LM Episode 2014: A New Hope

 
 

If I had written this blog post 2 weeks ago like I had planned, then it almost certainly would have been titled “Blastronauts Permanently Cancelled”. I’m glad I decided not to go with that though, because while true, I feel it sets the wrong tone for the situation.

So yeah, let’s address that bombshell first I guess shall we? It’s true, due to circumstances beyond my reasonable control, the game of Blastronauts will in all likelihood never see the light of day. I hate to use the word never, but I think this one is a pretty safe bet for now. This has come to pass as one of our core members, and at the time of writing, our only programmer, has chosen to withdraw himself from the team permanently.

This is indeed, on the face of it, an enormous shame. Anyone who actually follows this blog will know that Blastronauts has been in (admittedly spotty) development for over 3 years now. We had big plans for it this year, come release time, and I have to admit I was more than just a little bit excited about getting to finally show off a finished game at PAX Aus in October.

But alas, none of this will come to pass as we had planned. Probably one of the most unfortunate things about the whole situation is simply the bad timing of it all. This all happened not 3 days after my getting up in front of the entire Melbourne community at January’s IGDAM drinks, formally and publicly announcing our plans to release the game this year, starting with an open beta this February. Not just that, but also putting the word out for volunteers to participate in filming a trailer for the game, which of course, also had to be cancelled. I could see how something like that could quickly and easily lead to a reputation of being the guys who jerk people around.

I’m not going to let that happen though. Level Machine is not dead and gone, just changing shape. Like a pudding that has just been tipped from its mould. Sure, the mould gave it shape, but it was restrictive. Now the pudding is free to leak where it pleases. And best of all, it’s still sweet, sweet pudding… man, the longer I run with analogies, the weirder they seem to get.

So that’s why I chose to re frame this post with the heading and banner image that I did. Because over the last 2 weeks, myself and those still involved with Level Machine in one way or another (but mostly myself), have been reflecting on the situation, and trying to work out what comes next. We have been put in a situation beyond our control that basically puts the brakes 100% on everything that we were doing. Fine, these things happen. No point curling up into a ball in the corner and withering away to nothing, only to maybe at best one day become a footnote in someone’s conversation that resembles something like “whatever happened to those guys who never made any video games?”.

So we are going to make video games, in fact we have already started. If there was one thing I took away from participating in this year’s Global Game Jam, it’s that actually yes, I can make a damn video game, and it doesn’t have to shred away 4 years of my life to happen. No more protracted beyond all sense development times. We are getting right back to what the point of starting out on this venture was all about in the first place. We are going to reshape our plans around what we can actually do, not sit and wait for help to drop from the sky. Some stuff is already percolating away in very early stages, and I can’t wait to start posting about all this new and exciting stuff. Blastronauts will always have a sentimental place in my memory, but I guess it just wasn’t to be…

I guess it’s kind of true what they say about disaster and opportunity being the same thing… I wonder if there’s any money to be made in Hollywood with “opportunity movies”? No, probably not…

Cameras around Canberra

 
 

Later in 2014, Level Machine will be embarking on the daunting task of launching a Kickstarter to get us over the line for development costs in order to release Blastronauts this year.

As anyone will tell you, part of any good Kickstarter campaign is a good pitch video. Since we are professional game developers, not professional film makers, our strategy for putting together a good pitch video largely involves trying a zillion things, and seeing what we can put together from the pieces.

To that end, we have decided to start early, and begin filming months prior to a Kickstarter page seeing any kind of light of day. Since Shane happened to be in Canberra over the holiday period (which meant Shane and Adam being in the same city for the first time in months), this seemed like the perfect time to get started and attempt to put some things on film for the first time. Who knows how much of this stuff will end up making it into the final cut, but it was a fun learning experience to say the least.

 

Kickstarter filming antics

 

Above are some photos from the day, with more to be posted from future adventures into the world of what-the-hell-are-we-doing? as they happen. Enjoy.

 
 

Happy Holidays

 
 

Level Machine would like to wish everyone a merry christmas, and a happy holiday season. See you in 2014.

