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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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  In Dev: Moon Invaders 2 02:32 PM -- Thu December 3, 2020  

Moon Invaders! Right? Remember the thrills and fun? This new rendition changes things a lot, but fundamentally it's the same core idea: tower defense where the 'monsters' march back and forth in front of your towers, and of course they march as a group, so cutting away at the sides will make them take longer to descend.

In the past week I've been making the first tower. I spent forever trying to decide just how it would look. You have to realize, the idea of a turret that can only rotate on one axis is weird (well, this particular axis, anyway). There really isn't a real-world analogue that makes any sense. This is what I came up with:
There are elements I like. Obviously it's very flat-shaded looking at the moment, and I may just stick with that. With the 'pixel art' aliens, keeping it simple might be key. The coolest thing is how those bullets work. I spent most of my time working out the animations there, and it's some good stuff. There are little animations for refilling the entire bullet rack when it's empty, as well as individually arming each bullet for the next shot. Totally pointless, but fun for me. The arming will probably be so fast and tiny you'll never be able to tell in-game, but I wanted it to be right. There's even a little door that opens and shuts for the bullets to go in (it's about 80% open in this shot).

I want to get into the structure of the game overall, but let's save it for next time. Party on.
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  An Encyclopedia Of Failures 11:21 AM -- Wed November 25, 2020  

There were more of these than I expected! Enjoy a selection of games I started and have not finished over the past few years:

"Little Wizard 2" - The wizard is purchased art, and the environment is freebie art. But I made that hanging monolith myself! And if you do shoot the glowy thing, there's an explosion and the rock falls and you can use it to jump over to a platform behind it. That's the extent of the gameplay in this game, although there is a evil skeletal mage standing behind you that you can kill, but he doesn't do anything. Also you press LB instead of RT to shoot, weirdly.

"DiabloWizard" - That obviously became this. Originally meant to have a top-down view (that's all the project name DiabloWizard indicates), I liked the over-the-shoulder system much better. The Dumb Golems are shockingly original art (can you believe that? All by myself?), but the rest of the models are purchased/free. There is actually a lot to this. The icons you can see are equipped spells, all obviously the same right now (the only one implemented, a stone shard shotgun which you can see exploding). You 'create' spells with those 4 crystal slots in the icon, by putting gems of 8 different elements in them. This one is "Launcher=stone (shotgun) and Impact=stone (does stone damage, and causes knockback/stun)", with the other two optional slots empty - one modifies the launch (like more shots fired, or homing, etc), and the other modifies the impact (like launching shrapnel, or causing a DOT, or healing you). It was very very cool, a roguelite thing with insane build variety that I was quite excited about!

"Keep It Alive" - I'm not sure where in the order this actually fits, but it was my start to a Ludum Dare entry! The theme of LD46 was "Keep It Alive" of course. It's a first-person puzzler where you are a robot in a spaceship trying to keep the spaceship alive to get to its destination as a wire-chomping alien is wandering about (inspired a bit by Alien: Isolation, it is not a hardcoded puzzle, you have to outwit the AI which is moving from room to room). What you see is about the extent of it as I could not get the wrench to point the right way in my robot's hands. You'd think flipping 180 would do it but it did NOT. The crazy pink glow is actually part of the debugging. At least I built all my own models here! I was mainly doing it as an exercise in how to do a pipeline for 3D art into an actual game.

"Tanky" - Again, not sure what order this goes in. This is a top-down game where you are a tank with big eyes who shoots aliens! The part of it I like is that hatch with the spinning lights - it's the "Dark Souls bonfire" of the game. If you drive onto it, your tank auto-drives into the correct position, then an elevator takes it underground and a roof closes on top, the game pauses (would have a various equip/upgrade menu options in there), and when you unpause, you come back out. It was a cool animation. Also really cool shooting effect and recoil. The part of this I don't like are those weird christmas trees - they are supposed to be coral or some sort of ocean rocks. Really bad.

