10 months ago, I decided to make a game.
10 months later, I have a bunch of art and a bunch of interface code and a whole pile of design notes, and not much game.
This is my story.
(Now in bullet point form so that I can stop redrafting it >.>)
I have a treatment-resistant anxiety disorder which significantly interferes with my ability to work - both on my own projects and other things that might be called 'gainful employment'. (I still feel some shame at admitting this so bluntly, even though I feel ideologically that there should be no more shame in this than any physical impairment that resulted in the same. Fuck mental health stigma, defining self-worth by employment is toxic capitalist dogma, etc, etc.)
In part because of this, I had been effectively unemployed and living with my mother for a number of years. (I still did my best to hammer out projects, but nothing, y'know, actually PAID anything... >.>)
Then in late 2017, my mother died (somewhat unexpectedly) of cancer, which left me with no home (we'd been sharing an apartment that she had been covering most of the rent on) and literally zero income. Obviously grief and upheaval did not help with any of my prior difficulties managing employment, either.
After some debate, I decided to combine the savings I had left over from my last stint as a network administrator with a (modest) inheritance from my mother and try to actually make a living at making games. This is something I had always theoretically wanted to do, but never put actual money on the line for. (Okay, in a perfect world, I'd happily give all my work away for free and live on some minimum guaranteed income, but we do not yet live in such a world).
One of my historically biggest gamedev weaknesses was a lack of artistic ability, so this seemed a perfect thing to put money towards. I could hire an artist, which would not only allow me to make a more commercially appealing product, but would also free me up to focus on the mechanical and writing aspects of gamedev, which are the areas I most wanted to be working on and also consider myself best at. (Any followers that remember my work on ToK may recall me complaining there about how it seemed I spent my time on nothing but graphics? >.>
This was shortly after Touhou fangames had been given the official blessing to be sold on Steam, and some had already achieved great success there, so this seemed like a good way to create some instant appeal and interest in my game, while working with a franchise that I already loved to death and had written hundreds of thousands of words of fanfiction for (eg: This or that or this other thing)
And so Chronicle of False History was born!
...and yet I somehow still spent most of my time working on art. You see, having never worked with an actual artist before, I underestimated a number of things:
1) I underestimated how much work it would be to find a suitable artist in the first place (though at least this part is done)
2) I gravely underestimated how much of my time would be spent on 'art direction' or 'project management' or whatever you want to call it.
Every sprite that is created, even for canonical character designs, requires making a large number of decisions regarding:
What attack and spell poses it will have (and how to cover the broadest range of signature abilities with just two 'frames', for budget reasons)
Which of enumerable (and sometimes mutually-exclusive) costume details from canon (and fanon) should be selected (and do you have any idea just how many variations there are on things as straightforward as 'the hilt of Miko's sword'?)
Gathering a pile of reference images that clearly detail every element of the character (and action poses) to be drawn (which is also harder than you might think; a lot of art is sufficiently suggestive of details to view without actually being a good reference to reproduce and anything that isn't exactly what I'm looking for risks my artist misunderstanding my request entirely)
Designing alternate-history variants of this character in a way that can be clearly conveyed with minimal costume and color changes alone (as any significant redrawing would cost far more and the cast of the game is so large already) and doing so before the part of the game they would appear in is even written.
Gathering reference images for all of those things
Writing up a detailed description of all the decisions listed above (and often drawing actual diagrams of action poses and projectile overlays that are ambiguous to express with just words) and handing it over to my artist
Waiting a while, then getting sketches back and finding out that there is inevitably a whole pile of things that need changing (either because the artist misunderstood my request entirely - despite all that previous effort - or because an idea of mine looked far better in my own head than it does, or just the usual 'incremental improvements' to something that is on the right track but not quite there - like a sort of collaborative redrafting.)
