I can hardly believe it’s almost 2024! I thought this would be a short recap, but once I started going through it I realized there’s actually quite a bit to go through, so let’s dive in.
Updates, Updates, Updates
Though there were no major releases this year, there was a major update to last year’s big title, Shattered 2. This didn’t add every single thing I originally wanted but had to cut, but it did add a lot of it, including achievements, collectibles, and a few sidequests. A major focus of the update was building out the world and exploring the setting to lay some foundations for Shattered 3.
There were also updates to several other games, including Das Underseaboat, GPU Buying Simulator, and Safety and Security at the Liberty Macvonden Building. However, these were only minor changes and bugfixes, not major content updates. The Crystal Tower also only received a bugfix update this year, and I’m not sure about whether that will get more content updates going forward for reasons I’ll get into shortly.
SE7ENGOKU went from a vague idea to a series of working prototypes. This is a fangame of sorts of the Tengoku series by Dogtopius- it’s hard to explain but there are a few “n-goku” games being made and I decided to do a 3D space shooter. The first prototype was released as Project D759 for Magical Girl Game Jam 7. It did not do well, and that kind of killed my motivation for the project for a bit, but I did come back to fix some of the issues and formally kick off the project.
I’m doing it in sort of sprints, with a relatively small set of changes for each update. I got to two of them this year: Spiral 2 and Economy Update. Spiral 2 was basically what I wanted to get into D759 but couldn’t finish in time, plus a few things I thought of after, mostly bug fixes and gameplay tweaks. Economy Update added an upgrade system and inter-level screen. I have two more planned: Bits and Bobs and Story Mode, which are more mechanics additions and the first parts of the narrative respectively.
Something New, Something Old
As per tradition, I participated in the So Bad It’s Good Jam. Like last year, I had a limited amount of time to work. My entry this year was You Have To Make The Game, an incremental game about making the Next Big Thing.
I honestly don’t know why I keep doing office comedy corporate satire. It doesn’t resonate well with the SBIG Jam audience. I also had the brilliant idea of leaning into the game being unfinished and unbalanced and leaving it open for players to edit various parameters, but almost nobody engaged with this. I feel there were some good ideas in this game, I enjoyed making it, and it was my first experience with AI art (for better or for worse), but it didn’t do well in the jam and for good reason.
On a whim, I split out the RPG Maker section of RiftBreak (my 2020 SBIG Jam game) and re-released it as The Impossible Mission. This is still one of my favourite creations, and although some of the references are already dated it also parodies a lot of “generic RPG Maker game” tropes. I’d like to do another silly RPG Maker game but for now I’m happy to have this one available in a more playable form. Unlike the version in RiftBreak, it has working saves and a few minor tweaks to make the game less tedious.
The Elephant In The Room
There was a Big Event in the indie game dev space this year, and that was Unity’s pricing model change and resulting panic. Although the changes were partially reversed, I like many other developers have been left with shaken confidence in our engine vendor. You can read more of my thoughts on this here and here, but I’ll summarize a bit as well.
Ultimately, if Unity becomes unusable for me that’s probably the end of the line because I have so much invested in it and a lot less time and energy to do it all over again. One of these days I’ll do a post on what it’s like to shrink rather than grow as a creator. The more I thought about it, though the more I realized I was okay with that. I’ve been reevaluating my plans a lot in the past few years for many reasons, and I did so again when Unity made their announcement.
I decided to cut down the scope of CommonCore to the bare minimum because I don’t feel it has a long future ahead of it, and I decided to laser focus on a few projects for the immediate future, ones that I really want to make happen. The firm-ish plan is Shattered 3 in 2024, one more Outliers and Outsiders game in 2025, and SE7ENGOKU somewhere in between.
There are a lot of games- some more normal and some weirder and more experimental- I wish I could do. I still may get to them someday. But given the uncertainty around things in general and Unity specifically I feel it’s pragmatic to focus on these ones, and I think prioritizing them will put me in a good spot a year or two down the line to go where I want with a (relatively) clean slate. That might mean continuing with Unity, switching to another engine to do something similar, or something completely different. I’m not committing to anything, and that’s the whole point.
