Robotic Shed LTD. is now a company

Well that was swifter than I thought likely.

Robotic Shed is now some kind of legal entity that will, at some point, file accounts. It has a director (me) and a shareholder (also me). I stopped short of also appointing myself secretary on the grounds that it just seemed greedy. The intent is now to apply for Microsoft’s BizSpark programme so I can get up to date with Visual Studio (my single 2008 copy is creaking at the seams) for programming Free Company and possibly grow the business in the future in ways that are still mysterious to me.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Robotic Shed

So it’s looking like the most sensible way to keep developing indie games with up to date software is to transform Robotic Shed from an occasional blog into a real company. Microsoft has a programme called BizSpark that should hopefully allow me to graduate from my now long in the tooth copy of Visual Studio 2008 to the more modern versions assuming I understand the programme correctly. It was always my intention to do so eventually but I never had a compelling reason until now. For myself, and I suspect most other one-man indie developers life is a kind of hybrid existence hovering between game development and other sources of income but I hope that it is the kind of long shot software development that Microsoft is hoping to support with it’s programme. We shall see.

Corporate email addresses shall be made and an application to Microsoft sent forth and I’ll report back if all goes well.

In other news, development on Free Company continues in it’s usual haphazard manner around the rest of my life. Recently I’ve been trying to get the campaign map into a more interactive shape than just being a pan-able, zoomable image of a map. I want to have discoverable locations on there and territories that you can visually see your influence growing over as you grow your reputation (be it good or bad), enforce your will and expand your commercial empire. Ultimately I’ve decided that this is going to need a ‘map editor’ tool to do in a reasonably intelligible fashion.

Oh, and I added pasting from the clipboard into the bits of my UI where you can type things because I love doing that and you never know when it might come in handy.


Warhammer, Mafia and endless winter


Somehow it’s mid-April already and this blog has been growing a little neglected. The past month has been filled up with a pile of things other than working on Free Company, so that I can barely recall what I was doing on it last time I worked on it. Such is the chaos of life, we’ve had Ofsted inspections, blocked exterior drains, a mini Warhammer tournament and most recently I’ve been distracted by working on a helper utility for people who want to run variants of the party/forum trust game Mafia.

Last time I was talking about building a notification system for Free Company which is something I went ahead and did, you now get popup messages when you’ve finished researching lores and that kind of thing which helps keep you informed about what’s going on in the strategy layer. Some of the notifications are pretty elaborate; like the one you get after fighting a tactical battle  but most of them are fairly simple affairs and it’s easy to add more of them should the need arise.

Then I worked on the path-finding code again so that it could properly take account of the ‘zones of control’ around players and not try to navigate through them midway along a path as was happening before. Zones of control also became a much more interesting part of the combat system in that, now, if you try to leave one the owning player will get a free out of sequence attack against you. In practice this gives players a strong incentive to leave their mercenaries that are in close combat, in the fight and not run them out of it.

The lore system became ‘structurally’ complete in that you can now properly research every one of the planned technologies and they properly unlock when you obtain the correct prerequisite technologies and items. None of the technologies actually have any other game mechanical effects yet but we’re halfway there.

So that’s Free Company. I then spent an inordinate amount of time assembling, gluing & painting miniatures for a planned Warhammer mini-tournament against my brother. Warhammer is a game of fantasy table-top battles, there are hundreds of miniatures per side and they fight in large ranked units through a mixture of dice rolling luck and strategic calls made during the game over unit positioning and so on. I had a goal to try and make two completely painted armies this year after our tournament last year with two ‘fresh from the box’ unpainted sets that come with the Warhammer starter set. Unfortunately I didn’t quite manage to make it because damn, there are a lot of Skaven in a functional army, but I was definitely over halfway there with almost every unit having some painted stuff.

I won’t reveal the results of the tournament here because that will be the subject of a couple of lengthy battle reports with maps when I get the chance to make them.

Then we get to Mafia Helper. This is a utility I started tinkering with back in February after participating in particularly elaborate version of the game and getting a sense of how hard it is to balance games of this type due in part to the large quantity of variables but also due to the psychological variables of a trust game. So I decided to build a simulator that could attempt to run thousands of test games of Mafia with a given setup of players, teams and special powers and produce some odds on how likely each team in the game was to win. The idea is then to expose the ‘psychology’ variables so that each game runner can adjust them in line with his or her feelings about how players interact and gain or lose each other’s trust. So far I’m about halfway through the initial planned feature set from working on it here and there in between everything else.

The tool is also serving as a way to make a series of improvements to the cross program UI Library I created for Free Company. Mafia Helper is entirely UI so it serves as a great test bed for the kind of more complicated UI elements I use in Free Company without the chaos of Free Company’s other code getting in the way of debugging. I’ve already managed to make a couple of big improvements to the UI system that finally squashed an annoying bug with flickering  in UI elements that’s been in the code for possibly years, and there has been a host of smaller improvements to the functionality of the generic elements like buttons, text boxes, tool-tips and scrollable lists that help make the UI feel a lot more solid.

Finally, a word on the endless UK winter which has finally broken this week. Good riddance.