Yearly Digest?

Whelp, it’s been forever since I updated this blog. The hush hasn’t been a lack of happenings, so much as a lack of time. Primarily, this is because I began attending a new college last fall. When this year’s summer break ends and fall semester starts anew, I’ll be a sophomore at DigiPen Institute of Technology, where I am pursing a Bachelor’s of Arts in Game Design.

Still, I’m going to make an effort to try to keep this place up to date, so to start, here’s a digest of what’s been happening in the past year.

First draft down!

I can happily report that I finally finished the first draft one of my upcoming novels, The Blue Crown. This is the same novel I talked about working on during Camp NaNoWriMo in my final post of 2015, and it so happened that I managed to finish off this draft during this year’s Camp sessions! The Blue Crown, now complete at 104k words, continued to surprise me. I’d expected to struggle and slosh through the final few chapters, but once I sat down and started, the end of the story came easily. This novel still needs a lot of work before it’s ready for readers, but it felt great to finally write ‘the end’ once more.

Final drafts are getting there?

The other novel I’ve mentioned quite a bit in the past, Paragon, is still in the works. I’m about 85% done with the fourth draft, but because of a bunch of plot and character changes, I believe it’s still going to need one more read through. I had hoped to complete the final draft and prepare it for querying before the end of the summer, but it doesn’t seem that’s going to happen. However, I do believe that getting Paragon out there by the end of year is very possible, and that will be my next major goal.

I’ve also already begun to pick at The Blue Crown. It is admittedly a bit of a mess in its current state, but not as much as Paragon was after it’s first draft. There are a few plot holes that need to be plugged and some rough edges that need to be polished, but I actually think there’s a possibility of this one being ready to go before 2017, as well.

That game demo is almost done

As for that demo of Glass, my full-length RPG game project, it’s almost done. It’s taken a hell of a lot longer to get it ready to share than I expected, with lots of little bugs and balance issues rearing their ugly heads, but I’ve also taken the time to add in a bunch of new combat and exploration features that I’m pretty happy with. It’s slow going, partially because I’ve also begun working on a few other game projects and because school kept me busy with game development work as well, but it is getting there. The only thing I have left to do is run through the content several times and make sure everything goes smoothly, from beginning to end.

On that note, if anyone would be interested in doing some pre-release playtesting of the demo, don’t hesitate to let me know. When the time comes, I should be able to offer compensation to those willing to test the game and provide feedback, but I’ll post more about this once it’s ready to go.

New RPG Maker MV projects

The semi-recent release of RPG Maker MV has served as a somewhat productive distraction from several of my other projects. After all, it’s hard to ignore an engine that’s shiny and new.

Right now, I actually have two game projects going in MV. On is a life simulation game mixed with dungeon crawling elements, which is still in its early stages of production. The other…I think I’m going to keep a bit of a secret, for now. However, I do hope to have this one ready for release by the end of 2016, as it’s already in its alpha stage of development.

2016-08-13

A screenshot of one of my MV projects. Hmm…this one looks a lot like Happy Birthday.

Fun with Unity Engine

Aside from RPG Maker, I’ve also invested some time in learning to use the Unity Engine. Actually, this is partially because it’s very similar to DigiPen’s Zero Engine, which is what I’ve been learning and using at school. It seems a shame to not be able to put some of those new skills to use in personal projects, since academic projects, while valuable in their own way, just aren’t the same, and I feel that getting your hands dirty on your own is often actually the easiest way to really learn and grow. So far, I’ve mostly gone through a bunch of different tutorials, but I do have a simple platformer game in the planning stages. Working with a new engine and on a new gameplay genre has admittedly been a breath of fresh air. Unity really is tons of fun.

Academic game projects

Of course, what I’ve spent most of my time with over the past year has been school. DigiPen likes to talk about its rigorous course work, and after freshman year, I can safely say that it isn’t kidding. DigiPen delights in keeping its students busy.

Still, at least the coursework is fun in its own right. While at the school, I’ve actually assisted in the creation of three game prototypes, lead the creation of one complete game, and designed and created several different board games, which was something almost entirely new to me, but surprisingly engaging.

I’ll talk more about these academic games projects, and what the experience at DigiPen has really been like, in a separate post on the topic, but in summary, in my first semester, I did narrative design for an adventure/puzzle game called Push the Button, level design for a puzzle game called Quantum, and narrative design and level design for a puzzle platformer called Artificial Platformer. In my second semester, I was both the lead designer and the lead writer for a murder mystery adventure game…expect it wasn’t a murder mystery because the college’s strict ‘PG’ content rating doesn’t allow murder in its projects, it was about a cookie jar. That was a fun one, in its own dysfunctional way. All of these games were completed in teams, and aside from working on the design of the games’ content and their narratives, I also dabbled with art and sound design, and did a hefty amount of programming and gameplay implementation from scratch, especially with Cookie Jar.

All in all, school has been a really great experience. There are a few things that bother me, such as a couple of sub-par teachers and the school’s general, dismissive attitude towards the subjects of solo projects and narrative design. Personally, I feel solo projects are really important for any game designer/developer in terms of learning who they are as a designer, and in terms of becoming well-rounded. Team projects have their own benefits, for sure, but they aren’t the same as really digging into your own project and facing down your own weaknesses, as well as really building on and discovering your strengths. In a team, it’s too easy to stick to only what you already know. Also, anyone who doesn’t believe that narrative design is an important aspect of game design is out of touch with the game industry and its diverse audiences as a whole, but these topics would also be better off in a different post. Despite these complaints, however, the school has definitely helped me grow as both a game designer and as a person, and I’m looking forward to returning next month.