"Lost In The Woods" - I've already blogged about this! It's pretty darn far along, and pretty cool. But I just lost steam, and mainly this whole process (all the games above) has been a string of me saying "that's too complex for a first full 3D project, let's take it down a notch and try again", which is what led me out of this game and into...

"Moon Invaders 2" - What!? Yeah. I'm excited about this, it's the one I'm still working on. Again, don't expect it to go anywhere based on the track record, but I'm liking it. As you can see, the aliens are actually made of separate cubes, which, on spawn, zoom in from everywhere to form the alien, and on death, fall out of the sky and scatter on the ground. The glowy eyes change color to indicate the health level (green to red). The one cube that's way out of place was just shot. It's actually a terrible effect right now, but I like the concept (they bounce back into place). There is currently no art in the game at all, all the cubes are default Unreal cubes and a default landscape. But one thing I've been too hung up on is building a "real" game of quality, and I'm trying to stop that for this one and just do what I used to do in the 90's - crank something out that is complete, and not worry about professionalism. Not that I want default cubes, but I'm also not going to build this so carefully and get stuck because I can't get that perfect style or hold back assuming I'm going to hire a pro artist later. I'm gonna make my own stuff and just go with it.

That brings you up to speed! That's what I haven't been blogging about because none of it's going anywhere. I'll try to improve on that over time. Just posting about it gets me a little more interested, so maybe that's part of the process.
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  Burned out still 06:21 PM -- Fri November 20, 2020  

The following is me engaging in public therapy. Engage at your own risk!

Long-term readers will be familiar with the fact that I got WAY burned out running Growtopia, and after we sold it, I spent a year wandering the wilderness in aught but a loincloth, howling at the moon and foraging from the land.

Eventually I made Robot Wants It All, but it was really too soon when I did, and it was a real drag that probably drained me even more. Since then, I've been crunching away at random mini-projects, just trying to recapture the creative spark and have some desire to produce work instead of playing video games and eating cheez-its.

At this point, I've been officially burnt out for about 4 years. That's much too long, and it doesn't make sense. Surely not working for that long would be plenty to recover my energy. Unless you think about the world in which I have been living. Then you start to think that maybe it's not so much burnout as it is depression. Right at the same time I began to work on recovering from 4 years of Growtopia development, the world fell off a pit into a shark-infested volcano. So I was trying to recuperate while simultaneously being bombarded by horror at every turn.

This theory was proven out on November 7th, when I was out running errands and got a text from my wife that the election had finally been called. Immediately, a massive weight leaped off of my shoulders. I drove around with the music cranked and my mind instantly was jumping to all the things I could do. Nothing I was actually prevented from doing before, but suddenly I wanted to - I considered practicing my ukulele, writing a short story, making several different game ideas, cooking things. Creativity run rampant. I was fired up and ready to DO. Just as simply as hearing that things might return to normal in the real world. Even knowing that there were still a thousand massive battles to be fought, I suddenly had this feeling that it was no longer all on me. Obviously it never was, but the oppressive feeling that everyone above me is against me is a huge psychic weight. And with that one call, that was flipped - suddenly the top of the chain was on my side, so I felt like I wasn't fighting alone.

Since then, things have changed for the worse. Obviously, my country is currently in the middle of a coup attempt, and the outgoing administration is trying to do as much damage as humanly possible, and things are uglier than ever. So it doesn't feel good anymore. I'm back to the depression I was in. But I remember that spark I felt when there was a brief moment of hope. So maybe... on January 20th, if we're not actively fighting a civil war, maybe that will be the day that my energy floods back and all of these things seem easy, or at least possible. It felt amazing on November 7th. I want to feel that again.

For now, I'm poking away at a couple small projects, still trying to find my footing after all these years. I'll tell you more about what those projects are in the next update! But don't hold your breath waiting for anything to come of them.
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