Captain’s Log m4•q1: Will o’ the WIPs…

Wren Valen draft is stuck. The problem with continuing a story that is over a decade old is that my plans don’t all work anymore. Looks like I may have to redo it from scratch. Sad, because this moment:

..is both the place where the train jumped off the ancient rails, and the thing I am most committed to keeping.

Right. Set it aside. Draft something else. Just keep going until I have one or more actual books to make, right? Sure. Maybe.

Looking back at the last couple months:

I mean, yeah the first one is nicer to look at. It’ll sell better, probably. And it takes no more time to make than something similarly detailed in pixel art.

But a heck of a lot less than something like the second, which also looks nice, will print nice, and can be assembled in a fraction of the time.

More to the point, if I’m making a comic about John Michael and his friends falling into a game world, it works better if the game world look like a game.

Along those lines, while trying to dig myself out of my book plot corner, I’ve been pondering what sort of game I’d like to make if I were making games just for the heck of it, and not as some sort of massive multimedia project.

Go back on the road to 8 Lives Left/Breath of the Gameboy?

Action platformer with Mega Man influences?

Digital Monsters on your phone?

Bring back the RPG/Adventure engine?

Right now I’m sleep depraved. I’m leaning towards a turn based RPG with influences from Link’s Awakening, Mario RPGs, and games nobody’s heard of any more like The Magic Candle. But where this ship goeth, nobody knoweth. Except God. Who may well will that it run aground.

Just wanted to toss my thoughts out there before retiring to ponder.

Captain’s Log M3•I4 – Meet the New Plan: Same as the Old Plan

So, here’s the quick rundown:

February, I do what I want. It’s my sabbatical from trying to be pragmatic about my projects.

Now, the plan in December and January was simultaneously make an adventure game and plan a comic for the Mad Christian Mondays newsletter. That resulted in this demo:

And the realization that it is a bad idea to plan a release for an adventure game when you don’t already have the story nailed down.

Of course, not having the story nailed down meant not only didn’t I have the adventure game, I didn’t have the comic either. I let the crew know where I was, made noises about focusing on the comic for February, but really committed to tinkering with whatever I felt like, as is my tradition, and hoping the comic would bubble out of it.

So I started throwing a bunch of my characters together in a video-game art compilation, to try and kick something loose.

I tried making a space shooter with Spaz McDragon, since that was the most scaled-back game idea I could come up with. Here was the plan: get Spaz McDragon into a space shooter, release that after a couple of months of dev. Then make a Spaz platformer. Release that after a couple of more months. Make the comic about John Michael Jones getting sucked into a video game, and have his initial area of hanging out be one of the Spaz Platformer level. Thus, bring all the projects together.

I got Spaz animated and loaded into the Adventure/RPG codebase, and got some space shooter mechanics running in a day or two.

Started working out the John Michael Jones story alongside it, and built some forest platformer graphics to stick them both into:

I realized that my dislike for shmups was strong enough that it would be worth it to just go straight to the platformer right away, even if it did take a little longer. So I animated John Michael as a platformer character, in case I could come up with a game idea that overlapped with the comic story.

And that’s where the status quo lay until the end of February.

In the last week of February, I had almost everything I needed for the comic nailed down, when I was inspired by a series of videos to try HD videogame art in Godot one more time. So, I spent three days jerry-rigging a demo of John Michael running and jumping in an HD hand-drawn world.

Thing is.. I’m sold now. I absolutely want my games to be hand-drawn. It’s not even significantly harder to do it this way than pixel art. It’s harder to animate. You can’t tweak things as quickly. But throwing together backdrops is even easier. And I can take advantage of code-based squash and stretch without it looking weird. And my game can have a unique look that immediately stands out.

I’ve spent the first two weeks of March hurriedly figuring out the last bits I need to know about the comic to actually produce it. And actually producing it I am. Expect the first episode next Monday or the Monday after that. Bunny Trail Junction is coming back, albeit (for starters) at a slower pace.

But if I’m going to make a game, what should it be? I have some great ideas, but they are all too big. I need to start small. Get something finished and shipped. I’ve been contemplating that for the last week, as I wrap up the work I need to do for the comic launch.

I figured it out. Meet the new plan: same as the old plan.

Yeah. I’ll just make Prelude To Nightmare a platformer. When it’s done, I’ll have a solid start on the graphics necessary to continue Hat Trick as an (HD) sprite comic, if I so desire.

And the plan after Prelude To Nightmare was to make a game for my wife that layered stealth mechanics on top of Prelude To Nightmares’s mechanics. I see no reason why we can’t assume that second step next.

