Closing Out 2020...
Goodness, what a year this has turned out to be. I certainly hadn't intended to be quiet for its entirety, but a number of different factors contributed. As I'm sure everyone's lives were a bit more chaotic than usual with everything going on, mine was no exception. I hope, though, everyone is at a minimum feeling a sense of relief at the year ending, and that your actual situation is much better.
With that said, let me give a quick rundown of what's been happening. In late 2019, I got a new job as an apprentice software developer following an intensive bootcamp for the same subject (They actually paid for my training at said bootcamp). As you may or may not recall from past comments, programming was always my weak spot when it came to came to game development, so the opportunity to gain vastly more experience in that field was exciting (And getting paid to do it is always a nice perk). My previous efforts to modify existing plugins that others had made in my game were the programming equivalent of hitting them with a hammer until they kinda/sorta did what I needed. I could extrapolate and modify code to a limited degree, but darned if I could create any from scratch or do any really heavy modifications.
The downside to all this became quickly apparent, though. After spending 8-10 hours a day coding and building software, the last thing I wanted to do once I got home was build more software with Unto the Breach. Even if it was a much more enjoyable project, the headspaces I needed to be in weren't particularly inviting, and those mental muscles were usually exhausted by the end of the day. It's safe to say that during the entire first half of 2020, I did basically nothing with Unto the Breach beyond some supplemental lore writing. The planned remastering of Episode Zero I had started working on prior to Youmacon last year also fell by the wayside as it ran into an ever-increasing number of issues and bugs. At this point, even after putting another 50-some hours of work into it, it's nowhere near ready, and, looking at what would be required to complete that task, I don't think it would be the best use of my time to pursue that at the moment. So, for the time being, the remastering of Episode Zero is on hold.
Like many people, I started working from home as shutdowns rolled across the nation. It seemed like a sweet gig, given I could hook my work laptop into my desktop setup, with three extra-large monitors, surround sound, and a much comfier chair. The trade-off wound up being my workload only increased. For the last six months, I've been working on 2-3 projects at any given time, with no sign of that abating any time soon, heh. My apprenticeship resulted in a full hiring this past Fall, plus I moved to a new house. On a personal basis, 2020 has actually been a pretty good year for me, though I realize that's sadly very much the exception.
After the move, I tried to get back into the groove of working on Unto the Breach or my other creative projects. The bulk of my efforts during the Fall went into creating a production-grade copy of Seven Families of Jorandek, a board game I've been developing on and off over the last several years and playing with friends at a local game shop. I've hosted sessions of it at a couple board gaming conventions too, such as U-Con in Ypsilanti, MI. Once the production-grade version is complete, I'll be printing copies for sale at local game stores, with an eye towards wider distribution options (i.e. Kickstarter).
That project is mostly done, aside from probably the most complex part: the main game board. I've been learning a mapping program called Inkarnate to create a stupidly intricate map of the city of Jorandek (where The Gathering novella takes place, too!). This has the secondary benefit of allowing me to also create maps for use in Unto the Breach and the website here, particularly for traveling between locations in the game (I've felt for a long time having map images used for fast traveling would give a much grander sense of scale than physically walking from one town to the next in a matter of minutes, especially considering the total landmass of Terranis is supposed to be roughly equal to continental Europe).
The last month or two has seen actual development on Unto the Breach resume. After an entire year of coding all day every day, I've come back to the game to look at the various stopping points I had hit, and see how they look to me with a much more practiced eye. As it turns out, a lot of these issues were remarkably simple to solve now. It probably also helps that, with the release of RPG Maker MZ (More on that in a minute), I don't have to worry about any more updates to most of my plugins coming out, so I can modify/fix them however I need to.
Some of the changes/additions I've made include:
I've also been trying to do more greybox-style level design, i.e. building out the bare bones of a map so that essential functions like quests can be completed, rather than building an entire map out along with all its details and doodads before moving on to the next one. This should allow for much faster content creation, even if it's in a bit of a rough shape at first.
I gotta admit, it feels great to work on Unto the Breach again. Some of my coding at work can be frustrating at times, particularly if I'm working on someone else's old code, and working on UTB's code is downright fun by comparison sometimes, heh. Of course, getting to intermix it with graphical work and playtesting keeps things interesting, too.
If you're familiar with the RPG Maker world, you've probably heard that they've released a new version of the program, called MZ. This is a more incremental upgrade, akin to the jump from VX to VX Ace. As is Enterbrain's habit, they took three steps forward, two steps back, and a step to the side with MZ's changes. Some things got improved compared to MZ (Being able to select plugin commands from a list instead of manually typing them is huge), some things got worse, some things got changed for the sake of being changed, and many, many things that desperately need improvement still didn't get touched and remain identical to how they functioned in RPG Makers from 20 years ago. And of course they changed a bunch of the core code so that many plugins don't work without serious modification.
As a result of that last point especially, at this time, I have no plans to switch from MV to MZ. I've already spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours over the years refactoring code and redoing parts of the game by switching to the newest version of RPG Maker, and frankly I'm getting kinda tired of it. Especially now that I can bend MV to my will far more than I could a year ago, there's much less need to rely on Enterbrain to make the improvements I need. Maybe down the road I'll consider it.
-Whew, what an update. I certainly feel bad for going dark for so long (I'd be lying if I didn't say social anxiety wasn't also a factor. I need to work on that too). I'll do my best to be a bit more focused in 2021. I'll be publishing a new lore article alongside this update, so there's something fun to read too. Hopefully I'll have some big things to drop across 2021.
To summarize the above wall of text:
Whether 2020 sucked or was an OK year for you, I hope 2021 is better in all respects!
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