63. The Gardens

This last week I finished the art pass on the area I mentioned in the last devlog post. I settled on “The Gardens” as the name for the area, as it features flower gardens near the entrance, a vegetable garden to the south, and an abandoned grape trellis to the east.

This marks the end of a month for which the game was unplayable, since I have to break a lot of things when revising areas. Normally these types of revisions don’t take a whole month, but the metapuzzle concept here (mentioned in the last update) was quite technically complex, and I ended up having to pare back some parts of the design due to playability problems.

I still don’t want to spoil how the metapuzzle functions, but essentially, it was possible for the player to get the puzzle into an un-solvable state. I tried to resolve this in a very lightweight way that would (in theory) add some additional depth to the puzzle. However, once I implemented it. I realized that my solution didn’t actually work, and so I had to choose a more aggressive fix that eliminated some of the additional depth I had hoped to have.

I am still hopeful that I will come up with a way to add that depth back in, but I felt I had spent enough time on the problem for now, and the metapuzzle is in “good enough” shape. Certainly an improvement on what was there before.

So I’ve finished up six of the eleven major areas in the game, and the next obvious step would be to begin artwork on one of the others. However, I’m a little reluctant to immediately break the game again, so I plan on switching gears to puzzle design for a bit. I still need to take a look at improving the panel puzzles for the Gardens, so I may do that this week in addition to some of the other puzzle design tasks on the list.

61. Testing my Patience

I’m mostly kidding about the title, but I’ve been putting the game out to some new testers these past few weeks (which is why I missed December’s devlog update).

Whenever I stop working on new things and take some time to reflect, I often get a bit depressed. I’ve mentioned this feeling during the previous round of testing and it’s similar feeling during this round. I feel accomplished in that I’ve made enough progress for the game to be worth evaluating again. But there’s still so much to do that it’s overwhelming to think about.

Looking at things at a high level, I’ve done a “good enough” art pass on five of the eleven areas in the game (although some of them I’d still like to make major tweaks to)

So that means I’m almost halfway done with the art, which is pretty good progress. But it also means that I still have the majority of the game to finish up.

It’s hard to make estimates on how “close to done” the design is because progress there is much less straightforward. With the art, it’s probably good enough to have art that looks decent and isn’t overly confusing. But with the design, there’s no “right” way for anything to be. It’s down to my personal decisions about what types of puzzles to focus on and how much should be required to progress in each area.

I also still haven’t put in anything resembling an ending, and I’m not even sure what that might entail. I think it’s rather hard to make satisfying endings to puzzle games. If the puzzles are too hard, it can wreck the pacing and just make the ending feel like a chore. Alternatively, if the ending is too easy, it can feel anticlimactic. Usually what works best is something that feels like a large change of pace from what came before.

To that end, I have a few ideas, but they are underdeveloped at the moment.

I’ll close out this post with a short clip of one of the areas that I’ve recently re-did the art for. It’s not entirely finished, but I’m happy with how it’s come along.

13. Forgetting Something?

The goal was to keep a weekly development log, but it’s been over two months since my last entry. A lot of things came up, but I haven’t really touched Taiji much. Been working on other projects and personal things, so not completely unproductive, but my whims have not pushed me back into game development yet.

Always a strange thing, I let my mood dictate to a certain extent what I work on, but I also try to push myself to complete longer term projects.

I suppose I’m lucky that I still don’t have any better ideas than Taiji, but this interface rethink problem has really bogged me down. I don’t like the old interface and I have doubts about my current idea for the new one. Still, I have no better plan for replacing the interface than what I was already proceeding with.

12. Slacker

I believe I even skipped a week or two of updates on the blog here. Still not worked on the game. Kind of amazing how I let procrastination snowball. I try not to beat myself up too much when I don’t feel like working on it and don’t get anything done, as the negative energy really is not very constructive. But I’m starting to feel pretty useless.

On the plus side, things in my personal life have been improving dramatically, and I have been having a good time lately. I suppose it lends itself to asking a question of what is really most important in life to me. I feel like my primary motivator is love, and all other motivations are secondary to that. If I don’t get the love then it’s more important for me to be creatively productive, for example.

I’m not sure, though. It’s just a theory. Either way, things are good for me but not so good for the game, until I sit my butt down in that chair and finish this interface overhaul and get on to designing some more puzzles and such.

