Archive for the 'indie life' Category

The other side

Today is my 8,742nd unbirthday. But I ask you, what is an unbirthday? Wikipedia defines it as “as an event that is typically celebrated on any of the 364 or 365 days in which it is not the person’s birthday. It is a neologism coined in Lewis Carroll‘s Through the Looking Glass, giving rise to “The Unbirthday Song” in the 1951 Disney animated film Alice in Wonderland”.”

“This article was nominated for deletion on 22/2/2006. The result of the discussion was no consensus.”

This post represents proof of my apparent Internet addiction (which wikipedia reckons isn’t a real addiction, but what does wikipedia know anyway?), demonstrating my inability to stay offline and focus on making my new puzzle game for even a day.

That’s actually a lie. I worried that my site might be a bit boring over the next few weeks (what with me not updating it and everything), so I queued up some nonsense articles and postdated them. So yey, nothing to worry about yet!

Fun fact: if you leave a comment here, it’ll be weeks before I see it! Whatever “weeks” means.

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An aside

Today is my 24th birthday. But I ask you, what is a birthday? Wikipedia defines it as “the name given to the day that some people in many cultures celebrate the anniversary of the day they were born. It is often marked by a birthday party and/or friends when gifts are given to the person celebrating the birthday. It is also customary to treat people specially on their birthday, either generally acceding to their wishes, or subjecting them to a rite of transition.”

“Some adults loathe celebrating it as it reminds them that they are getting progressively older.”

The article is also accompanied by this wonderful picture of a random man celebrating his birthday:

Anyway, that’s enough of that.

I’m starting to worry that I’m spending altogether too much time online. The little I’ve read about internet addiction cuts quite close. In particular, I think the time I spend online could be affecting the amount of work I’m doing on my new project (which really should be further along than it is at this stage).

So starting tomorrow, I’m going to unplug my network card for a few weeks. Just to see if it makes a difference.

See you in a few weeks days!

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Then it becomes secrets, and no one knows secrets

Thought I should make some sort of official deceleration that I’m scrapping one of my projects – Indie Brawl. My theory was that nobody at TIGSource really cared that I’d put it on the backburner given that there were so many other things going on over there, but that clearly isn’t the case. Someone brought it up again, and it’s obvious that there are a lot of people over there itching to get started at it. Seeing as I’m the bottleneck here, I asked if anybody else wanted to code it instead, and Alec Halowka (of Aquaria fame) volunteered. He’s even going to use the spiffy Aquaria engine as a framework, so we should see something playable relatively soon!

Honestly, as much as I liked the project, I’m glad to be rid of it. I didn’t really have the time I thought I’d have for it and I’ll have even less in the new year (more on that later). Plus, I was just feeling responsible for holding it back, which I hated.

Oh, I’m also shelving The Tower temporarily. I want to come back to it later to explore some graphical thing I’m doing, but basically, I’m starting fresh in the new year with none of my old projects around my neck. I think I’ve spent long enough experimenting. Time I did something a bit more ambitious, no?

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The fall of Buster X. Drake

I said a couple of days ago that I’d see where I was in a few days with my TIGSource Text The Halls contest entry. Well, here I am. It’s not going to work out 🙁 What with being home for Christmas and everything, I’m just not working hard enough at it, and I’m not close enough to completing it to have a reasonable shot at doing it in the next few days. I have a fair bit of work done on it I suppose, but the sequences I really wanted to do, the driving forces behind the original concept – they remain unwritten.

It’s no big deal, really. It was kinda fun to take a break from The Tower for a while (which has become a fairly serious project), and it was great to have an excuse to finally sit down and use Inform – which has to be the most beautiful language I’ve ever worked with. I don’t even know where to start – here’s an example from the documentation that creates a few rooms from Colossal Cave:

The Cobble Crawl is a room. “You are crawling over cobbles in a low passage. There is a dim light at the east end of the passage.”

A wicker cage is here. “There is a small wicker cage discarded nearby.”

The Debris Room is west of the Crawl. “You are in a debris room filled with stuff washed in from the surface. A low wide passage with cobbles becomes plugged with mud and debris here, but an awkward canyon leads upward and west. A note on the wall says, ‘Magic word XYZZY’.”

