Dev Diary 006: Despair Sets in

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Matt Barton's picture

Well, it had to happen eventually. For awhile now I've felt that I've been making steady progress towards making my own CRPG using Unity and Blender, but for the last few days I've had the sickening feeling that I'm in over my head. Although I can watch endless tutorials that make the whole process look like a breeze, when it comes down to actually trying to implement anything myself it's just bewildering. I'm finding that I just can't seem to wrap my head around some of the concepts of 3D animation and control. I don't want to give up, but I'm feeling very tempted at this point to just throw my hands up in the air and either go back to trying to make something worthwhile with Gamemaker or beg and plead someone with more experience to be my mentor.

I think it's just too easy for experienced folks not to realize the little niggling stuff that give us noobs endless torment. A good example today was trying to make multiple animations in one Blender file. I knew it was possible, and saw it done in tutorials, but for some reason I just couldn't get it work. It's the sort of thing that someone who knew the program could have helped me overcome in a matter of seconds, but without that aid, I ended up spending hours experimenting with the interface and watching tutorial after tutorial in hopes of glimpsing the right button. Finally, after blind clicking, I found that hitting an "F" button to "save datablock even if it has no users" made it work, and I was able to see my various animations when I imported my Blender file into Unity.

This is the sort of thing that's really hard on a noob. I don't know what a datablock is. I don't know what "users" means in this context. I have no clue why I needed to check this, and not sure it was necessary--perhaps I missed something somewhere else? It's time like that you just feel woefully inadequate and totally out of your element, and that's bad.

It was probably a bad idea, but I figured I might push on to see if I could try to start working on a rat model. Again, I found tutorials and wikibooks and such that make it look like a child can do it in minutes. But once I had my reference photo loaded and was ready to get to work, all my confidence eroded. It's that same sickening feeling I used to get in math classes during tests--you think you're ready, you're confident, but one you get in and start working on the problems, everything just turns to mush. Suddenly the very idea that I could make a rat model out of cubes and vertices just seemed like the most hopeless task I'd ever set for myself!

I was browsing the Assets Store on Unity then to see if there was maybe something I could import--a free model, perhaps, just to tinker with and try to restore some of my mojo. I found a service called Mixamo that looked right. I studied the website, and it looks more or less like DAZ Studio and the like--you create your model using templates, select some motions, and it's supposedly all setup to work with Unity. However, when I downloaded the "Unity Sample File," which supposedly was a demo of a complete scene, I didn't see any file I could actually load into Unity. It looked more like a Microsoft Visual C# project or something. Huh? Finally, I tried just dragging some of the FBX files into Unity, and I could see the models, but saw no animations or any way to control them.

Again feeling ignorant, I went back to the Assets Store and downloaded a skeleton. This time, it worked. I was able to pull the skeleton into Unity and was happy to see the idle animation working as-advertised. I tried some of the other animations out and saw them working.

However, looking at that skeleton a little closer bummed me out again. For one thing, I have only a faint idea of how I could actually get this guy to move around. Secondly, looking at the level of detail and smoothness of the animations--well, let's just say you don't realize sometimes just how pathetic you are until you walk into a gym and see professional bodybuilders on the machines. Maybe you'd look at those hulks and think, well, I can be just like them if I do this five times a week for five years. Or maybe you think, geez, this just isn't for me!

I know a lot of what tutorials and samples are supposed to do is "wow" you and make you want to learn the software, but sometimes it has the opposite effect. When you see stuff that is way, way better than anything you could possibly do, it makes you just want to give up. Looking back, I think one reason I was able to make games with Gamemaker is that I didn't feel so intimidated by the existing projects. Sure, some were way better than what I could do, but I got the general sense that most people were about the same level as I was. With Unity, on the other hand, I feel more like the only guy in the room who doesn't know what "inverse kinematics" means.

