Week 103 – Released a new game

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

Last week was hard. Not because I had a lot to do but because it was so damn warm. We measured the highest temperature and the hottest night so far in the history of this country – even though compared to places like Italy or Indonesia it’s not that big a deal. But it makes sitting down and doing this hard enough.

Regardless, I started the week off helping out at the warehouse of a friend. It ate up most of the day, and I liked it better than my side job, which by comparison is very monotone and boring. After that I had a Skype call with Hubbub to plan out the tasks we’d like to tackle in the last batch of work on the museum game.

On tuesday I decided that if I was going to start on a new game (which I will next week in De Torenkamer), I should really finish one of my open projects. Finishing Black Feather Forest was impossible, and the astronaut game was nothing more than a tech demo yet, so of course the choice was clear: Reconquista.

Reconquista had been in limbo for a few weeks because the last few tasks were too vague or I couldn’t decide on exactly how I wanted to tackle them, but I decided to just sit down and figure it out. In the end it was easier than I expected to fill in the blanks and deliver a game that felt fairly done. It had a good starting and ending point, and the stuff inbetween seemed bug-free and cool.

So! You can download the game off itch.io for free right now!

After that I mostly just surrendered to the heat and made a plan for my time in De Torenkamer next week. A plan that changed near the end of the week after the announcement of De Pont, an open call for game devs or filmmakers to make a short game/film set on the ferry that runs between Amsterdam Central Station and Amsterdam North. That could be a very interesting idea to run with.

I also played through Her Story, which is an incredible game and I finished it in one sitting. On saturday I went to a concert and on sunday I helped out my girlfriend sell her illustrations at a local market, while the Tour De France ravaged the very same city we were in.

Next week: gamedev in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam.

Week 96 – lights, camera, UX

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

On tuesday we started the third Home Rule sprint at the Hubbub studio. New addition this sprint is Niels ‘t Hooft, who is taking care of the story content. On friday we had another meeting to discuss our progress. Alper and I mostly worked on designing new features this week and setting everything up so we can get going once the full storyline is ready this week.

Inbetween I worked on Reconquista some more, getting it ready for release. I added some extra props to the level, optimized the performance a bit and experimented with gamma color space vs linear color space + tone mapping, and I’m still not sure I understand it exactly but the colors look much better now at least.

RQ04

I also spent an inordinate amount of time researching a new laptop powerful enough to play The Witcher 3 on, which comes out this week. Not since my days as a young gamer with a desktop PC had I compared graphics cards so thoroughly, or thought about clock speeds, teraflops and heatsinks. It was awful, but I found a good one that I might buy sometime soon.

I closed the week out by celebrating my birthday in Amsterdam at a small festival. Seeing how happy and kind everyone there was, and the artists having fun, and supporting each other from the crowd, it felt like such a far cry from the worries and the vitriol in the games industry lately. It definitely lifted my spirits, and I hope we can all be a little more like those people.

Week 93/94 – Unwinding and maintenance

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

Week 93 had a late start due to Kingsday, a dutch national holiday. On wednesday I had a call with Hubbub to plan out all the features we want to put in the next Home Rule beta (including a better name for the project), and on thursday I had a call with a potential new client, an illustration rushjob.

I spent the rest of the week doing administration and updating my portfolio. Google’s new policy is to give priority in their search results to sites that are mobile-friendly, so I dove into the world of responsive design and media queries to make my portfolio site adapt to all kinds of resolutions. It was a nightmare of weird glitches and quirks but it works now!

Last week also started out mellow because of the national war remembrance days. I made a little character animation for the folks at mindbreaker games who are working hard on their demo. It was nice to open After Effects after a long time and animate a little something using the latest version of the DUIK plugin, which is UHH-MAZING. Highly recommended if you do a lot of character animation.

Later in the week I finally sat down and upgraded Black Feather Forest to the latest version of the game engine. Miraculously nothing broke! There were a few weird thinhgs in transitioning from Unity 4 to 5 while simultaneously updating two plugins, but I managed to solve 90% of them in an afternoon.

I’m itching to continue developing Black Feather Forest. I realized a few weeks ago that it’s been a year since I started working on it. And I think almost half a year since I stopped development to rethink a few aspects. That stung, so I’m determined to carry on with it in the next few months. A Kickstarter may be inevitable.

But first Reconquista! I started that project up at the end of the week to add a few features and get it ready to launch. I expect that will happen in the next few weeks. The game is practically done, I just need to figure out one thing and then I can push it out the door. It makes no sense to leave it lying around for much longer.

