I feel I’ve tied up the most dangerous and experimental ideas for Read Play Game (feel free to try the Demo!), so I feel the risk for my small first independent project is nice’n low. That feels good!

Experimental like the interplay I wanted between the Standard (coming soon?!) and Demo version, taking advantage of the Cloud Saving. I just released a Demo update with some final slippery bug fixes from switching between the two versions with all sorts of crazy rewards back and fourth. In fact, you can even use a Standard Theme while playing the Demo!

Then I look at how much content is left to create and I think, oh my, that’s going to take time isn’t it. My goal is to create enough that I would be happy myself purchasing it for a small amount, then keep adding more as I take a break from next project (or the project after that! etc. etc.). It’s getting there! I have all the Protagonists ready to go (there’s 5!), a whole bunch of perks, doubled the themes from the Demo, and roughly double Story content to navigate.

I’ll be honest, I am excited to start up a project with some 3d gameplay in it. I’ve set up a prototype to test a couple theories for the next project, as per my style I answered the hardest questions first (can I do thing?! … yes! Yay!) so now I feel I’m standing up my next development-date while I wrap up Read Play Game. Sorry Mystery Game 2, it’s done when it’s done, and I don’t dare fall down your early-times rabbit hole of exploration and fun.

Words/phrases can get adopted as jargon and begin to mean many different things depending on who you ask. I tend to be more verbose than catch-phrases (ex: Data-driven Design) cause I hope to keep what I’m tryin’ to say clear. When it comes to game development in my brain I’m rooted in the catch-phrases of “Data-driven” and “Systems Oriented”, which to me are philosophies I feel that are important. Combined and with buy-in I’ve both experienced and witnessed within entire teams…

  • Less code, more content
  • Larger creative box for ingenuity
  • Improved re-usability (within game, or across games)
  • Lower development times

So these benefits are pretty vague and generalized right? I can’t tell you that your team (or in my current case, solo-endeavors) will be 10x more productive, or that you’ll only need 10% of the workforce to accomplish the same output as [points at other team]. You won’t be able to magically shrink schedules by a determined amount by changing your philosophy, which is generally the priority when working in a corporate structure.

No, I don’t have metrics on these benefits, but I do have over a decade of anecdotal observation. Also, and more importantly right now, I have a personal story.

Last lil’ bit I’ve been working on my first personal project, Read Play Game. We’re together… basically almost always, so my partner is privy to many of my thoughts as I’ve been workin’ on it. Generally that flows something like:
Me: “I’m excited about this thing! It’ll mean this, and that, and because of these things I get to take advantage of…
Partner: “That sounds neat, but also most of this isn’t sticking with me, is that okay?
Me: “Yeah I just wanted to share out loud…
Partner: “Cool, long as I’m not gonna get quizzed, keep going

It wasn’t long til I had something to actually interact with (and now a demo available!) and all those ramblings I exposed to poor Angel connected some dots when they could be experienced. Out of the blue
Partner: “Do you think, using what you talked about, I could do … [idea]
Me: “Totally, easy-peasy, the systems don’t know or care that all I want to display is text, you could easily have images, animated bits, anything, it’ll all stack on top of each other – choices could be images too, frankly you wouldn’t need a single line of text anywhere and still use all the same underlying systems

Unintended consequence: My partner would like to make a thing with the framework I’ve been building for my own thing.

Angel is not a game developer, has no formal training in anything computer science or art, but with what I’ve built and what I’ve shown what it would take to create it (data for behavior, some tools for making the art), feels confident they can bring their idea to life.

I think that’s super cool, so I’m going to spend some time setting up an environment with examples.

Throughout my professional career I’ve tended to gravitate towards the experimental and new, I was jumping on the weird new projects that the more experienced developers tended to shy away from. Work on the mysterious DLC for Dawn of War 2? Sure! (that became The Last Stand). Convert a traditional RTS (the first game I worked on) into a Free-to-play model pre-2010 for the Chinese market? On it! That received a North American translation as well! Ah yes, THQ, known for its wise business decisions (killing a project that even by today’s standards had great KPI’s).

