Sunday, November 27, 2011

The finishing garbage detail

Programmers sometimes say games aren't about graphics. Maybe we just tell that to mask our graphical-incompetency’s. But since many gamers also seem to prefer fun above slick graphics, there must be some truth in it of course. Nevertheless, graphics fetishists like me always start a game or engine with trying to make it look as good as possible. New shader here, yet another rendering technique there. And once we're happy and proud of ourselves, we find a new paper or another @#$^! engine ruins the vibe by showing a much better looking approach. We spend so much time on catching up with the graphics and polishing things that we almost forget about other aspects such as... making a fun, playable game. Jesus, we're like women dressing & stressing up in front of the mirror for hours before going to a party.

Obsessions are usually not a very good thing, then again I don't agree that graphics aren’t important. Zelda Skyward Sword is, of course, on my December presents listing. Zelda is always welcome, especially with Christmas. But I can't deny that the outdated Wii graphics are becoming a royal pain in the ass. Nintendo games have never been photorealistic highlights, nor they should. But the first 3D Zelda Occarina of Time looked awesome nevertheless. A day & night cycle, (pre-rendered) photo-like backgrounds, fresh water, an open world. It was the perfect transition between the 2D and 3D era. ~5 yeras later, the Gamecube Zelda Windwaker title looked like a quality Walt Disney cartoon. Not photorealism, but still a visual treat, even between the advancing tech used in contemporaries such as Halflife2 or F.E.A.R. And then the Twilight Princess arrived end 2006... The bright blooming tried to mask the Wii hardware that was dated already before it came out. For me, the result was a dark, grainy, empty, dead world. Zelda isn't about graphics, but while others in the series sucked me in by showing a magical, sometimes weird, but yet cozy "check-me-out!" world, the grim TP world felt cold.

And now the turn goes to Zelda Skyward Sword. Didn’t play it yet, but I must say it looks more colorful, and therefore more atmospheric & interesting to me. But still... those jagged non-anti-aliased edges are like razorblades in the eyes. The characters + facial expressions look like 1999 fruit with a face painted on it. And the lack of lighting compensated by lot’s of bright weird colored textures, looks as if your mom washed your underpants together with a whole rainbow. Sometimes tasteful, other times chaotic and messy. Yes, graphics do count, because immersion counts. Well, let's just hope Skyward Sword does what Zelda does best: delivering puzzles, a fantastic world, and an unique experiences. Although it’s going to be difficult to please this old nitpicker who played the same formula since the SNES already :p

Zelda: Windwakerl; not a technical highlight, but a piece of art nevertheless.

More important in our case, how could T22 be scary if it looks like pixel-blubber? The scary moments will turn out in disappointing anti-climaxes if the enemy turns out to be a Doom2 sprite, or a pile of boxes? Now Silent Hill looks like foggy shit as well, but least it's a consistent whole of foggy shit. Keep in mind that graphics is not only about awesome shaders, realtime lighting, big Hollywood blasts or photo-realistic water. From a programmer perspective, I'm inclined to say a proper graphical engine makes the graphics hot-or-not. But how come that games like Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube / PS2) still looks good even without tons of effects? And how come that custom made maps in UDK, Source or CryEngine often don't look good at all? Exactly, don't underestimate the power of art(ists). The better they master their(your) tools and engine-tricks, the better results they can make. Even with a limited technical toolkit eventually.

When looking at our Radar Station that is going to be used for the next tech-demo, I'm not 100% happy with it. Of course, when seeing the same stuff over and over again for the past 10 weeks, you become tired of your own creations. And as a programmer, my focus goes to the graphical bugs and shortcomings instead of the good parts. Normals inverted. Texture missing. Lamp looks like poop. Parallax effect not good enough, bleh. While a normal viewer may not even notice it. But also a non-technical person can probably tell the screenshots are not quite yet “A++ quality”.

