Roguelikes and a Faulty Computer

I hope things are going well with all those who read this, whether it be while hard at work or relaxing while browsing their social media. Since GDC 2018 happened, it took a while to adjust me back to a work routine. It didn’t help that the week after I returned to the UK I was off to Bristol celebrating a four-day weekend with friends and family for my birthday. Fortunately, with my day job going on, I have managed to recover from jetlag and get back into a coding routine with some bumpy roads. I figured it’d be good to detail what went on up to now.


The Games Jam for March was the Seven Day Roguelike (or 7DRL for short). This is a long-running one-week games jam dedicated to the roguelike genre. This year was the first year they hosted the jam on, instead of the Roguetemple forums and other hosting services that had since gone defunct.

The first time I took part in 7DRL was in 2016 with Dungeon Racer, while I was glad to get a game done using my engine for the first time since Gemstone Keeper’s early demos, in hindsight the concept was a bit too out of reach for me without preparation. This time I decided to do a bit more of a simple roguelike.

RDDL (pronounced Riddle) was originally going to be a dungeon based roguelike in the style of the Crystal Maze, where the player would have to find a key in each room to progress. Health would decrease over time and the only way to regain health was to either find it through treasure or defeat enemies. I used the GenLevelTools like I did previously, however, I noticed how lacking some of the features are (particularly with tilemap generation).

I ended up using the tile mapping system for this, which worked well with the tilesets made for Dwarf Fortress. I had considered adding the ability to change tilesets like I did previously with Dungeon Racer but I ran out of time. I also got to take advantage of GL-Transitions again with a cool grid flipping transition, people on the roguelikes Discord liked it so I took full advantage of it.

Overall it’s great to get a proper working roguelike, especially one that people would undisputely call a roguelike unlike my previous games. As of writing, voting has just ended on all entries, so you can check out how well it did on Feel free to check out all the other entries too!

Speaking of previous games…

Gemstone Keeper: One Year On

As March 31st of this year is the one-year anniversary of the release of Gemstone Keeper on Steam, I figured it was a good idea on Twitter to talk about how it’s done and what I should learn from it. You can check out the start of the thread below.

I was inspired by Eniko of Kitsune Games to do this, after a tweet she posted on how stressful being an indie developer was. I feel it’s necessary to let people know that despite the success stories, a lot of stories aren’t as impressive. I still maintain that Gemstone Keeper’s response was positive, considering the circumstances, and I still appreciate the support and feedback people give.

Technical Issues

So on Thursday 5th April, I was reading an article on my main game development and home desktop machine when suddenly I got a Blue Screen of Death. I initially thought this was typical, at least until the machine restarted and would go to a blank screen. I tried restarting again and the same blank screen appeared. I checked the bios and the hard drive looked fine, but the same blank screen.

Then after taking out all other drives, I tried again and this time it says that there are no bootable drives found… this doesn’t sound good. After a few diagnostics and checking the hardware with the help of some friends, we’ve come to the conclusion that while the hard drive is fine, something happened when the BSOD hit that caused the Windows OS to come corrupted.

The good news is that nothing has been lost. All of my game development work as well as personal files and other, less relevent, projects have all been backed up on either external HDs or online cloud services (meaning that after my last major technical mishap over three years ago, I’ve definitely learned from my mistakes). Not to mention that while I cannot boot into Windows, I am still able to access the HDD using a bootable Linux drive, so anything on it is still salvageable.

As a result of this incident, it’s been decided that it’ll be better to upgrade components of the desktop instead of trying to repair it. The current HDD is a little over six years old, so even if I managed to fix Windows then who knows when the drive completely dies. Plus with more modern components, I can take advantages of any addition performance of say, an SSD for the OS and a HDD for data as opposed to a HDD for everything else.

Hope that clears up everything. Just like to make two short announcements, I’ve began on a new project, development will continue once the upgrades have been finished sometime this week. The next games jam I’ll take part in for April will be Ludum Dare 41.

Enjoy April folks!


