And just like that, I'm back to being a fully employed member of the video games industry. This got confirmed during August after applications, interviews and a test, but I won't be starting until next week. It's a remote job for a large English developer, and I'm super excited to start.
No, it's not a design job, it's a tester job. No, it's not permanent - the contract is currently temporary but there is the chance it will be extended or made permanent (but not guaranteed). Why did I do this? Frankly because trying to get a design job (even the most junior, underpaid, borderline illegal design job) seems to be extremely difficult without previous design experience.
The number of junior designer jobs out there is slim. The number of those jobs that don't require ANY previous design experience is infinitesmal. The number of those jobs that don't have 100+ applicants within the first hours of the job ad going up are non-existent. There's many, many candidates and not enough roles to go around.
So the way I saw it was that I could either carry on in my current state; working voluntarily as a designer, with no pay, and no guarantee of getting any money out of the project for the foreseable future, or I could try and get a different job that wasn't design, but could lead to design.
I went with the latter. I needed a job, I needed money, I needed more relevant industry experience, and honestly I need more structure. I need the professional routines that come with working for a large company. Structure, expectations, goals, requirements etc etc - I usually thrive a bit better when provided with these things.
Naturally this means I had to stop my work at Gamucatex, which was a shame, but not exactly a difficult choice. Hopefully what the folks are working on (and some small sliver of my work) will eventually be shown more publicly and will be something I can take a crumb of credit for.
As for personal work - that continues! Gamejam work is progressing with my southern hemisphere teammates and whilst it has its own challenges, it's nice to work on something directly. I'm also still carrying on with podcasting and video editing where possible just to keep things varied.
The only thing I haven't put any time into is writing or any kind of narrative work, which sucks. I'm hoping to maybe find time for this soon, but I don't want to make a promise to myself to then just break it a week later.
I wanted to get in a bit earlier on this update, rather than racing to finish a post right at the end of the month.
June has been very fun so far. My main focus has continued to be on my work at Gamucatex. I took on the responsibility of essentially designing the entirety of the City/Settlement Manager. Trying to come up with a compelling game mode that is original, but familiar, that is new, but takes into account what we've developed so far, was a fascinating challenge.
The initial concept doc is now going through the feedback stage, and it's been great practice trying to answer questions and clarify confusions when they've arised. It's still early days with the overall concept, but I'm hoping that it will continue to progress at a decent rate.
Second focus has been on the One Game A Month challenge that started properly at the beginning of the month. It was a struggle to think up a sort-of original concept for the theme that was provided (Time Is Key). And frankly, it wasn't even my idea that we ended up using. Another team member came up with the overall concept, and it was then on me to formalise that concept into a rigid design that we could build levels and puzzles out of.
I think the idea is solid and I want to get to a stage where we can see the designs and ideas in action. With 10 days left we're cutting it close with actual play testing and iterations. But this is still a million times better than anything I could have done myself as a solo designer.
Lastly, my desire to do "other" creative stuff has finally taken off in the form of a podcast I'm doing with a friend. I know, podcast with two guys talking about stuff, super original. But I'm not doing this for anyone else. This is purely for me to have an outlet, to have an excuse to see my friend regularly, and to put something out into the world that doesn't give me an existential crisis whenever I think about it.
Well, well, well. Look who came crawling back.
Me, I've come crawling back to this blog after leaving it by the wayside for a hot minute. It was "sort of" on purpose. I wanted to take a quick (or month long) break from giving updates. Stuff continues to happen, but as usual I wish I was managing to do more. That said, things have happened.
I have wrapped up my side of the work on "The Magnificent Trufflepigs". The past few months have mostly had me in a playtesting/following up position, and with the game releasing soon, it was time that my contract was up. It was a massive pleasure working at Thunkd, and hopefully I'll get the chance to work with them all again soon. Check out the live action trailer for the game:
Since the start of April I have been a part time, volunteer game designer at Gamucatex. Together with a number of other part time designers, artists and coders I'm contributing ideas, designs, mock-ups and prototypes for their first game currently codenamed Project Tectonicus.
The intention is for this to be a fully fleshed out "edutainment" title; providing both an entertaining time, as well as educating in a meaningful way. It's still very much early days on the project, and I'm leveraging my previous production experience to try and help the overall process.
Most recently I have also joined a sort of game jam/sort of on-going challenge kind of thing. It's a one game a month challenge, with optional themes. I have managed to team up with a programmer and an artist, and we've attempted to put together a game in a week, ahead of the game jam challenge starting properly in June.
