Category Archives: Personal Life

Play Expo

Hey guys, me and Ronja exhibited EBF5 and Bullet Heaven 2 at the Play Expo in Glasgow last weekend. It’s a chill, medium-sized event with lots of retro games and a family-friendly atmosphere. We also exhibited last year, so we knew what to expect and there wasn’t really any surprises. But this time we were joined by our buddy Chris Jeff, another Flash game developer who is now working on Squishy Sports.

The expo seems to grow a bit every year, but there’s less and less indie developers exhibiting there. So I’ll have to try to convince more UK devs to come over for next year!

Best quote this year was that Bullet Heaven 2 “looks like Undertale on crack”.

Scotland’s Theme Park

Hey guys, I went to M&Ds on Friday with some friends. It was quite a nice day, so I was surprised to see the park completely deserted. England has a few great theme parks, but this is all we’ve got in Scotland, and it aint much. I made a quick video dedicated to how disappointing it was.

I’ll have some footage of the Play Expo up tomorrow!

EBF5 Speedrunning

Hey guys, here’s an EBF5 speedrun video that shows off some glitches in EBF5. You can glitch your way to different parts of the map if you change your save file at the right time. I think preparing multiple saved games in advance may be cheating though…

Here’s a speedrun of the first area without any glitches.
I do wonder if EBF5 will be as much fun to speedrun as EBF4 was, as that one had some really fun glitches.

In other news, I’ve been tinkering with my mobile gaming setup.
Pokemon Clover is a fantastic ROM hack – I grin like an idiot when playing it – but I can only recommend it to people who love edgy meme humour. I’m looking forward to trying more creative Pokemon hacks.
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Success and Stress

Hey guys, here’s a long blog about game-dev related stress.

Since around November when Epic Battle Fantasy 5 was approaching completion, I’ve been incredibly stressed about it. It’s actually likely I was stressed long before that, but just worked through it and didn’t notice too much until then. The worst has passed, but even now, 3 months after a very successful launch, the game is still causing me a lot of anxiety. I’ve never felt this way about other games that I’ve made. It’s hard to write about because it sounds weird to say it – nothing even went wrong! – but I’ll try to organise my thoughts and figure out why I feel this way.

EBF5 was by far my largest project, taking up 3 years of full time work, without any major breaks. My previous largest project was EBF4, which maybe took around 1.5 years, but I worked on it on-and-off. It’s definitely not healthy to work on a single project for so long. I’m financially secure (largely from EBF4 doing very well for many years), so I didn’t need any funding to make EBF5, and if it flopped completely I’d still be fine financially. However, it would have still been a major bummer to spend 3 years making a game that no one was interested in playing. I was fairly confident that EBF5 would be a success – just based on the huge number of people that were following its development – but there’s always that nagging feeling that something might go completely wrong before I finish it.

EBF5 was the first game I’ve made specifically for Steam, with the browser version being more of an afterthought. That put a lot of pressure on me to make sure it’s a game worth paying for, and so that no one can say “well, the previous games were free, why do I have to pay for this one?” I know people don’t take kindly to sequels that don’t have at least as much content as the previous game, so I had to make sure the new game was bigger AND better by just about every metric possible, while also trying out some new ideas. It’s hard to please everyone, but I think it’s worth trying. Keeping old fans is way easier than finding new ones.

I like to batch my work and complete each part before moving onto the next. For example, I spent around a month just drawing trees and rocks and other background stuff. Debugging took almost 2 whole months. I did most of the art assets before any coding, so the game was half finished before I even had a playable prototype done! This approach worked efficiently in my previous games, but this time I just ended up doing the same kind of work for too long at a time, and it became really monotonous and demotivating. Maybe I should have taken turns working on different parts of the game, or maybe that would have made development take even longer. It’s definitely going to be a while before I commit to spending more than a year on a project again. A lot of people may say “just don’t work so hard!”, but I’d never get the game finished if I didn’t! Progressing slowly is even more demotivating than being overworked! 

The weeks leading up to the launch were the worst. I set myself a deadline because I didn’t want to go over 3 years of development time, wanted to launch before a bunch of major AAA games, and I was getting seriously diminishing returns from debugging and polishing by that point. I had 2 weeks to fix a few major bugs that turned out to be more complicated than I thought. Deadlines are no fun, but continuing to work on the game instead of launching may have been even more soul-crushing. Things got really emotional, and my whole life revolved around finishing the game. I just had to get it done, even if it wasn’t perfect.

