Reality Sets In

So, out of the blue, I get a text from an old friend back in NYC. He had seen the post I put on FaceBook and wanted to chat. I was busy packing up kiddo #2 for a playdate at the library (a long overdue one, to boot!) and said I could chat – but quietly.

We got to our playdate, and #2 son was greeted with smiles and a card made just for him (it amazes me just how insanely cute and adorable kids can be right before they spill oil based enamel paint all over your vintage 1986 IBM ‘M’ keyboard…) and I explained that I needed to take an important call… like the one coming right this second.

My buddy and I exchanged several foul mouthed greetings (ye gods I miss some aspects of living in the city – cussing is elevated to an artform there…) and he quickly got down to business: he loved the video and has some people he wants to show it to. Moreover, needs documentation and whatever else I can put together to see if we can possibly get funding and wants to get a broader idea of what I’m trying to accomplish. He likes the idea that its for VR and we talk about full on VR rigs and mobile headsets.

dude, I TOLD you…

Jeez, I’m trying to figure out how to make this into a game- that’s what I’m trying to accomplish.

But – we talk, brainstorm, catch up, cuss some more and now I’m committed to creating a prospectus and perhaps more to see if this idea has legs. In the process, we inadvertently come up with a whole slew of ideas, many of which are waaaay beyond my paltry skills (I love the idea that we can use the controllers to ‘draw’ in the world to help solve problems, like drawing a bridge to get across a canyon…) and I relegate them to expansion pack ideas – or sequels.

Its also putting pressure to get a demo level DONE. While looking at what I had in the level already, plus looking at the drawings floating in the file (plus some ideas from the wifey) I took the castle already in my scene, took a drawing of a character with a crown and tossed him in Spriter and took other elements to make a ‘quest’ of sorts: collect 5 stinky socks, and the king will let you pass through the castle:

I’m leaning away from trying to take drawings that #1 son did and extruding them into game levels, it looks wrong somehow and doesn’t seem to convey the same atmosphere as the open world does (in the video, there is a section of white blocky areas bordered in blue that were the old style)

I’ve been finding that the sprites in a 3D world are creating a bit of a headache – a lot of the static background props were slowing down my framerate, so I traced them in Inkscape and exported .svg files into Blender, extruded them and slapped the drawings back on as texture maps – which made it possible to rotate the quest items (socks) as soon as I can figure out why my axis isn’t aligned properly.

I’m hoping to have a level properly in shape and running in a week or two, release it as a beta for playtesting and figuring out problems and within a month, get a demo out on Steam.


So, last month my large data disk died.

Without warning.

Right before I was going to back it up. I had been remiss due to the holidays (and more holidays, and back to school, etc.) And had not backed up in what turned out to be a really long time.

Lesson learned.

So as I’m desperately trying to remake my project from old backups, demos I posted online, random files from my laptop and anything else floating around. I did OK, getting pretty close to my last working version when I had something of an epiphany / revelation / slap to the head.

It wasn’t very much fun. Well, I told myself – that’s rather the point. Its about how crappy people can treat each other, and what its like to be on the receiving end of peoples disgust and scorn. After replaying it to test if I had missed anything, I came to the ego-bruising realization that it wasn’t very good. Also, it was slowly dawning on me that I broke a cardinal rule of game development: start small.

Not that my ‘game’ was a sprawling 60 hour MMORPG with multiple branching storylines; it was  nothing more than a static environment with a few interactable NPCs and triggered events. Turns out even that was too complicated.

So – as I was agonizing over what to do next, I was organizing some drawings my eldest had done and I came across this one:

and it just struck a chord with me… My son is 6, on the spectrum (non-verbal) but has drawing talent that is better than mine at a similar age. I’ve always envisioned making a 2D platformer with his work but that is a whole different beast from the 3D VR work I’ve been doing and would require more learning, more time away from other projects – time I really don’t have to spare.

So, as I’m sitting at my desk, my 6 year old wanders into the office and plops down on my lap and grabs my Vive, looking into my eyes and silently prompting me that he wants to look inside. I shift him around and open up a test Unity project (thanks VRTK for having simple projects to tinker with!) and throw the image above on a plane and slap a quick character controller on it and hit play.

Number One son positively howls with delight as he sees his drawing moving around on a flat plane, me controlling it with WASD as he looks around clapping his hands and laughing. I grab my Steam Controller and turn it on, a nice surprise when it controls my character as well and thrust it into the kids hands. He’s even more excited now that he is controlling the action and laughs as he repeatedly steers the character off the ‘world’ and plunges into the depths below. My wife walks in and informs him its time for bed and I get teeth brushed and tuck him in, kissing his little head and smiling at his delight.

I throw the character into Spriter Pro (an impulse purchase off of Humble Bundle) and give him (her?) a quick walk cycle and re-import back into Unity – its even better. I put his drawing on Facebook, to see if it resembles anything (particularly, a trademarked character) and people give me answers like, ‘lady bug construction hat’ or ‘African American lady bug superhero’ – so I’m kinda content that he’s not copying a kids book or game he’s played.

I throw in a few more drawings and screen cap the above footage and show it to the gang at the VRTK Slack channel. They LOVE it – I get a ton of ideas thrown at me (including the near impossible one of making it like Scribblenauts and have the player draw solutions to level puzzles) and I need to copy and paste all of them into a word .doc to keep track of them all.

So – I think I’m breaking another game dev rule: don’t get excited about a new project without finishing your current one. Looks like I enjoy breaking rules and I’m getting sucked into a simpler, more attainable goal.

And I couldn’t be happier.