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.

Captain’s Log LC•72: Pixels or Pens?

According to schedule, this week is supposed to be the first full week of development on Last Legend Zero, in which basic gameplay is established. Next week, then, is the week of “finishing” Zero, that is, ensuring it is a finished game, so that anything added or refined during the remainder of the development time is literally added or refined. However, yesterday I had a mild cold, and today I slept in due to the some moderate symptoms.

Additionally, I spent the last week developing a workflow that would create HD graphics that I could then reuse in books. However, there are still several advantages to using pixel art, and I recently was reminded of them.

At the moment, most of my work can be re-purposed easily. Turning my HD palette shader into a pixel art palette shader will only make it simpler, not more complex. The palette management system I’ve devised for the one shader will work for the other. I’ve made almost no graphics for the game.

So, let us weigh the pros and cons of making a game in both pixel art and HD graphics with these emoji: 👾🖋️

  • 👾 Pixel Art is Future Proof: As screen resolutions improve, pixel art will continue to look just the same.
  • 👾 Pixel Art Implies More Gameplay: The more bespoke an asset is, the less you can do with it. The more reusable the assets are, the bigger the world feels.
  • 👾 Pixel Art is More Gameplay: Pixel art takes less time to make, meaning more of my time and money budgets can be devoted to the actual game.
  • 👾 Pixel Art Runs on Potatoes: The lower the resolution of the active area, the less work the computer has to do, the wider the range of machines that can run your game.
  • 👾 Pixel Art Palette Controls are Tighter: Instead of having to adjust several related colors into several other related colors, I can simply turn one color into one other color. This allows for shading, and for larger palettes if I so desire.
  • 🖋️ HD Art Is More Distinctive: While pixel art styles vary, especially as you go up in resolution, unless you try to adopt a fairly extreme style, your game will not stand out from other pixel art games. An HD hand-drawn game will always look like Hollow Knight to some degree, but it will have more of an identity of its own than a pixel-art game.
  • 👾/🖋️ Pixel Art Is Considered “Cheap”: You have to charge less for the same amount of effort if you make your art pixelly. Although with the current plan, we’re already talking price ranges that fit pixel art just fine, so this isn’t decisive for one or the other.
  • 👾 If we do pixel art in 3D, we can replace it with HD art at a later date: This means committing to pixel art is not committing against HD art.
  • 👾🖋️ HD Art works better for illustration, but not decisively: There are plenty of kids’ books and shows that use illustration styles that seem sloppier or otherwise less good styles. And, in fact, if I make children’s books with pixel art illustrations, I will be doing something that few people do. It will be a distinct book style.
  • 🖋️ Pixel Art Implies a Computer/Virtual World: While I do want to mix Digimon, Wreck-It-Ralph, and Tron for a virtual setting, and both art styles can be used to mean both kinds of world, HD art is better at representing both realities.
  • 👾 I have better tools for animating Pixel ArtAseprite is simply better than any HD animation tool I own. It is certainly better than animating by pencils and guesswork.
  • 🖋️ I’ve Always Wanted to Make a Hand-Drawn LookingGame: And here’s where I trot out the classic pen test of piqha:
  • 🖋️ Godot Does Not Gracefully Translate Inputs Into Differently Scaled Viewports: In Unity, I could set one camera to a pixel art scale, and one to an HD scale, and mix and match the styles, which is how I made this lovely thing:

    Mixing and matching scales like this doesn’t work out of the box in 2D in Godot AFAIK. Although, this isn’t a total win for hand drawn art, as it does work out of the box if I do a 3D world:
  • 🖋 Piqha Just Work Better Hand Drawn.: Here I want to do a compare and contrast between the above picture and one I generated in Aseprite that, for some reason, refuses to export correctly. But it refuses to export correctly, so I can’t.

So it looks at this point like Pixel Art is winning by a wide margin, especially if I use a 3D world.

This week’s task, as I said, is to get the basic gameplay up and running. Next week’s task is to turn it into a complete game. Time to buckle down!

Update:

I got scale-mixing working in Godot and it wasn’t even hard.

Norm

Standard Maintenance Leaf Node, or “Norm,” is the single most common Piqha aboard a Peoples of the Cosmos Theriopliotic vessel. Their duty is to scurry around through ducts and perform general maintenance and repair. They are characterized by a no-frills, pale gray shell, and that’s that.

Maintenance nodes are by-the-book sorts. They get their marching orders, they perform tasks according to the manual encoded in their aether cores, and they plug back in for R&R.

Most feral piqha began as “Norm.” Common changes are loss of the mouthplate, and slow diffusion of color into the shell, so that a younger Norm gone feral may reach a jewel tone shell by adulthood, but most have pastel, desaturated shells.

Most wild piqha have an abundance of Norm genetics, more than any other variety.

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.