Global Games Jam 2018

One of my New Years Resolutions is to take part in at least one games jam each month. This was a goal I set myself so I could develop more variety of games for the year of 2018. For myself, the games jam of January (and first games jam of the year) was Global Games Jam 2018, taking place on site at Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent.

I’ve regularly participated at GGJ since 2013 at the Stafford Campus, however in 2016 the Stafford Campus eventually closed its doors and all the departments (Computer Science, Game Development, Web Development, Film, TV and Music etc) were all moved to the Stoke Campus. I skipped 2017 after a lot of regular GGJ attendees were put off by travelling to Stoke and hearing that because of security issues they couldn’t allow overnight stay. Near the end of 2017, one of my friends asked if I was interested in going since she was going as well, so I thought “Sure, why not?”.

Stoke Campus has improved a lot since I went there on rare occasions as a Student, and GGJ became a lot more organised on that site. Gone were the days where getting a table or a PC being a free-for-all, as people had to get tickets in advance for what kind of room they want, and each room had plenty of machines with the latest software (especially for Unity and Unreal Engine 4 developers). Gone were the days of little to no security or support since all rooms required a badge to get into (all attendees received badges at the start of the day) and the jam had volunteers available to provide support for the entire 48 hours. Gone were the lack of food and drinks on site as free fruit, tea and coffee were available on site, and with both Subway and the University’s Student Union Bar open all weekend and a short walk from the site.

The games jam began with a keynote, featuring tips & tricks from Unity, an ad for the Amazon Appstore, a celebration of 10 years of GGJ, a talk from Robin Hunicke and an 80s style workout video from Thorsten S. Wiedemann. The audience was riffing the whole keynote up until the theme announcement, which was fun and all but I did feel bad for Robin’s talk as she was giving an inspiring talk that was meant to encourage interesting stories and concepts, but the six minutes of nonstop talking with an unchanging shot of the San Francisco Bay Area bored almost everyone.

The theme was Transmission, and the theme announcement segment implied this could be anything from communication, to mechanical to passing one thing to another. Our team consisted of myself, my friend Kira, programmer James and two 3D modellers, Benz and Matt. We came up with the idea of a twin-stick shooter where you move along sound waves. James did an incredible job of generating sound waves visually using vertex shaders and lining up the player position with the line, Kira created a tone generator for the game to use, and I worked on enemy behaviour, management, bullets, GUI and main menus, and we all chipped in where we could to get the game in a finished state. Benz and Matt worked on the in-game models, as well as a nebula skybox. Here is the progress in tweets:

So we managed to finish with about an hour or two to spare, which is very good for us. I hardly post much about what I’ve worked on at GGJ because in most of the events they end up not finished, but this is the third out of five GGJs that ended up being finished. So here’s our game: Formants

Let’s see what the games jam of February will be.

New Years Resolutions

Good evening everyone! It’s no doubt that 2017 has been a hell of a year following what happened in 2016, but we fought through and we are still here fighting! This year has also been huge in terms of game development for me. I managed to finish SEVEN games this year, six from game jams such as #RemakeJam, PROCJam, Jamchester and Three Ludum Dares!

The seventh game was the nearly two year project Gemstone Keeper, which made an initial release on March 31st earlier this year and has since had numerous updates, although grouped together as four updates. The most recent of which was 1.0.4 that was announced on 21st of December. The game is currently on part of the Steam Winter Sale, and is currently 50% off!

Gemstone Keeper also had a second smaller release as it was ported to Linux, the build being available on Steam in June. I documented the progress to port the game in three blog posts (part 1, part 2 and part 3), and got a small amount of coverage from dedicated linux gaming websites as a result.

There was also an accomplishment in travel as well, 2017 was the year I went to both GDC in San Francisco and Develop in Brighton for the first time! Both events were great opportunities to meet up and socialise with fellow game developers and listen to talks from great minds such as Ken Perlin, John and Brenda Romero, Jordan Mechnar and Tim Sweeny.