Outsiders, but also meself are often making the same "mistake". And if you're a hobby game/graphics-programmer, you're probably guilty too. The mistake of comparing your (unfinished) results with commercial games you just played, or (Photoshopped) screenshots from super-engines. It's good to put high standards, but give yourself a break! 4 hours in the evening versus 50 hours-in-a-week work times. Two-and-a-half artist versus the 101th Airborne 3D-nerd battalion. A null euro budget versus a X(-hundred)-million euro budget. Even if you master the code, you still lack manpower to create comparable results. Unless you’re blessed with plenty of talented volunteers to help you out of course :)

A brilliant engine still doesn't make good looking 14k meshes + textures for you... Sergi spend quiet some time on his newest invention shown above!

I'm writing about this (again) because I was looking at some details while playing the PS3 Uncharted 2 demo. And at the same time I was figuring how to improve the Radar Station in these last weeks. Maybe check some enhanced parallax shaders, add some more secondary detail textures on the concrete maybe... I'd say our Radar Station looks pretty good, but something is missing... Then when looking at Uncharted 2, I noticed the individual textures, objects or shading-tricks (such as reflections or shadows) weren't that spectacular either. Nope. What really makes their environments look alive and realistic, is the high amount of "stuff" stuffed into it. In our case a balcony is typically made out of a few 3D cubes, 2 concrete textures, and maybe a drainage pipe in a corner. In uncharted, there is small crap on the floor, a broken cable hangs on the walls, pots are stacked up, a bit of water dripping in the corner, leafs and foliage growing over the walls, a pile of rubble in another corner, 6 different textures.... And that's just a simple stupid balcony, a lot more detail can be found in the surrounding background.

Not just quality, also quantity matters. Do you know why the 3D office-room in your game doesn't look very realistic? Because it's empty. In your face! Let me guess... carpet tiles on the floor, a white plastered texture for the walls, system ceiling with (only) 1 lamp, a few (cloned) desks with a computer screen and keyboard on top, some chairs, and a few posters on the walls. Oh, and for the detail-connoisseur: a stapler on one the desks! Probably that stapler looks a bit out of place, because it's the only small object in the scene compared to the desks and computers. Now look around you in the real world. In my little office at work, there is more garbage than one can count. Computer here, computer there. Cables, lot's of. Electrical outlets, 6 lamps in the ceiling to lit the small room, airco unit, papers scattered everywhere, plastic coffee cups, garbage bin filled with stinky banana peels, oil-marks on the carpet, little holes and damage on the wall, some unnecessary chairs in a corner, a backpack below the desk, cardboard boxes with more electrical junk, folders, VHS Videos(hu?), circuit boards, tape, screwdrivers, business cards, elastics, plastic crap, pencils, markers, and so on. And I'm still missing a damn stapler by the way.

Even simple scenes carry more detail than you would see at first. Just take a look in a random hallway. Wood-floor, painted wall, stone ceiling... That's only 3 boring textures. But look again and better this time. You’ll notice radiators, cables, wires, unused sockets, cracks, marks, skirting, holes, repaired spots, garbage, and the list goes on and on. 6 years ago we could argument that computers can't handle such large amounts of useless junk to render, but these days it shouldn't be too much of a problem to scatter pens and papers over a desk, or to throw bricks and dogturds over the 3D streets. No excuses!

Here one of my major issues. The rooms are pretty large, and thus the textures need to be stretched out further as well to prevent repeating. But small stuff like these sockets suddenly look too detailed compared to the wall. Putting a slim, pretty woman next to a fat woman makes the fat one look even fatter. The solution? Increase shadowMap resolution, add decals(cracks, holes, paint, damage, ...) on the walls to make them look more detailed, add (a lot) more small stuff nearby. Or even better, less texture stretching & more variants on the texture to compensate the repeating. In other words: more assets > more production > more artists

The real limitation is, of course, the lack of manpower. Currently I have three guys on the assets (in their free time). Julio makes surface & effect textures, Sergi makes objects(and their textures), and Robert is doing a little surprise for the tech-demo. Talking about surprising, Robert just became a father btw! A little, healthy little boy surprise entered our world last Sunday!