Next week: new dailies and the kickoff of the third phase of Home Rule.

Week 89

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

On monday I started out helping my friends unload containers at their warehouse again. It was a nice way to start off the week with some physical activity. Then I ran errands and updated the blog and such. There was a terrible storm that evening and I was glad to be inside.

On tuesday I worked my side job and then stopped by the Hubbub studio in the afternoon to kick off the new beta phase of Home Rule, the game for war museums. We came up with some rad ideas to start working on, and after that I stuck around to fiddle with my game a bit. I also thought of a concept for the Adventure game jam that starts next week.

On wednesday I sketched out some designs for the Home Rule beta and pushed a few fixes and features down the pipeline for my own game, and sent a beta version out that evening. I didn’t receive any bug reports, which is also an interesting contrast to the sort of games I usually make. 2D (adventure) games are strung together by interdependent logic and a specific flow of events, something which is ripe for things to break or execute in the wrong order, while this game lets you roam free and really only has two spots where it forces some rigid code on you, so essentially there are no bugs. That feels weird.

I think I’m going to call this game Reconquista, a suggestion by Alper. It communicates the theme and the setting nicely in one catchy word.

This game poses a dilemma though, because on the one hand the experience that I wanted to communicate with the game is there and I want to release it, but on the other hand my game developer instinct wants to add more actual gameplay and make it a real ‘game’ that I could charge for. I think I’ll have to trawl itch.io a bit to see how other people are handling this. If you have sage advice feel free to share in the comments.

On thursday I had a call with Kars and Alper to discuss the designs we had done for Home Rule so far, and on friday I called with Alper again to see what the next steps would be for the beta. He was going to work on that into next week while I went of a short Easter vacation with the girlfriend to the island of Texel, which turned out fun and relaxing. I tried to catch up on dailies before then but holy shit I was far behind. The backlog should go up today or tomorrow.

Next week: a return to civilization and a new assignment.

Week 87

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

Having finished the first phase of the Museum Game project, this week was a bit of a breather, and an opportunity to get into gamedev on my short game whole-hog.

I started by drawing some dailies, but the antics of the cat that night had left me with a bit of sleep deprivation so it didn’t go so fast. On tuesday we ran errands and enjoyed the spring weather, and wednesday I got into knocking out some features. I’m really enjoying working on a 3D game, but the danger in that is that you can endlessly tweak little details and move them around, whereas in 2D you generally want to sketch that all out in advance and then Just Make It™. So I did at least one big feature still on the to-do list a day, from a win / lose condition to building geometry and constructing the general game flow. It’s mostly an exploration game and it’s quite short, but it does need some structure.

This is a moodboard I made to illustrate the tone and look I want to go for. It’s a challenge to figure out exactly how to replicate the different aspects like lighting and contrast, and getting that dense foliage feeling without sacrificing visibility or performance.

moodboard

And a look at a WIP area.

Next week: Hopefully beta-testing, and writing a Black Feather Forest proposal for the Creative Europe open call for game funding.

Week 85

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

It’s been a busy week. I realized at the end I didn’t make any notes for the daily comics, so I’ve decided to skip those and resume this week.

On Monday I had a call with Kars at Hubbub to review the current prototype of the Museum game and plan the next steps. I spent the day exploring the art style a little further, and I checked in on the Unity 5 release.

All throughout the week I was also chipping away at my own little game. I upgraded to Unity 5 on tuesday and spent some time playing around with the new features, and most importantly the previously-Pro-only features that are now free. The Profiler has been most useful to me, as it shows me in realtime exactly which things are causing a load on the CPU/GPU. Before, I had no way of knowing. But within minutes I could determine that it wasn’t the amount of trees and foliage I had placed down, but the ocean shader. I swapped it out for Unity’s own Water shader (now also free).

This project is becoming almost entirely filled with stuff from the Unity Asset Store. It’s amazing what you can do when you have Unity skills and about 60 dollars worth of pre-made assets.

On wednesday afternoon I went by the Hubbub studio again to work on things that were missing/lacking in the game flow, and we ended up with a pretty robust build at the end of the day. Then we marvelled at the swirling birds above the building.

https://vine.co/v/O0TZY1tqWTu

It was also my first day working behind a standing desk, and I quite liked it.

On thursday I worked my part-time job, and then my girlfriend and I went in search of a cat. We found a nice one at a local pound, so get ready for cat pictures sometime next week. After that I worked some more on character designs for Niels ‘t Hooft’s novel/presentation.

