“True King” – The King’s (Development) Curse

I haven’t made too many updates lately regarding my development on “True King,” which I announced around this time last year.

The reality is, I haven’t opened my project files in almost four months.

This isn’t the first time this happened to me…

I’ve bit off more than I could chew in the past two years (when my last game had released… wow, it’s been a while). Namely, I got a real job to pay the bills, which I already complained enough about for the long hours. Early 2017, I also decided to run a five-month long game jam (as well as taking part in it to make it seem a little more of a success, which took priority of any development time on “True King”), and also committed to drawing some simple webcomic strips (still ongoing even now).

Add in that I’ve been struggling to hang on to an old social life with remaining friends who hadn’t moved out of town after school, and that I maintained ties in visiting my family once a week. Add in that I have for years been constantly tired. All together, this resulted in me falling to bed as soon as I get home from work, and falling to bed on weekends too after filling the day with things that were my choice to spend time on.

These are all excuses, I can’t blame anyone but myself. But the conclusion was that it was seemingly impossible for me to focus on being a game developer. When do I stop calling myself that? I nitpick on anyone calling themselves a game developer before they’ve released a game (or often before they even begin development at any level), but when do I start saying I “was” instead of I “am?”

It’s not just the bad time management that put me in this state. I’ve tried making a strategy-RPG in the past very much like what I’m making now. And it often ended with me getting stuck and giving up…

“… I’ve tried making a strategy-RPG in the past very much like what I’m making now. And it often ended with me getting stuck and giving up…”

So let’s briefly delve into my deep dark past in game development! I was born in a small log cabin in rural Ontario… ok, I’m kidding there. Long story short, I learned about computer programming in high school, and it changed my life. It opened my eyes to how EASY it was to write a program that was interactive, and opened the doors for me to be able to create characters that could look back at you through the screen. I had liked to draw as a child, I considered animation as a career in early high school, then evolved to computer science and game development by the time I entered University. It seemed a natural progression.

In high school, we learned a educational language called “Turing” at first, which I was able to use to make simple ascii and line animations. We then learned “Visual Basic 6.0,” which I was able to use for simple mouse-clicking games. I also learned how to register live keyboard input for VB, which extended beyond the class. We then learned “Java,” but not for any UI (only basic console text for input and output)… I went back to VB in my spare time. That was high school for me, and the time when I started making simple games.

What games did I make? Tic-Tac-Toe against an AI was first. I remember making a much of small games as a sort of mini-game collection for a class project, including a virtual Rubix-Cube and local-multiplayer Connect4. This was all in Visual Basic. I then made a strategy-RPG (relates to this article), with had a fully playable demo, complete with animated story cutscenes, sprites, environments, and a tutorial strategy map against AI-controlled enemies. Later I worked on a 1-1 2D fighting game featuring high-school stereotype teachers, and a varied version of Pong.

I liked how easy it was to make a UI, and after learning basics, I wanted to keep using it. But the larger projects (starting with the strategy-RPG described above) were never finished. Why? Partially lost interest, but mainly new operating systems. Visual Basic 6 never was compatible with anything above Windows XP, and around that time Windows 7 was just coming out. Even the compiled exe of VB games, which should have been transferable to other Windows systems, would not run on Windows Vista or 7. This is when I learned of the horrors of game development on PC: it takes a long time to make even a simple game, and compatibility issues with the language makes it difficult to continue development or “release” a project. Yes, Visual Basic still exists today as .NET, but converting wasn’t trivial, so I moved on.

Next, I studied XNA 4.0 while in a University game-club. In class, we learned, C, Java again, C++, and other things, but never really looked at UI or interaction, so it bored me quickly. XNA was a framework with C# maintained by Microsoft, advertised as the main way to make indie games for Windows PCs and the Xbox 360. With this, I made a 2D side-scrolling infinite runner, a “Crazy Castle”-style platformer (which I actually finished!), a AI ecosystem to watch, and ultimately tried to make a top-down 2D RPG (see a pattern?). I spent a lot of time getting an open-world 2D RPG world to function properly, especially with the math behind getting different resolutions to work and defining obstacles to not walk into, trying both tile-based movement and free-movement based on background colors defining where to stop. But then XNA was being discontinued, and it was clear it would also not be usable by the time I finished the game. And it wasn’t trivial to use XNA or make an exe anyway, so I moved on.

I owe much to my game professor at the University for introducing Unity3D. It was the first time I saw what the difference was between a “game framework” and a “game engine.” It was like comparing Microsoft Word and HTML to make documents: one has a easy interface and (fairly) good customizability, the other is dependent on adding libraries manually and writing a ton of code for displaying any simple formatting while not certain to be compatible with all browsers. Unity3D was easy to create 3D games, had one-click building for almost any platform, and still allowed programming through C# or JavaScript to customize game functions as required. “This was how all games should be made,” I thought. I made a bunch of demos, released two games commercially, and arrived to where we are today. Once again, I am trying to make a strategy-RPG.

Throughout the last decade, my ideas for story and gameplay for this RPG have always carried on. Why did I have trouble finishing it before? Why am I having trouble now? I think RPGs by nature are larger than most games, even a “small” RPG can contain a lot of freedom and story that has to be accounted for. The art assets for characters and environments are a testing ground for a developer’s resolve and commitment towards finishing anything. Even though Unity3D has been very well-maintained up to today, to keep focused is difficult for a project that requires more than a few dedicated months, and given I no longer have the freedom in time I had in University, it seems impossible to know when the end will come.

But things are in a better place now. I recently got a new job and moved away. The job is still a job and requires work, but the atmosphere is lax enough that I can breathe. More importantly, I MOVED AWAY, meaning any social ties and family obligations I had are reduced, and I can give myself permission to take my weekends back for myself. And while I still yearn to sit back to watch animated movies, catch up on my video games or books, or even sleep for a few hours extra… there’s a pining for something… a call deep inside to DO something… make something.

I turned on my development PC today for the first time in months. I meant to spend a few minutes, and ultimately put in a few hours getting back into the grove. Oh, how I missed this.




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