Category Archives: Dev Log

Dev Log: Minigame Marathon

Minigame Marathon is a challenge in which I endeavor to produce a number of small limited-scope games quickly, spending no more than a week on each. The goal is to both build up my game development portfolio a bit, and to sharpen my skills by taking on a variety of very different game projects.

Each game is centered around a specific mechanic and small in scope, little more than the minimum necessary to qualify as a game.

Airship Assault screenshot
Project 1: Airship Assault

After completing each game I’m planning on hosting it on the ich.io storefront, free to play for all comers. I’ll record a breakdown video where I discuss the game, its core mechanic, and the process of playing it. And that’s it. I move on to the next project.

Project 2: Adventurer

That’s not to say I won’t ever go back to a project and develop it into a larger scale game, especially if there’s interest in it. But for now, the plan is to keep stretching and growing with different small game projects.

Interested?

If you’re interested in following the project I’d suggest either subscribing to my YouTube channel or just following me on Patreon. You don’t have to be a Patron to read the posts on each game, though those supporters will get access to them first, and get free copies of any commercial games I release.

Either way, this is a very interesting project, and I’m excited to see what comes of it.

No Mo Blank Page devlog 3

A few changes before the initial rollout.

  • Instead of tapping a button, the user can tap anywhere on the screen to generate a new title.
  • Expanded vocabulary list
  • 30% more sentence structure options
  • Minor cosmetic changes

This is all we need to go live with version 1.0, so I’ve opened up beta access to my $3+ supporters on Patreon. As soon as Google has verified my address and enabled the inclusion of ads, I’ll take it fully live.

Here’s a short promotional video I’ve worked up for the app store.

No Mo Blank Page – Devlog 2

Spent much of yesterday figuring out how to make the loading screen less boring, then coming up with a visual theme.

No Mo Blank Page will be a free ad-supported app with a non-intrusive little banner at the bottom of the screen. Maybe I’ll offer a paid version for people who don’t want to deal with it, maybe throw in a few new features like generating multiple titles at once as they, quite often, don’t make a lot of sense.

The app is largely done; I’ve put it in the hands of my $5+ Patrons to betatest. If all goes well I’ll tweak the word-lists a bit and throw it up in the Google Play store.

Murder by Clockwork – Devlog 1

Getting into this, here’s the current state of the game.

Inspiration

I’ve been writing and publishing novels for seven years now, and in that time I’ve managed to figure out a lot about how my process works, how fast I can write, how long it takes me to finish each stage of the novel-writing process – pre-writing, drafting, editing, revisions, etc. This helps me plan my production schedule, work up a marketing calendar, and to know approximately when I should start browsing about to find a cover artist.

Games are different. There’s no single formula to determine how long it’ll take to produce one, so before tackling an entire interactive novel in Twine, I decided to start with something novellete length that would let me work out a scale-able workflow adapted from my process for writing static fiction.

Pre Writing

I do a lot of pre-writing as an author. I develop characters, I design settings, I beat out the entire story, I make complicated relationship and character arc maps. Interestingly enough it doesn’t take me much longer to pre-write a novel than a short story – the primary difference is how many story beats I hit and how many reversals there are. The actual writing itself is quick.

When I plot out the story beats, the basic unit of fiction I use is the scene. Each scene defines three things: What the protagonist wants, what’s in their way, and how things end, leading us to the next scene. Branstorming involves listing all the possible ways a scene can end and then picking the most interesting.

When adapting this to interactive fiction, I can select the few most interesting possible outcomes based on player choice, but the process is otherwise the same.

Look, a clue!

Murder by Clockwork being a mystery, I had an advantage in that an investigation does have a certain deliberate structure; there are clues, and when you find them, they lead you to new scenes. Our players’ freedom is provided by giving them multiple clues and letting them choose which to investigate in which order.

Visually we allow this with a map of London.

The story nodes manifest as physical locations our detective Wainwright can travel to, appearing and vanishing as clues lead us or dry up. The map is our first major departure from “bog standard Twine game” and it took a bit to figure out the implementation, but it feels much more satisfying than a textual hub would have been.

Choices within the Scene Structure

Each scene is written with an eye for choices the player might choose to make. As a preference I’ve tried to keep each individual passage short, ending in either 2-3 choices or a prompt to continue. For the most part I define these inter-scene choices as I write them rather than during pre-writing, simply because they get fairly tangled.

Where We’re At

  • Pre-Writing: Done
  • First Draft: 90% complete

To Do

  • Line editing and proofreading
  • Add more footnote popups
  • Playtesting
  • Polish CSS look and feel
  • Maybe scrape up some royalty free art

As always if you’re interested in playtesting the beta when it’s released, I’ll be sending copies to my $5+ patrons on Patreon.

