Unchained, and ya hit the ground runnin’

Sorry, I’m a sucker for Van Halen lyrics…

So, only an month and a half into the new year and I’m JUST getting around to making a blog post – but I swear I’ve had good reasons! Let’s work backwards:

Me, doing my best simian impression

I just did an interview with a podcast called BandanaGames, and it was a blast; looking at the rough cut, I’m this animated, geeky spaz – but its nice to see my enthusiasm carries over, and I do believe – its infectious. We talked about everything under the sun and 40 minutes blew past before I knew it. I could have talked longer.

Pitching BIG

2 days before that – I submitted my Oculus launch Pad demo (fingers crossed!) hoping for that sweet sweet dev grant money. I checked with the other local dev who was in the program and she’s not even trying for it! Guess that means one less person I’m competing against, but I feel bad that she missed an opportunity.

The above screenshot is from The Big Indie Pitch – a ‘speed dating’ style of pitching games to industry types; mostly for feedback, but there was a cash prize for the winner. I feel honored that I got an honorable mention, along with a twitter pal who is an amazing indie games advocate. I did get some amazing feedback and energy – but pitching to 5 groups of two judges each was exhausting. It also taught me that not everyone will be excited about my game and I need to adjust my tactics when I encounter folks who are less than enthused.

1st article about the game!

I also had an article published in VR Trends magazine! Now, granted, I wrote the article and furnished the screenshots and contributed to the Patreon – but still! I’m in a magazine!

Marketing reports? What, am I becoming a business??

I also had a marketing consultation meeting with a UK based team that specializes in indie games called Game If you Are, a special courtesy given to select Oculus Launch Pad members. They looked over my logo, pitch deck and short descriptions and gave a LOT of great feedback, in addition to reminding me that I’m not just trying to sell to kids, but more importantly their parents.

So, all told, 2021 has been an amazing year. And its not even halfway through February. I also have a mini lecture next month with the Tinderbox PlayAway Games Festival, and they’re going to do a separate interview next week, and I’m in talks with a programmer who’d really like to join the Booper team. I just hope I can keep this streak rolling.

Season of thanks

With all that’s been going on in the world, its tough to see the high points with any clarity.

As its been pointed out, time is elastic. Its been a Groundhog’s Day year where every day seems to loop back into the next, yet somehow – here we are with the holidays upon us and facing a New Year, new administration; and with promising results from the big pharma industries, perhaps the promise of a return to normal.

My dev work had been slowed by a slew of marketing and promotional activities that seemed to hit all at once. The Youngstown Business Incubator announced a Virtual Pitch competition with a prize of $5000 and while my chances are slim, it was a great opportunity to see just how quickly I could mobilize a ‘get out the vote’ campaign of my own. I did daily reminders on my soc med accounts and got a lot of positive feedback from a few posts made on reddit.


Right on the heels of that, I got a comment on Twitter that blew me away:

woo hoo!

VR Trend saw a post where I mentioned my game and saw a gif and sent me that message – so suddenly I needed to put together a 300-500 word article, 5 images of my game and a logo. All for an issue that should be coming out next month.

Right on top of that, I got a reminder that Unity for Humanity was looking for pitch submissions and needed a pitch deck, budget AND a timeline – all of which I never had attempted before – so in addition to all my daily dadly duties, I was furiously researching / making / begging for crits on a pitch deck.

names hidden so they aren’t inundated with crit requests

AND on top of that – I get an email out of the blue asking if I wanted to be a part of the newest Big Indie Pitch. Which was happening in 4 days.

Sadly, I just had to turn down that one, as I had zero prep time for it – but the contact was understanding and very graciously offered me a guaranteed spot at the one in February; which I jumped on and now have a little time to practice both my demo skills (which I haven’t used since last February) and sharpen my pitch deck even further.

Now I just gotta wrap up my vertical slice for Oculus Launch Pad before then.

So, as I’m prepping my Thanksgiving dinner (gonna brine a duck here in a little bit) – I must say, I’m thankful for the opportunities even a pandemic will bring. I’m fortunate my family is safe, we’re all together, we haven’t driven each other nuts and there is a little brightness on the horizon. Even if in the meantime I have to rouse myself at 5:30 in the AM and setup a photo workshop in the basement, since the wife & kids have taken over my office:

I have 2400 pages of sketches to scan..

Side Quests

So, with the advent of of my acceptance into the Oculus Launch Pad program and their generosity in providing me with Quest (1) – I’ve been trying to spend as much time seeing how I can port my Rift/ Vive game over to mobile VR.

Lemme tell ya’, it ain’t easy folks.

