The Tenth Week

Since I was in Maidstone during this week, there wasn’t a lot of progress with the project, so expect a shorter post this time. I started the week with Monday dedicated to meeting with friends I hadn’t seen for months. This meant that a couple of friends came over to play some games in the morning, and then we went to town to spend most of the day talking to some other friends. I also spent a good while walking around and talking to a friend about my unhappiness after the get-together. While I’d planned on getting work done that evening, I started feeling extremely unhappy after I’d returned home, so I got nothing done before eventually heading to bed.

Noting the frequency of my bouts of depression and how I don’t really give myself much free time, I decided to take at least most of Tuesday off. The business cards that I’d ordered had arrived in the morning, and I was quite pleased with how they came out. After having lunch, I played through ABZÛ (as I’d owned it for a good while, intended on playing through it at some point and knew that it was quite a short game), and that was a genuinely nice game to play through. I then read through the graphic novel Gardens of Glass, which I’d been lent by a friend, and it was both very weird and very interesting. I started to feel very unhappy before heading to bed, but while I was getting ready, I had a mental breakthrough and figured-out (at least theoretically) how to program the core part of the piano mechanic. I thought that the changing of the Piano Man’s radial position could be synchronised with the incrementing of the counter that determines both the vertical (bouncing) position of the lines and the current direction and speed of the Piano Man’s radial movement. Once I took note of the idea, I actually went to bed.

On Wednesday, after reading Jason Schreier’s investigative article about the troubled development of Anthem, I created a new Unity project for prototyping the piano mechanic. To the project, I added game objects (including a cylinder to represent the tower and a number of empty objects for different lines), line renderers and a couple of materials to accommodate the solution I’d thought of the night before. However, I then found myself generally incapable of getting anything done, feeling quite distant and numb. Although I tried to get some programming done for the piano mechanic during the evening, I started feeling incredibly unhappy, and that continued until I went to bed.

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On Thursday morning, I played through The Haunted Island, a Frog Detective Game in preparation for potentially seeing its developer at EGX Rezzed the following day (as for a while I’d intended on playing through it with a friend, which didn’t work out). Then, I proceeded to spend most of the rest of the day with a couple of friends, one of whom (Matt) would be staying over to go to EGX Rezzed with me. In the evening, Matt and I looked over the expo’s schedule to decide upon which talks we’d attend, and before heading to bed, we checked the morning’s train journey to make sure we knew our route.

It was an early start on Friday morning, and I was very tired. Matt and I headed to Maidstone West train station to start our journey, taking a handful of trains to get to Wapping. We met with Ella and Josh, and when we got to the Tobacco Dock (where EGX Rezzed took place), Adam gave us our programmes and wristbands to enter the event. It was around this time when I started to feel very unhappy. Before going to any talks, a group of us went into the Unreal Engine room to play some games and talk to developers. I watched George and Matt play Metamorphosis, an interesting-looking puzzle platformer based on Franz Kafka’s titular story in which you play as a man who’s been transformed into an insect. I then played and spoke to one of the developers of Pacer, a promising, immediately fun anti-gravity racing game inspired by the wipEout and F-Zero games (which I later found to be a rebranded, more polished and developed version of Formula Fusion, which I’d been interested in trying a good while ago). I didn’t ask for the man’s name, but I did give him some feedback on the game (and appreciated his moustache).

After that, Matt and I accompanied Ella and Adam for our first talk of the day, 30 Years of Indie. The panel discussed some of the history of indie games, as well as the culture of indie development and publishing and the current and potential future states of indie games. I won’t write about everything that was spoken about, but a recording of the talk and my notes for it are below. Adam spoke to us about a few of the issues with the talk, however, including how they were presenting having two jobs as an inevitable necessity for developers without offering solutions to that problem (since the talk was handled by UKIE, who are meant to support interactive entertainment industries in the UK), and how the notion of indie developers needing to be financially knowledgeable could limit the medium’s creative potential.

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After that talk, Matt and I joined Adam and Bernie for our second talk of the day, Overtaking Nostalgia to Create the Fantasy of Knights & Bikes (although Adam, Matt and I continued to discuss the issues of the first talk before it started). In the talk, Foam Sword’s Rex Crowle described the creative processes and inspirations for the upcoming game Knights and Bikes. It was a really good talk, and I definitely picked up some ideas about consistency and nostalgic representation from it, and while I won’t rewrite everything that was discussed, you can see the talk and my notes below.

