shawn's blog

7MOM (7-ish minutes of music) Week 2

Posted in Other by Shawn on February 4, 2016

Well, made it to week two!

This week was a bit weird, and I realized that there’s no real theme for each week. I could adopt a style for each week, but I’m not sure if it’s something I should do. During this past week, or at least towards the middle of it, I found myself working on music I heard while growing up.

One thing I should note again is what I normally do when working on music for one of my games, which is, constant deletion and being angry at myself due to my ability to not make anything I like. It normally takes several hours, or even a days to find 10-30 seconds that I’m happy with, which makes this one minute challenge extremely difficult to endure. First off, I don’t listen to anything again until it’s time for to upload it. A re-listen only happens so I can write the description for each track. And so far, it’s been very easy to find things to dislike when listening to something again. My first pass at something is normally deleted, and it’s really taking everything in my power to not delete anything. One other thing that I’m not really spending a lot of time doing is mixing the music, balancing the sounds, etc. I’m sure that if I did this, everything would sound a *lot* better, or at least, not as terrible and muddled. What I’m hoping is that as I work through my one minute pieces, I arrive at the sounds I like faster, leaving me with more time for mixing. At this point, however, the main focus is to refine my ability to put together something coherent.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of junk I tried to make this week.

Thursday, January 28th 2016

I don’t know what I was thinking with this one. I was really just picking random sounds. That horn sounded cool, but I couldn’t find anything I liked to go along with it. So, really, it was just a lot of lost note additions.

 

Friday, January 29th 2016

I’m pretty disappointed in this one. I never found the piano sound I was happy with. I spent too long looking for something and never figured out where I was going. The reason why it’s so boring and repetitive is because I only really got to 20-30 seconds and realized that I had 3 minutes left to get my 60 seconds of music.

So….I just repeated things. This one, along with everything else so far, can be considered a failure.

 

Saturday, January 30th 2016

So, I decided to try and composes something that I grew up listening to. This was weird, and I’m not really happy with anything. It’s way to empty, but I struggled with balancing everything. There were a lot more sounds running simultaneously, but I deleted them. (I should have deleted this entire thing)

 

Sunday, January 31st 2016

 

Monday, February 1st 2016

…I should have stopped.

 

Tuesday, February 2nd 2016

Okay, this one isn’t as bad as the other ones. But it’s because after 4 days, I finally figured out how to play that piano part. It’s what was missing from the previous tracks, and I’m a bit angry at myself taking so long to figure this out.

 

Wednesday, January 3rd 2016

This is the only thing I don’t hate completely. I arrived at the theme of the song rather quickly, to my surprised, and was able to spend more time building on that, as opposed to the previous 13 days. Still, I feel like it’s incomplete. Maybe because it’s really short? I’m not sure, but I may want to try and work on this one in the future.

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An exploration of Respect

Posted in Other by Shawn on September 12, 2015

There’s a 6 episode Netflix documentary I’m almost finished with called Chef’s Table. It’s been quite intimidating to watch, but not because I have a dream of opening my own restaurant, or because I want to learn how to create certain types of dishes. As a matter of fact, the show isn’t good for that at all. Rather, it profiles a series of chefs, detailing their lives (for the most part), and diving deep into their philosophies on the possibilities and experiences they can create. It’s no mistake that these chef’s are a part of this series. Without a doubt, they excel at what they do. Whether the cuts are ‘rustic’, the portions small, the plates messy, or the shapes pristine, the level at which they create their dishes is at a level that many culinary hopefuls wish to achieve. It’s likely that there are many chefs out there that are just as good, or possibly better. Yet, during this run of Chef’s Table, they weren’t chosen. Why they weren’t chosen, I can’t say, only the creator of the show can. While it’s clear why the first season’s chef’s where chosen, I believe that they were not chosen because of their skills, or because their lives are interesting, or because they cooked with only a few apprentices on an isolated island.  I believe they a part of this documentary because of level of respect they held for the culinary arts.

