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  Meet eor 10:18 AM -- Fri May 14, 2021  

It has been a while since the last update! The game is not in a state I want to make a video of, so here's another little text update. Since the last update, things have slowed a bit and gotten kind of penny ante. Lots of little tweaks and internal changes, refactoring things. One thing I've got is this:
That's the moon exploding! Something that would certainly have made a nice video rather than image... oh well! What I've really been focusing on for several weeks is something I came up with years ago as a very bad way to make a game, but a way to entertain myself. That is making the very beginning of the game 100% complete, and then just playing it, and each time I hit a wall (have skill points to spend and no skills to buy, for example), I add that part. Unfortunately, I'm still not totally done with even making the beginning complete. I'm very close - I can play a first zone which is semi-balanced, and either lose or win, but nothing happens when you lose yet (see picture above for what it will be soon).

It is really getting there though! I'm excited about the improvements. I think I'm heading for a total gear overhaul soon (fewer stats, which are more meaningful and fun), but I figure I should probably make it work to where you can get gear before I worry about what that gear is.
Actually, it's been such a long time, I kind of forgot how many little things have changed... here's a screenshot of gameplay with tons of small changes for you to puzzle over and consider! That building is the Apollo Lounge, where the all the cool people on the moon hang out.
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  Meet Fluff 12:08 PM -- Fri April 16, 2021  

Here's the latest hits on Moon Invaders! Dive into the time tunnel!
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  Meet Me 11:03 AM -- Fri March 26, 2021  

Oh no, I did a video with me in the corner! Yikes! More progress on assorted random facets of Moon Invaders 2, so check it out anyway. I'm really annoyed that "Tower Power" is the name of a key stat, but "Tower Damage" wouldn't be right for support towers, so for now it's the best name I can come up with.
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  Meet Some Random Stuff 10:47 AM -- Fri March 12, 2021  

Here's more develog action! This week, I skittered around wildly into different areas of the game, just to have something there rather than huge black holes. Pretty sure my focus over the next couple weeks will be the gear system though, which I have barely scratched the surface.

Secret bonus info to the video: The WORST part of making games is dealing with the wonky UI systems that every single game engine in the world uses. Guaranteed, whatever you try to do, no matter how simple, will somehow break a fundamental rule of the engine's system. For me, I spent hours yesterday dealing with the fact that as soon as I held down the mouse button, all my buttons would stop responding to mouseover (including the button I was on, which was reporting "hey, the mouse is no longer over me!" the instant you click). The functional success you see in the video above (the gear drag n' drop) is actually a huge hack, which is inevitable when trying to twist a game engine UI system into shape. Writing from scratch is so much nicer, but I'm trapped in these blueprints!
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  Meet The Alien Editor 11:25 AM -- Fri February 26, 2021  

Another fine develog today, showing off some random junk, including the alien editor - now, I know people's brains often flip out when they hear the word editor, so let me say that this is a developer tool, not an end-user feature. While I could polish it up for end-user use, this just isn't a game where player editing makes any sense. Since a level just consists of a collection of aliens attacking, there's not really anything interesting to edit. It's not like Dr. Lunatic where you get to build an entire world and make puzzles and things. So I can't see anybody really using an editor for this game. Anyway, check out what IS in there, and I'll keep working on it.
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  Moon Theories 11:53 AM -- Fri February 12, 2021  

No videos or pix today... Laziness! Let's instead delve into the more theoretical world of Moon Invaders. This is stuff that doesn't actually exist yet, it's just the ideas behind the design.

At its core, Moon Invaders 2 is a 'roguelite' (because that is mandatory in 2021 game development). You make runs at the game over and over, and each time you fail (or win), you come back with currency you use to upgrade yourself so your next run is easier. Much like in Monster Train, winning grants you an increased difficulty option to match your clear superiority, but you don't have to take it, you can always play an earlier difficulty. There's an in-game logic to all this (because I have a weird obsession with having a reason behind the rules) but I'm not spilling the beans just yet! When you lose, you stay at the same difficulty (or you can backtrack to lower ones, if you like), and can hopefully upgrade with the stuff you got.

So design-wise, the gameplay consists of 3 nested loops:

1. At the smallest level, you are playing "zones" (the different map locations). When a zone starts, you have no turrets and a certain amount of cash, and you need to buy and upgrade towers to blast the aliens before they destroy you. Defeat a set number of waves and you win. Fail and your run is over. The concept here is about smart decisions in when and what to upgrade so that you don't get overwhelmed, like all tower defense games.

2. At the next higher level up, you are playing through the entire moon (a series of zones) to beat the bosses. You earn loot when you are playing each zone, which you can equip between zones to make you stronger. Good thing because of course the zones get harder. This is RPG-style gear, with stats that do things like "Blastor towers deal 10% more damage" and all that. So the concept here is about gearing up and randomly getting good stuff and choosing the right combos (probably not very hard choices, but it's always fun to be making them).