As for 2018, I want to set some goals. As with many New Years Resolutions, chances are they will be forgotten and unaccomplished, but considering I managed to lose weight this year, I might pull through with a bit of committment.

First one is that I want to take part in at least one game jam a month, meaning I’d be finishing 12 games next year. I like the challenge and creativity from game jams, but this year I feel like six isn’t enough. At least spacing out the game jams to one a month will give me time to find a weekend or so to get my head down and finish something.

Second one is to get a game on console. It’s not like I haven’t bothered trying before (I’ve reached out to Nintendo about developing Gemstone Keeper for the Switch to no avail), but it would be nice to expand my work beyond desktop PCs and web development. Porting my own game to Linux should show how when I put my mind to it, building a game to another platform by hand is possible, and it would be great to show I can do that on one of the three main systems.

Thanks for reading and have a happy new year everyone!

Managing Content and the Joys of Smart Pointers

Hello everyone, I figured I’d write a post about something I’ve been working on for the last week or so, partly as a bit of advice for some budding programmer wanting to write a bit more low level games programming stuff, but also to try and explain why it has been several weeks since I last posted about a small prototype I’ve been working on, and why I have been posting less stuff on Twitter than usual.

To put it basically, a lot of C++ work, mostly involving Gemstone Keeper. I decided to go back to it one more time after a lot of bugs and feedback came in. By the time I’ve posted this, Gemstone Keeper has been updated to version 1.0.3, which includes bug fixes, UI updates and two new enemy types.



While most of this wasn’t planned (most of this would have happened much earlier if I was notified on Steam within days of it being reported), but it had been on mind for a particular reason.

To put it simply, I have been updating my C++ game framework, the Vigilante Game Framework. This is the framework that I had built up alongside the game it was made for, Gemstone Keeper, before open-sourcing it in the hopes that it could be improved for more projects. I noticed a problem with the content management system, and as such I had spent the last two weeks researching and implementing a new way that would make it more optimal while keeping it stable. Because of this, Gemstone Keeper will soon be updated with this improvement among other bug fixes, and any future games using the VFramework will feature this too.


Here is the original code for loading and setting an sf::Texture in my content system, according to the repository for Gemstone Keeper this was initally written around Feburary 2016, and aside from one change in April this remained how it was:

bool VContent::LoadTexture(const sf::String& name, sf::Texture &texture)
   if (FindTexture(name))
      texture = textureDir[name];
      return true;
      if (texture.loadFromFile(name))
         VLog("%s loaded", name.toAnsiString().c_str());
         textureDir.insert(textureDir.begin(), std::pair<sf::String, sf::Texture>(name, texture));
         return true;

   VLog("Error loading texture: %s", name.toAnsiString().c_str());
   return false;

The approach should be fairly straightforward:

  • If a texture exists, set it to the texture object and return true.
  • If it doesn’t exist, load it using the texture object. Return true if load is successful.
  • If it cannot load, return false.

However there is one problem, setting the texture object doesn’t set the reference, despite passing the object in as a reference (hence the &). Instead it creates a copy, with a new texture ID and references.

Performance wise, this doesn’t have much of an issue, however memory wise there could be a concern with creating several sprites with the intention of using the same texture, but it isn’t. The intent of a content manager is to load, unload and store a single instance of an asset, with any objects merely referencing that content. I investigated a number of approaches (and spoke with eXpl0it3r of the SFML team) to find the right one.

The approach I finally went with required the following changes:

  • The load function should return the object itself as a non-pointer reference, not a bool. This is to ensure that if the loading or finding process goes wrong, the program should let you know and fail. The reason for a non-pointer is to ensure you wouldn’t return a NULL object. Returning a reference makes sure not to return a newly created copy.
  • If it cannot be loaded, an exception should be thrown. Exception handling is an ideal alternative to responding to function returning false, because it’ll make a function closing on failure much easier.
  • The texture should be stored as a unique pointer.

