1.31.2023

In The Post-mortem

The year began with a visit to Georgia, where I met my old friends from the gamedev community. The end of the week-long trip was marked by participation in Ludum Dare. The theme was "Harvest", we participated separately in the Compo category. I got a nice game called "In The Rye". There will be spoilers ahead, so I strongly recommend that you play the game: it will take about 10 minutes, strictly 18+, link to itchio (play on the web from a computer browser).

Idea

After the topic was voiced, the word "ergot" quickly popped into my head - a fungus that grows on crops, and even in ancient times caused hallucinations and other unhealthy effects to people who ate it. Along the chain, images of a story about a peasant family began to appear in my head, where the father of the family is forced to commit ignoble deeds - he kills his pregnant wife, copulates with a cow, and also observes the scene with his son. At the end of this post, I will touch on the topic of how such topics were chosen. In my head, it was more like a theatrical performance in the genre of psychological body horror. The scene with the cow on the tree, remembered by many, appeared quite spontaneously, by the way.

Style

When I already had an approximate scope of the project in my head, I quickly decided on the visual style and aesthetics. I really wanted to make a kind of homage to the era of flash games, when adult themes and black humor were very common. I originally wanted to draw sloppy graphics in flash itself, but due to difficulties in importing, I decided to draw everything in Gimp, deliberately increasing the pixels. I recorded all the sounds through the laptop microphone. Simple melodies made in GarageBand and I tried to diversify the pitch changes in different game situations, immersing the player even more into the atmosphere of a hallucinogenic thriller. In my opinion, the visual and sound design turned out to be very complete and consistent, which is rarely possible within a 48-hour jam.

Results

Personally, I was very pleased with the result. By sending the game to several twitch streamers, I got the reaction that I roughly counted on: laughter, surprise, wtf-moments, shock, and "aha!" moment in the end. But by creating a game with such controversy themes, I was prepared for the fact that it could scare many people and cause real disgust. However, this turned out to be the case: despite the general lack of polish of the game and the fact that the game as a whole is addictive to the very end, the final rating of voting on LD turned out to be very low; a negative emotional response from just a few people can significantly ruin the final grade. Emotionally, it upset me a little, but I knew where I was going. I'm much more satisfied with this game than my previous LD games, which received significantly higher ratings.

Conclusion

Even the day before, before the topic was known, I tried to decide for myself in which direction to go with the game:


Quite consciously, having chosen a disregard for ethics and reputation, I made the game not for high ratings, but contrary to the normality that has become established today, to indulge in a bygone era. When the flash died, all the games that had unprecedented freedom and emancipation in the choice of topics died with him. The first few years of my independent career before I switched to Unity are gone too. And this game for LD will remain for me a reminder of all this.

12.24.2022

Summary 2022

This year is not very pleasant to do summary, but I want to keep annual tradition. And I already did some semi-summary in the middle of the year so this should be easier.
Indie projects are still only my hobby that I do during my free time aside from my primary game dev job. But this year broke my rhythm: it hard to do hobby during the dark times when your head is occupied with searching for security for yourself and your family... I've changed my job and moved to another country.
Projects that I developed a lot, but still far from release:
  • WORLDS, more details will be below
  • a logic game about blocks in pseudo-soviet style (working title is 'blockage')
  • some kind of successor of COLORUS (my old game), casual metroidvania
  • new shoot'em'up with top view
  • ressurection of HOBO

If 2023 will be merciful, I want to release or move into active production phase at least one project from the list (or new project may be). This is of course not mandatory, especially if I keep spending time to WORLDS.

Speaking of WORLDS, I am already doing it more than a year. But it's true only for the itch.io project. In fact idea of this project came to my head more than a decade ago. During years concept transformed a lot and continue changing into something that I like to spend my resources for. A lot of the components are still missing, it is early to play and understand it. I want to believe that after 3-4 updates base of the game will be solid, fan will be visible and systems will "click" one with another. I have possible plans for development for dozens of future updates if the entropy of projects will not destroy me completely.

But I need to accept that this project and another are in some sort of development hell. Almost every mentioned projects are stuck in some kind of design problem that I don't know how to solve yet. No worries, it will be solved.

The main value for me is still not result, but the regularity of my indie time. Be the samurai without the target, but with the path. Thanks for reading, I wish you successes in the future year.

7.02.2022

Year Progress ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓░░░░░░░ 50%

 Just to reduce dept for this year summary, I decided to give a quick overview to my indie progress 2022.


