Like in October of 2021, I have heaped projects on my plate. And like October of 2021, it is not working well. I don’t really know how I’m going to handle it just yet, however.
I am making John Michael Jones Gets a Life at a rate of one comic a week, which is a nice, slow, easy pace. Nevertheless, I have been a scant 2 weeks ahead this whole time, and this week, I’ve slipped to 1 week ahead. They are color comics, so they take a little more producing, and eventually, our heroes will be in a digital world, which will allow some shortcuts, but there it is.
Concerning to me, I’ve launched this before I’ve finished the draft. Which means I don’t know if I can land this ship. But I felt if I sat on it any longer, it would never get done, so…
Awesome Moments is my Bible Story book series. Awesome Moments 1 goes from Eden to Christ to the Parousia as briskly as possible to serve as the anchor for the rest of the series. I’ve ranged from doing two illustrations (each of these being two pages) per day, to one, to none.. I want to have it all done by the middle of the month so it can be thoroughly exorcised from my system, because I feel kids’ books are my best medium, but I haven’t been able to finish a draft. I think my gears are clogged, and won’t start turning again until I finish this book.
Also, while the publisher intends to Kickstart it in December, they’d like it a good deal sooner.
Jump the Shark is a platformer that’s a big dose of Sonic, a moderate dose of Megaman X, and whatever else I feel like mixing in to taste.
Strangely enough, the adoption of all these projects can be traced to one program: Clip Studio Paint.
Took my month off. Tried to storyboard a kids’ book. Didn’t work. Did a game jam. Did okay.
Here’s kind of where I’m at.
I decided to roll my game dev back to the gameboy-esque standards. I’ve been slowly rebuilding Prelude to Nightmare using all the knowledge I’ve gained about Godot since I made it. Here’s where it was…
.. and here’s where it is..
A long bit away from where it was, but with numerous improvements. Things I’m doing “right” that were being done in a hacky way before, but I didn’t know.
Quite the whirlwind tour to come back to the beginning. But to my way of thinking, if it took Yacht Club Games a bazillion years to finish all their Shovel Knight promises, and they have way more skill and experience than me, then… 🤷
Time to start biting off smaller bites or something.
Meanwhile, since zero of this process is making something new, my brain has been freed up to consider what I should make. Refactor the kids’ book ideas. That sort of thing. And I keep circling back to John Michael Jones.
Maybe Wren would be better off motivated as a monster hunter/collector than a bounty hunter. Maybe that would fix her story. But I’m already exploring that angle for Princess Pluot. I don’t want the characters to overlap! Maybe I can do an action story for Jump the Shark. But why not do the action story with John Michael instead? Man, I wish there were more stories that had X, or Y. John Michael has these things!
One of the things I was worried about was trying to take the story of a kid getting sucked into a game, and making a game look like the story. For instance, I gave these trees zigzag bark and square moss and flowers that aren’t physically connected to themselves all as ways of signaling that John Michael is in a digital world..
But good old pixel art does that just fine.
Indeed, I originally planned to have the comic be black and white in the real world, and colored in the game, as a nod to Wizard of Oz. But I want to tell the opposite story from Oz. I want kids to enjoy the fantasy of being sucked into a video game, but then also have it feel natural when the characters in the game say, “Ah, but in real life I have friends and steak and wind in my hair.” So the “real” world should have color, and the game should be black and white.
So yesterday I colored John Michael’s first comic, and then made a proper cover for the first arc of the series.
So that’s where I am. Gearing up to release John Michael Jones Fights a Dragon. Simultaneously developing a Hat Trick game. And trying hard to nail it down to just those two things for now.
Which brings up a couple of thoughts. First is why am I making a Wren Valen book? How does that fit into my goals. Second is where I’m currently sitting with regard to kids’ books, comics, and vidya. We’ll start with the apologetic.
It’s a bit of a strange thing, you know. I devised Wren (it feels like) a million years ago. In another world. In a world where I had no problem writing a fantasy of a short sorceress in an airship fighting pirates with her magic.
Now, a million problems arise. My Right Winger, primary audience is going to wonder why I’m telling stories about magic amazons. The world is full of writers who want to make stories about magic amazons. We need more stories like John Michael, of boys being allowed to be the hero again. And I agree.
