“Compendium”: a post-mortem

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Came across the list this morning, and guess what made it in!

I never thought I would really have to do a post-mortem yet on my game, but considering that it made it as one of the Highest-Rated Submissions for Insanity Jam 2014, it’s basically called for now. First off, I want to thank everyone for their support, whether you played the game and got to vote, or just spread the word around for this wonderful jar of jam! As my first game jam, it certainly will not be the last. I learned a lot from it and it was an amazing experience, aside from meeting other awesome devs doing some crazy stuff. I was also able to play some fantastic games, some of which on the list here that I was even surprised I was rounded up with.

After all, let’s face it, the poor game can get pretty buggy, not to mention I ran out of time to do a walkthrough. I guess it added on to the challenge though, some players were able to make it to the end, others not so much, so I wonder if I was able to add in the walkthrough like I wanted, if that basically would have been a cheap way to give Charlie the golden ticket to the Wonka factory. Perhaps it even could have rated even higher than it did already, though honestly I’m still happy it got the 7 out of 10. That’s pretty awesome, all things considering.

With that said, I’ll break down the pros and cons as far as feedback was concerned, cons basically being any bugs or any other features that could be enhanced or fixed when the game is fully completed (rather than this demo run for the jam).

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“Compendium” in action (click to play)!

Pros:

  • Positive feedback on the narrative and overall story. Many players liked the humor it contained, and despite being stuck on a puzzle or certain elements not working in the game, they were compelled to stick with the game a little longer since they appreciated the story.
  • Positive feedback from retro gamers in general, particularly from text adventure fans. I played these games growing up as well, and I was surprised myself that others were still making text adventures and other interactive fictions today. It’s a great way to improve reading and vocabulary skills, while still making the experience less passive and more engaging.
  • ASCII art got a lot of nods of approval as well, though I admit that’s thanks to the power of technology and free license material. I generally do all of my own art for games, but I really wanted to focus on code and story since the projects have to be done solo for this game jam. For those that miss seeing my art, don’t worry, there are plenty projects I’m doing that has it!

Cons:

  • Certain verbs were either not programmed into the game to respond to the character’s commands, or just weren’t working at all. While much of it really was the fact that I didn’t know what other verbs players would use besides the ones I would use, a percentage also went into how Quest programs certain words and verbs. It doesn’t like spaces in names, for one thing; like how post tags are separated with commas, Quest separates the keywords with spaces. Heaven knows why. Either way, I took the game jam as an opportunity for feedback, and noticing others’ problems or bugs they spotted helped me figure out how to improve on this moving forward.
  • As I mentioned earlier, no walkthrough. Really wanted to add one, and as other feedback came in, it needed one badly. If the game worked fine it probably could have gotten away without one, but I always appreciate anyone writing a walkthrough for any game though, even if I use them sparingly.
  •  Could not get the game running on a browser, despite it being coded in HTML5/Javascript. This was something more research simply could have told me in the first place though; Quest outputs the final game as (drumroll please) Quest files. From there, either you upload the game to their site’s database, or set the file up in a Cloud sharebox (I used Dropbox) and have players install Quest to run the file. Fortunately the file does run as a regular game though (not a project file), so while it’s not a true browser game upon the demo release, it was playable and able to reach the masses. I just was hoping it would have exported itself into an actual .html.

 

Either way, it feels amazing to actually finish a game that people enjoyed for what it is, and for it to have done as well as it did. Moving forward, I’ve continued back on the Lua game for my brother’s movie, though I regret to say that due to everything the past few weeks, I had to put my visual novel on the backburner. I haven’t forgotten about it though, in fact I’ve spent time in between polishing up on character development as well as my artwork, so expect scattered tidbits of these three projects within the next couple of months. Until then, I look forward to the next game jam!

 

‘Compendium’ is now available to play + vote for!

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Testing .gif of the quiz playthrough in “Compendium”.

My text adventure is finally complete for the Insanity Jam 2014! It was quite the journey but I learned a lot! And possibly may have conquered my fear of intense javascript. Please check the official submission thread at the Insanity Jam 2014 forums, where the download link will be (you will need to install Quest to play it, link is also at the thread). If you’re able to vote that would be greately appreciated (not just for myself but for some of the other fantastic games other devs did)! Last day of voting is April 15th so get playing!

 

There are also a few known bugs so please be aware that I may know of them already, and plan to fix them as I continue coding the game. If there’s a new bug or other mechanic that you come across, please let me know! Feedback is greatly appreciated.

C’mon and slam, and welcome to the game jam

I apologize for being quiet here these past couple of days. I had just finished holding a dealers table at LI-Con, a local con within my area. I did extremely well and am planning to return to next year again. Soon after it ended, an online game jam started, and I’ve been busy building a game to complete its deadline.