So while I say experimental, what that really mean is that it’s something that has a completely unknown outcome, which let’s be honest, is almost everything in gaming. Even if you think you’re making the next [insert well established genre here] and can point to all sorts of successes… that doesn’t directly translate to a successful game. So the way I figure it is – I may as well carve a path where I get to learn new things all the time! It’s not like being risk-adverse is a guarantee to success.

As I became one of the more experienced developers and fell into leadership positions I’ve continued my radical experimentation, like trading task-lists with ownership for developers at all levels of experience. My last (now sadly defunct game that we started from scratch) was unlike anything available on the market we could find (and despite that had the charming validation that it was “ROI Positive” from the business folk). I appear to be feeling hyper-linky this morning.

My latest learning involve the last hyperlink of the morning (hint, it’s at the bottom), to which I completed a demo of my first solo game! Read Play Game can be found only by clicking the secret hyperlink, and now that I’ve released my first major update for it (Cloud saving! No longer lose progress between browsers, computers, future platforms, etc.) I’ve gotten to know the itch.io environment a lot better. Things I’ve learned about itch:

  • Itch.io has a Steam-like desktop client that is actually quite nice
  • …you cannot play WebGL games through it
    • (womp womp, I put a lot of effort and did a lot of learning to make sure Read Play Game was play-in-browser friendly for easy sharing)
  • It has a deployment program called Butler that’s very smooth to use, updating Read Play Game was a breeze
  • Devlogs have lots of customization, and a really friendly interface
  • …Devlogs cannot be read while a project is unpublished… (results in 404 error for anyone but me – I found this out the hard way after tweeting my latest one)
  • Multiple files/builds can be offered and prices can be individualized per thing offered

Welp, I’m going to pause on the devlogs for a bit since, well, no one can read them. My next one will be “the game is available, not just the demo!”. I’m hoping to leave the demo up as web-playable and offer the full game (much more content) at a small price, see how that goes. After all, games these days are never really done. The nice thing about the structure of Read Play Game is that all content is very plug-and-play. If I get inspired to build a quick scenario, with quirky options depending on protagonist or perks, I can sit down and slide it in even years from now. I do feel I need to reach a point of “the game is live!” though before I go ahead and start on Project #2 (It won’t just be text! it’ll have 3d shapes and everything!).

Anyway, anyone who made it this far through all my web-words – if you have patience enough for this text please give the demo a try and let me know what you think. What’s working for you, what’s not working for you, whatever it is I’d love to hear from ya.

The final link in all its glory: https://cabadobedia.itch.io/read-play-game?secret=h4rjLDTjExfwBJRfaXnJpW2vs4

While Gilroy Games has transformed itself from an online journal into a solo-game-development effort, that doesn’t mean the family isn’t excited along with me. Thus far they’re my top source for feedback (and bugs reports, a knack my partner excels at while I embarrassingly watch’em get found haha 😮 ), but as a special birthday present my 9 year old daughter made some mascots for Gilroy Games!

So earlier this week (in what I’m guessin’ was the inspiration to these adorable presents) I was covertly asked what kind of “Mascot” I think would jive well with Gilroy Games by her mamma. I remembered there used to be a “Gilroy” clan… ages ago, so looked it up and found 3 completely different emblems/crests! So naturally my daughter ended up making… 3 😉

DeerLionDolphin

Since I decided to make a thing I’ve decided to stretch out my savings to potentially make more than one thing, so I’ve opted rather than throwing something out there and asking for money… that I would make a demo. If the demo gets any love, then I know that’s where I can put my energy!

…if it gets no love, it’s okay, it’ll still have my love, and I’ll definitely put the energy into filling it out to more of a full experience. Just may have to come after all this work I’m doing becomes ballpark financially sustainable.

So where is this demo?! Welp, I keep wanting to put more things in it. I have a loose target where I’ll say “okay, it’s ready, up it goes!” and probably pester people to please take a look and let me know what they think. Except I keep playing it, and I keep being inspired or wanting to improve bits, soooo… it’s still in the works. I feel I’m close, I’d give an honest estimate of 1-2 weeks. I *have* got all the tedious project and business setup out of the way, copyrights, paperwork, etc. etc. I now get to 100% focus on just finishing the demo then uploading it to some place people can click a link and play it!