So, let’s make set the tentative schedule as follows:

Last Week of March/First Week of April: Race to make Prelude to Nightmare a complete game.

Remainder of April: Expand Prelude to Nightmare

May: Playtesting/me working on other projects.

June: Fix and polish Prelude to Nightmare.

July: Launch as a $5 game.

As always, this is less a promise and more a chosen direction. But I think it’s time to put the pedal back down to the floor!

Update

I’m being an idiot. Hat Trick: Prelude to Nightmare in engine would be very nice, and I should add it to the list of potential things to make. But as far as “smallest, best first building blocks” go, making the exact same gameplay with John Michael Jones characters is a far better plan.

Captain’s Log M1•O1: I dunno

At the start of last week, I got Spaz into the game engine. Everything seems to be going about as swimmingly as it can.

But I promised the Mad⳩ Crew I’d take a look at the comic when my “two-month” game was done. And since Last Legend Zero is done with me pretending it’s in production, when it’s actually still in the tinkering phase, I turned to the comic.

I was recently reminded that Isekai Is My Favorite genre, from Narnia, to Oz, to Digimon. No, I haven’t seen any of the popular anime, That Time I Got Hit By A Truck And Woke Up in a Fantasy World Where Girls Like Me, and I don’t intend to. I found the first two episodes of Sword Art Online sufficiently tiring to repel me from that particular formula. But Portal Fantasy is my jam. Why not have the escapism be actual escapism?

The first night my mother was home, instead of sleeping, I played various old vidya to try and drum up inspiration for dialing back Last Legend. What I got instead was a notion:

A man sees a bunch of people hunched over their phones. Feels his family has spent too much screen time. Decides to go camping. He drags his kid away from some vidya. Kid reluctantly goes along. At the campsite, finds a retro console in the basement or attic of a cabin, or in the woods or something, and gets sucked into a video game world.

It’s not the first time the idea of isekai’ing someone into a retro game world has occurred to me. John Michael Jones was made to go there at one point…

Well, what I have for John Michael and his family at present doesn’t really fit the story idea. But then, I’m not a huge fan of the story I’ve got going for them, either.

So, I’ve begun toying with the idea of taking this idea, and adapting John and his family into it. Fleshing out situations, world settings, and the like. And making concept art to go with it…

I still haven’t got anything solid. I have some notions that, if I keep pushing them, will turn into a setting that might make a good comic strip or storybook.

So now I’m at a sort of crossroads. I can spend February creating Spaz Invaders. I can spend February developing the comic. Both are good to do. Both feed into each other. I am going to do both. The question is which I will do first.

I’m going to put a bit of thought into it today. This week, I’ll be getting my papers in order, though, and February will be a new year.

Captain’s Log M1•G3: Smaller Bites of the Elephant

So, a few things have changed. Now that my mother’s home, someone needs to stay on call throughout the night in case she needs anything. My sleep schedule still hasn’t recovered from being an overnight stock boy last summer, so it was easiest for me to make the shift.

More to the point of these logs: looking at what I’ve done in the last week and what I aim for this week. You already have my notes on the matter. The fact of the matter is that I bit off a larger project than I expected, and I also put a project into production when it should have remained in the tinkering stage.

All is not lost. In fact, very little is lost. 70% of the work I did for Last Legend Zero can be retooled for any game I want to make. Of the other 30%, most of it is still useful for multiple game projects I’d like to get to, and all of it can come up again if I take Zero off the back burner and put it on the front.

So let’s scale all the way back and start with a shmup. I know, I’ve said I’d rather do anything but another shmup, but that’s no longer true. I’m willing to use it as a stepping stone to larger games. Let’s take the work I’ve done on palettes, screen sizes, controls, menus, and so forth, and reuse it to finally finish my old project Spaz Invaders.

We’ll keep the art style consistent, consider this all one project, and keep on trucking.

When I finished the brainstorm, I put together Spaz, used him and myself to scale a coin:

.. and then got to work building the basic shmup movement animations for Spaz.

He still needs to be able to spit fire, hover for aim mode, charge his breath, take damage, and die. Ideally, I’d also have his spines sway in the breeze while he glides. But animating a character like this has been very enjoyable. I’d forgotten how much I love the absurdity of smears.

This week I’ve got to take a couple days and get back into the good graces of the paperwork brigade. Hopefully I’ll finish in a day or two, and have Spaz up and running before the end of the week, but I make no promises.

M1F 3

The following is copied and pasted from my analysis of my progress on Last Legend Zero.

