A Year of Growing

I began last year like most bloggers: a promise to keep blogging more. And like most bloggers, I did not keep my promise. Life happens, work gets busier, you lose and gain motivation at the drop of a hat to keep doing what you're doing. Last year I was not in a good place creatively and it really showed.

I didn't really branch out too much in game design. I tried working on small projects such as tower defense games and updating more of my farming sim RPG, but after forcing myself to work on them more, the more I ended up hating these projects. The year ended with me feeling worse about myself and with no new projects to show for it. I just felt like I wasn't in the place that I needed to be to make the games that I imagine so I decided to take a conscious break from this and focus on book learning.

I picked up several books including Level Up!, Video Games Storytelling, and a few other books that deal mostly with User Experience ideas and communication skills. I also picked up 642 Things to Write About from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto. This book has nothing to do with game design, but I saw it as an opportunity to help regain my confidence in my creative skills. I did a lot of the prompts in the book over the course of 2 months. During my prompts, I found myself using it more for therapy instead of creative exercises. From here I decided to just journal whatever came to my mind. What I wrote showed to me that I was hurting emotionally. I was depressed, angry with myself, and I still had things I had to deal with internally.

I didn't magically fix myself and started making games again, but I feel that recognizing this was the first step. During this time I asked myself what I really cared about and what did I think was missing from my growth. I realized that I was missing obtainable goals. Things that I can do daily / weekly / monthly that would still keep me on track for learning more about game design. I bought a second yearly planner geared towards goal setting. In my planner, I write down small goals that I want to accomplish like: "Finish <x> game design course by <this date>.", "Read this design book", or even "Play <insert game here>".

In a way I am turning what could be a monotonous list into a digestible and easily obtainable goals for myself. Even if it's just 'play a game' for one day, I am using this time to experience new game designs and stepping out of my comfort zone for certain game genres. Here I am learning more about other game systems, what makes it fun, what do I feel is lacking from this game, and what is keeping me wanting to play more. 

Since I've been doing this, I feel like I've been able to accomplish more than I think I could with  my current schedule. Seeing a visual breakdown of my time throughout a day really helped me identify times I could do what I wanted to do uninterrupted. And in turn I have been more productive. As of this month, I have completed 2 books, finished a big game I never thought I would get far into and enjoy as much as I have, completed 2 certified game design courses from Rochester Institute of Technology, and started to keep up my game design practices.

I'm still learning what is working for me with my Passion Planner and scheduling time for myself. I've skipped out on my scheduled learning or play times to do something else, family or work needs have taken priority too, or some days I'm too tired. I have to accept that interrupting my routine will happen and that I should do my absolute best to keep my promise to myself, but I can't keep beating myself up for wanting to take a nap for an hour or take some mental health time. I believe that loving myself and accepting that I am human has been one of the hardest lessons I have learned in the last year.

Ludum Dare 38 - Parasite (A 48-Hour Collaboration)

Hey all! I know I promised to be more active this year on my site, but life has been getting in the way. However, with the latest Ludum Dare challenge, I was able to team up with a brilliant designer/artist to create a small submission!

I teamed up with a Twitter friend, Dave (@dcwilson303) for this round. I was pretty excited to try to make a new game from scratch in probably the shortest timeline I have ever attempted. We began with the theme: Small World. We interpreted this in many ways. Over Discord we brainstormed over some ideas. We placed our ideas on a shared Trello board (shown below).

Our Trello Board

Some ideas we had were rogue-like alien cave crawling platformer, a fairy forest builder, and a game where you play as a parasitic worm in some guy's body. We were excited for each of these ideas but we ultimately decided on a "Snake" / infinite platformer game based on the parasitic worm idea.

 Happy worm checking out coins.

Happy worm checking out coins.

We scoped out our features and levels the same night and began researching ways to implement what we wanted to do. We broke down our duties pretty evenly. We each were responsible for scripting the game, adding art, and implementing our ideas. We also maintained our Trello board with updates on asset creation, feature implementation, and references. We also used Github to coordinate our branches and we documented all changes we made to the code or assets. 

Overall we were very proud of our creation. Within 48 hours we were able to create, debug, and compile a multiple level game. I look forward to more collaborations with Dave in the future. :)

Visit my project page to try it out for yourself and check out our GitHub page!

Ludum Dare Submissions Page

The Complexity of Simple Game Systems and Other Lessons

So today I had a bit of time at lunch to begin setting up my events on my farm map. This includes triggers to go inside the buildings and to plant anything in the garden. This really calls for a lot of different conditions to be mapped out for each plot which includes all seed options, navigating back to root menus, and also canceling out of each seed option. With what I have for seed options, there are a lot of conditions to set up. To be honest, I'm not great at coding. I look up what I need on GitHub most of the time when I code something on my own. With RPG Maker, the events editor is set up in a logical way where it makes sense in the code while it displays it in an easy to read list.

 The beginning of something complicated... one of many.

The beginning of something complicated... one of many.

As shown above, the events menu is listing out what I want my plot dialogue box to ask the player and what to do with these options. Here, the options that appear with the dialogue where the player can choose to plant a seed or to cancel out. From here, it will get more complicated…once the player makes a selection, the game then now has to decide if they player meets the requirements to plant the seed (In this case, have it in their inventory). If the player meets the requirement, then the seed is planted and the item is removed from their inventory. If not, a message will appear and notify them that they do not have enough seeds to plant. Then if the player decides to cancel the action, they will be taken to the previous menu.

This doesn't seem bad at first, but this is just for one option. The flow listed above will be duplicated for each seed option and nested into the same gardening system. If this is set up as a flow chart, it will look something like this:

 A crudely drawn outline, but you get the point. This is also all that I could fit on the paper. 

A crudely drawn outline, but you get the point. This is also all that I could fit on the paper. 

This is just one small part of a game system and it doesn't even include how the timers work or when the plot is ready to harvest! I don't think I'll make a flow chart for every system in my game, but I think you can get the idea how complicated it is to set up a simple game system. Going through this process on a more user-friendly program like RPG Maker is making me realize how complicated game development can be. It's interesting and awesome, but still complicated.

If you were reading this and becoming discouraged about your own game systems idea, please don't. I believe in you! The best thing to do is look at other examples of the same systems and break it down into digestible chunks. If you have to draw the whole thing out on a piece of paper or in a notebook, then do it and work on one part at a time. I'm still learning to do this as well and honestly I see an improvement every time I do it.

A few other things I'm learning with working with RPG Maker is that you cannot pull up other menus or tools when one is open. The current tool or window will become modal and it makes the other parts of the editor inaccessible until its closed. Lesson learned from here: Have a spreadsheet of your database tables. This is soooo important when you have to reference item names or ID's in other tables or systems. I really wish RPG Maker was smarter about this or at the least have an export option for all of your tables. Moving and updating tables by hand can be tedious after a while.

Hopefully with these lessons learned and placed into practice, I'll be able to get to a point where I can begin to make video demos of my game. Right now this is not looking likely to happen within the next month or so, but it will happen.

New Blog!

Hello! I am creating this blog to document the projects I have been working on in my personal time to improve my game design and programming skills. I have a few projects in the works, but I feel like that having an accompanying blog will help me chronicle my mishaps, successes, and progression through my little game experiments.

This is mostly for my own documentation, but feel free to comment on my projects as well. I encourage structured feedback (good and bad). :)