Endsommar

or, ‘Why is daddy cleaning the cat with a shop vac?’

Less than 2 weeks to go, and I’m gritting my teeth down to stumps. My extroverted child has taken an interest in science and has a bajillion-and-a-half questions about; volcanoes, black holes, the largest known star, earthquakes, tectonic plates, Marianas Trench and how the world will end.

I just wanna work on my game, kid.

And on top of that, with all the travels, playdates, family gatherings and other distractions – I’m super way behind on basic household chores. Like cleaning the gutters. Or the litter box.

image courtesy of Pixabay

And all of this is keeping from my game. In a BIG way.

Hello darkness my young kid…

In the meantime, my kid has been working overtime creating all kinds of new neat stuff, and I cannot keep up with photgraphing / scanning all of it. There is now a very large pile of 18″ x 24″ newsprint sketchpads growing on the couch in my office and its showing no signs of slowing. There have been all kinds of new dev experiences popping up and I’ve been struggling to find the time to apply to them all (especially since the wife is the better at editing than I am and wrangling her from her busy schedule is a task unto itself)

Stranger Danger.

I did manage to find this lil’ guy in my son’s sketches and he set off a whole slew of creative ideas. He’s the guy skulking around the playground that kids should avoid. He’s the bad guy keeping a close watch on our young hero. I want him wandering around the level and if the play gets too close, he’ll slink away and hide. Eric from the Playmaker Slack channel suggests giving him some dynamic music that gets more threatening as the player gets closer.

Here he is – in game. I realized that his cigar smoke wasn’t parented just right, so that is now fixed and his cigar will puff properly now.

An asset a day keeps the midsummer dev blues away

So, with my limited time (usually gotten by dragging myself out of bed early before anyone else wakes up) I’ve been trying to plug away at the first level by populating it with assets.

(Un)Fortunately for me, this is all I have time for.

Since the kids have been on summer break, I’ve been back to my old schedule of wake at 5:30am, coffee, email, biological functions (thanks, coffee), and work for an hour or so until tis time to wake up everyone for work/ summer camp/ speech therapy/ social camp/ swim lessons/ etc. Which entails dragging at least 2 people out of bed, ensuring they get dressed, make lunch for at least 2 of them, breakfast for all 3 of them all while dealing with a neurotic housecat that simultaneously wants to a) eat. b) be pet. c) go outside to kill things. All at once. And will meow like she’s Lassie lettimg me know that Timmy is in the well again AND the barn is on fire. At the same time.

So – I plug away, making assets as a way to keep moving forward and slowly adding them to my opening scene. Its gottent ot he point where I have to either repeat some of the building I have, or bribe my kids into drawing new ones with juice boxes & snacky bars.


In an effort to help speed up my dev process, I tried using a ‘prefab brush’ I had downloaded as a way to quickly place assets in my scene – like flowers or trees, any sort of element that placing by hand would take waaaay to long with my limited attention. After struggling with the download (either my download was so old as to not work – or my version of Unity was) I ended up on the Asset Store and I found this inexpensive gem.

Its been an absolute steal at the price, and being able to mix and match prefabs, randomly size and rotate and save these brushes as a preset is exactly what I need – the biggest problem is I want to go back to my old demo and paint the $#!+ outta it now…

windmills of my (kid’s) mind

Summertime Rolls

If nobody has ever said anything like this, allow me to be the first:

The biggest detriment to getting work done is the vacation.

There, Now you can quote me. Got back from a trip to Cancun with the missus over a week ago – and while it was lovely, relaxing, restful; I just can’t get back into the swing of working on my game.

Perhaps the time off has my mind & body yearning for a respite. Perhaps its now that we’re in full on summer vacation mode and I’ve got 2 kids, swim lessons, summer camp, social camp, torrential rainfall causing massive amounts of lawn growth, speech therapy, playdates and the desperate need to get my house cleaned and some on the table for dinner – might have something to do with my inability to get something done.

Trying to get even a bit of work done with kids around the house is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos. If I sneak away to work on something; it becomes the most important thing e v e r that I come see the latest Lego creation my kid has made. Or they decide to start smacking each other with electrical cords.

home sweet home.

But – I’m slowly getting back into it – plucking away at a problem I had right before we left; I managed to get a car I had modeled out actually moving around the level and a few more buildings done:

Hopefully when I get a chance to look through the sketchbooks the kids had while on vacation they’ll have some more inspiring work in them.

Counting down…

…until the last day of school.

