Monday, May 20, 2019

Small May Update


I've been up to a few things!

1) I recorded two Let's Play videos with my friend Austin Howe, one of Castlevania (NES), and one of Castlevania: The Adventure. I love Castlevania to bits, and I've deeply enjoyed having an excuse to play and talk about the games at length.

2) I published a small story in the Fate/stay night universe on Archive of Our Own. Throwing this together was a joy and really energizing creatively; I'm excited about writing, for the first time since wrapping up Afterward. (Also I'm now officially a Hugo-nominated author!)

3) I abandoned the Bitsy game I was working on. This was the first time I've been working on a game and realized I didn't actually like the story I was telling. It was an unsubtle vent-game about a real life conflict I went through, and something about the perspective just felt ugly.

I like the original pixel art I made though! Please enjoy it devoid of the context that made me feel bad:





Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Afterward


About a month and a half ago, on Valentine's Day, my friend Polly and I released a new visual novel called Afterward. It's the sequel to our previous game Her Lullaby, which we released exactly two years earlier. Like last time, our friends Carmichael and Taylor did the character art and music (respectively).

Afterward is about Sal and Tocco's lives after the events of Her Lullaby. It's about an hour long, and very much not a horror game (which we were coy about with the promo material on release). There are no player-driven choices. There are several important choices for Sal and Tocco.

I've written before that putting together Her Lullaby felt effortless. It was the first large-scale collaborative game I'd worked on, and I was amazed at how smoothly everything seemed to fall into place. It was an hour-and-a-half long branching visual novel with original character art and music, and yet it all came together in less than three months.

Afterward was not effortless. When we started, Polly and I expected to have the whole thing cranked out in a few months. Instead it took a full year of passing drafts back and forth before we had a story we were happy with. This difficulty was because of the nature of the story we wanted to write.

In Her Lullaby, the two main characters are constantly on the brink of murdering each-other. That was the initial idea even, when Polly sent me the first draft of the first scene. It's an abrasive game about a horrible life-or-death situation. I cherish it deeply, because it's a good story, and because I love loud, harsh games.

Afterward, in contrast, is slow, quiet, and confiding. It's about the human messiness of dealing with trauma. Both its journey and its ultimate destination are very different from its predecessor's. The story took a long time to tell because we had to grow into people that could tell it.

I'm very pleased with it. Carmy's new character art for Sal is perfect. Taylor's new original soundtrack is gorgeous, and totally different from her (still-immaculate) Her Lullaby OST. And it's clear evidence Polly and I are growing as storytellers. I'm excited for what's next.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

End of 2018 Update


I haven't posted on here in a bit, so here's a quick update on what I've been up to for the past year or so!

To review:
  • I released my scary sad RPG Maker game Facets. I'm super-proud of it; it feels like my second "major" work after Her Lullaby, and I'm excited to apply everything I learned making it to telling new stories.
  • I recorded more podcasts! My friend Wuzzy and I posted three more World Revolution episodes, and naturally the Sockscast is still goin' strong.
  • I'm stably employed and I've got my finances in order. It's amazing how much easier this makes... everything.
  • I got divorced. Makin' this happen was the strongest and bravest thing I've ever done, and I'll be proud of myself for it for the rest of my life.

Oh! My friends and I are releasing the sequel to Her Lullaby, Afterward, on February 14th. If you're at all invested in Her Lullaby's story and characters I'm confident it's gonna knock your socks off.

I'm happier and more fulfilled than I've felt in years. I'm excited to keep being alive.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Facets


New game! It's my first RPG and it's called Facets. You can download it for free right here. It's pretty hard, and will likely take around two to three hours to complete.

I made it in RPGMaker 2003 over the last ten months or so. I've been fiddling with various versions of the program since I was a kid, and 2003 was the first one I ever got my hands on. I've played dozens of games made in the engine since then. I'm happy I finally made my own thing with it.

Facets doesn't have any original assets -- all the art and music is stuff that comes with the engine. It's also edgy and sad and super-personal. It's the most "RPGMaker" game I could possibly have made, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Notes on Trails in the Sky FC's Pacing


I finished the first Trails in the Sky game yesterday. It's a 2004 PSP RPG by Falcom (that's also available on Steam). I played it on-and-off for a little under six months, then blazed through the back-half of the game in about four days. I loved it a whole lot.

Most of the game is perfect in a pretty straightforward way. The pacing is the only part that was challenging about it for me. It's very slow, especially at the start, for reasons that aren't immediately apparent. My friends warned me about the pacing, which helped get me into the right head-space before starting. 

I listed some of my not-directly-spoilery off-the-cuff thoughts on the pacing immediately coming off the game. Hopefully they'll help you the way my friends helped me!

Pacing Notes

1) The main plot is in the background for most of the game. Don't play it expecting a Final Fantasy-style roller coaster. 

2) It's divided into a handful of chapters, each of which has a strong driving conflict that mostly resolves at the chapter's conclusion.

3) The prologue is an exception and lacks a driving conflict. It's the least engaging part of the game. I kept playing because I found the characters and aesthetic charming.

4) If you also find the writing and style charming, I think it's worth playing the game up through the chapter two finale to see if it grabs you. That's when I got invested in seeing the rest of the story through.

5) The finale is very good. I don't think it'd be rewarding for folks that disliked the rest of the game up to that point though. If you're not having a good time by the end of the second chapter, it might not be a game for you.

6) The story is constructed intentionally. While it's slow-paced, there's zero wheel-spinning. The game ultimately rewards your trust and investment.

7) The story ends with a gut-punch cliff-hanger and a literal trailer for the sequel. However, the cliff-hanger happens after all the main plot threads resolve. While it prevents FC from functioning as a stand-alone story, it doesn't feel cheap.