Spending hours poking at these sketches in an image editor, testing how well individual details resolve at in-game size, how well the action frames snap together, and how I feel about each questionable element. This often extends to (crudely) adjusting and readjusting the position and angle of individual limbs and eyebrows and projectiles that feel 'off' so that I can figure out what I would like her to do with them (and whether it's even worth making her take the effort to do anything with them at all)
Finally, summarizing that feedback into a detailed list of change requests (often with new diagrams to clarify my words) and repeating the last two steps over and over and over again.
Like, she does great work - don't get me wrong. I'm very pleased with the end results and this is just an inevitable part of the process of making something professional. But it does also mean that my original idea that paying an artist would free me up to work on things other than art has been... laughable in retrospect, to say the very least. In fact, it's very possible that a greater percentage of my dev time is spent on art-related tasks than on previous projects where I was doing all the art myself - I just get better art for my trouble (and money....)
This is especially true given that:
3) I underestimated just how much art work I would still need to do completely independently of her
Raven is doing character sprites. These are arguably the most individually important art content in the game, and certainly the ones that give it the most screenshot appeal, but that has left me to do everything else. Which has included:
Figuring out how to make battle backgrounds that passably match the art style of the game (since commissioning enough of these to fill all the locations needed would absolutely blow my budget)
Designing the entire look and feel of the combat screen to mesh well with Raven's sprites while also being something I am personally capable of making (using only cheap/free resources)
Creating all tweened animations and particle effects
Designing every single little UI element that exists in the game:
Spellcard icons (and the entire menu design that requires them in the first place)
Combat action menus
Icons to indicate spellcard usability
A turn order bar
Spellcard availability reminders
Font choice for damage/healing numbers, spellcard names,
More cursors that you can shake a stick at
Lots more stuff, I'm sure
And even the completed sprites I get from Raven still need multiple hours of processing each to split them into component parts with sufficient information to re-composite and animate in-game. (If you've ever wondered why my screenshots seem to only involve Nazrin while I've already shown sprites for multiple other characters, this is why)
It never ends!!
...which is a fact that has been extremely draining. Like, it is probably difficult to overstate just how demoralizing it has been to pay this much money and work this hard and long and still somehow be mostly doing art (or visual-related coding) when I naively thought this project would offer some freedom from this after the endless, endless hours I spent doing this for ToK.
And it has also revealed a very tangible (and extremely stressful and troubling) fact about this game's development:
I am going to run out of money before I am remotely close to having a saleable product
When I first laid out plans for this project, I ballparked a modest but realistic budget for the artwork. I chose an art style that could provide pleasing visuals for a very large cast of characters at a cost-effective rate (for a game, at least). I deliberately limited my cast size based upon the agreed-upon cost per character with my artist (and have repeatedly held myself back from various fun ideas because I felt I simply could not afford to make a habit of such things). I studied sales figures for comparable games to aim for a target that had a reasonable probability of sufficient return (or at least breaking even). Game development is always a gamble, of course, but I felt (and still feel) that I made a sensible budget call and it was an amount I was fully able to pay.
But in all this, I neglected to factor in what has been, by far, my most costly development expense: remaining alive.
You see, at the rate my artist is able to produce work, the cost of retaining her is utterly dwarfed by such banal things as food and rent and not freezing to death in the winter. I live about as modest a lifestyle as possible - a one-room apartment, no car, no eating out, nothing in the way of luxuries (I don't even own a cell phone) - but that is still awfully expensive when you have no income and no prospect of it in the immediate future either.
It's a vicious cycle. The less work I get done, the more I feel future financial pressures breathing down my neck, the less work I'm able to get done (due to stress and general demoralization), the more I feel future financial pressures, etc, etc, etc.
And there's a logistical problem even outside of my own stress and anxiety and being damnably human in my need for actual rest: I've spent nearly 10 months working together with my artist and thus have a pretty good sense of how fast she's able to get character art done. And unless something changes dramatically, the time required for her to finish the art assets for the game will be several years longer than I will have any savings left to pay for them - because, as it turns out, hiring an artist is actually a tiny expense compared to merely continuing to exist.
