Dev in the time of corona

So I went from a place of feeling on the verge of a huge breakthrough to sitting on the side of the road, huffing exhaust and feeling like a discarded soda can.

I was a week out from being interviewed on the local BBC radio station and then a week later kicking off a 10 day film festival that would be showing my game to an expected guest list that could number in the tens of thousands.

Then the world came to a screeching halt.

Its always strange – to have everything come screeching to a halt. And really nothing to indicate that things will return to normal. And of course, the unending panic of the world being tuned upside down and not knowing just how dark or desperate things might get.

ahh… the gold old days

This isn’t the first (or 3rd or 7th) time I’ve felt this kind of panic.

I lived through 3 terrorist attacks when I lived in NYC- and each time it got closer. I was far and gone from the ’93 bombing of the WTC, so I had very little in the way of connection to it, other than a panicked call from my mother. I WAS a lot more involved with 9/11 – seeing as I was literally in the shadow of the 1st plane, getting into a cab on 30th when it flew overhead. And the last one – when the gal in the above Post cover got infected with anthrax about 25 feet away from my desk.

I spent a lot of time those years chain smoking and pretty drunk.

And now.. yet again the world seems to be turned upside down – and in darker moments; ending yet again. And I don’t have the luxuries of Parliament Lights or an unending bar tab at Under the Volcano and an eager bartender ready to pour me a Dos Equis if I brought him a copy of tomorrow’s paper – I have a wife and 2 kids that need me more than I’ve ever been needed. And, I take courage in the fact that I DID survive those tough times – and despite their immense toll, I made it through and will make it through this one as well.

And I have a damn VR game I *must* finish and publish. Even if the world is coming to an end.

Fondly recalling ‘poonag’

and other big news

geek heaven

So I went to show my game at MakerX this past weekend, & since its down in Columbus, I stay with my bro-in-law to not have to pay for a hotel room, have a much shorter drive to the convention center, and… of course, raid his beer fridge.

In previous years, I’ve always texted him in advance – making sure I’m not abusing his hospitality or visiting at a wrong time – and he always welcomes me without hesitation; to which I always replied, ‘poonag!’

Which, for the uninitiated, is T9 for ‘smooch!’

THIS time around, since I finally got a modern phone and abandoned ye olde flip phone – I ‘could’ spell smooch! with no problem. I felt kinda sad about this and told him so. His response? “No worries, it’ll always be poonag! to me…” – I now need to learn how to sing so I can send him my version of Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman” with my own twist on the lyrics, of course.

MakerX has its own special charm, since its free (minus $5 parking) its a LOT more family oriented, and a lot more kids. Which meant I never sat down, was talking constantly and pretty much spent my entire time demoing my game. I was a total dummy – I forgot my business cards! I did give out a larger than usual number of stickers, which does have the website, so at least I’ve got that going for me.

I also got some much needed footage of me demoing my game, which I’ll use in my ‘elevator pitch video’ that a lot of grants and small business contests want. Hopefully my beer gut doesn’t show too much. Or, then again, maybe its a good thing if I’m touting myself as a ‘stay at home dad dev’ – the dad bod might help sell the image.

The best part was coming right off the buzz I get from showing my game is coming home and seeing in my inbox that I was accepted into the Cleveland International Film Festival Perspective’s Exhibit. I’ll be having my game shown to a completely different crowd, and potentially to a whole new demographic that wants to throw money and accolades my way.

my first laurels!

Gearing up

Have big things coming – and a LOT to do to get ready for them…

First up: MakerX – Feb.29th in Columbus. – I’ve ordered a banner to add to my marketing arsenal; and with some massive tinkering, was able to piece together a bunch of screenshots to get a decent sized image worthy of print:

not the best photo, my 9 year old shot it

MakerX is a fun exhibition – since its geeks of all flavors, it has a different vibe than the pure gaming energy of GDEX. Its also more family oriented, since it’s a free event, so I get to demo to a lot more younger kids; my ideal audience. I also get a lot of educators, so there’s always a lot of good energy discussion about new technologies and teaching methods.

My biggest fans, they came back 3 times to play it!

After MakerX, I’ll have just a few scant days to get my application into the FedEx Small Business Grant – hopefully one of the prizes will help fund my next phase in development; hiring peolple smarter than me to get the game finished.

One of the key selling point in the application process is the ‘sales pitch video’ – a summary of what I’m doing and how I’ll use the help (and money!) if I win – this is what I have so far:

ye gods I hate my voice

After that… I have a radio interview with the
Awesome Foundation, BBC Radio Hour – and I’m itching to be interviewed about my game – and the best part is that I’ll be able to invite listeners to an open demo session that will happen the week later.. but I’m not allowed to talk about that until next week…

I can’t wait to tell everyone!