And family vacations (two of them) and summer camp (2 hours of driving each day) and play dates and social camp for my kid on the spectrum and swim lessons and..

WHEN does school start again!?!?

It’ll be just a bit better this year, if I’m fortunate enough to go back to GDEX; its slated for October. And not on my eldest’s birthday weekend, as usual. So, I’ll have a couple of extra weeks to polish the very basic first ‘real’ level of my game, which is currently somewhere in between crude stick figure storyboard sketches and whiteboxed with Legos and action figures.

Layout of Stuyvesant Sq. Park

One of my favorite gems of NYC was Stuyvesant Square Park, it was always well manicured, quite and held some manner of quintessential ‘park-ness’ that always appealed to me- so I thought I’d use it for a basis of my first level; where we meet Booper, see the kind of world he lives in and set up how he gets lost.

Just an early look at the park

Seeing the start of this level makes me realize I will have to work a ton to get to the level of polish I’ve been demoing at the shows I have been attending. And having two boys and a filled activity schedule does not make for easy dev work. I’m dreading the idea of having to rouse myself at 5:30 in the AM to squeeze in any solid time of un-distracted work. I’m hoping that I can get the kids involved; having them record sound effects or draw me a prop that I need on the fly is a huge bonus.

Perhaps the kids are going to get a little more TV time than I’m normally comfortable with…

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of GDC talks about all this things I don’t know about game development and the wife noticed. After a while of watching my face wrinkle and morph as I puzzled over these talks, ranging from ‘WTF is this guy talking about!?!?’ to those random ‘Aha!’ moments; she threw me into a tailspin by asking: “What would you talk about, if someone ever invited you to do one of those?”

I really don’t know. I’m not anyone’s idea of a developer, not in the classical sense. What little attention I’ve gotten has been from sheer dumb random luck and based on when it looks like some these talke place – it might just be past my old man bedtime.

BUT – I do know this – if I ever do, I wanna just talk about being a dad, trying make a game whilst being a stay-at-home parent and I wanna do it in the style of Spalding Gray: a table, chair, mic and a glass of water – and just monologue about how I got to where I am-

Endgame

So, I’m getting reeaally close to having my demo finished.

Thing is: I’m getting into such a state of Flow that I’m having a bit of a tough time with my non-stop brain coming up with more and more ideas. I’m totally cognizant of feature creep, but this is aesthetic stuff that really send the game to a whole new level – like making the flower / money level happen all at night.

I’m anxious to get this demo playtested, and with a little luck, I might just get some soon. As I was showing off some stuff on Facebook, I got an invite to join the Educators in VR Discord, and they created a whole new channel for playtesting, based on me stumbling about blindly asking if anyone wanted to play my little game. Looks like one of the teachers will be demoing it to a class full of kids on the spectrum; hopefully they enjoy it as much as my little guy does.

The other reason I want to finish is that I finally started making progress updating my project to the latest version of Unity – and I am so ready to play with ProBuilder, the newest version of Playmaker and nested prefabs. I did a quick experiment and was able to export a Probuilder mesh, pull it into Oculus Medium, sculpt it and put it back into Unity with very little fuss, and no scale changes.

Pro Builder on the left; Medium sculpted version on the right

I’m hoping this sort of whiteboxing method will help increase my productivity and reduce the time it takes to playtest my levels. I have rough ideas and when I sculpt them out in Medium, the scale is usually way off and I need to futz and kludge the mesh until it sorta work – with luck, this can eliminate the back and forth I’ve been doing. In the meantime, its back to the grind – and trying to figure out why any time I get a game breaking bug, my materials get deleted off my player:

someone said he looks like ‘Barney’… shudder.

Have to admit – I love showing off my game

So back in September, when I was fresh off going to Oculus Connect 5, I immediately turned around and rushed to Columbus to show my game at GDEX for the second year in a row. I was distracted by life shortly thereafter and only wrote about the OC5 experience and I never wrote about what GDEX was like on my 2nd go-around.

2nd time was as much fun as the first!

It was as much fun as the first time – got to see people that I met my first time, including Leonard – my very first ‘customer’ who was the very first non-family / neighbor person to try my game; and we hit it off immediately.

One of the people I met was a gentleman who asked if I would be interested in showing my game at a Maker-space type convention early in 2019. I immediately jumped on the opportunity and gave him a business card. And promptly forgot about it in the hustle and bustle of showing off my demo to the crowd of kids that swarmed my table.

Until he wrote, months later; asking if I was still down with exhibiting my game.

