I have something cool to share today. But first, a story.
When I was a kid, I played a lot of video games. I rarely play any today, but have never stopped being fascinated by them. They sit at an intersection of some things I’m really passionate about. Visual art, storytelling and technology. When I enrolled in college 18 years ago (GOOD LORD), I naturally wanted to study game design. But as I learned more about the program, I started to believe the math requirement was beyond me. I was young, and let the idea that I didn’t do so well in school define what was and wasn’t possible for me. So I chose a Digital Arts & Design program instead. I still loved what I studied, and have since built a career that often puts me at the intersection of those passions I mentioned. It’s pretty cool, and I’m thankful for it. BUT… I never stopped wondering what could’ve been if I hadn’t quit game development before I even started it.
Then came the pandemic and lockdown and with that, some time. I used that time to finally start learning how to make video games. Turns out, it’s pretty hard. A lot of one step forward, two steps back. Even after years of working at it, it’s still hard. but I’ve sure learned a lot. Above all, I learned that making a video game is an amount of work not meant for a single person. Especially when it’s not your full or even part-time job. But man, it’s fun, and I love it. So I keep at it when I can.
But back to this cool thing I wanted to share… I made a trailer for a game project I’m developing. It’s called GREENFIELD. There’s still a daunting amount of work ahead that stretches farther than I can see, but I’m so relieved to finally have others see what’s been living only in my own imagination.
Meet Roy. I think that’s his name, still working it out. He’s an aging Repair Technician for the Greenfield Power Company. I think he has a more interesting story to tell than the boy with the umbrella, so I’m gonna give him the lead. Really feels like I’m never gonna be able to complete this project, but even still, I’m having fun imagining the world and all its inhabitants.
Dialing in the design and materials for the Greenfield protagonist, and reaching a visual one-to-one between desktop and mobile.
The thing about working alone on a project that would normally be done by a team of people, is you’re going to end up wearing a lot of different hats. Somedays you’re an artist, somedays a programer, and other days a graphic designer making a pause menu and control system that’s bound to confuse even the brightest among us. Keeps things interesting to say the least, and if any of those hats ever start to feel a little too tight, you just put a new one on.
Building out some environmental puzzles while I continue developing the art direction for Greenfield. Feeling momentum now. Making an image in your mind’s eye visible to anyone, takes time and takes effort. When you can get it right though, and seen just the way you see it, it’s really something.
This week saw building and lighting a new environment for Greenfield. Sculpting light and controlling the eye is always an easier task without the distraction of color.
Revisiting and refining the design of the protagonist in Greenfield. I like the idea of keeping the face featureless, so players might project their own emotions onto the character based on their own experience in the game. Or to sound less full of it, I just like the way it looks.
More adventures in game dev. This tool I built takes a square tessellated plane and manipulates its scale to make something that resembles a terrain. I can then map other objects to it, like grass, weeds, rocks, bushes or anything else I’d like. I can get even more granular and control different properties of those objects too. I can connect that piece of terrain to any other as if they were legos and quickly build out an entire environment in just a few seconds, with just a few clicks.
I wrote the logic for this once, and that took time, but I can reuse it over and over again, able to create an infinite number of variations. It’s a essential concept in Unreal that I’m still wrapping my head around to be honest. I can tell you with certainty though, using tools to make new tools is pretty satisfying.
2020 was a mess on a lot of fronts, but a bright spot for me personally was following through on my resolutions. My biggest and toughest resolution was to learn Unreal Engine. A year later, it’s honestly still a work in progress. I’ve been simultaneously learning the interface, art pipeline, animation pipeline, visual scripting logic, and performance optimization among other things. Somedays feel like I haven’t come very far at all, but others feel pretty good, considering less than a year ago the program wasn’t even installed on my computer yet. Hopefully it’s upwards and onwards from here, but it’s hard to say. As much fun as it is, it still feels incredibly daunting. Here’s a small peek at a game I’ve been developing with what I’ve learned so far:
My second resolution was to exercise at least every other day. Above all else, this one made sure a missed day or two didn’t snowball into a completely derailed week or month. Seemed like a cycle I’d been stuck in the past few years, but this simple rule got me out of it. I made exceptions to let my body bounce back from injury or for a long weekend getaway here and there, but for the most part I nailed it. It’s formed into a habit at this point, and hoping to keep it that way.
My third resolution was to avoid hangovers. I know, I know, the depth of my shame is bottomless. I wasn’t exactly swearing off alcohol, but I’ve long been ready to swear off hangovers. I drink socially, so the pandemic really dropped my consumption this year, and in turn lowered any chance of being hungover to begin with. Even so, I still fell short on a few occasions. At least three I can think of. It wasn’t perfect, but it was more wins than losses, and if I can keep it in the front of my mind, the record should be an undefeated one soon enough.
Lastly, I took a shot at some monthly challenges throughout the year and reflected on my experiences with them month by month. In short, I ended up satisfying some curiosities, kickstarted some better habits, and knocked back a few bad ones.
All in all, it was a win in a challenging year. I’d never done anything like it and ended up having a lot of fun with it. So much so, that it feels weird to just stop down at this point. So I think I’ll keep on. More on that later.
My last monthly challenge of 2020 has always been a question mark. Intentionally left open for new ideas that revealed themselves throughout the year. Nearing the end of November though, still hadn’t really had it figured out.
Then one day my friend Jesse texted me out of the blue. He’d been thinking about me, and took a peek at Six Foot Giraffe, which turned into him catching up on my entire year. He let me know how it was really cool what I was doing and how he was excited for whatever my December challenge would be. I told him I still had no idea what it was though, and then he suggested something brilliant.
So that’s how this one came to be. I love video games, always have. The medium sits at the intersection of so many interests I’m passionate about. Storytelling, visual art, technology. Thing is, I really don’t play very often at all. I try to stay productive, and playing video games as you can imagine, isn’t exactly conducive to productivity. The way Jesse framed it though, felt like more than just an indulgence, and that was easy for me to get behind.
I played 3 games for the month, all made by independent developers. The first was called Untitled Goose Game. You play as a goose wreaking comedic havoc on a small and quaint english town. Totally ridiculous, totally fun. It was largely developed by just 3 people. The second was Kentucky Route Zero. A kinda off-beat, point-and-click, absolutely visually stunning interactive novel. The game took 10 years to make, and also developed mostly by only 3 people. I loved it. The last was Darq, a puzzle-platformer made almost entirely by a single person.
I had fun with it and truthfully Jesse was right, it was well deserved after a solid year of focus. Seeing what just a few people, or even just a single person is capable of in game development has been inspiring, but simultaneously daunting. I honestly don’t know that I’ll be able see it through, but I know I have to try. It helps knowing it’s possible if I work hard enough, and want it bad enough. Guess time will sort if those two boxes get checked off or not.
You’ve Got to Walk by the Bedquilt Ramblers. One of the many beautiful and haunting songs composed for Kentucky Route Zero that caught my ear.