Anyway, I can't expect three men to fabricate whole asset-libraries in a short amount of time of course. So, for now the environments are still a bit empty, and small details such as a pipe or outlets look a bit out of place. Too bad, but there isn't much we can about that now, no matter what shaders you can bake. Now you understand why games have such big budgets these days. The stapler-models alone already requires a production team of 8 artists!

No, but seriously, the men separate from the boys by having well-thought, well-designed, well-filled environments. We should start with research and a huge photo-resource. Then create ideas & concept-art to give direction to the modelers. Then a group of modelers and texture artists that can exactly produce what makes a room look like a room. And finally, an engine + tools that fulfills the artist needs. That's the theory... In practice I made a bunch of maps with my limited skills, and now the other guys try to fill it with some textures and objects ... Oops, that doesn't sound too hopeful for the next Demo :)

Nah, I'm sure it will look pretty good, certainly for a hobby project without a budget. We can be proud we did that all by ourselves in the evening hours. But one has to analyze and place critical notes once in a while, right? At least we have some ideas of how to improve the quality next time. And maybe I should spend some more energy on finding extra concept & 3D artists rather than trying to patch everything with new shaders :p

Before the wole modeling process begins, you got to start with the proper ideas. Bad or boring ideas can’t be fixed by shaders or good looking textures. The Radar Station was based on some cool photographs Julio found on
abandoned-places. Too bad we didn’t had time to sketch good maps first. I just started modeling relative big simple rooms connected with each other. Got to admit the Radar Station wasn’t meant for a movie in the first place btw!

Here some more input a friend gave me after Googling around. Not-so-usual designs are important elements if you want to show something impressive. If Tower22 would only be made of corridors and apartments you see in any other flat, it would become boring very quickly...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The real deal

Man, heard some painfully awkward "interviews" on the radio this week, while driving to one of our harvesters. Not about Joe Frazier puffing his last smoke, Conrad Murray doing magic with medicines, or Papandreou souvlaki. No, it was about how gamers slept in front of the stores, waiting for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. It's mindboggling when 55 year old people, technically left behind in the Nintendo Entertain System 8 bit era, start asking. "So this video-computer-game is about shooting other puppets with the mouse?". Even more facepalming might be the reactions from hyper enthusiast 16 year old CoD "veterans" explaining what a first-person-shooter is, using modern English generation-X words the interviewer never heard about. Online avatar? Deathmatch? Lagging problems? Shader graphics? 100 frags? LOL?!

Maybe what strikes me most is that this is about CoD in specific. C'mon man, it's just a game. A polished, good looking, action packed one. But really nothing new. When fans told the interviewer about how freak'n realistic this new game is, I frowned my butt crack and had to check my ears. Wha-wha-what?! CoD, Realistic? That's like saying "Cowboy tobacco" and "Whale sperm cells" in one sentence; it has nothing to do with each other. Oh, of course this game *looks* realistic, the visuals are excellent. But isn't this also that game where you kill more (dumb) men you can count, and re-spawn 10 meters back within 5 seconds if you got "fragged"? Imagine that would happen in a Afghanistan...

Yes, I fired a couple of real guns in my life, read the real "Band of Brothers" biography book, watched Ross Kemp almost shitting his pants for Taliban gunfire, seen the Seals on Natgeo, and more important, played Hidden & Dangerous 1 and 2. And let me tell you: you certainly can't kill a helicopter with a tomahawk (axe, the rocket might actually work):
Youtube Modern Warfare helicopter fun
Not only CoD is guilty. Battlefield 3 is inbound dudes. So I watched some in-game footage where a boy and girl had some coop-fun. 5 minutes later, the duo had killed an entire army, caught about 40 bullets without dying, blew up a few tanks that didn't pay attention to them running around with dangerous Javelins, and popped one after another enemy as if aiming a gun is childsplay. And don't get me started on the online features. In theory, you can play a realistic, tactical game. In practice, everyone is running into each other like a Braveheart battle. Cause you don't care about your virtual gamelife anyway. Hence, you re-spawn 5 seconds later after you crashed your helicopter after a tomahawk incident. Realism, my ass.