But I feel like drawing and writing Wren. So I’m drawing and writing Wren.
My target audience may view Wren through a gimlet eye. But their natural foes, the Social Justice types, won’t like her either. She’s a flawed character, not a perfect Mary Sue. She understands that Force Equals Mass times Acceleration. She doesn’t pick fights with gorillas. No, the Left will call me a sexist for writing a human female, and the awesome Right will roll their eyes at Cartoon Rey.
I might pick up some sales among the Ben Shapiro, “I’m totally Right Wing, you can tell because I defend last year’s Left” crowd. People who think women in the military is a Right Wing triumph. But I have no interest in playing to that crowd at all.
Mind you, I don’t care if left, right, or center buys and enjoys my books. My enemies aren’t the commies or the not sees. My enemies are the devils. Any human I encounter is at worst a peon of forces who want to devour him. I say let him read and enjoy my books! It may be a lifeline for him. Or at worst, I will have supplied him a few bright moments in a dark life. And that is still a worthwhile thing.
But, you know, I’m trying to build a business. It’s a bit silly to build a business around books and stories that my own best customers are likely to dislike.
It doesn’t much matter to me for a few reasons.
I’m taking a bit of a breather. I’ve spent four months on one project that I thought was sensible. Now I’m spending a month or two on a project because I feel like it. Got to recharge the batteries if I want to make the laudable stuff.
I mistrust my motives. It is good to write stories that have good messages, good heroes and villains in them. It is good to write stories that will sell. But my vocation as a story teller is to tell stories that are good not because they are profitable or morally upright, but because they take your mind off your troubles for a few minutes. Working on a story, then, that militates against the profit and moralizing motives feels like something I can and even should do, to be true to my vocation.
My wife will like it. And if I make a book that she likes, then the book was a success even if nobody buys it.
There’s no rule that I have to produce this draft next. I’m currently planning to make several draft books in a row, and then pick one to produce as a final book. This Wren book is the first of those drafts. Maybe, after I draft a Hat Trick book and a John Michael Jones book and a Jump the Shark book, I’ll decide, “yeah, let’s go ahead and produce Wren first.” But maybe I won’t.
So that’s my apologetic for seeing this draft through.
Comics, Games, and Books for Children
This kids’ book format is a very compressed way to tell a story. Get in. Load a thousand words into each picture, and then maybe fifty or a hundred words along the side.
I love it. I’ve done novels, but I’m weak on them. I don’t spend enough time on the descriptions. The sights, the smells. I just dive straight into dialogue and action. Making picture books makes up for my weaknesses by leaning on my strengths.
Of course, comics are even moreso right? Right? Well. I’m not sure. It feels like it takes me forever to get through a story drawing it as a comic. I spend too much time and ink drawing the same picture over and over again.
Why not just make my “comics” as picture books, and let other, more patient men turn them into comics if they like? Seems a good plan to me.
But what will I do with Bunny Trail Junction, then? Shutter it?
Maybe. Or maybe I’ll post my storyboards there. Post them like they are a webcomic. Build an audience for each book before I even make the book.
Vidya, vidya, vidya. Vidya is prime, right? If I make a story in a game engine, I can record it as a video, post it as a comic, even make it as a kids’ book.
No. That’s the wrong approach. And here is why: the heart of my stories is the characters and plots. The heart of a game is the player and his choices. If I try to make my game dev a vehicle for my stories, I will gimp my gameplay and my stories. Better to make the stories as books, maybe post the storyboards in lieu of a webcomic, maybe read them on Youtube. Then, in my copious “spare time”, go ahead and tinker with game development. But as a hobby. If a game starts working out, then, sure, steal liberally from my books so that the books and games cross-promote.
Every now and then I think about Dr. Seuss as some sort of rival. Oh, I’m not trying to compete with his rhymes. And I doubt I’ll ever see hide nor hair of his fame. But there are some things I dislike about the man, and one of them is his pride. It took him forever to embrace making kids’ books. He later saw it as a true and worthy calling, but at first he intended to make serious art for serious people.
