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Eve

Well, I’m back to working on EverEnding. That side-project ended up being exactly what I didn’t want it to be, an excuse to work on a whole bunch of tools without ever making an actual game to go with them. We’ll call it a learning experience. What did I learn? I learned that I have a habit of avoiding the scary unquantifiable parts of a project in favor of working on parts that feel like safe investments – that I feel, somewhere inside myself, that if I pour my efforts into making tools and systems that that’s a safer gamble to me than pouring them into the actual core of a game. Art is scary! The more time you have to put into making it, the scarier it gets – in the first place, making art is like putting a message in a bottle and letting it out to float on the sea, and it only gets more stressful when you spend more than a year creating that message. The solution is not, I think, to spend another year developing new bottle and paper and ink production facilities to make creating each message that tiny bit less terrifying, but it’s an appealing option to take whenever it presents itself.

Oh, also in addition to those big existential questions I guess I learned a lot about making a scripting system and working with OpenFL. So that’s good too.

Once I decided I’d basically dead-ended, it was clearly time to head back to EverEnding. However, I’d left the project in uh… not a great place. I’d completed about half of the OpenFL port, and lots of systems weren’t running and I’d left lots of bugs in the systems that were running. Eventually, after lots of debugging and deliberation, I ended up rolling back a number of the changes I’d made and reverting back to Adobe AIR… for now. The reason for this is that switching to OpenFL would not only require me completely rewriting all my rendering systems, it would also make a couple of the special effects I’m planning extremely difficult. I really want to be actually working on a game now, so I figure rather than resolving all these issues right away I can defer them for a while. A big thing that enabled that is that OpenFL now supports Adobe AIR as a target platform, so with a few checks in my code to handle cases that are unique to OpenFL (most of which I’d already implemented) I can have something that can run on that version of OpenFL with no changes and, perhaps soon after, build to other OpenFL target platforms. Even if I’m not prepared to implement OpenFL just yet, with my experimentation here and with the side-project I think I have a pretty good idea how I’ll handle it when that time comes.

So, back to working on EverEnding: There were a few big design decisions I’d been deferring, one of which was specifically how to handle the narrative of the game and the other was creating some sort of special moves the player could unlock over the course of the game. I think I figured out a good system for creating a narrative in the style of sort of a story-book, with narration synced to music and text fading in – this is probably something I’ll want to prototype, though, to make sure it actually feels right. The special moves are like 75% figured out, but only the smallest slice of that stuff will be in the first chapter of the game, which is the one I’m focusing on right now, so I can figure out the last of that later. After I got that stuff basically sorted, I created a big task-list for creating chapter 1 of the game. I already had a task-list, but I made one that was bigger and more thorough, and had accompanying time estimates for each task. I tried to overshoot every estimate, but if they’re accurate than I have something in the region of 1300 hours to put into the project before the first chapter is complete. That’s a lot. Then again, I’ve put that much time into TF2, and I didn’t even make that game.

I have my work cut out for me. I’m going to start scheduling myself a bit more strictly again, though I may only get a few days to work to that schedule before I have to leave for a family thing, but with all this down and planned out I feel – well, not exactly optimistic, but determined I guess. I just turned 35, I’m starting to get the tiniest bit of grey in my beard, I got a blood pressure monitor for my birthday. I really do need to actually finish a project.

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Oh well this is awkward.

Effective, um, like 5 days ago, the EverEnding project is going on hiatus. For how long? I’m not sure! I’m pretty confident it’s not permanent, but I’m also pretty confident it’s going to be for at least a month or two, and maybe as much as a couple of years depending on how those next couple months go.

The natural question to ask at this point is: Why? Good question! I’ve been feeling for a while that, while I still feel passionate about this project, I also have it backwards. I really feel that the optimal game development process is about getting a simple version of the game up and running and then iterating on that and navigating by your artistic sense towards the most interesting version of that game. However, with EverEnding, I’m constantly stopping and planning and designing and concepting before I even have part of the system up and running. This is still true even now when, OpenFL port notwithstanding, there’s nothing stopping me from getting the game playable and iterating on that bit by bit and improving it that way, rather than constantly trying to make Big Design Choices and Sweeping Revisions. I keep thinking about the forest that will grow here someday and forgetting to plant the trees.

Which segues naturally into what I’m going to do now: I haven’t decided. Or rather, I’m specifically avoiding deciding anything but the most basic generalities of the project. It is going to be a game, and I’m going to be streaming its creation – I dunno if it’s a stream anyone will be interested in watching (so far it seems not to be, judging from the 4 streams I’ve done already) but these streams are just as much for me as for any hypothetical audience. The streaming is to keep me honest, keep me focused on the task at hand for a couple of hours with no web browsing or procrastinating. It also provides a way to document the history of the project, so I can see exactly how much progress I’ve made in a week or a month or a year from now.

Now, while I’m trying to avoid deciding as much as possible, I know this much about the project: First, it’s a top-down adventure game in the vein of the Zelda series. Second, it takes place in one big area instead of discrete dungeons, probably a mansion, possibly haunted. Third, I want to fill it with secrets and details, most of which I’ll figure out on the fly as I work on it. Right now the working title for the game is The Third Story, as a slight play on words both for a large mansion and for uncovering the stories contained therein, but that’s likely to change any time I think of something better. For the time being I’ve been mostly just laying the foundational code – which is mostly pretty tedious to watch, likely one reason the streams haven’t been popping. However, as the project progresses I want to do all of the scripting and level-building within the game itself – so, once I reach that point, the streams will be a lot more level editing/scripting and a lot less walls of code.