As I planned, WORLDS game (still working title) got an update in January. I've focused on interactions with bandits (that can ambush you): now you can try to negotiate them. Besides that map roads are updated, used Poission-Disc algorithm to fill map with locations and A* algorithm based on nodes to path-find best routes. More changes are listed at itch.io update page. The game is still raw in fact and I can't recommend you to try it. I already have big plans for next updates and it is what I passioned about for the now. 


Then I spent few months on creating new vision for one of my prototypes. Originally it is block building game in the setting of soviet-like history slice from 50s to now days. But I eventually stuck in some sort of dead end, where I'm not sure how to evolve the game in something interesting. Still a lot of problems, but I definitely will continue or somehow will re-use this idea because there is something interesting inside it. Decides do not put link for playtest demo but it is existing somewhere.



It is was tough time actually because war started. It was hard to accept, it was shocking and not a lot of options what you actually can do against it. By coincidence I moved to Turkey for a month right at the beginning. And at the start of April there was 20th anniversary of Ludum Dare with Ludum Dare 50. So when I decided to participate it, idea for the game (theme was "Delay the inevitable") threw up out of me without any efforts. The final game as always was made under Compo category in 48 hours. It is something like autocracy simulator but where the end of dictator is inevitable. It also has bonus music track: complete all 5 endings or just type 'bonus'. In my opinion the game is ugly and almost unplayable but I also got some very positive feedback, you could play it through LD page 'Your Regime'.


And the last thing I want to mention is the first demo for my another new concept. I'm planning something metroidvania-like arcade game with some aesthetic and story exploration focus. It is only the first demo, and there a lot of things that I cut here (e.g. almost no sounds) just to finish it to break free to other projects. But if you interested, you can use pass 'monday' to download the prototype for Windows or macOS from itch.io page.



That's all for now I guess. Pretty satisfied that I finished at least this one post in half of year and it was written in one seat. Love you all!

12.29.2021

Summary 2021

I'll tell you about my indie projects of this year, which I did in my free time: my first release on Steam, my personal record at Ludum Dare, as well as an endless dream project.

This is how the page on itch.io with these games looks like at the moment

Release of MARK-I: Mission Pilot


The first half of the year was mostly occupied by another personal project - moving and renovating a new apartment. Those who have come across this can imagine how time-consuming it can be. Nevertheless, I managed to find time to finish the project that I've been doing for almost the entire last year. As a result, the trailer was ready by summer (thanks to yaaawny for helping with the art) and the coveted green release button in Steam was pressed (in fact, the release process stretches over months along with the preparation of the page and other meta-data).


The preliminary mailing to publishers, as expected, did not give a result, and there were no high expectations from the game as a whole. The goal was to finish the project, which in itself is often quite a difficult goal, and to gain experience in the full cycle of publishing a game on Steam. At the moment, a little over 50 copies of the game have been sold, and I do not think that this amount will grow much in the future. If you suddenly want to treat me a coffee – you are welcome to the game page, where you can buy it for mere pennies.

Initially, I wanted to write a full-fledged post-mortem for the game, especially since I managed to learn a huge number of lessons. But I realized that I had grown so cold to the game that I really didn’t want to spend even more time on it. There are some ideas on how to rethink the current 20-minute demo into a full-fledged game, and in general I like the universe of the game that I began to sketch, but I definitely don't plan to return to the project in the near future. Perhaps one day...

LD49 – Ludens Fortuna


In October, another Ludum Dare took place, where, by tradition, I participated into the Compo category, where all content must be done in 48 hours, alone, and the source code must be attached to the game. The theme was "unstable", I decided to make a game about the instability of the world, as a mechanic I semi-ironically decided to use something like solitaire with meditative flow, where the player, in the role of some fateful creator, must play cards, trying to keep the world in balance from turn to turn, avoiding the collapse of instability. And as a small personal challenge I chose a deck of Tarot cards to study it a little.

One of the most interesting tasks was to create a visual display in a very limited time, as well as to come up with and code the logic for each of the 78 cards. As a result, I even felt the nostalgic spirit of indie, when in the last hours, of all, you were trying to meet the allotted time, regularly glancing at the remaining minutes. I remember very vividly how expressively I drew minimalistic art for all these fancy cards, wondering in my head how much time should be spent on each of the cards. Unfortunately, there was not enough time even for the simplest sound, as well as for a tutorial and tips to help you master the rules of the game, some of which greatly simplify the path to victory. Although raw, but still finished, the game Ludens Fortuna was uploaded on time in accordance with all the rules.

The visual setting was a planetary theme to give the game some epic and pathos: from time to time on the planet you can even see the shadow of an eclipse
And it was quite unexpected, after a couple of weeks of voting, to find that the game entered the top 1% of the best games of this Ludum Dare (11 out of more than 700 games in the Compo category, or 21 in both categories out of almost 3,000 games), which broke my last eight-year record by game COLORUS with LD26, to which I would have added a link if Ludum Dare had not disgustingly destroyed all the legacy when moving to the new site.

