Thing a Month, or; What the hell do I do now?

Thing a Month, or; What the hell do I do now?

So, I spent a lot of time going through everything I want to do and figuring out what the best path was, still I am not feeling like I have any idea but the thing that seems like it might be the closest to working out is Thing a Month.

This post will be mostly about me trying to think things through and figure out what I want to do right now. Like what would be the best choice for me to get started with for the first project, should I just go over to Unreal and use the first month for my learning project? Should I stick with Godot and hope Godot 4 will run on my hardware in here eventually? Lots of questions I need to answer for myself so I can start moving forward again...

Basically, I create a prototype every month and release it. Either it'll get me a job or one of the prototypes will get interest and I know what I should continue with. At the very least I will have a whole library of systems to draw from for future projects. I need to shut down my office server to conserve energy and save money so I can move out of here ASAP so no advanced networking stuff.

I have compiled several lists for various aspects of game development, settings, mechanics and systems, games I like and can draw inspiration from, etc. I will choose a mechanic or two to focus on and a setting, then build a basic premise for a simple story. At the end of each month I will release my prototypes on and move on to the next prototype.

I don't think there's any way I could make a game within a month that I would feel comfortable charging for, I kept trying to come up with something over the last couple weeks and I just can't.

Engines; I will probably be sticking primarily with Godot, though I will spend time with Unreal as well, out in the living room in my own time. If I gain enough confidence with it I will try to do one of the months with it and see how it goes. Hopefully I will have moved out of here by then. I can feel the clock ticking on this place sinking or blowing up or the roof coming down or... who knows really, could have another plague of rats like last year.

Back on topic, this is sort of a continuation of the last post from nearly 2 weeks ago now and as you can probably tell by my infrequency I have been a bit off. I thought it would start getting better after the new year but I guess it's lingering a little longer this time. I'll just have to fight through it.

Anyway; This month coming I planned to do a dungeon generator system. I'm not sure if I will have time for combat and enemies given how complex a dungeon generator could be but who knows, I might have it done in a couple days somehow. I wont know until I do it.

I was thinking of using encrypted JSON files with Tile Arrays (chest locations being X,Y values in the tile arrays, etc...) to store the dungeon data and Wave Function Collapse to generate floor textures and the dungeon walls themselves. I'm not sure how the implementation would be handled in Godot, I may have to write it in C++ or something and call it from a script. I'll have to look at the documentation and source code at the GitHub page and figure our how it even works in the first place. Given how little I know about quantum mechanics this may take some time with a notebook and could very well end up being a massive rabbit hole.

The problem I have right now is I have very little interest in writing a dungeon generator. I think that's because I have very little interest in playing a game with a random dungeon generator these days. That could change, of course, but right now I just don't really care for the concept. I know the system would be very useful to me down the line or, at least the lessons learned building it would be.

I have a very strong pull lately toward Unreal Engine and building some things with it. I would have to work on my gaming rig in the living room which would destroy the separation between work and off-time for me and that could be fine or it could be catastrophic with the way my brain works. I get very tunnel-visioned and without something to remind me of chores or tasks that require my attention I will happily work from morning to night, even without sleep for several days completely oblivious to anything around me. When this happens it tends to be a snowball effect that ends in cataclysmal hell-fire.

Assuming I have some kind of framework around me to keep me from working 72 hour days and forgetting to clean the bathroom for weeks or months, or check the mail or whatever other basic tasks need doing... maybe I would feel comfortable actually working out there on a proper 3D game for the first time.

Now, my C++ is rusty and I don't want to use their visual scripting system so it will take me a while to acclimate just to the coding, let alone all the engine features. I actually know very little about the engine, like... how does data transfer from entity to entity? How does an entity handle it's own data? I could go on.

If I stick with Godot, of course I will be able to more rapidly build 2D things but I am not even sure I will be able to run future versions of it on this hardware anyway... which could lead to me having to sit down with something like Raylib or SDL or even just OpenGL and build everything myself, my own engine, tools, etc.

Godot or Unreal

Stick with what I know or push myself to new horizons?

