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Well this is probably going to be a short one, since for 20 of the 30 days since the last DevBlog I’ve been busy with writing and for the other 10 I’ve been trying to catch up with all the other stuff I didn’t get done while I was doing all that writing. The two avenues I’ve made progress on are in developing the Feral enemy type and in improving the camera system.

I posted the concept art for the Feral a little while back, and I’ve since been poking and prodding at getting some sprites done for it to add to the game.

I’m not thrilled with these at this point: The look of them is good, but the animation still feels extremely stiff for the most part. I’m having difficulty with handling the sorts of subtle motions I want this creature to make when it’s not being aggressive, and making them read on a fairly low-res sprite. I ended up tabling that work when I returned to the project since, as I’ve discussed in the past, I tend to find animation frequently turns into a demoralizing slog for me. So, to get myself back into the project and to build up a bit of momentum, I’ve gone back to programming work.

After a few days, I have most of what I think should be a functioning behavior set for the Feral, but I haven’t tested it yet – mostly, honestly, I just wanted to get the code to build so I could work on other parts of the project for a bit. Still, it means I’ll probably be able to get the Feral up and running in fairly short order, and that hopefully will increase my enthusiasm for creating and polishing the necessary animations.

More recently (ie just now) I’ve been working on the camera system. I went back and read a rather interesting Gamasutra article that exhaustively explored the different approaches to 2d camera systems and, while doing so, revised mine. In fact, I revised my camera system several times over, trying out different ways to move the camera or to determine where I was moving the camera to. I’ve mostly settled on a system where it offsets the camera based on the character’s facing enough to see what’s ahead and moves the camera faster based on how far it is from it’s desired position (without modeling acceleration), but there are a few instances where the camera jumps around in a rather unappealing way left to be dealt with.

I’m still getting used to working on the project again, and of course there’s holidays coming up to be a distraction, but spending a little while away from EverEnding has given me enough perspective to know that it’s not force of habit, or some inane belief that just finishing this one thing will make me rich, or certainty that it will somehow change the world, or some other bad reason that keeps me working on this game. I still love the version of it I have built in my mind, and I still want to try as hard as possible to bring that vision to fruition, and especially to see what it slowly shapes itself into along the way.

 

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Worked on the game very little over October since I’ve been busy with other stuff – character designs, learning 3d modeling/sculpting, picking Reason back up and trying to get the ball rolling again on music composition, and streaming more. I’ve poked here and there at getting sprites and behaviors set up for the Feral enemy type which I posted character art for last month, but made no substantial progress there. And, with pushing myself to make daily blog posts this month and keeping up on the streaming, I probably won’t have a ton of energy left over to work on the game, but I’ll be trying to schedule bits and pieces here and there so I can keep my momentum rolling a bit, ready for when I’m prepared to work on the game with a bit more focus. In the meanwhile, I’m still slowly picking away at the huge concept painting I mentioned last month, which I’ve decided to regard as a work in its own right, since it’s going to take me an absurd amount of time to finish. Still, I think it could look kind of amazing when it’s done, so I’m sticking with it.

The one major bit of EverEnding related work I’ve finished is a character design I’ve been tossing around in my head. This character doesn’t even appear in the first act, but is very important in the second. I’m pleased to have taken some time to figure out the design, since some of the ideas I was playing around with originally absolutely did not work when I actually drew the character. I think I’m pretty pleased with how this design turned out, though future revisions are still likely.

Next month will probably be more minor updates and changes. I’ll probably have the game a bit more backburnered for the near future, as I try to set up alternate revenue streams to support myself, but still fully intend on finishing this project – after all’s said and done, I still really like this idea, and want to see it come to fruition.

 

If there’s a saying that’s haunted me over the years, it’s “Jack of all trades, master of none.” There’s a sense of causality implied here, suggesting that being a jack of all trades necessarily implies being a master of none – which makes a certain amount of consequential sense, given that we only have so much time to dedicate to practice, and that practicing one thing must necessarily take time that could be used practicing another. And yet… well, I really would like to be a master of, if not all, then several trades.

I’m proud of the progress I’ve made, but the better I get at anything the more I see how much I have yet to learn, and the more time passes the more I’m scared that I don’t have enough time or energy to learn anything to the extent that I would like to. Every bit of pleasure I take in seeing my art improve drips into the gap I perceive between that improvement and what it is possible to achieve with the medium. And yet, can I give up on anything? Can I stop writing, stop drawing, stop making games, stop making music – how can I stop, when I’ve already come so far? I don’t feel okay with stopping – I don’t even feel okay with the idea of stopping starting, since there are other skills still I want to pick up and improve at, and I also want to push my abilities along new avenues – to write different kinds of words and music, make different kinds of art. I just started streaming games on Twitch a while ago, which is developing a whole new set of verbal performative skills, a category of art I’ve barely approached before in my life but have felt a subtle yearning for.

