- I updated my site to reflect a lot of the games I completed this year! Please check it out here!
- Please stay tuned for a quick video showing all the awesome work I've done, let's call it a 2017 demo reel!
- If you haven't checked them out yet (and haven't clicked my website) please try some of my games I've made (especially if you have android):
Kitty City ShatterGem  |   Dig Diggity   |   Theteorite

Now - onto the post!
This year has been full of trials, tribulations, and growth. I'm glad I kept tabs on what I wanted this year and attempted to follow through. There's always room for improvement, so this coming 2018 I will work even harder to reach my goals!!!

I wrote this one year ago... time for a new cheat sheet!!

2017 in review
At the close of 2016 - around this time last year - I was in a state where I felt both empowered and powerless at the same time. "What is it that you want to do with yourself?" and "What is it that is stopping you?" floated in my mind at the same time, like fighting fish trapped in the same fishbowl. I decided, then, that this inner conflict was significantly worse than taking action (and potentially failing to meet my goals and expectations) - so I made a pledge. A pledge to focus on a very simple, easy to remember success metric that would help me with my most pressing goals. It was the start of what I called "111".

111 was my personal goal, moreso a goal marker. Think football - each play iterates over 10 yards (1st down) in an attempt to reach the end of the field. 111 was my monthly 1st down, with 3 main goals:
001 Game Completed Each Month
010 Pounds Lost Each Month
100 Dollars Earned Through Hobbies Each Month

What I thought was quite simple turned out to be quite difficult. I managed to complete an average of 1 game a month through sheer luck (some months there was the opportunity to work in a group jam as well as a solo jam)... I can't say that my abilities of time-management and careful game design as to not allow scope creep *saved* me. I simply had the ability to meet the goal, the luck to have the occassional willing friend to collab with, and also the love of creating games that drove my success.

Personal Goals Achieved
While tangential to the main focus of this blog, I failed almost spectacularly at the other two goals. As lofty as they were, it still feels painful to not meet my own expectations. 10 pounds a month is quite unreasonable, if not completely unhealthy to lose 120 lbs in one year. I set instead my goal weight for the year to be the upper bound of "healthy" weight for someone my height, which at the time was 70 lbs away. It's great to see that I lost nearly 66% of the weight that I planned on losing, but not hitting the healthy weight benchmark is disappointing.

Also, let it be known that I net a grand total of $0 from hobby ventures (games that went to full release like Dig Diggity and ShatterGem, as well as Youtube, website management and consultant work... that never came) and in fact likely spent more to facilitate those venture than I would have any other year. That being said, I did not lose my full time job, so mild success? Two games brought to production, as well as the experience of producing full games. Regardless, let's move back to the topic at hand, which is development of indie games as hobby and profession...

State of Indie Games and Jams
As a mere neophyte I have no right to comment on the state of indie games as a whole, but as a participant I think I have a fairly clear view that is worth sharing. It is no secret that as the accessibility of tools for making games increases, the market gets saturated, and an iceburg effect occurs. This means that the Undertales, Stardew Valleys, No Man's Skys, and Doki Doki Literature Clubs stand out as representative of an enormous number of games left undiscovered, sometimes completely unpolished, but usually just underappreciated. This doesn't make the climate for indie game designers look favorable at all.

The rise of the Jam, though, brings some amount of hope and promise back. Games are showcased amongst peers with the same aspirations. This leads to more exposure, thoughtful criticism, and motivation. My best moments were discovered developing A) in teams and B) for a weekend-long game jam. That is not to say that #1GAM is a fruitless exercise, but is rather more of a stopgap for motivation best brought forth in quick spurts.

That being said #1GAM has provided me with a macro-level guideline this year... even if I did not make a clean 1 game per month, I did find the desire to make games even when it waned, and the monthly checklist provides both impetus and satisfaction upon completion! Will I do #1GAM next year? Likely not. But my skills have greatly improved due to it, and I would never trade off the time spent in 2017 making fun little games!

If you'd like, check out my 2017 Games here!

2018 Goals
Taking what I learned in 2017 and crafting my goals for 2018 is the first step towards another fruitful year. 2017 had me learning to perform in spurts towards encapsulated game projects with little follow up outside of a short post mortem. In 2018, outside of the occassional game Jam (looking at you, Globa Game Jam 2018) I want to put my entire focus on a single game idea. Luckily, during my year of game jams, I've had the time to think about many game ideas that were just too large a scope to complete in a week or a month. One such game idea I would consider my opus. So, I'll focus on that! Stay tuned for it :)

That is not to say that my other personal goals are going to the wayside. I will continue to maintain healthy diet and exercise as well. But my desire to make $$$ as a designer of indie games will have to wait another year. I want to produce a game that I find fun, engaging, thought-provoking, and most of all polished!