On friday I was recruited by the girlfriend to sit in a nerve-wracking virtual queueu for concert tickets while she was at work, and in the meantime I called with the Hubbub guys to review the prototype. Not a lot was needed to get it feature-complete, and this was promptly executed. Thus, work on my own game continued.

Saturday was kind of a black hole of gaming, and on sunday, after finishing the drawings for Niels, I spent the day relaxing out in nature with the girlfriend.

Next week: spit-and-polish on the Hubbub museum prototype and more.

Week 84

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

Last week was a busy one. It started off bad – on monday morning the power went out! Luckily by the time I was about to relocate to a cafe it got fixed.

On tuesday I worked my part-time job and finished the second round of KLM mockups before doing tech support for my grandpa. In an instant I realized the depth of the knowledge I have accrued about spyware and what you shouldn’t click on on the internet.

dailies_20150225

On wednesday I went to the Hubbub office to kick off our new project. It’s an interactive experience on iOS for select museums in Holland. Aside from the art I’m also doing design work on this one. We had a productive day and built a working proof-of-concept.

On thursday I went by the home of Niels ‘t Hooft to discuss his character design assignment and do some initial sketches, and ofcourse to catch up. Ran into Roderick Vonhögen‘s film crew there as well, whom you may remember as the geek priest that was excited for my game Black Feather Forest. Later in the week I also found out he mentioned me on the Gamecowboys podcast (~1h25m), and we made plans to brainstorm someday about making a ‘Bible Mysteries’ adventure game.

dailies_20150227

On friday I was back in the Hubbub office to continue on the museum project. Alper and I made good progress on the prototype, despite having to solve a bunch of nonsensical Github merge conflicts. We then decided to upgrade our Unity version to the latest, but this introduced a bug that blocked building to iOS for a bit. And then we found a huge bug in the location-based code, which was also fixed. It was a technically-challenged afternoon, but the prototype has improved greatly.

We closed out the week with drinks at De Klub, and I went home with a warm feeling, only to realize I had to get up early the next morning to do the boring part-time job before my weekend would start. What a bummer. Back when the only work I did was at home, I relished having a job to go to three mornings a week, but compared to the satisfaction of working in your chosen industry with fun colleagues it suddenly seems quite bland.

Luckily I was done quickly and could get back to working on my own game the rest of saturday afternoon. I finally fixed the occlusion culling code that I broke by adding a proper 3d model to my enemy prefab, and built a little pause menu with a brightness slider.

incamenu

I decided to upgrade to Github for version control and backup of my personal projects too, instead of zipping up the project folder each evening and uploading that to dropbox.

Hours spent watching progress bars this week: 3

Week 82

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

After the Hackathon last weekend we got some nice press about our concept. I took a day to recover and went to help a friend in their warehouse, unloading new merchandise. It’s nice to do something physically intensive every now and then to break up the monotony of sitting at a desk.

dailies_20150209

On tuesday I started working on a small game based on the dream I had the friday before. I never made a fully 3D game by myself, always some kind of 2D because I’m not that good at modelling and rigging (pretty bad actually). But this idea needed 3D, and it was small enough that I figured I could manage – it didn’t need complicated systems or GUI, just a character walking around an island. So I pulled open the bag of Unity resources and assets I amassed over the years, and putting all those together actually made something cool pretty quickly.

dailies_20150210

I started thinking about whether anybody had attempted full body awareness for the player character, and how cool that would be, and before I knew it I had a mecanim-ready character that I pulled off the asset store walking around with a camera in his head; it worked really well!

https://vine.co/v/OUFV6pOZbWg

I continued by building terrain using the Unity Terrain engine, populating it with foliage, and I grabbed Prototype (a plugin by the ProBuilder guys) to make some basic geometry right in Unity. The buildings don’t need a lot of complex shapes so for that purpose it is ideal for me. I continued tinkering with it during the week until I fell down a hole of performance optimization. You could spend hours tweaking the run speed and grass density and draw distance into perfection…

Luckily I managed to climb out of it to build the enemies. All week I had been wandering around the island by myself, shaping it bit by bit, getting to know every corner of it. And now suddenly there was this awkwardly textured sphere, hovering a little above the ground, and ominously following me where ever I went. It was bizarre to me that even adding this abstract shape immediately created tension, and a feeling of dread, like I wanted to get away from it. I can’t wait to replace the sphere with the actual enemy character as I start building out its behaviour this week.

In between I continued work on KLM where we had to change gears to process some new feedback, worked at my part-time job, drew more daily comics, and dug up a few threads that might lead me to new assignments. And I closed the week out nicely by going stargazing at the observatory with my girlfriend.

Next week: new assignments and old friends.