3. And at the highest level, you are making multiple runs of the moon, starting with no gear each time, until you beat it (and when you do, you still keep doing runs because now it's harder!). It's here that you spend points you earned during your last run on a giant skill tree. This mostly consists of unlocking new tower types and upgrade slots and upgrade types, but also other general upgrades. So here we have the traditional skill tree, build your character, type of concept. You can invest heavily into missile towers, or get into lasers, whatever suits you.

So as you can see, it's a bunch of upgrading! There are a bunch of other twists and turns but this is the core idea. In each loop there's a different kind of upgrading, but the bigger loops affect the smaller loops. So you're always getting stronger, and isn't that what gaming is about? I know gaming certainly hasn't made my spine collapse into a gelatinous mass over the years.
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  Meet The Moon 10:24 AM -- Fri February 5, 2021  

I spent a lot longer than it should've taken making a very overly elaborate level select screen last week! That is an actual photo (well, composite photo) of the moon's surface from NASA, including a displacement map which sadly looked 100x better in Blender than I could ever get it in the game. Not sure what I'm missing there, but it had some sharp and crispy craters in Blender! I also spent a long time looking up actual coordinates of different craters and adding them to my map in the correct locations (quite a few more than you actually see here).

Anyway, it has glowing pimples. Not sure how I will change those exactly, but I do think I want to have some lines between locations so you can't just go anywhere you want. But the moon spins around and shows you whichever one you are mousing over, then you click to go play it. That's about the extent of the functionality it will ever need, but it sure does it in a fancy way.
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  Meet The Repair Truck 11:34 AM -- Fri January 22, 2021  

Hey, look, I made a video! I couldn't resist because I was enjoying watching my little truck drive around so much. It's just adorable.

A new feature in Moon Invaders 2 is that the aliens now fight back. So one part of your strategy has to revolve around how you defend yourself. Luckily, your towers can't actually be destroyed, they just shut down (in the video, they don't, they keep on shooting when 'dead') and await repairs. The repair truck drives back and forth fixing any downed towers. So you'll be able to upgrade the health of your towers, build shield towers to cover them, upgrade your repair truck, add more trucks, EMP enemies to prevent them from shooting, and so on. A whole new world of strategery.
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  A Far Cry From Boring 06:56 PM -- Sat January 16, 2021  

I have played a lot of Far Cry games over the past few years, usually quite a bit after they were released. I haven't played Far Cry or Far Cry 2 - they look unappealing (unfunny/stodgy/military gung-ho). But I've played all the rest, so let me rank them for you! In order from worst to best:

Far Cry: Blood Dragon - Played this a long time ago. It should be right up my alley, but I hated it. I died like 20 times in the tutorial (which was harder than just about anything else I've ever done in any Far Cry) and once I finally got out of it, the game just held no interest for me. It has no skill choices, you just kind of trudge along shooting guys. Huge disappointment.

Far Cry 3 - Fun stuff. I obsessively went around opening every single treasure chest, even though they're all just money and junk items. Really frustrating issue that you can't open a chest (and thus clear it from your map) if you are full on money or inventory space. Constant returns to town to dispose of the items/money. It was a long time ago, but I think I ended up having to just unload ammo into a wall in order to be able to spend money on more ammo. There are these maps you can buy to reveal the locations of hidden items, and you basically have to buy them all in the first couple hours of the game just to drain your money, rather than them being some big end-game option.

Far Cry 5 - More streamlined and well-implemented than even Far Cry 4. There are some notable setbacks here from Far Cry 4 though - the 'realism' of the parachute/wingsuit/grapple stuff gets more in the way and is less usable, and most notable of all: just about every time you conquer an outpost, you are "kidnapped", which entails a completely unavoidable event you just have to wait for, followed by hours on end of boring cutscenes of people monologuing, and then a short bit of 'gameplay' ranging from a legit shooting range (tolerable) to "walk over here very slowly" (not okay). This is the first time I began to skip the cutscenes on first viewing (probably in any game ever, actually). It was unbearable. And so absurd, to be kidnapped over and over and then just let go (sometimes you escape, sometimes you just wake up somewhere, it's all ridiculous). But I still enjoyed the game a lot.

Far Cry 4 - The best of the numbered ones! All the same stuff as Far Cry 3, almost the exact same game in a new setting, just implemented better. Tons of fun. The drug-induced tapestry visions are actually really cool, and feel like an even better game than this one (what they actually feel like is Far Cry Primal, with a more intriguing setting).

