What’s this, a milestone for ants?

Operation Balalaika is a weird little game, because it contains multiple small game mechanics, and I’m happy to announce that they’re now all… abandoned!

(‘Cuz you can’t really say “finished” about art. At least three separate guys have came up with this quote while someone was listening ready to slap a meme into Internets and print some motivational posters: Leo, Mr. Forster and Paul Valery.)

Anyways, the fact that the game mechanics are DONE, BIATCH made me smile for like more than fifty seconds, since the completion of the mechanics was one of the mini milestones I’ve set to myself. Keeping the inspiration alive with any (legal – or even illegal if you don’t get caught) means possible is imperative for a solo indie project. Most projects are slowly abandoned because if inspiration gauge hits zero, it never recovers, and with all due respect to The Abandonment Trio presented above, I’d rather finish than abandon things.

I’ve found these mini milestones to be a small, but handy tool in getting things done, as long as they’re concretely written down somewhere where I can tick a box after the milestone is completed. (I actually do this in two separate places: my masterplan Excel sheet and in my general To-Do app. Two boxes to tick for one milestone… such happiness … such meaning to life…)

The next milestones now are finishing the small batches of levels for each mechanic. Each batch is a milestone, and each batch is a box tick. I only try to look at the nearest mini milestones to try to avoid paralysis by analysis of all the remaining work. After taking some Valium, I nevertheless have listed also all the remaining milestones for the whole project too, I just don’t look a it. In fact, the overall plan is like a well-repressed childhood trauma: I know it happened, and it’s still somewhere there, I just can’t remember the details anymore and it only surfaces as two-week-long drinking binges and bouts of crying and wailing when someone asks why the game is not released yet.

Hmm, all this makes me wonder if you can ever finish a blog post either, or can you just

Old Games and Windows

Here, as promised by the topic:

lazymagic

I think you can see the monitor is off, i.e. I’m not developing Operation Balalaika, just sitting on my butt playing Day of the Tentacle, while a Hobot robot from Japan is cleaning my windows.

Never mind Op. Balalaika, since DOTT is still, after 23 years, delicious! Compared to the remastered (or should I say who-the-hell-came-up-with-that-fugly-art-style’stered) Monkey Island games, DOTT Remastered is well done and actually deserves the tag “remastered”.

The new graphics work so well that I basically constantly accidentally think the game always looked like that. The story & dialogue is still fun, the characters great, the music magical and it plays well even on a phone. Only the inventory UI sucks, but isn’t a showstopper.

I dunno who owns the IP, but a Maniac Mansion 3: Day of the Tentacle 2 would be in order right about now. It doesn’t need anything fancy, just good writing and funny animations.

PS. The window cleaning robot also works well, but if you plan to buy only one thing this year, buy DOTT, and get Hobot next year.

Orcs & Humans

Strange to think that just 21 years ago I was playing this:


… And now I’m watching this:


The text on the screen seems to be getting just harder to read. Well, I guess that’s getting old for you.

PS. The movie was better than expected. I went mainly because I didn’t want Duncan Jones to feel bad, but I actually ended up enjoying it more than Angry Birds Movie.

PPS. Now where’s my Mass Effect movie?

Debug Menu V2: Revenge of the Debug Menu

Because most of you wrote considered to write in demanding more information on the sequel of the debug menu, here’s an update:

debugmenu2New features:

  1. Shows which level you are currently in (a feature most requested by the future beta testers) painting it black
  2. If you try to load a level that doesn’t exists, it will be marked with a.. slightly deeper red

Now, feature 2. literally took me hours and hours to create, probably eliminating any time-savings the debug menu could have brought.

I wanted the menu to actually pre-emptively mark levels that can’t be loaded, which would make more sense. But, turns out this short of trickery just is not possible in Unity, because you cannot read the scene list without opening all the scenes. To find that bit of disappointing information took hours, mainly because I just could not believe it.