The black rod is here. “A three foot black rod with a rusty star on one end lies nearby.”

Above the Debris Room is the Sloping E/W Canyon. West of the Canyon is the Orange River Chamber.

I am kinda sorry that all I posted about it at TIGSource was that crazy picture that Akhel mustered up for me in #tigirc (which had nothing whatsoever to do with my game, heh).

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Leon: “This is no ritual; it’s terrorism.”

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve talked about any of my projects, so I thought it was time for an update.

Aside from the usual coding and all that, I’ve been busy with a business issue which I haven’t talked about here till now.

Essentially, I’ve been looking for funding to continue with what I’m doing next year. My local county enterprise board have turned me down, but there’s something else that I’m looking into which currently looks quite hopeful. Applying to both programmes meant putting together a proposal, which actually ended up taking a lot of work. Essentially, I wrote up a document talking about Independent Gaming as a business, showing that a market existed by demonstrating some success stories, and proving that I had the ability to make something that could compete. I thought it was pretty good, but the first group I showed it to didn’t – they weren’t able to support me because I’m not far enough along. Which I guess is fair enough; after all, I haven’t made a cent at this so far, and it looks like it could be a while before I do.

There’s a European National Development Plan funded course with some financial assistance that I’m going to apply to next, but failing that, my next action will probably be to apply for a loan. But that’s next year’s problem, I guess.

Now. As for my projects!

First of all, I haven’t abandoned Indie Brawl – I’ve just set it to one side. The engine driving it is basically finished – I just need to add enemy AI and any game specific stuff that we may end up needing in the future. Once these other things are out of the way, I’ll revive it. Anyway, there’s a ton of stuff happening on TIGSource at the moment, so I don’t think it’s really being missed.

Secondly, I’m also still working on my November contest entry to RPGDX (tentatively titled “The Tower”). Lots of things have been added (including a cool state based AI system and some stealth stuff). However, as I’ve expanded the project a bit I want to completely redo the graphics – and I’m afraid I don’t want to post any more about it till then. I’ve decided that it’s definitely worth developing, though.

Lastly, I’m working on a new project – a text adventure for TIGSource’s Text the Halls mini contest. Right now it’s kinda up in the air, and I don’t know if I’m going to see it through to the end. The big problem I have is that I can’t settle on a tone. At the moment it’s like it’s two games – on the one hand it’s quite a serious spy drama with lots of political intrigue, on the other it’s a ridiculously silly over-the-top secret agent story with Resident Evil 4 style dialogue and explosions every couple of steps.

I’m going to give a few days before I decide what I’m doing with it.

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The end of experimentation

Funny thing – I was all excited about that top down RPG with the non-linear plot, but after a week or so of messing around with different ideas and a buggy engine, I’ve lost interest in it. Maybe a truly non-linear game would be interesting in the sense that it would be nice if one existed, but I’ve got a feeling that it would be a pain to play. You’d finish it, and then the next time through you’d be playing a different progression with the same characters and settings and I just get the impression that the whole thing would become very tedious, and not nearly as interesting as if I’d created one really good linear path. It’s as if the non-linear idea is a substitute for some genuine innovation.

I wasn’t sure for a while, but I’ve made up my mind. That project isn’t really all that interesting to me, so I’m going to scrap it and move on to something else.

The point of that project was to satiate a desire I had to experiment with game ideas that are a little off centre – that mightn’t necessarily work but would at least be a bit interesting. I still feel that way, and earlier on this week, that led me to start a topic on RPGDX wondering if anyone was interested in another contest this weekend; the old style ones, the 48 hour timeframe that seems to have come out of nowhere. Turns out quite a few people are interested. So I organised a contest for this weekend on the forum, and I’m taking part.

Here’s what I posted (in this thread):

Alright, let’s do this thing.

This weekend we’re going to have a 48 hour RPG making contest. It starts from whatever time you wake up on Saturday to whatever time you go to bed at on Sunday, and can be extended into next week if a majority of competitors wish. The theme of the contest is Completion – the idea being that the time limit is the real restriction of the contest and the challenge lies in actually finishing and releasing something.

You may use a premade engine, premade graphics and premade music – anything you have at hand from old placeholders to ripped spites. You may also opt to start from scratch. That’s up to the individual entering. However, the rest of the game’s content must be made during the contest’s 48 hours – content meaning dialogue, level design, and so on.