My girlfriend Ronja was a lot of help around launch time. She helped me test the game, and did a lot of customer support, while I was stressing out with debugging. I’ve now hired her to keep doing that, and also to do some social media posts for me. However, it turns out it’s not so easy to hire someone! I had to waste a few days learning about all the relevant laws, and doing tax paperwork. In the long term it’ll reduce my workload and be worth it, but it was a painful transition! I can totally see why many people are opposed to government regulation, or may even illegally dodge taxes. It’s just such a thankless and tedious task to do this stuff correctly!

I always liked to think of game development as a hobby, even when I started making money from it. I’m just some guy working at a computer, from his home, whenever he feels like it. I only have to do the bare minimum paperwork to keep the tax man happy. That approach isn’t really working for me anymore – I’ve got an employee now, my tax situation is getting more complicated, and I’m generally not prepared on the business side of things. I’m starting to feel the weight of new responsibilities that I never wanted. Being your girlfriend’s boss is also a weird dynamic to explore. There will be some growing pains, but I’ll do some studying, hire an accountant, and get over it eventually. What a first-world problem – I’m too successful!

Another issue I’ve been having lately is that I’m spending more and more time dealing with people. There’s many volunteers helping me out, either with moderating the EBF Discord server, writing wikis, helping with translations, or sending in fanart. I’m incredibly thankful that people want to help out in all sorts of ways. However, sometimes this means that I have to sort out disputes and arguments, especially on Discord, and I often don’t know the best way to deal with them. I’m neither their boss nor their friend – I don’t really know what our relationship is – and that makes things quite awkward sometimes. I feel I’ve gotten worse at dealing with this as I’ve gotten older and more mature. In my late teens and early twenties, I wasn’t as sensitive to other people’s feelings as I am now. Especially on the internet, I would often reply bluntly to comments, or ignore many of them completely. I’ve always done my best to read all the comments I receive, but I never really thought of them as being made by real people. Everyone online was just an anonymous user. The internet is a bit more personal these days, so that’s harder to do. I’m still trying to figure out how to be nice to my fans without getting too close to them.

Finally, Adobe Flash being a sinking ship isn’t helping me. I was and still am fairly confident that Flash is viable as a game development tool for me personally – maybe not for the web anymore, but for desktop and mobile games, it still does the job. But being one of the last people defending Flash is not a good place to be in mentally. Most of the developers I know have moved on, and I feel like I’m some old guy who’s been left behind by the rest of the world. Adobe’s lack of transparency isn’t helping either – it’s not really clear how dedicated they are to keeping the technology alive, but I’m not optimistic. (Flash is not dead in 2020 – that’s only the browser plugin!)

Even now that EBF5 is launched and stable, every little update I need to do poses a risk of accidentally breaking something – maybe even deleting saved games! There’s a lot at stake, and I’m still terrified of making a major mistake, even though my fans have always been forgiving. I’ve done my best to mitigate all the risks, but there’s always a chance.

So this might have been a bit of a bummer to read. Launching EBF5 brought me more stress than joy, even though it went incredibly well. I guess next time I’ll try to do things a bit differently, and I’m already starting with the EBF5 DLC – I’m only adding content that sounds like it will be fun to develop, and I’m not going to work so hard this time.

I’m not sure what I’ll work on after that though. I don’t want to jump into another huge project, and the thought of working on another EBF sequel fills me with dread. But at the same time, my career success is solely down to this series, so obviously a lot of my self-esteem is tied to it too. I think a lot of people would be let down if this was my final masterpiece, and personally I’m not sure if I’ll be satisfied with only making small games from now on. I guess there’s no winning either way. Achieving important things is not easy.

I’m not depressed or anything – it’s specifically just EBF5 and all the baggage associated with the series that’s causing me stress. Hopefully I’ll be able to find some sort of balance between what I want to work on and what others want me to do.

New Phone

Hey guys, after using a Galaxy Note 2 for 6 whole years, I’ve just replaced the old dinosaur with a Note 8, and I’ve got mixed feelings about it. The specs are nice; internet browsing is fast, games run smoothly, and the camera looks good (see the photos below). But a lot of the hardware design decisions are really questionable! The main speaker is at the bottom of the phone, so when I’m playing games, it’s always covered by either my hand or my stomach. This wasn’t a problem with the Note 2, since the speaker was on the back of the phone. This seems like a major oversight to me!

I also feel scammed by the advertised 6.3 inch screen size. The Note 2 screen is 5.5 inches, so I’d figure it would be an upgrade, but it’s not! The Note 8 screen is just longer! Videos and games aren’t even designed for such a long screen! And some of the screen space is wasted on reflective curved edges. So if anything, the screen looks smaller than on my old phone! Questionable design indeed.

