Week 54

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

Last week was the final week of the second development period for Black Feather Forest, its goal being to polish up the demo to submit to an event here in Holland. I’m glad to report it was succesful, which means you can play the new version right here!

Content-wise not a lot has changed; I’ve mostly fixed bugs, edited dialogue here and there and added a few of the planned features to the GUI. Notably the Dossier is nicer to look at, and the dialogue UI should play nicely on all resolutions now. Initally I wanted to also add some new locations, but with the time I had I decided it was better to make the existing content solid before moving on to new challenges. And the past week left me no other option when a handful of game-breaking bugs came to light!

being a game developer is sometimes a bit like being an explorer, because you often see really weird things that nobody has ever seen before. Especially when there are several plugins working together in ways you have no idea about.

Things like a conversation with an NPC only triggering if it was the first location you visited in the game. Or menus that you explicitely disabled popping up again if you press the skip button at the wrong time. Colliders rotating on the X-axis when a character turned on the Y-axis. Cutscenes that only run half of their actions. Z-buffers that sort differently between engine and build. Every day is a new adventure.

Luckily both of these plugins are made by devs that really understand how to run good and swift tech support. So thanks Chris and Tony.

So now that the demo is ‘done’ I can comfortably start adding new content. Basically starting the production towards the final product.

And finally, there is also a matching url now: www.blackfeatherforest.com

Next week: the tale of how I’m probably going to break all of the things by upgrading the software.

If you have other topics you’d like to hear about in a future blogpost, let me know in the comments.

Week 53

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

Last week I got some great feedback on the Black Feather Forest demo. Articles ended up on warpdoor,  indiegames.com, rockpapershotgun, badogames, indiegamemag, and I even got a call from Canadian radio! I’ll be on their morning show later today.

When you’re working on a thing in isolation for a while you start to lose sight of whether it’s any good or not. I hadn’t expected people to get so excited about it yet, so this definitely cements that I’m going to finish this game. Working on it is so satisfying that sometimes I forget I’m not earning any money this way. That will have to be stage two of this campaign.

Sadly there was a problem with my new internet connection at the new house so I’ve had to subsist off of the wifi of parents, friends, cafe’s the past week. Not having reliable internet is such a burden, and when emails pour in and you have to participate in heated discussions in comment threads that’s a bad position to be in.

There was a bit of discussion about the influences in the game that led me to de-emphasize some mentions in the script. The people I spoke with were very accomodating and I think we came to a good solution.

In terms of progress, I’ve been working on a new iteration of the ingame GUI. I’m still having problems hooking a few menus together the way I want to, but at least they look good now. A big issue I had before was that the dialogue GUI didn’t scale well on lower resolutions. I finally sat down and adjusted everything, so now the look is unified and works at any size.

menu

Aside from that I’ve been mostly doing polish on existing content, and adding new animations for all the characters to make the whole thing feel more alive.

Next week: the premiere of the new demo build.

Week 52, or Year One

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

It’s hard to fathom that it’s been a year since I started working for myself.

Said goodbye to my desk job designing games for someone else (honestly it was a sweet job, what was I thinking) and started my own thing.

I got some assignments pretty quickly, thanks mainly to friends/colleagues putting in a good word, and thus I started incing my way up. I’ve been able to carve out a pretty okay living so far, struggling some months when the work dries up for a bit, but enough to move up to a nice studio apartment with my girlfriend and pay the bills (and jump into a Steam Sale every now and again).

And now, 52 weeks later, I announced my first solo commercial title! Holy cow I hadn’t even thought of that. When people asked me around week 45 what I was going to do for my ‘anniversary’ I shrugged. Turns out week 52 was pretty special after all, thanks to the fellas at Warpdoor. More on that in next week’s update.

But for now I want to thank the fine folks that offered their support, good conversations, and/or advice this past year. Some names that come to mind: Jens, Michiel, Adriaan, Bojan, Benjamin, Ilona, Lowen, Anke, Alwin, Niels, Esther, mom and dad, Ralph, Anne, Matt, Chris, and ofcourse you, dear reader.

Then, presskit! I am perhaps disproportionately excited to have this bit of php code, but if you as a journalist or what have you ever needed any info on my company or my games, the presskit’s the place to be.

So now, back to the daily grind.

Before HoT started getting picked up by the media I found myself mostly doing small tasks – a subconcious way to avoid having to deal with the large and nebulous tasks still in the backlog. However it wasn’t without its merits, the demo segments are a lot more polished now. “But,” I thought on tuesday, “what actual new content was added to the game? None!” So I got to it and started doing animations, and made a start on a new scene. Then over the weekend I went on a small vacation with friends, during which the social media coverage really fired up.

Next week: tales of exciting new improvements to the interface, and great feedback on the demo from cool people.