I really like Godot, I have been using it for a few years now and it's only really let me down once and that was because of my own inexperience with it. It stays out of the way, doesn't force me to do things in any particular way and doesn't crash every 10 minutes. It runs on my old hardware pretty well, I might add. I'm sure I could produce some great games with it.

I like the power of Unreal Engine, I feel like I could make some crazy worlds with it. I have very little experience with it or 3D modelling, rigging or animation. I also don't have any other hardware that can run it aside from my gaming rig. I could make many of the games I dreamed of with it; Anchor Watch and my pirate game immediately come to mind. There's a lot of resources freely available for me to prototype with as well.

With both of them there's a lot I can learn. One is orders of magnitude more difficult in terms of coding and animating but will allow me to produce some crazy worlds for people to experience. The other is easier to use and can produce some interesting worlds as well, though in 2D so some imagination is required on the player's part of course.

There are plenty of very succesful 2D games, I really enjoy a lot of them. The majority of the games I think of when I go through my insprations are 3D nowadays but when I was a kid 3D was very very new and looked like butt on toast.

Graphics aren't everything but the ability to look around you and look up at the sky really helps immerse the player in the world, I find. This gives 3D a lot more to work with in terms of getting the player invested.

Either way I will have to make the jump to 3D eventually in order to make the games I have had rattling around my head for... way too long.

Godot is better short term and any 2D games I make will have to rely on mechanics and personality to stand out.

Unreal is a risky short term investment of time but could work out better in the long-term.

Godot games will run on older hardware.

Unreal games will be pretty (if I can make it work).

2D is quicker, easier and lighter.

3D is more immersive and allows for more mechanics.

With 2D I can make games that look and feel like the ones I grew up with.

With 3D I can make more modern games with all kinds of fancy bells and whistles. I could also make a modified version of the 2D games with 3D environments like I did with The Alchemist's Menagerie prototype.

I could still make 2D games in Unreal but it would be more work.

(Man this is hard to figure out, I really want to do both but I need to pick one.)

With 3D I could make the jump to VR if that ever becomes something I can afford to do. Or becomes ubiquitous enough for me to bother.

With Godot I could just make a game every month and have it be quite functional if not finished, not so sure with Unreal. I can sure try though.

If I do stick with Godot, what will I do with it? What should I do for my Thing A Month first?

I am leaning toward making clones of games I liked as a kid to start out, Zelda, River City Ransom, the Mother Series, stuff like that just cut down to the mechanics and a small world.

Or just making something based on a mechanic or concept, like the aforementioned Dungeon Generator.

I really feel no closer to deciding what to do. I've spent the last few weeks trying to figure something out but I have more questions than when I started and no answers to them.

Ultimately I need to think about what I am capable of and what I want to do. What is the long term goal and what are the short term goals I can set up to get there?


What do I want to do, really?

Long term; Make games and robots. Be successful as a game developer, enough to hire people and start a studio. Have a fan base for our games that is relatively happy with the decisions we make and the games we put out. This will require me sacrificing some of my loftier ideas early on and making damn sure I lock down my project scope and build simple but (hopefully) enjoyable games.

Short term one; Get a game out the door, something people can play and isn't just a prototype. This requires me figuring out exactly what that game is, what mechanics it can have and then building out a project management solution to keep it on track and lock down it's scope. This is best done with Godot as I know it well enough to pull it off. Move out of this place before I wake up underground or blown up. Games should be in the $1-5 range with free prototype/demo versions.

Short term two; Have a small catalog of games with wildly varied mechanics and settings. I can't pigeon-hole myself or I will go completely mad. These games should be small but have a solid hour our more of content, use of a dungeon generator or some other procedural generation can add replay value and is a cheap-ish trick most indies use to increase play-time. I'd like to avoid cheap tricks without good reason.

Short term three; Figure out which game has the most attention and expand on it. This could happen off the bat with the first game if I am very lucky. But if I have a catalog of games out there, there's a chance one could be a sleeper hit so it's best to build the catalog at first unless I am damn sure the game is going to do well.

Short term four; Build the big games. A couple years have likely passed or I got really lucky early on. But this is the point where I should be able to finally build all these big crazy games I have in my head and have tried to build on my own with limited funding but it just would have taken way too long.

