to squeeze a couple of them into our next release. There's also been a revived focus in story and writing ever since we hired Brian to be a writer a few weeks back. He and I have been working together on both the main story and having a nice mini-story for our subsequent demo releases.

Except for these outstanding engine bugs, code-wise I'd say that we are pretty much ready to make our next release. Last I checked, all of the primary features we had planned for this next release are implemented and fully functional. There are also several additional features that we've managed to squeeze in as well. One feature that we have been working on but will not be in the next release is internationalization support. So perhaps within the next month or two, we may become interested in attracting some translators on this team. Speaking of which, we're still looking for a few programmers to join us. We have a few new programmers on our team (3-4 I think) since our last post, but we could still use a couple more.

That's all I have to report this month. I hope you'll continue to be patient with us as we continue to try and get this next release out to you all. I know it sucks that it takes a few months between releases, but I'm pretty certain that our release frequency will get shorter and shorter as we go on since we are finishing a lot of our foundation (engine) work. if you have any thoughts or comments, feel free to post them in the forum.

September 2007 Update, Programmers Wanted

Submitted by Roots on Mon, 09/17/2007 - 23:15

The past month has seen several important developments. The largest improvement was done in the code for the game's engine (specifically, our audio and video engines). The good news is that this new code is designed much better than before, making it more flexible for us to use and easier to add new features. So effectively, it is great progress for us in the long-term. The bad news is that engine development does not really gain us any short-term progress, so the next release continues to be delayed as a result. But this engine development would have to have been done later if not sooner, so its not so bad.

We've been seeing a good amount of progress in artwork lately, which is very nice. Some of the new artwork that's been created will likely make it into the next release as well. Some music has also been composed, as well as some people stopping by on the forums and contributing sound effects and artwork, which has been much appreciated. So in summary, I would say the progress of the past four weeks has been fairly steady.

Which brings me to my next point: we need more programmers on our staff. Currently, we have 7 staff-level and 4 contributor-level programmers on the team. 3 of the staff and 3 of the contributors are on what we call "downtime", meaning they can not work on Allacrost for an extended period of time due to personal reasons. So we really only have 5 programmers total who are working on Allacrost right now. We are really looking for staff programmers, not contributors. We need people who are able to make a regular, stead commitment to helping this game along, rather than those who just help out when they have free time. If you are interested, head over to the Contribute page and fill out a staff application for a programming position. I would also recommend that you view the Coding Needs page on our wiki, as it lists all the major areas of our code base and which ones are in need of a programmer to actively attend to them. Also you may wish to view our Bug tracker, as it not only lists bugs, but also specific development tasks. To view all of the coding development tasks, you can login anonymously, click on "View Issues", and then from the Filters box near the top right of the screen select "Code - Feature to Text". That should give you a darn good idea of the kinds of things we need to hire people to do, and in what areas of the code we need new programmers the most right now.

One final note I'd like to make regarding applying to be a team contributor. About a week ago, we took a step back to analyze our programming team to understand why progress has been so slow, and we realized it was because in the last hiring round we did, we took on several "contributor" programmers but only one or two "staff" programmers. We overestimated our programming strength as a result of all these contributors that we hired. And further, some of the people that we hired turned out to not produce any code at all, which was upsetting to us because we spend quite a lot of time setting up and training our new members. As a result of this, we've decided to change the way we recruit and respect our contributors so that we only "hire" those contributors whom prove that they're actually committed enough to contribute something. We now require only a very, very basic contributor application to be filled out, and we reply back with a small list of things for the applicant to work on. If at least one task is completed to a satisfactory degree, we invite them onto the team. We'll see how this new recruitment model works out and if it does the job, we'll continue it.

Hopefully we will get a few outstanding new programmers on this team and my next post will be filled with wonderful news about our progress. Until next time.

August 2007 Update

Submitted by Roots on Wed, 08/22/2007 - 03:25

I'm trying to do a public update at least once a month to keep people apprised of what is going on with this project. So here's an overview of what's been going on lately.

We've hit a couple bumps with our development team in the past month. A couple of our key programmers were away, which really slowed us down. But the good news is that they are both back in action and making good progress again. We've also had some headaches due to our audio engine, which we've completely re-written using OpenAL instead of SDL_mixer. The reason for this switch is that OpenAL provides better playback quality and more features than SDL_mixer; I and others on the team have already confirmed that the game sounds much better after this switch. This engine is still undergoing some birthing pains, and fixing all the bugs and problems in it have taken up a significant amount of our time.

Originally we (especially myself) were hoping that we could get our next release out sometime this month (August), but it doesn't look like its going to happen. We really aren't too far from being release-ready, as all the major feature additions, save for one, are either complete or on the verge of completion. We ended up spending a lot more of our time working on some of the back end/engine code than we planned this period. Although you won't directly see the results from that type of work when ou play the game, these improvements that we have done ameliorate the process of expanding upon what is available in the game. Anyway, we are still working on getting this next demo out, but since many people on the team are back to school soon we're not sure how much progress we're going to be making.