The contest will by judged on Ms. Congeniality terms – everyone who enters gets one vote and may vote for whoever they like, including themselves. The winner will receive a significant boost to their street credibility.

These rules are not final, so free free to discuss them in this thread. The idea is to keep restrictions to a minimum – however, as the theme is completion and the time limit’s fairly short, it’s recommended that you keep your ideas simple and aim to release something by Sunday night.

Just to clarify a few questions that have been asked (and to preempt a few more):
* You must design the actual game during the contest, but you may use premade graphical and music resources, and you can use a premade engine.
* By premade engine, this can be any core program you’ve made yourself, or alternatively game making software of any kind, including Gamemaker, RPG Maker, OHRRPGCE, Multimedia Fusion, etc…
* It doesn’t matter what platform your game runs on.
* You may work in teams! However, teams only get one vote, so you’ll have to decide among yourselves who you want to vote for.

That’s it. Like I said above, feel free to disagree with any of this or ask for clarifications and we’ll amend the rules.

Also, if you want to discuss your projects during the contest you can drop in to our IRC channel at #indie-rpg on irc.esper.net.

It starts tomorrow!

So, after suggesting that, I got to work thinking about what I’d enter. At first I was just going to do a traditional enough game, but that led to me thinking about what engine I’d use – it’s either a choice between starting from scratch, or using the monolithic, bloated “Project Distraction” RPG engine that I used for Major Arcana. Getting reacquainted with the distraction engine at this point would probably take a day at least, and tailoring it for the contest a day more. On the other hand, making any RPG engine from scratch is pretty time consuming.

I couldn’t decide which way to go, but then I remembered this:

The platform game engine I’ve been working on for Indie Brawl. It’s gotten pretty sophisticated in the few weeks I’ve been working on it on and off. It led to me to thinking about a much more interesting project: a Platform/RPG hybrid.

It all came together very quickly: the mechanics of the game, the plot, some cool gameplay ideas – out of nowhere I suddenly had a game idea I really liked! And it’ll work with an engine I’m really familiar with!

So that’s my plan 🙂 First problem is that I’m going to need to do some significant work on the engine before it’ll realistically support an RPG – in fact, I even need to do some work on the platforming elements. I don’t see myself finishing this in 48 hours – but I do see myself having something playable.

Wow, didn’t mean to ramble on so long… I’ll probably be posting a lot tomorrow too – hopefully by sunday night I’ll be able to release something.

Oh, and if you’re a programmer with nothing to do this weekend, join in!

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I am on the road crew! This is my stop sign!

So, about that thought…

Basically, I’ve been thinking about where I go from here, and I had two projects in mind. One is something I’ve been toying with for about a year now – a plot driven puzzle game that I think could make a good shareware title; the other is an RPG for a Retro Remakes contest that I’m kinda sorta already working on. That project would be another freeware game, mind.

I was originally going to write up my thoughts on both games and hope that my astute readers would point me in the right direction – but I realised that I’d already made my mind up. I know I’ve squandered a lot of time already and you all probably think I’m mad for even considering working on another free game at this stage, but I don’t care. When I started this I promised myself that I’d focus on making games that are interesting to me as opposed to games that could make some cash for me, and this seems like a pretty clear test of that theory. I do like the first idea, but it’s a bit shallow, really – anyway, I can always come back to it later when I’ve developed the concept a bit more. Right now, I feel like working on something that takes itself seriously.

Retro Remakes are holding a top down 2D dungeon contest at the moment, which runs from two weeks ago till four weeks time (December the 8th). I’m a little far behind at the moment, but that’s fine: what I have in mind is quite simple, and I hope to be finished long before the deadline. I’ll post more about my game later, but here’s the jist of it: it’s going be a very traditional D&D style RPG, with a character focused plot. It’ll be very short, but non-linear – it’ll start with a few short quests that basically serve to introduce you to the characters, and then there’ll be one big quest that the game revolves around. How it plays out will depend on who you choose to team up with.

I kinda see it as an experiment in non-linearity; a lot of design documents I’ve read discuss the problem of linearity in plot driven games and either decide that traditional linearity is the way to go, or compromise by having a linear plot with non-linear sub-plots. However, I think it might be interesting to make a game that attempts true non-linearity, and that’s what I hope to do with this.