IDNotion
1The epiphany I had for the Last Legend Comic, M1E20, is an excellent direction.
2However there are several problems with Last Legend Zero.
2.1Most notably, development is not proceeding at the predicted pace:
2.1.1cannot complete a game of which I am proud in the remaining 2 weeks of January.
2.1.2I would want a couple of weeks per planned region (3 to 7 regions intended) plus time to market and polish besides.
2.1.3I am also not satisfied that the gameplay is, by itself, satisfying, which demands more prototyping.
2.1.4If I were to force myself to pinch off a technically complete, but hastily cut off game, with zero testing and polishing, I might just barely make the March 15th release date at this rate.
2.1.5This I must not do. I must never again “produce” games in which I take no pride.
2.1.5.1(I may, of course, make rapid prototypes, but that is another matter)
2.1.6Therefore, to complete the game properly would take 14 weeks, not counting testing and polish. This would indicate a May or June release at best.
2.1.7I have already put a solid 4 weeks of development into it.
Moreover…
2.2I do not have more than the broad strokes of the story in mind.
2.2.1I lack important details like the antagonist, and importantly, the ending.
2.2.2This is a big deal. Without a complete draft, a project must not go into production.
2.2.3Last Legend Zero is still in the tinkering phase. It is improper to give it a release date.
2.2.4This should have been recognized and acknowledged from the outset.
3These combined issues have implications for the Legend Game Tower.
3.1If I am going to make a 2-month game, then a 4 month game using the 2-month game as a foundation, &c, as planned, the points under 2.1 indicate that it cannot be Last Legend Zero, but must be a smaller game.
3.1.1It has to be smaller than a point-and-click adventure game, yet move us towards my ultimate JRPG-centric goal.
3.2Nor, per 2.2, can I justly say I have begun Production on any game if I yet lack mechanics and extensive knowledge of the minimum world of that game.
3.2.1I may justly say I am tinkering or prototyping. And these are fine and necessary.
3.3Thus, to make a “2-month” game, I need to choose a first brick in the tower that is small enough to make in two months, and sufficiently well-conceived that it may swiftly move from Tinkering to Production.
4This does not mean my last month’s work was for naught.
4.1All of it can be used eventually.
4.2Most of it can be used immediately. Several components are genre agnostic:
4.2.1The HD interface/pixel world
4.2.2The palette shader
4.2.3The options menu and boot system
4.2.4The State Machinery
4.3There are some caveats:
4.3.1Dialogue is vestigial in many genres I like.
4.3.1.1However, as much as I enjoy retro mime, if my game lacks in dialogue, it is not aiming well toward my goals.
4.3.2The mouse/touch control scheme is low priority or nearly useless in every genre I’m aiming towards except point & click adventures and JRPGs
This, then, frames the question:
5What can I proudly build in a single month on the foundation I’ve laid for Last Legend Zero that moves me closer to the Legend Framework?
6The answer will be small. Something on the scale of Pong, Breakout, or Space Invaders. My gut says it will have to be a Space Shooter.
6.1I know I said I never wanted to make a Space Shooter again, but now, with the meds, I’m sure I can hack it, as long as it’s only the first step.
7I have a handful of Space Shooter designs that will serve for a first brick.
7.1Spaz Invaders is a good choice that admits almost instant work.
7.1.1It has the advantage of allowing for an immediate platformer followup.
7.1.1.1The world art thus generated would be well-suited to Last Legend material.
7.1.2Spaz is sort of in Limbo because of his overlap with Jump the Shark
7.1.2.1Perhaps echoes of the same Chrononic Resonance.
7.2Candy Raid is almost as good as Spaz Invaders.
7.2.1Obviously, with two published games starring Candy, this takes advantage of existing momentum the best.
7.2.2But I’m really very done with Candy.
7.3The space shooter starring Angel from Crossover Arcade. Meteoroid.
7.3.1More story-driven. Plays into future ensembles. Utilizes dialogue.
7.3.2Suffers from being more story-driven. This game, also has problem 2.2 to contend with.
8At this moment, I am leaning so hard towards Spaz Invaders that unless something else occurs to me, I am just about guaranteed to choose it.

Captain’s Log M1•B2: Cleaning Up

This week’s update is simple. My mother is returning home on Thursday. I have to spend most of my time preparing her house for her return. I may tinker a bit here and there before, and I may return to my work full-force after, but this week will be mostly dedicated to those preparations, and to her return.

That I am, by no means, anywhere near where I thought I’d be at this point in development means I need to reconsider my whole plan and workflow. Since my watchers in the government are asking what my plan is, I think next week will be dedicated first and foremost to very question.