Those milky Lighting-only testshots always kick-ass. Maybe we should't use (diffuse) textures in this game. Saves a lot of work. The hell with realism.

So, maybe ARMA II is what this old whiner needs. Urr... Much harder, check. Lots of factors to count in, check. Big open maps, check. Realistic weapon ballistics, check. Teamwork needed, check. No stupid re-spawn/regain system, thank God check. Fun... Oh, that's because a real war isn't fun either of course. Truly a realistic game indeed.

Why are the realistic, more serious games so painful? Navigating a soldier is more complicated than doing an emergency belly slide with a Boeing 767 in Warsaw. You need 2 keyboards and 4 big handles mounted on your chair just to move the legs. Why are the graphics mediocre? Why is the A.I. even more dull than in most other action games? Why does such games always contain bugs like getting hit by bullets that went through a mountain, or falling through the floor? You can say a lot about CoD or Battlefield, but at least their mechanics are smooth and slick.

Isn't there a good tradeoff? Well yes there is. Or was, I should say. The last title in this series was released in 2002 I believe. We’re talking about Hidden & Dangerous. Damn I wish they made a new part. That game was stiff and didn't had the brightest opponents either. But at least you were afraid of tanks instead of running into them, throwing grenades. Killing guards, disabling MG42's, sniping patroulles or destroying armored vehicles really felt like an accomplishment. A little more recent example of a well balanced game (in my opinion) is Far Cry. Looked good, plenty action, but also using your brains was rewarding in this title.

Obviously, taste differs and personally I prefer a game somewhere in the middle. It needs to be challenging, realistic, but neither a true simulator. Admit it, killing a helicopter with an axe is pretty cool, and a good laugh is also worth a penny. I think my main beef with these games, is that they are too easy; you simply can’t die anymore! CoD, Crysis, and many others have that auto-regain system and otherwise auto-saves every 20 yards. Or how about Bioshock? You didn't even had to redo stuff after getting killed in that game, the dead remained dead, and you kept all your weapons / ammo. Beautiful game, but not a challenge if you ask me. But challenge does not have to equal realism through.

What is realism anyway, asides from good graphics/sound/physics? Would CoD be more fun if you had to stop and take a crap every six (game)hours? Would Battlefield be better if you need to refuel your Jeep before you blow yourself up 2 minutes later? Would Silent Hill be more fun if the player stumbles over random obstacles while running away from a monster? Would Mario be a good game if that (fat) plumber just jumps 60 centimeters high like you and me? Is a boxing-game good if both boxers hang tired in each other arms every 20 seconds? Could Doom be spiced by only carrying 2 weapons and limited ammunition? Would the Sims be cooler if those bastards sleep 8 real-life hours? Would Tower22 be more immersive if the handyman would smoke and drink beer in the bench every day after work?

Games need to be fun in the first place right? If physical rules have to be thrown overboard, then so be it. If it requires 60 dumb soldiers to shoot per minute to keep the player excited, then so be it. Although I wouldn't call my games "realistic" in those cases, it's perfectly fine to do the impossible. Why else would we need games or movies for? You don't say Superman is lame just because he can fly. In fact, implementing realistic features only works out if it actually adds fun to the game. Though in my opinion, modern games removed too much elements just to make games easier and thus accessible for everyone (=$$$), you play a game to escape from reality. Not to eat bread and tying your shoelaces on the TV again.

