2019, one scrambly year of game dev

A year ago, I was working on pixel art landscapes, dreaming of making my own game.. then I hopped to it! Early last year I started working on a game in order to learn some 3D art skills, flex my writin’ muscles and meet people. I’ve done at least some of those things! Let me show ya how it’s been.

First, the area beside the Time Machine

Welcome to now! Here’s a quick look where I am cause we’re gonna go back in time in a mo!

Early Dialogue Test

Get a load of these House Shrimps

There’s still lots of prototype buildings, prototype water and cubes hanging around, but here’s the town so far

Time Machine, take us to March!

When I started learning Blender 2.8, I wanted to create a ‘complete’ scene with a small forest platform, trees, a little pond, grass and rocks. At first, it was simple outdoor objects to learn and little did I realize what a pain in the patoot foliage is, but I quickly started to fall in love with Blender. It worked SO intuitively. I’d tried doing 3D art a couple times before but never spent more than a couple hours of solid effort on something before telling myself: I’m so bad at this, why even bother.

Local Houseplant meets Wonky Rock

I made countless mistakes in the beginning, but the ease and accessibility of Blender made it so easy to delete something and try again if I wasn’t happy. Quickly, I began to understand what it means when normals get flipped, how to fix all my strange non-manifold problems, and more importantly: that even if I trip all the way to the end result, if it works then I did fine.

The more I made, the less wonky it all looked together. Nature is wonky as heck, dudes.

As I devoured tutorials and videos, the small forest scene started to evolve into a low poly cyberpunk town and that’s when the first ideas of my game began to form. A cartoony world of animals living on an isolated mountain peak with glowing cyberpunk neons in a far-future setting. This paved the way for a few months of development as I learned about how to move my models into Unity, give my characters skeletons and maneuver my way around the game scene.

Mountain Town, relatively featureless

Once I discovered emissive materials, there was no going back

It was WILD to slap a character controller on one of my characters and start moving around my world and inevitably, I grew excited about the future of the game. Initially, all I had wanted to do was create a small portfolio piece that could show off all hats I could wear but when I brought the mere shell of a game to local dev meetups people would ask about the details and the lore and … it may not be clear yet, but I. love. world-building. I’d find myself rattling off ideas and theories about what my world would be about and the more I talked about them, the more I fell in love with them.

In Unity’s defense, it takes me a while before I figure out shaders and how to make it look nice

Dark raccoon, bad shadows, lighting’s a mess but we’re getting there

Workflow

Every now and then, I’d hear a warning to being careful about ‘scope creep’, which seems to be an almost unavoidable part of being an indie dev without the guidance of a project manager to steer you right. A quick note here, listen to people you trust if they start to worry about your scope creep. I have a B.A. in Media Production and learned how to manage productions but it’s Not Easy and getting stuck on tracks that aren’t helping you is a bad pitfall. You can absolutely be someone who takes on more than they can chew and you can take pride in how you tackle challenges but stubbornly adding more work onto your plate’s gonna slow you down. I’ve got some tips here to keep ya on the right track:

Think of things in terms of budgeting. Your time IS valuable. Its value can also shift, depending on what you’re doing. If you only have limited hours, you have to prioritize where you’re spending it. Before spending days teaching myself a new skill, I check and see if there’s perhaps an asset on the market that can work for me.

Another example I like to give is: imagine you’re a director of a movie.
Do you need to build the furniture for Act 2 Scene 3 by hand?
Maybe you do. Maybe this is the most important scene of the entire film. Maybe this piece of furniture is vitally important to the plot.
Or maybe it’s just set dressing and the audience’s eye isn’t even going to register it as an object. Maybe you don’t need to put 12 hours of work into a cabinet and a shelf no one’s going to remember.

After a month or two, I was developing a style I could get behind

Creating furniture taught me quickly how to break down everyday objects into simple shapes

I can see why one’d think my scope was creepin’ but most of these are dupes and alters of an original mesh

 

One more note, since it pertains to workflow,
I’ve got ADHD all the way till Sunday. It’s bad and absolutely screwed me up for my entire education but I had absolutely no idea I had it until this year. It’s generally expressed and understood as the ‘hyper kid, zooming around the classroom’, but little did I know about Inattentive Type B, the sneakier kind. The ‘this kid must be lazy, since she can’t stay focused, daydreams and gets bored quickly’ type. This type of person wasn’t ‘allowed’ in my household growing up. I’d internalized this idea that I was lazy, that I wasted my time, that I was a procrastinator, that I couldn’t get anything done and that my worth was only measured in what I was able to output. I’m sharing this, cause I think others might feel the same way and not realize it, like I did.

To contextualize why it felt so demoralizing for me to try SO hard and still see myself as lazy, picture your mind as a TV. There’s a remote that moves up and down through channels, moods, thoughts, feelings, tasks. Typically, you find the one you want to be on, set it and watch the show but my mind feels like it has 200 channels and someone else’s sitting on the remote. They keep flipping through channels randomly and refuse to move. That’s always made me a pretty terrible worker. I’d struggle to stay on the channel I was ‘supposed’ to be on, I’d hate myself for not being able to control it. I’d tell myself an endless string of hate, punishment for ‘being lazy’.

Man, that’s just a recipe for a bad time and lifelong depression. Don’t do that.

