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.