With love from 2017

The following blog article references the app ShatterGem, for iOS and Android. If you'd like, try it for free!
Android Play Store https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.chansu.shattergem
iOS App Store https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shattergem/id1302936106?mt=8

Another delivery post-mortem discussion! It has been a while, but along the way I've delivered on #1GAM (One Game a Month) ... approximately. The average number of game jam and other games completed is abotu 1.1 games/month which I am quite proud of. Please look forward to the full list of games (some of which are just WIP) for the year-end post to come.

Hope you had a great and Happy Halloween, and soon to come Thanksgiving! This post talks about the recent resurgence of Retro games, many of which have a unique twist, as well as my experience releasing for mobile cross-platform using Unity (android and ios)... here we go.

Recently I've completed ShatterGem during the month of October. The idea hit me while playing many games with a retro feel... so first let's describe what that means at a high level. When I mention "retro" these things come to mind

  • Single or dual mechanic reliant gameplay
  • modular gameplay - the above mechanic driven game put under conditions (time attack, high score, etc)
  • arcade feel (e.g. single life, primarily score based, milestones)
  • art and design reminiscent of the late 80s and early 90s
The first bullet point hit it home for me, when I decided to hang my hat on galaga-style shooting. The idea to make the onslaught of obstacles into Gems came when I considered ways to create a new mechanic, merging Arcade action with puzzle genres. It came almost naturally that the goal would be similar to "tap the color" puzzle games. 

My desire initially was to create an isometric infinite scroller, but the intricacies of the art design was a main barrier. When the idea to create NON-pixel art came to light, I felt like I lost some of my retro feel, but then realized what we all know already - pixel art tends to be a red flag for most gamers. So let's call the art... experimental.

The rebirth of retro is quite inspiring but will it mark another app store "bubble" ? I surely hope not, as iterative development over pre-existing mechanics and genre tropes is the advent of great, disruptive games. "Pre-existing" and "disruptive" are not usually in the same sentence, but resurgence is inevitable, and skill and consciousness of gamefeel can bring back something tired into something truly unique.

I encourage you to try ShatterGem, weigh in with your own opinion, and let me know what you think!

-stencil chris
My January submission, Dig Diggity, is available to play online here and also available for free on android here

In this post, I will be providing my viewpoint on creating my first #1GAM game for 2017, as well as some backend processes I employed to release the game for android!

First, harkening back to my New Years resolutions, it is much easier to follow the three great tips from the Mcfunkypants post when you are busy all month! I will again state that a one month timeframe is likely the ideal duration for a game jam for the following reasons

  • You are provided with enough time to brainstorm (average 3 -5 days) before jumping onto an idea you may not enjoy later on
  • Ample time to determine if a feature (or three) is viable + worth it for the duration. One example of this was the save feature in my game. It only made sense to add it in given the surplus of time I had
  • There is the chance for small marketing attempts on the game, which I will get into soon
  • A greater feeling of success! when you've completed a longer project that is a little better than a trivial weekend jam
The game I created, Dig Diggity, is a puzzle platformer (maybe also strategy?) game where your main objective is to dig vertically down each level. But it is not a straight shot down; you need to dodge obstacles (some which can kill), moving enemies, and consider what the next long drop may do to you. Each move is calculated in much the same way the original LoZ controls were - each move is a discrete step, which triggers the movement of enemies. Fans of roguelikes can understand what this would look like immediately. 

To be honest, I found a similar game on the app store about digging that did not have that level of strategy behind it. I found myself crafting a story around why the protagonist digs (easy since the theme is Friends) and built on my ideas of what makes a game "good" - shallow learning curve, slowly ramping difficulty, and requires some thought. Hopefully the Feb submission will be more of a realtime gameplay experience similar to Saison 

In short, it was incredibly easy to take into account Mcfunkypants' mantras, and I highly recommend them!

With the additional time I had (core gameplay was completed halfway through Jan) I decided to take the game to android as the primary platform. On my side this was a trivial task - having moved from Java/Libgdx to Unity, I had the ability to port to many devices almost immediately. The difficulty, it seems, is marketing!!

Ugh. I did not go to school for Marketing... But it seems almost inevitable. After all, no one person is creatively creating things to share with no one.  I want people to experience my games. What do I do?

Reading through the following article on marketing indie games, I see many things I naturally started doing already, albeit not optimally. The main points made in this article are...
  • Gain traction through publicizing your personal website
  • Take part in the (hateful) social media foray and post game update status often
  • Reach out to random strangers with connections to promote your game
  • Try to have your game added to gaming markets e.g. Steam, itch.io
While I agree with the above steps, I have not yet sold my soul enough to do them optimally. While I do have a site its heavily under construction, and my Twitter does not show constant dev progress.

Now that I have the essentials of #1GAM down, my next goal is to make strides marketing my work. Wish me luck!

If you feel so inclined, please check out my Jan submission Dig Diggity. It's available to play online here and also available for free on android here!

