House Move and other stuff…

It’s been a long time in the planning, but we have finally moved house. We sold our home of 20 years and moved 50 miles away to a small village in South Lincolnshire (hence the pic of the Red Arrows above – who are based here). It’s been a total change – away from friends, family and all the things you take for granted. But so far, things are shaping up well. It’s our first detached house, and we’re still getting used to the freedom that brings. Knowing that you can play your bongos at 3 am without upsetting the neighbours is pretty damned awesome.

In order to move house, I had 10 years of unfinished ‘home improvements’ to complete. If you’re going to sell your home, it needs to look good. Or, at least be presentable. So I went into full HandyMan mode for a few months. I even wore trousers with 50 pockets just like a Pro.

The down-side to this is I pretty much had to put game development on hold. I find it quite difficult to switch between physical and mental work. I personally find that I need days – even weeks – to sharpen up for coding work. And on the flip-side, when I’ve been doing coding work, I’ve struggled to motivate myself to do the physical jobs. Being slumped at a desk for eight hours a day sure can make you lazy!

I guess the healthy option would be to do a bit of both each day – but, switching between radically different tasks is inefficient. In fact, from experience, regularly switching between different art, or coding tasks is bad. Better to group similar tasks and finish them all in a block. Building a brick wall in the morning and coding some UI in the afternoon would most likely result in a wonky wall and spaghetti UI code πŸ™‚

Getting up to speed on game development – What’s Changed?

I’m revisiting the Unity C# code that I wrote almost a year ago now. The good news is – it still works with the latest version of Unity! πŸ™‚ That’s in contrast to a 3D Pool game that I wrote a few years ago, that was totally mashed by physics and UI updates. Those Unity updates were definitely needed but quickly rendered my code obsolete back then.

Over the past year, the Unity platform seems to have progressed nicely and the project stability between updates shows that the systems that are in place now are largely here to stay. All my physics and UI works 100% (the game extensively uses 2D physics).

Or course, the best update of all is: Dark Mode for the free version! What a difference that makes. Thank you Unity for no longer burning my retinas out! πŸ™‚

Outside of Unity, there seems to have been an explosion in Project Management solutions. I’ve been a long-time user of Trello for my projects, but after attempting to use that extensively on my last art contract, I found it wasn’t good for distributing finished art assets. It turns out the simplicity of Trello is also it’s Achillies heel. I found myself moving over to Google Drive. I still used Trello as a visual reference (showing the coder how graphical elements should be assembled). But as for distributing assets, it wasn’t up to the job.

Right now, I’m trying to decide whether to use Toggl Plan or HackNPlan for managing my project. Both of these systems use the Kanban cards and lanes, similar to Trello. However, Toggl Plan gives you a flexible Gantt chart – showing the tasks on a timeline, which is ideally what I want. HackNPlan also uses Kanban cards, but seems preconfigured for game development and has a ton of configurations and metrics. But, to get a Gantt chart you have to subscribe. At only $6 per month though, it’s good value, so both are an option.

My feeling right now, is Toggl Plan may be the way to go – because I think HackNPlan might be a bit overkill. I just need to set out tasks, track progress, and shuffle them around on a timeline. Toggl Plan does this fine. It’s worth noting that Toggl also has something called Toggl Track, which is a separate tool that lets you analyze your actual time usage. I’ve been using that to get an insight into where my time vanishes to… The only bad thing I can see relating to Toggl is the UI colour – it’s PURPLE. A colour presumably intended to get you to subscribe – as that’s the only way you can change it. I’m sure Tinky Winky would approve though.

So what’s changed on the art side of things? Well, the Affinity Tools have continued to be updated (Designer, Photo and Publisher). I’ve been using Designer off and on to create bits of artwork for this game and some other things. I’m going to release my mobile games under a new studio name, so have designed a new logo to suit.

Logo Draft : No, it’s a rocket booster, not a spot lamp! Damn.

While working on the house I recorded a mountain of video – so of course I need a Video Editor. I’ve been using Adobe Premiere Elements for years, but it’s a bit restrictive. I decided to look for an alternative. That’s when I found DaVinci Resolve 16. There’s a free to use a version of that and it’s absolutely awesome. So, I have ditched Adobe for video editing as well bitmap work now. There’s a guy called Jay Lippman who has made some great YouTube videos showing how to use it. You might want to check his channel out.

And speaking of YouTube videos… Nearly all of the repair work I’ve done on my house and cars wouldn’t have been possible without YouTube. You can learn such a lot from watching other people do jobs. Even if you’re doing something really obscure, there’s going to be someone out there who’s already done it. It’s such a useful resource.

Watching these videos is what inspired me to record a lot of my own house and car repairs. I think a lot of what demotivates you when doing tasks, is knowing that the effort you put into a task is largely going unseen. Documenting a process seems to fix this – plus it can be quite entertaining.

I have no plans to upload anything to YouTube as yet, but I am considering doing a video blog for this game work. When you work alone, it’s very difficult to keep motivated. This isn’t the case when you work for a client, as you have numerous things pushing you along. I’ve heard the phrase ‘working in a vacuum’ in reference to working alone – I think that’s a pretty good analogy! I’m thinking that recording a few work videos might help with this.

I’m a big fan of those ‘daily grind’ videos on YouTube. There’s something interesting about seeing how somebody spends their day, isn’t there? I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched Eric from the South Maine Auto Channel change a pair of brake pads, but it never seems to get boring πŸ™‚

Next Steps…

At the moment I’m still working through my project, getting to grips with the code structure again. I managed to spend a couple of weeks on the project a few months ago and implemented a chunk of the front-end UI. The basics are in there, but it all needs extending out to cover different upgrade options.

The game will feature multiple vehicles, which will be customizable both in terms of their appearance and performance. What has become apparent in looking at my project now, is I need to do some game design work – to actually decide what needs implementing.

My original plan was, to get all the fundamental stuff done first. I tested the In-App Purchasing system long before I did any game work. I then created the game engine with a test map. I’m not far off having the front-end UI functionality ready. The next step will be getting the Level Selection Map done. I already did some prototype artwork for the Selection Map.

When I first started the project, I had intended to design 3-4 environment types each with 4-5 tracks. For example, a city with 4 areas. But, I’m thinking about moving away from tracks and way-points (which are fully implemented) and making the environments smaller and more puzzle-like. So there are some long tracks where speed is important, but there are also some small areas that function more as a puzzle. I think it will introduce more variation.

But I won’t be doing any level mapping until the front-end UI is fully functioning. And I can only really do that once I’ve specced out the requirements. So I guess it’s time to break out Google Sheets and spec that out.

And finally… looking at my Toggl Track log for how long it took me to write this blog entry today, I think this will definitely be my last ‘written’ entry πŸ™‚ I’ll try a video in the next one as I think it’ll be quicker (both to record and to read lol).

Thanks for dropping by! πŸ™‚

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