 
 

3 years on the clock

 
 

I had a realisation out of the blue this afternoon. I was writing the date down, or typing it, or something, and I realised it was around this time of year we started working on Blastronauts, way back at the dawn of time. So I checked it out, and sure enough, it was in fact exactly this day, the 20th of December 2010 that the first code was cut, and the first pixels were pushed on our inaugural title.

3 years ago to the day that we embarked on what was seemingly such a simple task; making our own games in our spare time. Working on what we believed in, the way we believed in. It sounds like such an awfully long time saying it like that. Although to be fair, if you nailed all the Blastronauts production time together end to end, you could probably count it on one hand (in unspecified units).

So to commemorate that passage of time, I looked back over some of the older versions of various assets, and did a bit of a side by side comparison. Above you can see the player model, the veritable Blastronaut him/herself. On the left is our modern hero, all spanky and new. On the right is our original (and to be honest, fairly rushed) design.

Below we also have a little snippet of environment art to compare. Once again, the left shows the current appearance of the game maze, and the right shows the very first proof of concept render that was ever done of the tile set. As you can probably tell, it was trimmed down with gusto to a much simpler and more elegant set of options. And yes, that blue cylinder is the player.

 

 

I was also considering posting a comparison of the enemies as well, but they are still looking at one more cosmetic overhaul before they are final final… so maybe that is a post for another day.

There is also this video, for anyone who may not have seen it before, and is into that kind of thing; on that fateful first 3 days in December 2010, we decided to film and timelapse our efforts on Blastronauts. Because you know, we thought we would have it done and out the door by the end of those 3 days. Admittedly, our intentions for the game were a lot less lofty back then, and at the time, we were only really expecting it to be a sort of game jam output kind of game.

Today though, it has evolved into our flagship title, and in 2014 it will finally see the light of day. In one way or another.

 
 

Worth 1000 words… probably

 
 

One of the biggest challenges we face at Level Machine, being so distributed over time and space, is that of communication. We always seem to exist in at least 3 different cities at any given time, and at one point, 3 different countries. That, combined with the somewhat (incredibly) protracted time frame of development to date for our first title Blastronauts, has meant that keeping everyone on the same page is both of utmost importance, and also one of the most difficult aspects of development on this project.

We anticipated that communication and motivation would be challenges as such a distributed team, but I think the word “challenge” has understated the reality by about 100 fold. So, with all of us now in various stages of gearing up to finishing the game once and for all, such things are more important, and potentially more disastrous than ever.

This means, that as time consuming as it may seem at times, we are taking as many measures as possible to make sure that everyone is up to speed on every aspect of the game, and on the same page. One of the approaches we are taking towards this goal, which in hindsight seems so obvious it shouldn’t even need mentioning, is to storyboard EVERYTHING. Every single action and interaction in the game -> put it in pictures. In the past, we had relied on mostly written communication (with pictures, but still, mostly text), and occasionally, when explaining something new or complex, it would get storyboarded. Usually just on a whiteboard, and then photographed for later use.

Those photos of whiteboards have always been the most useful tools of communication between us, especially when reminding each other of past decisions. And make no mistake, that is actually a huge deal. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to make the same design decision 5 times because you haven’t discussed a particular aspect of it in over a year. And sometimes, if chat logs aren’t saved, or someone starts using a new machine, or whatever, things can just be straight up lost to the sands of time.

Not any more though. From now on, we’ll be spelling everything with letters… I mean pictures. It also makes you appreciate just how damn complicated even such a simple game is. I mean, it’s not like we are making Starcraft or something here, this is a pretty simple game, and the number of storyboards needed to cover everything is just enormous. Anyway, the title image for this post is one of the simpler interactions in the game, for your viewing pleasure… if you are into that sort of thing.

 
 

Meet the Blastronaut

 
 

Way back at the beginning of the year, I somewhat over enthusiastically pronounced 2013 to be the year of the Blastronaut. Starting the year with more gusto than plan, meant that the intentions of finishing the game this year obviously did not come to pass. In hindsight, there is actually no way that could have happened.