11. Crossing the Line into Lazy-town

Still haven’t touched the game. Keep procrastinating. To be honest I have a hard time not calling it laziness at this point, but I am trying to not be so hard on myself. There are two parts of me, the part that wants to get shit done, and the part that wants to procrastinate. Generally, the “get shit done” part making the “lets watch stargate” part feel guilty only makes him want to work less.

On the positive side. I am no longer sick, and I have been having some good and exciting (although a bit stressful) things happening in my life lately.

10. Still Sicking After All These Years

Nothing really much to report other than it turned out my hopes of getting better were a bit premature. I never did go to a doctor, as I am poor, but I believe it was strep and as of writing this I am maybe 90% better. So hopefully this upcoming week will have more productivity and less laying around letting my body drain out fluids and trying not to die.

9. Sick Days

Unfortunately this week I have been down with a terrible flu that left me mostly delirious and unable to work. I’m starting to recover a bit now though so that’s good.

Also somewhat irritated by the lack of version parity between the Windows and Linux version of Unity, as well as Unity’s seeming indifference to this. Right now, you can get the latest beta version of Unity on both Linux and Windows, but not the latest stable? What? This leaves me unable to work on the game on my laptop because the project will not load.

Sometimes streaming the game does actually help with my productivity because it’s a scheduled thing that I have to show up for. I’m trying to work on feeling accountable to my own self for showing up to work on the game on time, but it’s not always easy to do that.

6. The Trough of Unproductivity

Actually a bit late with this week’s post. Some life things happened and I forgot to write it Friday.

Still, I managed to go another week without opening Unity or working on the game. That’s a bit or a bummer, but because my productivity and my mood are so directly connected, I’m trying not to feel too badly about it. If I beat myself up for not being productive, I’m just taking away energy that could be used for productive things.

So, in some ways this week was disappointing, but my overall mood seems to be improving so we will see how it goes. Plus, I made a commitment to do weekly updates here, even if I am just showing up to say that I didn’t do anything.

I have still been thinking about the interface issues with the game, and struggling to come to a good solution. I know it can’t stay the way it is, as it just doesn’t feel very good. But I’m not sure what exactly to do instead. I feel like it’s quite late to make a major decision like this, but I am also not sure I know yet how to make it properly. I will either end up having to try something even if I’m not much more sure of it than the current interface, or I will have to just shelve this question and proceed anyway.

I try to catch myself when I see that I am being unproductive and in the analysis paralysis type mindset. But this is hard because I really have no good idea on how to proceed.


5. Minor Setbacks

This week has been unfortunately somewhat unproductive on the game. I suppose I could call it a mental health break. I have been having a real hard time emotionally and with some difficult interpersonal stuff happening, I just found myself not in the mood to get any work done.

I suppose this would be a good time to being up my thoughts on mental health as it relates to game development. Steve Swink said in a recent devlog update for Scale that “…the actual most important skill is for a game designer is mental state management. Not tuning, balance, or the ability to design clever puzzles. The most important skill is the ability to consistently put yourself into a state where good, productive work gets done.”

I couldn’t agree more. I also feel like many developers underestimate how difficult this is to do. Especially, I think, as an independent developer it’s easy to feel the pressure or lose faith in yourself. You’re literally the one who has to do it. It is not like being on a big team where if you can’t do it, someone else can probably take your place.

This also means that development can slow down drastically if you have a bad week or suffer from mental health issues like I do.

Anyway, I don’t want anyone to be overly concerned about me. I have felt this way before, and I should be able to pull out of it again. Admittedly I have been feeling worse than I have in close to ten years, but I’m still here.

This devlog is probably getting too personal, but I would like to take a second to thank my close friend Amber for being very supportive and understanding of me the past couple weeks. I know I can be a huge emotional drain at times like these. So thanks.

So, anyway. What did get done?

I streamed some puzzle design last weekend, working more on the “edge” based puzzles. The ones that care about whether neighboring tiles are the same or not. Got a couple more interesting puzzles there. I am still not sure how to introduce that mechanic in a clean way, but I suppose the common wisdom is to do tutorials last. I think it’s probably again a mental state thing where I’m just psyching myself out because I just got to a point with the dice face puzzles where there’s a strong introduction of the mechanics that feels really clean. So, jumping back into the early stage on another mechanic, although necessary, feels like a step back in terms of my mental clarity about the subject.

Hope to be in a more productive place next week.

I’ll belay the screenshot for this week, but here’s something interesting I saw in the real world: