2020 was… a thing. Let’s talk about what happened, what didn’t, and what’s next.
I’m not going to wax rhetorical on the past year. There have been a lot of terrible and unexpected happenings and some seriously bad vibes, but this is fundamentally a project blog, and that’s what this post is about.
Almost a year ago I laid out my plans for 2020. It’s safe to say that in all respects 2020 did not go as I had expected and certainly not as I had hoped for. In terms of projects, though, while it went differently than I expected it was a pretty good year.
The last few months
Since the last progress update in September, I’ve mostly been cleaning up loose ends. I finished In The Middle Of The Night for MGGJ2, pushed out the first (on paper) non-preview release of CommonCore, and threw together Bang Ouch Infinite.
I also did Inktober again. I approached it the same way- ignore rules about ink and paper and just do my own style, and focus on drawing something over drawing the best thing possible. Some days were definitely lazier than others; on average I spent between 5 minutes and half an hour on each drawing. You can see the full gallery here, but some of my favourites are below.
The game I didn’t make…
The Ascension III Frangis demo did not happen. To recap, the Frangis demo was to be a vertical slice of Ascension III, with combat, questing, and even some storyline on one of the several islands that will comprise the final game. In fact, I didn’t really make any progress on that at all, not even fleshing out the concept much. I did put out an Ascension III demo but it’s basically the same content as before with more backend changes.
Instead, I built a lot of other games- mostly on the same tech. I do have a reason for that, though it’s nothing profound- well, maybe it’s profound. I’ll get back to that a bit later. While I didn’t work on Ascension III itself, I was hard at work on the technology powering it.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been investing on a common technological base underpinning all my games- a library called CommonCore that sits on top of Unity and provides everything from basic module handling and state loading to a full RPG framework. It’s a project that I don’t think will ever be finished per se as my requirements change constantly, but every time I make a game I work some of that back into the framework and I’ve put quite a bit of energy into it aside from that.
A few months into this year it finally reached the point that I’ve been wanting to reach since the beginning- the point at which I could just make games. It’s kind of a nebulous point to define, but it’s basically the point I was at with GZDoom where I could more or less build out the game-specific mechanics, world and narrative without thinking too hard about what underpinned it. It was an amazing feeling, and something which I’ve been trying to achieve for a long time now.
I knocked out the last few key features in the first half of the year; 2D facing sprites, UI theming, some config stuff and finally having enough bugs worked out that I wasn’t constantly running into weird problems. It wasn’t really necessary, but I also finally implemented something which I’ve wanted for a long time (and I did promise this year): addon support.
…and the ones I did
I started off my year of game development with BC Game Jam 2020, probably one of the last in-person events before human malware hit in force. I decided to make a personal game for the first time ever, something I was super nervous about but also pretty excited to do. I think I did have a title, but I usually just refer to it by its codename, Whistler.
That game was never released and may still never be released. I’d like to someday, maybe, but I just wasn’t happy with where it ended up and how it was presented. I felt what I made really didn’t do a good job of conveying what I wanted it to convey, and because it was a personal game that was a showstopper. So instead I submitted my backup game which I’d created in an hour: Bang Ouch.
It’s basically the bare minimum you can slap on top of CommonCore and call a game, along with a few bits from Whistler and some music for a project that never was. It’s become a minor meme in certain circles and I later evolved it to experiment with UWP development on Xbox One and the big-screen/controller-only experience in general.
Toilet Paper Panic was made in a panic, when I realized it was two days to April Fools’ and I hadn’t even thought of a project! I’ve released something on April 1 every year for years now, sometimes something good and sometimes something bad, so I didn’t want to miss it. Toilet Paper Panic was definitely a rush job, but it came together well, and while it’s silly it’s actually pretty fun, and has that 2020 zeitgeist in spades.
I packed my otherwise empty April full with two jams: Old Games Remaster and Magical Girl Game Jam. Both were new jams, and while one was a huge success the other unfortunately got little attention. For Old Games Remaster I almost did something DOOM-related but I’d been doing (or planning to do) a lot of shooters so I decided to go another route and remake Metal Slug instead, with a heavy metal twist. I called it, naturally, Heavy Metal Slug.
Making a 2D game on CommonCore was a mixed bag- I ended up reimplementing a lot that I had working for 3D, but not 2D- and for various reasons I kind of lost motivation halfway and ended up omitting a lot of features I wanted to do, including couch co-op and the Slug itself. Ultimately I see it more as a prototype than a finished game, and I ended up putting the full source on GitHub. Nevertheless I think it was worth stepping outside my comfort zone and making a very different game than my usual fare and I’ll probably do that again sometime.
I did not know anything about the mahou shoujo genre when I joined Magical Girl Game Jam, and what I came up with was some kind of medieval fantasy first person slasher visual novel superhero-ish genre mashup. I called it Shattered – Why Not Me, or just Shattered for short. The story of how it came about and my eleventh-hour realization on what I should have been making is in the devlog, so I won’t rehash it in detail here.
Despite missing the mark in a lot of ways, and despite having to cut a lot, Shattered is one of my favourite games of 2020. I had a lot of fun making it, I think it does have a certain magic to it, and I liked the world and characters enough that I started planning out a successor almost immediately, though I didn’t get to that this year.
I’ve participated in So Bad It’s Good Jam since its inception and 2020 was no exception. I wanted to do a few things going into SBIG 2020. I wanted to build a big (or seemingly big) game with a sense of epicness and adventure, I wanted to submit something unfinished (allowed and encouraged in SBIG Jam), and I wanted to have a bit of metagame (my 2019 entry, Beach Defend 2000, had fake microtransactions and simulated piracy).
