Captain’s Log, 0210225.54: Of Battle Systems, Music, and Cartoon Kings

Normally, I would put off the Captain’s Log post for Friday, but I’ve only got three workdays left in this month, and that means I have to make a decision as to what I’m doing next month. And I’m almost 100% sure I’m going to Kickstart Awesome Moments starting halfway through the month. Which means I need to swiftly decide whether I’m retooling the art style, and I need to produce some good art for the Kickstarter itself, including the first draft of the PDF, and a couple of pages of finished illustrations.

The Last Legend engine has basic movement, dialogue, and context-sensitive radial menus:

There are two or three possible next steps:

Continue reading “Captain’s Log, 0210225.54: Of Battle Systems, Music, and Cartoon Kings”

Captain’s Log, 0210222.062

We are going to tinker for the remainder of February. At this point, I am 90% sure I want to launch a Kickstarter for Awesome Moments on March 15th, and spend March 1st throught he 15th building up to that.

In the mean time, today’s task is to implement radial menus in my RPG/Adventure game unity framework.

I spent yesterday relaxing, trying to avoid working on the game, even in my head, but I could not avoid the conclusion that I still hate adventure games, and unless I am suddenly struck by lightning and come up with a new way of approaching them, I’m just going to go ahead and start implementing battles as soon as my radial menu is up and running.

Let me try and give you a quick idea of my damage.

Suppose in your game, you have a puzzle. Collect the 7 shards of the Pearl of McGuffin. One of the shards is in a vending machine. It costs 25 cents.

You can see a quarter in a drain. So you stick a piece of chewing gum on a stick, and use it to fish the quarter out.

The glory and the failing of adventure games is this: That is a cool, clever way to solve the problem. But it is also highly specific. Most games won’t allow you to do that, because it cannot be generalized to the game’s built in mechanics. But adventure games have the opposite problem: they will allow you to do that, and nothing else.

My favorite thing about videogames is player expression. Adventure games have, by nature, zero player expression. Every puzzle solution is not the player applying his creativity and skill to the problem before him, but rather, the player thinking the game designer’s thoughts after him. I would rather there be a set of consistent mechanics, from which the player can derive the intended solution, but also create his own solutions.

One of the reasons I seldom discuss Candy Raid, a game I worked on as the artist, is it is a puzzle game. There is one and only one intended solution to each problem. I hate that in games. I hate games that do that. They are a legitimate genre, and some people love them, but not me.

My favorite game these days is Breath of the Wild, and the reason is simply this: The game has puzzles. The puzzles have intended solutions. But the game not only doesn’t prevent you from thinking outside the box and applying your own solutions, the designers kind of wink and nod and hint that they approve of you breaking out of their boxes.

The point and click adventure genre is a celebration of the box. Therefore, I cannot in good conscious make one unless I figure out a way to change that. Therefore, even though I could stop building my RPG framework a third of way in, and produce an adventure game with that third, and even though I should, simply because doing so will force me to find the fun in the non-battle parts of the engine and because it will mean I have more games to my name, at this present moment the plan is to not do that very thing.

I do not serve my customers well by trying to produce a game I will hate. Although…

Here’s a notion. I’m not committing to it. But let’s throw it out there and let if vibrate in the aether. If I make a stealth game with an RPG/adventure game interface, then I will go into my RPG with sneaking baked in.

Hm.

Anyway, radial menus.

Captain’s Log 0210219.142: Now Let Them Fight…

This represents a framework for basic navigation and dialogue that works equally well with keyboard and mouse, gamepad, and touch screen.

I’ve said it before, but the JRPG genre is well suited to touchscreens. People make JRPGs that use arrow keys or gamepads or wasd, and then port them to phones with virtual dpads that clutter up the screen, instead of just using “poke to go there; prod to open chest, touch to talk,” etc.

I know why. In a game engine, you get one input system out of the box; to make the others play nice, you have to do stuff yourself. Well, my JRPG design takes enough cues from outliers like Mario RPG, etcetera, that I can’t use RPGMaker anyway. So, as I’m rolling my own framework, I’m rolling my own input system (more or less). May as well make it work both sides of the aisle.

It was harder than I thought, though not super hard. Basically, there’s two cursors on screen at all times. One jumps to the location of your mouse/touch, the other floats in front of the player character’s eyes. You click/tap and the mouse cursor triggers stuff. You press A, and the eye cursor triggers stuff.

Movement has to be handled different. There’s an invisible DPad on your character, sending the ground the same events that the mouse would. At the edges of the screen are zones that count as both ground and interactables, ushering you to the next screen.

Badda bing, badda boom. Special thanks to my cockatiel, who served tirelessly in the role of rubber duck.

So what’s the plan, stan?