The success of the game is seen as a large share of luck (which is ironic, given the name of the game - "Fortune / Fate Playing") due to the small number of votes, but it is still a shame that today the game from the top LD collects a miserable several hundred views, whereas before, even the most shitty games could easily collect thousands and tens of thousands of views, simply by being on the Newgrounds or Kongregate. The golden era of web gaming is far behind, somewhere near the resting Flash, and new proprietary mobile platforms make it much more difficult to find your player. But there is no choice but to treat this stoically, accepting the new rules of the game, and trying to self-identify in this new world.

WORLDS


After the release of Mission Pilot on Steam, the most of my indie time switched to one of my oldest ideas. "Procedurally generated RPG" is perhaps one of the most overused clich├ęs for a dream project, but this definition describes well this ambitious project, peppered with ideas not previously seen in other roguelikes.


I have repeatedly tried to approach the project under the working name "Tavern", aka "WORLDS", but only recently I was able to find a suitable format in which I managed to dive into development. I wanted to get rid of the platform as much as possible (or better, focus on every platform) and update the project with iterations. Exactly by this way it has been possible to move so far, and I already released several updates for the game, which is for now available on the web.

Development may be extremely slow due to preparation for the future scale of the game, but this pace suits me perfectly. Internally, I have already committed myself long ago that not a single year will pass before the game begins to take on clear outlines. At the moment, the game is still in its very early stages of evolution, there is still a long way to go, so I recommend you to be patient and watch out for the next updates.

* * *


I'm not making grandiose plans for indie projects for the next year. I would like to release several updates for WORLDS, and, perhaps, take into work a new small-scale project, the basis for which can serve one of the old or future prototypes.

Shinji Mikami, author of the Resident Evil series, once said that he believes that developers make their best games between 30 and 40. Like, you still study before 30, and after 40 there is not much energy. So, if you follow this logic, my most important ten has only begun. And if all of a sudden, even before 40, nothing happens, then who is this bastard Mikami!

That's all, creative success to all aspirants!

10.20.2021

Z-buffer problem in Unity on WebGL

While working on a new game I stuck in the rendering problem. There are not much information about this on the internet so I wanted to share the information that could help someone.

First, my setup: Unity 2021.1, URP, Windows. 

Everything looks fine in the Editor but when I built my project to WebGL 2.0, I found weird vertex/facing jittering:

It reminded me popular Z-Fighting problem, but not only with nearby surfaces but much worse. It turned out that this problem related to the Z-buffer. Unfortunately, WebGL don't have the same capability to write depth as OpenGL or DirectX (I expect because of no floating point depth buffer).

So I reduced Camera clipping planes distance from ~1000 units to 400 units and it fixed the problem for my in-game scales. Here the same build, but with new Camera settings, no jittering:

It hasn't solved the problem completely and I know there are more pain in the future, when new game design requirements will appear. But my target was to understand and solve the problem by using standard Unity tools without adding custom shader or other long-term support solutions.


By the way, the shown game is procedural role-playing rogue-lite adventure that I'm updating from time to time with new content and mechanics. And it's already playable on itch:

https://kazantsev.itch.io/worlds

12.24.2020

Summary 2020

While almost completely ignored jams this year (with the exception of QUBOR for Ludum Dare 46), from the very beginning of the year I set myself the goal of making a complete vertical slice of some new, but easy-to-develop project. Then it seemed that a shooter about a tank would be the simple idea.

The first prototypes did not show the amount of work
that awaited me in the future
And now the project, originally planned for 3-4 months of development, has to barely keep pace until the end of this year (and still leave something for later).

MARK-I: Mission Pilot


Inspired mainly by classic NES games (eg, Contra or Jackal), I wanted to make an arcade shoot 'em up. Since personally I am not a big fan of bullet hell games, I wanted to make a game with a fairly low entry threshold. But trying to find fun in a "not like everyone else" format without explicit borrowing or cloning turned out to be a daunting task. I am still not sure that I coped with it, despite the subjective satisfaction with the result.

The idea of a story in the world of the near future quickly came to my mind, where the player takes on the role of a pilot of a combat vehicle called MARK-I (much later I learned that the project with such existed in reality). A very banal evil bad corporation, a mission to destroy some kind of Core, and at the end the boss-helicopter must certainly awaits. Initially, I wanted to put more emphasis on narrative, but as a result, of course, it is difficult to fit in with the dynamics of the game.

