📰 The PixelCount Post - Issue #62
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    Matt's Avatar

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    📰 The PixelCount Post - Issue #62

     





    ISSUE #62                              THE VALE, QUILL                              11 AUGUST, 2019                              ONE BRASS





    The Short Report
     

     
    It turned out to be a rather packed week for the team between working on some new assets, roadmap planning, new sound cues, lengthy team discussions, and the set up of a new Trello organisation board. Many of the new assets in question have been coming in from Gary, our character artist. These include some animations for a new brounie character as well as early drafts on animating the Jabberwock creature - one of our much larger (and frightening) monsters based off of a similar creature as seen in Terry Gilliam's amazing film Jabberwocky. Charlie talks a bit more about all these new assets in his article below.

    As for the lengthy discussions, the team has recently been diving into some fairly deep talks. We've found we tend to have these bigger conversations on the project every once in a while as a sort of 'checking in' with each other and seeing how we're all feeling about development and things in general. These sorta talks aren't really ever planned outright. Rather they seem to crop up organically, usually when we've reached a certain tipping point where we have a bunch of thoughts and ideas that we want to share that we've otherwise been holding on to internally so as to keep focus strictly on development and roadmap progress. So although we hadn't necessarily planned for having such in-depth team discussions this last week, they always turn out to be incredibly useful and productive.

    We also ended up setting up a Trello board in the midst of these talks which, for those unfamiliar, is basically a project organisation platform that easily allows for multiple team members to collaborate on. We had a Trello board set up in the pre-Early Access days of development but since then have been largely depending on internal project organisation of our own (spreadsheets, documents, etc.). However, as of late we've been greatly preferring the particular format and ease of Trello. Between the team discussions and the new project organisation, we've got a fairly packed week planned ahead with finalizing details on new roadmap bits as well as progress on the next build. So see you again next week with updates on how it all went!



    Jabber Work
     



     
    There has been a lot of chatter and organisation in the team as we try to make ourselves more efficient and organised. Personally I am about as organised as a jelly tornado, so for us to start using Trello properly is a relief and you can feel the upbeat auras coming from the others (especially Neal). We feel much more happy about where we are and the future, and are more determined than ever to make a special game.

    This week I have been looking at the game's Prologue and improving player tutorials. I am always against hand holding and reams of text explaining the most basic concepts...but I do recognise there are ways we can keep the sense of discovery along with gently guiding the player. New UI boxes, improved info presentation, better tasks, plus explanation of tools and controls. All of which will go alongside new features such as Pott the Brounie and The Wottyzit.

    But what is the Wottyzit? What is it exactly? The Wottyzit is a small wisp-like faery that hovers near interactive objects of interest, and when you get near will fly away. It will only do it once per feature to draw your attention to them. So this would be things like the oven, baking kiln, mapstones, lemonade stand, pig auction trigger point, etc etc.

    Then for after the Prologue, we have Pott the Brounie: a sharp tongued goblin who will live on your farm and look after things. He likes to keep things tidy and ensures your kids are looked after. He can be talked to for advice and guidance on things to do, the status of things, and even tell you stories about the Fae realms. Fail to feed him offerings though, and he won't be very happy and let you know it! We feel that by making these things 'in-world' and part of the lore, they will add a rich character that really ties the room together.

    The only other news for you this week is that the Jabberwock has had its idle animations begun. It is a bit of a challenge for Gary, but so far it looks amazing, with the best eyelids/blink I have seen on a huge dragony thing. I am so excited by our menagerie of denizens. The few we have revealed so far (around our forums and on Twitter) are our smallest and weakest. We can't wait for you to see the Barghest, Fachen, Banshee, Ogyr, Spriggan...and they are just some of the mid-sized ones!

    We are blessed to have such incredible artists - Gary, Matt Weekes, and Caz are just brilliant people to work with and I am insanely jealous of their talents. I couldn't draw the curtains, never mind a world full of fabulous beasts, colourful environs, and tastily detailed items. Onwards and upwards!



