TagJam18: A Post Mortem

Today, I’m respringing my step, getting re-energized, and just generally not thinking about game development. I’m going to play some Borderlands and chill out.

So why am I doing all this? Because this morning I turned in my TagJam18 entry by submitting it to GameJolt.

TagJam is The Arbitrary Game Jam. A game jam is a limited period of time in which a group of game developers create a game based on a theme.

The Arbitrary Game jam is special in that it has multiple themes for programmers to choose from. I don’t remember what the other themes were, and I’m not going to look into it because today is my re-energizing day, but the themes I focused on were “King Charles Spaniel,” “Adolescence,” and something to do with destruction.

So why am I writing up a post mortem? Because I want to condense all of the things I learned into one little place for future reference.

There’s a saying in computer science that you spend 10% of your time developing and 90% of your time debugging. I can definitely say that for me and Phaser.io, that’s true.

Most of the issues I dealt with were typos, which was really frustrating because JavaScript really doesn’t give you a whole lot of notice about these problems. It just doesn’t run a line of code and then doesn’t run the rest of the function.

I don’t have a finished game to show for my work, but I did accomplish more in this game jam than I ever have before. My next step is going to be finishing this game, because I rather like the design.

So what are my next steps? I’m going to have to seriously consider if I want to continue with Phaser.

I really like Phaser, but I’m going to have tons of typos, and unless I can figure out a way to debug it better, this problem is going to continue. But that’s enough about the negative stuff.

Let’s talk positives. Most of what I have to show from this jam are things I learned.

I learned a whole lot about Phaser and Javascript. I have my project hosted on GitHub for anyone who wants to look at it for some reason.

I feel like in another game jam, I could accomplish more, possibly even finish. That’s how much of a learning experience it truly was.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t talk about one of the coolest things that happened. I made a couple of friends who live out there on the internet who made the whole experience extremely enjoyable.

So what comes next? I play some Borderlands.

But in all seriousness, tomorrow, I intend to work on my game some more, and see if I can’t bring it closer to a finished state. After that I start looking for another game jam.

For my next game jam, I intend to use Phaser again. It is the tool that I’m the most familiar with, but I’m going to keep in mind if the experience doesn’t go well that it might be worth looking into something else.

Landscapes and Backdrops

One of the most memorable moments in gaming to me was the parallax backdrop in Super Mario Brothers. I think after I saw that, gaming forever changed for me.

No longer were my next door neighbor and I flying a space ship to the left and shooting things to make a number go higher. We were being transported to a bizarre world with strange physics that allowed our mustached plumbers to jump 12 feet in the air.

Granted, we were only doing it so that we could make a number go higher, but I still consider that first moving back drop to be a moment when everything changed for me forever. Granted, another gaming console later, and we would finally get a glimpse at what gaming had to offer in terms of being transported to strange new world.

Well, yesterday while I was wandering around, looking at my classmates in Blogging 101’s posts, trying to figure out what I wanted to comment on, I found this post on Cathy @ Still Waters. It really got me thinking about how we make those beautiful back drops.

The first thing I like to think about is the color scheme and feeling of my game, as well as what my target specifications are. A lot of the pictures in the reference post would be really good for platformers. They are wide and have a far of vista.

The picture that I have as my header (that’s that picture over there to the left) might make for a really good survival horror scene. It wouldn’t be good to use as a scrolling background though. It would likely be used as a single level in something similar to One Day, The World by Ivan Zanotti. Which isn’t truly a survival horror game, but certainly has a creepy atmospheric thing going on.

So back to what I was saying about palettes. Notice the limited color palette of One Day, The Wold? If you didn’t bother to click through to that, it’s okay, you can trust me, it only uses something like four different shades of grey.

Well, My header actually only uses four shades of green. If we want to get super specific, I used the Gameboy color palette. (That’s Gameboy hard pause color palette, not Gameboy Color hard pause palette)

What I find fascinating is that the Gameboy really didn’t have a ton of creepy games. There were some creepy moments in Pokemon, and Metroid has a sort of atmospheric feel, but all told, most of the games were for kids.

That’s where the technical specifications I mentioned earlier come in. If you’re making a game that requires you to only use four colors, the things that you’re going to want to do suddenly change as compared to if you can use all the colors of the rainbow.

So I’ve talked about two of the different considerations I make when I’m designing backdrops. The other one I mentioned was feeling, which brings us back to those Vistas in Cathy’s post.

It doesn’t make sense in an insane physics platformer whaaaheee fun time simulator to have a stark and depressing background. You want to have a great massive thing in the background to increase the feeling of speed.

It’s actually something that roller coaster designers do as well to increase excitement in theme park visitors. You want to make the player or rider feel like they are going really fast by moving something that appears very large past them at a higher rate of speed than they are actually moving.

Which is why great massive backgrounds are perfect for insane physics platformer whaaaheee fun time simulators. Running past a large mountain as it zips by increases the feeling of speed and excitement.

UPDATE: Added in tags and categories, which I had completely forgotten earlier.

Accomplishments, January 5-11, 2014

I’ve been creating a lot of pixel art lately. Which meant that when Aseprite crashed on me and only the eraser tool would work, I was in a heap of trouble. Thankfully, after rebooting my computer, it got to working again.

It is worth noting that Aseprite crashing was a huge deal because I do a lot with aseprite to try to do the work that I do (however much of it you can call work). Even that banner up at the top of my blog was done in Aseprite. I highly recommend it if you need to make pixel art, or animated sprites. You can find it somewhere around these parts.

Also, learned how to use Phaser.io. Phaser is really neat. If you’re interested in game development and know a little bit of programming, go check it out. If you don’t know any programming at all, still check it out. Because even if a game engine tells you you’ll be able to make a game with zero programming what they really mean is that you can create extremely generic games using their incredibly strange programming language.