Stuck in low gear

Since recovering from a sinus infection and the kids being off from school for MLK Day, I’ve been slowed down to an absolute crawl on dev stuff. The lack of energy and indecision about what to tackle next has gotten me a bit frozen in place.

I have kept busy with side projects, like designing the standing banner above for the upcoming MakerX show on Feb. 29th – as well as ordering stickers, since I’m getting low again.

What HAS been worked on is getting the last bits of the demo polished. Since I decided to cut the 3rd level to just a brief taste, I’m hoping I can add enough emotional ‘oomph’ to it that will leave a player wanting to see more. I’m hoping with kiddo 2 having a birthday next month, my bro-in-law will bring his PC and we can finally get his loaner Rift working and my brilliant niece & nephew can get to work on tearing apart my game and finding each and every flaw and give me ideas on how to make it better. They’re good like that.

Fail Faster

So, after a long struggle, I think I have to kill a level that I put a lot of work into. I was looking at this blog and found a post from almost a year ago, and can see how I’ve just put too much time / effort / energy into something that just will not take cohesive shape.

I’ve struggled with it – fought with it – scrapped it and started from scratch (see last year’s post!) – and I just cannot get this level polished to the point where I think I can ship it.

Current mood…

I had some seriously good bits – the envelope quest was a simple, easy quest to start the level; the big rolly balls that flattened the player had a nostalgic touch – but the whole thing never congealed into a cohesive mass. And it pains me to dump all that.

I can, of course, reuse the assets and FSMs to drive them. It’s my innate stubbornness that makes it difficult to let it go. I mean, I worked that level . A year ago I decided to re-do it from scratch and that didn’t work, so I went back to my original design. I was considering trying a different version of it – but then I came upon the post from a year ago and had a moment that forced me to realize that I could work another year on it and still not have the functionality I want.

But, the clock is ticking and I’m feeling the pressure. I need to get this demo OUT. I need to start working on the main game. I need to get funding. And sitting here tinkering with the same level over and over isn’t getting the ol’ job done.

I’m currently prepping for the MakerX Expo at the end of February. And FedEx is opening their Small Business contest at the end of the month. And once I can get my head around the budget concept and get my act together, I’ll be applying to IndieFund and a few local angel investor funds. I need someone smarter than me to get my mechanics feeling tight, and I need a young 2D modeller looking to make his bones to help with the cranking out of assets. Plus, I’m looking at expanding my demo reach – GDEX and MakerX are my staples, but I feel like I could get good traction showing at Games 4 Change.

And that is where I’m applying next. (soon)

Back to Work, pal…

So with the holidays over, fam back to school and work, the house clean enough that I can ignore the rest, I grab my coffee sit down at the comfy office chair chair my wife got from her job, crack my knuckles with anticipation, lean in, reach for the keyboard annnnd….

What the $#!+ was I doing before the holidays began??

Getting back into the swing of things ain’t easy. I’m looking at scribbled notes, my organizer cork board says today is my ‘writing’ day. I have a bunch of things to start researching and planning for the year (sorry IndyPopCon, I don’t have $275 to drop on a exhibitor table this year!) And I have a backlog of other creative work that I need to get done.

What I DID want to brag about was an idea that I whipped together when my eldest brought home a mini gingerbread house he made in school. I instantly though about preserving it in photogrammetry and on a whim, threw it into Unity and added Booper to the scene:

I did start adding the ‘VR tunnelling’ effect, an option I’ll let players choose if they find that the character motion too nauseating. Guess I need to start working on an options menu…

Considering I’m going to be applying for grant money, I DO need to get that demo wrapped and looking as polished as possible. I’m still stuck on that 3rd level and want ‘more’ from it: more excitement, more polish and a bolder ending that really leaves players wanting more. Time to recruit the niece and nephew for more playtesting… Oops – gotta get the Rift I loaned them back to full operating capacity first.

Licensed to ill

SO… dev work was severely impacted by everyone in the house getting a 24 hour stomach bug.

It started Saturday night with my youngest getting sick all over our brand new couch after we went to our local town’s Xmas parade / tree lighting ceremony. I figured too much candy passed out at the parade coupled with a poorly eaten dinner as I cleaned up the mess. This was further solidified (in my mind) by the fact he seemed fine the next day and showed no signs of upset tummy.

Until the wife and I woke up the next day feeling crappy and nauseous. Yay. I somehow got the kids to school when the wife called and said she wasn’t doing well at work and was coming home. So, instead of #MarketingMonday it became, #takecareofsickwifewhileIfeellikecrap day.

And then my eldest got sick in the middle of the night.

