This Far, No Further | The Brick Dead Project

We’re all about drawing lines in the sand on this eleventh episode of The Brick Dead Project, a journal of how one grandfather went from “Let me just see what this Unity thing all the kids are buzzing about is” to “I’m a’gonna make a video game!” To read previous entries in this series, click here.

I expected it would take two weeks to create the ‘advanced’ version of Brick Dead. That was two months ago. Sure, it was an optimistic estimate based on nothing more than the three weeks worth of experience I had in Unity, but it was still quite off the mark.

The delay was starting to take its toll. I had fallen into “The Midgame Blues”. The start of the project is fast and exciting. In hours, sometimes even minutes, the virtual world under you fingertips would change in new and radical ways. However, once those initial features and environments are created, things slow down a great deal. You may spend hours fussing over the rotation of particle system or aligning a texture no one will notice. A weekend will disappear chasing a memory leak so far under the hood that it never truly caused any real problems. You move from creating worlds to drawing buttons. It was where the inspiration met the perspiration. Did you know that video games don’t just magically pause and pop-up a quit menu when you hit escape? Well, of course you knew that, but had you really thought about how much time someone spent fussing over that feature most of us take for granted? Main menus get all the glory, pause menus barely get a second thought.

Being a one-man show didn’t help. Going solo is undoubtedly a double-edged sword. On the plus side, you get to do everything your own way completely without compromise. The downside is that you HAVE to do everything yourself, even the stuff you hate (In my case, that turned out to be working on 2D art like texturing and UI elements). When faced with a chore you’d rather not do, procrastination becomes a huge problem. Particularly when there is an infinite world of possibilities only a mouse-click away.

 

The line must be drawn here! This far, no further – Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: First Contact

I was on my seventh rewrite of the character controller when I realized just how much my wheels were spinning. In a few, short months I had gone from a neophyte in everything possibly related to creating a game to… Well, maybe not a pro, but someone who sure as heck knew his way around functions, animation, and particle systems. New ideas constantly sprang to mind for ways of rebuilding old mechanics or effects, not necessarily better, but differently.

My code no longer erupted into a volcano of red error messages at every first run. I no longer needed a half-dozen browser tabs open to research every command or object type. Heck, my own library of code and assets now doubled as a reference library every bit as useful to me as the Internet. I made it! I had arrived at the Promised Land of knowledge. And with that arrival came a renewed yearning to see the lands beyond.

Concepts for entirely different games taunted me no less than every three days. I was new, I was fresh, and there was a whole universe of possibilities ahead. I wanted -needed- to set a course for the undiscovered county and find out what other trails I could blaze. I was proud of what I had accomplished with Brick Dead, and, truth be told, it is still very near and dear to me. You never forget your first time. But… Man, I had some wild oats just begging to be sown. Furthermore, I knew that the experience I would gain out there on those new horizons would only strengthen my muscles for the heavy lifting required should I decide to take Brick Dead all the way.

Geez, sounds like I should be packing condoms.

If I am to be completely honest, writing these articles had become a bit of a chore as well Smile with tongue out

I needed a line in the sand. I needed a new milestone. I needed to finish The Brick Dead Project.

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties – Erich Fromm

It would be the third and final time I quit The Brick Dead Project. Unlike before, I was not walking away out of frustration or feelings of inadequacy. Quite the opposite. I was quitting because I knew I could do it.

Gone were the idle fantasies of a story-based campaign, multiplayer duels, and metagame achievements. I needed to craft a complete, if perhaps a little thin, game experience. I had a vast toolbox of features and assets. It all worked, both together and separate. It was all modular, meshing neatly wherever it was placed. (Well, except for Mana Statues which needed an 11th hour rewrite).  It was time to take all those little handmade blocks and build my castle.

I gave myself a deadline: One week. The date would mark exactly three months since picking up Unity for the first time. In one week I would stick a proverbial fork in this latest GUO Crazy Project.

I was re-energized. I tore into the work with a fervor I had not felt for weeks. In a mere two days I had roughed out a full ten levels that would form the body of my Alpha/Prologue build. Not all great, some little more than gags (One, in particular, a series of gags), but levels none the less. I created logos and reprogramed the opening screens in an afternoon. I never conferred with Google once.

Yet even in this final grind, new features and tweaks come unbidden to my mind. A little extra flourish here, a new texture there. The siren’s call of Feature Creep is a difficult one to resist. Case in point: I decided I should have a little burn mark appear on the terrain after something was destroyed by a Fire Ball. I couldn’t help myself. I was actively listing off all the reasons not to put it in at this late state of the game with one half of my brain while the other half (Apparently, the half that controls my fingers) was creating the 'scorch mark’ prefab and adding code to the relevant subroutines.

This is why software ships with bugs.

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