A Gap Between
The first two parts of Gap Year, a tie-in to the Outliers and Outsiders series in the form of illustrated novellas, were released this year. I’m not sure if tie-in is really the right terminology; it’s more than a companion piece, almost part of the core series that bridges a year-long gap in the timeline and sets things up for the upcoming next game.
The first part, Social Distancing, follows immediately on from At The Break Of Dawn. It’s focused on trying to undo the damage done at the end of that game, as well as setting up a few other plot threads and bathing in 2020 ennui. The second part, Pandemic Time, continues the same arcs while focusing in a bit on Gina’s relationship with Sakura and introducing something vague, foreboding, and totally not the beginning of a myth arc.
I was hoping to finish the whole Gap Year miniseries this year, but I quickly realized that wasn’t realistic. I was happy to squeeze in the second part before the year was up. I don’t want to overpromise, but the third part should be released in the first half of 2024. That means the series will be two years behind the real world; I should have learned my lesson about setting things in the present day with Emergence, but I digress. I’ve definitely been my own harshest critic with Gap Year- there’s a lot I’m not happy with but it’s generally been well received.
Tibbits And Bobs
As planned, I started work on Shattered 3, beginning with a turn-based battle system. There’s a confusing mess of names and codenames involved, but I’ve been developing a prototype of the battle system as TBBTS or “Tibbits” and you can find that on GitHub. It’s pretty basic and will remain pretty basic, but I’m slowly finishing the functionality and adding more features as needed for Shattered 3. Right now the workflow is a bit weird, with most of the development happening in the Shattered 3 project and occasionally coming back to the TBBTS repository, but it will eventually stabilize.
I’ve yet to talk about Shattered 3 at length, but the design has firmed up a lot over the recent months. It’s going to be a very different beast than Shattered 2, and overall smaller in scope. It will have turn-based battles, as mentioned above, and is more of a visual novel with battles than a full-blown RPG. It will be more linear than Shattered 2 was, and more story driven. Finally, it will have a very different visual style, going full 3D with a lot of third-party assets. The eagle-eyed have probably noticed something odd about the (preliminary) key art: I’m experimenting with generative AI, but I’m not sure if any will be in the final game.
In some ways it’s very much an experiment, and how it goes will determine what Shattered 4 will be like. And yes, I realize it’s burying the lede a bit putting the section on Shattered 3 down here.
I am once again going to shamelessly plug the Discord server and the blog. While I still have a presence on Twitter/X, I’ve been winding it down for the past year, and I now post most announcements and updates to the blog or Discord. I’ve been writing some longer form content on the blog, including what’s essentially an essay about a video game, and I’d like to do more of that type of content. There’s a few things I might try in the new year, like enabling comments on the blog and experimenting with microblogging tiny updates in the Discord, but we’ll see.
I chose not to do Inktober this year. I brought up last year that it felt more like a burden than an opportunity, and this year I wanted to use the time for other things instead. I’ve started doing art pieces for various holidays, which has been a lot of fun, and I think I’m going to continue this next year as well.
Finally, I’ve sort of stopped pretending the new archive site will ever be a thing: archive.xcvgsystems.net now redirects to the current archive site.
Finishing What We Started
When I first sat down to write this, I felt like I hadn’t accomplished much in 2023, but once I started thinking through everything I wanted to write about, that feeling reversed. I realized I’d actually done quite a bit, especially considering I set out to put less time into projects this year and carried through with that goal. I think a big part of that was the lack of major releases this year. I released a few small games and a sizeable update to an existing one, and started work on other projects, but there was no big tentpole title.
In general, 2024 is going to be a lot of finishing things that have already been started. I might decide to swap around Shattered 3 and the next Outliers game, but either way, one of those will be released in 2024. The plan is to finish up Gap Year as well, and make some progress on SE7ENGOKU. I’d like to do more drawing and do some more essay-type content on the blog, but we’ll see about that. These plans aren’t very ambitious, but I think that’s good, and I’m looking forward to clearing the slate a bit.