In games news I finally finished Final Fantasy 7 Remake and have written out my initial thoughts. I'm going to do another pass on them today and maybe record the commentary tomorrow. I would love to be able to do this on a more regular basis but with the time it takes me to finish games, that's unlikely.
I want to sort of publicise my reviews/video work a bit more but at the same time I don't want to because I'm worried that a developer I want to work at might see them and hate me and never hire me. There's a lot of steps to get through before I'd reach that point probably but you never know.
I might move these updates to a monthly basis, depending on how I'm feeling or if there's even much to talk about. We'll see. Catch you next month.
I've honestly lost track of this whole timekeeping thing. This particular post is 4 days late, but I didn't want to do another double or triple episode where I try to remember exactly what it was I did in the preceding 21 days.
This past week and a half has been another blur. I guess sort of trying to work two different jobs will do that to you. I'm still assessing if this is the route I want to go, and how long I'm willing to stick with it should it not be the chosen route. I'm in a constant state of impatience that immediately makes me uncertain about any choice I make. It's a nightmare.
What I can say for certain is that I've done zero GameMaker, Unity, Unreal or writing work for the past week and a half. It's brutal. So I want to try and make an effort to at least complete the Pixelles program, which I'm currently behind on.
I did finish playing another game though - Deliver Us The Moon. A very odd egg of a game. It's a linear space adventure that's halfway between walking simulator and full fledged action game. My next video will be a review of that, since I haven't done one in ages.
So, next goals:
- Write review of Deliver Us The Moon
- Complete next exercise in Pixelles program
- Try and put some time at least into GameMaker
Well I didn't think it could happen, but it happened. I missed 3 weeks worth of blog updates.
I can't actually tell if the past 3 weeks have been more busy, if I've gotten lazier, or I've just avoided doing this. It's getting to the point where I can barely remember exactly what it is I've done for the past few weeks to even put in this post.
Biggest things would probably be the the following:
My understanding and expectations of how much a designer should now about C# is still fuzzy. In talking to people who use Unity, the expectation seems to be that designers don't necessarily need to know how to code, just to understand the front end of the editor and know how to navigate it and and modify values. But at the same time every tutorial I've seen for Unity eventually involves doing some kind of coding, otherwise you don't seem to get very far.
Anyways, the new place I'm starting at uses Unity, so one of my hopes is that I will get more practical exposure to using it in a way that is, for lack of a better phrase, "industry standard". This isn't stopping me from looking at other potential roles and applications, but should the worst happen and I continue to not get any paid design work, at the very least I will hopefully be building useful experience.
I completed Metro 2033 Redux and in the end liked it very much. It had many janky parts, spotty presentation, and sometimes underwhelming gun play, but I liked it. I think the mix of atmosphere, unique(ish) setting, some unique mechanics and an unexpected focus on certain characters, all helped to make the game stand out compared to a lot of other shooters. Plus that whole side aspect of interdimensional aliens or whatever it is probably helped too.
As keen as I was to move straight onto Metro: Last Light, I wanted to take a break and try a different game I had heard plenty about - SpiritFarer. I'd heard great things about this game, and it looked like the exact opposite to Metro 2033, and I think it's good to keep a constant variety in what you play.
Also I got an Xbox Series S and signed up to GamePass and I'm immediately in love. I forgot what a snappy console UX could be. I've started exploring the GamePass library and I'm doing my best to avoid just immediately downloading and replaying a game I've already played to death. So likely first up on the chopping block will be Nier Automata.
Another abominably late blog entry, but at the very least this week has been more productive than the previous ones.
The fight to understand Unity continues, with me almost having finished the "Ruby's Adventure: 2D Beginner" tutorial series. It starts to go in deep with C# scripting which I am almost completely clueless on, but I persevered regardless. At this point in time I've got a character that moves, animates, receives damage and launches projectiles. Next tutorial is getting the camera to follow the character.
After that, I'll be in a position to try and roughly put together whatever the even more basic version of a prototype is for the Hooligans concept. Following tutorials is fab, but until you start working towards an actual "thing", you're still just following breadcrumbs. And having a "thing" to aim for is usually helpful when it comes to trying to learn more.
Outside of this I have continued the Pixelles program, submitting my first draft for the cinematic assignment. I got some great feedback from the folks in my group so I have an idea now of how I want the second draft to play out, which I'm actually excited to do!