I am working on a HTML5 text adventure game called “Compendium”, for Insanity Jam 2014. In the game, you play as a busted-up book in the back office discard pile of a library. You have to solve puzzles in order to gain back pages and repair yourself before morning comes. There will be multiple short routes, so the player is encouraged to play through the game more than once, in order to become different wacky book subjects.

So far the intro itself is already done, just a matter of figuring out the javascript to add some actual puzzle gameplay. By end of tomorrow I hope to have at least one route done, with up to three by the end of the jam’s development timeline.

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ASCII art and room description so far.

As you can see, it’s very old-school looking. The idea that the generator gave me just fit very well, and at least now I can tell people I actually made a game about a library! I’ve been working part-time at my local library for a number of years now, so it’s a bit of an inside joke when I talk about developing games.

That aside, I’m having issues with CoronaSDK (what else is new), but once I finish this jam I can return to taking a better look of that mess. By next week’s update I will have a link to the finished game jam..game..and you can play it! Don’t forget to vote as well!

Small update… Okay maybe not

More like Super Major Update (Whatchu Talkin ’bout Cindy!). The news itself is big, this blog post itself not so much.

After taking a couple of weeks to sit back and step away from my game scripts for the visual novel, I went through them again to see where else I can continue with chapter two. Between more of the story being laid out now for it, as well as future chapters in my notes, naturally the prologue and some of the puzzle elements of chapter one will need readjusting. A lot of readjusting.

For now I’m leaving what I have of chapter two alone, but so far all of the prologue will be rewritten. Most of what happens in there will still remain the same, don’t worry, but other moments of dialogue and especially narration will be fixed. Not only would it make a better read for the player, it will also match closer to my current writing style. (Yes I still am leaving up the novels that came before this game, but the light novel I linked is more current so if you’re trying to get an idea of how it should feel like for the VN, game mechanics aside, I will be using that more often as a reference point.)

Obviously with a change in script, this also will affect the coding I’ve done, but I’ve only cracked in a third of the script for that, so it’s an easy fix. As it is, the other day I went in and changed around half of the asset names so filing would be easier. I used to code for web before anything else, so I’m used to spending hours on code and then changing it all over again for another number of hours. I’m glad I learned this before the rest of my more artistic talents too, otherwise game programming would be that much more of an uphill battle! Persevere no matter what!

VN screencaps and another project

For those anxiously waiting to see what my game actually looks like so far, here it is! For promo purposes I blurred out names and faces from the stock photos in the screencaps here (despite them being free but they’re placeholder images either way, they will not be in the final version).

In classic visual novel fashion, inner dialogue with the main character is in italics.

Character names will be in different colors, and for the most part, will appear as their last names (except for an unknown person talking, which will be “Voice” in grey).

I’m still playing around with the text size, since this will also be going on mobile. On PC the size is perfect, but one of the characters, Isis, has a very sheepish voice so her dialogue will always be in a smaller font than the others. Obviously since this will also be a mobile release, that would be an issue and would have to be tested. If you’re curious though, the typeface I used is Euphorigenic by Ray Larabie, a free-to-use font (even for commercial releases; just don’t sell the font or any alterations of it). It’s very lovely and polished! I’m a big fan of it and it helps me not get sick of seeing my work for this game.

Aside from that, while I did promise new colorings and lineart of avatar art, I was given a proposal for a game idea by my brother Peter. As the founder and head of Alterna Comics, he was looking to have a small spin-off game made to help promote his graphic novel, The Chair, since it has been picked up by director Chad Ferrin (The Ghouls (2003), Someone’s Knocking at the Door (2009) to be slated for an independent movie production. As seen from last week’s post, that was the endless runner project I briefly mentioned (and why I also decided to resurrect my little tomato guy, since he’ll be testing out the game mechanics and so far it looks good).

So instead I have been busy starting up on that project, and once I’m given the go-ahead, I hope to show some UI and item designs I did so far. Depending on how my pixel art skills are, maybe even graphics of that, but I admit I do more vector and tablet art work than pixels. But I do look forward to actually doing more of that though. The extent of my pixel art is basically my Animal Crossing QR codes for outfits and decorum, so I guess that’s a good start.

Do the Lua

Hello everyone! Figured I would drop in an update of what I’ve been up to. Aside from my ongoing visual novel project, and the other Unity one I’m working on with another team, I decided to check out other game tutorials out there for simpler games to make that would still be fun, as well as showcase my design work.

I plucked out this gem from my first semester of grad classes, since it was riddled with bugs but still held some charm according to the feedback I got from playtesters. (Btw “gem” is not an endearing term at all in this case; I was very close to pulling all of my hair out over AS2 code that would not cooperate.)