The respect each person held for their craft was incredible, inspiring, and as I mentioned, intimidating. So intimidating that I began to question myself and the level of respect that I have for game development. Each chef is great at what they do. Although I haven’t, and likely never will be able to dine at one of their establishments, it seems clear that their food taste well above par, even if dining at the restaurant was more about the experience, rather than the perfectly cooked deer or salmon. But what was even more impressive was how much they respected cooking and crafting their food. And again, it was intimidating, forcing me to ask myself a few questions:

“Do I have that level of respect for game development?”
“Is my lack of respect the reason why I’m not where I would like to be?”
“If I lack respect for game development, is it because somewhere inside, I don’t like game development?”

These questions may be reaching for something where there is nothing. But, they were questions that I could not stop exploring in one way or another during Chef’s Table.  Was I being fair to the art that I was trying to create?

There are many that would say they’re just games, and you know what, there are times where I feel those people are right. There are also those who say that games are more than that, but that’s a debate for another time. The line of thought that I have in regards to respect presumes that games are not just games. This premise needs to be in place because without it, I would feel silly believing that working on games deserves respect. So, let’s say that games are something complex enough to deserve a certain level of respect during development. The next question that comes to mind when I think “Do I respect this enough?” is “What does it actually mean to respect the game in development?”. Here is where things get a bit more clustered.

Let’s go back to Chef’s Table, and how these chefs respected their craft. What did they do that set them apart? From the stories they told, they all seemed to not only passionately care about how food was cooked and displayed, something most professional chefs care about, but it was clear that they wanted to know more about each dish and it’s components. They wanted to know the past stories that each plate could tell. They wanted each dish to sing about their future, and in the present, they wanted each element of a meal to completely trap you in their world. The waitstaff wouldn’t need to tell anyone about the dish, it spoke for itself, something it can’t do on it’s own, but through the interpretation of the chef. The chef was the translator between the stories that each piece of food had and the person that was about to experience that story. Each chef wanted to bring to the table elements that people would either not think about or experience, whether that meant going to the source of food and getting involved at the beginning of it’s life cycle, or using the same ingredient at different stages of it’s life, telling a multi-part play as you moved through the dish.

That is the type of respect that I would like to have for game development and for games as they progress from nothing into something. But what does this mean? Does this mean that each element of the game needs to have it’s own story that I fully understand/research from conception to it’s eventual release into the world? How much attention does everything get, and how can each element receive it’s fair share of study? It sounds much simpler when tackling each aspect on it’s own. The art can tell it’s own story, the music another, and the game mechanics can tell a tale separated from the rest. But what makes most experiences something special is if each of these were all brought together, played off each other, and created something new, like the ingredients of a chef’s meal. Now, does that mean that if I wanted to respect the craft, I should focus on the sum of the parts, and not the individual things that make each element great? Unfortunately, that’s not something I can get behind, although it would make everything a lot easier. To go a bit further, subjects of Chef’s Table also dove into the world of their food before it made it into the final dish. Every ingredient could tell at least two stories, one from it’s time during growth, and one from it’s time with the other ingredients.

I do think making this connection, and understanding how respect for game development is possible, but I feel as if I need to turn to something else to help bridge the gap of how I should respect game development.

One other thing I’m constantly finding myself comparing games to is dance, with game development being choreography. There are several  parallels that I can make, some which have helped me though my design work. The one that I’ll touch upon is: most of the time you’re creating something from nothing, something that you want people to experience. Choreography and development can have strong elements of structure and strong elements of improvisation, in both the development stage, and in the finished product. In theory, what it takes to design a good dance is the same as what it takes to choreograph a good game. You can start off with a seed, something that you expand upon each time you go back to it. You design moments around the seed, moments you want to hit, moments you want people to experience, in either interpretive ways or explicit ways.