One major problem I’ve seen with games that do attempt this is an inability to commit. This, essentially, is what I hope to focus on with my new game. To take an example, “Deus Ex: Invisible War” allowed the player to side with any of the game’s factions, and went to some lengths to make them all sympathetic in their own ways. The game’s real problem is that you never really felt like you were a part of whatever faction you sided with: the game allowed you to side with anyone or indeed everyone whenever the hell you wanted, and only rarely forced you to choose one side over another – and even when it did, you never became an “enemy” of the rival faction. They’d still call you up and ask you to do things for them. T’was quite frustrating, actually.

Sorry, I guess I’m getting a bit off topic – as for my game: It’s really too early to say anything about this one just yet… so I guess what I’ve said will do for now. I’ll post some more details in a few days.

The contest has already been running for two weeks, and there are a few entries brewing that look like they could be pretty interesting. One that’s caught my eye is an interesting “hunting” game by JTR, the author of the lite-roguelike Crypts of Despair and that excellent Death Worm simulator. In the game, you trek around a dark cave shooting arrows at rats looking for the legendary beast. The atmosphere is spot on, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hunting game before – when you get a shot in at the beast, he’ll leave a blood trail which you can use to track him down. It’s an interesting idea. The working title is “Rat Cave” (there’s a playable demo at that link).

I actually have a fair bit of trouble coming up with ideas like that; I always tend towards complicated ideas that slowly creep out of control that never go anywhere, so I’ve got a lot of respect for small, simple, original game ideas that work well like this one does. It’s why I’m such a big fan of guys like Cactus and Ikiki, I suppose.

DevX is also entering this one (he entered that spring contest over at rpgdx.net too); he’s got a devlog of his progress up here.

In other news! I haven’t been doing all that much recently, to be honest – for the last few days I’ve been playing Psychonauts. My expectations were pretty high, so I was kinda worried that I might unconsciously be too critical of it – but the game doesn’t disappoint – so far I’m loving it! Believe it or not, it really is as good as everyone says it is. Hell, even Yahtzee likes it. And he hates everything.

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NaNoGaMo

About this time last year (actually, looking at the date it appears it was exactly this time last year) I wrote up a big post outlining a few new ideas for some straightforward mini projects. I’d spent a lot of the year working on my RPG engine for a project called “The Guardian”, and I was getting a bit sick of working on it. To quote myself: I want to do something new, something a little quirky and pointless. Something that doesn’t take itself so damn seriously.

It’s weird that I feel totally the opposite way this year. I’m two months into this thing now. My original plan was pretty straightforward – take a month off to relax, take another to experiment and come up with some new game ideas… Well, my time’s up. And yeah, I’ve got some ideas about what I want to work on… but it’s weird, on the one hand I don’t think I’ve had enough time to experiment yet, on the other, I just want to get cracking on a game with some real substance now that I’ve got the time to do it properly.

I’ll finish this thought tomorrow 🙂

In other news, I had an uneventful day today until I spilt a glass of pepsi on my laptop. A couple of hours of panicking, laptop disassembly and subsequent backups later and everything’s alright again. Or at least, with any luck. The littleterrybox is working alright now, but it was acting a bit funny for a while… which has me worried that it won’t start up tomorrow. Still, I guess I got pretty lucky – I’m strapped enough for cash as it is. If I’d broken it, I’d be in serious trouble.

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OMG CAVE STORY RIP OFF

Yeah, I’m sorry. With all the free time I have these days, I should really post more about what I’m doing. If nothing else it’ll keep me focused, heh. Anyway, it occurs to me that I haven’t actually explained what I’m doing these days on this blog. I’ve just posted some vague stuff about a platform engine. It’s about time I explained myself fully, I think.

I’m still looking for a job, and my search isn’t going all that well. I’ve been applying to shops, bars, and places like that that are advertising part time work. They’ve all smiled politely and taken my CV, but nobody’s contacted me as of yet. Maybe my CV puts them off a bit? I dunno. I’ve also been in contact with a office temp agency, which looked promising at first – but I haven’t heard from them in over a week.