February, I historically take off to do whatever I feel like. At the moment, despite spending three weeks of December and one of January pushing hard, though, I don’t feel burnt out on this project. I could easily switch projects, but I could easily just keep my nose to the grindstone and keep going. That’s a good sign that the medications are working, and I expect to re-evaluate, come to new estimates on the same plan, instead of changing plans again.

I ended last week by finding a plugin for Godot that will allow me to import animations directly from Aseprite, and by being fed up with my social media participation and choosing to go dark for a while. I predict both aid my productivity immensely.

Presently, I aim to spend whatever work time I get this week retooling the plan to take the new timing information into account. That, and producing a polished business plan take priority until such are done. I hope next week’s post will be the result.

Captain’s Log M1•52: Cracks in the Plan

Last week, the goal was to finish the game.

A game is complete when it has a start menu, sound and graphics options, an input screen (although, ideally input customization options), a credits screen, and gameplay with the game over conditions (win conditions, lose conditions, so on).

I do not release incomplete games.

Note LAS8

I did get a start menu, sound and graphics options, and an input screen implemented. So I’m partway there. But I’m not all the way there. And my mother is coming home in two weeks, so more and more of my time needs to be spent preparing her house for occupation.

Now, between cleaning and working on the game, it is possible that I can, this week finish the game. But that leaves me three weeks in January to expand and polish it instead of all 4, at best less time per week than I expected to have, and I’m not trucking along as quick as I expected, even adjusting my expectations for the last game I worked on.

Besides that, my Business Plan, while “finished” with as much information as I have, needs to be polished and brought to the agencies that are expecting it. Preferably soon. Like this week or so.

So I need to re-estimate. Perhaps game dev should go into February. Perhaps I should make the game for the rest of January, take February off to work on tie-in comics and books as originally planned, but use the fact that my target release date is the Ides of March to schedule two weeks of March as polish.

There are other considerations. I would like to create a nice setting with pixelart me sitting at a desk or something, and script a discussion of the gameplay and the plans for the Last Legend series, to present as part of the business plan.

I’m not sure which plan is best. So I’m going to stop, make a polished business plan, make that scene in Last Legend Zero that explains Last Legend, and then next week I’ll be able to tell you what we are going to do next. My best guess is next week will also be an attempt to complete the game by adding the bare bones story and gameplay. Weeks 3 and 4 of January will be filling out the game. Adding new doodads. Characters. The like. And on we shall go.

Captain’s Log LC•R2

Last week, as predicted, I did very little on the game. Not nothing, though. I spent a lot of time doing character and setting designs that will tie into the comic. I found a workflow that is almost as fast for creating “hand-inked” looking vector art as my pixel art workflow is at making pixel art…

..which re-sparked the age-old question of whether I should use HD art or Pixel Art.

There were three elements that tipped the balance for me. First was the seasonal enjoyment of Muppets Christmas Carol. My piqha, and indeed all characters in the retro-cartoony art style I’m developing, are my version of muppets as much as anything. And one thing I like about “my” muppets is that they exist in a digital world, where Mr. Henson’s exist physically. It’s something I’ve tried, and failed, to develop, in the past:

But as much as I haven’t got it figured out, I haven’t let go of it either. Even my “paper dolls” exist conceptually in my head as digital life forms. Pixel art merely makes that explicit.

The second element that tipped the balance was watching a video on Super Mario Brothers speedrunning where they talked about frame rules and manipulable RNG. Mechanics necessitated by the hardware of the time, but mechanics that I fully desire to include in my games on purpose. And the fact that they are pixel art helps thematically hint that these things will exist in my games.

The third element that helped tip the balance was a tutorial on YouTube on how to create a pixelation filter, which I immediately implemented yesterday out of the sheer joy of doing it.

I now have a glitch animation I can call whenever I want from code, as well as a fade out/fade in method that is both more elegant than what I did with Prelude to Nightmare and more Godoty: my Hat Trick fade was done the same way I would do a fade in Unity.

Along the way, I tweaked my inky caricature to be in tune with Popeye, and tweaked my pixel art caricature to be in line with my inky one.

Which is a great improvement in my eyes.

Ink and pixels will both always be elements of how I present my stuff, I think. With 3D making rare but real appearances from time to time..

But I do love the pixels.

One marginal fourth factor convincing me to go with pixels over HD was that I want my games to run on potatoes, and not require super high-end hardware.

One marginal fifth factor is that Sierra called their graphical adventure games “Hi-Res Adventures” because this was hi-res compared to a text adventure:

… and I think it would be hilarious to call my games “Low-res adventures” despite them being higher res than the Sierra high res adventures.