Trying to center my work on vidya is the same sort of hubris. I have a hundred fun stories in me. I should walk the shortest road between where I am, and where people can get at them. And I should have always been walking that path.
And are they children’s stories after all?
The Wren stories were not originally aimed at children. But they don’t have anything I wouldn’t give to a kid.
My cartoony style will be off-putting to serious men wanting serious stories. But at the end of the day, at least in the case of this Wren book, I’m making the books I want to make, and I hope some kids may like them and maybe even some adults may like them.
2 months building a comic and tinkering with an attached game, for production in the Mad Christian Mondays newsletter. My tolerance for a project maxes out at 2 months. I find one month is optimal.
Worse still, I’ve been trying to develop a comic/game for Mad Christian Mondays since December. It’s only the current iteration that has had 2 months of effort put into it. The project as a whole is closer to four.
It isn’t right. With medication, it is possible, but even with medication, I am better served having multiple projects that I switch between. I need to harness my ADHD, and reserve fighting it for critical moments.
I lost a week at the end of March to the burnout. On a whim, I joined Ludum Dare 50 just to try and clear my mind. And my mind has been cleared. John Michael Jones needs to be set aside for a month or two. Which doesn’t mean I can’t launch the comic and run it — I have more than a month’s worth of work built up. Only that it needs to go on the back burner for a while.
Ludum Dare 50. Waterlogged. It’s nothing special. But, for something thrown together by two guys over three days, it is something decidedly okay.
As I push John Michael on to the back burner, I want to note a couple of things for the record:
Right now, the game engine uses HD, hand-drawn vector art. But the comic will put John & friends into a digital world. I half plan to use the HD art game engine for the game world, but a part of me wants to use either pixel art or low-poly 3D art, to really sell that the world is different.
Here are two vector drawings of characters. The first uses a technique where I draw with a tablet and try to imitate my pen and brush inking, then convert this raster image into a rough vector approximation, color, and assemble it. The second, I draw the image in Inkscape directly. The first is slightly closer to how I like my art to look; the second is significantly easier to tweak. If I am making vector game art, I need to pick a lane and stick to it. But I like them both.
But, so long as I am working on a different project, I don’t need to make that choice right away. And, after all, I may decide upon mulling it over to stick to pixel art for the game world/game engine. Who knows at this point? All I know is I need to let it simmer for a month or two.
What should I do this month? Well, a few ideas occur to me.
Could spend a month trying to learn a language. I am currently tinkering with Toki Pona, and I have tinkered with Japanese for years. Sure, if I go all in on Japanese for a month, I won’t suddenly know the language. But I will be better at it than I was before.
Always wanted to make a stenotype minigame to teach myself stenotype. It would be a useful product, and would benefit my various life goals.
It’s been a few months since I worked on Hat Trick. Some Hat Trick comics, stopping once a week to ink a John Michael Jones comic, might be a good plan.
The Therian Virtual Pet is wildly different from the John Michael Jones stuff. But therians play into that story, so if I started work on it, I would come back to John Michael Jones in a couple months having worked on something different, but still having made progress.
My wife occasionally reminds me that she would enjoy more adventures of Wren Valen the Flying Privateer.
There is something that I also want to note down. When I did the Ludum Dare challenge, I initially published Waterlogged as a Windows game because I already had experience doing so, and I didn’t want to get stuck in unfamiliar territory right before the competition ended.
But once I had done that, I re-published it as an HTML5 game that can be played in the browser. And it worked so smoothly and so well I was caught off guard. I think I may want to publish more things this way. Make comics that are animations in game engines, and publish them to itch.io.
It’s not any one specific project at the moment. It’s just a thought that needs further thinking.
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!
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.
I know I haven’t said much in February. I’ve been working on comic development for the Mad⳩ crew all month, more or less. I’ve been experimenting with how to make the comic dev and the game dev overlap as well, leading the previous blog post, as well as this:
I think I’m close. I think before I wrap up tonight’s shift, I may have an actual product going into production.
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.
The following section now breaks Hat Trick into two pieces in the November Monthly. It’s a little ad-hoc and hastily assembled due to precise constraints on how many comics I needed…
Some of these are Frankencomics, single comics assembled from panels of multiple different previous comics. I’m not 100% happy with them. They mostly make sense and say what I want to say in the space I was given. I may make some additional comics to try out different ways of saying what I mean to say more intentionally rather than reuse the old ones or use frankencomics.
