Wicklog #6 – the Caves of Voronoi

I bit off a lot to chew with this Kickstarter. I tried to limit things by breaking off the main “game” into the Explore Mode stretch goal (which we did not, unfortunately, hit) and have the core goal be just a functional creature+brain editor. But it’s a tough sell when I don’t have an easy answer for “but what do you do?”.

Even if I don’t have the design for what happens 100% nailed down, there’s gonna need to be a world for things to happen in. Up til now, I’ve been making the maps by drawing them by hand in Inkscape, which is a fairly labor-intensive process.

Enter procedural generation, a method of making maps (along with other things) by just setting up general rules and having the computer randomly put it together by following those rules. The biggest advantage to procedural generation is that once you set it up, you can make essentially unlimited unique content. The biggest disadvantage is that the vast majority of it is going to be less interesting than if you did it by hand.

But Crescent Loom’s focus is on the creatures, not the world. I just need somewhere to put them, and procedural generation excels at filling that specific need.

Long story short, importing Voronoi tessellations into Monkey X and setting up procedural generation required a lot of tedious math. Rather than subject you to that, here’s a whole buncha screenshots + commentary that I’ll share with you like they’re vacation photos:

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Wicklog #5 – Art pipeline & coherent visual/gameplay vision

Whoop, day late. I’m trying to stick to my every-other Monday schedule for these, but it slipped a bit this time.

  • New build up on the itch.io page. Still trying to decide how often I should update the online demos vs not bothering until I have something for the Kickstarter beta testers to chew on.
  • Submitted Crescent Loom to Indiecade, a big showcase of up-and-coming indie games hosted every year in LA. Was a long application, but it forced me to write a couple of coherent statements of artistic intent/innovation/influences. If you’re curious, you can check ‘em out in this google doc.
  • Submitted art proofs of stickers to printers, should be getting those in my hands within the next few weeks.

UPDATES

Continued tweaking cell properties. It’s now possible to make chains of pacemakers inhibiting each other, which is a type of circuit you see all the time in nature:

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Wicklog #4 – Betacon, intuitive mechanics, and the March for Science

Time is strange. It feels like the changes I make every day are small, but gradually they accumulate into something bigger than it seems like I could make. And then I realize how little time I have left, and the good feelings about that turn back to anxious work.

Last weekend, I showcased Crescent Loom at the Portland Mercury’s new tech/gaming convention: Betacon. It was cool event for me for a few reasons:

1) Focus

It got me to focus on getting a polished build put together, fixing a lot of the UI things that I’d been putting off (e.g. finishing the design, seamlessly switching between body and brain editing, making an info panel for the neurons)

2) Feedback:

  • I thought that the scheme I was using for making connections between versus moving cells was elegant — you click+drag versus click *on* the cell, respectively. It used a single button and didn’t require some kind of toolbar. HOWEVER, it was one of the most consistent points where people got tripped up while learning the game.

 

  • The most effective way to make your creature move has been to connect a muscle between two different limbs, like so:

But from the start, about half the people picking up the game for the first time would put their muscles down like this:

Which makes sense! It’s a lot more intuitive that a set of muscles would run up along an arm rather than, say, between the creature’s ankles. A better design for the game would be one where people’s natural intuition is the correct thing to do.

It just so happened that I’d also been wrestling with a different design problem; there wasn’t currently a good way to get a limb to turn in a specific direction on muscle activation; the muscles would tend to get bound-up since they didn’t wrap along with the limb:

SO! I decided to try and kill two birds with one stone and make muscle attachment points run up alongside each limb, rather than having a free-form “attach anything to anywhere” system. This has created a standardized way to place muscles that produces a predictable motion, and is far less likely to get bound up:

I’m pretty pleased with this solution, not gonna lie. Identifying problems and finding clever ways to solve them is one of the most fun processes in game dev. Of course, this raises its own problems (can you attach any hardpoint to any hardpoint?)…

3) AWARD

Crescent Loom won the Betacon award for “Most Innovative”! I’ve never won an award for my games before, so that was PRETTY SLICK.


I participated in the March for Science, and had a brief chat with a scientist/photographer named Tyler Hulett who put together a snapshot-documentary on the march.

You can see it on Vimeo; my beautiful face is at the 5-minute mark.


Now, here’s the current to-do list on my desktop:

  • Write bi-weekly update
  • Write submission for indie game fund
  • Write submission for indiecade
  • Write up time estimate for feature list + KS rewards
  • Apply for food stamps
  • Churn through emails
  • Find possible grants to apply for.

You’ll note the lack of, y’know, actual development on this list. I am probably one of the slowest writers I know and there is SO MUCH writing you need to do in order to manage a game project and fund thyself.

I think I need to find a writer/PR/publisher. I’m spread thin and that’s the area where I’m least-efficient. Grants especially require a specialized skillset that I simply don’t have. Problem is, even with the KS money, the project is already bare-bones budget-wise. So, dunno how that’ll turn out. Maybe I’ll just learn to write faster and care less about typeos.

Wicklog #3 – Menus for daaaays

Oof, it’s already been a month since the Kickstater ended? Time is flying by, it feels like I barely get anything done each individual day, but looking back I’m always surprised by how much I did.