We do now have a pretty solid plan though, and speaking with a slightly more tempered sense of hyperbole, that plan will be seeing a late 2014 release of Blastronauts. The wheels that are going to make this an actuality started turning over the last month or so, and we are already seeing great progress.

So in celebration of what is no doubt going to be a long year ahead for Level Machine, but an exciting one no matter how you look at it, we present to you the final incarnation of the Blastronaut. These latest versions were just recently finished by our character artist David Pain. If you like what you see, you should check out some of his other work here

We’ve still got a big job ahead of us, getting everything else finished, and getting these guys set up properly in game and whatnot, but they’ve got an even bigger one after that…. what with having to save the universe on a daily basis and all.

 
 

Story Time with Level Machine

 
 

Once upon a time there were video games, and it was good. Wait, what the hell am I talking about? Starting posts is always the hardest part. Anyway, this post has been borne out of the gathering momentum that Level Machine has been experiencing lately, and some goings on that have been, well, going on. We are currently perched like a tentative snow ball at the edge of a hill bearing a sign marked “2014″, and are umm, waiting to get pushed around? No wait, that metaphor went right off the rails about half way through… We are looking to get rolling… yeah, that works much better.

So 2013 overall has been a fairly dormant year in the history of Level Machine, in terms of game development progress specifically. That’s not to say it hasn’t been an important year though. We are now at a time and place where we are starting to pull the strings tighter, and all going well, 2014 should be an absolute cracker.

 
So Anyway…
 

This week just passed saw GCAP (Game Connect Asia Pacific) once again held at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. The theme for this year’s event was “Stories”, and boy does our local industry have stories in spades. Talking to so many amazing game developers, old friends and new acquaintances, local and international, and hearing all their stories and unique perspectives is the most amazing thing about events like GCAP, and why I look forward to it so much each year. This year more than ever though, due to the theme of stories, got me reflecting on what the Level Machine story looks like so far, and got me wondering what exciting turns the story will take in the future.

In coincidence with this years GCAP theme, I was recently interviewed by one Vincent Parisi (@Vincent_Parisi) for an epic 2 part feature he wrote for the site IGXPro, which took a look at all of the developers who contributed to the successful Kickstarter campaign for the upcoming documentary “Game Loading: Rise of the Indies” which explores the explosion in indie game development culture in recent years.

 

Game Loading Site

http://www.gameloading.tv/

IGXPro feature

Part 1

Part 2

 

I was interviewed for the article because Level Machine supported the Kickstarter at a tier that included the fantastic bonus of featuring some of our game play footage in the finished documentary itself. Since the feature covers every one of the developers who supported the Kickstarter in this way, and gives a great insight into so many developers at a range of different points in their own individual histories, there was of course no possible way it could have included the full answers from everyone interviewed.

So we had a brief chat about it, and decided you know what? We could probably make a blog post out of the rest of the interview. You never know, someone might find it interesting. Maybe not right NOW, since we haven’t actually really released any games yet, but you never know, one day once we have some hypothetical fans, someone might wonder to themselves “hmm, wonder what the deal is with these guys?”.

Well, here is our deal… I mean story…

 
 

This is a slightly tidied up version of the full response I sent to Vincent for the article, and I have woven in a bunch of the images I sent as supporting material as well.

 

Some background on Level Machine

While we are still in the early stages of getting on our feet as a studio, and currently working on our first official title, the origins of what is now Level Machine can be traced back to 2008. I will try and recount the most pertinent events in our history in chronological order, but first I should probably list the people currently instrumental in Level Machine.

