The past two years have been a slow rising boil of emotions and uncertainty, and this past 6 months has been a quiet pause from all of that uncertainty. I explored who I was and what I wanted from life. Suddenly, I was single again and had to learn to navigate the world alone, and for the first time, as Fern.
I've learned how to do my shopping alone. I've learned how to wake up by myself and smile at the little rat staring back at me in the mirror. What I'm really trying to say is that I found myself amidst the quiet moments I've spent alone and I'm so happy that I did.
Twitch Streaming Redemption Arc
In finding myself I found my confidence, again. I feel comfortable being myself anywhere, in front of anyone, and I don't fear their judgement. This newfound superpower started with some excessive dating and has landed me back on Twitch. I felt that I was ready to be seen and to provide a positive and loving environment to my soon to be internet friends.
The support I've received has been shocking. I'd say I'm generally a positive person but not necessarily someone people want to be around or to listen to. But recent developments have proven me wrong and have encouraged me to have more faith in my own voice and personality, and most importantly to love myself.
Show Me The Video Game
Streaming every day as fortunately forced me to work on Bring Me Hope significantly more often and with greater focus. I've grabbed a couple of gifs for you to showcase some of the more significant changes made to the game over the past 6 months.
The Frosted Caves have been expanded up with a level-gated section towards the end of the dungeon. Here you'll find a few new enemies, 4 mini-bosses, and a unique one-off item.
The game felt moderately good before but I felt like I could maybe squeeze out 10% more happy-brain juice if I put some subtle screenshake and better camera-following behaviors into the game.
Elemental Interaction Improvements
Fire should make water evaporate. Ice should freeze water. Fire should spread. Oil should explode if it's touched by burning grass. Thoughts like this led me to overhaul the elemental interactions. Most of these behaviors were already implemented but there was no visual flair.
An Experimental Parry System
Last night I decided to add a parry feature to the combat system. The idea is to provide another tool for handling combat encounters. More tools means more variety in gameplay and that is almost always a good thing. Please keep in mind that this parry needs a LOT more polish.
User Interface Changes
I've never seen anyone complain about it but I knew I could do better. The first thing I did and the most major was the main menu. New music, new art, new visual design, the whole thing. I also did some touchups to the inventory UI.
Twitch Revenue Report
Although it goes against the parasocial and elusive nature of being an online personality, I feel that sharing this information is an important part of sharing my path to being a successful indie developer.
I've streamed for about 1.5 months consistently and the general growth of the community has been fantastic. I've received a lot of support in the form of subscriptions and donations. I'm not showing non-twitch donations but that accounts for about half of my revenue.
My takeaway is that people really enjoy a warm, welcoming, and accepting environment. Just being yourself and putting out the best version of yourself consistently can help you foster a community of your own. I also spend a lot of time with my community via Discord voice/text chats but I don't think that's a huge part of it, and I'd go as far as to say it negatively affects my twitch turnout at times due to overexposure to the Fern.
I'm planning on continuing my daily streaming, keeping track of all the cool changes, and more blog posts. Thanks for reading!!!
Me talking about myself
I wanted to make a game that expressed every single emotion that I have felt over the past 28 years of my life. A game that can capture all that I love and care about and condenses into a 20 to 40 hour experience.
I knew the journey there would be difficult but holy shit it's a lot of work. I've been pushing myself to work more which looks like, an 8 hour day at my day job, and a 2 hour (minimum) follow up to that on this game. On the weekends I probably manage 4 to 8 hours a day on this game. That averages a minimum of 18 hours of work per week on this game.
Now considering the amount of hours spent on this game each week, I hope that you're as proud of me as I am to see what has come from this work ethic over the past 3.5 months.
I've taken a big step back and have brought in a stronger focus on incorporating the story (more about this later) into the world and its many features. One very important part of the world is the wind.
More specifically the dust in the wind. It's special dust.
It might not look like much but this tree sway effect required a completely new approach to rendering walls. Some chunking here, batched rendering there, ya know.
I showed some of my friends the grass and they said, "It's weird that it all moves kind of like, sporadically." My little brain translated that to, it's not realistic enough and so I've made all foliage react to the wind as though it's passing through it from across the screen.
These tiny puddles provide some basic but visually pleasing reflections.
I added depth-sorted water reflections. Usually we render the world from bottom-to-top, for water reflections we do top-to-bottom.