I... don't really have a good answer for this problem and I've spent a lot of time consumed by it at this point. I have faith that Chronicle of False History can be a great game... eventually. But that does no one any good if I can't stay afloat long enough to make it. I've considered pivoting to another smaller-scope game project in the meantime, in the hopes of generating some modest influx of cash that could be used to fund the rest of CoFH's development, but there are a whole slew of reasons this is dicey (not least of which is that small-scope projects have a tendency to not be nearly as small as one anticipates...)
I've also thought about exploring Patreon, but like... I'm fully aware that I don't currently produce nearly enough interesting content for people to just want to throw money at. Tantalizing glimpses of it, perhaps. The promise that in the future I might. But what do I really have to show for this at the moment?
And so, here I am, exhausted by a marathon of work I did not properly anticipate and without the tangible reward I'd expected to have by this point (not a finished game, by any means, but like... much more of one than I actually have). And every month that passes by in which I get less done on my game than anticipated is yet more cash bleeding out of my bank account, like I'm trapped on a badly leaking boat with no shore in sight. I need a rest from all these stressors (and some more personal ones not described here), but when time spent not working has itself become a stressor these days, where can I even find it?
...wow, this sure sounded upbeat, huh?
In any case, I still care a lot about CoFH and have no intention of stopping work on it. I just... need to figure out some way to allow myself to continue to do so without this enormous capitalist behemoth crushing me beneath it.
(I had originally intended to provide more of an overview of the useful work accomplished over these past 10 months here, with mockups showing the evolution of the game's visual design, but clearly that goes into a future post at this point).
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The Local Shooter Vs. B-LIFE
(LS) Hello thank you being apart of a great come up and welcome, may we get a small introduction for the people reading who don’t know who you are, where are you from? Who are you? And what do you do?
(B) I'm B-L1FE or B to most. I am an Indiana native but for the last 4 years I've been in the Houston, TX area. I do everything except make beats. I'm a recording artist myself, I engineer, DJ, design, visuals, animations, curate. To add to all that I'm also the CEO of my own record label, FAITH×VICTORY Records. I also am the CEO of three other companies: SupportArt which is a promotion company that also houses a collective, and MeditatedMerch which is my clothing line. There is stuff I'm missing I'm sure but I'm basically the one stop shop for good underground business.
(LS) Being a Texas native how do you feel that the music scene has impacted you and your creativeness?
(B) The scene in the H has never really impacted me much but surround regions have amazingly unique sounds that are almost nice accents to a style like mine that blends hip hop with metal and alt rock. The Dallas FT. Worth area is full of this new wave sound that people like Jah or $not really helped catapult. Then south Florida is known for the wild hype sounds they give us like Pouya. I think these regions influenced me by just kind of telling me hey its ight to let go and just be me. I used to be signed under a different stage name and to be honest it was all bullshit. All the rules and what they wanted me to be. This area in general just let the monster loose I guess you could say.
(LS) You also run a blog on your own called supportart where its a platform for many creative artist in the underground, how did that come about and how long have you been running it?
(B) We are gonna be two years old in June which is unreal. We house 20 artists at the moment including myself. It honestly all started as a group chat of artists trying to put together a collective mixtape. Most people didnt come through but it actually opened a networking portal that led us to our first client who was King Kap who at the time was signed to Quality Control. We continue to work with him to this day and alongside the leaders I make the calls with (Yung N ICy, Fat Daddy J, Psych Ward, Penny the Shabba, Waveon, wa55up, & Kaster) we just had the flood gates opened on us. Alot of trial and error but never once have we been exposed or finessed. We work hard for the underground and have new ways coming soon to showcase hidden talent.
(LS) you seem to be a jack of all trades with graphics, producing, and much more! What do you feel is your strongest creative outlet for you and why?