All of this aside, I’ll update this blog more often during the coming school year. If there is anything you’d especially like to hear about, let me know. Has anyone experienced any exciting happenings since the August of 2015?

 

Back from Camp

WinnerCamp2015-73x73Well, I survived yet another Camp (of the imaginary, NaNoWriMo kind, that is). At least this time I got to take home a winner’s badge after reaching my 35k word goal!

Last month’s writing challenge actually went really well. Choosing to work on the particular WIP that I did (tentatively titled the The Blue Crown) was definitely the right decision. Instead of trying to force myself to work on something that I didn’t particularly want to, I got to have fun messing around with a plot and characters that I enjoy, and write towards a goal that actually felt attainable. I also discovered that I love this WIP a lot more than I thought I did (and oddly, a lot more than I did when I first began the story, back in the November NaNoWriMo of 2013).

Aside from just picking the right project, I also made sure to get a stronger start during the first week, which led into a pretty fantastic second week, too. The momentum managed to push me through some scenes I’d been dreading since 2013, and also led to some new plot directions that I didn’t necessarily have planned on my old, bare bones outline. It was a blast. The third week also went quite well, but I did start dragging my feet a bit during the final one. I ended up having to pull off a marathon final day to reach my 35k goal (at five minutes to midnight!), but, well, maybe it wouldn’t have felt like NaNo without that accidental tradition. At least I finally broke my NaNo losing streak!

Unfortunately, though, while I may have reached my word count goal for the month, I didn’t manage my goal of hitting the end of the manuscript. I realized that that wasn’t actually going to happen fairly early on, though. It seemed plausible in my head, before I actually started writing again, but once I did, all the scenes and chapters ballooned out, taking up much more words and time than I had expected. As of today, The Blue Crown sits at about 85k words total, with 20 completed chapters. There are about 2-3 chapters and an epilogue left to write. In the end, I’m still pretty pleased with the progress I made. I got through some really difficult sections, had a lot of fun, and there isn’t much more left to go before ‘the end’. Now to keep up the momentum… I determined to finish the thing at this point.

DemoEndScreenV1

Finally reached the end point of the demo!

On another note, I’ve also been putting a lot of time into my game project, Glass. Actually, that was one of the reasons that I fell behind during Camp’s final week. Glass is sort of an odd thing – I either have no inspiration for it whatsoever, or I have so much inspiration for it, that I work on it almost to the point of obsession. Inspiration fluctuates for any project, but Glass somehow takes that to its extreme.

It’s such a large-scale project that it sometimes feels a bit endless, but just earlier today, I finally completed the “first draft” of the demo! I still have tons of polishing and playtesting to do, and in particular, I want to work on enhancing the battle system and balancing the combat difficulty, but at least I have a completed backbone to work with. Even then, the demo only covers the first few hours of gameplay, so I’ve still got months of work to do before this whole thing is complete, but it will feel good to finally have something playable to share once the demo is polished up.

Did anyone else participate in Camp last month? If so, how did it go?

Here We Go Again

Camp-Participant-2015-Web-BannerIt’s that time again: Camp NaNoWriMo. After an unsuccessful attempt in April, and a couple of months of letting my projects sit on the back-burner, I really want to invest some time into writing this month, and hopefully reach my goal.

This time, I’m aiming to finish my NaNoWriMo 2013 novel, a rather odd sci-fi suspense story (tentatively titled The Blue Crown), before the end of the month. I set my word-count goal at 35k, but that’s only an estimate, and may be adjusted up or down as the month goes on. What I really want to do is write ‘The End’ on the final page, something I haven’t been able to do for quite a long time, now. This may not be the most practical choice of project, but it’s were my inspiration is, and after making the mistake of trying to force myself to work on a project I wasn’t really interested in last Camp, I’m just going to roll with it this month.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had been doing a bit of editing on the previously completed sections of this particular draft, over the last month and a half or so. That’s the problem with leaving something in hiatus for almost two years – I could barely remember the story events, the character’s personalities and quirks, the upcoming twists…anything, really, especially considering that my old notes were pretty sloppy. I had to read through it, before I could actually start continuing the story.

On the other hand, that actually made it quite amusing to read through. There were plenty of surprises in those 50k words. And most of them were pleasant, actually. There were lots of humorous moments that unexpectedly made me giggle. Some shockingly forward dialogue. An extreme gore scene that goes way beyond anything I’ve written recently. Characters who were much more endearing and complex than I remembered, with some funny quirks that I’d forgotten about. Some pretty slick actions scenes. And there were even some plot twists that managed to catch me off guard.

The story definitely does have its issues, including some plot holes that need to be worked out, and it’s so odd that I’m not sure how I’ll market it, but overall, I think the novel actually has more potential than I gave it credit for back in 2013. I’m hoping I can do the rest of the story justice, this month.

Good luck to anyone else attempting Camp! If you’re still stuck on a project idea, I’d highly suggest dusting off something that’s been sitting there for a while, and taking another look at it. Who knows? You might find a few surprises buried in all those abandoned words.