Shane Trewartha – Myself, co-founder, creative director
Adam Clarke – Co-founder, technical directer, one man code army
Drew Kennewell – Animator, LM mainstay
David Pain – Artist, LM mainstay

All 4 of us are alumni of the Canberra campus of The Academy of Interactive Entertainment. All of us except Adam were in the same class, and Adam studied there a couple of years after us. Late in 2008 I was working as a level designer and artist at Micro Forte Studios, and Drew Kennewell and David were both working at Eye Candy Animation as animator and artist respectively. I knew my job’s days were numbered as the studio had hit very hard times, and most of my workmates had already lost their jobs. Eye Candy was also going through times of change, but I don’t really know the specifics there. We had been in close contact ever since we graduated together, and Drew and I had always talked about one day working on games together. It was at around this time that we started to take the idea seriously, and put real energy into trying to make it happen. Our biggest problem was we needed a programmer.

Most of the next few years involved going through a long process of trying to find someone who shared our vision, and was also a great programmer, and who we really connected with as a person as well. One of the core tenants of Level Machine is that it is more than just a business venture. It is about video games yes, but it is about people first and foremost. The reason we make video games is to enrich peoples lives. The reason we are going indie and doing our own thing is in order to do so in a way where we can have authorship over our own destinies, and really see our energies put towards making our passions a reality. Studio culture is extremely important to us, and we strive more than anything to be able to make quality products in an environment that is as far removed from an exploitative crunch factory as possible.

So, since graduating from AIE in 2006, I have had many and varied jobs in and around the video game industry. I have worked at 2K on the Bioshock series, I have worked at tiny and mid sized studios, I have worked on mobile, consoles, PC and even a military helicopter simulator. Throughout my relatively short yet eclectic career I have met many wonderful people, and have made many good friends. Several of whom I have discussed the possibility of working with us at Level Machine in the future, and while many are interested, it’s always sort of been a “once everything is stable” sort of thing.

Adam and I actually first met in either 2007 or 2008 (sorry Adam, I can’t remember which, and can’t think of a way to verify it), but it was in 2010 that we were first introduced through a mutual friend and colleague who knew I was looking for a programmer to start a serious indie venture with, and he put me on to Adam. Since I already knew who this guy was, I felt pretty comfortable asking him, and trusted the recommendation of our mutual friend James Murchison, that he would probably know what he was doing. I do actually clearly remember the skype conversation that I consider the “birth of Level Machine”, between myself and Adam. I told him my intentions, that I wanted to break away and do the indie thing, I told him in brief my values for such an endeavour, and asked him if he would be interested in such a thing. His response was “I am always interested in such a thing”.


Adam and Shane working on our first game in a room we had at the AIE Canberra

 

The rest of 2010 was spent planning and scheming how we were going to go about doing it. Looking back now, my ambitions got too big too fast, which I attribute to the years of false starts that I had leading up to meeting Adam, and also working 2 jobs at the time (at 4 different locations across the city), and desperately wanting to be able to set my own professional boundaries. By the end of 2010, Myself, Adam, and Drew found ourselves sitting in a pub finally planning how we were going to kick off our first real project as Level Machine, which is what eventually would become Blastronauts. I have no idea if any of us kept that napkin that our initial idea was sketched out on, but I don’t have it anywhere. Thinking back now, I kind of wish I had kept hold of it.

Banner image and screenshot of our first game Blastronauts

 

So, in December 2010, a few days before Christmas, the 3 of us spent 3 days straight at Adam’s house bashing out a prototype of Blastronauts. We optimistically thought at the time that we had planned a game small enough in scope that we could pretty much finish it in 3 days. That, as it turns out, was not the case. Even still though, it was a hell of a 3 days. Also, we decided to film it for posterity, and a time lapse of the 3 days can be found on our youtube channel here;

Blastronauts – Jam Lapse

This is actually way darker than I remember. Protip: don’t point camera directly at bright sunlight.
(also, if you skip ahead, the last 30 seconds or so is kind of the most interesting bit)

 

So the question would then arise, if that happened almost 3 years ago, and Blastronauts is still far from finished, what has been going on in the mean time? Well, in 2011 we figured we could finish the game while still working full time if we got together one weekend a month and jam on it like we did before Christmas. This had sporadic success, as it turned out to be logistically far more complicated than we anticipated. Then things got a bit derailed when in the second half of the year, within a few months of each other I lost both my job, and my marriage of 6 years. Adam also had a lot on at around the same time, and we both found ourselves moving house and jobs at around the same time.