Ok, the reason for these white shots was testing a simplified ambient method. I'm still fooling around with a realtime G.I. method, but since my laptop doesn't have that much graphical horsepower, I tried a simple method for lower end cards (and distant area's). Each vertex here has 3 pre-calculated ambient-occlusion values: Sky-occlusion, Ground-occlusion and Environment-occlusion. Depending on these 3 factors and 3 colors, the ambient will be calculated. Since we do this per vertex, it's wise to subdivide your geometry a bit (forgot that here).

How realistic will T22 be then? In the first place, T22 needs to be scary. And easy games just aren't scary. So don't expect you can kill a monster with 5 headshots in a row. That's why I never really understood the negative comments on the camera-angles, limited ammo, and stiff controls in (old) Resident Evils. What do you expect? Rushing through the mansion like Duke Nukem? Oh wait, they actually listened to the fans, and changed these points in RE4 / 5. Quality fun games, but scary? No.

Other than in many other genres, human shortcomings such as a limited stamina, fear or not being able to do Chuck Norris roundhouse kicks, are valid (realistic) limitations. Just as long as the game doesn't start feeling unfair. You need to escape or defend yourself, but certainly not in a too easy way! Testing and tweaking the rules should become an important development phase later on. The goal is to create some "Holy shit barely survived that!" moments.

As you may have read, you won't be confronting monsters all the time though. How to fill the gaps then? Another oddity of horror games (and movies) is that it doesn't have to be a funride. When looking purely at gameplay, Silent Hill is pretty boring actually. You don't play it cause it feels so good. You play it cause you want to find the clues, and cause you like to test your heartbeat. I don't want to make excuses though, so we'll try to add some "fun" by doing focusing more on exploration and puzzle braincrackers. As for realistic elements, a day-night cycle, sleeping and maybe even eating are floating in the idea clouds indeed. But it needs to be integrated in such a way that it feels necessary, not an annoying repeat, and enhances the way how puzzles or confrontations can be solved. If it doesn't, the feature should be scrapped.

But yeah, Tower22 is probably not the type of game everyone will enjoy ;) Maybe the comments on CoD are just out of jealousy ;) Asides from bums, I don't expect people to sleep in front of the stores when(if) T22 finally comes out. It doesn't matter though: we'll make what whatever we please, not what sells. And isn't that the essence of making innovative, good stuff?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

In Control

Countdown, 7 weeks remaining. Funny to see the productivity rises as soon as there are deadlines and to-do lists. Yep, if you want your team (and yourself) not to be sleeping at the job, keep making (sub)targets and easy-to-follow plannings. Or as they would say in Full Metal Jacket, keep throwing hand grenades at Beastman to keep him sharp.

That felt a bit unnatural to me at first, cause basically you're asking your helpers to work hard(er), without giving them a salary in return. But trust me, it's better to push a bit and keep everyone at work rather than kindly asking if one could do asset X somewhere within the next 50 months, if he likes. Don’t forget why an artist joined you in the first place: to create awesome stuff! The more clear the targets, the more being produced, the more enthusiast people are to add their fifty cents.

As for my own progress, I pimped the water with some fluid-dynamics and pretty realistic ripples caused by particles or stuff falling in the water. Improved the parallax effect a little bit for some stone floor, fixed some annoying bugs, and currently I'm breaking my neck (again) at particle-lighting. There are dozens of ways to render particles, but usually the combination of overdraw and complex particle shaders (lighting & shadowMaps) quickly halts your performance. And blending all those damn sprites into a realistic "cloud" is tricky. With simple additive blending, your fog quickly becomes a radiating Fukushima cloud. With classic transparency the quads start biting each other and fade-out the background unpredictably. One second it looks good, the other second it looks as if the air was filled with pregnant flying elephants.

Blurry particle mess. Trying to use lights and shadows on them.

We'll talk again when/if I get those particles working properly. Usually when there is a problem or a new technique that has to be done, I start browsing the internet (really?!). And more than once, I stumble on the feature-lists, brief implementation details, or jealous-making screenshots of other A+ engines. Cryengine, UDK, 4A, Unity3D, Ogre, and so on. I could be proud that my own home-made-hobby engine somewhat approaches the (commercial) big players when it comes to rendering quality. Not saying "Engine22" looks better, but for some free-time plumbing, it isn't that bad.