Nobody cares about or notices these things, but I do, and this game is about my view of the world, so get used to extremely accurate reflections.
User Interface Touchups
The inventory color palette was just a tone too bright. I dimmed it down and made the backpack more of a rectangle. I also tweaked the reds/greens of stats on the left-hand side.
The item hotbar for equipped items had to get changed. Previously you had to hold CTRL or SHIFT or CAPSLOCK, and press one of the for ability keys, Q, W, E, or R. Look down at your keyboard and imagine trying to do that in real-time while engaged in combat.
This new approach gives you 3 sets of 4 abilities and you press Q to hot-swap between them. This feels much more inline with traditional game mechanics. I also this is this is much more controller friendly.
Writing A Story
The story for Bring Me Hope has never been put down onto a page and that's because I didn't have a fully fleshed out story yet. I had a lot of keys points and important storylines that exist in my lil brain but nothing concrete.
Well thanks to Obsidian, a free writing tool that absolutely fucks, I have started the process of writing it all out.
Before you glance below and pass judgement onto me, please consider that I am no writer and producing literal pages of written content for both quests and character backgrounds is exhausting.
Cutscenes & Quests
I'm ashamed to admit that I thought that I could get away with cutscenes made of hot glue and uncooked macaroni. I broke and gave into my frontal lobes desire for systemic solutions to things. Sorry, basal ganglia, not today.
The idea with this new approach is to provide a simple solution that my monkey brain and both understand, and navigate with ease.
There are quests which contain scenes. Scenes contain conditions and actions. A condition might be "walk into a room". An action might be, "pan the camera to the left".
Pretty straight forward right? When we walk into a room, pan the camera to the left.
I am feeling good about my progress and have put in the work to provide myself with the tools to start building things faster. I hope for future blog posts to contain this much content if not more.
The support of my friends and coworkers is something that I never take for granted and really has kept me going on this project.
Beyond everything else, I want this to be the last game that I make for a while once it's done. It's important to me that I really wrap up all the things I want to say into this game.
It'll certainly take me at least a few more years but I'm more than happy to give that time and energy to it.
Thanks for reading!
Up until recently I feel that I've been dragging my feet in terms of committing to building out this project in a serious way. I've had long-term plans for it but nothing else has really been set in stone besides some crucial story elements.
I've started to work on this again consistently and really have been pushing myself to invest more of my time into building out this game that I love so much.
The opening scene, enhanced
This is where we were at when I wrote the previous blog post.
These lights use what is called additive blending. This means we take color data (red, green, blue, alpha) and add the values of our new colors to it. So a full white light would turn those values to (1, 1, 1, 1).
Lights have been changed to be a bit more dim and a lot more colorful.
These lights use normal blending. Which does not do a whole lot to make the scene feel vibrant. Still seems kind of muddy.
We apply a bit of over-exposure to the lighting and then a tone map on top of that. There is also parallax foregrounds (see the rock on the bottom right).
The scene now is vivid and significantly less muddy.
Let's talk about depth
Depth is a fascinating topic in video games because there are 3D games that feel flat and there are 2D games that feel like they are 3D. Perceived depth is an interested topic because there are so many ways to communicate this information to the player.
Color and focus
Using our primitive monkey brains we can derive that focusing on shiny things gives us dopamine. Looking at bland, boring, not shiny things steals away that dopamine. When building a scene you just have to think about your audience, in this case, Neanderthals.
An easy way to determine how washed out a scene is, is to apply extreme contrast to it. First we'll look at the original art style and use this technique.
It's clear that a lot of the screen is bright and extracting a sense of depth from this scene is very difficult. The bright flowers help but they don't save the day here.
Now we'll look at the new art style (including the tone map) and ideally, we can quickly perceive depth purely from the colors in the image.
Looking at the high contrast image, we can see that everything except the background is fairly visible. This means that players will be able to quickly derive information from a scene.
When things are really close to us, they appear larger, and sometimes out of focus. They also appear to move faster than things that are further away.
Following a visual framework
Building a set of rules to follow when it comes to building content is very important. It allows you to work within a little box that feels nice and comfy.
Game Maker Studio's new audio effects
Up until recently I've always exported two versions of every sound effect. One with reverb, and one without. It's a huge pain in my little butt and the new audio effects are a fantastic addition to my toolkit.