Finding myself now living in a city that pretty much had nothing to offer me any more, I decided to take the opportunity to move down to Melbourne. I had always loved it as a city, but I also knew that the game development scene, and the indie scene in particular here in Melbourne were just light years ahead of Canberra. I was not disappointed, and found myself suddenly going from a relative desert of an environment, to a wealth of active, amazing and interesting people everywhere I looked (you know who you are).

So 2012 found Adam and I regrouping and reassessing somewhat. Our above mentioned collaborators, Drew and David had both moved overseas for various reasons, and Adam and I had decided to continue our studies while working on Blastronauts more than we did in 2011, but still not full time yet. Adam was doing his Masters degree back in Canberra, and I was back at The Academy of Interactive Entertainment, trying out a new course they had launched which focused on game development as a business. Adam is still doing his Masters part time. My course has finished now, and while it was interesting, the biggest benefits I got from doing the course were not actually directly related to the course content itself. Part of the course involved a scholarship that allowed us to head over to GDC in San Francisco, which was worth it’s weight in gold. That trip increased my already burning passion to make Level Machine a reality ten fold. I also met some great people doing the course, most notably for me, our sort of live in mentors,
Kumobius (@kumobius). The 3 man indie team of Kumobius were working in the same office space as the AIE course, and I got to know them pretty well over the course of the year. They are all great guys, and make terrific games. We were also fortunate to have James Greenaway, their artist, do a guest piece of art for our game Blastronauts which we have used on promotional banners, and you can see at the top of the Blastronauts facebook page.


…and right here

 

So at present, we have a more solid idea of where we are headed with Level Machine than ever before. We have learned from being too eager, and trying to do too much too fast. Adam will be finishing his Masters at the end of 2014, after which he will also be moving down to Melbourne, and we will be establishing Level Machine as a proper studio as best we can. Between now and then, there are a few periods during which we can make large burst progress on finishing up Blastronauts, and things like being involved in the Game Loading kickstarter are huge incentives to keep up the momentum on it, even though we both still have full time commitments for now.

And that is a brief history of Level Machine to date.

 

Above can be seen the 2 halves of the Level Machine “offices” as they currently exist, in our respective homes of Melbourne and Canberra

 
 

In addition to the above outline of the Level Machine story, here are some answers to some more specific follow up interview questions relating to the feature

 

1) Why did you choose to back the GameLoading Kickstarter? What about the film appealed most to you?

When I first heard about the Game Loading kickstarter, it just clicked with me, and after learning of the “be in the film” tier, I discussed it with Adam, suggesting it was a great opportunity to get some exposure, and he agreed, so we threw in for it.

Watching all the trailers and stuff for the film up to that point, it just really seemed in line with our values. Level Machine is emblematic to us of taking a stand against the forces that be in the industry that we think could stand to take a long hard look at themselves and maybe do things a bit differently. We are clearly not alone in this goal, as the current trend towards this kind of indie development suggests. This film really embodies that, and I personally felt that it was really important for the world to see it.

 

2) What is your level of involvement with the project? (Pledge tier and reward. If you’re being interviewed by Studio Bento, be sure to include that as well.)

We backed the project at the $300 “Be in the film” tier. We figured for a tiny 0 budget studio like we currently are, that was 300 marketing dollars very well spent. This film will allow footage of our game to be put in front of the eyeballs of thousands of people that might not have otherwise seen us.

A couple of days out from the Kickstarter wrapping up, someone who is apparently a serial trouble maker on Kickstarter pulled out a huge pledge, and it was actually pretty inspiring to see the community rally together to right that wrong. At the time, it looked like it may have been enough to sink them, so I upped our pledge from $300 to $350, because I really believe in the project, and it would have been an enormous shame to see it fail because of something like that. Fortunately people got behind them in a big way, and they easily cleared their target.