I also took some time to have a think about my 2D, top down shooter prototype, and why I wasn't progressing with it. I'm not sure if this was the root cause, but one of my issues with the current prototype was that all the spaces felt a tad too big. No idea if that is normally a good thing in other top down games, but with mine, it felt like it led to zero structure, and a lot of unnecessary travel for the player.
So I've re-worked the opening levels to make them tighter, simpler, but more structured. Trying to take cues I've learnt from level design friends to help guide the player to the intended spots without overt sign-posting. And I'm way happier now. The game is still a haze in my head, and I have no idea if it will continue to proceed, but this feels like progress.
Current game I'm playing: Metro 2033 Redux. A decade old shooter that definitely shows its age, but has a pretty compelling atmosphere and presentation. So even though I'm not the biggest survival horror fan, I'll keep going (mostly because the second and third entries in the franchise are apparently markedly better).
Time is a flat circle.
I literally didn't realise that another two weeks had passed since my last post. I legitimately believed this was going to be the first time in ages that I managed to do a weekly update. Ah well.
On the Hooligans front not a lot has changed besides some minor cosmetic updates. The reason for this is that within the past 2 weeks we decided to start looking at a different engine for it.
I love GameMaker with my heart and soul, but it isn't exactly industry standard, and it isn't exactly alone in being an accessible tool for people to start making games with. In a lot of ways it's limited, and in some ways, it's downright backwards. I didn't realise this until my team mate and I were discussing how he could help out coding some of the project, but that would require him buying GameMaker outright (as far as we can tell).
Whereas with Unreal or Unity he could download it for free and start working away. Plus looking at the results people get in something like Unity versus what you get with GameMaker, it was starting to become abundantly clear that not-GameMaker was the way forward. And switching to a more industry standard engine would also help my prospects with future potential job hunting.
So a bunch of the past week has been that - learning Unity. I was hesitant at first because the last time I tried Unity it wasn't the most welcoming program. But since then, it seems that a lot more work has gone into onboarding new users. The Learning section, the example projects and the step by step tutorials have all been incredibly useful in making me feel like Unity is something I could legitimately use for all my future development needs.
The Pixelles program continues and I need to create a cinematic. I feel this might come a bit more naturally to me than the previous tasks just because I've spent time screenwriting before and have studied it somewhat.
I also put a bit of time into my robot prototype. A small change that I made is to the first environment hazard which is meant to be an unstable generator that blasts electric energy at set intervals. There's something off about how the game feels so far, and I can't quite put my finger on it. In theory I should be able to start chugging away at developing this prototype further, but something is mentally blocking me. I'll look into it when I have time but it is like the third or fourth thing on my priority list currently.
Lastly I finally finished up writing my critique of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I found it hard to write this one up for some reason. I wanted to avoid making another 10 minute video, but then found myself struggling to fit in all the things I wanted to say in less time than that.
In the end I decided to have the video centre on my main criticism (the combat), and just make small mentions of everything else (since everything else was basically fine). I'll polish up the writing tomorrow, then start the really fun process of voice over, and making the actual video. Woo.
Oh I also played Celeste and Gone Home in the last week, so if I keep this pace up I'll be able to get through my entire Epic Game Store backlog by about 2045.
Apologies, I thought I was only a week or two out with these posts. I didn't realise I had managed to go three weeks without providing one update!
The usual excuses are the ones I will be blaming at this particular time. A focus on my paid work (with various ups and downs in terms of productivity as development continues), more time spent on the job hunt, and more time spent on my prototyping and writing practice.
I put some time in re-arranging this very website to try and make it more visually engaging at first glance. I put my existing and in progress projects front and centre, instead of a summary of myself that no one read. I created dedicated pages and summaries of the different games I'm working on, as well as refreshing the Writing section to be a bit more up to date and presented a bit better.
I've increased the number of places I have applied to for work. There's been very little success thus far, which I guess shouldn't be a surprise. Design is a very sought after field, and from personal experience I've seen single vacancies get dozens of applicants within the first few hours of being made available. Competition is stiff, standards are high, and everyone wants a piece.
The Pixelles Program has continued to be a fun thing to be a part of. I've got this horrific notion to maybe abandon traditional design altogether and go all-in on writing and narrative design. I had way more fun coming up with dozens of barks than I did trying to debug my jank code. And the continued discussion that the Slack group has provided has been very inspiring. I'm looking into options for trying to make like a short interactive fiction piece on a regular basis. Or something else that could make for good portfolio additions (e.g. more character profiles or bark sheets).