(B) All the other crafts came from being a recording artist. I think I truly shine there. Away from the art and visuals, I've had some pretty big accomplishments as the rapper B-L1FE. Sometimes I forget to push my own stuff when I'm so busy pushing the underground or my artists. In 2019 I dropped my first and sophomore album which did well. Underviews did an article naming me a young mogul. I made the underground freshman list which was amazing to be with the likes of GNAR, Lord Xan, 916frosty, and more. But if anything compares it's my graphic design. I've been doing design since I was 14 and I'm almost 28 now. I still have every graphic I've done and my portfolio now have close to 6000 pieces. It's the main reason I could leave the day job life behind.
(LS) You also happen to be on all major platforms with a couple single releases, where did you first find your passion for music? Also how did you know that it was going to be a career for you?
(B) My parents didnt really do much parenting but they did raise me around terrific music. I have right now I believe 83 songs on all major platforms which is quite a bit since my contract from the previous record label didnt expire until April of 2018. My parents raised me around Dr. Dre, Bone Thugs, Snoop, Nas, Destinys Child, Master P, and all the greats. So I had this around me so much at 12 I started writing structured songs and didnt even realize it. Football was passion #1 but when I decided to rescend my commitment to Eastern Michigan University, I started toying around with being in a band. After awhile my vocal cords suffered from pure metal music. So I turned to rap which was also like a hobby. Then once I began to network in around 2012 I noticed I had something alot of others didnt. So it was then I knew. The rest was waiting for the contract I signed stupidly to expire. My biggest influences would be Chronic 2001 by Dr. Dre and Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park.
(LS) Your most recent single regurgitate and there’s a single called “Welcome To Hell” which did amazing numbers on Twitter! What was the whole process behind those songs and why did you pick that specific song to shows case the project?
(B) The process behind these two singles were both random to be honest. I put out my second EP back in December and wanted to take my time on my third album so I do what I call SINGLE SZN. I drop a new song on major platforms every week. It started with my first single of 2020 which was 'Never' and 'Welcome to Hell' was the second. With that one it was Angry Orphan's concept (featured artist) and he sent me his parts and a rough idea and I thought since we both are lyrical artists let's do what Em and Royce do when they collab and take these same schemes but change our words and small parts of our flows. It made a very cohesive song. The marketing is always the same for me. I let people know way before something drops that it's coming. The main key is promoting stuff more than once. So many people drop a track, run it through some group chats for that day, and then leave it to die. You gotta keep pushing content towards people. With 'Regurgitate' I hadn't even planned a part of it. I woke up to an email from SupportArt's head engineer, Penny the Shabba, that two beats. One was the beat for that song. Wrote it in 15 mins recorded it mixed it, he mastered it while I did the cover, and within 4 or so hours a full song was ready and off to distrubution.
(LS) What’s a regular day in the life of B-LIFE? Do you wake up in the morning go to the studio? Do you wake up in the morning and start interviewing people and check on your blog? What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
(B) The minute I wake up I need a shower. Cant start the day right without it. My studio and everything is at home so I just go off my daily planner. I keep everything written down including my own personal stuff and I usually pick whatever project I really dont wanna do to start. That way I'm getting through the 'blah' jobs with full energy and the shit I'll enjoy doing I save for later when I'm drained. Usually first thing I do business wise is touch base with my team. We use telegram so we can avoid social media. We a family so they come first. Next is clients. Always touch base with any clients waiting still or people I may have had halfway to the payment phase.
(LS) juggling music, blogs, graphics, and also a clothing brand how do you know when to find time for each creative outlet? Do you set a certain schedule for certain things? Do you have a certain day for certain things how does that work for you?
(B) I wish I knew. Everyday is dedicated to everything. I didnt want to say okay Tuesday we design only covers and logos but sell 5 videos the night before that Tuesday. I ask my clients for deadlines and bundle clients I tell them the timeframes. To be honest my turnaround is so quick and I've done this for so long I do it super fast. Some AMV clients get their video back in an hour with their mind blown. I try not to look at it as such a big work load. Whenever I do feel overwhelmed then its time for like 30 mins on the xbox or a jog. Somehow I never run out of creativity which certainly helps.
(LS) What’s your main goal as far as music? Do you plan on getting signed, are you looking to stay independent? Is music even your full on passion or are you looking to stay more on the blog and manager/artist development side or what is your main goal?
