Getting the Ball Rolling (again)

The times have been…rough, for a lot of people, I think. For a lot of reasons. Not just electoral politics, not just COVID – there is a rising fever that will not break. And I don’t think the worst is behind us. I think of a character I wrote when I was much younger, who personified the deep feeling of worry and unease I had towards the world, even when I was just entering adulthood…

A: Just taking some time to relax out here and enjoy the sunset. I don’t usually get a view like this. Better enjoy it while I can.

B: :Er…while you can?
A: You see those clouds? We’ll have a thick storm over our heads pretty soon. And it looks like it’s going to be a pretty bad one.

Alton and Darryl, talking about ~nothing in particular~

Which is the point of this – making things, writing things, is one way I have of processing what’s going on around me in a healthy way, and expressing those feelings. And as just exemplifed, it serves as a personal history too.

These quiet and chaotic years have been very challenging, and gamedev has been my biggest lifeline and support. While I haven’t released as much and have been very silent, I’ve gotten so much out of exploring different ideas without necessarily thinking all the way through to release. And very significantly, I have also built up repositories of code/assets that I can use for all sorts of things!

However, all of those projects and ideas remain untested. And behind them are even larger, more ambitious ideas – but I will never get to those if I don’t finish the work that lays in front of me. I still have a lot to learn on the execution of a concept which is gained from the direct experience of releasing things. If I want to keep making better and better things, I have to finish what I start.

…Of course none of that is new thinking in terms of gamedev, it’s very common wisdom. But a reminder never hurts. Anyway, let’s run through the backlog real quick!


Familiar

This was a game that I announced on here way back in 2018…boy, what happened?

This was going to be my next Big Narrative game, eclipsing WAIDAS dramatically in production and scope, and putting into practice everything I had learned. This put too much pressure on myself, and so I became really demoralized when I wasn’t making the progress I felt I needed to. In hindsight, of course it would make more sense to make cuts to the project and release what I could – but I lacked that clarity of thought at the time.

I froze the project for a long time, but there is still a story in there that I want to tell – so I have reworked a lot of its ideas and split them up into smaller pieces, and can happily say that I’m working on a version of Familiar that has a very realistic path to release.

As for what it actually is – it’s just a short-ish narrative game where you walk around and navigate some text trees. It leans much more into psychological horror and mystery than any of my previous work. The hope is to release smaller episodic games that add up into a larger story with lots of fun twists and turns.

Your Guide to the Afterlife

get in

Formerly called Ghost Planet. This was the project I started when I dropped off of Familiar, with the initial intention of just making something small and fast – and of course, it is now a far larger and more ambitious project than Familiar! It has become this huge open-world adventure where you navigate all sorts of different areas in search of objects of power, and try to piece together the truth of a world at a radical turning point.

Worth noting that while I wrote Familiar’s engine in C# with Monogame, YGttA is the first major project I made purely with Javascript, using CreateJS to handle the basic image rendering. I had done some small gamedev in Javascript and enjoyed it, which was why I defaulted back to it when Familiar was going through a rough patch. But as my code expanded to meet YGttA’s needs, it lent itself to writing even more projects in JS.

This project is also sort of paused as I shift my focus back to a smaller version of Familiar – but I have similar goals with YGttA, in that I would like to find a way to make the project more modular, so I can release parts of it sooner and more incrementally.

Biscotti

Which brings us to what I call Biscotti, a weird name for a weird project. This isn’t a game as much as it is a way for me to tie different games together – it’s a self-indulgent exercise in cleaning house and refactoring my code so it all works cleanly. It’s really just a collection of different small games that can launch out of the same application. Most of these games would be small game jam submissions or side-projects.

It would be nice to actually release this as a sort of anthology, but I see it more as a springboard for future Javascript projects – basically, building out an engine that is cleaner and can be used as a solid foundation for other games (and I can retrofit larger projects like YGttA with its code for better performance).

Yolk of the Wish Machine (working title)

Those other ideas start with this – an action/adventure/platformer with a style in the vein of early Kirby/Sonic/Bomberman games, an “all-ages” story that still has teeth, and modern design ideas taken from all sorts of platformers throughout the decades, both 2D and 3D – from what I would call spectacle platformers like Assassin’s Creed or Spiderman, to sandbox platformers like Tony Hawk. I’m aware that the platforming genre is incredibly saturated, so if I’m going to make yet another one it better be worth peoples’ time!

Currently not in active development, but steps have been taken to build out some of its systems. I released an action-platformer as freeware (Jidan Havoc) which is meant to be a starting point for this.

about-face-plus (working title)

I originally wanted to re-release about-face in Javascript just to give myself something to do, and as the first major inclusion in the Biscotti collection – but then of course I had all sorts of things I wanted to add in, which have become their own separate idea that would be fun to work on. about-face being very minimalist means I get to focus much more on design and coding. I would still like to re-release the original about-face, but I have some ideas for a spiritual successor that I think are promising and substantive.