For that I’ve decided to go with itch.io – my profile on there is bare minimum. It exists so I could go through and figure out how to get games up on it, which at this point I can be doing in minutes (so exciting!). If you clicked the link that bare profile… I’ll have to put some work into, please don’t mind it just yet.

As for the demo, it’s a game that doesn’t quite have a functional correlation, I couldn’t post links saying “it’s like this but with parts of that with smidgens of inspiration from over here“. I started from the ground up with my goals (previous post on that) and just kind of riffed on it from there. What I ended up with is a entirely text-based content RPG’ish game where you smash a Protagonist and Story together and see how far that tale takes you before the poor Protagonist meets its (mostly) inevitable demise, upon which the process starts over.

Stories are both a mix of a traditional “Game Mode” (unique mechanics) and a narrative wrapping, with completely divergent content. Protagonists are provided unique choices to make within the stories while also offering a variety of starting statistics.

The Demo will have 2 Stories and 3 Protagonists with a small-wealth of various permanent things to unlock that will let the player customize their limited aesthetics, provide them with tangible benefits, or even offer new paths within the stories. My hope with it is it provides a taste of what I’m envisioning without the additional months of work to do the everything – and extra hoping that it’s a good taste for the people that choose to try it out 🙂

One of the neat things about doing something on my own, as opposed to working for some corporate entity, is I can share whatever I want! Even ugly screenshots, even spoilers 😉

Here’s a snip of how this weeks roughly lookin’ like for new project

I don’t plan on doing regular updates or anything, I just realized *right now* that there was no one to stop me from doing something like this, muahahaha!

I’ve made a couple small personal projects before (one was when I got my first Android phone, made a simple native app with smiley faces that you could have bop each other, gradually making them become sadder and sadder emojis), but nothing outside the scope of a simple weekend-or-two. I thought I’d take the opportunity of unemployment time to make something a bit larger in scale.

First things first, I set myself up with a few goals:

  1. Gameplay that focuses on choices made
  2. Playable from a web browser
  3. Can be considered “Finished” within 2 months

Alright, goals. Good, I’ve set a loose framework to fit my next steps in.

I thought back to my early days, the days where I was standing up and doing presentations in front of the company with the fancy new things I wrote in C#. As a Systems Designer, it was important for me to be able to showcase the system working agnostic of the game environment. After all, on a team of people everyone has their prioritized tasks and it’s going to take many people doing many things before it all comes together in a lovely visualized game environment. So when I stood up and did my presentations they were 100% text from a custom C# Terminal program.

See, I would sit by people who spent their days working on their power-point presentations for their next meeting. Literally, days. I would estimate the ratio of work that was contributing to projects vs. the presentation of work they were doing for projects (images, dozens of iteration on wording, sometimes animations, etc.) would be around 2:99 – I’d watch this while seeing many co-workers pressured to achieve tangible results of very complicated or difficult things and think to myself… what a waste.

Myself, I would set a goal to invert that ratio, 99:2. Basically, I would build out my tools and tech and content in a way that I could do it live in front of the company. And it wouldn’t be pretty. But if the people who needed to be informed got informed, I felt it was a successful strategy.

There were many jokes and playful (or not so playful?) groans by the time I did my third presentation. In my mind, this was always offset by the thoughtful questions and genuine excitement I received from a few members of the studio – but, I’ll admit, when there’s 100~ people watching a presentation of just text it’s not the most exciting thing non-tech people will enjoy. Even if I can show cool things like: “Hey look, this combat system is 100% simulated and we can use it to shortcut reproduce bugs or tests faster than it takes to load the game!”. For the 6~ people in the audience who genuinely appreciated it, thank you, you were the reason I stood up in front of everyone 😉

As a call-back to those early days, and because it fits within that framework of goals I’ve set for myself, my first real solo project (that will be web-based, and I can send links out for people to play) will be a text-based game with an emphasis on choices.

As to what “Finished” means, whether it’s a solo endeavor or working for a company, games are never “finished” these days. If my text-based style doesn’t find an audience then it will probably just hang out in “demo” form. If I can find some people who enjoy it though, and are willing to pay for a more “complete” version… well then, maybe that’s how I’ll be spending my subsequent months.

One can dream!

