Venture The Void, etc.

Just an update on what I'm up to for 2018, and a bit of retrospectivish for 2017

As I write this, my city's enveloped in sunshine and snow. It's quite beautiful-- although the harshness of the light sometimes gives me a headache. Everyone I know is fully ready for this winter to be over, but a cozy Sunday on the couch is not really a terrible place to be.

This past year (2017) was quite a change for me! I went from working on games full-time with a publisher, to working a (fantastic) full-time software job and doing games as more of a part-time thing.

Paradise Never is quite an ambitious project; I put a lot of pressure on myself with it. That didn't give much room for other creative endeavours.

Fortunately, I learned a valuable lesson years ago which is this: don't make any real sacrifices for work. I've stuck to that, and thankfully I have few regrets (so far) with Paradise Never. Even as long as it has taken, those years have been amazing for me. I've enjoyed my time at work and otherwise.

Working on a large project carries with it the danger of boxing you in. You can become too focused on a single goal and not let yourself out creatively, so to speak. This is amplified when you feel your project needs to get done for your business to survive.

Not having to worry about making games as a business, per se, has been for me really freeing creatively. More than I anticipated.

Apart from the above rule of not making any real sacrifices for work¹ I suppose I could boil my way of working down to a few maxims:

  • I always try to do things deliberately; before I start, I try to have a clear picture of what I'm going to do. If I don't know yet, I won't let myself start until I do.
  • Recognize when I'm done; there's limits to what my brain will do for me, each day. If I practice self-observation, I can see when my enjoyment in work is waning. That's a great time to quit.

These seem to work for me.

¹ This generally takes the form of: if I can do something fun or meaningful, particularly with other people, I do it-- the work will still be there when I get back to it.

I've spent some time recently organizing how I work to give me more flexibility; this mostly amounts to trying to pull things together in one place, and making it (much) easier to put together smaller things as well as push out some of my backlog.

Here's a list of some of what I've done in the past 6 months or so:

1. organics4 game engine

For better or for worse, I don't work with Unity or another game engine. I have my own C++-slash-Lua-slash-OpenGL stack that I have pieced together over the years. I like working with it, so I do.

One thing I have to be careful of, then, is to make sure the overhead of managing a C++ project does not kill my ability to be creative. So I've taken the Paradise Never engine, and packaged it into an engine I'm calling "organics4" which will let me (hopefully) create small things much more easily. So far this is promising.

2. Paradise Never planning

Since sort of "rebooting" the game last spring, I've spent nearly all my time since then planning things out, properly. I've taken my time here-- it's easy to throw ideas together; the process of refining them and throwing most of them away is much harder. It's hard to put into words exactly but for me, just sitting back with no distractions and thinking very hard is key to everything.

Long story short, I've got the first two-thirds planned in partial detail, and the first one-third of the game planned in full, stunningly fine detail. (I'm leaving the ending until later, once I can see concretely the finished two-thirds.)

This means I'm finally ready to start work again implementing, after at least a nine-month break. I'll start implementing that first third incrementially now (after I write this post, actually.) I'm curious to see how fast or slowly it progresses.

3. FUOR planning

I've got another game that I'm planning in great detail, as well. It's called FUOR and it's about a small cubelike robot.

4. Venture the Void

This is a project I originally released in 2003 and was sort of a crushing failure. I've always felt it was a bad spot for me, something that I made so many sacrifices for and in the end realized it was so not worth it. I guess it was a difficult lesson to learn but... at least I did learn it.

The game has not been available (not really) in working form for some time. As well, the game has many small bugs and other problems.

In 2015 I sort of dug it up again out of curiousity and got it mostly working; I didn't put too much time in but at that point I was thinking "Wow, there is so much interest in No Man's Sky, yet here's a game I made that is so similar to it. Maybe some people would be interested in it?" And frankly: "Maybe this could earn me a little money?"

Well, in the end I didn't really get it together and release it. I think because, well, the game is very ugly.

However, I feel very differently about it now than I did in 2003. In particular, I'm a much better programmer, designer, and artist now. Playing it the past week a bit (been picking away at it) I realized that actually it's quite interesting and fun.

So I'm going to push this out as a very informal "WIP" or early access game on itch.io, hopefully in the next few weeks. The game will have no release trailer and just a very simple website; I will, however, make a video showing the basics of how to play.

It'll be extraordinarily rough and ugly, but for me that's part of the exercise, here. I want to have a project I can work on and release incrementially without much pressure.

5. Mystery Game Made With A Friend

An unannounced game! I've only done the barest minimum work so far, but am excited for this as I'm collab'ing with someone for the first time in a long time. I don't want to give more details yet on this since it's a collab.

6. Back Catalogue of Finished Games

I haven't really started this yet, but I realized my old website had all my old flash games on it, and the new one doesn't. So I'm going to put them back up here, one by one. Most of them are Ludum Dare games.

7. Kingdom

I have a kind-of huge Zelda-slash-Lolo-like that I worked on for a year or so, called Kingdom. I really owe it to myself to push this one out.

Unfortunately, I made it with Flash and the future I want for this game is not there, so it will require a rebuild of the software part. However, I now have organics4 for that, so here's hoping I can make something happen here, too.

Of all my unfinished projects, this one is the most significant by far (apart from Paradise Never, of course.)

8. More Cellpop?

I'd like to continue Cellpop as well. This was a really fun project, I have it conceived as a trilogy so maybe I'll find time to revisit it.

9. Other Planned Game

Another mystery game, I'd like to make eventually. Maybe with The Real Texas engine. Maybe I can revamp the Lua part of The Real Texas engine to work with organics4 or something, that'd be neat and give me a lot more flexibility.

Better stop before I reach 10 :) I'm about to eat a chicken burger and go work on Paradise Never. Cheers!

Calvin

2:01 PM, March 4, 2018
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