I recently uncovered notes from a predecessor to Nature Elsewhere, Once & Future Cactus. Your avatar was this soap-bodied lozenge, a cactus and king. It was to be a sort of action, beat-'em-up, silly adventure game. I felt like I got some experience drawing pixel art and some hope that if I kept the resolution small enough, I could achieve some modest vision for it and actually finish something. I also got enough experience in Phaser (version 2) to and, if I recall correctly, one or two other frameworks, to know that I couldn't make a pixel game as tight as I wanted to using them at the time.
OAFC was also the beginning of mem font. You can see in the screenshots on the thread how obsessed I was with trying to keep the resolution minimal in the hopes of being able to focus on something small but good; to do less, better. It was a blind pursuit of patterns though and you can see how the 5x6 forms now available are much more balanced while still keeping the intent.
When I realized just how much time I was dumping into Once & Future Cactus, and how much I still had left, I decided that I wanted something more for it. If I was going to pour so much of my life into something, I had really better mean it and it had better be meaningful to me. Although it was time to let go of Once & Future Cactus, many ideas emerged more clearly than they had arrived and remain in some form.
I eventually moved on to Sound of Water, as I recall, but didn't make it too far into that either before picking up Nature Elsewhere starting with the seven pixel backpacker, the pond, and tree as a side-scroller. I have finally resolved to avoid music for Nature Elsewhere but I can't compromise on all audio and with some dread look forward to it starting those efforts which ended SOW.
Starting Over Again
For many, 2020 was one of the worst years in living memory. For me personally, it was as well but for quite selfish reasons. It's the first year I've had where I felt less than I was before without any of the usual accrual of wisdom and experience that offset the other matters of being. Both physically and mentally, it was an overall loss.
For Nature Elsewhere, it was a tumultuous year that started with great hope: a port from TypeScript to Rust and WebAssembly. The port started well enough given I had no prior Rust experience but then it lingered. It has remained resting for far too long.
I upstreamed Nature Elsewhere's significantly deviated mem font back to the mem repo and changed the paint program to Aseprite which I vastly prefer for pixeling to Gimp.
I made a few websites...
It just got harder and harder to get back to the game's code. It has now been so long since I've laid a line for the project in any form that I don't know what the future language will be. Past me hasn't been very kind to myself and it will be difficult to pick back up in any state, should I choose to. Regardless, I've deferred all implementation details as I finally feel confident that I can overcome any technical obstacles given a clear design goal.
I am sad that I don't think I am likely to have as much overlap with my language of choice for Nature Elsewhere and what I code in professionally.
In TypeScript, I have been experimenting with different programming styles and concepts in some tiny projects. I end up just confusing myself and going around in circles more than anything else. I just can't find an approach to the fundamentals that satisfies me. I get caught up going back and forth on the tradeoffs like typing as strict as possible vs the often significantly more practical just doing. I get some useful stuff out of each project but inevitably seem to get utterly lost along the way.
A Game Design Document
At some point during the year, I figured that the best way to move forward would be to really nail down what I wanted to make. No expense spared. I was going to put it to the letter this time so I could actually build what I wanted. After all, I had great success with the mocks I had made for the world of Nature Elsewhere, the settings screen, and the level editor. This GDD would simply expand on that in every way.
Some months went by digging deeper and deeper until I was totally lost in a briar patch of a game design document, the start of a technical design document, two code branches, and countless notes and designs. What a mess! This isn't working for me. I can't even the manage notes for a game, how will I manage to complete the game?
I despaired. I was lost.
I am trying so hard not to go in circles, and not get lost in the endless context switches between life, work, and Nature Elsewhere. I am getting better at these switches and all is not lost when some of the context is. Some things do stick from iteration to iteration and I'm grateful when i'm able to isolate a small gem and preserve it clearly. I think the mem font is one such.
I do get a lot of value often out of doing a deep dive exploration into some niche topic but then I inevitably go too deep and get totally lost for weeks or more. It's like there's a tipping point of diminishing returns or coming up for air that I'm just terrible at recognizing. I think it's because I always feel like it's really hard to do anything so I'd never get anything done if I gave up when it was really hard.
I'm a lot closer than I was in terms of potential but just as far away as having never started in terms of finishing.
I have now concluded to focus rather strictly on a few large and very refined level sketches, intended to be as close to the finished game as possible. Once complete, they're intended to evoke the feeling of "I wish I could play this game."
I think a mock is the lightest weight and most helpful plan I can make and manage over time. I can capture quite a lot of visual detail, but also hint at gameplay mechanics and other aspects. I feel the main overhead is in Aseprite currently being unable to handle tiling so well. I just have to kind of copy and paste everything.
I've started pixeling using my partner's old drawing tablet. It's been great for putting a lot of pixels down fast and, it may not surprise you, far more natural than a pen. I would have thought it would be too organic for pixel art but that is not the case. Any loose forms can be cleaned up afterwards with the mouse and I switch between them. A tablet is also great for exploration and more freeform sketches.
The World of Nature Elsewhere
I have also resolved to rethink the art style all over. If you'll recall, the original conceptualization for Nature Elsewhere was a side-scroller. It took me a great deal of time mentally to understand that I wanted it to be an isometric view and absolutely ages to begin to understand how that should actually look. You can see evidence of this in the backpacker which has an orthographic profile perspective.
I am still having great trouble wrapping my head around it but it's starting to slowly come together. I am building an appreciation for what it means to make the sprites feel cohesive together as one level rather than only nice independently. Sprites are likely to only ever appear together. Like characters in a font, a beautiful cursive A probably won't work well even with the most perfect serif E. I'm better off with characters or sprites that focus on looking great together rather than in isolation.
I am a bit stuck with the rhythm of tiles and how they'll work in the level design. That's been a cloud of confusion for many months. I am trying to leverage references and notes rather than get lost in them.
Here's the latest sketch in part:
Of course, feeling like my own historian and Nature Elsewhere being open-source, I love the idea of being able to document thoroughly and completely as I go but I can't do it how I'd like and make the progress I'd like to along with keeping my other responsibilities in living. Oh well. I've got to do less, better.