Black Feather Forest update

Well, cat’s out of the bag – Black Feather Forest appeared on Warpdoor, a curated site for interesting indie games run by smart guys from indiegames.com and killscreen. So if you want to check out what I’ve been (mainly) doing for the past month or two, grab the demo and let me know what you think.

The demo is a rough early version with some features missing or partly implemented, but any feedback or suggestions are appreciated; bug reports too, either here or in my email.

And now seems like a good a time as any to tell you about the website for Black Feather Forest. There’s not a lot there yet but it’s a nice place to go, a sign that it exists for real at least. The mainly useful thing about it now is that it links to the presskit, which I am excited about!

Presskit() (pronounced as “do presskit”) is a nifty invention by fellow indie Rami Ismael of Vlambeer fame, to help indie gamedevs and journalists alike to gather up the most salient info about a studio and their games for easy publicitimations. It’s included in my portfolio site now, or if you want the direct route head here.

It’s weird when something ends up in the ether outside of your own involvement (I only posted to a forum for feedback), but at the same time it’s somehow reassuring when it gets picked up, that you’re on the right track with what you’re doing. I wasn’t going to drop the demo publically until I polished it up to my satisfaction, coinciding with an upcoming showcase at a festival, but I realize that when you are making things you always want to hold onto it until it is ‘just right’. There’s always something more to polish, to improve, to add, to tweak. So heck, let this be the way that I get over that and let you guys in on what I’m making here. I hope you dig it.

Week 51

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creative.

Last week the heat had me beat a little bit, but I came back and did some animation for the opening of my game.

menu

This is the title card shot after the intro cinematic. I painted it on tuesday and animated it with all kinds of parallax effects on wednesday. A classic case of ‘make a plan before you do something’, because after I had finished making it in After Effects, it turns out Unity Free cannot play video files (without excessive hacking or plugins). But it was fun to do so I guess time wasn’t completely wasted. I’ll redo it in-engine this week, which should only take a fraction of the time.

Inbetween on wednesday I jumped through the final hoops to hand off my old apartment, so now that chapter is closed. And thank heavens, all the stuff I had to arrange around that ‘project’ ended up tripling my phone bill this month. Let’s hope the next person enjoys it as much as I did.

In the meantime I also continued my research into the background of the BFF narrative. Even though the story is completely fictional I still want to accurately represent the cultural and societal factors are that could lead to such events taking place. So I’ve read what is known as ‘the Forsaken Report’, in which the Commission of Inquiry describes real cases in great detail, which has been a fascinating read. I’ve also reached out to some community members and CBC reporters in Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Vancouver, and a cultural expert studying the Northwest to learn more about the heritage of the Haida people.

At the end of the week I stayed at my parent’s house for two days (came to see them, stayed for the wifi ha), and got to spend some time sitting next to my dad at the kitchen table while we both drew. Check out his facebook page with space age art over here.

father and son

Week 50

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creative.

I know I said I would work on the Fawlty Towers game, but shortly after that I saw a call for submissions from INDIGO, a dutch games convention put on by the Dutch Game Garden, and it is in association with the Dutch Film Festival. So that put a revision on Black Feather Forest at number one on the todo list. Niels once described the script of BFF as being very filmic, so that makes this a good crossover venue to show the game.

Besides that I set up the new version of Trusted Soil, my graduation project with Anne Bras, in Adventure Game Studio. Having worked with Unity exclusively for a while now had made me forget how easy it is to get something basic up and running in AGS. With a bit of luck I can copy a lot of code from the original demo over to this version.

Anne and I decided a while ago to make the full version of Trusted Soil (read more about it here) and try to sell it on Steam. We’re doing it in Lucasarts pixel-art style now, and I’m concerning myself full with the programming side. For that reason we attracted Misja van Laatum (artist on Indiana Jones and The Fountain Of Youth) for the backgrounds, and Molly Carroll (recent HKU graduate) to do the animations.

Week 44

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creative.

A tumultuous week! On monday I got to view an apartment in Utrecht with my girlfriend, and we decided to pull the trigger on it right that morning. So that means moving soon! A lot to think about, but aside from the inherent boon of being together I’ll also be closer to the dutch games industry hotspot.

On tuesday Bounden was released to much fanfare. It’s incredible that the game came together with no delays or major problems and became something really special. I’m glad to have been a part of it.

The rest of the week I worked on some freelance drawing assignments, posted about Black Feather Forest in a number of places, and dug up some unused Bounden concept art for fans to gawk at.

I also updated my portfolio, not so much in terms of new projects but mostly the infrastructure. I had “NEW!” ribbons on each fresh project, but those were still scattered across the various pages so it wasn’t real easy to see that stuff at a glimpse. So I added a rotating banners at the top, much like the iTunes Store. And in doing so I broke the lightbox for the images, so I replaced that with something much more lightweight, slick and fast. And you can link directly to certain projects now! I had put in those anchors long ago but they never worked until now. I figured it out!