One could also maybe write a pre-processing script to read the file names and create a separate index of the scenes and blahhety blah, but the guiding principles of Planet Jone prohibit such actions. If you’re unsure what the principles were again, here’s a visual representation of it:

I like that picture, it’s a very good life lesson for anyone, and after the saddening hours lost it also gave me the strength to just give up and accept the fact that an underwhelming slightly dark red button appears only when you press it, because the level fails to load, and then the system knows that hey, it doesn’t exist.

The silver lining of the struggle was that I also modified the level changing routine to not crash if the next level is not found, but to try again with a “level number+1” until a level is found and can be loaded. This allows me to plop in new levels randomly at any point and they will just work.

Because the blog post seems to be ending, I feel the need to somehow inject a point too. Here it is: when making a game by yourself, any automatic system that eliminates any routine work is always (okay, let’s say 99.3% always) , since if you need to spend even a couple of minutes on a task every time you add a level, you have a couple of minutes of less time and energy for the creative part. And if you average a total of one hour per day of development, those minute are pretty valuable. (Note that I only promised to inject a point, not an astonishing revelation.)

In any case, the debug menu is now done, and I shall not touch it until I need to start on the very secret Super American Mode that adds to the needs of the menu.

 

It’s finally complete! Done! Yes!

Oh, not Operation Balalaika, no no. I mean my Pelit collection. I just received my 1990 edition of the Pelit book, and I now have a complete collection of all the Pelit publications from books to magazines from 1987 to 2016!

I basically would have always had the complete collection, if it wasn’t for an unknown scoundrel who loaned this 1990 book from me in the, well, 90s, never to retun it. Mr. Thief, if you’re reading this: you caused me decades worth of unfulfillment, which only now has subsided. I hope it was worth it. (Btw, you should still return it. This copy is not in a great shape.)

Here’s a picture:

pelit1990

The first article I’m gonna read is “Can you play on a Mac?” since I’m pretty darn sure you can’t.

PS. This is the sort of post that comes from the Unity update jitters; I’m currently waiting for Unity to update from 5.2.3 to 5.3.4, to maybe fix a thing that prevents me to getting the info if a scene exists in the build, which I need to make the Debug Menu V2: Revenge of the Debug Menu.

Skipping to the end

There comes a time in your life… when you have made so many levels that playing through them all to test a particular one – at the end – takes so much effort you rather go outside and count if there truly are more grains of sand on the beach than stars in the sky.

So, after a I had counted about a fistful of sand, it occurred to me that what I need is a DEBUG MENU! I ran back to the house, dropped the sand on the floor, noticed an angry wife, vacuumed up the sand and then whacked on my keyboard until this came out:

debuggitybug

This magnificent piece of engineering allows me to jump into any level whenever I feel like it. I.e. ALL THE TIME.

Now I only need to remember to switch this off for the actual release. To make it extra hard, the debug menu has no visible icon, which makes is easy to forget – I don’t want the future me to get off too easy.

(For more information on the topic of this post, please read this NPR article.)

 

 

One pixel too many

Over the weekend I blasted so many visual effect-y particles simultaneously on the screen my iPhone 6 almost melted. Since I’m not a an actual engineer, this gave something akin to range anxiety, more commonly experienced by people with electric vehicles.

Part of the retro game charm is that there’s a warm and fuzzy safety buffer from performance issues: Because there’s only a couple of hundred *) pixels you need to move around, no need to worry about how many polygons or real-time ray-casted shadows can I have. Basically I shouldn’t need to think about the inner life of a graphics processor at all.

Because I truly madly deeply don’t have a goddamn clue what the limits of the hardware are, if there’s a way to optimize visual performance on Unity, or if there are little elves inside the phone, it’s worrisome to bump into a reminder that even in the year 2015 2016 *) not everything is possible. Add  just one too many particle, and the game is suddenly jerky and unplayable.

In the end, my solution was to cut out 50% of the flying particles and then just put plug my ears and shout “LA LA LA LA” and everything seemed to work fine.

An adult developer might read the Unity documentation on Optimizing Graphic Performance, but I’d rather let the problem fester for a bit to make it extra tasty.

