Monday, 7 February 2022

plague

I haven't posted here for a long time.

In 2020 I got sick. I noticed in May that I'd been very tired for a while and it was getting worse rather than better, and by June I had severe fatigue, needing naps every afternoon - sometimes just falling asleep in the middle of the floor, muscle pain, mind unclear, difficulty concentrating. I think it was most likely the Long Covid; I had a friend in my house in March who was sick with an unidentified disease that could plausibly have been COVID-19 (though at the time we believed it wasn't based on the information currently available), and after that we had mild cold symptoms - of course this was before testing was widely available.

The doctor wasn't much help. He ordered a bunch of tests and told me I did amazing on all of them. Blood, ECG, chest X-ray, apparently everything showed that I was in very good shape. Which is like, kind of nice; as someone who used to just do computer and books all the time I've worked hard on turning that around and getting fit and it's nice to have that measured. But it didn't do anything to solve the problem.

My symptoms fluctuated over time and I more or less learnt to live with them. Learnt not to suddenly try to catch up on everything when I had a good day, because then I'd just collapse again the next day. The one thing that did help, weirdly, was the COVID-19 vaccine. I say weirdly because it's not what it was designed for, but there's anecodotal evidence of other people experiencing this, I don't claim to know what's up. Even if it's just the good old placebo effect I'll take it.

Whatever the reason, I've been feeling a lot better for a few months now. I'm getting my strength back: I can lift things again now that I could lift three years ago but I couldn't lift last year. I don't want a relapse so I'm still being careful and trying not to overdo it. I'm tentatively working again. I still find it hard to make games without the long focused periods of time I used to have pre-parenting, but I feel there's no rush. I guess one lesson I've taken from this enforced break is to stress less about trying to keep up with the indie games scene and trying to make the right thing to make money out of it, or to live up to some fake expectation of being a "genius" game designer. I'll just make something I want to make, when I can manage to. Meanwhile I've been also learning new things and looking into work I can hopefully do in a flexible way around potential fatigue spikes and also still making some games and stuff. I reckon it's good for me as an artist to not just do games games games all the time anyway.

Even though I haven't been releasing new games, people still buy the ones I've made before. It's consistently been a few hundred euros every month which, while it doesn't cover the rent it's not bad for not being able to work at all. It's unfortunate that a couple of the older ones have dropped off from my not having managed to keep up with system updates, and it feels bad how that kind of ties me down - if I just went to work on something completely different for ten years everything I've done would be lost. Or if I got permanently sick. So ephemeral. But anyway, thank you everyone who's bought my games and kept supporting me in these times.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

definite plan

Imbroglio: Mizzenmast is now unambiguously released and working. This was a stressful few days. Yesterday I completely crashed and spent the day in bed with sore throat, I guess my body recognised that it was time to take a break. Need to be more careful about keeping the immune system up. Difficult balance to get priorities right, some amount of productive creative work is good to have in there for overall well-being but I can overdo it.

I started making Imbroglio in late 2014, maybe earlier depending how much you count different prototypes that led in its direction, released in 2016 but kept working on it as a minor side project with expansions in 2016, 2018, 2020, so it's been a long ride to being complete. Feels good, I took the time and accomplished my vision for the game, especially with Draft Mode it really gets the chaotic combo-building feeling I was looking for. For personal satisfaction I'm glad I saw it through rather than just releasing an initial version and moving on. Probably I would have more money if I'd put that work towards more new games instead, but it's never clear.

But it's not quite done yet since it's still only on iOS! Of course I've always planned to release it on PC but I decided a while back to simplify things for myself by delaying that until I'd finished expanding it. Making the choices that simplify things is a critical part of managing to work as an independent artist. I also intended to release it on Android, I even developed it in a cross-platform framework to simplify that, but then when I tried it didn't work and didn't seem worth the effort for 31 sales. Maybe I'll try again sometime. No promises.