I mean, how do people learn this stuff? Do they just know somebody, or what? I'm starting to feel that books and tutorials just aren't going to be enough to get me where I need to be.
Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I'm a very methodical guy when I set out to learn something. I like to feel very confident about each step and that I've mastered it before moving on to the next one. For some reason, though, math and programming also feel like that at first--nice, logical steps, everything makes sense...but then you, suddenly, you slip and you're falling. Once you lose your footing, everything just gets more and more confusing, until by the end of the semester you're so angry and frustrated that you just want to take your F and go home.


Joined: 01/21/2009
I hear ya loud and clear

I hear ya loud and clear Matt.. i get about where you are every year or so.. cry like a little girl and ... give up. But you have one leg up on me.. you have created FINISHED products.. I keep telling myslef that forcing my way into UNITY or TORQUE or some other high end tool is the best choice, it will be hard but in the end the rewards will be greater.. But I'm leaning towards small time, master it then move on.. All your talk had me about to load up unity again.. but I spent a night watching tutorails on Youtube.. I dont have a year to get a solid grasp of this.. well i do have a year.. but I like to play to much. You are already much farther then i got, so you may succed if you just stick to it.. I tend to think you have the ability, but you may be lacking a littel in desire.. not that I dont think you desire it, but if your like me.. you desire to much.. fun, free time, podcasts, book writing, time with wife, etc.. Sometimes i think game making is just like WORK.. its more fun.. but sometimes its 9 to 5.. and no fun.. and that is waht trips me up.. seperates me from the real game designers.. I got ideas out the wazoo.. good or bad, who knows, but just simply am to scater shot to follow through.... I hopein the worst case you move back to GM and make more games, andin the best case you keep hammering away and create something you will be rpoud of.. I must say.. I only made 2 released issues of my comic back in the late 80's.. but I was proud of them.. and that... is my motavation sometimes.. that feeling was good.

Catatonic2 (not verified)
I've had friends try to make

I've had friends try to make 3D games with similar scope as Matts idea, and they never get finished, even after years sometimes. In contrast you can do a great 2D game in a matter of days if you have a good idea. What I like to do is don't take on hobby projects that will take over two weeks to finish or at least get results.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Needed to Vent

Thanks, guys. I think I mainly just needed to vent.

I still think the biggest problem here is that these tools are just too professional.

There just doesn't seem to be a solid in-between option for somebody who wants to go beyond Gamemaker but isn't ready for professional stuff. It seems like no matter where you look, the choice is either for total noobs or for total pros. I've looked at a lot of alternatives, such as XNA Game Studio, but even there they seem to expect you to be coming from a professional background.

In any case, hopefully after I've cooled off a bit I'll be ready to try again. You guys know me; I *hate* giving up. I'm the kind of guy who will try to get something working until 4 a.m. if that's what it takes.

I didn't mention it in the above post, but one thing that's got me wondering is the abundance of 3D models and such that you can buy through various services. That's a nice option, but I'm worried that the costs will quickly escalate, and obviously no matter how comprehensive, there's going to be some gaps in their collections. Jay talked about that as well; it sucks when some of your creatures or models look totally different than the rest.

I'm really becoming convinced, though, that there's just no way a regular joe can create enough of his own 3D animated models to make a decent game. I'm also starting to wonder if there's just no way a regular joe can really expect to learn all the various skills in all the various areas needed.

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Oh my

Thoroughly enjoying this series Matt, don't dispair just take a break from it and do something else or a while. When you get back into it it will all make more sense. Taking a little distance will give you a different perspective on things.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Knowing what you don't know

In the interest of trying to get my progress going again, I've decided to make a list of all the areas and questions I still have...Perhaps this will allow me to focus my research and start getting my feet under me again!