Annoying hardware aside, it’s nice to have a phone that doesn’t crash when I try to open basic apps like Google maps. I’m still happy I got a “flagship” phone, as it’s partly for market research. Speaking of which, I’m trying to play a lot of little indie games on it – the kind of stuff you’d see on Kongregate a few years ago. Looks like a lot of browser game devs have moved to mobile, and I’ve got some catching up to do. It’s a shame that the mobile market is poorly curated and saturated with garbage, so finding those gems will be tricky. Feel free to recommend some wholesome, non-exploitative games. So far I’m enjoying Super Dangerous Dungeons, Monument Valley, and Cat Bird. I was sceptical of on-screen keyboards, but they work okay if there’s only 3 buttons.

Also I’m really liking the EBF5 Foe Competition entries so far. I thought maybe the rules were too specific this time, but it looks like most people understand what I’m looking for.
garden legoAbove is me and Ronja doing a bit of gardening. We don’t actually have a dog, but I do indeed use a pickaxe to till the earth. Below is us crunching before the launch of EBF5. We forgot to change out of our outdoor clothes, apparently.
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PlayStation VR Review

Hey guys, I’ve been playing a lot of PSVR this month, and it’s been a really awesome experience overall.

But let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first:
• It’s definitely not good value for money. Getting the headset and new controllers will cost you almost as much as a new console, on top of needing to own a PS4. A lot of the games that are available are also quite short, so expect to burn through some cash.
• Apparently the VR controllers are out of stock everywhere right now, so I haven’t had a chance to try them yet! For now I’m stuck with games that use the normal PS4 controller.
• Many games will make you feel motion sickness instantly. In most cases you will quickly get used to it with some practice, but there’s some games that many people will struggle with. So depending on your tolerance, you may be limited to certain types of games.
• If you love very high resolution and realistic graphics… you’re not going to get that here. The graphics on VR games are going to look at least one console generation out of date. Each eye only sees half of a 1080p screen!
• Kids aren’t even allowed to play it! I’m assuming no company wants to accidentally discover the long-term health consequences of VR on kids.

All of those points make it a hard sell for most people. But if you’re an adult who has money and only a limited amount of time to play games, then VR offers a huge variety of experiences to try out. So here’s some quick reviews of my favourite games so far. What I can say about all of these games is that they’re really immersive! When you put on the headset you really feel like you’re suddenly in a different location, and that’s a really cool feeling that can be exploited in many ways.

Astro Bot Rescue Mission

This is a must-play game. It’s basically a 3D Mario game, which surprisingly translates very well into VR. You are the camera, and the whole gimmick of the game is moving your head around to find secrets and to get different views of obstacles, while controlling your robot like you would with Mario. It’s a game that feels familiar and fresh at the same time, and is easy enough for anyone to try it. It really should have been a launch title, as it shows off what the new hardware can do – both the VR headset and the motion controls on the PS4 controller. I’ve historically hated motion controls in games, but we’ve come a long way since the Wii, and the hardware and game design makes great use of them. The music is also catchy as hell. I can’t recommend this game enough, but it’s really hard to explain why it feels so good to play this.
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WipEout Omega Collection

It’s a sci-fi racing game in VR, and just like you’d expect, it will probably make you feel sick instantly. After a lot of practice, I can play it for a few hours now, but the dizziness never completely went away. It helps a lot if you only look forward – which is probably what you should be doing while driving anyway. About the game itself, well, it’s nothing too special. Since it’s essentially 3 games-in-one, there’s a ton of content, and it can keep you busy for a long time if you want.

Moss

If Astro Bot is Mario, Moss is a lot like Zelda. There’s platforming, puzzles, hack and slash combat action, and a simple fantasy story. The animations and scenery are really cute, and you feel like you’re a giant that’s sitting in a comfy little mouse world. This game should cause you no nausea, since there’s no motion to speak of – you always sit in a fixed place on each map. That makes it another good title to start with. However, the game is really short. It honestly feels like half a game. It’s great fun while it lasts though.
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Resident Evil 7

I was dared to play this one, but it turned into my favourite horror game ever. There’s a few janky moments where you are reminded that you’re playing a video game – like for example when you occasionally see your arms float around detached from your body because you’ve sat back further in your chair. But for the most part it works really well in VR, and all of the horror aspects are more exciting and immersive. The hiding segments feel especially natural, when you’re trying to peak around obstacles by moving your head around. The game difficulty is quite reasonable for a survival horror casual like me. The bosses are creative, the pacing is excellent, and there’s even a decent amount of humour in the game. Overall fantastic experience. Even if you’re too scared to play it yourself, it’s worth watching someone else play it.