The MMO; This could happen after or at the same time as the fourth goal. I expect 3-5 years from now but who knows really?

By the end of the fourth goal I should have built at the very least a small studio and hopefully with careful planning and management can build from there toward a let's say... 10-15 head studio? I don't want to get huge unless I have something that is a massive hit and I actually NEED to have a ton of people working with me.

This may get waylaid and I may find myself working for other people along the way, at least for short periods. Who really knows where life is going to take them? All we can do is lay out some semblance of a plan and hope it works out for the best.

Well, I better get some lunch. I haven't really figured out anything I didn't already know I wanted to do but I have cleared some of the detritus from my thoughts.

If it didn't feel like the walls were closing in right now I would probably work on my light projects and Mantilogs, maybe get Barnaby up and running. I wish I could just work on whatever I want on any given day and not have to worry about money... There's so many interesting things I want to mess around with.

I could be a streamer, that's... an option... I guess. Well, not during the colder months as my furnace is right here next to the office and is very loud. But I could stream me making stuff and maybe make money that way. Maybe...

It seems like the universe is trying to push me toward streaming though, I am not sure how I COULD even do it with the way things are but people keep asking me WHEN I stream lately and I have no idea how they got it in their minds that I do. It's strange.

Anyway, that's not an option at the moment so I will just stick to my games and my music.

The Game

A game in a month, but what is it?

Honestly I don't expect to figure this out right now. My problem is I like big, complex games. I don't really play any simple games and I am really not a fan of casual games. I like things to be challenging with lots of systems working off eachother that I have to mess around with until I figure them out. Or if they are easy to figure out there should be some hurdles to make getting to the point I want to get to difficult.

The three games I played most recently that are relatively new are Ark, Atlas and Kenshi.

I like a lot about these games, Atlas is a dumpster fire of what appears to me to be innept programming but the concept is really good to me, execution is awful unfortunately. They got some Class A bugs that persisted for YEARS and that's no good. I uninstalled it because it deleted my character every other day, the last time it did I had it for almost a week and was halfway through building a galleon when I restarted the server and POOF all gone. Then I found out this problem was around for years and I just wasn't about to take it.

A shame, really... a terrible shame. That game could have been so great. One of the bigger game ideas that is always at the top of my mind is a pirate game and it is a very similar concept to Atlas but there's more PvE and trade and industry and stuff involved. It has to be 3D though... ANYWAY, getting off topic.

The way that progress is gates in Ark and Atlas has to do with levels and exploration as well as enemies that will mess you the hell up. On an unrelated note, Ark did a really good job of making me scared to go places which is a feeling I have not had in a while. It especially got at my thalassophobia. I had panic attacks any time I fell into the water or was forced to go in for any reason. This is a good thing, I think. It means it was immersive enough to actually trigger fear in me. Not many games have ever done that and I can't even remember the last time it happened.

Ark's progression and corpse run mechanics, as well as the chance that some big dino could come along and wreck your shit and kill all your pets creates an interesting ramp of progress and fear. The more you gain, the more you have to lose and you never really feel safe outside of the easy areas.

Kenshi has a lot of systems I already liked put into one game and adds a few more interesting ones on top, making them all play together in a way that lets you play the game in a lot of different ways. You could be a simple trader, a captain of industry, a military power, a lone martial artist or swordsman and many more things. Starting out weak and broke, you bite scratch and claw your way up to become whatever it is you want to be and losing isn't the end. When you get beat down you can play dead or get back up and take more of a beating to level up your toughness but you could end up losing a limb or getting killed. Risk vs Reward is big in this as well as Ark.

While playing these games, whenever I wasn't entranced by them I was picking apart their bits and seeing into their systems. Figuring out WHAT exactly I liked about them.

Both are buggy and a bit of a mess, but what's there and when it's working is enough for the patient game enjoyer to look past the mess and see the sparkly gems within.

So; How does this relate to me making a simple game? I don't know. I am trying to find some systems from these games I could bang together into something simple and the best I got is a Multi-Character Control pet taming game so far, but that probably wouldn't be so simple, ultimately.