At Level Machine, we like to keep one eye on the past (as you can probably tell from the general aesthetic of Blastronauts), but also (and more importantly) one eye on the future. We are always on the lookout for something cool to be involved in. For example, we were a bit late to support it on Kickstarter, but we have since got our hands on a couple of Oculus Rifts, and boy are we excited for what we are going to be able to develop for those things.

Screenshot of Blastronauts after initial Oculus Rift integration

 

3) Can you talk a little about your experiences within the indie community? In terms of networking and outreach, what is your relationship to fellow indie developers? (Feel free to answer this with an anecdote from your time as an indie developer. If you have a story about an interesting friendship or connection you’ve made with a fellow indie developer, please share it!)

First and foremost I will say that moving to Melbourne has met and then far exceeded my expectations as far as networking opportunities go. I have to give special mention to the IGDAM, and in particular Giselle Rosman (@jazzrozz). Giselle makes so many things happen, and keeps so many things ticking, she is the heart and soul of the indie community here in Melbourne, and it has been a great pleasure to know her. It was through Giselle and the IGDAM that Level Machine got involved in talks with, and the possibility of collaboration with a well known local Melbourne band, which could be something that turns out pretty great.

As mentioned above, one of the first connections I made after moving down to Melbourne, was with Kumobius. I instantly got on really well with those guys, and love the games they make. I think we at Level Machine are definitely hewn from the same stone as those guys. In particular, when I was still so totally new to, and completely lost in this city, Tom Greenaway the director of Kumobius sort of took me under his a wing a bit, showed me the ropes, and introduced me to a lot of people.

One of the best experiences we have had with Blastronauts as a game, was when we had the opportunity to exhibit it at AVCON in Adelaide. That is to date the most people we have had play and give us feedback on the game, and it was invaluable. It allowed us to see it through fresh eyes again, because as you can imagine, working on what is a relatively small project over such a drawn out period of time, it can become difficult to distance yourself from it, and be able to look at it objectively.


Blastronauts being demoed at AVCON 2012. Can’t wait to head back over there to demo again one day. Adelaide has an amazing game dev community.

 

Also, having worked in so many different places over the years, we sort of have quite a few friends who are ex co workers, who are also now doing the indie thing. Two of note that come to mind, are Camshaft Software here in Melbourne (@AutomationGame), who are making a very unique car company tycoon game, and Evil Aliens back in Canberra (@evilaliens), who are currently developing a couple of punchy little amazingly beautiful arcade style games, with their first title Orbitor set to launch on consoles some time next year.

I could probably keep answering that last question forever, but I will stop there for now. Game development, and the pursuit of creative freedom for the betterment of all, are my deepest passions, so I can talk about such things pretty much until I get told to shut up.

 

Since however, there is no one here to tell me to shut up, I had better do it myself. If you made it all the way to the end of this post, I hope you enjoyed reading it. Or at the very least I hope you got something out of it, even if it was just food for thought regarding your own story.

 

THE END

 
 

 
 

Parcel for L. Machine

 
 

We are quite excited here at Level Machine, because right now, at a nearby post office sits waiting to be picked up a parcel addressed to L. Machine, containing a recently ordered Oculus Rift. Having missed out on backing the initial Kickstarter campaign for the Rift, it was good news that they were continuing to release development kits for sale after the fact. We can’t wait to start playing around with it, and seeing what we can do with it. Although, just in case you are wondering, it is very unlikely that Rift support will be included in Blastronauts. Then again…

“You Only Get One First Game”

 
 

Anyone who actually reads this blog may have noticed that posts have been very thin on the ground this year, despite the first post of the year being filled with so much gusto and enthusiasm for the year to come. It seems like it would have followed that there would have been a veritable deluge of things to update about. Well, unfortunately enthusiasm is as always tempered by the constraints of mundane reality.

 

So, though Level Machine as an entity still exists, and it exists to make games, we have been soul searching a bit lately and deciding what course of action will uphold the values that we hold at the core of our identity as self made independent game developers. The answer to all questions that spin off from that boils down to “do it right”. This of course can lead to some tough decisions, and for me personally, who has been chasing this particular car for his entire adult life (which is more years than I care to think about at this point), anything that results in slowed progress is easy to get frustrated about in the short term. I mean, we only have so many years on this ball of dirt, and there are only so many games you can make in that time. But, when viewed pragmatically, everything that we are doing is still working towards the goal of LM becoming a self sufficient, self directed, independent studio that creates games that we truly believe in. Unfortunately this doesn’t always mean game development.

