A year and a day ago I started this blog with the aim of posting once a week, either about games or gamedev. In my first post ‘Opening Gambit’, I talked a little but about where I was in my game dev and where I was planning on going. Of course nothing has turned out quite as I’d planned and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I thought it would be fitting to talk a bit about how I’ve progressed in the year and how I plan to go from there, as a reflection of my first post.
On a quick side note, my original plan was to post every week. I started on a Wednesday but it kept slipping and now I write pretty much every Sunday instead. I’m ok with that, it’s not the only change. I missed two weeks, I missed Christmas Week and also the week of my Birthday. At first I was a little upset to have ended my unbroken run but I realised I needed to be more flexible, I’m under a lot of time pressure due to a full time job and a busy family life, so I changed my goal to 52 posts in 1 year and this will be my 54th so it worked out in the end and I’m pretty proud of that.
I’ve not done a huge amount with The Willow Effect (available on Itch.io and GameJolt for free) in terms of gamedev since that first post. It largely remains the same, though thanks to the help of @tehPHEN it is now available on Linux. However, spurred by the process of learning and creating my own parsing engine, I started a series of tutorials on how to make your own, even better engine. I never did get to finish that, though I do feel that I haven’t finished with it. I plan to return to it. My goal here is to rewrite TWE in the new engine and take up the tutorial using TWE as the example instead of the admittedly boring castle/dungeon example I’m currently using. I think that would kill two birds with one stone quite nicely since I’ve wanted to upgrade TWE anyway and want to continue with the series.
I briefly mentioned on that first post about there being a story in the making for TWE and as promised I got around to writing that, mainly because of the encouragement given by the lovely @jatosha. I wrote about my motivations behind TWE on her website PlayWrite.com.au, and if you liked TWE or are just interested in learning a bit more about me personally, I’d recommend giving it a read.
One other rather prominent piece of news regarding TWE is that I’m going through the Steam Greenlight process to get it on Steam. I plan on keeping it free but adding some Steam Achievements to the game as appropriate. You can vote for it on the GreenLight page and I’d really appreciate it! It’s an on-going process and I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon as the game is very niche but hopefully it will get there and more people can experience it. At the time of writing it has 209 votes.
Last, and certainly not least, I’m proud to say that The Willow Effect was part of A Good Bundle, a bundle of 151 games by 115 creators for $20 (3 tiers starting at $2). It’s the largest games bundle to date which all the proceeds to go charity, evenly split between @ACLU and Planned Parenthood, two very deserving organisations. At the time of writing it has earned $106,719.24, a not insubstantial donation, so many thanks to those who made it happen, and many many thanks to all who bought, and in particular to those who payed over the odds (one person paid $500!). The bundle goes on till the 29th of November so if it’s still going I highly recommend checking it out, there are some seriously good titles in there. I’m glad I could be even a small part of this.
As it’s (full) name implies, The Willow Effect: Prologue has only just begun. I have firm plans for the first chapter and a lot of notes and plans for another 3 or 4 on top of that. But as of right now, nothing is in the works as I’m working on other projects.
So TWE isn’t the only game I’ve written about. By the time I’d started this blog, I’d finished TWE and it’s only in writing this post that I realise I’ve done so much with it this year.
Two other projects have been a big feature this year. The first was Originally called Test Flight which I mentioned in my opening post. Test Flight was just it’s project name, it eventually went on to be renamed Quantum Wing. It is to be an arena(ish) shooter where you have no weapons, only a shield to protect yourself while you complete your missions. At the moment I have movement in, which is obviously super important. I’ve worked a lot on it and have it close to what I need for the final game, so I’m pretty happy with that. It just needs some tweaking and polishing before release I reckon. There are obviously a lot more to get the game of the ground than just flying a ship around and luckily I have a very definite vision for this game. However my focus has changed and the game is currently on hold, however the project I am working on how will significantly contribute back to Quantum Wing so I don’t feel that it’s dead in the water, just on hiatus while I work on related code.
Though I didn’t realise it at the time, I had been thinking about temporarily shelving Quantum with in favour of working on Station Generator. As the name implies, Station Generator is a piece of code that generates space stations. It was intended to be used as the procedural generation code for space stations within Quantum Wing, where you could get missions and story and so on. I was working on both in tandem, at the time I rightly considered it the one project, but it was around the time I posted ‘Generaty Station’, that I realised it could, and should be a product of it’s own.
For along time I kept calling it a game though it doesn’t feature any game play, but have recently started calling it a companion app. It makes more sense as the app itself is to generate space station maps for people to use in table top gaming, the idea being that it’s quick and easy to create stations to spec and then save it as a png which you can then print out, or use in something like Roll20 or tabletop simulator maybe.
Following Generaty Station I wrote a little about my thoughts on a ‘Road Map’, and then because it was a good idea, I created a full design document which included all the feedback I’ve received, what I’ve done so far and what I plan to do, and in keeping with the space theme of the app I posted a ‘Star Map’, a much more detailed plan. And like any plan it hasn’t survived first contact. But I still use it as my guideline even if the schedule has slipped a bit. Again this is something I can live with, being realistic I don’t get as much time to dev as I’d like, and I’m still relatively close to the start of the game dev learning curve.