Yet I also don’t feel okay about being broke, though that seems to be where I’ve gotten with these trades and practices and skills thus far – either because I’m not confident enough to sell the products of my labor or because the products of my labor are of insufficient quality or breadth of appeal to find purchase. I’m trying to work on both of those right now as well, but it’s slow going and in the meanwhile, as I chew through my monetary reserves, I feel quite broke and somewhat worried.

There’s no good way I can see besides the way I’m doing it. If I try to raise money through more traditional venues (IE get a job selling coffee or burgers) I have dramatically less time and energy to develop my abilities and create new works, further reducing my capacity for self-improvement and self-sufficiency – though, I suppose, I might gain some additional and unexpected skills through the work itself.

Maybe I’m greedy. I just can’t let anything go. It’s a privileged position to be in, still. Most people don’t get a chance to make this choice. Sometimes I wonder if I’m making the most of it, but all I can do is my best, and it’s also an opportunity I can’t let pass – though I know that, as with everything, this, too, shall pass. I just have to be ready before that happens.

Another weird month! They’re all weird months, now. I suppose that makes them normal, in a way. In an actual for real way, though, they remain weird.

Last month I mentioned that I was going to be working less on the game and more on building a portfolio – and so I am, but it turns out these goals aren’t quite as much in conflict as I was thinking they would be last month. EverEnding still requires a ton of design work, concept work for enemies and areas that have yet to be added to the game. Now, if I was solely focused on the game I’d probably just design all of these as I built the actual assets for the game, and I’ll probably still be doing that a fair bit, but this will allow me to iron out some of the trickier areas in my head while also making art that will be useful both for promoting myself and the game.

So let’s start with the EverEnding stuff and then I’ll move on to some of the other stuff I’ve been working on. The big thing I’ve been trying to do is develop a concept painting of one of the late game areas, but I’ve hit a snag – or maybe a lot of snags. I’m not used to environmental art so I’m having to figure out a lot of things as I go along, and I’m not really sure what the scope or precision of one of these paintings should be. As things stand, I’ve started a HUGE painting which is taking me a long time to finish, and which I’m unsure of the quality of since I’m having to learn so much as I go. The good news is that if I can execute I think this could be really something, and perhaps even be a cover painting or other very front-facing promotional material. It’s a bit discouraging having to spend this much time on something, but I hope to have this painting done for the next monthly update.

In terms of stuff that’s actually finished, I did a concept drawing of one of the early game enemies, the Feral:

I’ve started in on the sprite work as well, but haven’t gotten very far yet (this is something else that will probably be ready for next month’s update). I was going for something a bit in between a rat and a chimpanzee with some human-like aspects, and I think I hit that mark pretty well.

I came up with another enemy design for the game, but it turned out to be rather boring so I’m not going to bother to include it – it’s just a gray silhouette of a man, which isn’t interesting to look at but drawing out the design helped me figure out some specifics of pose and outline which will probably make the character a lot more interesting when i add it to the game. Additionally, there’s a character design for an important character in the second chapter, but I think that design as well is a couple of revisions away from being ready to show. I’ve also finished some minor sprite work for the project, making all of the mask enemies in the first two parts of chapter 1 pretty much animation-complete.

Aside from EverEnding stuff I’m working on learning Unity and building a prototype in there. I won’t go too much into that until I have something I have confidence in, but I came up with this ‘character’ design today for use in the project:

So I guess if the prototype turns out well I’ll have to actually model that, which will be an interesting challenge as well.

I’ve also been practicing 3d sculpting a bit, and… I don’t know, miscellaneous other things. My main goal is to try to take this wide reach of things that I’m trying to do all at once and try to bake some discipline into my approach, because I’m getting a bit overwhelmed just trying now to remember all the things I’m working on. I’ll probably try to work out a somewhat more regimented schedule than I’m generally used to tonight so that I can more effectively avoid driving myself insane over the coming weeks.

 

This month was a completely different kind of weird month than the last weird month – but weird nonetheless.

I ended up taking around two weeks of vacation, between a planned family visit, a memorial service, and associated travel times. When I got back the entire city was blanketed in toxic smoke particles, so I had to lock myself indoors – even more so than I do habitually, and with less ventilation. And, between these trips and certain extremely stressful interpersonal conflicts, I’ve been thinking about things – about where I’m going with my life, how I want to get there, and what that will look like.