With dance, it’s a bit clearer for me to draw a comparison of respect, the same respect that I see in the subjects of Chef’s Table. Each move can be broken down to match the music and express a particular emotion that you’re having or want the audience to feel. You can sit and play back every moment that you created, see how it relates to the moments before, and how it will lay out a plan for the moments that come afterwards. It really is an extension of yourself, both physically and mentally.

Through choreography, I feel like there’s a lot that people can learn about game development, but again, that’s a separate topic that we can spend hours on. To bring dance back to respecting game development, maybe I’m thinking too big, too early. A 5 minute dance isn’t created in anything less than that amount of time, even if the entire thing is improv. An engrossing dinner with a story to match isn’t created in the 10 – 60 minute window after the kitchen receives the order from the waitstaff. A game of a similar level isn’t created during a small window of time. A game of that level needs to start off as a seed, and needs to have extra seeds placed around it, seeds that would help it grown. Each of those seeds need to be able to survive on it’s own, but thrive with it’s fellow seeds. Each seed needs a fair amount of attention. If you don’t nurture the artistic seeds, the story seeds may not grow into whatever their final form is meant to be. Thoughtfully nurturing each seed of development, keeping them together, but allowing them to survive on their own, can be considered an initial step at reaching a high level of respect for game development.

But does this nurture lead to a good game, a game that one can respect after they decide to stop watering the seeds? Does the end of tending to one part of a game mean that you no longer respect it, or you’ve given it as much respect as it deserves? Frankly, I don’t know, I still haven’t created anything that I think that can reach this level of discussion. Rather, at the moment, I’m still exploring whether it’s possible to respect game development as the chefs on Chef’s Table respect their food.

Because there are so many components that go into game development, it’s difficult to determine how to manage your garden before it becomes something others will consume. Furthermore, what counts as a seed? Is it too much to say that a seed starts as the smallest part of the element? This has the danger of becoming a intimidating rabbit hole. But the chefs on Chef’s Table seemed to follow this path. One episode had a chef go to the farm and create a system where the farm helps itself grow. This meant micromanaging each element of the farm before it left and found it’s way to the restaurant. Would it be fair to do the same with games? Before you even get to what can normally be considered preparation for the meal, should you manage the environment from which it came? It seems idea, being able to control everything, but the process may not transfer over from the culinary world to the world of game development. At times, it may not seem practical, especially for the solo dev with obligations pulling them in every direction.

And at what point does this control and desire for having the optimal growth become an unhealthy obsession? A seed can grow into a plant without 24 hour a day maintenance. Does respect for one’s craft also mean letting it breath on it’s own every once in a while? Should you allow the elements to grow on their own, improvising what you do based on what happens after you step away? It seems difficult to do in an area where developers have a high level of control.

During this search for respect, I keep on wondering…is this even necessary?

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That’s Not A Pixel – March 25th Update

Posted in Other by Shawn on March 25, 2015

So, I’m working on a game called That’s Not A Pixel. It’s up for $1 on itch.io for reasons I explained in a previous post. But I do plan to give the game as much as support as I can. In between work and other projects, I managed to upload a new version. Here are some of the more important things updated:

WebScreen4

Added:
Pause Button/Screen – Because some times you just need to walk way from the game, for whatever reason.
Elapsed game timer – I originally added this so I can see how long it takes before I lose, simply for balancing purposes, but I actually enjoy having it there. Plus, it gives me a reason to do some noticeable things at specific time intervals.
Particles on collisions – It looks better than just enemies disappearing.

Modified:
Overall game balance – I made it a bit easier…despite the fact that I *really* didn’t want to. As the game goes on, the speed of the player increases. I’m using an animation curve to handle that. I’m also using an animation curve to manage the time between pixels spawning. I’ve lowered the rate at which the enemy speeds up, and made adjustments for the enemy spawn curve so they spawn at a slower rate. The cap for the minimum spawn interval has also be raised.

Fixed:
Scoring post loss – If your player ‘died’, and you jumped over a specific enemy post death, you gained points. I’m not into giving out freebies. Well, I don’t mind, really, but it didn’t seem right in this situation.