Several weeks ago our small team was informed that funding has been withdrawn and the company paying us will cease to exist at the end of the month (yesterday). I’ve put together something I wish I had done on my previous project, a memorial to look back on in the years to come.

It was a project in its infancy, recently erupting from beta to a live audience, fresh off a fairly significant update just a month after its release. It always started from a… highly irregular place, to summarize: The boyfriend of my previous project’s Lead Engineer worked with a guy who knew a guy who acquired funding and was tasked with starting a North American game development studio. They weren’t quite sure how to go about that from the actual development standpoint, so they recruited us.

I haven’t been at the start of a studio before, but I suspect it was… irregular. So we had a studio of 5 people, and our first week on the job was to… figure out what game we were making! Up to that point, I’ll be honest, it was all very strange. When I received my first paycheque I was still quite surprised (despite: hey, they bought computers and we have an office) and also immensely relieved – I had been living off of a very generous severance given to me by IGG when they shut us down at my previous job, but it was running quite low. If this crazy start-a-studio-from-scratch thing didn’t pan out I’d of had to jump on a pretty aggressive job hunt.

The game had some fairly serious requirements: it was to be a 1 year project to a beta with live (non-development) humans playing. It had to be fully server-authoritative and have some hefty anti-cheat security. It was a mobile game that will launch internationally (including China), and it was expected to ramp up to some significant revenue numbers fairly quickly. That was December 2018, we spent the rest of December building up a technical foundation and determining art style. I got excited, I spent my Christmas “vacation” building our combat simulation and its various dependencies, throughout the entire project I took only a single vacation day for a long-weekend away.

I seem to have a linear narrative so far, I’m going to drop that and just type a bunch of words to indulge the whimsy of where my heart wants to meander.

So I’ve lost weight during the pandemic. Weird segue right? One of the perks of our office-sharing space was we had free beer on tap, and generally at least one pretty good one (though the sour they got in… so good, but also no other beer keg had been demolished so fast, so maybe too good?). Turns out when I stop drinking beer every day I shed pounds, hah. As a studio we had opted to work from home since the beginning of March.

In fact I made ample use of my own work-from-home setup back in November (2019) when I was suffering from what a doctor described as: “either a very bad case of bronchitis or pneumonia“. I was miserable for 8 weeks and absolutely wrecked for one of those weeks – but even during that week, the hours I spent out of bed were on the project for at least 40+ of’em. So I was accidentally very prepared to hunker down for a pandemic at home already.

One of my early goals was to design and create game systems that could be re-used across many game genres. To validate that these systems could be used outside of the Soulite Monsters project part of my process was to have them all working in a stand-alone C# terminal before integrating the library into the Unity project (and later, also the server). This had some really solid compound benefits, including the ability to rapidly reproduce bugs with simple text commands sent to a terminal, and verify those bug fixes without all the visual/UI overhead of the project.

We originally weren’t talking about building a single project, the goal was a sustainable studio. In month 2 I was already writing out plans and team structure on how we could evolve to both develop and support multiple projects (that shared technology that functions agnostic of any game project was one of the key elements of this). In fact, I got out of bed one night to have a conference discussion on what it would look like if we needed to immediately ramp up to 30+ people.

It was a wild ride. It sounds like people who have been part of a start-up can most relate. In a large company, responsibilities are dolled out, and if something slips through the cracks a meeting is held and by the end of it that floating responsibility would have a dedicated handler. We started with 5 people. There’s no committee to decide optimal work-load – you want that thing? No one else currently has the band-width to do the thing? You probably need to learn to do the thing.

This is also true for requirements passed down from the voice of the person funding the project. Need a trailer? Alright team! Who wants to put this together?

… no takers? Artists are busy? Errr… okay, guess I’ll make a trailer… that’s a first. I got to learn that Blender is pretty darn usable for making trailers, that was unexpected and neat. Context: I have near-zero aesthetic sense, probably why I’ve gravitated from Game/Systems design to blend it in with programming in general. So I’ve never, ever, had the desire to play around with video capturing and editing tools. My morning started with googling, and before lunch I sent out two 15-second trailers that disappeared into the ether that was some overseas business stuff that we weren’t exposed to.