8) I really want to play the sequel.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Things That Aren't Real

(cw: depression, self-harm)

In Things That Aren’t Real, I violently lash out at the people around me. It hurts me as much as it hurts them, which makes it all feel noble somehow. I lash out again and again. After a while it stops feeling good. Then I’m alone, surrounded by strangers.

It’s a music video videogame, like Comforting Sounds, Hugpunx, or Pale Machine (all stories I adore). It's divided into three main sections, each mapped to one song by the band Turnover. Each scene works as its own complete story. Put together in a row, they inform each other in resonant ways.

In the first section, you play as a small starship moving through space and blasting waves of enemies. Your two weapons are a peashooter and a powerful laser blast. You fire the smaller weapon by holding the space bar. The laser fires on its own, timed to match the song's melancholy chorus. The peashooter kills enemies with some difficulty. The laser annihilates them effortlessly.

The laser fires twice. It’s stronger the second time. When it fires, your ship visibly fractures and weakens behind its power. When it finishes, an extra life icon vanishes from the heads-up-display. (Getting hit by enemies does not take away a life.) As the song ends, your ship is forced to land on a nearby planet, too weak to keep fighting. The game continues from there.

I was off-put by that last part when I first played the game. To me, this was a perfect poem, as rich and lovely as Comforting Sounds or Hugpunx. I would’ve had a powerful and uncomplicated reaction to the game if it had ended after the first song.

Instead it continues. There’s a short transitional sequence where you walk your new avatar away from the starship. As you move from screen to screen, the avatar gets bigger and the scenery more detailed; we’re zooming in and getting closer to the avatar. The game explicitly bridges its first and second scenes.

The second section takes place on a single static screen. The scenery resembles a boardwalk near a beach. If you wait for a while, some beach-goers walk onto the screen and mill about around you. Your character pulls out a knife. By pressing the space bar, you can stab the beach-goers. They fall to the ground. Blood pools around their bodies.

The scene fades to black as the song ends, leaving only the bodies and blood. You can also cut the scene short at any time by walking off the right side of the screen.

The game obviously intends to draw a thread between the first and second scenes. We know because of the transitional zoom-in, because both sequences are violent, and because the gun and the knife share the space bar.

The first scene’s violence feels distanced and abstract. It draws from a familiar videogame vocabulary (arcade shmups). It’s cathartic.

The second scene’s violence is uncomfortably intimate. It’s uncathartic and numbing. It’s also “pointless,” because you can leave at any time. The “enemies” pose no threat to your character.

The first song’s lyrics are about longing to feel something. The second song’s lyrics are (quite explicitly) about self-harm.

The third song begins almost immediately after leaving the boardwalk. There’s no violence and no wave of enemies to fight off. Instead you explore some abstract scenery. There are a handful of other people around. You can to talk to them, but their language is incomprehensible.

It’s a lonely sequence. There’s no scripted pacing to it like in the first two sections, although the scenery warps and shifts as it progresses. You just wander around for a while. The song ends, and the credits appear. Pressing the space bar cuts to the desktop.

It’s less engaging than the second section, which itself was less engaging than the first. The pacing confused me when I first played it months ago; it’s easy to imagine more structurally familiar permutations of the story. You could cut out the second and third sections and turn the first into a self-contained tragedy. Or you could remove the damage from your laser and make the first section a straightforward power fantasy. That way the implicit parallel of the second scene would carry a more immediate bite.

The game confused me because the second and third parts interrogate the first, and I didn’t understand what about it was worth interrogating. The shmup section is a story of sacrifice and loss, of failing to defend yourself against a swarm of foes. It’s about being alone in a world that’s against you.

What’s wrong with that? What’s so bad about feeling alone?

That no one is going to be there for me when I really need them?
That I have to do everything myself?
That I have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing until I fall apart?

I didn’t stew on Things That Aren’t Real for seven months because I wanted to “understand its creative choices." I kept stewing because, without me being conscious of it, the game highlighted a part of myself I don’t like very much.

Depression is situational for me, thankfully. It doesn’t show up unless I’m in the middle of some big life change or trauma. But when it does appear, these same feelings manifest. I feel alone in the world, like folks are faking it when they say they care about me. I feel like no one has ever suffered like I’m suffering, that I have to nobly soldier on anyway.

Martyrdom is a seductive narrative. The first section of Things That Aren’t Real is very good at indulging my subconscious martyr. I viscerally want it to end there because that’s the part of the game that makes me feel good (and understood). The second and third sections make me feel bad because they don’t let me wallow in those feelings. Instead they interrogate and dismantle them.

It’s a quietly harsh lesson. I can pretend my pain justifies lashing out at people around me. I can do it over and over. Then I’ll finally be left alone, in a cramped and empty world surrounded by strangers I can never reach out to.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

End of 2017 Update


2017! I successfully moved across the country for a new job, made some new friends, told some cool stories, and did a ton of self-discovery. It's been really hard a lot of the time, but I'm proud of myself for pushing towards my dreams anyway.

To review:
  • I wrote a horror VN called Her Lullaby with my friend Polly! 
  • I finally released my irregularly scrolling shooting game Kikai.
  • I put together Atop the Witch's Tower, a gay love story made in ZZT.
  • I hosted all my games on itch.io.
  • I recorded more Sockscast episodes with Rhete and Polly, including a GOTY 2017 spectacular you can listen to right here.
  • I recorded the first episode of an indie RPG podcast called World Revolution with LeeRoy Lewin; we talk about Middens a whole bunch!

Things have been quiet around here, largely because of all the life changes I'm going through lately. But I've got quite a few projects in the works, and I'm excited to start wrapping up and sharing 'em with y'all!