Creative work on large projects is a marathon, not a sprint. It has been about 3 years since I started on this project and I'm starting to get nervous about the length of this development timeline. The changes I'm making still feel significant enough to keep me going.
For months I pushed onwards through the unforgiving landscape known as capitalisim. My knees buckled under the overwhelming weight of my cost of living.
Working full-time is a feat and it's one that I don't have a great track record with, however this time I'd say I'm maintaining a more sustainable routine. I have had much less time to work on personal projects, but I make time here and there.
Pretty New Graphics
Bloom is a trademark in the video games industry and more often than not it is done very badly. Thanks to some fancy new shaders I found on the marketplace, I'm finally doing it right.
Motion blur is the next greatest sin in the video game industry. Guess I'm a sinner because I added it. It's optional of course.
Hitboxes (are probably important)
I decided to write a way to visualize hitboxes and it turns out that I screwed up hitboxes pretty badly.
The hitboxes are meant to be large but not below the hands.
A cursed knight by the name of Guppo awaits you at the end of the Frosted Caves. He is one of the many side bosses I intend to add to the game.
After some conversation he gets up and proceeds to get nasty with it. I don't intend to show more than this until I get around to a trailer, but I promise it's sick.
Never before have I had so much content to share in a blog post. Make some coffee and get ready for some subpar blog writing! I made sure to put nice pictures to make it up to you.
This past month may have been the most productive month of my life. A lot has happened since my last post. I live in a new place, by myself. I've taken up contract work and intend to survive on my own as most adults do. Moving and rebuilding my life has been a jarring experience but I think I'll be ok.
At last! We get a glimpse at some story for Bring Me Hope.
Sea Cave City
After getting through the opening areas you enter Sea Cave City, home to some fish people or something. There are lots of various quests to be acquired and interesting new locations to explore. Let's take a look at Blaow, the son of Boom Boom. Blaow wishes to be taken to the Frosted Caves south of the city but alas it's full of danger! Danger only you are equipped to physically beat into submission.
Here we see Clawdia and Shellsea sitting in a bedroom full of tension. It was through this scene that I learned how much I love yellow dresses and therefor, drawing them.
A Real Artist Huh?
Drawing the interiors of homes, a new cave, and lots of other tedious animations has brought me to the peak of my art to date. It was at this moment of artistic bliss that I decided it was time to revisit Alium's animations.
I set out with the goal of giving our protagonist a lot more bounce and sway. Motion should feel fluid and natural right? It has always felt satisfying to run about, but I wanted to extend the character's hair length a smidge to give more room for fluidity in its movement.
South of Sea Cave City lies the Frosted Caves... a mostly unexplored cave system that mysteriously produces cold weather and snow. The deeper you go into the caves the closer you get to revealing the source of this phenomenon.
This is the first semi-optional dungeon in the game. You'll be able to just play through the bit required for the story or go deeper and discover a hidden boss that awaits you at the end of the dungeon.
I would like to talk more about dungeons and the design of them more in depth but until I have some decently compelling content to showcase, I'll leave it at that.
COVID seeped in through the walls and attempted to banish me to the shadow realm. Thankfully Julia and I survived.
That aside I've been pretending that I'm a talented artist, slowly rebuilding and adding visual content to the game. Here are some pretty GIFs for you to examine with your eyes.
Bring Me Hope use tilesets which make up the floors and walls in each area. Now that I'm an artist it is I that must create these tilesets. Here's a look at what I have done so far.
Thoughts on the creative process
Building experiences is my favorite hobby. Music, sound, art, game feel... it all comes together to provide a unique experience. I've learned in recent years that it takes a lot of your human juice to build new things. A beautiful date night might fill you with a sense of excitement and love! The role of an artist is to turn those emotions into a picture/song/game that others can experience. Converting emotions into an experience is a skill that you have to practice regularly and it's one that I hope to get better at as time goes on.
That's all I really have to say. I just wanted to share this perspective with aspiring artists.
The life of an independent software developer could be compared to that of a rat. For months I've quietly nibbled on work getting ever closer to the goal of long-term survival. Here's the cheese I've stashed away since last time.
Bring Me Hope looks different?
The Possum Tom's advice was to shift background colors down in value (darker) and middle depth (less important stuff) objects into the middle values. This is the only scene I've completely reworked so far. Rat artists move slowly but steadily.