The one thing that was not a factor despite the fact that it ought to have been the single most important factor is that it’d take much of a week to rebuild what I’ve got so far in HD. At some point in a project, you have to commit to not starting over, even though you’ve learned so much and done so much that you know starting over would be faster and better. Because if you let yourself start over once, you’ll let yourself start over again and again and never get done.

My books are not perfect, but they are finished, and the lessons I would learn by starting over get applied to the next book.

But while that should have been the first factor and the deciding factor, I never considered that factor, as the other factors made the decision before I got to that point.

What are we going to do this week?

A game is complete when it has a start menu, sound and graphics options, an input screen (although, ideally input customization options), a credits screen, and gameplay with the game over conditions (win conditions, lose conditions, so on).

I do not release incomplete games.

Note LA•S8: Complete Game

This week, my primary goal is to turn my gameplay demo into a small complete game. Doing the bare minimum work as fast as possible to have it done.

Then, in January, the first two weeks will be dedicated to expanding the game, and the second two to polishing the game, making sure at the end of each week to end with a finished game. In this way, at the beginning of February, even if I have to cut content that I wanted to put in the game, I will be able to release a game.

So that’s the plan for this week. Make a title screen/start menu, the options and credits, and the end conditions.

The FYOOOTCHER..

If God wills, and I haven’t finished development for the Mad Christian Last Legend comic by February, as a side-effect of making this game, February will be devoted to comic development until it is ready to go. Using the game engine and comic assets together to make YouTube animated shorts (and I dunno, TikToks) will be the hoped-for side-effect of that project as well, because the plan is then to spend March and April producing a JRPG, Last Legend I.

If Bunny Trail Junction is the the rocket, then Last Legend I is the launch and Last Legend Zero is the fuel.

Captain’s Log LC•K4: I’ll not be focusing on the Game this week.

Last week we got a lot done. The game now has lighting, spaceship graphics, and a lot of input/bug fixes.

I may tinker with it this week, but my plan is to focus on holiday preparations, as well as story matters. Figure out who the characters in the comic are. Make presents for my family members. Clean my house.

Next week, the first proper week of Christmastide, my goal will be to make a Complete Game. That is, to make the title screen and menus, the win condition, the credits… the minimum product, so that all development in January will be improving and expanding a complete game, and I’ll not spend the last week or so trying to desperately tweak it into a finished product before release.

And that’s all I have to say about that. May you have a Merry Christmas.

Captain’s Log LC•D3: A Look of my Very Own

We closed out last week just a little shy of all the needed gameplay (namely, going places, clicking on things, and having my scripts play as a result). Thanks to a helpful plugin called Dialogic, I had no need to make my own dialogue system…

And Godot comes with pathfinding out of the box, albeit buggy pathfinding, which may mean I need to apply a couple bandaids of my own.

The hope was to have all the gameplay systems done that week, spend this week making a Complete Game, and then the rest of December and January expanding the game.

As of the close of today, I have reached the point I aimed to hit last Friday which is… not great, but better than my other missed targets by a lot. Crosswiring multiple forms of input in Godot proved challenging, but not nearly so challenging as Unity. With Dialogic coming with choice boxes, and me spending my first couple days implementing palette management and a custom animation system suited to my prejudices, my Godot RPG Engine is now more capable than my Unity RPG Engine, and I have less experience with Godot on the whole.

Here’s my sweet, sweet radial menu radial menuing.

But that is not (for me) the most exciting bit of news. Unhappy with my test graphics, I began the process of doing research and mockups into the sorts of graphics I’d like to do in my game. I have wavered between my hand-drawn style and pixel art in the past. And one of the reasons is I can make competent pixel art, but not unique pixel art.

Until now. The dam broke.

foo

That’s a mockup, but that’s the style. It means the characters (except for the piqha) need to get larger, but I’ve realized I can bring the feel of my brush into the pixels. In fact, I’ve done it before:

I am now genuinely excited for the art I am going to bring to this game, and to future books and comics, even if it is low-res adventures.

When I ended the week without reaching my goal, the plan changed. This week is no longer for finishing, but for building. Next week is not for finishing because of Christmas. The last week of December is now for finishing. But that’s fine. I went for two months so I would have that space to work in.

So this week, the plan is to build out from this foundation. Get the game looking interesting.

Next week, I intend to work on it some, but not a ton, thanks to Christmas.

And the week after that is a race to make it a complete game. That is, having the win or lose conditions, the music, the options menus, the title screens, and so on.

Usually I post all this stuff to Twitter as I do it, but ever since I hit on the art direction, I’ve been holding off. I want my next salvo to hit hard, with lots of the new art to gawk at.