TODO:
Multiple levels of difficulty- The framework is there. I just need to actually apply the settings to the game world.
Sound Effects – There are a few sounds missing, the most important being when enemies are destroyed and when the player jumps.
Spawning patterns – This was suggested to me, and I really like it. Right now, enemies spawn one at a time. More variety would be interesting.
Screen shake – Not a lot. Just a little. Probably on collisions. I actually had this. Just looks like it just wasn’t set up to run correctly.
Options button – There’s no options button for mobile, so there’s no way to options screen. Maybe I should just ignore mobile users! (…that was a bad joke…)
Twitter button – So everyone can tweet things about how well they do, or how much they hate the game.

That’s all I have for now, or at least, some of the more interesting things. If you want to support the game’s development, head over to the game’s page!

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That’s Not A Pixel

Posted in Other by Shawn on March 21, 2015

I’m putting a game on itch.to. It’s called That’s Not A Pixel, and it’s a game jam game that’s $1.

NotAPixelShot1

In Philly, we meet up every Thursday for Philly Dev Night. It’s been going on for a while now, and we’ve been having game jams pretty much monthly. This month’s game jam theme is ‘Profit’. Now, the actual game is required to have the theme of profiting, rather, you have two weeks to bring the game to a playable state, then try and make the game profitable over the following four weeks.

Now, this game jam theme appealed to me, but not because of the idea of making money. What I really liked about the theme is that it requires participants to run through a smaller, and possibly simpler, version of the indie game dev gauntlet: make a game, put it on the market, make money, support it for some time afterwards. I don’t know what percentage of game jam games go from just a jam game to something more afterwards, but it doesn’t seem like many. Personally, I really like the idea of supporting game jam games well after the game is completed. I’m getting involved in this game jam because it requires jammers to keep up on their game after the submission deadline, something most jams don’t explicitly ask for.

So, for me, this jam is all about continued support and feedback. I’m also going to use this game jam to work out a system of potential player feedback and support for another project I’m working on, Foresight Fight. For that game, I’d really like to create a robust system that provides early feedback, allowing me to make necessary and quality adjustments early on. I could do something like Steam’s Early Access, but it’s not necessary if all I want is a way to get feedback.

This is going to be an experiment for me, and I’m going to continue working on the game for as long as people want to provide feedback and support for it. Or until it’s clear that the game reached a point where any more progression seems to take away from the game.

If you’re interested in some more, it’s pretty much a quick reaction game. You see pixels, and you either collect them, hit them, or avoid them. And it’s intentionally difficult, so we’ll see how much traction it gets, if any.

And it’s on itch.io, so check it out!

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What is Foresight Fight?

Posted in Other by Shawn on March 19, 2015

I’ve had this game idea stuck in my head for a while now, and only recently have I been able to experiment and play with it. The concept reminds me of one of the first games I worked on. It was a puzzle game where players needed to input commands, then watch as their character tried to either reach the goal, or survive for a number of seconds, the objective being different based on the level. I’m pretty sure there was a third game mode, but I don’t remember it. Anyway, it’s where the idea for this game came from. I wrote a super short blog post back in December with just the title screen from the game, and a paragraph saying “It’s a fighting game”. It was a poor update, so I’m going to take some time now and write something that’s a bit more detailed.

Foresight Fight is the title of the game, and as I mentioned, it’s a fighting game. Not a traditional fighting game though, which is the part that worries me the most at this stage of development. The premise of the game is that the fighting is not in real time. Rather, there are multiple phases to a battle. The first phase is the Queue Phase, the current name until I can think of something better. During the Queue Phase, players input their commands. For example, let’s say player one enters “Left, Right, Attack, Left”. After the Queue phase ends, the Execution Phase begins. The Execution Phase is where moves are, well, executed. Now player one’s character will move left, right, then attack, and finally, move left again. In the game world, those series of moves would most likely be useless, or at least would be if their opponent wasn’t close by.  After the Execution Phase, you have the Results Phase, which is just figuring out who wins the round.  