The scene in the cabin of the MARK-I turned out
to be not very readable, but I still wanted to leave it
As a vertical slice demo I set myself the task of making about 15 minutes of intense gameplay. But there is reason why the genre of action games is one of the most expensive in the gaming industry: the player has a set of expectations that require the game to be worked out in very different areas and very densely filled with content. It turned out to be very difficult to deal with this alone.

Development difficulties


Level design and content filling took significantly longer than expected. Whithout great experience in this area, collecting levels even from ready-made objects was complex and time-consuming for me, required full immersion. And in general, the process of filling with content was not as fun as creating new systems in the game.

Due to the chosen scope of the game, I had to redo and fix all ~15 minutes of gameplay several times. Almost all game locations were rebuilt from scratch 3-4 times. In general, the constant alterations, the need for which notifies after the next playtest, is morally and physically exhausting the most. One of the hardest things to do is cope with your anxiety about repetitive development.

Perhaps many will understand the feeling of some disgust for own project,
when throughout the year you open it and see the exact same thing
Needless to say, many added features had to be thrown out. This often has a positive effect on the final result, but the time spent initially cannot be returned. So, for example, the collected data with knowledge about the world, or battle chips obtained from enemies, which initially serve as currency for upgrades, were cut. Many features had to be postponed as they only make sense in the context of a full-size game for a few hours.

At a certain stage, I decided to add a local coop for 2 players, which should become one of the main selling points. Despite the fact that from the very beginning I had in my head the ability to control from a gamepad (now the game can be played entirely with an Xbox controller), this control option turned out to be more difficult to play than a mouse with keyboard. But nevertheless, I'm glad that now the controls can be easily adapted even for two independent Joy-Cons from Nintendo Switch.

Experience gained


Despite the fact that it is difficult for me to give any subjective assessment of the final result, I am very happy with the process and the knowledge gained. One of the most important questions for me - could I work on one hobby project for a year, or maybe even more? - received a positive answer. I learned a lot in areas that I had to deal with a little less before: working with 3D in Unity, physics, rendering, navigation and ai, sound producing and much more.

Regularly posting screenshots to Twitter allows you to periodically look from the outside at the visual component of the game. Only a few subscribers were not enough to overcome the milestone of 100 followers by the end of the year :D Maybe by the 10th anniversary of the account next year it will be possible to do this.

The scene that started it all, but in pre-final form
Regular playtests are one of the most effective tools. In order not to blur the eyes of the players, since every time the feedback is very useful, I tried not to build demos frequintly, making breaks between internal releases of 1-2 months. Once I even managed to make a public playtest within of one local meetup, where I managed to look at very different players trying the game for the first time. Yes, you can't please absolutely everyone, very often the feedback turns out to be very cruel, but this is what makes you reflect on the project.

I was convinced once again how planning works in the industry. Especially now that this issue of overworking and crunches has resurfaced in publicity. The deadlines that business management lays down in the project almost never coincides with the internal reality, especially at the seemingly final stages of development. Planning is great for short iterations between playtests, but it's very hard to rely on in the long run. Quality assurance of the project takes more time, relative to the first stages of development. The devil is in the details.

* * *


About plans: at the beginning of the year to release the received vertical slice as an independent game in Steam. And finally, let go of the project and not return to it (unless, of course, I can find a publisher before release).

I really want to take another look at my indie approach, reduce the amount of stress and the semblance of "work", leaving the indie gamedev hobby in a freer and more fun style. It’s hard to watch after iteration “2021”. I wish you all creative success and strength to create!


12.21.2019

My Jam Entries 2019

My indie releases of last year were made as entries to 3 short game jams.

In the April, I got trip to Berlin to visit A MAZE. As a part of this amazing indie video game festival, there was Berlin Mini Jam for a short (something like 8 hours) game jam as part of last festival's day. The theme was `The sky is really the limit` and made a game with same name. The sky really is the limit is a little philosophical sketch with a bit of nihilism, about people of different time and different places which asked themself metaphysic questions just by looking to the deepness of space above they heads, and how these questions changes throughout life.

In the August, was GMTK Game Jam from popular game analysis Youtube channel. It was one of the biggest global jams of last year and I was in. Theme was `only one`, 2 days and jam felt exactly as Ludum Dare. Finished with theonism – political satire game inspired by the events that was going in Russia same time when the jam was.

In the end of November happened Eco Jam Hackathon. I was hyped by the fact that jam took place in the GARAGE museum of modern art. So I visited Moscow for a weekend to participate in this jam. It was really inspiring experience, and at the end I has Waste Problem, city-building/clicker game that is touching the theme of garbage and it's utilization that really edge question in Russia right now.