First, I should probably address the lack of posts on the blog. I could have probably kept things going, but I’ve been feeling like it’s harder and harder to come up with topics that I feel are worth writing about, to the extent that I don’t feel some of my posts are to the level of insight or quality I want them to be. If all else were equal I’d just shake it off as a bad streak, but I think it’s also just been hard to focus with all of this strife and uncertainty in my life, so I’ve put things on hiatus for a bit. I wanted to make some sort of official announcement about that, but I kept putting it off until now, when I needed to write a devblog post anyway. I intend to resume posting on the previous schedule starting in November.

Regarding my plans for the future: The game is still being made, but I also feel like I need to put a bit more into existing as a professional in the here and now rather than just in a nebulous future. Towards this end, I’ve decided to start seeking freelance work –  and, tangentially, if you would like to hire me to do any of the sorts of work you have seen/read/heard here at Problem Machine, please feel free to email me with inquiries at problem.machine@gmail.com. However, as soon as I began looking for contract work, I realized that I feel a crushing lack of confidence in what I have to show as portfolio work right now. I don’t feel like what I have done shows in any way what I am truly capable of doing – and, since I happen to have come into a bit of money recently, enough to relieve my most immediate financial pressures, for a while I will be shifting my focus from just surviving while I make my game to making my game, learning and practicing, and building my portfolio. I have a list of what I want to create over the next few months, a list I don’t really care to get into the specifics of at the moment, but which involves a number of art, programming, music, and game development tasks. Once this list is complete, I expect to have a body of work that I can be really proud of, something which, even if it isn’t outstanding in every respect, can at least be regarded as roundly workmanlike and occasionally exceptional.

Now I’m 500 words in and I haven’t really talked about the game much at all. Despite everything, I have gotten some work in on the project – mostly, at this point, developing the attack animations for the sub-types of mask enemy.

And when I say mostly, I mean entirely, since I really haven’t had more than a week or two free to actually work this month. As I’m working on building my portfolio I’ll probably have a bit less time to work on the game, but will continue to plug doggedly away at it, if for no other reason than my skull starts feeling too small for my brain if I stop for any significant length of time. It should be fairly easy to finish developing these enemies animation-wise, and then I can revisit the behavior code to fix the remaining issues with their in-game behavior, which shouldn’t be too hard. Once these guys are done, there’s only a couple more enemies to develop for the opening sections of the game, one of which is pretty simple, and I can probably refocus my attention on building up the aesthetic of the early stages. In the meanwhile, future devblog updates will probably contain samples of the work I do in building up my portfolio, which hopefully will be of interest to those of you who have been interested in the game in the first place.

It’s been a bit of a weird month. I haven’t worked deeply on much, but made a lot of slight progress on different things, and have also made some substantial revisions to the game design.

Well, first things first, I made this piece of background art:

I like how this one turned out, but I also need to make an alternate version of it for a special effect I have planned and that one is proving to be a bit difficult. A lot of these background images are almost technical problems, where I need to figure out a way to depict the idea I have in my head without getting bogged down for hours and hours, and also to depict an area that makes some sense relative to the actual navigable portion of terrain the game takes place in. This background already has taken far more time than any of the others, and the potential for an even more detailed and time-consuming version has me a bit concerned, so I’m trying to figure out a clever way to approach it..

With these concerns in mind, I decided to drop the background work for a bit and work on some animations. I began creating animations for one of the other early-game enemies, the Crawler:

This is one of very few enemies in the game what does damage on contact rather than having to do a particular attack, and is more or less completely unaggressive and minds its own business – an obstacle as much as an enemy, really. The animations aren’t quite complete yet, with the turn animation in particular being a bit of a troublesome obstacle, but it’s coming along. Once this and the mask enemy are complete, there’s only one more enemy type planned for the first couple areas of the game, so I’ll have pretty much everything I need in place to finish building out the early areas. I also spent some time building out some of the animations I’ll need for the other variations on the mask enemy, such as the stone throwing and spear throwing types, but nothing finished as of yet.