“Tomato’s Perilious Adventure”, a Flash game I coded in AS2 back in 2011.

But of course there were plenty of solutions out there to fix up this game, even though I’m primarly doing this to strengthen my skills in Lua (and also the occasional HTML5) and to actually make more games people can play rather than being muddled with non-disclosures all over the place. I found a great tutorial on making an endless runner game (like Temple Run) that even I could play without burning my eyeballs and getting dizzy (not like Temple Run). So I plan to fashion up my own with my poor tomato pal here, and give him a second life.

If the final product is deemed fit to actually publish and have others to play, I will release it for free on Google Play (App Store fee isn’t practical for my budget right now). Aside from this one, I plan to make other little games, although some of my ideas are a tiny bit more complicated but they’ve always been on my wishlist (a good word game, and a time management one. I’m a sucker for both genres). My goal is to get very good with Lua and HTML5 by the end of the year though, and of course complete my visual novel.

As of the status of that though, I will be changing up the look of the avatars that I was going to use. The lineart felt too harsh and I wasn’t as happy with my coloring job, so next week’s update I’ll go back in and adjust it. I also will assemble some screenshots as well so far, now that I renamed some things and feels a little more finalized (still using stock photos so bear with me).

The demo is now a beta!

I’ll try not to use the terms so interchangeably from here on out, although they are referring to the same thing anyway. After thinking over benchmarks for when my game would be crowd-funded, as well as what I can definitely be able to add into its current state after the coding and art are done, the more it sounded like it would be needed to be treated as a beta first. It will still include the prologue and chapter one, but it will not feature voicework (regular audio will still be included).

I am still looking for audio composers though (as well as any voice actors who want to be on board), so please feel free to contact me and we can arrange something. Since this will be a commercial release, this will not be unpaid. A lot of work goes into making a game, and I dislike the thought of having someone contribute hours of work into “portfolio work” or as an “internship” for “experience”. Unfortunately, I lack those funds currently, hence I moved that into a crowd-funding benchmark so that I make sure I can get those funds to cover for everyone’s hard work.

That aside, I’ve continued coding. I renamed some assets, mainly to reflect the use of last names of characters (unless they have a title or are minor characters). It felt too formal using first names for the setting of the story. Some characters will refer to others as first name in the dialogue though, but it depends on their personality type and how well they know the person.

Next week I hope to report some more progress, or if not that something else related to the agenda. Happy developing!

PSA on Version Control and Renaming Directories

I figure I should really update, since it’s almost a month since my last post. Aside from other dev things, I had received an Etsy order to be commissioned, so a good portion of my time was spent on that, but the end result looks beautiful and the customer was very happy! With that completed at last, I sat down the other day to finally continue coding my game…

Which ended up with me fighting with Ren’py and my files for two hours because I renamed my directory since clearing and reinstalling everything on my computer.

So this post will just serve as a conscious reminder to fellow devs, and anyone else new to developing! This also applies to any other digital projects (Photoshop designs, so on). Remember to use version control and where you saved your stuff!

Fortunately I was able to find where the directory is listed in my files’ code, so I simply had to rename them to the current directory on my computer, and then back up the new file for future reference. Something as simple as this can be very troublesome if not done properly (or frequently); just the thought of losing hours of work on my game was enough to make me lose my mind!

There are a variety of ways to version control aside from saving multiple file copies and other standard practices (saving on flash or external hard drives, which is what I do). If you’re working in a team and need to exchange files using the Cloud, having a private server large enough to hold your files is extremely helpful. Dropbox is a good place to check out, but if you’re working on a gigantic 3D FPS using Maya assets, you’re gonna need something more heavy-duty, so keep that in mind. Github is also another common Cloud service people use (and may be able to hold larger files than a basic Dropbox can, but I haven’t worked on anything with massive files before so correct me!).

This is also true for when files are renamed since the names are case sensitive. If possible even version-controlling your assets is also helpful, in case one bugs up and has to be fixed. By sticking to practice, even if you accidentally crash or bug your current version (and it will happen), if you saved to a previous working version, you can easily pull it up and get back to business! Happy developing!

Game avatar progress (finally!)

As promised, I did the default avatar for one of my characters in my visual novel. It’ll come in handy for testing placements in the game as well, until more avatars get completed. Since a lot of my fellow artist friends have been doing gifs of artwork progress (start to finish), I decided it would be a good idea to show the avatar as that too.

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Catherine’s default avatar, from sketch to final transparency. (click to see gif at my dA)

I decided to go with an outfit I drew her in randomly the other day; it was a good amount of casual without being too masculine (even by her standards). I look forward to doing everyone else’s avatars though, as well as any other outfits they would be wearing depending on the scene.