I'll try to get the answers myself through research and tutorials, but will chime back in here if it's just taking me too long or proving too frustrating or difficult. I know you guys are willing to help, but I need to AT LEAST be able to tell you exactly where I need help! :)

And it all really is my fault for trying to jump ahead. I need to go back to my books, read them carefully and not try to leap in just yet. It's just so tempting, though!!! :)

davyK's picture
Joined: 05/21/2006
with any new tech you need to

with any new tech you need to get the fundamentals in your head - normally requires a bit of reading - then start on something small and even primitive - finish that and then move onto something you would consider letting others look at......

I know its tempting to dive in but it does lead to frustration and you might end up making work for yourself because you missed a simpler technique of doing some things you would have used if you had covered the basics right - believe me this is the voice of bitter experience here!!!

Knowing when to dig in and when to take break helps too..

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Thanks, davyK, that's good

Thanks, davyK, that's good advice.

I actually recorded an hour-long podcast but have decided not to release it. I don't know of it's the enormity of this project or the new year or what, but man, I'm feeling really down lately. Perhaps a short break is exactly what I need to try to re-focus and re-calibrate.

I just don't want this to end up like my Rampin' Rescue game I wasted months on just to have put it to rest because I just couldn't hack the physics.

TripHamer's picture
Joined: 07/31/2010
Have you tried....

Have you tried

They have some free videos on Unity that may help and maybe some other free ones you will find useful. Plus a community that will probably be able to help you out.

It's worth a look at the very least.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
This reminds me of that scene

This reminds me of that scene in Disney's Sword & the Stone where Archimedes' form of education is to point Arthur at (literally) a mountain of books and says "Start by reading those."

No doubt there are tons of very useful videos there, but it's completely overwhelming.

I'm finding the problem I'm having is not that I can't find any tutorials, it's that there is SO MUCH stuff out there. It's hard to know where to start, what is ESSENTIAL vs. what is just nice to know. Maybe I *need* to know ALL of this just to make a simple CRPG. Maybe there's just no short cuts. If that's the case, I'm in over my head and need to just drop this now. It is, after all, a hobby for me, not a career.

If I had the money or knew experts in this stuff, what I'd like to is just explain what I'm trying to do and have the person set up a learning program for me. What do I *need* to know to do what I want, and what's the quickest way to get there? That's where I'm really having a crisis over. I don't have the time or interest to watch thousands of videos or read hundreds of books. I just need to know the minimum knowledge to make what I want to make.

Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Joined: 09/04/2006
Thoughts, advice, and stuff.
Matt Barton wrote:

This reminds me of that scene in Disney's Sword & the Stone where Archimedes' form of education is to point Arthur at (literally) a mountain of books and says "Start by reading those."

No doubt there are tons of very useful videos there, but it's completely overwhelming.

Matt, I've read with great interest your development blog, and perhaps a somewhat objective perspective can help. I'm going to be a bit straight-up here, so think about what I say, but if you KNOW I am off-base, then file it away as not applicable to you.

First of all, I say forget about trying to learn Blender for now. 3D art is possibly the HARDEST of the computer art fields; it's (in my experience) harder than 2D, harder than music-making, harder than... heck, just about anything I can think of this side of scientific/industrial applications or outright programming in C++ or such. 3D is DEEP, and you're not going to get impressive, or even serviceable, imagery out of it without a great deal of understanding of the 3D tools available. And there's no way to achieve that level of understanding with just casual dedication. It requires commitment to the 3D path. It's its own little world.

How do I know this? Well, not to toot my own horn, but I'll repost this image again. Keep in mind that it was (largely) done in the year 1996!

 RO_Starliner.lha on AminetArcturian Starliner: RO_Starliner.lha on Aminet

Ok, so what? Well, it was done on a 68030 Amiga with 7 megs of Ram! You think it's hard now, but it was MUCH harder then. Just to see if your texture map was applied properly to an object, you had to "test-render" a portion of the scene, which in my case could take up to 45 minutes! Oops, the texture needs to be moved slightly to the right. Now, wait another 45 minutes! Oops, too far... another 45 minutes! It was aggravating and time consuming, yet this stuff can be done IN REAL TIME WHILE YOU"RE MODELLING THE OBJECT now!!!!