Captain’s Log 0210215.081

Put together a forest tileset in one day, added a couple of refinements to the platforming controller. Candy Raid: Side Story is still in the tinkering phase. However, I decided to stick to one shot type (the star), and one small “world” (Just the forest). When I switch to “draft” mode, the goal is to create a series of puzzles that reward you with candy, and a victory condition that requires some (but not all) of the candy. I feel like I’m done tinkering with this for now, though.

Yesterday, I had a small epiphany.

When I make a ‘screen’ for my Dragon Egg graphics, it consists of two parts: a background that I just draw full size, and a foreground I assemble from tiles. You can kind of see how it works in this gallery:

Making “fullscreen” backgrounds in 160×90 with only four colors is… very doable. I get a lot of fun out of coming up with interesting forms and arrangements, ‘Seussian’ proportions, etcetera. And this reduced level of details keeps me from getting bogged down.

Which got me thinking. I made static, painted backgrounds for my JRPG demo a while back…

What if I made my JRPG as a dragon egg game? What if the reason I never got anywhere with the prototype was I got too bogged down in the graphics, both the creation of HD graphics, and the busywork of making them behave in Unity?

Today, I tried recreating my RPG background in 160×90 with the Rainboy palette, and dropped some Cache Miss/Crossover Arcade characters on it to see if it would work as a comic backdrop, and…

You know what? I think I’m going to make Cache Miss settings just like this, unless I specifically need a tileset for a platformer like Candy Raid: Side Story. And I think this week’s objective is to tinker a prototype of a Dragon Egg JRPG.

I’m also gonna scope back. We’ll make the first Last Legend not a Final Fantasy sendup, but a Dragon Quest sendup, with only one protagonist, the Dragon Warrior.

If the engine works and is fun, we’ll do an Itch release, and then think about Kickstarting HD editions with hand-drawn art.

This week, my main objective is to push towards getting a day job. My secondary objective is to tinker, presumably with a Dragon Egg RPG, and my tertiary objective is to build up Cache Miss backgrounds, sprites, and strips, so that I can launch the comic in the next few months.

Captain’s Log 0210212.162: Workflow

Another reason I avoid commission work is I do not yet know what it will take to produce art on command. When I completed my first book, and especially my second, I thought I did. But I am no longer certain.

Taking a commission is making a promise. I’d rather not make it unless and until I know I’m going to keep it.

Constant good-natured advice from my wife, and the results of my own projects have taught me both that I need to be able to flit from project to project like a butterfly, and I need to be able to double down on a project with a “Hell or High Water” attitude. I can’t just adopt one approach; I have to do both. Which means every personal project needs a tinkering phase and a production phase so I can delineate which mode I’m in.

Hat Trick is going to be so much better because I didn’t begin production on it right away. I can recognize now that the climax needs work. I.E., adding a real climax would be a start. I knew it at the time I storyboarded it. But I was too burnt out and desperate to finish to pay the nagging doubt heed. I needed the emotional space that only time could provide to make that call.

So, we need 3 kinds of phase:

  1. Tinker Phase
    • Just playing around
    • Project is free to be continued or abandoned or scrapped for spare parts
  2. Draft Phase
    • Goal is to create a complete thing, from beginning to end, at lowest quality needed to get the idea across.
    • Work fast. Finish.
    • Project is not free to be continued or abandoned: the draft must be completed.
    • But, once the draft is completed, the project must be set aside for at least one month, and then evaluated. Options include:
      • Abandon
      • Additional draft
      • Produce
  3. Production Phase
    • Kickstart projects. If the Kickstarter fails, the project may be set aside and put into production later.
    • Once the Kickstarter is finished, if production continues, production receives Hell or High Water commitment.

So, what does this mean for my current mess?

I’ll get back to you.

Captain’s Log, 0210208.060

Well, the week of my nativity is over.

Time to actually get serious.

This last week I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and nothing else (except what was required to keep my family and their animals alive, of course). And what I wanted turned out to be the basis of a platforming sequel to my hit game Candy Raid: the factory.

This gif has a lot of little things worth talking about, but let’s get back to it.

I need to either search for a day job, or else gear up to pay my bills with my projects quickly. Option 2 means running a successful crowdfund ASAP. The only project I have that is close to ready for that is Awesome Moments, my Bible Story book.

Because of my social media fast, the earliest I can run the Kickstarter in question effectively is March. If I choose to work my butt off on Hat Trick, or my bestiary, or on this little Candy Raid platformer, I can hypothetically have either of these projects Kickstarter ready by then. But I have to be 100% committed to the project. And my history of underestimating time to completion on projects leads me to believe I’d need at least two months to get either of those ready. And even a successful Kickstarter wouldn’t disburse funds until April.

Which means I need to hunt for a day job.