That aside, I’ve started on chapter two’s script, and have continued art assets for one of my group’s projects. Next week I plan to get a friend on to co-write as a guest post, but you’ll see what I mean when that comes up. Until then, take care!

Animal Crossing: The Casual Game for Hardcore Gamers

While I realize the subject of Animal Crossing being a hardcore or casual game has been brought up numerous times throughout the series’ history, there aren’t many thorough articles on it, let alone on what really defines a “casual” game from a “hardcore” game. As a newtime player to the series kudos to New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS, I finally had been able to dive into the whimsical world of Nintendo’s version of Second Life before Second Life even existed. My verdict still stands as it had years before when the first game was announced.

I will admit I’m only discussing this now because I accidentally may have gotten a friend into buying the game out of sheer Grand Theft Auto-esque chaos, but needless to say if he wanted to run around with matchsticks and scissors, Minecraft and major MMO’s such as World of Warcraft have more devastating levels of grieving than Animal Crossing. Oh well. Any reason to get more friends into playing at my town of Slowpokes is good enough for me.

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No seriously, I’m not kidding.

Ian Bogost wrote a great article on casual games, it can be found at “Persuasive Games: Video Game Zen“. (Have no fear; it isn’t littered with bogus Facebook/mobile play-to-win games, but it does throw in Chuzzle as an example). He points out that video games are generally seen as a “lean forward” medium – one that encourages interactivity, action, and puzzle-solving. Some genres that easily fit this definition are sports, racing, shooters, platformers. However, there are some games that also can be seen as a “lean back” medium, which focuses on relaxation and providing a more passive, mellow experience. While certain puzzle games may not fit this (like Tetris), a lot of more casual-styled games do. Bogost uses flOw and other Nintendo titles such as Pikmin and (of course) Animal Crossing, as some examples for other more mainstream titles outside of the nefarious play-to-wins that’ve now smothered the casual games genre.

Notice however, that these games still encourage the interactivity and brainpower that more “lean forward” (aka “hardcore”) games also possess. This makes sense though, since at the end of the day it still has to be a video game, otherwise if you go towards the edge of the medium (like of Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain), you’re better off watching a movie if you want that type of passiveness. While the general summary of Animal Crossing involves upkeeping your house and town, paying off your debts on loans, talking to your neighbors, and admiring nature as a whole, there are things to do and puzzles to solve to keep things from running into the mundana. Just like real life, you never know what’s going to happen next, and even when things fall into the every day rut, you’re encouraged to continue on for tomorrow to see what’s new in your E-rated digital life.

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Building the snowpeople in New Leaf is an example of puzzle-solving.

Therefore, despite its premise (heck, it won Best Casual Game in 2013 from SpikeTV’s VGX Awards), depending on how you play the game, it can be seen as a more engaging experience, and therefore a hardcore game. There are bugs and fish to collect, as well as rare, seasonal items (either through events or the shops). Some players even “trade” neighbors to get other desirable neighbors to match whatever theme their town has. (While I decided to decorate it after Slowpoke-ridden Azalea Town from Pokemon Gold/Silver, I have no neighbor preferences.)  And of course, the game keeps track of what items you’ve had in your inventory, also known as Catalog, even if you gifted the item to a neighbor or friend, or sold it back to earn some extra Bells to cover other expenses.

Since Animal Crossing is a very social game, the online community for it is enormous, thanks to the help of social media. Nintendo has a Pinterest board for user-submitted clothing designs, and other designs and screenshots can be shared through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and their newly adjoined Miiverse service. Community blogs and groups through these sites, as well as other boards and forums elsewhere across the Internet, also dedicate to trading and selling of items and neighbors alike. If the player desires so, Animal Crossing can certainly become a title in the more “hardcore” genre of gaming very fast.

From my own playthroughs and experiences however, while I love trading with other players and friends, and hanging out with them at each other’s towns just for fun, I believe this series (and New Leaf in particular) can be a meeting point for both the casual and the hardcore gamer. I find it to be a relaxing experience, and even if I’m in a hurry one day, I find that I can accomplish my daily tasks in the game within an hour (I don’t recommend flying through the game at all though; this is not a race to the finish line!).

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Sit back and chill with the fishes some time!

Whatever your feelings for this game, know that it satisfies both the need to relax while still accomplishing something for enjoyment. And while my Dream Address is not set up yet, I do have Kurt the Poke-ball Smith in my town as a second avatar, and my 3DS Friend Code is 4785-4704-8438. You can also follow my silly adventures as mayor at my Tumblr dedicated to the game.