Robinson: The Journey

Here’s a sort of adventure game about dinosaurs. It’s quite a casual game – not far off from being a walking sim, but there is fair amount of simple puzzles and platforming. It’s all about exploring alien jungles, climbing cliffs, and scanning weird creatures, while being accompanied by your pet dinosaur and a helper robot. A nice little experience, but once again, this game is very short.

I’ve also recently started Battle Zone and Here They Lie, which also seem to be very good games.

Future Plans for EBF5

Hey guys, with EBF5 launched, here’s a little road-map of what I plan to do next.

• Sometime this month I’ll release version 1.5 on Steam, which will include some minor bug fixes and balancing tweaks, and the Chinese New Year quest.

• I’m not in a hurry to publish the game on Newgrounds and Kongregate, as I’d like to rest for a while, and it doesn’t need the extra publicity at the moment. I’ll update the free version on my website though, so please yell at me if I haven’t done that by next month.

• I have a lot of new content planned for EBF5, which I’ll release in… I dunno, half a year or more? This includes 3 more optional dungeons and other secret stuff.

• I’ll probably pause my Patreon, as I don’t have anything to post there at the moment. But sometime later I’d like to add more perks, such as a section in EBF5′s Grand Gallery that lists long-time patrons.

• Once ALL of that is out of the way, I’d like to attempt a mobile port of EBF5. Running the game on mobile is no problem, it’s just a question of improving the performance and changing the user interface. I don’t know how it will turn out.

But anyway, I’ll be taking it easy this month and maybe next month too. The only work I’ll be doing is minor game updates, replying to user problems, and legal/accounting paperwork (woo, fun) such as officially hiring Ronja.

2018 in Review

Hey guys, here’s my summary of important life events in 2018. Here we go…

 Scotland had the snowiest winter in about a decade. I was stranded at my parents’ house and built a huge snow fortress with my mum.

 Me and Ronja visited London for the EGX Rezzed expo, collected stickers, caught up with developer friends, and met a lot of new ones. The Imperial War and Modern Art museums were also cool. London’s so big that we can see new stuff every time we visit.

 Phyrnna visited Scotland, and we did a bunch of sight-seeing together, including a tour of the Tennent’s brewery. This was actually the first time we’ve met, and I think it went very well.

 I worked really hard on EBF5. At the start of the year, I was still working on dialogue and map objects, and the game was roughly 80% finished. The last 10% definitely took a long time, and I was getting very bored of working on it by now.

 I did arts classes in ceramics, mosaics and fused glass, with my mum and my brother. It was fun to do some creative stuff that wasn’t work, and to meet regular people who are just trying out new hobbies. I’m most proud of the glass cats I made.

 My first Dungeons and Dragons campaign concluded. My character Salazar Ratkin started a cult, created a race of rat-men, and eventually became their God. It was good fun but not something I’d like to do regularly, as it’s very time consuming.

 Me and Ronja’s house-hunt continued, and we were gradually looking at and bidding on nicer ones than when we started. It was a tough market for buyers.

 Dealing with solicitors, mortgages, and home-sellers caused a lot of stress. Everyone points fingers and blames someone else for delays. Paperwork sucks. Had to change solicitors because the first one seemed dishonest.

 But I finally bought a big comfy house in the Summer!

 Did a thorough cleaning of our old flat, and I gained a lot of experience there. I did a really good job on the oven.

 Me and Ronja exhibited EBF5 at the Play Expo in Glasgow. We got a free table, I prepared a simple battle demo, printed off some posters and cards, and brought my computer. It was a great experience and we met a huge variety of people – old and young. The game never crashed once!

 Scotland had the warmest summer in about a decade, with record-breaking temperatures. It was quite nice.

 We spent a lot of the summer working on the garden. Landscaping, extending the driveway, planting stuff, looking for new furniture, collecting tools, etc. Friends and family came over to help out. Using a pick-axe is a lot of fun, and a good workout.

 Lots of car problems this year. My break pipes, wheels, and car frame are all rusting away into oblivion. She’ll be an adult soon.

 Me and Ronja painted the attic. The low, cramped ceiling made it a challenge, but it looks much better now.

 My Patreon, Discord and YouTube all grew a lot this year. I’ve been having fun with these platforms, but managing so many people can be tricky, especially on Discord!

 In terms of news, everyone’s still talking about Trump and Brexit, and fun is being removed from the internet, with the EU banning memes, and content platforms discouraging anything that’s not safe for advertisers. Newgrounds is starting to make a comeback though.

 I sorted all of my Lego and have a big cupboard for it. I made a lot of pixel-art mosaics and other stuff.

