Sweating the Small Stuff #1
Hello again internet. Quick life update: I’m in the process of moving (again) and have gotten a full-time position as a software developer, so I’m back to the develop-on-the-side life like I was before. Which I’ve been enjoying so far. That whole full-time indie thing was more successful at burning me out than anything else.
I think I could’ve written 5 long-winded blog posts around that, but I like condensing it down into one sentence better.
It occurs to me that I’ve worked on a bunch of stuff since At Sea that I haven’t published or really talked about (at all). This is either because they were jam submissions, or because I simply didn’t complete them. In gamedev, we place a premium on full, finished games, and for good reason – it’s kinda important to be able to finish completed games (and really hard!), so it’s a skill everyone wants to cultivate.
However, the small experiments, the unfinished prototypes…these are valuable too. So I thought I’d take some time to talk about the smaller stuff that hasn’t been shown to the masses.
#1: Bzzz Out
Spring 2015 : 1 week of development
This was a small project that I worked on almost immediately after releasing Why Am I Dead At Sea – about a week after its release, I believe. It was for a game jam that I was (lovingly) pressured into participating. It was part of the Philly Game Forge‘s Dev Night – basically, a game-development-oriented shared space that runs lots of jams, and has a weekly meet up.
This jam in particular was called the “Juice Jam”, and the idea was simple and interesting – give everyone a template for Breakout in Unity, and make them create the “juiciest” version of it that they can. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of “juice” in a gamedev context, I would highly encourage you to watch the Juice it or Lose it talk.
I teamed up with local artist Carley for the jam, and we had a week to create something with this Breakout template. It was an interesting challenge, since I had never done anything in Unity prior to this. From a development standpoint, I got to tinker with a lot of things I hadn’t previously used, such as tweening and particle effects, and I was able to laser-focus on a really interesting design challenge – juice it!
Although I could critique my work on this jam submission for several pages, ultimately I’m happy with what we came up with (especially the art!) and had a ton of fun working on it. You can see or play our jam submission on either Carley’s site or my site.
#2: Dandan Man’s Super Dream Place
Autumn 2015 : 3-4 weeks of development
It’s a bit hard to evaluate exactly how much time I put into this project, as it was scattered over a longer period of time, but I was most productive, and did most of the work, in a period of about a week.
This game was meant to be an experiment in fourth wall breaking. The idea goes like this: there’s a super cute and colorful platformer reminiscent of SNES games (especially Kirby) – but it’s not quite finished. The writing has typos, there are little bugs in the game…and even one of the main levels is missing. Then you get to the end and see a “warp zone” feature which can take you to that missing level you saw earlier but couldn’t access – huh, I wonder what’ll happen?
Well, now you’ve gone and done it…the game takes a darker turn and you have to navigate through an increasingly broken/glitchy/horror game to get to the bottom of the implied narrative.
Or that’s the idea anyway. I mostly implemented the actual platformer, felt that nice sense of accomplishment, and called it a day. The game as-is does already exhibit a bunch of different action/platforming mechanics with lots of different levels: you have a stomping attack that can be used to steal certain enemy’s abilities, and use those to get through various predicaments (like I said, reminiscent of Kirby).
Although I didn’t finish the game, I found the work to be really fun. This was the first platformer I worked on, and the most level-design-intensive project for me. And while the art style is still not really very unique to me (it still wears its influences on its sleeve), doing the pixel art was fun and I like how it turned out.
So why didn’t I finish it? Well, to be honest, I still find the idea fun – but “fun” doesn’t cut it for me. There was a particular feeling I was trying to express with the game when I originally came up with it, but without getting into specifics…I don’t really have that feeling anymore. Maybe if that feeling returns I’ll happily return to this and finish it in one swoop!
I know that in order to finish projects, you can’t depend on silly things like feelings – trust me, I very often didn’t “feel” Why Am I Dead At Sea when I was working on it. But as this was a side-project that I just wanted to do for fun, I think it’s okay to recognize that my motivations for starting it are no longer present and move on.