The reason for a unique pointer, instead of a regular or “raw” pointer, is to ensure that the object only has one true owner, and that once it’s dereferenced (either by closing the game or unloading it) it’ll be properly destroyed and unable to be used by other objects, all with little to no difference in performance. While a unique pointer cannot have more than one reference, the raw pointer can still be obtained and used, just make sure that once the content is unloaded there aren’t any active objects still referencing it.

This is what the texture loading function looks like now (from the Github Repository):

sf::Texture& VContent::LoadTexture(const sf::String& name)
   auto found = textureDir.find(name);
   if (found == textureDir.end())
      std::unique_ptr<sf::Texture> texture = std::unique_ptr<sf::Texture>(new sf::Texture());
      if (texture->loadFromFile(name))
         VBase::VLog("%s loaded", name.toAnsiString().c_str());
         textureDir[name] = std::move(texture);
 #ifndef __linux__
         throw std::exception(("Error loading texture: " + name.toAnsiString()).c_str());
         throw ("Error loading texture: " + name.toAnsiString());

   return *textureDir[name];

To use the functions in this format, I had to change a lot of objects around the game. Textures, Images, Fonts and SoundBuffers all changed to use raw pointers, and the returned values from the functions are converted to functions as well.

texture = &VGlobal::p()->Content->LoadTexture(filename);

This ensured that the object being set is has the same reference as the object being returned, no more copying data, no more instantiating new objects to handle the copy.

I’ve also turned a lot of other objects into unique pointers, particularly the objects in VGlobal, which is intended to only have one instance of. It’s ideal since these ones are all destroyed at the end, and in a scenario where an object could be replaced with another one, the unique pointer can destroy the old one in order to replace the new one.

Other small changes I’ve made to update the framework includes all objects that load textures now having an optional area rectangle. This was mainly put in if multiple sprites use the same texture, but different atlases. Best example would be in the LoadGraphic and setSize functions of VSprite, where the default parameter will ensure the whole texture is used, else the animation system will restrict the render area of the sprite to that rectangle. While sf::Texture does have the ability to load a rectangle area of a texture to an object, I feel like this only adds a separate texture, instead of the one loaded and taken from VContent. At some point I’d like to use this more for Gemstone Keeper and other games, as I see reducing the texture count and having more render calls using the same texture would have additional benefits, no matter how small.

Hopefully more changes like these will benefit games I make with this framework, I’d also like to use more smart pointers, maybe shared pointers for my general objects, but for the time being, I’ve got a project to get back to.

All the jams!

I was meaning to post this sooner, but along with work piling up and losing track, I did quite a few game jams. Three in particular: RemakeJam, Jamchester and Ludum Dare.


I’ll mention Running The Marathon first, because I only finished the game two days ago from posting. This was made for Ludum Dare 39, which makes it the 10th Ludum Dare I participated (and 9th I submitted a game independently). This was a bit of a last minute entry because until Saturday evening, I had no intention of making something for LD. What changed my mind was a game idea I was coming up with as a joke, running a marathon and making sure you don’t run out of energy. What I ended up with was a bit of a joke on the Track & Field concept, by having rapid button presses make your chances at success worse. Because of how little time I worked on this, the background animations and sounds are lacking, although I do think the running animation on the player turned out okay.


As is the tradition of Ludum Dare, voting will be going on by all participants for a total of three weeks. Any Ludum Dare entrants can go to the game’s Ludum Dare event page to vote and comment.

Next I’ll talk about Dash Dodge, which was developed for Jamchester 2017, a professional games jam that I took part in last year. This year, I was in a team which consisted of another programmer & sound designer (Jessica Winters) and two artists ( and ). All in all, this was a great team to work with, and we had a heavily planned out game about combatting bosses using only dashing, with a time travel element, although we may have over-anticipated our goals a bit. Needless to say, we made a game with a nice visual style and some neat mechanics thrown around. Hopefully at some point in the future I would like to work with these three again at some point.