Starting from just above scratch

While this is the point at which I’m starting to document my adventures in game development, I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the process. In grade school I had a habit of picking up microcomputers at garage sales and teaching myself whatever version of BASIC they used… I remember having a TRS-80, an Atari 400, and a TS1000 while in grade school, and a Commodore 64 in high school.

I don’t really remember the details, but I made some kind of graphic-mode action games, as well as designed a text adventure parser capable of interpreting two-word command phrases.

In high school I discovered that someone had done most of the work for me, and I began to dabble with game creation toolkits like SSI’s Unlimited Adventures and TADS and the Adventure Game Toolkit. It was never enough for me, though, I always wanted to do more than the programs would let me, I always dug deep into modifying what I could and working around what I couldn’t.

After high school I majored in Computer Science, taking classes in HTML and COBOL and such, ostensibly to get work resolving the Y2K issues, but really just because I wanted to make video games.

It’s a lot easier these days. We had communities in the past – forums and usenet groups – but nothing like it is now, with Game Jams and game dev discords and everything else. The tools are better, too, more user-friendly, with better support and third-party libraries and many more options.

Current Projects:

So I’m not really starting from scratch. In fact, I’m involved in a few projects right now.

Wayfarer

Wayfarer is a work of audio interactive fiction I’ve been working on for Burning Brigid Media. It was supposed to be a fairly quick demo, but midway through last year I ran into a problem with app permissions, and I’ve been taking Android Development courses to figure out what I need to do. I’ll likely start it over as a native Android app.

Murder By Clockwork

Murder By Clockwork is simpler – a Twine game I’m creating for my Patrons, set in the world of the Galvanic Century steampunk mystery novels that I write. But I couldn’t make “just a Twine game,” oh no, I need to fuss around with image maps, javascript, and CSS.

So I’ll be working on Murder By Clockwork, Wayfarer when I’m at the point where I feel confident in the Android Dev lessons I’ve been taking, and other, shorter-scope side projects as we go along.

No Mo Blank Page – Devlog 1

A few years ago I wrote a random title generator in JavaScript. It takes a bunch of titles from old Weird Tales magazines, jumbles up the parts of speech, and recreates them using common title structures.

I’m taking the data and turning it into an Android app. Going from JavaScript to Java is a little complex, but I’ve got the base code working.

The Prototype

Screenshot of the prototype build

As you can see it’s still very barebones. Nothing is styled, and I haven’t even come up with a serious layout yet. Still, it’s functional – press the button, and you get a random title.

I don’t have a lot of plans to innovate beyond this point, as it’s meant to be a very simple app. I’ll polish the visuals a bit, maybe add a donation link or about page, maybe a splash screen.

Still, I’m happy that it’s working and that I didn’t run into any major bugs during the few hours it took me to develop the thing.

Interactive Fiction and InfoComp

Remember interactive fiction? Text adventure games? Infocom? Zork? No? A little?

I blathered on about it a month or so ago on That Which is Known. Go ahead and give that a listen if you’re so inclined. If not, Interactive Fiction are games where the input and output are both text, telling a story. Do you remember Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books? Sort of like that.

What’s up with Interactive Fiction?

Those who donate to my Patreon have been hearing me go on about this for a while now, but basically I used to play around with making interactive fiction games in the 90s. It was more of a hobby than a commercial prospect back then, too – IF games died out as soon as computers gained enough processing power to reliably present graphical applications.

As a writer who liked games but had no talent for the visual arts, though, they were perfect for single-person projects. I never finished anything, but for me it was more about coding-as-puzzle. Can I make the game do what I want it to? Can I figure out how to make this happen? I remember coming up with my own text parsers and OCEAN personality-trait focused NPCs, just to see how efficient I could make it.

Back into Interactive Fiction

Now I’m working on games again, exploring the new tools available, and regaining familiarity with old ones. It’s a hobby, a side-project at best, maybe a way to make something fun that ties-in to my books. I don’t know yet.

What I do know is that “finishing projects” is a skill I’ve picked up in the last twenty years. To that end, I’ve submitted my first game, Deprivation, to the IntroComp.

The requirements of IntroComp are deceptively simple: All entrants must submit the beginning of a new, never before seen work of interactive fiction that is not yet complete and for which the ending is somewhat uncertain. The introduction can be as short or as long as the author likes, so long as it is 1) a working, playable game and 2) interactive fiction. Only introductions to games which are slated for non-commercial release may be entered in the competition.

So I started a project, submitted it, and now I get to see what people think of it. If you want to give it a go and play the other 5 entries as well, you can get them over at the IntroComp site. Register while you’re there! Vote!