Week 104 – One man game jam

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 little different from my usual weeks, as I spent a week in a little room in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam to work on a new personal game project, courtesy of dutch radio. Come to think of it, it was also the two-year anniversary of me going independent, so I guess that was a fitting way to celebrate it!

You can read the details about the game here. The week was organised by dutch late-night radio show Opium op 4, which lets a creator use their office each week to build a passion project. This week was my turn, and I had a really good time.


Also just realized I posed like the caricature on my businesscard here. Weird!

I basically started from scratch on monday. I had an interesting backstory, and a vision in my mind of what the game would look like. So I started by researching the backstory: in 2013 the Lyubov Orlova, a decommissioned cruiseship, breaks off its towline in a storm and disappears onto the ocean. In 2014 its radio pings off the coast of the UK, but it is never found. I figured I’d make a game about that. The news articles about it have been in my Pocket for a while now, so this was a good opportunity to do something with it.

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I researched the timeline, all the owners and places it’s been, and more specific stuff like what the deck layout looks like and how cruise ship engines work.

After that I started on the prototype. I had something working pretty quickly, courtesy of Unity and its many prefabs. After that I struggled for a while to get an interaction system working. I started off coding it all myself, but quickly realized I’d better use something pre-made. I fiddled with Pixelcrusher’s Dialogue System for a good while before deciding to just import Adventure Creator. At that point it felt like I changed from Tony Stark banging on some metal in a cave to Tony Stark jumping into the Mark 45 Iron Man armor. Everything was at my fingertips.

To my surprise AC also integrated pretty well with Unity’s 2D Controller, which was essential, otherwise the character couldn’t walk up slopes anymore. Now I was ready to start on the narrative content. It was early thursday by then, and I was getting nervous, but I managed to put together a pretty cool vertical slice in the end, even though it sort of stops short of the actual gameplay, which is exploring the ship’s interior with your map and axe. But for a week of work it was pretty cool.

On friday I presented the demo on the air, and everyone loved it. The main guest of the show called me a singer-songwriter gamedesigner, which is exactly how I like to think of myself, telling interactive stories and focusing on the delivery and the experience.

At any rate, I had a great time, and you can read a more detailed (dutch) blog and listen to the show segments on their website.

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 88

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.

This week I spent a good chunk of time filling out a grant application for Creative Europe Media, a European Commission that offers support for interesting video games. Though because it has to go through the European Commission there is a ton of procedure to follow – making accounts, registering my company, discovering that the registration system the dutch Chamber of Commerce used when I registered two years ago has been changed, googling to find the correct code for the new system, and then generating a fancy pdf form and filling that out. 21 pages of complicated questions, some of which I didn’t really have an answer to. One thing is that I got the feeling they are thinking in a waterfall schedule, where milestones and deadlines are set in stone. I’m doing this project by myself, so I can’t already estimate in hours how long I am working on each phase. The budget was a monster to wrangle as well, but I managed to fill everything out on time, and the guys at the Vechtclub were very supportive when I told them about it on wednesday.

The reason I was at the Hubbub studio on wednesday was to brainstorm about the direction of the museum game project (I’ll start using the official codename SHACHI from now on because I’m getting tired of typing ‘museum game project’). We had a cool prototype, but it kind of existed outside of the targeted museums, instead of being integrated in the exhibit. It was a tough nut to crack but we came up with something really interesting. More on that soon as we start the beta phase.

On thursday I sketched up some mockups for the new idea so that Kars could use them in the client meeting, and then I went to Amsterdam to have dinner with my old couchsurfing buddy Troy. This was the first time we were both back in Amsterdam again after I had moved away from there, so for both of us it was a welcome reunion with a lovely city, I thought that was interesting.

Friday I was spent, so I passed the time catching up on my backlog of games. I finished the Spiderman and Guardians of the Galaxy playsets in Dinsey Infinity, and reflected on how brilliantly simple their game design is. They get the core of the characters right, give you a playground to exercise their abilities until you have mastered them, and it’s exactly long enough that you don’t tire of it too much. Then I played some MGS Ground Zeroes (big fan also) and upgraded some of my other game projects to Unity 5.

Next week: Getting my short game into beta state for real and deciding whether I’m going to participate in the upcoming AdventureJam.

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 Itâ„¢. 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 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.

Adventure Creator and the great workaround festival

I love the Adventure Creator plugin for Unity. It’s no secret. Chris Burton has made an essential piece of software for me to make games with, and continues to improve it dilligently.

That said, there comes a time in the life of any piece of software where you get so familiar with it that you want to do things that go outside the realms of its functionality. Many of these dreams I had became official features, but sometimes you gotta break open Monodevelop and just start hacking.

