NB: this is a blog I had no idea where else to put. Hope someone enjoys this brain dump.
//Choice Is Great...I Think
I'm terrible at making decisions. Always have been. Game development involves a lot of those, unfortunately. You commit to a course, and you’ll be following that decision aaaaaall the way down the rabbit hole.
The joy of any creative endeavour is that glorious moment when everything is pure potential.
Is that when the idea first germinates in your furtive wee mind? Or is it when the mechanics of a prototype first show promise? Whatever the case, it means that there is no limit to how great your life could be as a result of this. You’re strapped to a rocket careening towards stupendous glory.
But you have to choose.
Ok, maybe not that big, but you get the picture.
//Who Are You, Really?
There are a bunch of people on Itch who are good at - for lack of a less gruesome term - inventing and maintaining a ‘brand identity’. It’s not a criticism, it’s a necessary skill. Maintaining a narrow, tight focus and banking your overall appeal on finding a receptive audience is admirable. Everyone needs to find their niche and work at it. That’s how indie devs survive.
However, my brain is a wasp trapped inside a tin can, angrily colliding with anything in its path. Bouncing off genres, concepts, and random mechanics with the attention span of a goldfish is my Achilles’ Heel. I find it easy to become obsessed with a spin I chance upon for an established genre, and rush into knocking up prototypes, whether or not I enjoy playing that genre. That’s absurd. If you wouldn’t play your own game, you have no business making it. Hello, diagonal Tetris. You were a weird distraction.
Checking for a completed line makes for a hell of a For loop.
So, here I am. Having recently put South Cliff out, I’m going to have to bloody well decide what game to pursue next, and soon. It’s giving me hives. Here’s a look at my own slate of unfinished titles, the reasons they are at the stage they're at, and what taking on any of them could mean for the next year.
This is just a jumping off point, though - I want to know your experiences deciding what to press ahead with, and your relationship to unfinished ideas. I can't be the only one, surely.
Dallas Doesn't Have To Die
Captain Dallas gets a second chance aboard the Nostromo…
The original Alien is the bedrock of so much of my horror fandom. It left an indelible mark on my psyche, and is perhaps the only film I can still watch and discover new things each and every time. Everyone has one of those films.
I’ve always wanted to do a 2D take on the scene involving Captain Dallas’ time in the ducts attempting to corner the Alien into an airlock, armed only with a flamethrower that is quickly running out, and some cunning.
In that sense, Alien: Isolation was something of a dream title for me, even if it was often nearly too terrifying to play. Dallas Doesn't Have To Die would send you back down into those horribly Freudian ducts with the Alien, who has a few tricks that even Alien: Isolation didn’t make use of.
Early prototype with basic AI Alien that responds to noise and seeks out the source
Aesthetically, I wanted to roll back to a design even closer to the film, especially where the Alien design is concerned. Obviously, I’d want to inject a few nuances of my own, so it’s not not simply just a slavish tribute.
It’s a passion project, and as it’s one that could get struck down by copyright, I can’t really afford to think of it as anything other than that, especially from a financial perspective. The urge to finally put my own representation of a franchise I love so much is incredibly tempting. With an Alien TV series rumoured to be in production, it also seems like the right time. Hmmm, maybe.
Do battle in the arena to win your freedom! Or don't.
A weirdly prescient game I started work on before the pandemic, Wretched Creatures is essentially a local multiplayer game of ‘It’ for 4 players, albeit with a parasite that slowly drains your energy the longer you have it.
The local multiplayer came about as an excuse not to learn how to code AI. Once I discovered how to bring gamepad functionality into the mix, job done, right? Except no. It was almost impossible to test at the point of conception without other players (I have one lodger who gives no Fs about games, or other human beings in general). Monthly gatherings of dev folk in my city allowed some chances at testing, as did sending builds to friends, but it wasn’t enough, and made debugging a nightmare. It actually went down very well when there were enough people to play it, so it wasn’t an idea without merit.
Early tileset. Plenty of weird stuff to go round.
Bizarrely - considering the theme - it ended up being sidelined by the pandemic lockdown. If a large proportion of potential players were suddenly trapped indoors with family, there’s much less chance of finding enough willing players for couch multi, especially if you can’t even gather with those that would appreciate it.
Your host for the evening.
What about online multiplayer, though? It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, but that is a biiiiig investment of time and money. It was certainly beyond my capabilities at the time. Servers are expensive, and just perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for my very first project as a coder.
I still wanna do this one, because it was heading somewhere interesting with both the world-building and gameplay. We’ll see.
Please Knock Ginger
You're trying to have a quiet evening, but strange visitors keep turning up…
I’m still not sure quite what Please Knock Ginger is. A visual novel? A detective game? A time-sensitive point-and-click? That is part of the reason it stalled. It began with a basic premise - you are at home attempting to relax, and bizarre characters conspire to rope you into their business - and it evolved from there. That sort of approach carries an obvious set of risks.
You can’t really test a narrative-based game out on others until basically all the narrative is there. At that point, you’re a bit screwed if it’s not a good game, and I'm not sure if the original design philosophy I'm following makes for something engaging to play. There's definitely that something in there, but I have to make some serious design decisions. You know how I am with those.
The usual city infant-based transport system.
As it is, PKG needs refactoring to make a version that can be played from beginning to end without major bugs. There's a fair chunk of work still left, and I really want to add more content to it in general. The look of the game is also fun, but I'm wary of just doing retro-looking stuff. There's no two ways about the fact that it limits your audience.
I think something can be salvaged, but I’m trying to work out exactly what.
Help is on the way, but so are the unspeakable, misshapen denizens of the library...
Exceptionally simple, and built to be a short, but intense, surreal and disturbing arcade experience, Wound see you take on the mantle of a badly injured protagonist collapsed in a library. Armed with only a stick and some industrial-strength painkillers, you need to strike a delicate balance between exerting yourself to fend off bizarre monsters,and keeping yourself conscious, all until help arrives.
Too much exertion makes the blood flow.
Wounds was built as a brief project, but ran into trouble when I needed to program rudimentary AI into the enemies. Work on Dallas Doesnt Have To Die has taught me a ton about pathfinding and setting up conditions for AI to be functional, so looping back around to this is possible. The question is whether it's the best use of my time right now. I love horror, and it may be my future focus, but is this the one to pick back up on...?
My biggest issue in terms of choosing what to focus on going forward is always the tussle between head and heart. Games with more traditional systems that point towards replay are the logical choice, and I enjoy plenty of games that are ludological in nature. However, I love being told stories within video game spaces, and that’s an undeniable truth for me. We’re not yet at the place, funnily enough, where the systems used in games are truly complex enough to organically produce stories of the kind of dramatic flair and nuance I want, so authored narrative elements have to stay part of it for me.
In that sense, Please Knock Ginger seems an obvious choice. It's story-based, it's actually quite a way along the line, asset-wise, and the refactoring is within my capabilities. Still, a question hangs over its design. I mean, I want to do all of them.
On a different track, I'm tempted to establish a solid design template in GMS2 that I can reuse for a series of small games with different stories to tell. Less work, more game. Bundle them together as a series, and...man alive! There's no limit to how great my life could be because of it.
But that's the trap, isn't it? The brightest star is always the next unexplored idea. How are the rest of you getting on?