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Growth and Regrowth (2-Year Dev Retro)

Two years ago I started making a videogame.

Before starting my 7th semester of college, I prepared to talk with my professor about a free-form project for CIS 690 – a tech elective where you pitch, perform, and reflect on whatever you want. It was about 1 hour before I walked out of my neighboring apartment onto the campus to talk with him that I deemed the moment salient to choose what the subject of my project would be. I had some ideas written down, picked one for a few good reasons, and continue to this day working on that project at a healthy and generous pace.

The game – now called Disharmony – has changed a lot since then, as I would imagine most do from inception to production. But through planning, prototyping, reading, painting, playing, thinking, and doing nothing at all, it has taken on a different meaning entirely while retaining the shape I thought of on that day. It’s these forces of change and holding onto the central shape that I want to talk about, even only partway through this journey, since the act of finding what’s worth keeping in an oddly-growing game is the never-ending challenge of the craft.

(featured painting is Premonition by Remedios Varo)

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Finally an Update: Semester Retrospective, Year in Review, and What’s Next

Hello everybody, it’s been a while since I last wrote. I have my reasons for not showing anything much, but I probably should have at least written a note saying that I’d be gone. I’ve just had a long semester, some burnout, and then a massive amount of re-prioritization as I think about what skills I want to improve and what kind of stuff I want to make in the future while I’m still in school.

In case you haven’t been following my sparse twitter activity or scrying into my apartment, this post should officially sort of summarize what’s been going on and where I think I’m going as we head into 2019. I’ve tried to write this several times over the last month, so it might be a little scattered. Let’s get right to it.

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Atavism Dev Log 22 – Takeoff, Head Positioning, Giant Plan

Update 22: August 16th – September 5

It’s been a while!

Three weeks, actually, instead of the usual two since the last update, and this is entirely due to trying to adapt to the new schedule I have from starting this semester at University (fall of my 3rd year). I had accomplished so little last Wednesday that I honestly just forgot this was supposed to be the day to write a blog. A few days later I realized what was up and just decided to aim for next week. It’s likely that this marks the end of my consistent, content-filled updates that made the summer

On the personal side of things, I’m a few sessions into running that D&D game for my friends and my other 2.5-year-old campaign with the same group is shaking back to life from another hiatus. I finished Slaughterhouse: Five and I have to say I was pretty stirred by it, particularly the frank first chapter as Vonnegut tries to collect his thoughts before writing and the part where Billy watches the war scene backwards on his TV. The book gave me some pretty raw vibes about how ridiculous and terrible humans can be sometimes and how silly it looks from such an outside perspective.

On another track, I also finished The Last Guardian a few weeks ago, and I was totally wrecked by the ending in a way that no game or movie ever has before. It was an absolute journey – beautiful to look at and engaging to play all the way through – and I can probably say it’s the best game I’ve played from this decade. I binged a lot of the developer diaries and interviews about the game a bit after and they were also super cool and inspiring. I’m fully onboard for whatever they have next, and I can’t wait for it!

On the development side of things, the scattered handful of hours from the last 3 weeks came together to roughly form almost a devblog’s worth of content, so let’s just get right into it.

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Atavism Dev Log 21 – On legs and related movements

Update 21: August 2nd – August 15th

Witty Tagline

On the personal side of things, I’ve gotten back into the swing of work, been living with my roommate from the last two years again, and have had very little time to play video games. I’ve also started running a D&D game for my friends (for real this time) and also finished rereading Dune: Messiah. I think before Children of Dune I’m gonna read Slaughterhouse: Five. Still need to finish The Last Guardian!

On the development side of things, I came, saw, and conquered rewriting the character controller, fiddled with a few odds and ends, and bought an expensive asset that’s actually a great tool.

Onward.

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Atavism Dev Log 20 – Landing and Seeking

Update 20: July 12th – August 1st

Alright so it’s not August 1st as promised but I’m not that late.

On the personal side of things, I just had the loveliest vacation in Colorado. I went with my sister and we had a huge road trip, saw Pike’s Peak, spent a couple days at the Great Colorado Sand Dunes (inspired by my favorite book) and generally just had a good time. I got to just completely relax for probably the first time since my Christmas week off.

I thought the week after that would be good for the normal schedule (besides move day) but I was pretty wrong. I got a fair amount done on Monday and Tuesday, but I’m still unpacking after Wednesday (when I thought I could write the blog) and only got internet up a few hours ago. And bills, man. Even setting them up is a pain. Anyways I only lost 5 hours of productivity this week so it’s not a big roadblock.

Development-wise my time is split between the first week when I worked on the Bird AI’s seeking and attack patterns when grounded and the two days this week when I thought I’d try out a different venue and casually revamp the character controller. More on that later.

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The greatest part of a single player game is the mystery of unraveling it. This post goes into depth on the AI of the game and may spoil the experience for the casual reader.