Yet at the same time, I sometimes wonder why the hell I'm even trying to make my own engine. What's the point? You're not going to win it from the others. Why not making Tower22 with the Cryengine? All those cool water, fog, particle, lighting and whatever LSD tripping effect you’ll need, is ready to kick ass there. And asides from graphics, it has physics, sound, AI scripting, pathfinding, GUI, multiplatform support, editors / tools, documentation, and so on.

Ok, my budget of 100 euro is probably not enough to buy a Cryengine license, but there are cheap or even free engines out there as well. The point is, as a development team, you can actually focus on the game itself instead of an engine + tools that have to be made before you can even start. "Make games, not engines" (Plato, 347-428 BC), that's what they told us. Now why oh why Lord, why do we torture ourselves trying to make something that is A: outdated as soon as you take a crap for 5 minutes, B: takes an awful lot of time, C: unlikely to beat other existing products? Seriously, it reduces the chance of your game ever seeing daylight, unless you have a big team of nutty professors.

Are we just stubborn, or too pride maybe? For me, picking another engine (and throwing overboard my own stuff) feels like surrendering. It's like getting credit for something you didn't do yourself. It's like those modern cars that can automatically park themselves. Any man would say "Auto-parking my ass, watch this honey!".... (bump).

At times like that, I have to remind myself why I'm doing it again. And honestly I can't give a perfect answer, other than I like to program my own engine! If we would switch to a ready-to-use EngineX tomorrow, there is not much left for me. Tweaking some shaders, write some A.I. scripts... yawn. I would become like the redundant manager at the office. Walking around a bit, asking stuff... "Everything ok here?", "Need some coffee maybe?". I can't help the artists much, other than giving directions and feedback. Neither can I compose sound, or make awesome concept-art. And then we have an engine. No idea what really happens under the hood... It just works.

Nah. That sucks. Now I remember why I'm programming again; the need to learn new techniques. Moreover, I want full-control. If something needs to be tweaked, every last bit should be familiar stuff. I rather program my own devices just to be sure it works (or doesn't work) as expected. And I hate flying cause I don't have any control over it. Hmmm... sounds like some sort of psychological issue...

The same scene without particles.

"Make games, not engines". But the same people also say that modern engines are way too much focused on graphical wow-stuff rather than solid gameplay. I disagree that graphics aren't important at all. How about immersion? If Tower22 had to be played on a Wii without shaders to create a scary dark atmosphere and good looking monsters, it will probably suck. Hey, you don't watch Low-Definition TV either, do you? Nevertheless, they have a point of course.

Each engine has a certain feel. No matter what level you play, or which modification you download, certain mechanics and atmospheric aspects keep the same. IdTech has a sci-fi touch, Cryengine excels outdoors, UDK games have a blueish look, and all three are mainly made for first person action shooters. This may work out for game A, but not that well for game B. Although Crysis looks better than its predecessor "Far Cry" in every possible way, I enjoyed the old game much more. Subtle differences in controls, other game-rules, other map-design, different A.I., different pace, different overall look.

When building a game on a certain platform, you automatically inherit some of its DNA. Both the good and the bad aspects. When using Cryengine for T22, the look might be more crisp & flashy instead of a blurry nightmare. And I'm not so sure if I can make one big roaming world instead of loading separated levels. And how about the A.I.? T22 Monsters are completely different than stealthy North Korean soldiers... And how flexible is the engine when it comes to playing weird horror tricks? Like Demo1 that replaced the first room with another room after the monster-chase.

In short, T22 is a complete different game than the action shooters that gave birth to most of the popular engines. But since you can't make a racegame on a soccergame-engine either, I doubt if there exists any engine that does exactly what I want for T22. See? Need to be in full control.