So, #TechTuesday went down the toilet as well as I had to take care of a kid out from school, while still getting a wife and youngest child out the door to their routines.

Still – I tried my best to make sure I had no ‘zero progress’ days, so when the family was resting I cleaned out unused assets from my demo and added some effects to the game, like figuring out why my bee didn’t buzz when the player came near (the collider was incredibly small):

So, my #WritingWednesday will be briefer than most – as I attempt to play catch up and make some of my lost time not sting as much as it could.

Getting my act together

So, after looking at what the hive mind is doing on #100daysofgamedev – I’ve been re-evaluating my random, throw crap at the wall approach to working on my game and decided that its not pushing me in all the directions I need to go. I’m lacking in organization and need some serious scheduling to keep me on track and focusing on ALL aspects of making a game.

Including the stuff I think sucks.

After watching this incredible GDC lecture:

I immediately realized that I was sorely behind in several key areas of both development and marketing myself and my game. I really should watch that video each and every morning over my 1st cup o’ coffee…

So, I decided something needed to be done. Something a little more concrete than just using my tablet monitor for Microsoft Whiteboard (which has been a handy place to jot notes) and have something physical; staring me in the face to remind me of what still needs to be done, AND force myself to work on those aspects I had been neglecting. So – I found an old corkboard down in the basement and hung it adjacent to my desk; I marked out 7 sections representing the days of the week and marked them as such:

  • MARKETING MONDAY – research shows / money / opportunities to apply to.
  • TECH TUESDAY – make backups / clean project / optimize game, assets, FSMs
  • WRITING WEDNESDAY – write blogposts, applications for opportunites
  • TEXTURE THURSDAY – make assets / levels for the game
  • FREE FOR ALL FRIDAY – whatever I damn well want to do
  • SCREENSHOT SATURDAY – capture images / video / gifs for Wed. posts and Sat. sharing online
  • SUNDAY – Day ‘o Rest. Work if I want to; don’t stress if I don’t

In addition to the aforementioned useful stuff – I found this really cool link to a LucasArts Room Design document and immediately grabbed a blank one to start with my ‘mapping out my game’ ideas, a quick way to organize and get all the ideas together in one spot.

I’m hoping that as long as I dedicate at least ONE hour towards these tasks per designated day; I’ll start to see progress in the areas I feel I’m lagging behind in. Time will tell.

Now I have a hammer. ho. ho. ho.

So, in my effort to expand what my character can do, I’ve decided going back to platfomer roots and adding a hammer to smash things would be a good place to start. Just ask Mario. Or Jumpman, as he was introduced to us, lo those many years ago…

Luckily, kiddo had a hammer drawing and whipping up a model is old hat for me nowadays – can’t wait to see how my modelling skills will be challenged if I ever go back to actual 3D model making, instead of extruding everything in sights

The real difficulty came in trying to get my character to actually ‘hold’ the darn thing and have it face the right way. ‘Parenting’ one game object to another is a sore spot for me because I STILL  cannot get my player character to stick properly onto the boat he rides on when he goes from the castle level to the giant flower level.

So, like all puzzles, I try every combination until I get it to work. Then the problem becomes the hammer clipping through the player as he carries it…

I’m swinging my big ol hammer

The trick it seems is find a way to isolate part of the body to play one animation; while allowing other parts to play – such as walking. Unity provides a solution for this in the form of animator layer and avatar masks.

Except my character is animated with Anima2D – which doesn’t create an avatar…

I have exhausted many an hour trying to explain to Professor Google exactly what my problem is and how I am trying to solve this issue – only to have the Prof. spit back the exact SAME three tutorials YouTubed by a guy who must have a fiber deficit in his diet so he crams at least a pound and a half of cotton wadding in his face before hitting the record button…

I was about to drop a dime on the dev when I happened to see a slightly similar search result for ‘avatar creation’ and a link to the .pdf documentation to the asset. MOTHER OF DEV GODS – there is my answer. A masking for my Anima character – an answer! I finally found one after how many untold hours of pulling my lower lip down to my knees in frustration over this – and its in an actual document actually describing how to use my software. Imagine that.

Tune next week to see how I torture myself making things breakable.

GDEX 2019 wrap-up

OK – he’s back, rested and ready to dive back into dev work.

…ok, maybe ONE more round of Compound before we get started.

GDEX was again amazing, and I’m always ever thankful to the Cleveland Game Co-Op for the opportunity to show my game. It was my 3rd time doing it and each and every year has been an experience I will value for a long, long time.

I also greatly appreciated just getting there in one piece.