 We lived quite cheaply this year, mostly just spending money on new furniture. I didn’t play much games, read less than last year, and watched very little TV. I’ll try to make room for more leisure time next year. This whole year was mostly focused on work and moving.

 My diet’s still improving, I’m eating very few snacks, and I’m gradually learning to make new types of food. Considering how long I spend in front of a desk, I’m quite happy with my health. Unhealthy days are now an occasional treat, as they should be.

 We decorated heavily for Halloween, with a lot of pumpkin carving. Almost 50 kids showed up at our house. Had a Halloween party two days later, with lots of pumpkin cooking.

 Bonfire night was also great, with many nearby households putting on huge firework shows – sometimes without much safety considerations.

 Tried out bingo, slot machines, and arcades for the first time, during a friend’s birthday night out. I can definitely see the appeal of gambling (for fun).

 I spent months on debugging and balancing EBF5, and set myself a 3-year deadline to finish it. Adding totally new languages was quite exciting, and while we did translations much more efficiently than on previous games, it was still a huge task. The weeks leading up to the launch were some of the most stressful in my life. Ronja helped out a lot with testing and customer support.

 The launch of EBF5 was incredibly successful. Most of the major bugs were fixed over the first two weeks, and the game sold well for the entire month of December. It’s already paid off its development costs. Success comes with responsibilities though, and it looks like I’ll be making updates, doing paperwork, and dealing with customers for a long time before I can completely relax.

 I don’t binge drink often, but this year I’ve had some of my heaviest drinking sessions ever. Being an independent adult gives you the freedom to drink til 5am, and hangover days are actually quite nice when you’re self employed and have no schedule.

 I got PS VR and spent much of the Christmas holidays trying it out with my family. Everyone likes it so far, and even my ancient dad is addicted to Astro Bot (great game btw). Ronja’s mum visited from Finland, and we feasted for 5 days straight.

I guess that about sums it up. My hope for 2019 is simply to work less, and to use the internet less. The rest of life is much more wholesome.

Happy new year in advance!

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Garden Adventures

So now that Summer is over, I can do a write up of my gardening adventures.
We recently bought a house, which while in very good condition, had a very plain and low maintenance garden. In particular, there’s a 25sqm area that’s simply covered in gravel. I would prefer to have grass, so dogs can run around. It can’t be that hard to remove the gravel by hand and lay down some grass, right?

Well, the top layer of gravel was quite useful, and I reused some of it in other parts of the garden, and gave a few car-fulls of it to my mum, who used it in her garden. The problem was that under the gravel was a much thicker layer of useless concrete and rubble. That took many digging sessions to get rid of – and around 15 trips to the dump in my medium sized car. In the end I excavated 6 or 7 tonnes of rubble with just a shovel, pickaxe and some buckets. It definitely would have been worth hiring some professional equipment for that… but at least it was good exercise.

back garden

Once the rubble was gone, I finally reached the topsoil, but there was a final challenge. The soil was full of buried chunks of fences, bricks, and slabs! I had to go through it all with the pickaxe and pull out even more rubble. On the bright side, some of the slabs were complete, and I used them to build flower beds later! I didn’t get to plant the grass this year, but the area is almost ready so that I can plant it in Spring. I didn’t expect grass would be so much work. I invited some friends and family over, and we had a little planting session in the corner of that area.

In another part of the garden, we wanted to get rid of some grass and build flower beds along the fence, as this would make for a great view from the patio and rear windows. My mum cloned many of her plants for us, and Ronja helped with the planting and layout. The problem this time is that the grass didn’t want to die, and started growing back a few weeks later. That project is still a work in progress, and we’ll see how many of the plants survive…

front garden

We also extended the driveway a bit to look a bit more aesthetic, and so that it can potentially fit in an extra car. Whoever originally laid the driveway slabs got a bit lazy and didn’t put them all the way along the fence, so we cut some slabs into triangles and filled in the gaps. It seems like a simple job, but if you don’t flatten the ground underneath, they can wobble or break when you step on them, and one of ours cracked through the middle. Also at 70KG each, slabs are surprisingly heavy and make for a good workout.

I got some old decorative garden furniture from my mum, scraped the old flaky paint off, and spray painted it black. The intricate design made this a huge pain. I didn’t manage to get all the old paint off, so I’m sure the new layer won’t last that long now. But for now it makes for a really nice decoration in front of the house.

Anyway, that about covers everything. This was all very new to me, as I haven’t done much gardening in the past. I learned a lot in the process, and also got much fitter. It was satisfying how little money we spent on all that – mostly on a few essential tools and compost. Most of the plants and materials were recycled, either from my parents’ garden or from Gumtree. It just took a lot of hard, dirty work.

garden me