Improved water. The snow that drops on the water creates ripples. Bigger ripples will result in actual 3D waves. Yeah I know, I still have to post another article about water.

So, making games or engines? That entirely depends on you. What is your ultimate target? Learning how to program a game, or (quickly) making the actual game? Are you willing to spend an awful lot of time in researching (new) graphical / A.I. / scripting / physical / whatsoever / techniques? How much time do you have anyway? In case you aim for a complex game, you can safely add at least 4 extra development years if you plan making your own engine. Or make it 8 years, in case you never did it before. Cause you'll be scrapping and redoing parts, if not the entire engine, several times. And last but not least, is there an existing engine that does the things you want?

Here, I made a little dr.Phill test for you.

1. Target?
----0 [a] Release a commercial game
----1 [b] Enjoy my (finished) game
----3 [c] Make a game & sharpen my skills
----5 [d] Learn how to make games
----6 [e] Make a (commercial) killer engine

2. Available time / release date?
----0 [a] 1..2 years
----1 [b] 2..4 years
----2 [c] 4..8 years
----3 [d] I can travel through time. It doesn't matter.

3. How much time can you spend on it each week?
----0 [a] Little. Other things to do
----1 [b] Not so much (5..10 hours)
----2 [c] Pretty much (10..20 hours)
----3 [d] Unlimited, I dream code.

4. Are you working alone, or together with artists that require tools?
----0 [a] Big team (10+)
----1 [c] A small team (<10)
----2 [b] Han Solo
----1 [d] Not relevant, no complex tools needed

5. How complex is your game?
----0 [a] Think in terms of Halflife4 & GTA7
----1 [b] Pretty complex
----2 [c] Pretty simple
----3 [d] Extremely simple. Atari stuff.

6. How important is the quality (graphics, physics, tools, and so on) for you(& team)?
----0 [a] Very, very. A+ quality only.
----1 [b] Pretty much, but I don't have to win
----2 [c] Make games, not graphics

7. Do you like building your own tools & editors
----0 [a] Boring
----1 [b] If I must...
----3 [c] Love it

8. Do you like reading technical papers?
----0 [a] My ass does
----1 [b] Not really, but if I must
----3 [c] Yummy

9. Do you have experience with coding engines?
----0 [a] Dieselengines? No.
----1 [b] A bit
----2 [c] No / a bit, but I'd like to learn
----3 [d] Sure.

10. Are there available (free or commercial) engines in the genre you're aiming for?
----0 [a] Yes, and I can get those
----1 [b] Yes, but I'm not sure if I want to pay for that
----3 [c] No / Yes but not in my budget

11. Where's your heart at?
----0 [a] The creative aspect (making game contents, maps)
----1 [b] Create / Tweaking the game (scripts, A.I., ...)
----3 [c] A mixture of both
----6 [d] The technical aspect (coding stuff)

Now sum the points (max = 35, my score was 22 btw). The outcome is based on absolutely nothing, but at least it got you thinking right?

0..12 points
You really don't have time for technical bullcrap. What you want is a game, not a technical course. Don't torture yourself too much with programming, cause it's likely bringing you nowhere. Don't forget to make fun in the first place. Grab the engine / platform that fits best, and realize your dreams.

13..18 points
The goal is to make a game, but you don't mind getting your hands dirty. Or maybe your type of game is pretty simple, so wrapping up your own code shouldn't be too much of a problem. Don't forget there are intermediates. XNA or Ogre for example will help you with the coding, but you are still in control.

19..26 points
Either you really like to learn how to make an engine, or the type of game you want to make simply forces you into making your own gearbox. An actual release of the game itself will be the cherry on the pie. Go out and play, but don't forget it's not a crime to ask for help or use some ready-to-use libraries.

27..35 points
Nerd ;) You don't give a shit about games really, you just want to do the stuff that the other big boys do, don't you? Whether you can realize a killer engine or not, go ahead and feed those brains.