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.

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.

Captain’s Log LB•T3: Fabrege Eggs

So, today I’m going to point the Mad⳩ team (let the reader understand), to this (the logicmonkey.media) blog.

When I started writing posts entitled “Captain’s Log…” the idea was I’d make a blog post twice a week. On Monday, I would lay out what I aimed to do that week, as well as the larger, but far less committed-to plan. On Friday, I would review whether the week had gone according to my plan, so I could adjust accordingly.

In practice, this has devolved into one post once a week serving both roles. On Monday or Tuesday most weeks, I review the previous week and lay out the next one. However, if you click the Captain’s Log Link on the sidebar, sometimes I post a summary at the end of the week and sometimes I even post updates throughout the week.

Historically, this has been kept on logicmonkey.media/blog, where I blog about whatever I feel like. However, as of late October, I have been transferring my notes into an Obsidian Vault, including my weekly logs. See LBT 31 Obsidian Aside.

My primary responsibility as of last week was to finish my Business Plan for various agencies. I noted that I expected to end up on a plan of creating a series of Piqha games and deriving books and comics from them.

Here’s how the week went:

  • Monday: 12 hours poured into writing the business plan.
  • Tuesday:
    • 4 hours poured into writing the plan. At this time, I decided it was well to transfer my Kids’ Pulp Formula into my Obsidian Vault, because the plan called for weekly writings of books in accordance with the formula.
    • 1 hour doing that.
    • 4 hours reading and recording my notes on An Evaluation of Claims to the Charismatic Gifts by Douglas Judisch, so I could get the copy I borrowed from my pastor back to him on Wednesday.
  • Wednesday: 8 hours spent either worldbuilding for Last Legend, or analyzing the question: can I make reusable graphics for comics, books, and games.
    • In the past I have explored working in pixel art for games and printing it. And it is workable, but Piqha really cry out for a hand-drawn look.
    • Eventually, I settled on a pipeline for turning handmade ink drawings into vector graphics, then turning them back into raster graphics in Godot (the game engine) and coloring them in code. Here is the proof of concept, using graphics I had lying around.
  • Thursday: I had a nice dinner with my family because it’s Thanksgiving in my country.
  • Friday:
    • I spent 2 hours on the business plan and finished all save the financial projections.
    • I spent 2 hours updating my logs, as they had not been kept up to date since my mother went to the hospital.
    • I spent 2 hours working on the worldbuilding and story for Last Legend.

Saturday was entirely consumed by work on my mother’s farm in her absence, and Sunday I rest, yo! Although somewhere in there, I did the preliminary work on the print layouts I expect to use going forward.

This Week

Today, my first and highest priority objective is finishing the financial projections for my Business Plan, and then formatting it properly to file with the appropriate agencies. I expect to be finished today. But I am willing to work on it tomorrow as well if necessary.

My intention is to hit the ground running on December 1st on producing the Last Legend Easter Egg Hunt game. I have December and January set aside for this game.

My aim is to have a hand-drawn piqha walking in a hand-drawn room in a spaceship by Saturday, December 4th. Because this is a brand new workflow for me, albeit grounded in things I’ve done before, 3 days to get that up and running is ambitious. I’m 90% sure I can pull it off, but even without life throwing curve-balls at me, as it does, I can’t be 100% sure.

What does that mean for the comic?

I am aiming to make the games in such a way that graphics from it can be repurposed to make episodes of the comic. I am also developing the stories and characters in tandem. They are meant to flow into each other.

I believe I will be ready to produce an episode a week of the Last Legend comic by January. That is my current objective. If by February I have failed to launch, I will be all in, 100% on the comic until it is ready to go because the comic and the game cross-promote.

Captain’s Log LB•G1: Settling the Plan

When I abandoned the Hat Trick Minigame, it was here:

2D Pixelart

Over the last week, I have spent about 16 hours on game dev, most of which was building a new engine here:

3D Pixelart

This has led to the following observations:

  1. SpryTile for Blender is very nice. It does what I need and more.
  2. I like the look of a 3D pixel art world. I’m not unhappy with the direction this is taking.
  3. Godot has a button that creates collision meshes for your 3D models. Super helpful.
  4. I have to put the camera at a lower angle than I want, or else the character’s billboard will clip into the walls, even though the walls are angled away to achieve the “Zelda” perspective.
  5. I’m just not sure how to handle the attack animations. Sword at a flat (e.g. realistic) angle? Billboard it but move it so it doesn’t clip into the ground?
  6. 4 and 5 have me considering if maybe the JRPG is a better path to take this down, as the angles of the billboard and the world make, e.g. sword swings complicated, but fit the perspective I had chosen for the RPG fairly nicely.
    JRPG engine
  7. This is not something I’m taking super seriously, at this point, but it is not entirely off the table because…

The Other Stuff

I spent about 8 hours last week transferring data from my blogs and brainstorm documents into my ZettelKasten. This is something that needs to happen for optimal production of all my projects, but to get it all in will take weeks, even if I do nothing else. So I can’t possibly focus on it full-time. I have to spend most of my time building something.