Station Generator was free up to Alpha 4, but is now a paid early access app on the Itch.io store, and also the Humble Store if you prefer to buy there. It’s currently priced at $4 but with every major release the price will go up by $1 with the full release costing $8. Getting on Humble was a big deal for me, and took a not insignificant amount of time for me to get there. I dedicated a whole update cycle to getting it sorted and it was time well spent. Since I was already up and running on the awesome Itch.io platform, getting all my marketing materials together for the Humble Store was a painless process.
Not long before I released Alpha 5, and started charging for SG I had mentioned on Twitter that I would love to, and plan to put music into the app. My original plan was to hit up music sites that offer royalty free music and include some of those. I was starting to lean towards classical music and the Musopen site, so that SG might have a more Elite/2001 type of feel to it. And if that’s what had happened I would have been happy enough, but luckily for me @cornelisjordaan had been following my progress and offered to put together a couple tracks to use as the SG soundtrack. I jumped on his offer and in the end he composed the 5 tracks that are now in the app, and honestly I couldn’t think of music more fitting, he really did an amazing job. You can pick up the OST for SG for pay what you want on his bandcamp page, along with a lot of his other excellent tracks.
It turns out that the Humble Store (for obvious reasons) require you to have a trailer, hosted on YouTube. I did not have a trailer. I did have some experience putting a trailer together (worth checking out, especially if you like romance), though that was some time ago, and I did have a ton of help to make it, this time I would pretty much be on my own. That said it was a great experience which I enjoyed from start to finish. I posted the first draft of the trailer script, then after a bit, organised a few friends to come over and we recorded the live footage I’d need. I’m very grateful they agreed to be in the trailer, and we have a lot of fun shooting it. Though getting the just the right shot for rolling a 20 took a long time, and was incredibly boring. Gotta take the good with the bad right?
With the live footage done it was time to record the in app footage. I created a new scene and wrote a few specific functions to create a demo scene where it would generate a station and then smoothly pan across it. I liked it enough to put it into the app itself as a side option, almost like a screensaver. Using the in app png creator I generated a whole bunch of different stations and I had all the in app footage I could need. Lastly I needed someone to do voice over. I could have done it myself, by 1) I don’t particularly like my own voice, and 2) I don’t have any better recording equipment than my gaming headset, which while great for gaming, isn’t much in terms of voice recording quality. I put the word out on twitter without too much hope, but was contacted by James Hatton (@revvoice) who was kind enough to offer his skills. He turned out to be perfect for the job with an expressive voice (Check out his podcast) as well as decent recording equipment.
Now that I finally had everything I needed, I put it all into Sony’s Movie Studio 13 and spent more than a few hours putting it together (I’d never used the app before, overall it’s very good but does lack some basic and notable features) and I had a trailer, and to be honest I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. It was close to my original vision, but better than it, and looks fairly professional while having it’s own distinct personality. It’s not just another boring app trailer. It’s obviously up on both my store fronts and website, but here it is for the sake of ease, it’s only a minute and a half long and it’s kinda cool.
Before I move on, one thing I would like to note is how nice the crew over at Humble are. From application to acceptance to setting up the store with launch discount and all the various materials required the staff over at Humble were nothing but supportive and helpful, and I’m grateful for that and the opportunity they’ve given me, and SG to reach a much greater audience.
So what’s next for Station Generator you might rightly ask? I’m currently working on Beta 1 and it’s turning out to be a doozey. This update is going to be a big one. Originally it was intended to be just a UI update, and actually that’s still just what it is, but more. I’ll admit that I’ve underestimated how much work it would actually take to move away from the standard Unity UI and implement my own (using their systems). So I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to do just that, and experimenting towards the system that I want. The system is now more inherently usable as there are multiple ways to change the numbers as you like, and make it easier and more obvious to edit the station.
The biggest change however, is that all changes are now reflected live as you make them. This instant feedback is exactly what I want for station generator, taking a lot of the guess work out of the equation. It has been a long road to get to this point though. I now have an almost stable build. Stations generate well, and as expected however I seem to have one bug that can lock up the app which I need to take care of before I can release it. Even though it is an early access app, there is still a level of quality I want to reach before each update.
Once that bug has been identified and overcome there’s a few more things that need to be done before I can release. I need to work on the actual design on the UI in terms of layout and accessibility, including working a bit on the camera code to match the new design, record new in app footage and update the trailer, write the patch notes and a few other bits and pieces, oh yeah, and re-coding the PNG writing functionality to work with the new live system, though I don’t think that will be too big of a job. With that in mind I don’t think I’ll make my goal of releasing this month, however depending on how long it takes me to find and crush the lock up bug I hope to have it out in early December.
When the update is out I won’t be working straight away on the next update, though of course I will be working on any needed hot-fixes to make sure the app runs for everyone. The next step will be working on the Steam Greenlight campaign for SG, putting it together and promoting it as best I can. Once that’s up and running I’ll start work on Beta 2.