Octoscopy

I made a game jam submission many years ago (Invisible Maniac) that I got some pretty positive feedback on, and I had wanted to expand it and make it a full game – this was actually one of the first things I started using Javascript for (the original submission was made with Haxe/OpenFL). It’s a game where your character is invisible and you have to navigate around hazards using only environmental visual/audio clues to figure out where you are. It’s a simple and effective idea, surprisingly fun to play, and just incredibly fertile for all sorts of mechanics.

The title is a portmanteau of octopus and autoscopy, since you play as a camouflaged octopus from a 3rd person perspective. I think it’s neat.


Well…that’s a big list of projects!

Too big, some might say. Unrealistic, maybe? Indecisive? No, couldn’t be.

Currently, I’m only actively working on two: Familiar and Biscotti. I like having two projects going at once for the sake of variety – I give myself the chance to work in two different languages and code-bases, which keeps me a bit sharper, adds more variety to my work, and stops me from getting too tunnel-visioned on the particulars of one project.

In the defense of having a lot of inactive projects, I see it as an additional motivator to finish things – knowing that I have lots of other games I want to make helps prevent me from getting too attached to any one idea. So long as I’m just attached enough to see it through!

On a more granular level, I’m working on putting together a vertical slice for Familiar – it’s all written and designed and the engine is there, but it has to be produced (art, scripting, action!). This weekend I want to finish making rough-drafts of all the art assets I will need – I’m reusing a lot of art from previous drafts, but there’s a bunch of new stuff that I still need. Once I have those, I can work on the scripting logic for all the cutscenes and cutscene-adjacent elements to get it playable.

Hello World (again)

Why hello there, person currently reading my blog!

It’s been so long since my last update, and since I was updating this regularly, that I feel like I need to make a second introduction, and a renewal of the purpose of this blog.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably someone who searched me on a search-engine, probably after playing one of my games? Or you’re a bot. If you played my games and liked them enough to search me up, there’s a good chance you’re a bit younger than me. Because my game and its target demo remains the same even as I age. When I started this thing, personal dev-blogs were a much bigger deal – social media wasn’t what it is now, sites like Twitter hadn’t completely taken over public discourse (and the idea of The Discourse didn’t exist). Big and small indie game devs had their own dev-blogs where they would regularly provide updates on their projects as well as their thoughts on games and maybe even some life stuff. And then people had these things called “RSS Feeds” that would compile these blog posts and give you all the updates, and that was how you experienced the internet – it was like an electronic newspaper. Now we have things like Twitter and Twitch that are super centralized platforms where you can get a much more direct connection with your creators, and you can see them interact in a much larger forum. Or semi-public things like Discord and Patreon that allow for a more dialogue-based format.

Except, I really hate how centralized and connected a lot of that stuff is. I will link a talk from someone more knowledgeable and articulate than me, if you want to do some extra reading (and I do encourage you to, time willing) – which goes much, much deeper and more pointedly into the history of flash games and web tech – which I bring up mainly to avoid falsely attributing any of the following ideas as coming purely from myself: that the internet was intentionally consolidated into different monopolies that are indifferent or hostile to art, creativity, even our mental or physical health. While all the traffic and interest behind personal blogs is basically gone and has moved on, none of the reasons that I might create or maintain one are.

All of this is to say that even if I am writing only to myself, I believe that having a written history of what I’m doing where I can go deeper into my ideas, my thoughts and feelings, and even what is happening around me in the world, has value. I will keep my old, old posts, even though I might cringe at them, even if they are written by a younger person that does not reflect who I am today, because I believe that this history, even in its most granular and personal aspects, has value. I hope that anyone who is so motivated to find and go through this blog is able to glean something authentic about a person endeavoring to make impactful games for an ever wider audience – not just a curated public image that I would use to try and market myself and build a personal ~brand~.

Fuck that.

I believe that these things have value because they were and remain the things that I have read that I feel are actually instructive and substantive; when I am able to see where people have come from, what drove them to make art and what allowed them to, the challenges they have faced and how they did or did not overcome them. What little information I have to share needn’t be handed over to the destructive impulses of tech corporations where it can be spewed into the world like wood-chipper dust to maximize engagement and ad revenue. Here it remains whole, and coherent, and you can just go through the entire thing in an afternoon.


Woops, it looks like I went on a bit of a tangent. I’m not really editing this post, I’m just gonna hit send and go out to do some grocery shopping.

With all of that out of the way – hello, one last time. My name is Patrick McGrath and I want to make games that are, like, really good at articulating things that words cannot, and making you feel stuff. My main interests include game design, programming, history (the older the better!), visual art, language, and the general pursuit of telling stories. I will probably only post about game stuff, but who knows.