I wrote last year that for the moment with a wild baby I was finding it worked better to be building on old things rather than trying to muster the attention to make something new. Well I'd hoped that would have shifted by now but then this whole pandemic went down so we've all had a lot on our shoulders. It's hard to plan a new project that might take years at a time where the future is so blatantly uncertain. So I'll keep fixing up old things.

TOTALLY LIKELY PLAN OF THINGS TO HAPPEN
Imbroglio: ports
Cinco Paus: update/mini-expansion
(redacted): finish up and release
868-HACK: fix the few bugs that have come in over years
Zaga-33: get it working again on iOS haha
Smesport: it's not the time to release it now but I can fix the bug that was holding it up
Quinzena: it's still not a baby phase where I can work with it but this will come

If I can't work on anything new maybe I can at least get a clean slate and not have random crap I mean to get around to someday hanging over me since years. Or maybe inspiration will strike and I just make something new anyway, it tends to have a way of doing that when I make other plans.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

imbroglio - expansion & crash

The update to Imbroglio with new expansion went live. It's crashing the game on launch. This didn't come up at all during testing, sometimes things work differently with Game Center (the API for high scores on iOS) when applications are released, it's annoying but I'm working on it and will figure it out. Sorry everyone!

For now you can just not download the update, but if want to play on an updated copy you can by disabling Game Center (Settings, scroll down to Game Center, slide the green bar in top right to off) and the game doesn't crash, but can't access leaderboards. (If you're running an old version of iOS you might not be able to access IAPs without Game Center active, but on current ones you can.)

Okay thanks for your patience and keep looking after yourselves!

Saturday, 2 May 2020

preview for Imbroglio: Mizzenmast

Imbroglio: Mizzenmast, the third expansion for Imbroglio, has been submitted to the appstore and will be released in a few days. It takes the epic adventure to the high seas! But still in a tiny dungeon. Just with sea-ey things. Don't worry games don't have to make sense. Sea-dungeon. Something.

It's a jumbo sized expansion. I was originally planning four expansions each with two heroes for a final 4x4 character-select grid. In the end I didn't feel I had enough good weapon cards for two more sets; it's better to keep a higher density of interesting stuff. So there's 16 new weapons, same as the other two expansions, but all 4 new heroes because they're all good. It's mostly a jumble of effects that interact in novel ways with what's already in there, not really a common theme apart from mostly being things you might find on a pirate ship. And then there's Draft Mode, which is a new way to play the game with a more "roguelike" scoring system that encourages playing out every game (instead of restarting 10x to try for the perfect opening) and using a variety of weapons.

So now of course it's time for EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW CONTENT:


You might never have thought about it, but weirdly all the other heroes have the ability to see through walls. Or at least, when controlled by the player they act as though they had this ability. I guess maybe the walls are just chest-height? Anyway, for maximum realism meet: Cruel Pirate Rodney, a powerful villain with the ability to throw his weapons about. To play him evokes something of the classical dungeon crawl feeling, exploring a dark place not knowing where you will find monsters or treasure, honestly it surprises me that even this works on a 4x4 grid.


The Lightkeeper's Candle gives something different to everyone who holds it. Harry restores an extra hit point, Susannah and Masina do double damage, etc. And then it gives a couple of extra runes to help to use that ability, but also to help survive the first few turns of the game before you've built anything else up - especially important in Draft where restarting isn't free.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