I lost four hours to social media this week. Time I wanted to spend working. I spent 4 hours on social media that was planned, working alongside the upload of the last bits of November’s Bunny Trail Junction.

I spent zero hours last week working on my business plan, which I need to finish in order to continue securing sustenance funding. And there’s a bit of a rub. Working on the business plan solidified why my plan for October was a bad idea. Finishing it, then, should come before I commit to a project because it will allow me to quantify the candidates and weigh them more accurately.

Moreover, I must work on the business plan until it is done. So if I work on a game in November, I won’t be just working on the game. It’ll be sharing time with the business plan. But the last game already showed that trying to complete more than one project at a time is a non-starter for me.

Moreover, moreover, I’ve got a hankering to make a nice, short kids’ book again. I haven’t done one since I moved. I’ve storyboarded Hat Trick 1. I’ve storyboarded Awesome Moments. Both of those are huge, like 80 pages apiece. A nice little book, 30 pages, complete story… that would be swell. And I’ve got some notions for great ways to do books.

  • Switch from 6×9 to 8×9 so that the two-page illustrations are screen-sized.
  • Make shorter Bible Story Books for the Awesome Moments line that are just copy-pasted Scripture from the WEB, and my illustrations.
  • There’s a prayer book I’ve been meaning to assemble. Be nice to have my prayers on hand.
  • Set up Piqha dioramas using SpryTile.

Am I really sure that Vidya is Prime?

Well, yes. A little. I don’t know…

I had better prioritize getting that business plan finished.

Plot Twist!

And then, at the end of the week, I got a contact from a religious YouTuber I follow who is trying to start up a comic book company that will launch next year, and he’s seen my art and wants to pay me to draw a comic for him.

And the resulting discussions and negotiations have utterly blown apart the possibilities. I reallyreally need to get that business plan finished.

Captain’s Log LB•81: Laying a Brick

On Halloween morning, my mother went to the hospital with bleeding in her brain. The last week has been a roller coaster as her prognosis has moved wildly from probable death to probable recovery and everything in between. Right now, there is a decent chance she will recover, but a very high chance she will need perpetual care, in which case the State will seize the farm I live on to pay for the care, and I will need to find a new home for my family.

I am going to keep this log entry short and sweet. I have chosen, however unwisely, to double down on my dreams of building a media company and building a manor on the farm, because that’s what I am made for, and that is what my mother wants. God help me.

This week, I will be working the plan discussed in the previous log entry. On Friday, I have scheduled time to finish uploading November’s Bunny Trail Junctions and chilling on Twitter. Other than that, I will be avoiding social media to preserve my focus, which will entail at least two days each working on the game, and completing my Business Plan.

My plan for the comics was to finish out 2021 for Bunny Trail Junction by making a December Monthly, then going on hiatus until the game making process produces sufficient comics to resume. However, I am rescinding that plan. I have enough comics saved up to half-ass a December monthly, but November is reserved for doubling down on making games, and dealing with my mother’s condition as events arise.

Captain’s Log LB•33: Moving on to the next game

As of Captain’s Log LB•11: The Primacy of Vidya, I have decided that henceforth instead of making comics, games, videos, or books as the fit takes me, I will be making games and then deriving comics, books, and videos from the games as much as possible.

It’s no good for some things, like Awesome Moments, obviously. In that specific case, I am content. Awesome Moments is a record for my own children, and I feel a little odd about making it a product. But I do need to make a product.

I’m working using a concept/business model I am calling the Game Tower.

Game Towers

Game Tower is a game development technique wherein you make a miniature game that is a Complete Game that implements a core mechanic of some larger game you would like to make. Then you release and sell that game. Then, on top of that miniature game, you build a larger miniature game that has an additional component. In this way, you build a tower that grows towards the dream game you wish to make, while also increasingly funding that game and expanding your track record.

Note LA•S9

I have discussed before how I find dismal projections of how little money indie game developers make to be encouraging. Partly because I’m old poor, so a coder’s “I could never live on this” is easily 50% more than I can hope for as a Lowes Greeter. But partly because of the way Game Towers work. The projections in question assume you are marketing from square one each time, but every brick in a Game Tower helps sell the brick below and the brick above.