So, I mandated myself a deadline to finish my demo – polish it up as best I could and use that as the reason I would release my ‘vertical slice’ to the public and start getting serious feedback and (fingers crossed) funding to make the game proper. I threw myself into a frenzy and got a lot of the problems that had plagued me for a long time knocked out, and to a point where I was 75 / 80% comfortable with maybe, possibly considering it ready for public consumption. Then I got ready to show it.

image courtesy of @phatboysh

I’m fortunate that my brother-in-law and his family live just outside Columbus, I get to crash at his palatial mini mansion and raid his beer fridge before crashing in his guest room; instead of having to get up crazy early in the morning to drive the two and a half hours from my house to C-Bus. Even with his proximity I still end up skirting being late due to our late night geeky chats – but I’ve done this enough that my setup time is really short and suddenly I’m in the thick of demoing my game. And quite often I had a line. I needn’t have worried about having enough content – parent were often cutting their kids playtime short to accommodate the gaggle of young faces eager to see what the game was about. Mental note: I need to see if I can get a 2nd PC running so I can demo more than one at a time.

MakerX was different, it was a lot more family & kids. More just pure ‘consumer’ perspective than fellow devs looking to network and swap ideas. I love seeing kids play and how they react that someone their own age was crucial in making this game possible. I got a lot of questions about what programs I used and how could people get started, and I think my ‘non-coding’ use of Playmaker inspired a few people who might have been put off by having to learn coding.

I also appreciate parent feedback, who feel that while kids are desperate to use this new technology, it is dominated by zombies / shooters / violence and that there is a shortage of kids content; so I’m happy to have a niche that I can fill with Booper. I was also surprised to see that in my one day at MakerX, I got as nearly as many sign-ups as 2 days at GDEX.

The day passed quickly and before I knew it, I started seeing people pack up their booths – except it was an hour before closing – and I was still going strong; showing my game to plenty of newcomers, as well as several repeat customers who came back to explore a little more or to go further than their parents let them the first time. Eventually these trickled off and I packed up for home – realizing that this time around I had ONE glitch and no problems that I had to make a note of to fix when I got back.

I might just be ready to ship this thang.

Post script: After posting photos and tidbits on social media, I got this pleasant surprise:

Panic…


It crept up my spine like first rising vibes of an acid frenzy.

HST ‘Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas’

So. After returning to the old Ice Cream level to see if I can hammer it out – I had a realization that I have A MONTH LEFT on my self-imposed deadline. Not a good feeling when one also has the responsibility of getting 2 small humans and 1 normal sized one up, dressed, fed and out the door 5 days a week, running a household in dire need of repair and a neurotic cat with a 24/7 need for attention and affection.

It doesn’t help that this last part seems to bee the biggest hurtle when it comes to finishing this demo. The pacing seems off; tying the 3 quests together so it flows feels *wrong* – Its like I’m throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks; except I keep forgetting I coated the walls with NeverWet. In my desperation, I posted a gameplay video on the Playmaker Slack channel in hopes that I could get someone with sharp eyes to point out what was wrong with it.

hearing the song ‘Help!’ in my head…

Fortunately, the gang came up with some ideas – and between kids being off for a week for spring break; getting a nasty, kick my butt cold that has me sleeping more than I should and a lot of other distractions (like St. Patty’s day and a neighbor who makes excellent smoked brisket) – I *might* have a shot at getting my level sorted and looking decent.

Two steps back; one forward

So, in deciding that my ice cream level just didn’t have any pacing or flow, I decided to try and sculpt one out in Medium real quick and test my ‘fail fast / fail often’ skills to see how quickly I could prototype a level.

And, from a VR / gameplay standpoint; it worked.

Except, when I pulled it into Unity, my framerate dropped into the kinetoscope zone. A quick check of the profiler showed my physics was going haywire and drawcalls were through the roof. I was stuck trying to figure it out – and getting sucked away more and more because we’re getting ready for a kid’s birthday party for our second son; who is turning six.

save $$ by making your kids create birthday cards for free

On top of party prep – I got a missive from my sis, who said she might attend. This threw me into overdrive, because I could show off the VR re-creation of our childhood home; something I’ve been desperate for my family to try and see if it stirs the same feeling of ‘presence’ and nostalgia that it does for me.

But trying to upgrade from a Unity 5.x project to 2018 threw a $#!+ton of errors and I bailed because I saw a tweet about MakerX, which is coming up soon. And it hit me like a ton of bricks:

I’m not getting any serious work done on my demo.