Now, there are actually two ways to win. You either become the last player standing, meaning all other opponents have been eliminated, or you can retrieve your gem, which just requires that you make contact with it. Having multiple win conditions was important, as I wanted to increase the paranoia that someone has when playing against another person. For example, a match may start out with both players going for their respective gem, but can quickly turn into a game of cat a mouse, an element that I thoroughly enjoy in multiplayer games.

At this point in the world of fighting games, it seems that most of them are an exhibition of twitch skills. It is true, though, that there’s a great amount of skill that someone needs in order to do well in a competitive fighting game. I love each iteration of Smash Brothers, but at this point in time, I don’t think I have the skill to play on a competitive stage. Of course, that’s something that could be fixed with enough practice.

With Foresight Fight, I wanted to try and take a step back from that. Not the part about practice, rather, the part that requires players needing to make all of their decisions during such a small window. The Queue Phase allows people to spend some time formulating theories or plan out their strategy. I’m not trying to completely separate myself from quick reaction elements, as the game does have a mode where players have a limited amount of time to enter their move set. So, being able to quickly identify a situation and execute moves with the highest chance of success is present and important in Foresight Fight.  

 

One element that I’d love to capture is the spectator element. Mainly, I want each match to tell a story as they progress, and allow people simply watching a chance to become engaged in the story on the screen. The progression of the story is different from that of a traditional fighting game, even though the basic theme of ‘Player vs Player’ remains. Fighting games have a fairly linear progression of excitement during each match. That’s to say, from the beginning of a match, all the way to the end, the excitement level of spectators traditionally start out at a certain point, then increases as the match progresses. As it stands now, Foresight Fight increases in steps. This progression format has a number of upsides that I can think of, as well as a few obvious downsides that I’m looking to overcome.

But that’s it for a short introduction to Foresight Fight! Of course, as work progresses, I’ll share more information with the world.

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It’s a new game

Posted in Other by Shawn on December 16, 2014

And I think I like it enough to continue working on it.

TitleScreenCapture20141216

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Terrible Hot Dogs and their path to Kickstarter

Posted in Other by Shawn on November 30, 2013

So, I’m finally planning to launch the Kickstarter for These French Fries Are Terrible Hot Dogs. I’m asking for $4,000, and I’ve heard from others that it’s a reasonable goal. I’m trying hard to ignore my barrage of self-questioning and hoping that others correct. Anyway, overall, I’m pretty excited to get this started, and definitely curious to see what the results will be.

I never really thought about doing a Kickstarter for the game, at least, certainly not after it’s creation. I just figured it’d be something I would play with people from time to time, and not make it bigger than it was at that moment. Most of reasons behind those thoughts was because I wasn’t sure how the game would work in a public space. Yes, it’s a easy going game that doesn’t take too much effort to understand, but there are a number of games out there that people just ignore, regardless of the game’s quality. Eventually, when I realized that the game should be bigger than what it was, Kickstarter became more of an appealing option. It was always an option, but the feedback, as well as people asking “So, when are you going to do Kickstarter for the game” swayed me to the crowdfunding website.

On the path to this launch, I did a number of things, some right, some wrong, as one would expect with most ventures.

1. I could have maintained a better schedule

For anyone who doesn’t know me, I want to make games of all kinds, not just tabletop games, or just digital games. I’ve been mostly working on digital games, some where you need to use a mouse/keyboard, others controller based. I even worked on a game called Rainbow Bacon, which used Playstation Move Controllers. I don’t want to work in one space of games, I want to live in each area. Because of that, I’m usually working on multiple projects all at once, projects vary greatly under the large umbrella of game and their development. This often leads me to unfairly devoting time to one project when I should be spending more time on something else. Part of this is because I would fail to recognize the importance of one project, and underestimate the time it would take to complete a certain issue. I do try and keep a tight schedule, and I use project management software to organize my tasks. However, it’s easy to get lost in different projects, especially when you don’t know where each one will eventually turn up.