A common complaint among gamers is ‘how hard is it to make a VR port?’ often echoed by RPG fans who long to play their beloved 200 hour hack-n-slasher standing up, swinging their broadsword while hewing foes left and right… I just had a minor panic attack just thinking about getting that to work in VR.

Finally made it!

I have come to the conclusion that I will slap people upside the head with a freshly caught haddock if they even mention porting games – I nearly burst several blood vessels in trying to port my VR game to ANOTHER VR system. It already HAD VR support built in! Just switching from PC build to Android caused me to have to rebuild dozens of systems that I thought should work with zero problems.

Playmaker? Hello? Why do I have to rebuild FSM’s that work in another project? I’m not changing anything! Why won’t my assets work? Why is Unity asking if I’m missing a reference or an assembly – I ADDED IT, NITZ!

All this time, I’ve been doing this because the launch of Quest 2 might just be a huge explosion of the VR market – since its cheap, easy to lug somewhere to show grandma and the folk at SideQuest make it ridiculously easy to sideload apps to the device. Since I’m doing this whole game dev thing to donate part of the proceeds to autism awareness, I gotta get the proceeds – and that means getting my game in front of as many eyeballs as I can muster.

I finally got it uploaded to SideQuest. yesterday. And already there are a dozen problems with it.

And my poor game languishes off to the back of the room, wondering when I’ll get back to it…


So just as I’m making the push to get my game onto the Quest, I noticed my Rift started blacking out. Kiddo #2 had pointed out that there were times this happened when he played Minecraft in VR. I hadn’t really paid attention to it – but it started happening every time I put on the headset.

Start Program gifties

Based on what I’ve found on the interwebs, its the cable that connects the Rift to the PC – a rarified piece of tech that is no longer being made, is impossible to find and even broken ones are sold on eBay for 50+ dollars.

Which is an absolute shame – I was super proud when it was delivered – it was part of the Oculus Start program – designed to give people the ability to create for this amazing new medium, and while I despise the practices of their parent company – Oculus has really been a boon to developers who otherwise could not afford the heft entrance fee.

With their abandoning the Rift line and focusing more on the Quest, Oculus is signaling the end of an era. One I’m not terribly thrilled over; but one I have to accept as the tides are changing. Desktop VR will be more of a specialty – cost prohibitive and bulky. Mobile VR will keep expanding as its cheaper, easier to transport and set up.

So, after researching what was happening – and the lack of solutions, I started asking around in the various game dev outlets that I’m a part of – and in the Oculus Start discord, I got a suggestion to reach out to the Developer Support team, which I did… and I’m now getting a Rift S in a few weeks. Again, Oculus is amazing at taking care of indie devs. I hope the new headset brings as much joy as the old one did.

In another ending – I finished off a tub of gesso I got back in NYC when I worked at Pearl Paint, some 24 or 25 years ago.

it stayed workable for 25 years

Many a painting started from this humble can, some I sold, some I’ve gifted, others languishing away in a closet. Yet another piece of NYC comes to an end. When I got this, I was living in the greatest city in the world, I was hugely into rollerblading, doing a whole host of chemical colorants and learning just how tough the art industry truly is. And how little it paid.

I wish the art I created with this lives on long after I’ve faded from memory.

Commence Launch sequence

So, last week – as I’m busy planning a family camping trip with our neighbors; as sort of a ‘end of summer / welcome school & fall’ getaway, I get an email that kinda slammed the brakes on everything:

I totally forgot I applied to this!

This will be happening EXACTLY when we are supposed to be camping. Wife, 2 kids, Neighbors & their kids in the next campsite. Marshmallows over the fire. nature hikes.


So; after a brief conference with the missus, she decides that Launch Pad aside, she really wants to go camping (even if it is for just one night) and wants to give me a little free time so I can focus on this with no distraction.

I’ve been applying to this for the past 2 or 3 years; and OF COURSE I get it THIS year. Any other year, they would have flown me out to San Jose, free hotel, food, the works. I went out for Oculus Connect 5 a couple of years ago and it was simply amazing.

such a good time

OH well – I will certainly take what I can get.This is too much of an opportunity, even if it is from the comfort of my desk (thank goodness my wife grabbed a couple of the high tech industrial chairs from her office when they were throwing them away – my back feels SO much better)

Even more exciting is that Oculus is sending us all a Quest for further development work; and I have been desperately wanting one for the longest time. It’ll be a pain in the ass to wrangle my game onto it (as I have just the tiniest amount of Android dev experience) BUT – if I can get this to work and the world doesn’t end; demoing my game will be several measures easier, since I won’t have to lug around a whole PC, VR headset, speakers, etc. OR… I could bring BOTH and be able to demo even more; since I usually end up with a line in front of my booth… Hmm.