Quick note: I’ll be showing Crescent Loom at Betacon in Portland this weekend! (Apr 15-16) If you wanna see how the game’s coming along, that’ll the place to say hi!

Changes for this week:

The biggest visual difference is that I finally added a user interface! You can now click buttons instead of having to tab through a thousand different options:

I looked at a handful of other construction games as reference points. I think it’s pretty obvious which one of these I stole the most from:

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Wicklog Two – Postmortem, Better Brains, and Beautiful Bodies

Decided that a bi-weekly update schedule’d be better to avoid spamming the email lists, which is why I skipped sending out an update last week (but I did publish a postmortem on the campaign – it took a quite unusual path!):

So what’s been happening in the last two weeks? Looking back, a suprising amount given how slow things feel on any particular day.

First off, I’ve been redesigning the creatures to make them feel more organic and less robot-like. Here’s the concept art:

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And once I tweaked the drag physics (edges that are facing other parts aren’t included in the drag calculation, and thanks to Benjamin Morrison springs are now damped) and added non-rectangular pieces, I was pleased to discover that it was a *lot* easier to make things swim & steer!

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So pretty. I spent way too long just cruising around as this lil guy.

I’ve expanded the scripting language implementation from last update to maps + neurons, though it’s not quite done yet. It’s a lot more work than it sounds, since I have to code each function in triplicate. Wish there was an easier way. :/

Speaking of neurons, I spend last week visiting Gabriel Barello (a computational neuroscientist math friend) in Eugene and he hammered out the solution (several, actually) for simulating actual electrical currents flowing through a neuron in real time:

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This is just fantastic. It’s so so much more accurate than the janky version I had before, is prettier, and allows for a lot more nuance.

Finally, I’m almost done with my application to Stugan which, if accepted, will let me work on CL in Sweden for the summer. This would be a rad opportunity — not only is it a great focused work environment, but meeting + working alongside other devs is important if I want to keep growing this weird game/science independent career of mine.

Crescent Loom Kickstarter Postmortem

Hi! Quick intro: My name is Wick, I’m a neuroscientist / solo indie game dev, and I just ran my second successful Kickstarter campaign. The game is called Crescent Loom; players build creatures, weave brains, and explore an underwater ecosystem.

Common wisdom says that most of the time campaigns see a big spike at the start, have a big plateau in the middle, and another spike at the end.

Crescent Loom… did not follow that pattern.

What happened? Lemme back up and give some context to what things were like right before that huge jump.

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Communities I reached out to for Crescent Loom

(at least some of them, for future reference)

Reed College // Portland friends via Facebook

Game devs (more advice than direct financial support)

Scientists / Popsci

“Gamers”

Wicklog One – Scripting & Production

(I hope it’s not too tacky to call these wicklogs instead of updates. It makes me feel sorta like a smurf to put my name on everything)

So! The Kickstarter gave eight months to make a game. This is doable. I can do this. Hoo boy.

Scripting

In the demo, I have all the content (levels, cell behaviors, body parts) hard-coded in the game’s files. It’s a quick-and-dirty way to get things working, but not a great way to structure a game long-term since you need to recompile everything whenever you make any sort of change or addition (and it’s hard for non-coders to make contributions).

A better way is to load external files. Games already do this for art and music, but the way this happens with code is generally through scripting languages. These are code files that are loaded and run on-the-fly, like so:

Monkey X has a custom scripting language called mini c thanks to a few programmers who decided to do the impossible task (for me, at least) of writing it from scratch. So rather than having to cobble something together myself, it was just an afternoon of downloading their modules and starting to integrate it into my game.

Bizness

Steam: Crescent Loom got Greenlit (which is an arbitrary and brutal internet popularity contest), so yay! But I’ve run into a few snags due to already being associated with Starship Rubicon on the Steam backend. Their system is confused since I’m not running the finances on that project, but will be for CL. Emailed ’em.

itch.io: I’ve set up a way for people to still preorder the game & join the beta via itch.io. I’d like to eventually completely host the online demo through them, but I haven’t yet figured out how to save/load creatures to my database from an external source. Gonna have to get that done for the desktop versions, anyway.

Funding: I’m looking into applying for funding beyond the Kickstarter, which generally falls into one of three categories: 1) Publisher! 2) Investors! 3) Government Grants! (#4 aka rich friends is not reliable) All of these are gonna be brave new worlds for me, so that’ll be fun.

Goals for next week

  • Do my taxes / work out how the KS funds affect my Obamacare-provided health insurance
  • Publish a postmortem on the campaign.
  • Set up milestones for the next eight months – backer rewards
  • Concept art/design of new creature bodies.

(there’s a distressing lack of programming on that list. I need to remind myself that Production is real work too, and super important to get right)

Kickstarter at 100%, tournament results!

nbd, just achieved a years-long dream of mine to be able to work on a neuroscience video game and finally get some basic neuroscience into the public consciousness. I’M JUST A LITTLE ECSTATIC.

Also, I ran the first creature tournament! Eight creatures, competing for a $250-tier laser-cut neuron art panel.

Congrats to the winner! What a strange upset.

 

By Wick Perry | © 2017 Wickworks
Proud to be a member of PIGsquad and Playful Oasis.