I also don’t have a full days to dedicate to game development. I can only work on projects after I get home from my day job. Then there’s those annoying things that need to be taken care of, like eating, sleeping, and maintaining a certain level of hygiene. I usually try to make Saturday’s my big, ‘productive’ day, but I also remember that I need to spend time doing game development research (read: play games).

As time has gone on, I have gotten better with my project management. As with most things, though, there’s still room for improvement.

2. I did keep a schedule

While I could have kept a better schedule, the fact remains that I did keep a schedule. I did go through bouts of not being able to do as much as I would have liked, but when I was on a roll with keeping on top of tasks, I was able to push through and complete all the things I needed to get done.

3. Events and the constant delay

Originally, I wanted to launch the Kickstarter for this game in August. However, I submit my game to the Boston Festival of Indie Games, after which I decided to try and delay the game until around, or shortly after that event. This way, the game would be fresh in people’s minds, and it would be easier for them to remember that the game was something that they may have enjoyed. BostonFig was in September, and obviously, I haven’t pushed the launch button. Part of this was because I wasn’t completely ready for my Kickstarter. Another reason was because shortly before BostonFig, I found out that Terrible Hot Dogs was accepted as part of the game showcase for IndieCade 2103. After that, I knew I had to wait, even if it meant not running the Kickstarter until late October.

So, I pushed it back again. Was it worth it? I would definitely say yes. Both of those events allowed me to introduce the game to new people who enjoyed the game. The goal for me and this project is to have as many people play as possible, and that can only be done if I try my best to tell everyone about the game. BostonFig and IndieCade both helped me make progress in that area.

4. I received help

Getting help can be a double edged sword if not handled properly. During the build up to the Kickstarter, I did receive a lot of assistance, whether it was with production, or just general advice. The visuals aren’t mine, they belong to Will Stallwood, of Cipher Prime. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to make something look that good, and luckily, I knew someone who could. He also helped out with the video and other general Kickstarter advice. As a matter of fact, I did get a of advice on how to run the Kickstarter from the people who attend Philly Dev Night. There was great input on what I should put on the page, when I should launch, etc. However, if not handled carefully, that could easily lead to a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. There were times I was more influenced by people that I should have allowed myself to be, and in hindsight, there are areas where I should have reached a decision much earlier than I did. Regardless, all the help I received was useful in one way or another. Additionally, I was also able to reach out to a few people who played the game at these events and they provided me with great feedback.

5. I was nervous

And I still am. The biggest drawback to being nervous is that it can hold you back. It’s incredibly easy to say “Just do it”, but sometimes, there are some heavy physiological hurdles that one may need to get over. It’s different with everyone, but that’s all I’ll say about the subject, as I am not knowledgeable enough to continue writing about it. In my particular case, I’m constantly worried about what people will think, whether or not the project is good enough, and if this is an endeavor even worth pursuing. I’m sure that a majority of people have this battle, and I’m no stranger to it.

Conversely, being cautious and nervous can work out in your favor. There were a few situations where I was doing something horribly wrong, and because I was cautious, and nervous about, well, everything, I would review different areas over and over again. I did manage to catch a few mistakes, some of which could have really gotten in my way later down the line, and cause unnecessary headaches. It would be nice to think that it was just being cautions, but I owe a great deal to me being nervous about the entire thing.

There’s a lot of minor things that I could have done better/worse, and a lot of them probably fall under planning. Now, though, I need to focus on what is next! I still have no idea about how I will approach the press about Terrible Hot Dogs. I do know that I’ll have help, and I plan to take full advantage of the offers I was given. of course, only time will tell, and we’ll see this upcoming Monday when the Kickstarter goes live. [I will update this post after it goes live with a link to the page]

 

 

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