small progress update

The Imbroglio expansion is coming together well, it's become my main work focus for now.
Draft mode (maybe I need a cooler name for it) is working great, it's more "roguelike" than the other modes in that you're trying to make the best of what you find rather than execute a perfectly planned combo. Using similar ideas to what I've been developing in 868-HACK, Cinco Paus, P1 SELECT to make every game count, moving away from this way of playing by restarting a dozen times to try to get a good start. It's fun, I'm just enjoying playing it for fun again which is quite neat after what, five years? I hope others will find it to be a big enough new thing.
One of the new heroes is an absolute mess to program, requires a whole bunch of special cases, but in a way there's something nice about having built up all this complexity and then just being free to trample all over it because it's not important anymore to keep it organised. Anyway you'll see.
New weapons are coming together well. Thought about doing a "new mechanic" like charging to theme several weapons around but it's turned out more individual weird things. There's a lot can be done just by recombining what's already there, the basic framework of event triggers "when X occurs, do Y" is so flexible, most combinations aren't interesting or fun to play with but it's easy to try out lots of them. But some ideas still require quite a bit of code and I'm finding it harder to throw them away when I've spent more time on them, something can be clever and take work but not actually be good. Limiting myself to 16 weapons in the set is good practice for throwing away the ideas that aren't good.
I'm also revising some previous weapons that were less useful, I had hoped to "fix" them by adding things that combined well with them, but that hasn't happened so here we go. Not sure exactly how far I want to go with this, it's good to apply what I've learnt from having more time and having it out there but also maybe some things are just part of the game's texture now and should just be left to be.

Cinco Paus update comes slower. Playing with new artifacts I decided most of them weren't good, I think I have two good ones, that's probably a nice number to not overcomplexify anyway (of course I was aiming for five for numerological reasons). Trying also some weirder ideas, probably won't stick but you never know.

Quinzena, I haven't found a good version of the new idea I was trying out so maybe I drop it. Working on testing some changes to the deck but baby has become very mobile and is no longer content to quietly watch, gone are the days of playtesting while breastfeeding, so it will take time.

Friday, 22 November 2019

current projects

General update on things I'm working on. Being a parent takes a lot of attention and I don't have the focus to make a big new thing. Making new game takes an intense burst of work to get off the ground and then it evolves more leisurely. I think there's another of these roguelikes brewing up inside me but it will have to wait for its time. I can make something small like P1 Select but even that required a week of doing much less than my share of housework and childcare, only possible because mother-in-law staying with us at the time. But overall things are great, our baby is absolutely incredible, I think it's reasonable not to expect to achieve much other work while you're bringing a new human into the world.


(photo by @uglymachine, source @NYUGameCenter twitter account)

I made Quinzena for No Quarter. It's a tabletop game of secret bids and dramatic reveals. I'll write a fuller post about it at some point. Basically every year they commission four artists to make new games, they throw a big party and lots of people play, and often the games are developed further after the show. I was a bit iffy about taking on a project with a deadline given new-parent constraints but we agreed that if things didn't work out then I could do the same as with P1 Select and jam out something while neglecting responsibilities for a few days, in the end it was pretty busy getting all the pieces painted. I'm happy with the game and it went down very well at the event. It was great to be paid to make a game for a specific setting where people could play it with each other - when I've made local multiplayer videogames they've been very hard to sell and often the people who want to play them have trouble finding someone with whom to do so. Now I'm continuing to work on the game, tweaking a couple of cards and trying out adding a new element that carries between rounds, little bit more complexity but not too much, once this is settled I'll work out how to publish it (people mostly seem to do kickstarters for board games?). I found it really satisfying to make and I can see myself doing more board games in future.

I'm working on a final Imbroglio expansion, I had planned to do four but it'll be better if I just put the best ideas I had for two together and make one really good one. If you want to count four things, include the original game. I wrote in January about how these are not so much worth working on from financial perspective, but the thing right now is it's something incremental I can do because the groundwork is already laid. It's a good expansion: the new heroes all do weird things that make it feel like a quite different game, and I think I've finally worked out how to make a draft mode decent. New weapons are a bit all over the place at the moment; some neat ideas but with there being so many cards already and not many parameters to balance them with it's hard to make them make sense.

I'm working on a big update to Cinco Paus. People on the brough games discord have been exploring the game very thoroughly and finding all kinds of little edge case bugs and game-breaking combos, so I'm gradually fixing those, plus I'm balancing the artifacts to make their choices more interesting. Also trying adding some new artifacts to increase late-game variety, these are cool ideas but need a bunch more testing to see if they'll go in. Feels almost like a mini-expansion, but probably not enough to justify making it separate, I'm not going to add new enemies or wand effects. The game is very complete and doesn't strictly need more stuff at all but again this is the kind of thing that's easiest for me to work on at the moment so I'm doing it, hopefully it still adds something and if I don't feel it does I won't keep it in.