I have two Game Towers in the running. A JRPG Tower, which we’ve spoken of and…

The one I’ve chosen, Game Tower Awakening, is building a foundation with my favorite games in mind, especially The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Gameboy, with later influences from Megaman and Megaman X.

The first brick in that tower is familiarize myself with the Godot engine, try out some graphical and gameplay ideas, and see how that goes. And so I have done. Hat Trick: Prelude to Nightmare was made in Godot, tested the ideas, and is technically a Complete Game, even though it is not a good game.

Today’s Choice

Now, this is not the first game in the tower to be ‘financially viable’. Nor can I follow the proper methodology with this game, as making it has taught me several things I want to change on the ground floor. So after concluding I should focus on vidya, I debated two options:

  1. Release the Proof of Concept with no real gameplay to the world and immediately begin working on the second brick.
  2. Spend up to a week polishing the Proof of Concept so that it can be reasonably considered a real minigame.

The advantage of 1 is that it does a better job as a marketing tool. Hat Trick: Prelude to Nightmare was not meant to be a mere proof of concept. It was meant to market the Hat Trick comics on Bunny Trail Junction And it was meant to market the second brick. Right now, it’s not a good game. All it can really do is prove I can make certain things.

To make it a good minigame, I have a week or more of work ahead of me. Animating goblins, developing rudimentary AI, filling out the levels, changing the music at dramatically relevant times, and adding a bunch of satisfying beeps and swooshes to the menuing. This puts me a week or more further away from making the second brick. No big deal?

It would be good to do. I have learned a lot of stuff about Godot making this first game in the engine. There’s a bunch of things I want to do completely different now. And I know from experience that game dev will always be like this. If I start over, build a new foundation, by the time I get a game out of that, I will have a ton of stuff I’ll wish I’d done differently. Pushing forward to make the minigame a proper minigame would mean I begin work on it with even more notions of how I can do better.

But some of the changes I intend to make are fairly drastic.

Some Changes

For instance, I want to build my animation system differently so I can compartmentalize animations and reuse them between multiple characters. Oh, and here’s a big one.

I’m going to ditch 2D for 3D.

Not entirely. I still intend to use the same sprites and tiles. But I will do so in a manner reminiscent of Paper Mario or Octopath Traveler, albeit with an overhead perspective instead of a side-on perspective. So more of a Pokémon Black & White kind of look.

See, one of the things I love about Link’s Awakening is all the jumping. To add top-down platforming in 2D would be complex. I’d have to carefully consider how to emulate the third dimension. How to alter and sort the graphics as they get higher or lower. How to track which parts of the map are at which height.

If I just shift that gameplay into Godot’s 3D engine, I get all that stuff automatically.

And I can take a Link’s Awakening style adventure and make Megaman or Sonic levels by tipping the camera on its side a little.

And I suspect (I do not know, but I suspect) that Godot may succeed for me where Unity failed, allowing me to prototype gaming in pixel art, and then slip HD art with the same proportions in if I decide to make the game more ambitious.

Unity, I had such high hopes for you!

The Choice Revisited

Now, let’s take a quick look at Option 2: cut off my proof of concept where it is and begin building the second brick now.

If I am correct, I should hit a stage in developing the second game where I can take a couple of days, build out the first brick’s world and situation in the game in progress, and simply publish it in place of the proof of concept. That is, a month (hopefully less) into making the second brick, I can paint the second brick to look like the first brick, and get all the advantages of finishing the first brick first, as well as the advantages of cutting directly to the second brick.

So that’s my choice. Today or tomorrow, the Proof of Concept will be available for download on bunnytrail.itch.io/hattrick0 and then, later, when I can recreate it and more in the second brick engine, it will be swapped out.

The Second Brick

The Second Brick is a ninja stealth combat game where you play a snow leopard ninja my wife uses as her online avatar, sneaking around and killing therians. Tenchu Z in the Link’s Awakening engine. Aside from the meager marketing I manage on Twitter by my lonesome, this has the advantage that I can have her run betas on her Twitch streams, and enlist her fanbase in spreading the word.

The Third Brick…

I have many, many friends online who are writing excellent books and comics and drawing attention. Releasing the second brick is all the proof I need that I can turn one of these into a still bigger game. I have lots of ideas for several properties, but we will see who is amenable. With our audiences combined, the Third Brick will have an even greater reach.

And Beyond?

That JRPG Tower I was working on? The one that’s more marketable, has better storytelling potential and so forth than the Tower I’ve chosen to build just because I happen to like it more?

It may have very different gameplay than this Tower. But I might be able to take the work I do on graphics and dialogue and world representation, and use the same foundation for a second Game Tower.