Two weeks before I left, the wife had a social engagement after church, so I loaded up the kids in the family car and followed her so we could part ways afterwards. I noticed that her muffler was swaying gently in the breeze; and any bump in the road sent it dancing. I could see myself having to deal with it on the 2.5 hour drive to Columbus and having to jury-rig a solution on I-71S, especially on the return trip on Sunday evening, right around sundown.

So, I enlisted my neighbor Tom (who is rebuilding a ’71 AMC Javelin and knows cars) to help rig up something to at least keep it from falling apart for at least a few weeks. He stopped on by, started poking around and suggested we drill into something and run some metal wire hanger to hold it. As he was drilling, there was a ‘thunk‘ and he handed me the above piece, saying it was part of the frame – but probably not a “necessary” piece. So he tried again, using part of the plastic bumper assembly and off I went.

setup went smooth

I got to the convention center and the rest of the day (and setup) went smoothly – I was excited to see the new postcards that I got for being part of the Playvue app and they did not disappoint:

DAY 1:

The first day is always exciting because its the hardcore gamer community – the people who really love games and want to see what the indie community is up to. I get into a lot of technical discussions and a lot of folk are surprised when I tell them this is a blend of VRTK, Playmaker and duct-tape. I always get a ton of suggestions, info, business cards, offers of help and introductions to other devs that have similar interest. I have several sheets of paper filled with hastily scribbled notes and future searches that I need to do.

Since I’m flying solo, I don’t get to see a lot of other dev booths, just the ones in my neighborhood; and I’d swear – whoever is across from me gets TONS of traffic and usually has a crowd 3 deep. I also get tons of ideas that I’d love to implement (once I have a budget for such things) – a larger screen and a big banner seem to garner attention quick and draw people in. As soon as people start looking, others seem drawn to the crowd and feed off the excitement – which draws in even more people. Maybe I can sell a kidney or something…

The best moment of the day came at the end, when my friend Leonard (and first ‘customer’ I ever demoed my game to) came by. He was feeling the overload of too many people, to much noise and an overabundance of info. He looked at me, looked at my game and asked if he could take it for a spin. I was anxious to get on the road and get some food as my day is spent at my booth and subsisting on power bars and thermos coffee. But, I couldn’t refuse. Leonard is like my good luck charm and whenever I see him, I know its going to be a good show. So I let him play and busied myself cleaning up and prepping for the next morning. After I while I realized I wasn’t hearing the usual game sounds / voiceovers / collectibles being picked up – he was just wandering around the level and enjoying the interactables – jumping in the water to hear my kids making ‘splash’ sounds. After 20 minutes or so, he took off the HMD and smiled, ‘it like a dream’ he said, and that phrasing just stuck with me. Glad to know that my work can be a source of calm happiness.

Post apocalyptic energy drink DJ booth

Day 2

The second day always has a different vibe – its more families and kids and people tend to linger a bit and chat more. This year seemed to be a bit slower and my fellow devs agreed. What was nice is that I had several developers that I had worked next to in previous years sought me out to see how I was doing – I’m always humbled by how many people remember me, the game and the story about my son and how this all came to be.

I also got a pleasant surprise of a visit from my wife’s cousin Bob, who hung out, talked, roamed the floor and even got me a much needed sandwich. When attendees stopped by my booth, he added a nice counterpoint to my frenetic rambling – and gave my strained voice a much needed break. His visit also seemed to fill in a bit of the quiet time and when he left – the crowds started coming back after the post-lunch lull.

remember this for next time!

As the afternoon started winding down and the end of show raffles started, I did get a chance to wander a bit and see people’s displays before they got dismantled and gleaned several ideas I need to put into practice; the booth above had so many cool ideas (and won some awards after the show too!) on how to engage with the community and I might crib and adapt some of these ideas for next time. The coloring station was especially clever and I might take a bunch of my kid’s drawings, clean them up and print them to do something similar. Not to mention the wishlist sign.

I have to admit – there is a certain sadness in wrapping up. Even though I’m pretty introverted; demoing my game brings out a big chatty part of me that I’m still amazed is lurking somewhere inside of me. I had a fellow dev run up and hand me a swag bag full of candy and asked if I’d give it to my kids. I was really touched by how this game connects people and brings out such feelings of kindness. And I dwelled on this during the long ride back.

The best part was after I got home and was just resting, cleaning up and getting back into my normal dad routine; having just got home the night before – slept fitfully, got up early to get the family up / dressed / fed and out the door to work and school. And I got an email that really just struck me in the most profound way:

I only just found out about Booper this past week, so getting the chance to see it in action only a few days after was super cool. But hearing the story of the development process was insanely inspiring. Thank you so much for bringing your game down to demo at GDEX! Really looking forward to seeing the whole thing, and having my own little guy play it with me. 🙂

Man, excuse me – getting kinda dusty in here…