“Unfinished – An Artist’s Lament” is coming August 4, 2015 (so here’s what it’s about)!

“Unfinished – An Artist’s Lament” was originally planned for a release on July 31, 2015 as of two weeks ago. I wasn’t certain I could keep this release date, so I didn’t advertise it too much… sure enough, animating the ending cutscene and adding certain features took a bit longer than I hoped. The current build was finished on July 31, but I moved the release date to Tuesday, August 4 to give the stores some time to prepare. Steam and IndieGameStand will host the game, and hopefully so will MacGameStore and WinGameStore.

To prepare you, this post provides a detailed rundown of the background of the game, from development to now, to guide you as to what to expect. I hope it helps.

"Unfinished - An Artist's Lament" is now finished!

“Unfinished – An Artist’s Lament” is now finished!

After I finished “Drew and the Floating Labyrinth,” I kicked back a little knowing I completed my first game and focused on school and other projects. I had other ideas of games I wanted to make, but wanted to make a short, simple game that used my unusual pseudo-3D animation method. “Drew” was supposed to be that simple game, but I felt like I would be more comfortable with more than one game in my portfolio, and the sooner I could expand it the better. One night in December (not long after seeing 2014 film Birdman in theatres, which no doubt gave some inspiration here), the idea came quickly bit by bit, forcing me to wake up and write it down on the stick-on-whiteboard on my wall, where the initial drawings remain even now. A game about a stick-figure, gaining new abilities as it tries to complete itself, chasing after the artist’s pencil in an empty environment, ultimately ending with the stick-figure reaching the pencil and .

This was the concept I thought I was looking for. The stick-figure would be the easiest thing to animate (it took me over a month of 8-12 hours a day animating “Drew,” and I did not want to spend that much time again), since it would take less than a minute to scribble a frame, and I wouldn’t have to color him in. The game would be purposely short, focusing on a handful of levels (each larger in size than “Drew”). Where “Drew” focuses on changing level mechanics rather than gaining new abilities, “Unfinished” would be more traditional, using platforming elements not unlike Mario games where powerups change your costume and abilities (powerups individually for your head, body and legs, which you have to combine to do certain things). The style of the story made a good excuse to throw in some of my own concept art, of which a have a catalogue of hundreds of old sketches. If all went well, this would be finished within a couple months.

I started development around March 2015, and now it’s August. The only real excuse I have in being a Master’s student at my University, which is busy but not enough for me to make it a good excuse. I feel a little ashamed. “Drew” took about the same amount of time, although that was me working full-time on the game with no distractions, so maybe this should have been expected.

“Unfinished – An Artist’s Lament” is five levels long. Levels 1, 3 and 5 focus on platforming, Levels 2 and 4 are more about expanding the narrative. The setup of these levels was decided early in development. I intended to make the story without much language, but expanded the story a bit to include voice-overs and monologue of the artist unable to finish Sketch. In a way, there are two stories here, of the art and the artist, both separate and yet very similar.

I acted the part of the artist myself. I like acting, and as terrible as I am, it’s saving grace is that much of the part is inspired by my life, so little actual acting was required. Aside from being unable to pay a voice actor properly, I was uncertain of what the final script would be like, changes were made in the dialogue as recent as a few weeks before the intended release date. The music was intended to be by me as well, as this was supposed to be a very small game with way very simple music. After July 1 had come around and I had failed to even get to the music, I agreed to hire Jake Butineau whom I meant weeks prior at “Stage Select Gaming Expo” in Toronto, Ontario. Ultimately his funds took up the remaining profits I had from “Drew,” but it took a lot off my plate. Not only did the original music sound great (and to certain parts of the game, be used to great effect), but his desire to see more of the game before finished the music got me to kick-in towards finishing the game sooner. Additionally, level 4 has a ton of art from 25 other artists, helping provide extra color in a otherwise greyscale world.

The animation itself is a slight improvement from “Drew.” The character doesn’t look nearly as impressive, but the head, body and legs are independent. That means you can rotate the head separate from the body for example, leading to a way for more dynamic poses. The character is transparent, which makes layering not an issue, like it was with “Drew.” This does make it more difficult to see the character, but had I filled in the character, it would have taken an extra month, and this independent-rotate trick would not be possible.

There’s a small handful of people who ask about “James – Journey of Existence,” which is a game I still list on my game’s list on this site. I had sought funding for it’s development, knowing that it would take talent better than me to make the game I wanted it to be, and failed poorly. While I still wish to finish “James” one day in some form, it’s gameplay elements were recycled slightly in this, and the ending of “Unfinished” will relate to “James” a little. “James” from a concept standpoint still looks better than “Drew” or “Unfinished,” but as an Imgur user pointed out in a post, I am limited as a one-man team, and either need more funding or a lot more experience (or better, both). Until such a day, I hope this satisfies the two or three people who still wonder about that postponed project.

Is the game any good, now that the build is complete? Well… there is the odd bug or two, not game-breaking but I will need to fix at some point. The menus don’t animate, making them an eyesore. The end of each level goes back to the main menu, a much-complained design choice from “Drew,” which I argue is appropriate here as the menu itself changes slightly in-between each level, adding to the narrative. The controls, especially when bringing up the power-up menu, is confusing, I tried allowing custom controls to help users fix that on their own, but may want to bring up permanent text on the top of the screen to tell you how to use it. Custom control options in general are much better than “Drew,” but I’m sure some complaints will come. Level concepts are largely what I intended them to be, but in the back of my mind, ideas like playing with being in a paper world and 2D planes, or more variety of environment objects coming into focus as the artist draws them in, feel like things I would make if I were to remake the game. I’m proud of “Unfinished” as it is, but would want to fix a few things if I could, and current obligations may keep me from doing that, so I’m releasing it now with the hope of polishing through future updates in the next couple of months. More than anything, the game can be completed in well under an hour, which might turn off a lot of people from paying for it, but that’s about the length I intended, so I don’t know what to tell you.

Indeed, I always knew that the majority of game development time is spent in just figuring out what you wanted to make, if you knew from the start, you would be capable of finishing any game within a year. Now I understand this is true not just at the start, but throughout: I suspect most AAA games are re-made multiple times over with slight variations in search of that perfect version. As a graduating student living off of research grants and seeking to take employment to start any day now, I can’t afford that time, and I know too many other developers that never finish because of this mentaltiy. Now that I have two games complete, if I make a third game, I would take my time with it, not worried about time constraints or even if it ever got finished. Maybe it would turn out better that way…

Yes, this game is about struggling to finish work in a creative industry. Too many people I know have fantastic projects fall away because they somehow loose inspiration and drive, I myself have had many game ideas but only two completed so far. Even if you are fortunate to earn a living making art, you find stress and repetition draining away your soul. If this feels like you, I hope “Unfinished” speaks to you.