 

I guess it’s easy to want to jump the gun, and try and run before you can walk… and to mix metaphors apparently. After taking stock of our situation, it became clear that we were starting to make some decisions slightly prematurely over the last year, which only exacerbated any feelings of frustration that resulted from the inevitable delays that we knew we had to work around anyway. So one thing is certain; Blastronauts won’t be seeing a 2013 release. I know the one or two of you that are currently just dying to play the game must be devastated at that news, but in the long term it is the right choice. To be clear though, it’s not a case of us being too precious over our baby, and not wanting to expose it to the big bad world, when in fact it really is ready. It really isn’t ready, and the only way it is going to be, is not this year.

 

After coming to terms with this some time ago, and knowing that admitting this didn’t mean we were admitting defeat, nor giving up on Level Machine, I was recently listening to a podcast that I am quite partial to, Idle Thumbs (check it out, it’s probably the best game related podcast out there), and I had a bit of a reaffirming revelation. They were discussing the recent game Gunpoint, and as it happens to be the first game from the guy who made it, one of the presenters offhand, yet very poignantly commented that “You Only Get One First Game”. This rung so incredibly true to me, especially in light of the recent realisation that ‘Blastronauts won’t be coming out this year. It completely goes against the grain of the very reason we are striking out on our own to make the games that we believe in if we are just going to shovel out any old crap for the sake of it. We only get to make our first game once, so we are going to do it right.

 

I am not pulling the plug on the blog though. On the contrary, I’m actually hoping to up the frequency of posts. Even though we aren’t doing all that much actual development at the moment, there is still quite a lot that has already gone into the project that is worth talking about. For example, the above banner image is a bit of a montage of many of the intermediate steps that the environment art has gone through, testing out one thing or another along the way. I’m sure detailing that evolution would make for an interesting post at some point.

 

So for now, it is with bated breath that we hold tight and look to the future, as we prepare and make ready what we can, while we can. Like preparing for a great adventure, it’s no where near as fun to make sure you have packed those extra socks than to actually go out there and get the socks muddy, but if you didn’t take the time to pack the spares, you would be all the worse off for it.

 

Rolling with the punches

 
 

… or pivoting as they call it in the business lingo. Well, OK, the two things are actually fairly different, and this post is about a kind of mix of the two really… I guess… maybe.

This post is going to be a bit more of a story in nature than my usual matter-of-fact status update sort of posts. Also probably a fair bit longer too. At the end of last week, I had a very different post in mind, brewing away in the organ I keep behind my face, and I was going to post it here whenever I had the chance this week. Then, the course of events of last weekend very much changed that, and the post I had planned took new form as this little reflection on life, the universe, and everything… and video game development.

To give some context to the story, I/Shane (Artist/Designer/Director of Level Machine, and the one who makes the majority of posts on this blog) had planned a trip to Sydney for the weekend to go to the Soundwave music festival. Music is my second love along side video games, and with the tendency of indie game development as a thing being juggled on the side with full time work and/or other activities involved in staying alive to become an “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy” type situation, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a breather and take in some different scenery for a few days. So, I spaced out my travel times as much as possible so I would end up with almost 2 full days in Sydney on top of the day set aside for Soundwave, to spend as I saw fit. In typical form, I decided to pack a notebook and sketch pad so that I could spend my leisure time away sitting by the harbour and catch up on some outstanding design and concept stuff for Blastronauts. Yes, apparently given I wide open blank slate, I choose to spend even my leisure time with my face in this indie development thing.