One thing I’ve done is instigate a Financial Hardship/Unemployment policy. I’ve been unemployed before and have often faced financial hardship. Thankfully for me I’m in a good steady job and hopefully those days are a thing of the past for me. But I remember well what it’s like, so if you’re in similar circumstances and would like to play one of my games (ok right now I’ve only one and it’s free anyway, but will have more in the future) or use my app, you don’t need to pirate it, just contact me. No judgement, and I won’t ask for proof, I’ll trust you.
Of course I didn’t spend the last year exclusively making my game/app, I also played quite a number of games, and wrote about them in a few collections, Hidden Gems, Latest Gaming Experiences and most recently in Games Roundup. Some of those games were written by people I have the privilege of knowing, some are by some of the bigger gaming companies out there, but they’ve all had an effect on me one way or another. I did also talk a little bit about my problem with Elite: Dangerous and did a longer form review of the wonderful Stardew Valley, as well as a review of the board game Compounded, which I recommend by the way. Those kinds of reviews are something I’d definitely like to do more of, but I am very pressed in my free time so will probably remain something I only do once in a while. I probably won’t do one until after SG gets a full release.
Another thing I’d like to do more of is Lego reviews. I reviewed both the Heavy Lift Helicopter and Rey’s Landspeeder from The Force Awakens. I was lucky enough to get a set of Poe’s X-Wing recently so I’ll likely do a review of that fairly soon. I’d like to also do a review of Obi-wan’s Interceptor but I don’t have that set as yet but I’m hoping I might get it for Christmas. I really like what Lego are doing around the Star Wars universe and am hoping to get more into it if I can. I also have a bunch of older sets that I had taken apart when I moved from my apartment to my house a few years ago so I may well dig into a few of those as time permits, they’re mostly larger sets so it’s hard to find time to get to them. I’m really enjoying the medium/smaller sets as they’re relatively quick to build and also a lot cheaper.
Through the course of the year there have of course been hiccups. I got a new job near the beginning of the year (a good hiccup) which entails more responsibility and stress so that has definitely had an impact, I talked a little about that, and some personal stuff which has a direct impact on my ability to do all the things I want to. At one stage my computer nearly went on fire so I had to go on a quest (trawl Amazon) to find a new heat-sink that would fit my aging motherboard. That set me back a few weeks but my PC is back up and running and I’ve had no more trouble with it since, except for my fading main monitor. The plan is that any profits I make from selling my app will go towards getting a new one. I might be waiting a while, we’ll see. Hopefully I won’t have to write any more posts like these but life generally doesn’t work like that, so I’ll just roll with the punches when they come and look forward to good times, and enjoy them when I have them (like right now!).
Another project, one I had been working on before my daughter was born, was a story called Harrison’s End. I hesitate to call it a novel though it looks like that’s how it’s gonna end up when I get around to finishing it. I published one of the chapters just to be able to show some of the work I’ve done on it. It follows the lives of 3 people, out of time and out of place as they discover the ship they run has a deeper history than they realised.
Probably the most popular posts I’ve done are my Follow Friday posts. I don’t really subscribe to the follow Friday meme on twitter as I find it just lacks any kind of relevant information. So I did my own version of it in the form of a post on who I think you should follow, but also why. I’ve only done two so far, aptly named #FF and #FF2, and I may do more in the future. I’ve certainly met enough awesome people over the year to fill up another one, if not two. Obviously these got a lot of retweets from the people I included, hugely increasing my normally relatively small reach, and I think people are just more interested in reading about other people than they are about gamedev, which makes sense, at least to me.
It’s been a hell of a year and looking back kind of surprising just now much progress I’ve made and how much I’ve gotten done in that time. But the one thing that really sticks out is how much is due to the help, time and generosity of other people. I didn’t get here on my own, and I’m super grateful to everyone who’s been there for me over the course of the year, from the words of encouragement and support, to those who gave more of their time to help me solve coding problems or help out with the trailer and everything else in between. I couldn’t possibly list everyone here, and I’m not going to try to, a long list of names doesn’t make for great reading. You know who you are, and thank you, for everything.
I don’t have any solid plans beyond getting Station Generator up to full release status, and for the first part of the year that is going to be my focus. After that I’ll likely take a small break from gamedev, if only to catch up on some longer form gaming, get into an RPG or two. After that I have 4 projects I’d really like to do (Quantum Wing, a racing game, a chill game and TWE chapter 1) so I’ll decide which one I’m going to do when that time comes around. No point making any decisions now, life has a way of changing them anyway!
The other solid decision I’ve made is that this blog is going fortnightly, or to be a little more flexible, 2 per month. Hopefully the move away from a one a week blog and with the flexibility of being 2 a month will mean that the quality of my posts will go up, and also give me more time to spend on gamedev and other projects. I’m not excluding the idea of doing more than 2 posts a month if I come up with something I think might be interesting, but I’m taking the pressure off a bit. I hope you don’t mind.
If this is the first post you’ve read of mine, thanks and welcome to the site, I hope you stick around. If you’ve been around a little while or here since the start, thanks for sharing this journey with me, lets see what the future holds!