Far Cry: New Dawn - This takes Far Cry 5 and fixes just about everything. The parachute, wingsuit, and grapple are all back to being unrealistic and easy to use, the story only interferes with gameplay a little, it feels much more survivable than the usual Far Crys (less instant death out of the blue), and it starts you right off with a sawblade launcher. Although I should say, that is after yet another terrible tutorial that killed me several times. It's a much smaller game, so small that it actually feels unfinished. For example, there's an "intermission" (one of 3) that takes place literally AFTER the final battle of the game, when the only thing left to do is go to the final location and "press X to pay respects" in true gaming tradition. It feels like they meant for there to be more here, but I do like a compact gaming experience, and when I looked at my playtime it was 30 hours to Far Cry 5's 36 hours (and in all these games, I made sure to collect just about everything), so it's not really a small game. It also has a fun grind, where I found myself looking at the weapons I needed to buy, and saying "okay, I have to go kill a few bears, and then one mutant bison", and do it. Not just going and grinding XP or money.

Far Cry Primal - The best of the lot! I actually bounced off this game years ago, got a couple hours in and lost interest, but I came back last year and started over, and it is primo. It was really absorbing on every level. The biggest flaw here is the story, which doesn't go anywhere. There are just a couple other tribes, and you have to beat them, and then... no ending! Just hooray for you that they're dead. It really has no narrative at all, just a random series of events in the lives of some cavemen. But at least it doesn't bore you with massive monologues (probably because they didn't want to have to deliver them in caveman-language).

If you too want to get into Far Cry games, I will tell you that they have some quirks that are very clearly bad design, but if you are into obsessive collecting like me, then you will have a blast anyway. The biggest problem with the games is in their economies. You just get overloaded with too much stuff right off the bat and really don't ever want for anything (something New Dawn improves greatly but doesn't totally fix). And you'll probably find the 3rd gun you get is the main one you use for the entire game because nothing is notably stronger, just different. New Dawn offers a fix for that in the form of an RPG-style "ladder" of weapon tiers you work through, and I liked that much more. I spent the whole game working for those better weapons (and the weapon challenges meant that I wanted some of every weapon, so that I could do the challenge for each type).

There's also some gross microtransaction stuff (I was stuck with like 6+ free weapons at the start of New Dawn, due to whichever 'special pack' I had gotten of the game, and as a bonus for winning Far Cry 5, and I just had to avoid using them because they would've ruined the progression), which you can easily avoid (well, you can't get rid of the free weapons!), but it does mess up the in-game economy as well as feel greasy.

And lastly, the narrative stuff is just dumb and gets in the way of the real gameplay, which is "find new locations, find the collectibles, conquer outposts". You'll spend hours listening to ranting monologues about somebody's philosophy. Oh, side note to this: the boss fights are pretty much all terrible. I just finished New Dawn yesterday and I would say that the *final* boss was perfectly reasonable, but the fight just before it absolutely eradicated the good feelings I had toward the game from all my hours of fun beforehand. Just a nightmare.

It's not my favorite game series, but it always feels good to dive into another giant checklist to fulfill! Maybe I'll give Blood Dragon another try one day. Recommended for collectionists.
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  It's a living 09:48 AM -- Fri January 8, 2021  

Hey, it's no longer 2020, and we can all be excited about that! In the process of leaving that year, I had an epiphany (something I do quite regularly, though often the surprise is something everybody else already knew - maybe this is too!): I was working very hard on how to get myself to work, and I suddenly realized other people - ones with real jobs - don't have that problem. If I had a job at McDonald's, I'd go in, and I'd do the job until quitting time. No questions, except if I was sick. I wouldn't like it, but I'd do it, because I'd be accountable to doing it. Just like everybody else!

So that was my brilliant idea. Having a real job. So now I come in at 9am to my office, and I have to work until 11am (yep, 2 whole hours*), 4 days a week (Friday is a 1-hour work session where I change to being the boss, and doing admin stuff like this blog right here, and plan the next week for my employee). I can't schedule appointments during that time, I can't 'not feel like it', it just is a fact of life. Of course, I've only been at it for a week and already had it heavily disrupted by a power outage followed by a white supremacist coup on Wednesday, plus a pre-planned appointment on Thursday, but I made up all the missing hours and I won't be booking any more coups or appointments during work hours.

So far it feels more solid than my previous attempts. Instead of wondering how to get myself to feel like doing work, I just do it, because it's required. I may be slow or ineffective, but I can't say "this isn't working" and decide I have to play Fenyx Rising instead (it's good!). It remains to be seen whether my employee will ever figure out that there are no consequences for failure. Hopefully the emotional consequences will count.

My first week of work has not resulted in a ton, but that makes sense being only 8 hours total. I fixed up aiming of the turrets so they properly target the lowest enemy in their aim range (but will fire if anybody is in their sights, as they rotate towards the intended target), and I've begun making the 'final' version of the tower building menu. Got hung up on that a while, as UI in Unreal is an awkward beast. I think it is in every pre-made system. The only easy UI work I've ever done is when I hack together my own stuff because it doesn't have to be flexible for use in every scenario.

No screenshots for you! Deal with it!

* Why so lazy? The key to making a habit stick is to make it so easy you can't fail at it. You can always ramp up later, and fall back to the level that you can succeed at if it doesn't work. If you go big, you fail early on and throw the whole system away. A process I am familiar with. Also: lazy!
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