This part time job thing is essential to my grand scheme – so from now on, I’m dedicating all my time during the day to finding one. There are a lot of places that I still haven’t applied to, that, to be honest, I was kind of avoiding. Tescos and McDonalds, and that sorta thing. I guess I shouldn’t be so picky. My savings won’t last forever, after all.

On the game development front, I’m more upbeat 🙂

Essentially, I decided that before I start working on a shareware title, I want to take a month to adjust to indie life. And instead of mucking around with engines and demos that don’t go anywhere, I want to finish a short game (something which I haven’t managed in the past five years now). I came up with an idea that I never got around to discussing on this blog, and started adapting my platform engine from the B-game contest to work for it.

That idea is decent enough, and I may come back to it at some point. For now though, something more interesting has caught my attention… (sorry, Josiah 🙁 )

That “project I’m thinking about getting involved with on the side” from the last post is generating quite a bit of interest over at the TIGSource forums, and I’ve basically decided that it’s more interesting than my kitschy platformer. So I’ve decided that instead of working on the platformer, I’m going to work on this. My first milestone is to have a little arena with Quote from Cave Story jumping about in it, and that’s practically done – check it out:

Once that’s done, I’m going to add another character that can shoot and make something that’s basically playable. Then I’ll start a proper thread on TIGSource about it. Wish me luck! 🙂

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So now what?

Em – this little rant does go on a bit. I’ll just summarise it at the end in case anybody wants to see what I’m up to, but couldn’t be arsed reading all this 😀

Ever since I got back from Spain on Sunday, I haven’t so much as thought about doing any coding. It’s amazing how tired a holiday can leave you.

I don’t think it’s really hit me yet – that I won’t be going back to work, that I won’t have another paycheck coming – or that I really should be working on something, instead of lounging around the house browsing the internet and playing the new Phoenix Wright.

So here we go. I think it’s high time I put my plans together in a more concrete form.

    An overview of my approach:

I’ve had a change of heart. A couple of months ago, I was able to motivate myself into quitting my job and giving this a shot by convincing myself that I could realistically make a living as a full-time indie. And I don’t think that’s a good idea anymore.

Going full-time indie means that I’m completely dependant on my savings. It means that I need to pay my way by selling my games – and as a consequence, it sorta implies that I shouldn’t be working on anything that I don’t intend to sell. Not if I don’t want to go bankrupt, at least.

I really don’t like that idea.

Also, as much as I’d like to insist otherwise, it does put a limitation on what I can work on.

Without getting into the details of my savings and living expenses, I estimate that I can live for about six months or so before I need to look for a new job. That’s like, next March. Let’s be realistic here. Even if I was to spend every day from now to then working on a masterpiece, it’s a huge gamble – if the game doesn’t work out, I’m in serious trouble. On top of that, I’ll have spent all my savings – which really leaves me with no option but to don a shirt and tie and go back into the working world.

Hey, it could work out, I suppose. But there is a better alternative.

    The part-time route:

Working one 9 to 5 day a week at the Irish minimum wage would pay a little under my weekly living expenses (provided I start getting a bit stingier with my money). Working two days a week would cover my rent. This would stretch out my survival time to between 10 months to a year an a half, depending on whether I work one day a week or two. And if I can find a job that pays more than minimum wage, the numbers get even better. Obviously, this is all just roughly speaking, but it’s something to think about.

I have no idea what kinda job I’d get yet, but I’m not picky. There are supposedly nearly a thousand pubs in this city – I’ve done a bit of bar work before and wouldn’t mind doing it again. Anything would do though. Tescos, McDonalds, whatever. I don’t think I’d have much luck finding a part time office job, but that’s worth a shot too.

Aside from the money, there are other benefits to this approach. Having to go do something every Saturday (or whatever) would be a nice way to mentally keep track of my progress. Or, to put it another way – it would keep me from slacking off.

But the main benefit is the obvious one – I’d no longer have to worry about money. This means no obligation to make a living with every little game I try making, and it means no worrying about how I’m going to pay my rent a few months down the line. It’s not that I particularly want to work in a chipper or something, but this approach just makes the most sense to me. Still, if anybody out there’s got some better suggestions, I’d love to hear them! 🙂

Right. Enough of the approach – here are my actual plans:

    My short term plans:

First thing I need to do is to get into some kind of sustainable lifestyle. I need to find a decent part time job first of all, and this may take some time. I also need to start budgeting, like, right away. And the longer it takes me to get a job, the more money I’m going to waste.

