Picking Up Old Projects

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty bad at finishing personal projects.  This shortcoming extends to many areas of my life.  I have numerous websites, games (both those I’m making and playing), woodworking projects, books (those I’m writing and reading), filing personal documents, etc.  All of them still mid-flight.  Though if I’m being honest, many of them haven’t gotten much past the early stages.  Some of you may be able to relate.

I find that the early stages of a project are some of the most exciting.  The thrill of a new idea is intoxicating.  When you start with something new, the world of possibilities is wide and wonderous.  The hard truth, however, is that no project can stay in this blissful place.  At some point, pen hast to hit paper and work has to happen.  And work is hard.  It takes an output of energy from both mind and body.  It takes time, too.  A most precious resource when you have a full-time job, a wife you love, a two-year-old daughter who is a joy to dance with, and numerous other engagements and priorities.

When it comes to the point of actually doing the work, there are so many other things, often good things, that pull my time and attention away.  (For instance, in the space of writing these last two paragraphs, I have managed to update numerous settings on this wordpress blog, updated my Linked In account, and my Twitter account.  Please applaud me if I actually manage to publish this…)  I don’t recall this always being this way, though.  I have several finished games from my elementary through high school days.  Even a few from university.  I remember having marvelous focus and drive to finish my projects.  Something changed, however, around the middle of University.  I remember specifically that I was in the middle of reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time (and quite enjoying it, I might add) when some piece of work for a class came up and I had to put the book aside.  I never picked it back up again.  I carried it around in my backpack for some time but never read another word.  This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, but it’s one of the first times I recall it standing out to me as something I’d lost.

This brings me to the present circumstance.  Allow me to introduce you to S4:
Pathfinding2
This is a screenshot from a game a dear friend and I worked on for quite a while.  (Extrovert as I am, it’s always a significant boost to my ability to get stuff done when working with others.)  I stopped development on this game more than a year ago now.  I had encountered a technical issue which tanked my desire to work on it.  Yesterday was the first time I’d really looked at it much since then.  And I was amazed to see how much progress we had made on it.

There’s still a lot of work to be done before it’s even close to what we had envisioned, but the core of the application is quite strong.  Which, honestly, was amazing to rediscover.  So much of the way I feel about this project was colored by the frustrating technical issue I was having.  With a fresh perspective, I’m going to give working on this project another go.

I can’t say whether or not it was good to have set it aside.  I’ve certainly learned more about developing games which will make further progress better.  Of course, I’ll still have the daily challenge of finding time to work on it, but a little fresh perspective can go a long way.

Do you have any projects you’ve put aside for one reason or another?   Maybe you should check it out again.  It might be better than you thought : )

Cheers!

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Review: Cinders (PC)

Cinders
Developer: MoaCube
Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/293680/Cinders/

Primary Interactive Element:
– Click/Spacebar

Mechanics/Elements:
– Text with minor vocal sound effects
– Multiple decision points
– Character development through choice.
– Strong narrative thrust

Review:

I’ll admit from the get-go that I am not a veteran of the “visual novel” (VN) style game.  They have always been on the periphery of my experience, but few have seemed like something I was interested in playing (the proliferation of dating-sim VNs has kept me warry).  And so, as one that is less familiar with the style, I am very pleased to talk about my experience with Cinders.

Cinderella as a story has been explored to remarkable length through a variety of media.  This iteration places you once again in the perspective of our scullery maid protagonist.  The expected characters are present: Two nasty step-sisters, a worse step-mother, the vacancy of a dead father, a prince, and a “fairy” godmother (more on this later).  In addition, we have a childhood-friend-turned-merchant, a shady vagabond, and a loyal captain of the guard.  It has the makings of the traditional story, but from here on out the game diverges.