In the meantime.. I’m joining the Discord channel they set up and their online hub and chatting with people – I got to share info about the Playmaker Slack, nice to add to our ranks of ‘non-coders’ Now I just need to network my @$$ off to see if there is any grant $$ to be had out there…

Wrambling writing wednesday

Back before the world came to a halt, I had set up a cork board with ‘big picture’ reminders, namely a weekly organizer so I didn’t let any aspect of dev work slip without giving it some attention.

I had:

  • Marketing Monday – make some attempt at promoting my game
  • Tech Tuesday – make backups, clean and organize my projects
  • Writing Wednesday – blog, write marketing materials, grant proposals
  • Texture Thursday – create assets and art
  • Free-for-all-Friday – which I’m now considering changing to Followup Friday

When I woke up this morning, I saw my board and realized, I hadn’t written a blog post since JUNE, I felt it was high time to rectify that – even though I rarely get more than a glance or two (and most of my hits are bots and scrapers) I still feel its important to keep up with scribbling down hasty notes about my development journey – on the hopes that someone might find it useful.

The featured image is a book written by a friend of mine. I was totally flattered when he approached me to illustrate the cover. he wanted a ‘ Jules Feiffer’ styled loose sketch, and I did my best to deliver. I should be getting the paperback delivered tomorrow, it’ll have a honored spot on my bookshelf.

Tales of NYC fun

100 Days (more like 262)

So, I finally finished the #100daysofgamedev challenge. Per the rules:

Each day you do some game dev, just post your update. If you miss a day, don’t post an update. When you start up again, continue from where you left off. Simple as that! You’ll get the badge whenever you finish the milestone. So it may take you 40 days to complete 30 days of game dev – that’s fine! Still a success


For those who want to go for a streak, by all means! You can challenge yourself as much as you choose to. I’ve updated the #guidelines to reflect this new change.

So – I started on Sept. 28th; and obviously did not post every single day. Some days I forgot. Some days I got called away before I could even post a progress update. Some days the entire world went to hell in a handbasket and I took a couple of depressed months away from working on my game – bound by duty to first care for my family during a pandemic; while the wife worked from home, I tended to the wee lads and their home schooled quarantine education while providing semi-nutritious meals for all and cleaning up after my cat with a sensitive stomach.

I was seriously crushed that right after showing my game at MakerX, and I was neck deep in prep for both a radio interview, a big push for fundraising / grant research and getting my demo polished for the Cleveland Int’l Film Festival that all of it got… cancelled.

ballantinebeer Instagram posts (photos and videos) - Picuki.com

I stopped working for weeks.

I just didn’t have the energy to look at anything other than the constant stream of news about the virus. Corrupt government. Murder hornets. The Mayans were off about 2012 and its really supposed to be 2020.

I played a LOT of Stardew Valley.

…and not the awesome 80’s band. Image courtesy of Pixabay

I started back after seeing an Asset Store Sale and picking up a haptic feedback asset. And started looking at dev discord channels again. And seeing the #100daysofgamedev challenge.

I had been languishing in the 60 day mark for months. Time to remedy that. Taking a page from the dev who made ‘The First Tree’- I decided to have zero sum day – something must be worked on the game, even if it was just tweaking a texture. And I did it the next day. And the next.

And now – here I am, finally finished my #100days – the workd has changed since I started. I’ve changed. And I am still working on my game.

Good Vibrations

So, in this time of quarantining, home schooling, feeding a constantly hungry family, cleaning a messy house that no one ever leaves, laundry, day drinking, naps and now being able to resume gaming (that I gave up for Lent) – I’ve found returning to game development to be difficult.

Its almost as if I have too much on my plate.

But, hey – I’m getting a lot of painting done in the meantime.

What got me slowly churning back towards dev work was the Unity Asset Store sale – I saw an asset that controls haptic feedback for controllers, and thought to myself, ‘I’ve always wanted that in my game!’

So I bought it – tried adding it my demo – had it turn into an abysmal failure and now I’m trying to get everything working in 2019. I’m feeling a huge need to upgrade my project to get the things I want working – including the aforementioned haptics, and a glow asset that seemed to just stop working in 2017.4

ahh – the joys of figuring out what went wrong…

And, of course, the upgrade curve presents its own challenges.

Text mesh Pro seems to require a shamanistic, voodoo-esque ceremony to get working after an upgrade. Thanks Unity, for packaging a converter app to make it work, guess it was easier than just ‘making it work automatically’ when you upgrade your project.

Now I have to figure out how to have my TMP assets not have my Anima 2D assets show through them. Guess I’m back in the dev game.


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!