Sunday 26 February 2017

Project Progress Report

Sorry for the lull, it's been a bit of a mixed-up month and this will be a similarly mixed up blog post.  Having reached the deadline for demo, web site, and release preparations at the end January things have changed pace and direction a little.  I've rolled an Alpha build to a few people, the web-site has gone live, and I've been out job hunting too!


The end of January was my deadline for a number of aspects of the project, and this has meant February has been a bit of a flurry of activity releasing things and talking to lots of people about the project (and work prospects).


As with most things, you never get as much done as you'd like to.  No exception with Future City, but I am mostly happy with how it looks.  It demonstrates the core premises of the project; large environments, varied content, wide-scale parameterisation, high detail, smooth blending, and powerful modelling system.
I'm pleased with how the demo "Future City" has developed
I will continue to develop the city as there are many things I'd like to do with it, but it is also going to be the basis for the first Apparance game.  It will be taking a back seat to other development for now though.

Web Site

The Apparance website, bringing together information about all aspects of the project, is now live at

The new Apparance web-site (procedurally generated too!)

I'm pleased with how it's come out, and the procedural generation aspect is proving very powerful.  A good test of this sort of thing is how easy you find maintenance on returning to it after a while away.  I've extended the site a bit, added new templates and image features with ease.  Updating content is just a question of editing the markdown documents and running the Apparance Processor.  I'm enjoying working with it this way, and looking forward to adding new pages and features as needed.


The 1st of February saw the start of the Alpha release of the project.  The first time anyone has got their hands on Apparance for a couple of years.  It's really been too long coming, but I wanted to get to a particular point and combine it with the website and the city demo.
Apparance editor, currently in (closed) Alpha
It's not a huge audience, and only some of my more technical friends, but I've been getting some solid feedback.  Plenty to go on and lots to talk about.  I've been working a bit of it back into the editor, and site, ready for the closed beta due to start in a few days.  The beta is a larger group, and taken from a wider circle of acquaintances (mostly via Twitter).  This group contains a higher concentration of people who are specifically interested in procedural generation, and should provide a deeper level of feedback.  I can't wait to hear how you folks get on.


So, where does this find us now?


The current set of goals, largely based around proving the more unique aspects of the project, has been proven (in my eyes at least).  Now I have people starting to experiment with, and explore the tools I have a source of objective information to use to potentially steer and drive the project.  I'd like to see a variety of outcomes from the project, but now is time to discuss these and investigate the options.


As an authoring tool, and one with some pretty unusual concepts to learn, support for Apparance users is going to be important at this stage.  This is especially true if I want to nurture a community and have people join me in this adventure.  Documentation, tutorials, and two-way communication are all important parts of this, and typically under provided so I need to be careful to keep feeding this.  I've been asked for a variety of support, from examples, tutorials, videos, features, and improved documentation.


Apparance is a realisation of my vision for building games, and as such needs to continue to move towards an actual game.  I need to show that this is viable, and with the ambitious technical goals too.  I have some exciting game ideas brewing at the moment (several sleepless nights spent designing game-play and story).  Unfortunately, the next step with regard to games (entities, behaviours, and interaction) is quite a hefty piece of work.  This is going to need to be spread out.


I have also begun thinking about the more practical aspects of the project, and other ways the technology could be used.  By creating additional types of product out of the engine and tools it might provide a way to broaden the potential audience (and hence market) and provide a model to generate revenue that isn't game based.  Yes, I am actually considering how Apparance could be modularised so that elements of the technology could be plugged or integrated into other engines, including Unity and Unreal.  I know I haven't been supportive of this approach, but economic pressures do make you think about your options, and there might be ways to do this without compromising the vision of the project.  Again though, this isn't an insignificant amount of work, and requiring a lot of research and ongoing development and then support.


I've really enjoyed the luxury of working full-time on Apparance for (nearly) the past year, but financial pressures are starting to rear their head.  I don't believe I am in a position to pitch what I have technology-wise, and certainly not game-wise, to a third party for funding.  There is too much still to do and I don't have the resources to continue full-time.  As a result I am in the process of negotiating a more traditional source of income so I can continue to support my family properly.
Apparance is most definitely up and running and I'm pleased with what I have achieved so far.  I will continue to support the alpha/beta, blog about the project, work on updates, and start on some of the bigger features over the coming months, but in my spare time (again).
Thank-you for sailing with me through this exciting year of Apparance development.  I look forward to seeing where the wind blows us over the next year.

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