On the Hooligans front, I was getting to "head against a brick wall" levels of frustration constantly trying to sort out collision and movement issues. So we decided that I will focus on a new set of tasks that will instead be focused on completing the initial "game loop" for a single level. This is including start screens, score tracking, menus, camera moves, everything. The initial work done has already made the game feel a lot more gamey, which is very motivating.
Also I finally finished Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and I didn't like it. So I'm going to finish writing up that review and start editing it.
I want to put up reviews on this website to show my critique/analyst side of thoughts when it comes to games, but I want to do it in a way that is constructive, not insulting, to potential future employers and co-workers. Last thing I want to do is go into a job interview with a bunch of people I mugged off.
This ended up being one of the dryer weeks when it came to presentable visuals. Things are full steam ahead with my part time work, and it's giving me more opportunities to get familiar with Unreal Engine, but I didn't get as far with my self learning in UE as I would have liked.
I started my first assignment in the Pixelles program - a free online course designed to help folks build out a usable games writing portfolio. It's long paced course that will take a number of months to complete, but I'm hoping to stick with it.
The biggest thing of note I worked on this week was the Hooligans prototype. I was provided with the basic metrics that were desired for the level layouts. As I said in last weeks post, level design doesn't really come naturally to me. So having someone else sketch out what was expected was a big help to me, and allowed me to flesh out a much better prototype level. And having the actual desired metrics allowed us to get a better idea of what the sizes for various objects should be. We'll be shrinking enemy sizes, expanding structure sizes, etc.
The plan is to make further iterations on this test level and see if it actually plays nice. I want to get in a position where myself and the others working on this project can play the game regularly so that we can make calls on how it feels and iterate faster.
These videos are probably still quite abstract so I'll explain:
This shows what is essentially a "Defence Round" in the Hooligans game. The player has a number of key buildings which they have to monitor and protect from approaching enemies. So far the video shows enemies spawning off screen at set points, navigating to the players structures, and attacking them.
Next on the list is having the player spawning units to defend the structures, having combat interactions between enemy and player units, and improving the camera. It may be noticeable from that one GIF, but the current camera implementation can be a bit nauseating (at least for me). I'll be looking into how to make it smoother and less vomit inducing.
There's numerous other changes that are also planned, but are lower priority for now. This upcoming week I'll be doing an extra day of part time work to assist with a key delivery, so I imagine I won't be getting super loads done in terms of my own stuff. But hey, here's hoping.
I'm only 1 day late with this post so in theory I'm getting better at this.
In a way this past week was overall good for my productivity, even though what I actually did was relatively little. I say it's good because I came to two good realisations.
1 - I am not a keen level designer.
For the robot/shooter prototype I'm working on, I was trying to figure out what was making me stall with progress. I was thinking up systems and enemies and narrative beats all relatively easily. And then I discovered that when it came to putting levels together, that's when I started pausing. The actual nitty gritty of carving out a space, figuring out a route, knowing best where each enemy and pick up should go.
So I tried to steamroll past this issue and just start making levels and putting things in them. I'm going to treat it like writing, where you do a first draft and then once that's complete, you forget about it for a few days before going back to it and pruning all the crap that didn't work.
2 - I need specific goals to aim for when learning something
I've whinged on here for a while now that although UE Blueprints are undoubtfully something very useful to learn, I haven't been motivated to continue learning it. I thought it was just because I wasn't enjoying the actual process of learning and trying to make stuff in it. In actuality, I think it's because - similarly to the level design issue - I didn't know what direction to go in.
When you've got a tool that you can go an infinite number of directions with, it can be overwhelming to even know where to start. To combat this, I decided to learn a very specific thing or things one at a time. I decided to go with learning how to make a basic first person shooter first. So I found a tutorial and followed the steps and made the following:
It's basic and ugly and the camera doesn't turn with the mouse yet, but it was cool learning the most basic of basics to get this working.
Coincidentally, it's these kinds of limits which I think end up producing the best creativity. The issue with the player only able to really move forward with limited aiming made me wonder if there'd be a game in that. A literal corridor shooter where your movement is limited and you have to take on enemies in an extremely tight space.
Anyways, those were my two realisations this week and what I got up to.
Other miscellaneous things done in the past week:
- Carried on with my production work
- Enrolled in the Pixelles writing portfolio program
- Wrote up and recorded my thoughts on Dishonored (2012) and was going to put out a video but Adobe Rush decided to be a drama about it
- Added lightning hazards to the shooter prototype
- Added most of the enemy spawning logic for the Hooligans prototype