Finally, there is 8-Bit Theater: Black Mage is in a Shooting Game. This game, developed for RemakeJam, is a remake of a previous game of mine. In particular, this is a remake of the first game I ever made from back in 2010. What was great about working on this is that I still have the original source project and most of the original assets and notes, although I did have to dig through Google for a copy of GameMaker 8.1 in order to view the original project. Sadly because of lack of time (I rarely allow full days of focus for these game jams, I’ve noticed), I just about managed to remake the original two levels and boss. This wasn’t for naught though, as way back when it took me over a year to reach this far, and this time I managed to achieve the same amount in less than a week. I also took advantage of my own game framework to try out some technical challenges, such as parallax scrolling.

Game Jams are fun, I like taking part in them for those short bursts of game ideas and development challenges. Sadly participating is made more difficult when my day-job takes priority, but when I get a chance to take part I’d like to take full reigns!

Now time for some voting and other challenges!

Gemstone Keeper – Quest to Linux Part 3 – Gemstone Keeper

Finally, after beginning soon after the game’s Windows release on Steam, and well over a month after I initially wrote my first post about this topic, I’m finally done with porting Gemstone Keeper to Linux (for the most part) and ready to write about what I’ve learned from porting it over. Since both the Framework and Level Generator have been ported, getting the whole game to compile and run wasn’t as confusing as the last two, but that didn’t stop it being tedious.

Continue reading

Gemstone Keeper – Quest to Linux Part 2 – GenLevelTools

Last time on Quest to Linux, I went through porting the Vigilante Game Framework to Linux, but the quest isn’t over yet. The next big task is porting Gemstone Keeper’s level generator and editor, the GenLevelTools, since I need to be able to get the caverns from somewhere.

GenLevelTools, aka the Procedural Level Editor, is a tool/library set that enables proceudrally generated grid-based levels to be modified and previewed in a level and used in games, while independent from any specific game engine or renderer. It was originally developed for my University Thesis on Procedural Level Generation and I later did a talk about it at the International Roguelike Developer Conference in Nottingham. The library is written in C++, so language specific quirks like forward slashes and for loops apply, so the main challenge this time around is the level editor, which uses Allegro 5 as well as the GUI library GWEN.

Allegro 5 is a C framework, although you can still use it for C++. Fortunately like SFML, it’s easy to set up for Linux since it’s part of one of Ubuntu’s repositiories. GWEN is a GUI library that was developed by Garry Newman (of Garry’s Mod). It was the easiest to set up for Windows but I had a few problems with the Linux version, as the gmake scripts rely on finding certain libraries and ending the entire scripts if those libraries cannot be found. This is different from running the scripts for Windows, which create Visual Studio projects that you can apply the libraries yourself. After tweaking the scripts and the source files a bit, I managed to get the GWEN and GWEN Allegro Renderer to build.

Aside from the main changes that I mentioned in the last post (using correct slashes, for loops) there weren’t that many changes I needed to make. I did have to add a lot more include statements, since despite being standard library stuff, GCC doesn’t immediately know what functions like memset, modf, floorf or ceilf among others off the bat, unlike Microsoft Visual Studio. After all these changes the library was able to compile smoothly. To make absolutely sure that it works within Linux, I wanted to build and run the editor, hence why I wanted to set up Allegro and GWEN. I managed to compile it with little effort, but something went wrong…

The editor crashed almost immediately, and the only reason I was able to show the following above was because I tried running the editor without the GWEN GUI rendering in the scene. It didn’t help that Code::Blocks debugger wasn’t working initially, and the closest I got as an error was below.

Fortunately I was able to configure Code::Blocks debugger to work, and was able to find the route cause of the crash being from the GWEN Allegro Renderer being unable to load the font, which is odd because the font I used (Lucida Sans) was able to load fine in my editor code, but fortunately GWEN provides an open source font (Open Sans) that runs just fine. So now with the GUI render up and running, I can test the editor!

I’ve been able to compile the library as both a binary and static build, as well as the editor. I could also compile the unit testing and C# wrapper for it too, but since I mainly wanted to get this done for Gemstone Keeper, I’ll leave it like this for now. Time for the main course!