However, I won’t be any position to get a job for another couple of weeks, at least. I arranged a few holidays for myself in the last few months of the job – the week in the Spain with my trad band being the biggest one, but I’m also off to Galway this weekend for a friend’s house party, and then to Amsterdam with a few friends the week after that. And then, I’m going home for a few days. It’ll be October before I’m really ready to start.

But enough of that! My immediate concern is my next game: for TIGSource’s B-Game contest. Or, I should say, the game I was making for TIGSource’s contest. Given that I’ve only till Thursday, and given how lethargic I seem to be at the moment, I just don’t think I can do it justice. Instead, I’m officially dropping out, but I’m going to casually work on it over the next few weeks with whatever free time I can muster up. I had some pretty cool ideas for it over in Spain, and I still think the game has at least some potential!

But don’t worry. Not all my games are about kicking someone in the crotch or jumping around naked. I have some serious games in mind down the line:

    My long term plans:

The full-time indie thing cornered me into what I’ve been calling the Sound of Music scenario – or to use a gaming analogy, the Final Fantasy scenario. It meant that I would squander every last cent I had on one big project that was either going to make or break me. Since I’m now going down the part time route, that’s no longer essential, and I can think about taking on a couple of smaller projects instead, and leaving the big ones till later on.

Here are a few things I want to try:

A puzzle game: Unfortunately, Puzzle Games have been hideously abused by the casual gaming sector of indie gaming. It’s disgusting. Anybody who’s played any of my early QB games, however, may note that aside from the failed RPG attempts, they’re almost all puzzle games. But not in the Bejeweled or Tetris sense. They’re real puzzle games, where you have to sit back and carefully consider your next move – where you have to think ahead and there’s a deliberate logic at work – not just a momentary trigger finger reaction to whatever damn piece you’ve been served.

I would love to make a good puzzle game. Something cool and addictive that people want to play five minutes of before they start working on something, with a level editor so people can create their own stuff and levels that actually require you to sit back and think about what you’re going to do. I think there’s a lot of room to make something really cool within this genre. And it so happens, I have something in mind.

A flash game: I’ve had an interest in doing something in flash for a while now – people who work in flash seem to be able to work quite quickly, and it appears to be a fairly nice development environment. Flash games also seem to attract a lot more attention than the average indie game, though they do attract a different kind of attention.

The main reason I’m curious about flash, though, is because you can make money with it without charging a cent for it. I don’t really like ads, but hey – if some stupid company selling smileys or whatever wants to pay me for putting an ad in the loading screen for my game, then I guess I don’t really have a problem with that. They can go right ahead.

Fundamentally, I really just don’t want to have to worry about money in the slightest. I don’t want to cut down my game and ask people to pay for the rest or anything like that – so a system like sponsership or the less intrusive ads (like MochiAds) is pretty interesting to me.

It is a little on the dark side, though. I’m not sure if it’s something I really want to explore. Especially after reading articles like this one:

Generic Defence Game: The Experiment

A few little freeware games: Back when I was in school I used to make little free mini-games, just for the hell of it. I haven’t done that in years, even though I’ve learnt a lot from all the big projects I’ve worked on in the five years since. It would be really cool to go and revisit that mindset: to take a random week and work on a random game idea, and just see how it goes. There are a lot of indie developers out there at the moment who work like this, and it really seems to help them develop an individual style (compare one of Cactus’s old games to Clean Asia or Burn the Trash, for example).

I kinda worry that I’m not able to make games this way anymore. That’s probably irrational, but it would be nice to finish something again, at long last. This untitled naked platformer I’m working on seems like a good place to start.

Major Arcana: I’ve abandoned a lot of projects over the years – but there’s something to Major Arcana. I dunno. It might be nice to have another look at it, at some later point.

Summary: I’m going to get a part time job. I’ve won’t be around a lot for the rest of the month, and I’m dropping out of the TIGSource contest, but I’m still going to work on my contest game over the next month with whatever free time I can manage. I also have some vague ideas about what I’m going to be doing down the line.

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