My answer to that was RiftBreak, a wild ride using 3 different engines, a bunch of FMV cutscenes, the nicest menu I’ve ever made, and a fake DRM launcher tying it all together. While the content was pretty rushed and thin, it was by far the most technically complex game I’ve made to date. To be honest I don’t know what I’m going to do next year, RiftBreak was a crazy complex project and I don’t think I can push boundaries any further with the time I’ll have. The full story is in a series of devlogs on the itch.io page linked above.
I also bodged together a thing in a day in a half for Game Breaker’s Toolkit Jam #3, where the goal was to make the worst game possible. Fight Dot Net is an extremely barebones fighting game with a lot of degenerate features like writing garbage to the device context and allocating memory until fail. It’s built using C# and Windows Forms, not to mention some super hacky code, so it runs terribly. I kind of decided to do that jam at the last minute and put in a really low-effort entry, but it took first place!
The craziest part was that I did almost all of that in the first half of the year.
Magical Girl Game Jam 2 rolled around in August through September. What I ended up submitting was In The Middle Of The Night, a somewhat oddball first person shooter with a fairly standard plot and some dark 2020 zeitgeist. It did pretty badly in ratings and understandably so. While I was happy with how the environments and characters turned out, the gameplay was somewhat mixed and it was extremely short.
It was never what I had planned, though. Immediately after the first Magical Girl Game Jam, I had started thinking of ideas for next time, some of which were pretty promising. The one I decided to go with for MGGJ 2 was a sort of magical girls in space thing with gameplay inspired by Halo and gun+magic Doom mods. Unfortunately, I realized about two weeks in that I’d massively overscoped, and quickly redesigned something built around what I already had. You can read the full story in the postmortem.
My last game of 2020 was Bang Ouch Infinite. It’s basically just Bang Ouch, but with random mutation of colors and other things, as well as different easter eggs. I’d originally intended to launch it at the same time as Halo Infinite, but then Halo Infinite got delayed, which soured the joke somewhat. When 7dfps 2020 came around I decided to make it for that jam, as a mostly joke entry.
I really enjoyed making small, sometimes stupid games this year. I think the enjoyment of the process is something I’ve lost sight of a bit until now. Almost every jam includes “have fun” as part of the rules, and usually everyone gets a chuckle or an eye roll out of it but I think it really is important. After all, if making games isn’t fun, why are we doing it?
I mentioned a secret project here and there throughout the year but never revealed it. It was going to be a prequel comic to Firefighter Simulator, following Lieutenant Sarah Lan Powell through her disillusionment bringing dead soldiers home and her transformation into the unstable supersoldier Colonel Liberty. For the foreseeable future, it’s not happening- there were parts of it I couldn’t figure out, I just kind of lost interest and in the end other things took priority. But I would like to step back into that verse someday.
Plans for newip went awry pretty quickly, unfortunately. To be honest it wasn’t really a matter of having enough time; the events of 2020 just sapped all my enthusiasm for that project, more so than any of my other projects with the possible exception of Ascension III. I really had set out intending it to be one of the big things of 2020, and not taking it anywhere was quite a personal disappointment for me.
I also did a hardware project this year: I build a consolized Neo Geo MVS! This has been one of my dream projects for a very long time. I went with an unorthodox design using a vertical orientation and MV1B board, built around a plywood “midframe” chassis. I also discovered I’m probably allergic to wood. I’m pretty happy with how the console turned out although the controllers are pretty lame. Unfortunately, it hasn’t got much use: I built it to play with friends at parties and events, and, well… 2020 happened.
Although I did tidy things up on this site a little- including adding new sections for support info and art- I never got around to making a proper vector logo. Yes, that’s the highest resolution of the logo that exists. Nothing more permanent than a temporary solution, I suppose.
I had some pretty bold plans for engaging with the community and getting my games out there. I did clean up the three streams I use to put out updates- Twitter, itch.io, and this site- and what content goes out on each one. I didn’t really explore any new sites or communities, and I only put out a few more dev videos. The year being what it was also kept me from networking at physical events. However, I also made some connections through game jams, which I hadn’t really planned but it worked out really well!
For all its faults, 2020 was a year that gave me a lot of time to work on projects. I don’t expect 2021 to be the same, but then again, who knows? I do, however, have a few tentative plans for the next year.
Shattered 2 (Mother Earth) will likely be the big game of 2021. I’m still working out the details, but it’ll be about the same length as Shattered but a little more polished. I won’t be trying to do it for MGGJ 3; it’ll probably be released late in 2021. There will be teasers and maybe even demos of this before the full game.
Other than that, I’m planning to do something for SBIG Jam, and if it happens BC Game Jam, but those will be small games only. There’s a few other ideas I’d like to do but probably won’t have time for, which I may or may not talk about some time during the year.
I’ll probably keep plugging away on CommonCore, mostly to support Shattered 2 and other projects, but I’m not planning to push for any big features in the 3.x (Citadel) cycle. Mostly just gameplay additions and some cleanup. I also don’t have any plans for Ascension III in 2021. I know I’m leaving my supposed flagship project by the wayside, but I’ve kind of adopted an attitude of “it’s done when it’s done” and “I’ll work on it when I want to”. It’s not dead, but it’ll remain dormant for another year I think. I don’t have any deep or profound reasoning for this, I just don’t feel like it.
I’m really, really hoping newip will finally be a thing in 2021. If need be I’ll pull time away from game projects to work on newip, but I don’t know if that’ll be enough. I want to put out at least a pilot by the end of next year, but I’ve said that before and never put out more than a teaser.
Maybe I’ll finally fix the logo, too.
We’ll see how 2021 actually goes- 2020 sure went a lot different than I intended- but those are the plans. See you all next year!