-stencil chris
this article cites points made much more eloquently over this-a-way[link] 

My 2017 New Years Resolutions:
  • Settle for Imperfection
  • Release Early and Often (despite better judgment)
  • Accept My Limitations
Now wait a second... this does not sound like the right resolutions at all! What can someone manage to do with such a defeatist attitude? Well these are the formulaic principles of deploying indie games especially during a game jam. My resolution, of course, is to complete one game a month for the #1GAM challenge hosted by McFunkypants

Now, cast in a better light, those resolutions certainly apply. 
Settle for Imperfection - you will never created a finished game in one month; some argue there is no such thing as a finished game or work! There needs to be acceptance of quality fall off in various areas to release a playable, enjoyable product in 30 days (with life and the like banging on your door). 
Release Early and Often - this is key for most projects managed in an agile development setting. The "despite better judgment" is really my own negative spin on it. You wont be able to add in your 50 mini-boss rush any time soon, so don't relay release or give up because of it.
Accept my Limitations - now this is key and is at the heart of why so many games are left unreleased. There are few if any renaissance game developers with the breadth of knowledge and skill to churn out quality art, sound, story and mechanics without any trouble in a crunch time situation. So, what do when you need a sprite or a riveting track? Make use of friends, family, your surroundings, and of course the public domain. Don't turn away simply because you cannot craft every asset on your own!! (Partially speaking to myself here)

This is what makes #1GAM so challenging - you are given a time frame in the game dev cycle  no-mans-land, where games go to die due to the lack of the above mantras. Some time you need to simply "C'est la vie"

I implore you to read through McFunkypant's post on tutsplus (linked at the start) as it provides even greater depth of detail on creating one game a month. Will I be able to keep with the resolutions this year? In due time, we will see! I've submitted a game for Dec 2016's #1GAM to test the waters and all I can say is that I need to speed up my work, and stick to the resolutions!

If you feel so inclined, try out Saison as hosted on itch.io:

If you are familiar with game development and programming, the concept of a Game Design Document (GDD) should not be unfamiliar to you. The GDD's main purpose is to provide a full-scale description and specifications for a game concept or idea. This kind of document or something like it is crucial for the planning and design phase of game development. Without it, there is no way to solidify a concept and take it from conception to completion.

But it tends to happen that the GDD is written once, abandoned and other documents are used in its stead. I've been a part of teams where a GDD is devised, "completed", and then a similar document with more technical specs is built in its place. It is the recommended practice to keep a GDD as the living document of the project, but this tends to be the case less and less.

And I understand that it's hard, at the conceptual phase to build structure, content and features that make sense for the scope of the game. But just because the GDD is the starting point of most games does not mean it is a stepping stone! It is my belief that the initial GDD should be the system of record, or the most up-to-date source of information regarding a project.

Here is a copy of a GDD provided on google drive. You will find that only around half of the document surrounds gameplay (Sections 1, 2, 4, 6, 7). The rest involve UI, technical specifications, art, content and GTM plan. This document is more than just a starting point, it's main purpose is to take you through the pipeline to near completion. Surely other documents will come into play, but to recreate what is already encapulated in this document would otherwise be a waste of time.

I do not think I can do this concept more justice than is done here on Gamasutra, a post called "The Anatomy of a Design Document" by Tim Ryan. The document serves a multitude of purposes none of which is more important than the other. Some examples being:
  • Elimininating the hype* - setting a clear scope and direction for the grandiose ideas
  • Detailing things clearly* - making what seems abstract in concept more clear from a development standpoint
  • Testing against a rubric - what caused this game's conception? 
I hope that I've pushed the point enough - the GDD needs be a part of the development process from start to finish. Keep it up to date. Refer to it regularly. Add bookmarks for clear delineation. 

Now that that's out of the way, I am excited to inspect the non-dev related segments of the GDD in a following post (legal considerations, cost analysis, go to market strategy, art and content).

-stencil chris
Welcome, wary blog reader! You have stumbled upon my personal journal of notes related to game development. Here I will share inside information into my experiences as a hobbyist game developer, programming tips and practices that I employ, as well as miscellaneous and slightly off-topic tidbits and links.

As this is my first post, I find myself in need of explaining my purpose for writing this blog. I am in no dearth of responsibility during my day-to-day, so adding this on top of it is likely not wise. There is a very good reason for it nonetheless. I feel the need to keep this blog as a means of creating a project-wide post-mortem.

Yes, this is against the very definition of post-mortem. Post-mortem is a practice of divulging information about a project and the process for the sake of examining it post-release. Why, then, do I find the need to conduct post-mortem across the pipeline? It is for the very simple reason that there is a lack of documentation and reflection within many indie dev spheres that I wanted to address... and I am no exception.

For those who have not read a post-mortem, see link here: http://www.gamasutra.com/features/postmortem/ It is typically the case that post-mortems will focus less on anecdotals of the past and more on present and future direction. While I cannot blame them, what purpose does a post-mortem play if you are already done with refining the process? In this new age of continuous delivery where even 2D nostalgia-ware games update their game regularly (as more than just bug-fixes) we should think toward all creating a post-mortem for games in progress.

It is my hope that this blog will become such a medium for myself, and a useful and enjoyable outleft for others.

-stencil chris

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