On that subject, if you do need a good programming development environment, I would recommend Stencyl. I had good fun with it until I found out that while, yes, it will run on windows, no it won’t compile or run any of your game code. It was pretty tragic because I really liked it’s object model and visual programming. I was especially interested in visual programming at the time because I was scared I wouldn’t be able to type very well because of my super shaky hands, and I figure that would help. So if you have a clumsy toddler, are clumsy yourself, or want to avoid writing code, I recommend it.

Another thing that is happening is that I am working on a JRPG with a Gameboy aesthetic with one of my best friends and I am very excited about that. We have written out the outline for the story, and I started working on the sprites for the main character.

Here is some of the art I made this week:

Peter-Pighousebanner

I don’t have a ton more to share due to having gotten a new computer that I’m trying to set up.

Who “Games by SPKEZ” is For

My dream reader would have to be another pixel artist or developer. Someone like Pixel. His game, Cave Story, was probably the game that got me excited by indie games for the first time.

I want other developers to see what I have done and either help me make what I’ve done better, or look at what I’ve done and get inspired to do something themselves. Right now I feel like my work isn’t good enough to warrant someone else taking inspiration. I’m still practising and getting better.

That said, here are some of the things I made today:

Odelia-otter

Otto-otter-hat

These two spritesheets are for two characters I created for a game that I am calling “The Otter Guy.” When I created these spritesheets I was going for a classic Gameboy aesthetic, with four different colors, all of them green. Specifically, I was inspired by Pokemon. Pokemon was a game that I loved playing as a kid, and I wanted to make a game that payed homage to that game.

It would be so cool if someone could tell me how I could improve my art. I’ve already gotten a lot better from when I first started as a result of input I’ve gotten from people on twitter.

UPDATE: Changed the title to make it clearer that I was talking about the blog and not the games.

Why Games by SPKEZ?

I am SPKEZ.

I make games.

Done. Though I guess that’s a little unfair. Why am I SPKEZ? Why do I make games?

I’m going to answer those questions in reverse order because SPKEZ is a name that resulted from a desire to make games. More on that later.

I make games because I’m dealing with a rough period of time in my life. I was supposed to graduate from college in the spring of last year. I didn’t pass all of my classes because I got extremely depressed. I went home, and I got to feeling better. While I was home, I started to notice something. Even when I was completely sober, I would have trouble walking a straight line. When I would make long trips, I would get lost. I couldn’t get my hips to line up correctly when I rode my horses, when I ran, or when I did martial arts, all of which are activities that are dear to my heart.

I also noticed that I was having trouble with memory. When I got back to school to try to finish my degree, all of these issues got compounded further. I couldn’t sleep either, and my hands started getting shaky. I couldn’t type, which was a huge problem at a liberal arts college where papers need to be typed constantly. Worse yet, I was majoring in computer science and would write code riddled with typos and not remember what the code was supposed to do even after I read the comments.

At my worst, I couldn’t tie my own shoes in the morning. I had to withdraw from college and go home…

I had nothing to do. Nothing at all. So, I tried to do something I enjoyed, make games.

Immediately, what I targeted was game jams. They provided me with a great way to have deadlines and inspiration. They’re also surprisingly low pressure. If your game isn’t completed by the end of the jam, nobody sits down with you and tells you that you failed, and will have to participate in the next game jam. You don’t feel like you’re the worst human being who ever existed because you couldn’t get it done. You feel disappointed, sure. But more importantly, you feel excited for this prototype of a game that you have started developing.

The only trouble was my old GitHub account was filled with meaningless noise that I wouldn’t want to present to other developers and pixel artists. I needed a new internet identity of sorts, just so I had a more presentable portfolio for others to view. So I started the quest for a new name that wasn’t taken on github.

Almost immediately I turned to my friends for help. They’re suggestion based on my ideas for an upcoming game jam was to name my new persona after the main theme of my game. The theme for the jam was new years, and the theme of my game was getting drunk on cheap liquors. Thus, Speak Easy games was born. But I didn’t want something that was so easily interpreted as only being a game developer who made games solely about booze. Especially since the game I ended up focusing my energy on was based around fire.

So I just shorted the name down to a bunch of consonants and a vowel. SPKEZ. I actually say it in my head as “S P KEZ” now, but if you want to say it some other way, that’s totally cool.

Who I am, why I’m here

My name is Travis. I create games as SPKEZ.

I am a 23 year old programmer who is dealing with extreme unemployment by creating video games.

With this blog I hope to create weekly documentations of what I’ve done. What I’ve done may include pixel art, programming, an actual game. It all depends on the week and the workload that I’ve assigned myself, as well as the workload that has been assigned by my life on a farm.

The reason I’m doing this publicly is that I hope to drum up excitement for my games. This can help me in several ways. The main way that I am concerned with is getting more people to play with my games and test them. This would help me to make my games better. Also there’s the dream of making money from games someday.

That would be swell.

Who I want to connect with through this blog, are potential players, as well as other developers. Getting inspired by others is always a great way to create new and exciting things. Another helpful aspect of connecting with other developers is asking for help. There are is so much common ground between so many games, even when we don’t realize it. It can be a big deal to reach out to another developer and say “Hey, I played your game, how did you do this?” or  “Hey, I read your plight. I have an idea.”

I would also like to find out about game jams that I want to participate in. I find it a lot easier to create games when I have a target date, as well as a target theme. Jams are perfect for this. I haven’t created many games for jams, but I am hoping that by participating more I’ll get more practice and get better at developing in the short time frames.

One year from now, if this blog is still up and running, I would like to say that at least one person has been helped or inspired by my work. I think that’s going to be fair, since I’m going to be asking for help as well as getting inspiration from others.