The game plays out over the course of several “days.”  As the days progress the player is given many choices with which they craft their Cinder’s character and relationships.  Many scenes have segments that are determined by these past choices (indicated by a ding and a rose that grows in the top right corner of the screen).  The events ultimately culminate in a final major decision with one of four possible endings.  The endings are fairly mundane in and of themselves (marry the prince, reclaim your inheritance, run away and start a new life, or kick the bucket).  What makes the endings fascinating are the variations.  Based on how you crafted your character and the kinds of relationships you built through your choices, the endings can vary wildly.  Will you be a kind and demure queen or a ruthless and tyrannical ruler?  Your choices throughout the game will determine this.

The other characters deviate from their simplistic fairy tale counterparts and turn out to be quite complex.  Could the step-mother have good motives even if they are carried out in cruel ways?  Could the prince truly have the good of the people on his heart but need to pursue subversive methods to accomplish this?  Are the step-sisters cruel to their core or just reacting to their home lives?  Are the fairies benevolent friends, or cold wielders of fate?  The variety in the characters will require more than one playthrough to see all sides.

The “fairy godmother” is a particularly interesting deviation from the original story.  You are actually given two choices:  A “witch” named Madame Ghede who represents individuality and free will or the forest fairies who offer a Faustian deal for their aid.  This choice also adds another layer of depth to Cinder’s character and impacts the final variation of outcomes.

The artistic style is intricate and attractive.  There isn’t much in the way of animation.  Most characters are given two or three static poses, though each character’s eyes shift back and forth continually.  The visuals benefit greatly from subtleties:  Lighting to indicate the speaking character, shifts in daylight, varied expressions.  One particularly helpful integration is the use of varied text output.  Without the aid of voice actors, the text speed adds a layer of “voice” to the dialogue.  It was subtle enough that it went unnoticed until about halfway through the game but does a lot to communicate how a character is reacting.

Much care was put into the story and, though it can’t quite avoid feeling a little clunky at times, the team behind Cinders has crafted a fresh take on this world.  It’s definitely worth picking up and MoaCube is a dev team to keep an eye on.

Under Shadows Demo – Thank You

Well, it has certainly been a long road.  But, at last, I passed my Master’s Defense and launched the final version of the Under Shadows Demo.  I’d like take a moment to thank all of those who supported me through this process.

My committee:
Dr. Dom Caristi – For taking up the role as my project advisor.  It is deeply appreciated.
Chris Flook – For being a friend and mentor throughout my entire Master’s experience.
Chris Marlow – For having an awesome idea to teach Landscape Architecture through game development and for all of your feedback.

A shout out to all the other faculty in the Digital Storytelling program.  It has been an immense pleasure working with you all.  I have learned so much.

The members of the forum at textadventures.co.uk who guided me through a variety of production issues.  A special thanks to Alex Warren for developing the Quest software.

My family and friends who have prayed for and supported me through this long process.

To my wife Lydia.  I love you so much and thank you from the bottom of my heart for bearing with me through this Master’s degree.  It means more than you know.

And lastly to God.  Without you, I have nothing and am nothing.  With you, I am everything I am supposed to be and have everything I am supposed to have.

Thank you for reading!  I’ll keep you posted on what’s coming next.

Play the game at:  http://textadventures.co.uk/games/view/fkht_43vweuiy2bxeakxdg/under-shadows-demo

UPDATE: Under Shadows, Diving Back In

Well, after a few months of job hunting and a complicated move, I’m finally back in a position to work on Under Shadows.  Since the last time I worked on it I’ve learned a lot more about level design.  I’m going to have to revisit the opening level and make some changes.  I think once that’s done the opening will flow a lot more nicely.  Here’s my list of tasks as they stand:

– Rework opening level
– Go over script and fill out incomplete sections
– Develop the second level

Once I have the second level is completed, I’m going to stop production on the game and focus on making sure the script is finalized in all aspects.  After that, I’ll redirect all of my attention towards the paper.  I’m only expecting to complete the first two levels before I have my defense to obtain my graduate degree.  Here’s hoping everything goes well!