There were some other minor side-lines – a system for making it possible to modify a value from multiple locations without overwriting each other’s modifications, building a special ‘alternate reality’ effect for the second area, roughing out some of the level designs… near the end of the month, though, I realized, or perhaps merely acknowledged, a number of substantial design flaws that were threatening to undermine the game. These had to do with the upgrades I had planned, when you were likely to find them in the game, and how useful and interesting they would be. The biggest problem that emerged was that I had come up with the idea of this attack using the sling and, when I thought about how it would feel in action, I realized it was completely unsatisfactory. Essentially I was planning this whole ability which didn’t really have any role in what the player was doing – it would be the only ranged attack available, sure, but in a game where ranged attacks weren’t really necessary to succeed, and it would totally clutter up the control system.

I spent a few days thinking about this, and eventually came up with a whole new system, with a set of 4 elemental attacks and alternate forms of each attack, along with a system of special attack ‘charges’ that get restored whenever the player gets hit. I think this is a pretty good idea! But it also presents a lot of issues with, again, when the player finds upgrades and what role those upgrades play in the overall flow of the game. I’m still not 100% there with this design, but the missing pieces will probably be small things that I can fit into place as I go rather than massive gaping holes that I need to invent whole new game systems to fill.

Since then, I’ve just been reworking the way attacks are programmed to make room for this system. The new attack system is far more flexible than before, though there are probably still some ways I could improve it that I may have to consider.

This month will probably have more work on creating enemy animations, a little bit more design work figuring out what the flow of upgrades and specific properties of special attacks will be (along with whether I want to have, say, special objects that the player can interact with using said special attacks), and perhaps laying the groundwork for creating the special attacks themselves – though they are mostly a low priority for a moment, since most of them are planned to be found later in the game than the first chapter, which is where I am currently focusing my development effort. If I don’t feel like that stuff then creating assets and level details for the first couple areas, finishing the mentioned background image, or building improving tilesets are also strong possibilities for productive work to do next.

 

I’ve been self-employed for a while now, which is a way of saying that I don’t have a job but I still scrape by and I hold out hope that one day my hobbies will make me money. It’s taken a lot of practice – not only practicing the skills and hobbies that will, as I mentioned, hopefully one day bear fruit of one sort or another, but also practicing the art of scheduling those skills and hobbies.

When I first tried to make it as an independent developer, I figured I would work 8 hours a day. That’s what you do for a job, right? I managed approximately one day on that schedule before I imploded, and got extremely depressed at my inability to manage the schedule I had created for myself. It was a bad scene, and for about a year I got basically nothing done. I knew that, at my best, 8 hours is nothing – and sure, that’s fine for one day, but two? Three? A week? A month? How many good days can I have in a row? What do I do when I have a bad one, and start falling behind where I want to be?

A key difference between self-employment and your average job is for a job you mostly just have to show up and do what’s expected of you. When you have your own goals, your own standards, there’s no end to what you can expect of yourself, and it becomes hard to tell what counts as work and what doesn’t. 8 hours at a desk doing a job isn’t the same thing as 8 hours of work: There’s a lot of job-time that isn’t exactly work, that’s time spent organizing the mind and figuring out what task to do next and, frankly, just fucking off, waiting for the moment where one feels up to the next task. Perhaps not everyone works that way, but I mostly did and in so doing had no problem keeping up with the tasks assigned to me or keeping pace with my peers, so I assume it’s basically the same for most people – or, at least, most people working on creative or technical tasks which require focus and concentration.

Trying to schedule this kind of work is kind of like panning for gold – you can control how much time you spend doing the job, but not how much of that effort generates results. Putting in more effort can have counterproductive effects, as your vision gets bleary and you start to miss things, or as you get frustrated with a run of bad luck and get impatient.

Most of all I’ve had to learn to take things slow and to be patient with myself. I’ve had to accept that most days I can only make an hour or two of real work, most days progress will be slow and painful, and that I have to accept that things will take a while. An hour or two a day is good, as long as it’s consistent, as long as it’s real work. However, I also need to leave that a bit open-ended, to enable myself to work more when I’m enthusiastic and able – or to forgive myself for working less, when I just can’t do it.

It’s difficult. It requires listening to yourself and being honest about what you can do and how much and when. It requires being willing to demand things of yourself and also being willing to forgive yourself when you fail to live up to those expectations.

At least, that’s the way I’ve learned to do it. I’m sure there are better ways, and I’m sure there are people who do it better. I constantly fear I’m not doing enough, I constantly worry I’m doing too much, I constantly feel I should be expanding my horizons, I constantly feel I’m spreading myself too thin. I don’t know a better way, though, not yet. Bit by bit, I explore the boundaries of what I’m capable of, and I try to push them out just a little more – and if, perhaps, my work won’t be done for another five years, ten years… then that’s upsetting, but far better than the alternative, just out of sight behind me, that my work might never be done at all.