Here are a few examples.

By default AC only supports 10 inventory grid slots, with 30 slots max. I needed 12, with a maximum of 36, so I followed the declaration tree, deep into the jungle of AC’s core code base, and modified the values there. Because of the cumbersome way Unity has decided to handle the plugin upgrade process, I have to remember those modifications so I don’t accidentally overwrite that file.

The reason I needed that many inventory slots is because I am using them for something other than carrying around items – I wanted a 3-row grid of icons in the dossier that you can click on to read information. So instead of making 36 buttons and hooking those up, I made 36 items and used their interaction functions to call on an actionlist (essentially a piece of code).

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And it works great! This greatly simplifies the code I need to unlock a new entry in the dossier, and because it is based on items, it integrates very neatly with the Dialogue System For Unity plugin, which syncs items and variables between itself and AC.

Don’t even get me started on making the Dialogue System GUI style look the same as the subtitles menu made with AC’s built-in menu editor… Both methods of making a GUI are radically different, but I’m proud to have gotten both up to the same standard.

dlggui

Another problem I had was that a character’s collider would flip to the wrong axis if he or she turned around, which made the clickable area much smaller.

[vine url=”https://vine.co/v/MEQrUBbaTFr” width=512 height=512]

This would be corrected if I switched to the newer and better Unity2D mode, which I’m in the middle of now, but that is a big endeavour so I solved it by making a direct call to the right-facing animation of the character. This means that to the engine the character had not turned around, but did have that appearance because it used a different sprite.

Converting the game to AC’s Unity2D mode is not free of challenges either. I have to flip every game object to a different axis, use orthographic cameras instead of perspective ones, and swap some components around for their 2D counterparts. This might result in a scene like this:

[vine url=”https://vine.co/v/MYUeJzAa3h0″ width=512 height=512]

Not that it’s not entertaining, but I’d rather it works normally.

AC is a great plugin, and these workarounds are only a testament to its flexibility and extensibility. If I think of any more examples I’ll write more about it. And check it out if you’re working in Unity. Or is anyone reading this out there working with it? Share your experiences or projects in the comments.

Week 29

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.

Week 28 was a short week in which not a whole lot of interesting work stuff happened. I basically continued working on what I had worked on the week before, and visited Game Oven again on thursday. I also started playing Broken Age which I was initially not raring to try until talking to Niels ‘t Hooft enthused me about it, and I finished Shay’s story in one sitting and loved it.

That weekend I spent on the island of Texel with my girlfriend. I turned off my phone and it’s funny how you don’t realize how much email you get until you come back to a whole stack of it after a few disconnected days.

This past week has basically been more of the same. Off-stage has sadly slipped between the cracks so I’m letting that be for a bit while I figure out how to wrap up its second chapter. I finished the mockups for the grant application for Niels’ Ninja Gimmick Girl 2.0. It was fun to take a dive back into old E3 culture and where I came from as a games enthusiast, and I learned a lot about interface design and working with Apple’s design vision of iOS 7.

Unity continues to work against me but making a full game with it feels ever closer.

Week 25

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 independant creative.

2014! Time to start things up again.

Last week I drew a new Off-stage page, one that was half done when I took a christmas break but which honestly read like shit then, I didn’t like it. Now I came back to it fresh and found the missing piece that made it a nice rounded out page. Chapter two will be complete soon and then I think I’m going to take a break from it and plan a whole chapter in advance, writing a chunk a week is just not great for an ongoing story.

Between wrapping that up, my work for Bounden tapering off and closing out another project this month I have plenty of time coming up to devote to two things: a second pass at the ideas I worked up with Niels ‘t Hooft for his upcoming iPad novel Ninja Gimmick Girl, and diving into Adventure Creator for my own game.


Classic Jake and Toby, IN SPAAAACE (placeholder dudes). The scene is actually all 3D, textured planes with navmesh and collision

My meddling with Unity so far was all well and good but I was still a bit in over my head when it came to building things like a dialogue system (I hate the Unity GUI system, it’s bonkers) or competent 2D pathfinding. But Adventure Creator is basically all the features I already know how to use from another engine I used to use and love (because the maker did too), so jesus I was over the moon. Now I can start making the sort of game I want right away.

On wednesday I had an extremely productive day working on Ninja Gimmick Girl, and then I got VIOLENTLY ill. Just like that. I could tell you platitudes like ‘life can always intrude’ and ‘be prepared for anything’ but mostly being sick just fucking sucks. So better just submit and get it over with.