(B) Main goal is to get my label signed how Travis Scott did with Cactus Jack. It keeps the artist safe and in it's own way allows you to stay independent but with proper funding. Music is the main passion. I never say I manage my artists. We push them to build their own brands and we help them with that. I'm simply just keeping a platform all about love. The rest does it's own thing all by itself. Truly amazing.
(LS) Thank you again for being a part of this great come up, is there anything else you would like for the readers to know about you? Or should we keep our eyes peeled for anything to come in 2020? What are some links that you can share were new readers can go ahead and find your work?
(B) You can find everything related to be via my linktree which is linktr.ee/lifewitha1
Album 3's first single drops May 1st and you can already pre order it on Apple Music. Its titled 'Bob Ross' and ensomber produced it. Tune in. Tap in. We out here not just for us but for everybody with the it's always love approach. Just dont get shit twisted haha. You can find me everywhere but soundcloud. Bless up everybody and much love to The Local Shooter. Houston we strong!!
The Local Shooter Vs. B-L1FE
2nd year in hindsight review as context for my 3rd year going ahead:
This post is mainly a written review of how my past 2 years have gone (mainly the second year seeing as I did this same type of post last year to reflect on my first year) at the art school, seeing as I always find it important to reflect back on my work and how things have changed over time, with my second year being the most productive and successful where grades are concerned in my individual practices, so I will now be going into my first 2 years as a quick summary to explain where I’m hopeful to take my 3rd year seeing as it’s finally come to the time where I will be able to get my degree and move onto the next part of my education or go into my own career development plans etc.
Year 1 summary:
Year 1 was a incredibly production and telling year to see how I should adapt myself to a fine art course at a degree level especially, seeing as I have always found academic art to be difficult to engage with and be a part of due to my practically skilled background when I was once studying design and art at a more rudimentary level compared to the universities standards, however, I was able to get firm on my feet after the struggles to adjust in my 1st semester due to me having to adjust to a whole new approach to art practice and study as I threw myself firmly into my uni work and I was able to propel myself from working at a healthy pass to become ambitious enough to get a pass close to 70% by the end of my second semester (the grade was 67%) which gave me alot of reason to want to keep pushing myself and do all the more better down the line seeing as I was past the rocky start of beginning the course at this time, the shame was that I was still experimented and finding it hard to find a place to ground myself conceptually within my work as I have and always will be an outcast within contemporary art culture and practice for the fact that I’m certainly not as gifted in the theoretical work as other students even though I know I have a talent for producing and obsessing over the process and the practical behind creating art, so for me the goal for the second year was to find that academic sense in myself and plug even further to my positively independent spirit within my work (seeing as that was a point of much praise throughout my first year for not needing nor pining for the most support from my tutors and getting on with my work as I have always done), as again at this point of finishing my second year I was certainly trying my best to be conceptually aware and provocative in establishing my own ideals and theories within my work yet my 1st year just was not strong enough in that regard so that had to change going ahead for certain. In summary the 1st year established me as being active and enthusiastic enough to want to produce quality practical and technical work yet I needed to balance that passion out with more rationale from my written work to make me more engaged with pushing and expanding my own art intellect outward instead of being stubborn enough just to think practical work alone will secure me good grades and develop my own practice any further then it already was, in short 1st year was about bringing out the fine artist potential in myself and trying to bring that same energy to my practice so I wasn’t just a ignorant painter forgetting to think more and engage more when I have plenty chances to just so I can better my work and become a smarter and more self aware practitioner who already has independence down but they just need more self encouragement to question their own work and pursue questions instead of working to have instant answers and resolutions.
