December 2020 Update

The holidays are always a stressful time of year for me; this year tempering much of family drama with COVID safety drama as it has been for so many of us in America.

At any rate, work continues apace, albeit slower.

As I’m shifting from research and study into production, I built myself a new organization system:

(the new time block allocation system)

I started off chopping the project up into “work to be done” blocks by “department”: research, analysis, design, coding, art design, art production, writing, and scripting (+ a week of flextime for when a particular portion NEEDS to go over budget–should be a MONTH, but w/e)), then taking the total number of days I have until my desired release date and blocking out a quota of “days” to spend on each portion.

On standard work days I put a red tally mark, and on days off (a.k.a. unofficial work days) I put a blue tally. (My day limits are only intended to include standard work days.)

The benefit of this system is twofold:
— it’s flexible to fit my style of project management in which I might jump from one portion to another if I’m feeling burned out on it (so if, say, I’m overloaded on art theory, I can jump to coding or narrative design without losing track of how much time I have left to use).
((Obviously I won’t be able to shift gears as much as I’m further along on production, but for now it’s helpful in keeping myself fresh and eager.))
— it helps me think about my time as a “budget”, which has REALLY helped me make a lot of tough choices about what to spend time on and what not to

With that in mind, let’s see where I’m at now:

—ARTWORK

Mostly, I’ve been doing a lot of gesture practice over the last few weeks–an hour a day or so–using a combination of Proko’s and Michael Hampton’s (Figure Drawing: Design and Invention) methods, using some really invaluable online resources including Line of Action and SketchDaily.

It has been…frustrating.

I definitely am feeling the muscles (and tool familiarity) built up by doing Drawabox over the previous few months, but unlike drawing a 3D box (where my considerations are limited and precise), the complex and multifaceted considerations in the human figure often lead me to artistic myopia where I’ll end up overblowing the dimensions of one part of the body or seeing a long stretch from:

(several more recent gesture drawings: a comedy of errors)

My biggest issue is with ratios and my own concentration: often my focus will fail as I roam the model’s body trying to find a foothold that I can use to orient my next line around, and–failing to find one–I’ll just throw out a hasty guestimate which, when I go back and look at it, I immediately recognize as not being properly considered.

I WILL say that gesture has been helping me develop a three-dimensional sense of the body, but it’s slow-going that becomes painful when I think about my production schedule. It’s only been a few weeks and I’m not expecting miracles, but I AM rummaging around for those moments where things “click” + I’m anxious for my practice to convert properly into experience.

Multiple sources have indicated that one’s rate of progress in art is limited by two things:
1. optimal practice (which I would analogize to “using good form when exercising”–bad form can mean not working your muscles as hard as they should be AND learning bad habits)
2. personal aptitude (i.e. a combination one’s innate and pre-learned experience with line, form, and three-dimensional thinking)
Aptitudes aren’t really something you can do anything about, but I am anxious that I might not be practicing optimally. If I’m still floundering come mid-January, I might beg for critique online and see if anyone can point me in a better direction.

At any rate, I’ll continue practice to keep honing my skills, but considering my limited time frame, I’m probably going to start character design even without a properly-refined sense of form, relying on both the line-simplicity of the manga aesthetic and the intensive application of CTRL+Z.

(Or to put it another way, I’ll just have to work harder, because I am presently incapable of working smarter.)

Beyond gesture, I’ve read most of Mateu-Mestre’s Framed Ink and, using it as a guide I’ve started pre-production on backgrounds and panels with some loose lighting value sketches and direction.

(some initial panel sketches, with value and direction)

I can’t go too far into this without finishing up thematics (more on that at the bottom), but at the very least I’ve been able to start thinking about the world my characters will be inhabiting and the feeling/mood I want each set to evoke, which are good: I NEED a more concrete sense of the game, and visuals help me with that.

— CODING

Another month has passed without doing any coding work, but that’s not to suggest I’ve been sitting idle.

I’ve been studying my flashcards (made with Anki) every night and that’s been helping me a lot with maintaining my familiarity with C#’s conventions and keywords.

Most of the code I’m going to use is going to be one-off tasks that I can just look up others’ solutions to online–the critical thing for me will be making sure I UNDERSTAND how the example code works so that I can tweak it for my own purposes. (Though I still want for an explainer on how objects in Unity function in relation to C#…)

Here, again, my primary bottleneck is in concept, which depends on thematics, which means philosophy/writing (next section, below) is what’s holding me back. Until I’ve defined the scope and design of the game, I can’t know the architecture it requires; until I know the architecture, I can’t know how to code it.

Right now, I have a big huge document full of ideas that, on a good day, looks like a huge brainstorm of potential, and on a bad day (which is most days) feels lot like feature creep and aimlessness.

Until I have my theme and structure hammered out, my emotions will need to be set aside and most coding will have to wait. (Hopefully, not for too much longer.)

—PHILOSOPHY/WRITING

With Sontag’s On Classical Pornography, Hiroki’s Otaku, Carter’s The Sadean Woman, a handful of the most critical Stanford Philosophy pages, and the most critical cross-section of the female gaze (Portrait of a Lady on Fire was FANTASTIC) under my belt, I’ve pretty much finished up–or rather, ran out of allocated time (I ❤ u new organization scheme!)–on philo research, and so my project now (literally now–today–as soon as I’m done with this month’s journaling) is to distill all my notes down into the key, guiding questions and principles that will define the project.

It’s exciting stuff–so exciting, that I’ve repeatedly found myself mentally and emotionally drained just facing the task–but it gets done just like everything else I’ve done so far: by taking one step at a time.

My main emphasis is on a few zones of inquiry:
— the definitive limits of “female” (inasmuch as it can be isolated from the strictures of gender)
— feminist critiques and revolutionary vs. survival strategies/ideologies (incl. the way human desires have adapted and various takes on the female gaze)
— overlaps and distinctions between the myth of the “devouring feminine” and the vore fetish (with a particular eye to the context of each)
— the ludonarrative of the visual novel and how it might be customized for my purposes given the above

From these (and my ongoing brainstorming throughout the research and study phases) I’m hoping to derive:
— a concise theme and a collection of subjects
— a good sense of world design (esp. the places where it deviates from our world)
— some concrete designs for my LIs, peripheral characters, and antagonists
— MC paths/routes (esp. ones that speak to theme)
— guidelines for tone and subject
— guidelines for ludonarrative design
— theme(s) and subjects
— lingering questions any mysteries to explore

What we leave out of a work is just as important as what we put in. In game dev, we aren’t just leaving ambiguities in theme for the reader to soul-search (as in literature and film), but INCORPORATING those ambiguities into play as modes of being. Figuring out what to leave out, I think, is going to be a challenge for me going forward.

My current concept is a bit of a gamble, but even if it fails I should be an interesting failure. I guess that’s all you can really hope for when it comes to being ambitious? Balancing fun with signifiance–it’s a headscratcher, to be sure.

Back to work!

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