My access (and understanding) of the Internet was much more limited back then, so I didn't get a whole lot of feedback (or help). Certainly I had no friends who could help or encourage me; none of them really even understood what they were looking at. So I produced this image, on my own, largely in isolation, and no feedback. I became exhausted and discouraged that my efforts seemed largely for nothing. I gave up.


The reason I'm telling you this story is that it might serve as a lesson (and psychological warning) of some sort. Now, 15 years later, I have dabbled with 3D a slight bit, but have produced nothing of note. Ok, so what?

Well, go on AMINET and look in the pix/trace sections. I defy you to find much, if anything, that's comparable to my art done with the Amiga. Again, not trying to sound arrogant and conceited, but 15 years later, I can look at it a bit more objectively. I think there were very few images done on the Amiga (by amateurs) on Aminet that compares! I recall maybe one other artist that did impressive 3D art with Imagine, but other than that, I didn't see much that approached "Starliner" in quality. At least in my (maybe conceited) mind.

"Starliner" may look quaint now, but is it possible that I was among THE BEST Aminet artists in THE WORLD at the time!?! That's a staggering thought. If so, I certainly didn't know it, and felt that I had achieved nothing. I did get a few "fan mails," but also some nitpicky criticism (or slams, or accusations that I stole something, which I didn't... it's all mine). Fan mail or criticism: take a wild guess which side affected me the most. So not only did I feel like I achieved nothing, I felt like most people thought my work sucked. I gave up, when I could have been just starting to become a great 3D artist!

So what does this have to do with you?

Well, forget about thinking about me as "Rowdy Rob." Right now, think about me as "FUTURE MATT BARTON."

Here I, as Future Matt Barton, am going to give my thoughts and advice.

1) Forget about learning Blender for now. Concentrate on Unity. Trying to fight a war on two major fronts divides your forces. Blender is too tough a beast to tame, and even if you tame it, you still won't have a game, and you'll be exhausted and discouraged. Concentrate all your firepower on Unity. In the mean time, use placeholder 3D graphics to get your game concept working. Hopefully a solution for 3D art will present itself in the future.

2) Speaking of concentrating all your firepower on Unity, CONCENTRATE ALL YOUR FIREPOWER ON UNITY. The potential for exposure and revenue is ENORMOUS with Unity, compared with Gamemaker. If you had programmed "Thrust Lifter" with Unity, you'd have an APP right now that could be posted to online game sites like "" right now, bringing in a cut of advertising revenue, plus you'd have an app that could be potentially ported to the Android and iPhone platforms!!!!! Thrust Lifter seems like it would be a perfect fit for a portable game app!!!! It's not too hard to play, I could see the controls being easily adaptable to cell phones or iPads, and if you sold it for cheap, you'd probably make a considerable chunk of change. If even 1000 people paid for it at .99 cents, that's close to $1000 extra dollars you'd have right now.

3) Consider retreating and regrouping. Do NOT give up, but rethink your travel route from your current point of origin. A CRPG seems like a huge project to take on out of the gate while learning a new system (Unity). It sounds like you're back to square one with Unity. Perhaps try a smaller project, like "Thrust Lifter II," or even your "Rampin' Rescue" game. Heck, "Rampin' Rescue" seems eminently doable in Unity, with its built-in physics. I downloaded a simple "car" demo with a ramp on it around a year ago for Unity. You drive around a simple "car" object on a plane and drive it up the ramp and ramp off of it. I think there were a few box objects to push around and collide with. That seems like it's the basis for your game already!

Well, I could go on, but those are some thoughts. Consider it, and weigh whether I'm on the right track with you or not. DO NOT GIVE UP.

"It ain't how hard you hit, it's how hard you can get hit and keep movin' forward. How much you can take, and keep movin' forward. That's how WINNING is done!"
- Rocky Balboa

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