So actually I'm working on three projects in parallel? Somehow that doesn't seem efficient for limited parent's work time but that's what's happening. I also have a fourth that is kind of paused, it's a word game, I think I mentioned it on here before, it's mostly done but just needs finishing off, finishing projects can require a focused period of work the same as starting them, so I'm putting this off until I can concentrate on it, no doubt it will benefit from having had time to sit.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

P1 SELECT

Some folk from the brough games discord organised a 7 Day Broughlike jam last month. A bit confusing but an honour. Heart emoticon.

I'm never sure how much people are joking when they call things broughlikes? Like roguelike was already a silly genre name so whatever (& whatever meaning it once had has been totally lost and sometimes reversed), I guess I just have to embrace it at this point but I still try to remind people I don't just have one genre ok. And also I'm far from the only person making smaller-scale roguelikes, e.g. Jeff Lait has made way more.

But obviously I do like them whatever we want to call them.

I made a game for the jam, what else could I do? I flirted with the idea of doing something completely utterly different from anything else I've ever made just to show, but honestly that would take too long, I have a baby now (who is amazing) so doing a jam would have been unrealistic if I hadn't been able to reuse a lot of work. So I just did the obvious thing of making a game like the games I make for the jam about making games like the games I make. And it turned out okay! In fact it was really good for me, I haven't released a game for a while and I found it really freeing to just make the kind of thing I've made before and not worry about pushing boundaries or whatever. I realised how much that feeling that I ought to do something new isn't really inside me, it's about what I think other people are going to perceive as being worthwhile. Fuck that. I can just make whatever. It's the apocalypse and sometimes we feel a lot of pressure to be doing something meaningful, heal the world or go out in glory, but that's too much to take on, stress doesn't help anything, and anyway doing meaningful work isn't something you can quantify like robots maximising utility to create something 5.1% more artistic and 33.4% more effective at melting the corrupt hearts of rich men. Just like things that you like and make things you like because you like them. Imagine your lungs filled with soft moist earth, green roots growing through them spreading out along your arms reaching towards the horizon.

And celebrate achievements even if they're not like the maximum best thing you ever hope towards. My baby is so determined to get to crawling and walking that they'll keep trying and getting frustrated and crying but still trying, and if we pick them up to stop them overstraining themselves they just struggle to get back down and try some more, so we throw a parade in their honour and all dance around the house in a conga line to help them celebrate what they have already done instead of being frustrated at what they can't do yet. I try to remind myself the same. There's a real technical craft in making these games, making them actually work as game, and having mastered an aspect of that it's worth exercising it with joyful making and not always having to be expanding to try encompass more, there's still plenty I can do with variations within the space I've already explored. Appreciate small differences, maybe they look the same if you look from distance and squint but actually playing them is a different game, minor concept variation expands into bigger differences when you grow it into full soul, like every person or tree is the same basic structure with the same types of features but it's worth getting to know individuals. And trust, trust that if you grow in self then what you create will express more and be worthy without frantic trying to make sure it is. Just be and make and making will be. Do art for the artist not for the art, art will take care of itself.

Now in my usual way with jam games I got a bit sucked into spending more time on it. But now it's done, for good, I think. So I release an iOS version:
P1 SELECT on ios appstore
P1 SELECT on itch.io

THE REST HAS SPOILERS.

It's basically a variation on concept of Imbroglio: grid of different weapon types and moving through the maze also moves through different weapons. Main difference is that attacking in a direction also moves on the weapon-selection grid, so it's not equivalent to maze grid. This is "glitch mechanic" too, I tried to tick as many boxes as possible in what someone listed as characteristics of my games. I try to create the fiction that it could be a real game without this "bug", it sort of works, with luck (and the hp banner) every hero except MIDAS could conceivably complete the game, and MIDAS could get a higher score, maybe I should have just made that game instead of trying to be fancy haha.