I’ve got about a week to figure it out. No big deal. If Bunny Trail Junction isn’t perfect on its first outing, well, that’s how I learn the skills that will perfect it.
So let’s think about some stuff I’ve largely already covered on this blog:
Sadly, it’s late, and I’ll have to consider course corrections tomorrow, which is irritating because my aim was to reach a conclusion today. But describing the question is half the answer.
Meanwhile I’ve begun work on a game. Work is slow because I’m doing two full ink drawings a day, which eats into the time I can work on the game at all. Here’s what two days of this have netted me:
Let’s pretend I have about 4 hours of brainpower in the tank per day. That’s one per comic, and one spent on Japanese, leaving me only one for the game. To be sure, I spent more than two hours on this program — but most of the stuff outside the two hours of “brainpower” were minor tweaks rather than getting somewhere and doing something. So, all told, not bad.
Normally, my rule with Bunny Trail Junction is it has on months and off months. In on months, I focus all my brainpower on the comic, and I expect to produce three to five episodes a day. This is what I was doing during my proof-of-concept in April.
If, say, I’m working on a video game, it’s an off month. In an off month I produce one comic a day. So in an on month I am rapidly gaining ground, and in off months, I am slowly losing ground. Simple enough.
I’m making a game, so September is an off month, right? Except I’m doing two drawings a day instead of one because I have to hustle through the Inktober prompts and get them all done before the Ides in patent violation of the spirit of the law. So, I’m trying to cobble together the bones of a game while working twice as hard on comics as I intend to do for the rest of the month once the Inktober prompts are finished.
By the 14th, my visit with the doctor, the prompts should be finished, and I should be back down to making a comic a day and spending the rest of my brain hours on the game. If I throw together a decent series of comics about the game, I can have November assembled within days of October and start to be truly ahead of the game. The game being Bunny Trail Junction obviously.
But one dark shadow has been lurking in the corners of my mind.
What about Awesome Moments? Awesome Moments is the most important thing on my to-do list, after all! Making comics about bunnies fighting goblins is nice, but this is leaving a record of my faith for my children!
When am I going to finish that?
Oddly enough, Awesome Moments got kicked into production by my work on the comics. This:
Perhaps it is time to unfurcate it, and roll Awesome Moments back into the comic.
I’ve toyed with the idea of setting Awesome Moments as the story of David Jones catechizing his kid.
It sidesteps a lot of the angst I have over it. As a convert from one faith tradition to another, I am painfully aware of the doctrinal differences between me and my Christian brethren. It doesn’t matter: Awesome Moments is my presentation of the faith to my children. I cannot, I must not, bend on any doctrine of note just because I love my brethren with whom I disagree.
So, you know, if you’re reading my Bible Story books to your kids, and you disagree with me, you’ll want to point out (incorrectly, of course) where I’m wrong. You should be doing this with all the childrens’ Bible Stories you’re using already. You don’t know what crazy cults have gotten their fingers into making those books!
Making the book “The Bible, as told to John Michael by his dad” makes this a lot less messy. You can say, “Look, David Jones is super cool, and we love his perspective, but he’s an imaginary character and sometimes he gets important stuff wrong.” Badah-bing, badah-boom.
(Of course, there’s no need, as obviously I am right about everything. But the option is now cleaner.)
Anyway, today I was avoiding work, as one does on the Lord’s Day, and pondering, and the thought came to give it a little test comic. And here we go:
If I decide I don’t like it, I don’t have to run it. But for some reason, this feels right. This feels like how I’m supposed to do this.
Intellectually, it’s not quite right. Bunny Trail Junction is supposed to be pure entertainment. I’m not trying to evangelize with my comics. There are Believers in them, and Christianity is true in them, but they are meant to be Christian stories in the same sense Lord of the Rings is a Christian story: that is, the work of a Christian craftsman plying a trade, not as a preacher, but as a man pursuing excellence in his particular craft.
But it feels right. And as I grow older, I get more mystical. My gut says aye. The ayes have it.