*) I’m not a mathematician either.
**) Or a historian.

Even if the world ended tomorrow, I would still make a game

I’m currently churning out a level per day for Operation Balalaika. That’s the cadence that I deemed possible amongst all the actual nine-to-five workdays I need to ace, late night telcos I need to mumble through, sausages I need to Weber, Minecrafting I need to do with the son, and wife’s feet I need to massage.

I also finally started to read the megalomaniac historical book of all the Finnish games ever released, called The White and Blue Book of Games – although as I write these words I’m simultaneously googlin’ it and noticing it’s actually called Finnish Video Games – a History and Catalog and available here: English and/or Finnish.

The first chapters reminiscence about the dawn of game development, when games could and would be developed by one guy in a garage. Because the machines were simple, and it was just impossible to waste resources even if you tried.

With the better technical capabilities of the next generation computers, things got more complicated and you soon needed a whole team with a programmer and an artist. As years and decades passed, eventually each little 3D cog in the machine needed to have a person working on it to make it look realistic and spin like it should. Grand Theft Auto 5 had a team larger than a place called Harlowton, Montana.

This reminded me of the current day and the fact that the circle is closing: with Unity and other such tools, one man and a hot dog can again create a game – and totally compete with the quality of the 80s Spectrum games. No really, I mean to create good, fun, solid games. The tech and the tools are democratizing game development, which is great, because democracy is cool. But it also means there’s a thousand games released every day.

Is there really a need for more? Why am I creating a level per day for a game that will be overrun by thousands more? After these rousing questions, I’m sorry to let you down by this: I do it, because it’s fun. Martin Luther had a thing for apple trees, I have it for games. If the reference went too deep into the obscure, check out this handy explanation: https://www.quora.com/What-did-Martin-Luther-mean-by-the-quote-Even-if-I-knew-that-tomorrow-the-world-would-go-to-pieces-I-would-still-plant-my-apple-tree.

Mmm, apples.

The Art of the Game Design Document

One concrete takeaway from my professional game design past is that I know how to write a rock-solid game design document, or a GDD for you acronym lovers out there. If you don’t know what that is, think Moses and his stone tablets. What those tablets are for humankind, the GDD is for a game. *)

Because the Internet is based on proven facts and the ability of following the guideline of “jpg or didn’t happen”, here’s the official document page for Operation Balalaika’s level 06:

Level 05 as Moses laid it out

Yeah, suckers! Feast your eyes on those teleportation pads! You shall never find out what the patterns to complete the level are! Ha-ha, I win!

*) Already obsolete when it comes out and impossible to modify? Fantastical manifestation of the imagination? A dictatorial slide-deck, which nobody reads? I feel your pain, Moses!

Time… what is it anyway?

What? There’s a game I should be making? Man, that does indeed sound familiar.

Let me tell you: it’s not easy being old. You spot a squirrel in the backyard and you watch it happily nibbling at a tasty pinecone and WHAMBLAMMO THREE MONTHS JUST BLEW PAST. The squirrel has a family and a mortgage now and you’re wondering what the heck did you do with your life, especially with that part where you were supposed to be making a sweet-ass game about a Russian cosmonaut forcefully rescuing a moonbase.

So that’s a thing that happens to senior citizen game developers. Just you wait. But not on my lawn.

Anyhow, after a brief stint to the dementia ward, I’m now back in helm of this magnificent game production, which basically just gains street cred for being delayed. If you think about it, you can’t really have a game that would be shipping on time. The _coolest_ devs collect 100 million from crowdfunding and never release a game. It’s the new biz, baby!

Wait! Before you cancel your RSS subscription, I have a game recommendation for you: get Love You to Bits at loveyoutobitsgame.com from Alike. These guys basically made the game I was planning to make after Operation Balalaika, and in my books, this sort of temporal mechanics time travel kinda thing totally compensates for my lagginess, and we can all party like it’s 1999, though it’s still a year or two away.