SpritePile 2.0 and Xor's shaders
I asked Xor to make SpritePile beautiful. I said, "I have all the 3D data ready to go, make it pretty pls". Like a rat parent I provided the hole in the wall for my rat family to flourish.
I'm not going to use my development sharing space for this topic since it's a bit personal. Although it went against my rat-like nature, I came out a few months ago, I left the comforts of my rat den, (actually about 2 weeks after my last blog post) and life has been much better since then.
I've been silent for the most part for a few months now and hopefully for the better. Here's what happened since the last blog post.
Four months later, what got done?
You can teleport between praesidios (checkpoints) now.
One of the optional bosses (Guppo) is partially finished. We have a unique set of art just for this encounter.
You can find items in chests now. We did a very "Zelda-like" animation for this because dopamine.
Combat is actually fun now (don't pay attention to the random unfinished art). I'd argue that it can feel pretty anime at times.
You like tech do ya?
Here is some home-brewed verlet physics. We use these for banners.
Here's the super fun and exciting text parser that I threw together.
What you are NOT seeing in this post
There are a number of new characters (both friendly and opposing), lots of new items, a questing system, and a lot of other new features. This is a very large game and I struggle with its scope on a near daily basis. Here's what I'm hoping to show you in the next post... but let's see it in a list format, for all you list nerds.
We're just weeks away from launching our Kickstarter and the pressure has never been so apparent. Our finances are dwindling and like a cactus in the valley we are hoping for the drought to come to an end. Here's where we are at!
Gifs and Eye Candy
What you're seeing here is ambient occlusion, kind of. We built a tileset of shadows that I dynamically create based on where walls are. We build it into a vertex buffer and then draw it. It is super performant and adds a lot of depth to the lighting within any scene.
Finally Seeing Our Game
This is one of those games that you can't really play until you've laid out a good amount of content and all the core systems are fully fleshed out. Imagine how disappointing it would be to play an MMO with no other players. Some features are vital to the experience you want to deliver.
A few weeks ago we started to see glimpses of what Bring Me Hope could be. We had finally finished the perk system, marking the last core feature to be implemented. Now we just need about 15 more minutes of story content and we'll have a very satisfying demo.
Kickstarter and What's Expected
So there I was skimming Kickstarter game projects trying to see what people expected from you when you asked for $100,000 in funding. Turns out people have pretty reasonable standards. In my search I found a Stardew Valley clone that was more or less a straight rip off but despite my apparently higher standards it had raised well over $700,000!
Maybe I'm Trying Too Hard
Alright so let's cut to the chase. I've pretty much cemented the idea that I have unrealistic standards for my own work nowadays. In the past maybe not so much but today I'm a stereotype "never happy" artist. I've spent the past few months confronting this side of myself and accepting it. I don't care if my standards aren't reasonable. I want to do my very best and I want those who are on the project with me to also give it their best efforts.
Anyways here's the results of the past two months.
What's New You Ask?
I'm on a grind to add over 100 items to the game prior to the release of the Kickstarter demo. We're at a little over 65 at the moment. Besides that I've spent a lot of time refactoring code to support multiple languages, ingame patch notes, all aspect ratios, and everything else most indie games don't bother with because it's a waste of time if your game isn't already making money.
Let's Talk Marketing
Like many aspiring creative types I've seen hundreds of hours of "How To" videos on the subject of marketing. It's all stupid bullshit without the proper context. Posting on Twitter every day doesn't mean you'll have wider reach if nobody follows you on Twitter. Maintaining a development blog doesn't mean you'll get more sales if nobody wants your game. Are you starting to catch onto the theme?
If your game is boring, uninspired, has no target audience, and/or has no marketing then it won't sell well.
Ok so you're probably thinking, "Well [REDACTED] if you know your game has no reach right now why aren't you doing anything about it?"
The answer is that I believe in the heart of the cards. I think that this game is so god damn good that it will sell itself if only I can give it enough lime light. This means we need a well-timed and carefully executed Kickstarter. A Steam page that grabs you by the love handles and rattles you to your core. Lastly you have to love the promise and soul of a game. Julia, Topher, and I are the soul. To help reinforce our soul we've been streaming on Twitch semi-regularly.
When's The Next Blog Post?
Every two months or when I feel it scratching its way out of my little [REDACTED] heart. I can make no exceptions.