And the week closed out with some bad news: Black Feather Forest was not selected for the competition I entered it into. With 60 entries I can totally understand the high-quality and cool games they selected to showcase Dutch gamedev (Bounden is in there! And hooray for Westerado), but it’s still disappointing that the outcome of those weeks of hard work amounts to “Sorry, good luck hey.” But I’ll keep working on it and responses for other places are positive, so that’s motivating.

Black Feather Forest

Time to pull the lid off a project I have been working on for the past month:

logo

HoT v0 2014-05-14 19-11-30-64

BFF is a 2D adventure game inspired by true events and Haida mythology, aswell as things like True Detective, Fargo, Detective Grimoire, Kentucky Route Zero. It brings together many threads of ideas for games I’ve had over the years and ties it together with real-world influences.

You play as Sofia, a documentary maker, and together with your cameraman Caleb you travel to the town of Augier’s Peak, up in the wilderness of rural Canada, where three people have gone missing recently. You are free to travel around town, where you will meet a handful of inhabitants that all have their own reasons to help you discover what happened – or not. You gather clues by talking to people and combining pieces of evidence and statements to slowly try to figure out who or what is behind all this.

For now I’ve completed a demo that shows the first few locations of the game and sets up the story and gameplay. With that I hope to generate some interest that could lead into the further development of this title. I’ll keep you guys updated on the progress and share some more insights about the development as I go along. Let me know what you think in the comments.

dialog concept chardesign moodboard

Week 43

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creative.

At the start of this week I had a dream that I ran into an older woman working for a newspaper that had just lost their cartoonist, and I managed to entice her into paying me good money for two cartoons a month. That was a harsh dream to wake up from, ha.

On monday I worked on the pitch document to accompany the demo of my game. Writing everything down properly and readable for others made things a lot clearer for me too. And it spawned a few new ideas at the same time. I also received some great feedback from Niels ‘t Hooft that made the story stronger with a few small tweaks.

The rest of the week was basically polish, adding in some low priority things and fixing bugs. It’s funny how no matter if it’s a 3-year projects or a four-week sprint, the ‘last 20% drag’ always occurs, where you slow down on doing the last few minor things.

When I sat across from Niels in a cafe four weeks ago and said “I want to have a demo ready by the 15th”, I had no idea if I was going to make that deadline. That thursday at noon, I proudly submitted my application. Time to sit back and twiddle my thumbs.

So I can finally say that for the past month, I have been working on a game called Black Feather Forest. I’ll talk more about that in a following blog post.

On friday I did some more painting in Mischief, and otherwise mostly decompressed from my gamedev sprint. On saturday I celebrated my birthday by petting some monkeys with my girlfriend.

Week 42

This is a weekly recap of the goings-on in my professional life – to keep track of what I’m doing and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creative.

Development on my upcoming game continued this past week. When the demo is done by the end of this week I’ll be able to tell you more about just what the hell I’ve been making.

On monday and tuesday I worked on the first two scenes of the game, writing the dialogue and setting everything up just right. Apart from a few minor things I was very happy with the outcome. The workflow I had established worked well and allowed for a pretty quick setup of a scene. I also iterated on the story and made it readable to people who knew nothing about the project in preparation for the pitch document I’ll be writing this week.

On wednesday I set up the next big scene in the game, which went very smoothly. Because I had finished well on time I set aside work that night to play Kentucky Route Zero Act III. Apart from being impressed as always by the visuals and the tone of the narrative, it reminded me that it is okay to write a little more than bare minimum if it is interesting to read through.

On thursday I applied this newfound insight to finishing the last of the in-game conversations, and it was a doozy.

I’m very thankful for Dialogue System For Unity, a plugin that made the management of these long branching conversations a lot easier. And most importantly, it integrated with Adventure Creator, which made it top choice over things like Dialoguer or Playmaker.

I spent the rest of the day customizing the UI and wiring up things like the fast-travel map and the clue system.

On friday I took a break from development to work on a freelance assignment. I was faced with the challenge of drawing a character in vector, but I’m not good enough with vector tools that I could pull that off in two hours and have it look good too. So I decided to give Mischief another try. I sang its praises before but man it really came through for me this time. I could draw exactly like I would in Photoshop (without all the fancy tricks like clipping masks and blending modes though, so back to basics, time to be a real artist again ha!), but it took the form of infinitely scaleable vectors, ending up with the best of both worlds. I went to buy it right after.

Saturday night I tinkered with the game’s code a bit and fixed a bunch of bugs. As it usually goes, I was ready to make a new build and then suddenly all kinds of things came to light. But I managed to fix a good few eyesores. On sunday I mostly worked on missing art and more bugfixes.