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After that talk, Ella, Matt, George, Richard, Bernie and I headed out for lunch, ending up at a pub that Adam had recommended (with us finding him there when we arrived), called “Captain Kidd.” When we went back to the expo, we visited the Leftfield Collection room, filled with obscure, experimental indie games, developers and too many people to be able to hear myself think. There, I played Becalm, a soothing, passive experience in which you sit aboard a boat and look around and lsiten as it moves through a number of procedural environments. With Matt, I then played Tetris with The Octopad, a set of custom NES controllers that splits each input into a separate controller, and that was pretty entertaining (though we didn’t do too well). Then, I played one of the most interesting games of the event, Nth Dimension[al] Hiking, an abstract adventure game with a low-fi aesthetic that gives the player no instructions and no guidance, even as to what their controls and abilities are. Having to figure out something as trivial as world traversal felt incredibly fresh, and everything just kind of worked for me, so I look forward to seeing the finished version.

After spending some time in the Leftfield Collection room, Matt and I moved over to the Tentacle Collection room, containing more indie games and developers. We quickly went to try out the demo for Recompile, a third-person action game with a striking aesthetic style and an open take on the Metroid upgrade structure, which George and Richard had recommended to us when we got lunch. It was fun, it felt great and it shows a lot of promise, and Matt and I spent a while speaking to the developers, giving them feedback and generally talking about the game. Matt and I then played a match of Galactic Soccer together, which was a fun little football game, and I gave the attending developer some feedback about the feel of the movement. We then played a couple of matches of Retimed, a 2D competitive action platformer where players have to shoot each other and dodge and slide to avoid getting shot, with time slowed-down within areas when bullets get close to players. It was fun to play, and we briefly spoke to the developer there about the game’s potential.

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After that, Matt pointed out that it was past 16:30, which meant that we’d lost track of time and were late for the last talk we were going to attend, Lessons Learned from Running a Games Studio. Thankfully, we were still able to get in (though I almost left my bag behind at the Recompile setup), even if it meant having to kneel at the back and sacrifice any semblance of neatness with my handwriting. The panel spoke about considerations and recommendations for setting-up an indie game studio, and while I missed the introduction, I still had plenty of things to take note of. I won’t list all of the points again, but you can see the talk and my (pretty messy) notes below.

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After that talk, we all dispersed and spent the remainder of our time at the expo in the remaining rooms we wanted to visit. Matt and I went to the Devolver Digital room, where I briefly played Katana Zero and Ape Out, two games that I intend on buying at some point (though I wasn’t able to try out Gato Roboto, which I was particularly hoping to play). As the expo was closing for the day, Ella, Matt, George, Fred, Richard, Bernie and I left together, and went on the search for somewhere to eat together (although Matt found out that we’d have to catch a train relatively soon, since he’d need to make it back to my house in time for his last bus home). After wandering for a while, we found a place to eat beside a dock, though I only had time for a drink, a sausage and a slice of garlic flatbread before Matt and I had to leave the others at the table. We had to run back to Wapping Station, and since my stamina’s pretty terrible, I didn’t have an easy time doing so. The good news is that we made it back to Maidstone in time for Matt’s bus, even if that meant a hectic journey.

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I’m glad that I went to EGX Rezzed. It was a good experience, and as well as it being useful to attend the talks, it was cool to be able to try out in-development games and speak to their developers. It was my first expo experience, and I hope that I can attend more in-future, though hopefully I’ll get a longer-term ticket to be able to attend more talks, play more games, speak to more developers and be generally less stressed about missing things. It’s also worth noting that I spent a large amount of the day feeling very unhappy, with bouts of unhappiness coming and going quite frequently, so I’m sure that that soured my experience to some degree. I was still feeling very unhappy in the evening, and didn’t get any work done before I headed to bed quite late.

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I was still feeling very unhappy throughout Saturday. After visiting and talking to a friend (while I was still around), I spent a chunk of the afternoon and the evening working on this blog post. This is because I’ll be heading back to Winchester on Sunday, and don’t imagine I’ll have time to be working on this post. That, then, brings me to this moment in time, wrapping up the post and hoping to pack in the morning. Over the coming week, I intend on working on the prototype for the piano mechanic, and if I’m able to finish that relatively quickly (which I won’t expect to be able to do), I’ll get to working on the brass mechanic. I hope that I’m not so unhappy and useless this week, but I suppose I’ll see how everything goes in next week’s post.