So, as I was getting ready for my trip, I kind of had in mind that when I returned, I would make a post here about doing some design and concept work in the refreshing change of scenery, and how nice it was to sit there with the wind in my hair, doing what I love, but taking it to the road. This is what I had planned anyway. The universe however, noticed I was planning something, and laughed in my face. See, the thing about the universe is, it doesn’t give a single crap about your plans. It just does whatever the hell it wants, and you just have to do the best you can with that. Last weekend was a very sobering reminder of that, and I think it’s helpful to look at all things that occur in this life set in that context.

So, as I was leaving for the trip, I was packed light with just a small backpack, mostly filled with
notebooks, and for once I hadn’t forgotten a single thing. Going well so far. That’s about where it stopped going well though. In the interests of keeping this post to less than the length of an encyclopaedia volume, I will simply list some of the things that happened over the next few days, each one resulting in it’s own little butterfly effect; My flight was cancelled. Lots of flights were cancelled. I was told that the travel insurance I had paid extra for was a waste of money and wasn’t worth squat. No other airlines had any open flights until the following Tuesday (a bit late to catch the concert on Sunday). I was fortunate enough to find a seat on a coach that would get me to Sydney 3 hours before the concert started. This in turn meant my first night’s accommodation was a write off. I called to inform where I was staying that I wasn’t going to make the first night and needed an early check in the following day at 8 am. Yep they said, no problem, someone will meet you there. I arrive at the address that was on my booking confirmation. No one there. Half an hour later, still no one there. I call them up to ask what is going on. They say, oh yes, I will send someone around now. An hour later, still standing in the street, no one there. I am starting to get suspicious looks from people who have walked past me multiple times in the last hour and a half, and am badly in need of a shower at this point. I call again to find out what is going on. They (on this, the 3rd phone call mind you) tell me that I am at the wrong address. They have 2 locations, and I am at the wrong one. So I finally check in at the other location, about a half hour walk away, have a shower, ditch my stuff, and head to Soundwave. The train station is about another half hour walk away, so I’m going to be a bit late at this point. No big deal, it’s a music festival, all the best stuff is always on last. I get on the train and realise that in my haste, I have left my ticket to the festival in my bag. 1 hour later, on the train again. OK, finally home free. Not quite, due to bad weather, several bands were delayed, and one was cancelled. The one that was cancelled just happened to be one of the 2 bands that I was going for in the first place. Then, as I stood in the pouring rain in the food queue that seemed to be the only one not moving, I figured at least I’m not getting sun burnt. Then I get to the front of the queue and they are out of food.

It’s funny, writing this all down now, I am actually laughing to myself remembering it all. No one of these things in isolation was all that big a deal. All of them put together added up to a very, very different weekend than what I had planned, but a hell of a memorable one that’s for sure.

So, what does this have to do with game development? Well, nothing more than an allegorical connection really. Apart from the fact that my plans for getting some harbour side design time in was thwarted with a vengeance. See, after all this was over and done, and I had to get up at the crack of dawn, merely hours after getting back from the concert in order to get back to Melbourne in time for work the next day, I now had a 14 hour bus ride ahead of me to reflect on the weekend’s events. I also still had my notebooks with me, so while not harbour side, I managed to get in several solid hours of pen to paper time. I even drafted this post while on the bus (but I’m only just posting it now because I have a very irregular relationship with the internet at the moment). I did however learn though, that trying to draw a straight line while on a bus is like trying to perform brain surgery on a bouncy castle. So the quality and quantity of what I managed to get in was a bit stifled, but nonetheless, the opportunity was there.

So the summary of my reflections on that long bus ride home were how similar the experience felt to my experience so far in pursuing the goal of turning Level Machine into an indie game studio. Not one thing has gone to plan. Most things have looked at the plan, said bugger this and gone in the complete opposite direction. But the things that have happened, have nonetheless been valuable in their own right, and if things had not happened the way they had, many good things would not have come to pass. People would not have been met, friendships would not have been forged, and lessons would not have been learned.

So I guess the point of all this rambling is, if you ever wonder to yourself what the correct direction to be moving in to make progress is, as long as you are moving, something will happen. It may not be what you planned, but who wants everything to go to plan? That’s so boring.

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