Finally I wanted to give a mention of a major design change that our team is deliberating on. After releasing the last demo, we realized that our battle system pretty much consisted of "select an action, select a target, repeat". Now many RPGs have used this general formula in the past, but it just feels a little boring and it doesn't make our game very unique in that aspect. We've been brainstorming on an improved version of our battle system that we hope to be much more engaging to the player. The major premise we're thinking of here is to be able to put characters in battle into either melee or support modes. Support mode characters stay in the rear casting spells and such, while melee units engage an enemy by running up to it and remaining in close proximity to it. In other words, the characters would not continually stay in a line on one side of the screen (FF-style), but rather move around the battlefield as they fight their way through enemy lines. There's still a lot to figure out, but we think we may be on to something somewhat unique and fun here. We have a public discussion about these ideas on our forums beginning here if you'd like to chip in, but to view this particular thread you have to be a registered forum member. And just so that it is clear, the next release will not see any of these major design changes in the battle system, but the one after that very likely will. :)

That's all we have to report on for right now. Thanks for checking up on us.

July 2007 Update

Submitted by Roots on Wed, 07/18/2007 - 08:59

Its been over one month since our last release so we owe you an update on how things are progressing. Overall, progress toward meeting our next release goal has gone extremely well this period. Particularly on the programming front, we've made a number of large improvements to our engine which have been invaluable in enabling us to develop the next set of features we want to have in our next demo. Several of those features are already fully or partially implemented and can be seen by checking out a copy of the game from the SVN repository. The release of demo 0.2.1 is largely dependent on the progress of the programming team, as we will not have very much new audio or visual media available in this release. As a rough prediction, I'd say that we now have well over half of the code written that is needed for our next release.

As far as our recruitment of new members goes, we've made a number of new additions to our team so far. They include three programmers, a sound composer, a team manager, a web developer, and a writer. We're still seeking more programmers, especially those that are interested in working on our game's editor, which really needs the extra help. Sadly, we haven't been able to add any new artists onto our team in the past month, which is extremely disappointing. We desperately need help in the art department, otherwise it is assured that our future releases will be held up due to a lack of artwork. If you're interested in helping us out, please send in an application and let us know.

In other news, both our main website and our forums are undergoing a number of functional and cosmetic changes at the moment. Therefore, there may be small periods of time where either one of these services is temporarily inaccessible, so bare with us. Thanks to our new manager, Gallivan, our forum is finally receiving its own custom-made skin to fit with the theme of our website, so go check it out.

Next Steps

Submitted by Roots on Sun, 06/17/2007 - 22:43

We had a team meeting this weekend where we all got together to discuss issues related to the release of our latest demo, and more importantly to decide on our future goals and direction. Compared to our first release, the code base of our second release is much more mature and easy to build upon. What this means is that unlike the first demo, it makes sense for us to continue building on our latest release since there's no heavy-duty construction going on in the code. And that is exactly what we have decided to do. From here on out, we're aiming to do smaller, more frequent releases than we have been.

Our next major team milestone is the release of a new demo, version 0.2.1, which will be a noticeably improved version of 0.2.0. We've absorbed a lot of feedback about the 0.2.0 demo, and the issues brought up by our players are what we will largely be addressing in this next release. We will be also adding new features in all major components of the game (map exploration, battles, etc.). As for what those features are or when we plan to have this new release available, we'd like to keep that a surprise this time around. The more help we get in response to our earlier recruitment hunt post, the sooner this release will become available to you. Thank you, everyone, for all of your kind praises and helpful criticisms of our latest release!

Recruitment Hunt -- Summer 2007

Submitted by Roots on Wed, 06/13/2007 - 22:09

Now that our release is out, we would like for our development team would like to grow a little more. If you are interested, or know someone who may be interested in working in one of the positions as follows, click the "Contribute" tab near the top of the page to find out how to apply.

Programmers
All programmer applicants are required to have a moderate to advanced knowledge of C++. Knowledge of Lua is also beneficial, but it is not a requirement (you will likely come to learn the language as you work on our team). Any additional experience you have working with these libraries is a plus as well.

Programmers on our team are usually assigned to one, or sometimes a few, specific areas of the code. For example, the video engine or the map exploration code. However, our programmers often transition to new areas when one section of code becomes boring or over developed. With that said, we're looking to hire (# of) programmers in the following areas:

- (1) map exploration code
- (1) character management menu / shop menu code
- (1) battle execution code
- (1-2) video engine
- (1-3) game editor
- (1) system engine (internationalization, etc. engine functions)

We keep a concise "to do" list for our coding tasks in our wiki right here. I highly encourage you to look at this page if you're considering working with us and making sure you're up to working on the tasks that are listed there.