Learning about ADHD allowed me to see how I could use it to my advantage and surprisingly the work of a solo game dev is actually perfect for how my brain works! What I use now is what I like to call my round-robin approach. I have my 3D Art hat, my Writing hat, my Developer hat, and my Marketing/Business hat (mucho dusty) and I give myself a list of tasks that I need to approach. There’s always something to be done, so I let what channel my mind’s on dictate what task I’m working on at any given time. The great part about ADHD for me is that when I’m not fighting against focus, I have hyper-fixation on whatever I’m doing and I can easily spend 6-12 hours on a task. Partner that with having to get up every couple hours or so to see what one of my chaos-driven cats is up to, and I’ve got a solid workday + breaks. I don’t hate myself for letting a ball drop, I just move the ball to the next day and focus on what I’m able to.

Learning how to work safely with kindness and respect for myself is honest-to-heck the most important thing I developed this year. My productivity’s the same as when I was hating myself. I wasn’t helping anything by pushing myself harder.

Blender Oh Blender

Don’t be like this guy

The bones are the worst part of modeling, btw.

Be this guy

tap tap tap tap

Meet Ups and Exhibitions

Taking my prototypes to game dev meetups and exhibitions was so important. Once I had even a sliver of my core gameplay figured out, I was taking it to events and shows. Frankly, this is cause I was hugely isolated, wanted to meet other people in the scene and happen to be in an area where there are lots of devs. Unfortunately, I’m ultra shy so talking with others is still an enormous hurdle. I’ve hovered around some events buuuut… it’s a process.

me, amazed my game works and early to an event. Niw uoy!

Grant Anxiety!

Over the next few months, I would develop the background of the world and really solidify what I’m aiming to do because grants!

I hammered out the details and laid out a plan. I wanted to create a narrative-focused game, with plenty of NPCs filling out this small town. They’ll be each dealing with their own anxieties and problems and you, as the protagonist, solve ’em which is fairly standard video game quest logic. (Big inspirations of note here are Majora’s Mask and Night in the Woods)

So when you’re applying for grants, you have to think about how your game survives outside of yourself. How does it speak for itself, what does it convey and why and to answer those questions, your work needs themes. Everything needs themes. It helps ground your work to reality or an artistic context people can get behind. I wrote out a list waaaaay back in April when I first started making assets. A broad overview of things I wanted to talk about. Some of them are: Chains of Oppression. Love. Power and Corruption. Individual vs Society. Alienation. Betrayal. Deception. Escape and Injustice. By thinking of these from the outset, they became the foundation for everything. Every story, every line of dialogue, every character, every building’s made with at least one of these concepts.

If you’re a heister, you’ve gotta have your partner in crime

Have you seen my Pitch? I must have dropped it somewhere...

Grabby Paws (Lead Everyone Astray) is set in a scrambly post-apoc world, there’s a civilisation of raccoons living high atop an isolated mountain range. They have buildings, power and even their own reverse-engineered form of internet. You’re a thief, an outsider from the Big City below visiting the rich town of Scrap Heap Heights. Your partner-in-crime (and in life) needs you to steal an absurd amount of cash in a single night. All the NPCs in the town have their own lives and schedules they follow and without your intervention, there’s a lot of things that are going to break bad. Maybe even with your help things are still gonna go up in flames. Who can ever know?

The game’s evolved a bit over the year, starting from a simple premise “you are in a town but forgot what you were supposed to steal, so try everything?” to a more complex story.

As a writer and a roleplayer and a gamer, I know how vital it is to be telling strong, compelling stories in the world of video games. I know that for many people games are places of escape when our needs aren’t being met. They’re a place to exist where you are important and your opinion’s valued. For me, getting home from a long day and crusin’ for stars with Mario was as good as or better than dealing with other people. My goal’s always been to make a fun, inclusive little world for people to get lost in.

Robbing the town blind, hehehehee

Making this targeting system’s the craziest programming I’ve ever done

The last few months, I’ve been working on the lore, world, stories and NPCs. If anyone wants advice on how to organize all that information, I’ve got tips for keeping everything together.

And despite constant anxiety that I did it “wrong”, my game’s been accepted for one of the grants I applied to (YEY!!), so I’ll be continuin’ working on it in the new year! This project started because I felt so empty and worthless after graduating, feeling so isolated and tiny in a hostile world but quickly became something I was exceedingly proud of.

Onto the Future!

… aww beans. We left the Time Machine back in March.

Now! Ah! The roadmap for 2020, year of hindsight.

Content
I’ve got enough content written for a positively insane number of quests but the main goal will be to write a decent handful extremely well. I have way too many raccoons designed with their hopes and lives and dreams, but likewise, I’ll be focused on only the ones I need to tell those select good’uns.

Art
Continue working on art! Every day I work on it, it gets a little better.

Game Dev
I still have so much work to do, but it’s clear and tackleable if I break it down. With money from the grant, I’ll be able to pay for more support and tools that I need and put in music!

Release
Once it’s solid, I’ll be tossing it up on itch.io to see who likes it! The first game I worked on and put on itch did far better than I could’ve imagined, so I’m excited to share this bright scrambly raccoon world of crime to the same platform. Since I’ve got so much content and swaths of lore I’d love to continue developing it.

I’ve learned SO MUCH this last year. To 2020, hopefully looking up.