Hello dear readers,
Those of you who know the names Feardeer and N.A.Melamed (that's me!) from The Inverted Spire may recall that in our last dev log, we mentioned taking time away from TIS to work on a mini-project for the Amare Game Jam.
For the new readers among you—welcome! My name is Nicholai, and I tend to write lengthy dev log entries roughly once a month during development time to provide updates on our projects. These updates range from extended descriptions of worldbuilding, internal game mechanics, and what inspired our work. I was forced to take space away from development between the months of February and March due to several major sources of upheaval in my life, including the military invasion of the country of my birth (more about that here).
Bizarre Beast Boutique is a fusion visual novel/management game (very loosely) inspired by Petshop of Horrors. We embarked on it as a way to stretch out development legs, experiment, learn and have fun. Personally, I can say that I also felt the need to try my hands at something fresh and comparatively small after the events of the past few months to really get back into game development again.
In the final days of April, we unfortunately realized that it was likely we'd need an extra few weeks past the jam deadline to finish the game to our satisfaction. We got so close! That dreaded "mostly done" that seems to haunt not only game dev, but also the majority of creative endeavors our there.
Of course, it was ultimately never really about hitting the jam deadline. This was a game we wanted to make, period. The Amare jam gave us a massive headstart, and while the jam itself may be over, we're still sprinting for our own finish line.
Our present goal is to complete the comparatively short Bizarre Beast Boutique as we slowly transition back into working on the next chapter of the The Inverted Spire.
For transparency, let me share a bit about our progress with you.
Things that are effectively complete:
(I say effectively, because they may acquire more polish and additional changes through testing, integrating other components etc.)
Backgrounds—including shop interiors and a morning/day/night cycle for the shop.
Our bizarre beasts—fully-rendered sprites, for a total of 6.
Characters— fully-rendered sprites, with the possibly intention to create more expressions later on.
GUI—a beautiful custom user interface for all of the visual novel and management aspects of the game.
Coding—for the management aspects of the game, including randomized customers, monster interactions etc.
Narrative design—an outline mapping our 3 endings and management/interaction aspects leading to them.
Things that still need some work:
Writing—Although we got close, there are still some gaps in the writing when it comes to character choices during interaction scenes.
I'll admit that predicting the amount of time needed for writing branching storytelling paths has been an ongoing challenge for me. I can take a couple of weeks to write 90% of a script with rapidity and ease. It's fun all the way through! Then we get to the last 10%, and I am suddenly wracking my mind to come up with a single sentence. A frustrating experience to say the least. The frustration and looming deadline then make my anxiety spike, which usually causes a resurgence of heath issues, and in turn makes writing even harder.
Cue spiral leading to lost time.
The past few months have taught me a lot about what I can do to make this process more consistent.
A few things I'm working on that you may or may not find helpful in your creative life as well:
- Learn to take proper breaks, as opposed to guilty-I'm-not-working breaks.
- Take more walks!
- Spend more time with important people in your life.
- Avoid setting rigid do-or-die deadlines for stages of production where you can. One alternative our team is working to implement in a more formal way is a fluctuating schedule, where goals are set with the understanding that they are likely to change, and deadlines are reserved for checking in on progress so goals continue to be realistic (I want to thank Feardeer for being the one who is always full of great suggestions for doing this well).
- Cultivate tolerance for natural fluctuations in your productivity, rather than trying to push through them. Especially when they are related to mental health, chronic illness and difficult life circumstances. If you're like me, there may be remnants of internalized ableism lurking inside your mind that come for your self-worth when this happens. Tell them to fuck off, because they don't get to determine your value as a person <3
- Give yourself time to celebrate what is done, rather than fixating on what isn't done yet.
- Share more about what you're working on with others.
Unfortunately, inherently time-limited events like a game jam aren't usually the ideal training ground for practicing self-care. But they can be a good reminder that it's necessary. This smaller project was about learning too, so here's one of many things I can take away for all projects to come~
Staging—(i.e. the process of matching lines of dialogue with character expressions and animations). Probably self-evident, but with gaps in the writing, we still need time to finish this part.
Music & Sound—We've got cues in the script, sources and ideas, but haven't totally settled on a score yet.
We look forward to giving you updates with more teaser artwork as the game nears completion!
For those of you who are here primarily for The Inverted Spire—not to worry! This is still very much on our minds. Though I do want to apologize for forgetting to post a dev log to accompany the last end-of-March update. As a reminder from our last dev log, the version uploaded on March 31st basically extends Chapter 1 to its originally intended length.
The game is presently gated at the start of Chapter 2, which actually already exists (primarily in text-form) within the script files. Chapter 2 still requires additional artwork, music and extensive testing before we'll be comfortable releasing it into the world. We have also discussed timing its release together with an official studio name and game trailer, although I don't want to make any concrete statements about the latter at this time.
Finally, I'd like to thank Qweerty Gamers for their project grant. They've been a huge help, not only when it comes to affording tools for production, but also for their ongoing assistance with reaching out to a wider audience. The Inverted Spire would not have made it to a big event like Wondercon without them!
That's all for now. But if you have any questions or comments, please free to leave them below. I'm also happy to answer question sent directly to my email address at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaand while you're waiting on us, I'd also like to recommend checking out all the other fantastic games that were made (or are still in the process of being made) for the Amare Game Jam. Don't forget to support your favourite projects with comments and ratings! It may sound to dramatic to say so, but these things really do mean the world to independent creators when we see them (even if we're occasionally too worn out with work to respond right away)~