Sucks to be me, but I’ve been employed at dead-end day jobs for 15 years, and I’ve done the starving artist thing for 6 months. Being jobless definitely helps my projects, but not by giving me more time, but rather by giving me consistent time. If I can get something with regular hours, I should be able to keep my productivity close to the same.

If not, such is life. So let’s talk about how we are going to change our approaches to Vargenstone and Everything Else as a result.

Continue reading “Captain’s Log, 0210208.060”

Status Report 0210118.053

Vargenstone

Vargenstone remains where it was last time I last time I spoke…

…and while I am going to try and get some serious work on it done this week, I’m not going to stress over it while I’m the only guy changing anything.

Theria

Meanwhile, I feel like I’m done with the virtual pet for now. Not permanently, but I was doing it to scratch an itch and the itch is scratched. I will probably continue adding pages to the book storyboard at a rate of one or two per week so that I’ve have a huge head start when the project gets the limelight.

Hat Trick

Continue reading “Status Report 0210118.053”

Progress Report 0210115.065

The plan has not been panning out at all. But I have not been without progress.

I’ve begun storyboards for a pocket bestiary that meshes with my virtual pet, and gone ahead and mocked up the title page.

It’s designed for Amazon’s tiny 5×8 format, and frankly, I’m half-inclined to make it black and white, even though I’ve gone and colored the title spread.

You can see designs changing in realtime across the pages, and that’s because I added a hatchling stage before my previously existing hatchling stage, because the Digimon virtual pet convinced me that was a good idea. Frankly, my plan for this book is to go one bestiary ahead before finalizing it. That is, book 1 will be the core monsters, mostly represented by this graphic:

This set hits all your fantasy creature needs. You got your basic dragon, your basic orc, your basic rock monster, your basic wizard. It could use some tweaking, but that’s the purpose.

Set 2, and book 2, will fill out the ecosystem somewhat, with plants, bugs, birds, fish, and elementals. Each of the sets interacts with all the others — there will be common evolutions between later monsters and earlier ones. So my thought is: storyboard bestiary 1, storyboard bestiary 2, produce bestiary 1, storyboard bestiary 3, produce bestiary 2, and so forth, so that each bestiary gets a little bit of love from hindsight. And since I have Hat Trick 1 and Awesome Moments 1 storyboarded, that means I’ll likely not produce this book until next year at the earliest. But there you are.

I shall dedicate a future post to the bestiary. My thoughts on it as a product, and so on.

On Vargenstone… Eh.

I did do final quality work on the south-facing standing and walking torso and head.

I’ve discovered I need to double the size of the source graphic and use the GDQuest pencil to achieve the line quality I want. No big deal. And I can occupy myself for hours polishing the graphics up to this level if I choose. But I haven’t been able to get momentum going on it.

I haven’t followed the plan at all. I suppose I could still ‘redeem’ the plan by spending all day today and a hefty chunk of tomorrow solely on Vargenstone, but I’m not deeply interested in in trying to retrieve failed plans. I’m more interested in the question of “why did it fail, is there something I can do that wouldn’t fail, and am I willing to do that?”

Status Report 0210111.054: Trying something new

This week instead of taking Sunday and Wednesday off, and working on my own projects on my days off, I aim to take a different route:

Sunday day of total rest.

Monday through Wednesday, Vargenstone

Thursday through Saturday, Therian VPet.

Today, unfortunately, I’ve misspent my peak creative hours. So, rather than trying to do the theoretically optimal thing (build an orc animation), I’m going to switch over to a task that requires skill rather than creativity: creating final-quality versions of the dwarf animations that exist thus far. Tomorrow, I aim to be back on the “Minimum Viable Product” train, working to bring the Orc to life. Assuming that goes well, Wednesday’s task will be to master alternate costumes for the Dwarf.

Thursday morning or Wednesday evening, we will change gears, examining how well we did on Vargenstone, and laying out our objectives for Theria.

Status Report 0210101.071: A hiccup

For the first two days of the week, we were 100% on track.

On Wednesday, I took a break to work on my own project, as is my wont…

…and then the national news became extremely distracting.

This is a poor excuse. Coups, counter-coups, and political posturing shouldn’t keep a man from his work, especially when it’s going on 1500 miles away and the man can neither affect it nor further attenuate its effect on him. But here we are.

Part of this is worry over things I need not worry about. Part of it is I refused to abandon my virtual with a feature 1/4th implemented. On the one hand, I ought to say, “well, the vpet is the lower priority, so it’ll have to be back-burnered to avoid distraction.” On the other hand, I refuse to do that. This stupid vpet is a lifelong ambition finally falling into place, and I am overly fond of it.

I’m thinking of splitting my workweek into two 3-day legs, and focusing one leg on Vargenstone, and the other on the pet from here forward. In fact, so let it be written, so let it be done.