That’s all in the future, though! For now, the game is just blocks that move around and spit text at each other – no graphics, no collision, no sound. I intend to keep up the monthly DevBlogs here, but the contents will be related to the new project. I don’t want to rule out the idea of doing more work on EverEnding, though: Since I’m developing this new thing in OpenFL, I should be accumulating a lot more familiarity with how things work in that API, and this may give me exactly the energy and confidence I need to finish the port and get the project up and running again. Also, just looking at and listening to the materials I’ve created already makes me a bit homesick for the EverEnding project, so I’m not sure how long I want to stay away… But I’m confident this is the right thing to do. For now.

I already feel tremendously better morale-wise, just being able to work on a project where I feel like it’s always moving forward. If nothing else, I’ll be able to apply some of the methodology I’m picking up here – not just in terms of OpenFL and game development, but also in terms of livestreaming and documenting development and using that process to bolster my creative energy.

It feels good to be seen – even when no one’s watching, just to be willing to be seen is worth a lot.

I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post, since it’s always galling to admit this: Very Little progress has been made on the project over the last month.

This is not to say I haven’t been working on it – though between a week-long trip and focusing on more immediate work to pay rent I have perhaps not been working as much on it as I ought to. The issue is more that most of the work I’ve been doing has involved slowly revising the code base to work in OpenFL, which really doesn’t give me a lot to show.

It can be discouraging sometimes when the project is in this state. In general I kind of enjoy the work of refactoring, streamlining, and optimizing that goes into revisiting an existing part of the code base like this. However, particularly when it comes to a major restructuring like this, it means there’s a long period of time where the game as a program that can be run and experimented with ceases to exist. Right now, when I want to work on EverEnding, there is precisely one part of the project available for me to work on, and that’s this programming work. Not even especially interesting programming work, at least for now – once the fundamentals are in place I’ll also have a job of making sure the drawing routines are optimal and testing/improving the replacement displacement map filter code I wrote (as it turns out shader programming wasn’t necessary to create it, but I may look into creating a version implemented that way once I have this version working).

For now, there’s not much to say. I don’t know, a lot of the time I feel like I might just be wasting my time here, like I don’t know how to access the kind of discipline and productivity to make a project of this scope feasible, at least not in my current living situation. I wonder a lot if a different project might be a faster or better way to achieve the expression I have been straining towards with EverEnding, or if there’s some way to scale back or streamline this game conceptually which would allow me to work on it in a more effective and productive fashion. It is always difficult to tell which doubts are warning signs to be taken seriously and which are just self-sabotage.

Regardless, I am nearing completion of the changes I’ve made to the Particle System to make multi-threading stuff entirely self-contained within the system itself so I don’t need to negotiate that in the game program, as well as I guess in any other games I hypothetically make with the same tool in the future. There’s definitely a hint of programmer-itis there, where I find myself creating a more general purpose and fool-proofed tool than is actually needed – after a certain point I just gotta accept that sometimes I take the long route just because I feel that it’s more proper, even if it’s less pragmatic. Within this week sometime I think I’ll be able to get back to more interesting work on the project. It sucks getting stalled, but it doesn’t last forever – and, regardless of my doubts about where all this will eventually go, I think I can pursue it with no regrets as long as I enjoy and believe in my process.

It hasn’t been an especially productive month for the project, but things are grinding forward. I decided I was still dissatisfied with the performance, even after all the improvements I made to the particle system a year or so ago, and so I’m working on getting the project running in OpenFL, an open-source project that emulates Flash/AIR’s API but builds in C++ and tends to be faster. This isn’t really a smooth process, since there are a few Flash features that didn’t get ported and the ways file i/o and multi-threading are approached are very different. The file system stuff is no big deal, and I believe I’ve fixed the issues emerging from that already, though since I’m still working on the other stuff I haven’t been able to build the game to test those fixes yet. The multi-threading thing is more difficult but I think I’ve got a handle on it now, and the challenging part is mostly sequestering my Flash multi-threading code away so that I can write the special cases that change from platform to platform without turning everything into a total spaghetti mess. The features that aren’t supported… might be an issue. The only one I’ve found so far that looks like a big deal is that OpenFL currently has no equivalent of the DisplacementMapFilter, the processing effect which I used to make that water effect I was so proud of and which I also would like to use for a few other special effects. I’m going to have to look into creating a replacement – which sucks, but might end up being a blessing in disguise, since this will be a fairly natural way to explore the wide worlds of shader programming and, indeed, of contributing to open source projects if my solution ends up being of sufficient quality to submit as an OpenFL component.

Aside from this, I mostly worked on building the behaviors for the Feral enemy type which I shared a few sprites for last week. These behaviors are mostly finished now, but haven’t been tested yet since I didn’t have a complete set of sprites to test with – not strictly necessary, but since most of the code is reused from existing enemy types I’m not worried about any major malfunctions. I also realized a substantial obstacle towards completing the first area of the game was that I just wasn’t really sure what the space was supposed to look like. I had some vague ideas, but I didn’t know what the area’s history was supposed to be, what really was going on there now, or what the symbolism of it was. I spent a bit of time writing out some notes on it, and I’m confident that when I get the game working again and return to develop this area I’ll have a lot to work with.

My work is basically cut out for me now. Get the game building in OpenFL, handle any new bugs, rewrite the display code as necessary to take advantage of the improved performance. It’s always a bit of a drag getting railroaded into one big task that has to be done before I can make more substantial progress, but in this case there’s no way around it – particular as, in the interim, something weird has happened with my development environment to make launching the AIR version seemingly impossible. While I’m sure that will all get ironed out eventually, in the meanwhile it leaves me no avenue to working on the AIR version of the game, so really all I can do is drill in on the OpenFL port. Soon, at least, I’ll be able to take advantage of this tedious chore to tackle a field of programming I’ve been wanting to study for a while: Shaders.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.