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Atavism Dev Log 19 – In-Depth Bird AI

Update 19: June 27th – July 11th

Another two weeks, another progress post.

On the personal side of things, I finished Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, the former of which I’ve been replaying before I get to The Last Guardian. I knew they were good, but I was caught off guard by how good they were and how well they hold up. Ico especially, as both the incredible use of space and gorgeous architecture left me impressed moreso – I think – than the spectacle of the slaying colossi in the other game. After finishing them, I read some interviews and such from Ueda (the studio’s director) and some critics on his games, and I’ve been rather sucked in by the minimalist style and design philosophy that the games do so well. Overall it got me thinking a lot about my plans and priorities as well as what makes elegant game design, something I feel inspired into refining myself as things go forward.

They also made me really appreciate inverse kinematics and finer attention to kin-aesthetics, something I’d like to really experiment with soon.

Development-wise, I’ve ended up refactoring almost all of the Bird AI – something that doesn’t really feel like progress, but it is – and built some more on top of it to kind of finish off the flying part of their behaviors. Still some spitshine to do there, but I’m ready to move on I think.

This blog goes well into depth about what I’ve written, so avoid it if maybe you’re a casual viewer or at all interested in avoiding spoilers about how they work.

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ATAVISM DEV LOG 18 – BIRD BRAIN

Update 18: June 14th – 26th

Two weeks, more progress. Also I’m sorry about the title, it’s a joke about making the bird AI. I think it’s funny.

On the personal side of things, I’m about halfway through Shadow of the Colossus (ps3 remaster) for the first time- something I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while. It’s moody and engaging -certainly worth another playthrough before I give my thoughts- and I’ll be playing Ico and Nier (2006) soon after.

Development-wise, most of my progress has been on animations and AI for the bird (named AveApex in the editor), but we’ll see how much I relate about them in the future. I’ve also updated the website! I’m officially rebranding as Red Glacier Games, which has a sort of mystery to it that I’m fond of with other studios named similarly.

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Atavism Dev Log 17 – Ornithology Obsession

Update 17: May 31st – June 13th

Two weeks, more progress, as usual. On the personal side of things, I’ve recently beaten God of War – something I enjoyed way more than I initially thought I would and turned into one of the strongest emotional experiences a game has ever given me. I’m immeasurably happy with the reception the public has give it too, both in sales and appreciation for Santa Monica’s hard work. Aside from that, I took a bit of time off from development on Monday to watch E3 with my friends (with whom I still haven’t started that DND game), and I came out the end of it rather satisfied, but anxious for the distant release dates.

On the development side of things, I’ve modeled a giant bird. This week’s post should be fairly short, as I’d rather not talk about the nature of these birds and have little to say on the modelling process, but this also brought to light the issue of whether I should make dev logs over certain things at all. The tribesmen and birds, for instance, are encountered fairly early in the game, so I see them as both a marker for my progress in beginning the development of this game and a marketable point for the piece without delving too deep into it. As I start developing later parts of the game (or just critical parts of it), however, I’ll probably have very little to publicly say about them, requiring a longer-paced style of dev log.

In short, I looked at some other blogs like this one from Lucas Pope (who made Papers, Please) and Nightdive Stuidos’ kickstarter updates, both of which are narrative-focused games and post infrequently to reflect that. I think as I move into later parts of this project, especially after building unique encounters and levels begins, I’ll shed the bi-weekly obligation to preserve the mystery.

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Atavism Dev Log 16 – Natural Elements

Update 16: May 16th – 30th

It’s been an unusually chill two weeks. My new living space has been treating me well, work has been easy-going, and dev time has been pretty productive. I’ve been planning a dnd game for my friends too, for which they recently made characters last weekend, and now I’m working on harder material so I can start running soon. In addition, I’ve been getting closer to finishing God of War and it’s really ramping up the tension, making a lot more emotional impact on me than I thought it would.

For dev-related things, the first week began with some bugfixing but was spent mostly on some interaction with the environment and experimentation with shaders, but the focus of the second was largely on learning the particle system and making a fire model and some effects.

I guess it’s time to get down to the details.

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Atavism Dev Log 15 – A Plague of bugs

Update 15: May 2nd – 15th

It feels like so long, yet so recent since the last time I typed one of these. Long because of all my semester finals, travelling, new living space, and new work schedule, but recent because I’ve accomplished barely anything since last time. In reality I’ve spent still nearly two-thirds of the usual time per week working on the game and I also can’t blame myself for not getting much done over finals, but the last two weeks have been extremely unfulfilling bugfix work that ended up generally much harder than they should have been.

Basically everything I set out to do was so hard that it took forever to fix (usually due to dumb mistakes, lack of familiarity, or obscure reasons) or so small that it’s not too notable anyways. Regardless, I shall list everything I did just to vent about it then formulate a plan for the next two weeks.