Year 2 summary:
So from what I learnt in the first I just completely overhauled everything, I became quickly engaged with making the most of my time in the studio spaces I had worked in throughout the year, I experimented constantly and came out with a completely different aesthetic to the one I entered uni with, I created both my alias and my style of painting all for my new self to enjoy and further play with for this year especially, my alias now being St Hyena and my style being trash3 (trash cubed), the style came out of me choosing to play into my disruptive anti art culture nature by playing into the influences I found in actionist and expressionist artists such as Gunter Brus, Otto Meuhl, this meant that I really focused on concentrating myself on having my own focus and identity as an independent practitioner, I decided I wasn’t going to be an artist anymore and I was going to make sure that my own face and name was no longer important to my actually yet concepts, yet I knew that being the sentimental man that I am I worked on making sure that I could still be personal and humane in referencing myself and my own experiences within my work, as even though I am not an artist and I am involved in the art community i don’t want to actually be apart of the commune that is contemporary artist culture, so I became a hermit as my outcast nature has become my greatest flaw to an ever constantly growing connecting herd based society, which meant that (context needed from the past projects so go check em out) I became St Hyena the hermit, a figure who wants to question and disrupt the norms of social code and restriction, so I became all the more interested in pursuing my own theorises on animal nature and human nature coming together to study how humans function through the lens of an outcast reflecting back on the society they are a part of, I also went from challenging traditional cultures through contemporary commentary and revived interpretation, to now want to look at people as a whole over those subjects, to study flaws as being natural and not to be seen as errors to some sort of moral code that need to be educated on instead of ignored, which by the end of my last project pushed me to where I am now in studying us all as just being flawed animals that hide behind moral codes and societal structures to hide our true natures, I realised that I know want to pursue my work as an art student not an artist, and being a hermit allows me that courage to want to study more as the classical hermits that changed my ways last year (such as the example of st jerome and st paulus) are the best examples for me to have in representing figures who want to question and serve as students to their religion instead of being those with ideally inherent answers like an overzealous artist who values their own art over other people’s ideas as a point of intellectual and academically superiority. Overall though 2nd year was also another jump in grades with me finishing the year with a individual grade of 75% which is my best to date, yet the effect of that was I worked too hard on myself and realised that I had severely burnt myself out by the end of the year with me still needing to work on how I’ll balance my work and social life more efficiently without over posting written work to the point of draining all my passion for art out, so that’ll be key to this year coming seeing as I have all the more responsibility to handle now the older and more mature I get (which will be spoken of soon enough within this early part of the blog work I assure you) seeing as that’s life and I have to keep working on the fact that last year was incredibly motivated and extremely self and work positive for me so I have to work on using that for the better of this year and making sure that I don’t slip back into the anxiety riddled and nervously negative attitudes of the first year, so here’s hoping.
In summary of where I’m at now:
After these past 2 years have flown by and so much has changed for my practice and own self development, I know now that 3rd year will be a challenge but I’m ready to face it and come out looking better than I started as I’m confident that I’ll get more right and get in my stride quicker this year compared to others and Hopefully this year I can be alot more selfish and work all the more on bettering my own work and giving myself time away from my stresses at points instead of just diving into uni for 8 months and feeling like I held my breathe for that long too by the end. This year will also be a huge chance for me to see where I go with wanting to try out for a masters course and study even further education as I begin to work all the more on my own career and practice outside of uni, seeing as for me it’s going to be important to keep my motivation and drive going this year right into the hopefully course of getting a masters and maybe a later phd down the line, as I want this year to be the most stress-less preparation for those steps going ahead so I really want to pull out all the positives of the past two years and really work hard to make the things that I failed on work all the more better and in my favour, cause I want my work to look and be the definition of me coming to balance out my lives of being an art practitioner and being good on my health and mental capability so that I can truly get even better with my work if nothing is causing problems with any of my other commitments as a man now balancing his home life his love life/ relationship and work life all at once, meaning I’m going to be spinning a load of plates this year yet I want to make sure that nothing has a chance of getting messy and unorganised or that I again fall on old habits and don’t come through with the work I’m striving to create now going forward. In short, I’ve come far and can’t let myself slip so I’ll be really getting the most of this year ahead while not being too hard on myself seeing as I would love to have an actual life this year and not go full hermit like I used to.