It was an incredibly unique experience, and I hope a lasting learning experience for everyone involved. After all, whether it’s a risky start-up or multi-national company the games industry is not a stable place. I was told by recruiters many a year ago that the average life-span of an employee in the games industry is 2 years. I defied that by spending 7 of my first years at Relic Entertainment (until their parent company THQ declared bankruptcy), and continued to be stubborn by staying at every company I joined afterwards until they shut their doors.

Very rarely is there an opportunity to really persist with something lasting over a long period of time, though sometimes you’ll have your gems out there that you can continue to enjoy (I shockingly still see the odd news blurb for Company of Heroes crop up and my heart warms up each time), so there’s at least that. But when it comes to Mobile and more modern games… they get taken down, forgotten. As support dropped I’ve seen many of the games I’ve worked on just… cease to exist. That’s why I felt it was important to put together something of a memorial for Soulite Monsters, something I can selfishly look back on or to share with friends over the years.

Many people over many projects have tried to quantify costs or estimate time of having something done. Rarely do the people who are (or feel) responsible for this measuring agree on the best method of measuring. I once was on one project separated by 5 “Scrum” groups, theoretically fully-autonomous smaller groups of people on a large team who have all the resources they need to accomplish something. Each Scrum Group used an entirely different method to track progress or estimate tasks (various software, some simple spreadsheets, one was post-its up on a wall).

It’s always a debate, sometimes the lines are drawn by discipline, sometimes by origin (enterprise software vs. traditional game development), sometimes purely on differing philosophies regardless of past experience or role. It’s experiencing these many, many debates that my own personal philosophy emerged. I have a tendency to geek-out-on-details so here’s an excruciating effort to summarize:

Within Game Development any given problem or goal can have a large number of solutions or paths to take, bureaucracy can have a very dramatic impact on the time it takes to get anything done. To reduce bureaucracy and give a sense of ownership over their own work the idea is to not task developers with specific paths to take, but to state the goal and conditions for that goal and allow them to define their own path.

From the developers who aren’t sentenced to endless meetings and debates, this means they don’t end up with a list of implementation details. Implementation details that may be inefficient, unimaginative, or unbeknownst to the developer completely miss the intent behind the details. Being the person “on the ground”, the developer/s are empowered to look at their resources, see how to efficiently tackle the goal, and even have some creative leeway to push some boundaries in places no one in the “planning meeting” would have ever expected.

The scary thing about this approach for some people is that by providing creative freedom it becomes much harder to measure in those planning meetings. Here’s a simplified example:

Traditional (at least, based on my previous experience in mid-2000’s and on)

“Create 40 Skills, 5 for each of the 8 Characters in the game”
Depending on who is doing the planning, this may get broken down to which character get which skills, even the names and functionality embedded in a sub-task to meet the Task, each skill gets an estimate based on complexity and based off of that it’s all tallied up to let’s say 80 days of work, average of 2 per skill assuming at least 2-3 developers are involved with each skill, the developers come in the next day to a big list of broken down tasks.

Goal Oriented

“Create skills for each character in the game that provides each character with a unique play-style and a distinct approach to combat
Conditions: At least half the characters are playable if unpolished by 1 month, goals to be re-evaluated”
There’s a time limit to deliver the experience, but details of that experience are left up to the developers. Their focus shifts from ticking-off a task-list to creating the best experience possible in that time frame, and this may mean they determine through experimentation that with the games current features the goal will best be met by reducing the overall character count.

As strongly as I feel about empowering the “on-the-ground” developers, and that I’ve witnessed amazing results (small teams out-competing teams 5-10x or even greater their size), reality always has a way of asserting itself. I couldn’t advocate the approach for every team, because that would ignore a critical component… the people on the team.

Some cases where I’ve found Traditional planning to have advantages:

  • Sometimes the job is a job, it’s there for a paycheck
    • It’s totally valid to just want to pay the bills, it’s just not a good mental space for creativity
  • Old habits die hard
    • Sometimes people just needs things a specific way
  • Finish-line Anxiety
    • It’s always there for some people, but additional unknowns certainly doesn’t help

It’s not as cut-and-dry as those observations, but as with anything it can be powerful to be able to identify which style can work best in which situation and be flexible enough to pivot.