I want to make something I would play but I have no idea how I would make a game I would like that isn't terribly complex. This is where I am stuck, where I run in circles. Any time I try to make something simple I end up either hating it or having to add more complexity to it for me to feel like it's worth anything.

I considered earlier in the post making my own versions of older games I liked. The first game I have any real memory of is River City Ransom and it left an impression. I forgot the name of the game and everything about it for years aside from the way it played and the sprites... until I just happened upon a scan of the box-art and it flooded back. Since then I have been replaying it a lot and playing various versions of it.

I could do a version of that, have actually prototyped it a bit in the past as part of Toghairm. It was going to be a game you could play on the PC where you looked up stuff about cults and abandoned buildings.

I would also like to do a Zelda-like but more OoT, less 2D. So barring the jump to Unreal, that's out.

The Mother Series and Contact, those are games I would really like to make versions of. Protobound is a protoype earthbound-like game I prototyped a while back when I first started to mess with Godot.

I could just make prototypes and hope like hell something catches on, then try and build out the game via patreon or something to that effect. The risk level is in between simple 2D and jumping to 3D. I'll be able to make a prototype of a game every month and get as many of it's systems in place with a simple test map/room/cereal bowl.

Then maybe once it gets warmer I can start streaming as well, showing what I am working on or just streaming playing games in my off time I don't know. It would be a step outside of my own head which would hypothetically be in the right direction.

So what is the game, then? If I were to make complex games in prototype form... what would they be? I can think of way too many... but what would be the first? So many things... but... where to begin? Hmmmmmm...

I will stick with Godot and 2D for the first one at least, see how I feel at the end of it.

I have to be sure of what I want to do by Wednesday. I also have to move some stuff off my office server so I can shut it down and save on electricity until I move so that'll either be tomorrow or the weekend depending on if I can come up with something that really feels right by the end of the day.

I know that once I have something to work on and have been going for a couple days I will break this depression and be back on track, where the track leads I have no earthly clue... but it is better to be moving in some direction than stagnating and drifting into madness.

I guess the first prototype should be based on the first game I have memory of playing? It would be poetic I suppose and I already have a starting point. Next month is a short one so it might be a good idea to start out with something I already put some work into.

I would just continue on Gerucrash if I felt like it wasn't going to be a few years before I would have something really worth releasing. I need a team for that game, artists mainly. People who can make more slime types, markings, furniture, tilesets, etc. I know I could code it, though I had my doubts at the start I am sure I can do it. I just don't have enough time...

I am still not sure about the RCR-like though. There's a few other ideas I have kicking around if I am going to be doing prototypes. I'll just add whatever I got to my page in the Aetheneum dedicated to overviews of game ideas, then whatever one stands out to me the most will be what I work on.

The Plan

So at the end of it all...

I will make a prototype a month, I will focus mainly on the systems and keep the graphics simple until the time comes to take it further, if in fact it does. This will not be as safe as trying to make a game a month but will be far less likely to end in me suck-starting a shotgun.

I will build a library of systems and experience from this and may even finally get a game project off the ground.

The rules are simple;

  • One prototype a month
  • Release whatever's done on Itch as a prototype at the end of each month
  • Avoid scope creep after the initial planning phase
  • Make stuff I will enjoy making and playing
  • Create my own music for projects if I have the time, otherwise there's plenty of royalty free and licensed stuff I have access to
  • Work hard, 9-5.
  • Have fun.
  • Remember to take days off or clock out early if I have to. Forcing myself past a certain point is extremely detrimental. I can push myself but I need to know my limits and stop before I break.

So I will continue this in the books where I keep all my documentation and ideas. Either later on today I will edit this post with what I decided on or it will be in a post tomorrow or Wednesday, assuming nothing strange happens.

After weeks of smashing my head on a wall trying to think of something simple I could make I could not, in the end I just have to make prototypes of complex things and hope for the best.

I can't just keep getting halfway through a game project and shelving it. I also need to stop running in circles trying to think of something simple. Maybe one of these months I will find it, but for now I will make prototypes.

None of my projects are dead, they are sleeping.

I'm going to go take a shower, I think better in the bathroom for some reason and I haven't had a shower yet today, to wrapped up in figuring this all out.