So, back to my original design – enough messing around with stuff and let’s get it done.  The idea is to have a finished demo – release it into the wild and start working on the actual game. Enough. Too many distractions.

Perhaps I’ll be giving up social media for Lent.

windmills of my (kid’s) mind

 

 

Back to it…

So, finally the Winter Break has ended; kids back at school, the missus back at her job. Everyone rested and ready to get back to work.

And me?

I’m ready to get this demo DONE. So – a brief recap (in snippet form) of all things I’ve been up to.

I just recently got accepted to show my game at MakerX in Columbus in April – and that is my deadline. And while I have the 3rd level modeled and mostly textured and a lot of props in it – there is still a LOT to get done. Including a strong feature creep problem, as I realize I’m starting to gear up for making the actual *game*, and I keep thinking of things to add in.

This cute lil’ kitty is destined to be Booper’s sidekick. A travelling companion, friend, helper – and part of me that grew up on dark Disney movies wants to have something bad happen to him. If I had to suffer through Old Yeller and Bambi’s more horrific moments, I feel compelled to pass along similar gut-wrenching things to a new generation.  As a dad, I can always throw this design decision under the blanket clause, ‘it builds character’. The kitty was animated by the extremely talented Chuwawa, you should check out his work here.

I also got THREE pairs of Steam Knuckles controllers,

1 pair of THREE Steam sent!

because I asked for one pair and they said, ‘if you could have more – how many pairs would you need?’ – I had said 2, thinking that included the pair I asked for initially, but Steam being Steam sent me 3 total. So any team members I add will be getting a nice bonus.

I also made an impulse purchase over the holidays:

Glycon VR Mocap system – I had gotten some $$ from the Mother-in-law as a Xmas gift and decided this was worth a shot as I’ve decided the Kinect mocap I was using really didn’t cut the mustard since it didn’t really tackle some of the finer movements I want (like finger controls) and since the dev said he was adding Knuckles support, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Feel the joy of capturing one’s motion

Plus, some of the characters that kiddo has drawn are fairly humanoid – hoping I can act out their animations (or even get them younguns to do it!) and give the characters a bit of their own personality.

Lastly – the final level has a bit of feature creep, but its a tough back & forth: try and wrap up the demo vs. try and gear up for making the actual game. Some of the mechanics will be needed, such as a day / night cycle. Others are just idea that keep popping into my head, like linking the 1st & 3rd levels with a character I call ‘Boo’ who warns you not to go in his cave, and if the player disregards that advice, the level will fill with slime, forcing the player to travel by the high ground.

Here are some of the highlights:

Which is nice and all, but I also have a (self imposed) April deadline – when I need to show this off at MakerX down in Columbus.

Better get to it, then.

Ye gods, when will it slow down again!?!?

Ever since the awesome week of dev back in September; I have been more slammed than I can remember. Between sis-in-law’s 40 birthday rope line adventures, wife grandma’s 100th birthday, Fall Foliage tours, Boo at the Zoo for the kids, going to see Steely Dan with bro-in-law, Halloween and the ever increasing list of crap that needs done around the house, I’m amazed I’ve even gotten any work done at all.

my kid has them.

What dev work that has been done, has been centered around a offer from Phatboysh –  a fellow VRTK dev that I met up with at GDEX. I was busy hawking my game when he dropped by and asked to play (and later provided one of the best quotes of the weekend:  ‘I got kicked out of @fletcherstudios booth today because the mass swarm of kids wanted to play his game’ )

As he was playing -he had asked if the sock quest was a static distribution or randomly placed. I told him that while I’d love to have sock randomly distributed around the level, it was beyond my ability to create. He surprised me by offering to create a script that could do it – and did so rather quickly. The biggest hurdle then became backing out my old sock quest and integrating this new mechanic. Trying to hunt through multiple FSM’s and recreate everything from UI updates to win conditions left me overwhelmed – and resolved that I need to document my crap better.

Re-doing the Ice Cream level

Another hurdle I gave myself was to re-do the Ice Cream level – after my wife pointed out that where I was putting a spider web had no physical place to attach itself to. That, and I’ve been feeling that breaking up my 3 level demo to have a end point, then load something new felt cumbersome. I decided to delete the Boss Castle after finding all the coins, and add the Ice Cream level in its place.

Which means now having to go and recreate everything I already had worked on, including all the intricate FSM’s I had in place. All the carefully crafted mechanics now have to be copied over and I’ll have to re-tweak some of the gameplay now that there is new level geometry to contend with.

I think I’ll make it harder by adding new enemies too.