Artists
Since the very beginning, Allacrost has been in perpetual need of artists. As you can see, for an open source game our artwork is very high quality, and we plan to keep it that way. Artists who feel they are not skilled/talented enough to produce this level of artwork should still apply. We have a very culturing and nurturing artwork team here, and we help newcomers improve their skill. So please don't let any feelings of intimidation prevent you from applying.

We are primarily seeking 2D pixel artists to produce more content of the type you've already seen in the game. Map tiles, map sprites, battle backgrounds, battle sprites, character portraits, etc. Concept artists are also welcome to apply, but we do not have a dire need for any at the moment. We're also looking for a 3D modeler/animator (no, Allacrost is not trying to evolve to a 3D game). The purpose of this artwork is to create 3D models of characters and then to animate them doing attacks and casting magic in battles. Our battle sprites are very large and detailed, and it is very difficult to produce full animations for them using 2D methods only. If you're interested, send in an application and we can fill you in some more.

Web Designer
Although our website looks very nice and professional, there are a lot of problems we've been struggling with on the back end, and several feature requests that have been unaddressed for months. What we need is someone whom is willing to help us fix what is broken and implement some new features to spice up the site a little. We use Drupal as our CMS, so knowledge of that plus PHP is pretty much required.

Team Manager
We're interested in seeking an additional manager to our team. We already have one (Emre), but the amount of administrative tasks is too much for him to do alone. The type of things you'll be doing include coordinating development between different departments, public relations tasks within our community and outside of it, and hopefully even working a little with the game itself. If you are not a particular strong programmer, artist, or composer but want to be part of our team, this is the position for you.

Thanks everyone. If you have any questions regarding these positions feel free to leave a comment to this post, ask in our forums, or ask in person on our IRC channel.

Third Anniversary, Second Release

Submitted by Roots on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 09:29

We have two big announcements to make. First, today (June 10th, 2007) marks the third anniversary since the Allacrost project was conceived. We are all very proud to be one of the very few independent game development projects that have survived to be this old. Now normally, on your birthday you're supposed to be given gifts from others, but we're doing just the opposite. The second big piece of news is that our second demo (version 0.2.0) has been released! This release, like the previous, is simultaneously available for Windows, OS X (universal), and Linux. In addition a Debian package and a FreeBSD port will follow shortly. Visit our Download Page to get instructions on where you can download and install this new release.

This second release is a vast improvement over our first, which was made public in October of last year. Some of the major additions you'll see in this demo are:

- Free-range movement replacing tile-based movement
- Two excellent new maps to explore
- No more random encounters
- You can now buy and sell wares from shop keepers
- A newly added stamina bar in the battle interface
- The ability to gain experience levels and make your character grow stronger
- Plenty of additional music to enjoy

We think you'll really take a liking to what we have this time around. Nevertheless, remember that Allacrost is still a work in progress, and this release remains a fair distance from what we want this game to eventually become. Please share with us your comments, critiques, and thoughts on our forum after you play so we can absorb your feedback for our next release. If you have any issues with installing or playing our demo, you can leave us a note on the forum or stop by our IRC channel (#allacrost at irc.freenode.net) and we'll help you out. Have fun!

New Screenshot Set

Submitted by Roots on Thu, 05/03/2007 - 14:42

We've been working hard over the past two months and are now extremely close to releasing our second demo. It is a large improvement over our previous demo, so we think that you all will really enjoy what we have to offer. To wet your appetites, this morning we released a new set of screeshots taken from our latest build. These images can be found in the screenshots page under the multimedia section.









PS: If you would like to help us test out the demo prior to its release, head over to our forums and register an account there. We send out an e-mail to all of our registered forum members whenever a new release is ready for the final quality assurance check.

Seeking a Helping Hand

Submitted by Roots on Tue, 02/20/2007 - 11:13

Greetings everyone. Progress towards our Demo 0.2.0 goal is steady, but it has been slower than we had originally hoped. The cause of this is that many of our team members are on extended down time due to personal circumstances beyond their control. Rather than continuing to wait for their return, we decided we would rather seek some new team members to fill the empty seats that they have left. Therefore, we would like to invite all who are interested in working on Allacrost to apply as a staff member or contributor.

Currently, we are in need of some additional C++ programmers and pixel artists. Programmer applicants need to be versatile and able to work on many different sections of the code. Artist applicants need to be serious about their commitment to the project and able to adopt our style in their creations. To apply, click the "Contribute" link at the top-right corner of your screen and fill out the form. If you're a little hesitant to apply because you wish to better know what you are committing yourself to first, send an application anyway (there's absolutely no harm done) and we'll contact you by e-mail and you can ask us your questions then.

Thanks for visiting us!