    Thinking Outside the Tick-Box
     



     
    This week has been an interesting one and I'm going to ramble on in a stream of consciousness type way about it. I've made some progress on the noticeboards, typed and chatted what feels like far more than the past month, and had a mini crisis of sorts when the living room started leaking water from the ceiling (for the third time, but in a different place!). I think the theme for this week for me has been coming to some revelations of a sort about self-imposed limitations. Maybe these were triggered from having a break last week and that gap away from the normal routine really gave me pause on what was actually going on. I think it had begun before, but especially the last day or two felt like finally getting a better sense of what is up...

    Aside: Sometimes I wonder with these posts how many people read them or what they're expecting to read about (feel free to leave a comment below on that!). For me, I've taken them as a way of giving some insight into the very human process of development and perhaps also the cycles that my mind will often get locked into. When I write these I often quickly look back at our last issue but have never actually gone back to read older ones from being a little embarrassed in some ways about what I might have said. So I have this sense that maybe I'm repeating myself in slightly different ways, but then immediately a few weeks later I forget and get caught back up in the cycle of whatever is going on at the time...

    With a long-term endeavour such as this project, I think it is inevitable that the excitement rises and fades and that we struggle to actually consistently keep going in an upward spiral of momentum, as there's always distractions and past habits to deal with. Weeks like this though give me more optimism about it when I feel like I've got a real buzz going on from stepping outside my comfort zone and laying out more of what I'm actually thinking (while trying to be humble that it is only my very limited understanding and experience and that I'm open to change).


    Anyway...to get back to what I mentioned in the first section, the revelation (or perhaps just a return to sanity and common sense) that I realised is how often we impose invisible limits and boxes around what we do. Biases and habits reinforce us going in a certain direction without a chance to stop to think if it's the best way to be going.

    To go into a little more detail, my work on code has for a long time been about ticking off features on the roadmap. The general aim has always been to get everything to a 'first pass' level and then we can start refining it and putting it together. That approach is definitely in large parts what my previous developer experience has been like on the Fable games...right until near the end the game is very rough and there's little sense of the solidity that eventually emerges. I think it could be argued they released too soon where another 3 to 4 months at that solid stage would get the refinement right that really hits the mark, but that's hindsight for you! It is undoubtedly a reasonably sound strategy for many games, especially ones developed in private, but not all games are the same.

    In our case, we have an incredibly ambitious game and limited resources (no publisher, a small but talented team where each person has a lot of responsibilities, and limited time due to our budget). It's true that there is a lot of pressure/risk in that situation, but we have experience and boldness on our side to make it work. We are doing our best to mitigate the risk and we still have contingencies and ways to keep going as long as possible while the game continues to grow. So it's not a bad situation we are in, but it is one where the bias and focus has limited us and started to box us into a corner where it seems like there is nowhere to go. Code is still the bottleneck right now where I've been constantly trying to catch up with the myriad of ideas/art/sound/bugs/improvements being thrown around. In doing so, I've limited myself a lot because of focusing on the checkbox approach of mostly sticking to stuff on the roadmap. That's not to say that focus is a bad thing, but when it becomes obsessive (filling all waking hours of the day) to the point of ignoring other options, then it lacks the common sense to take a step back and see what the real problems are and what to do about them. I guess what I'm mainly trying to take on-board from this is to split time up so the focus has a daily chance to shine but that other tasks are not left behind, including the need to be communicating with the rest of the team - and to get in some time to relax and enjoy life as well!

    To tie this into the week itself a bit more, the noticeboards were something where until we had a meeting I'd been holding back continuously on them (maybe because they aren't on the roadmap, maybe because I had so many other things to do, maybe because no one else pushed me on them, but for whatever reason it was only when I started on it that it began to unveil the impact that I knew was there but didn't act on). The very basic implementation of them only took maybe an hour or two, but I just could not stop procrastinating/holding back on getting something in there. Now that they are there, it's a massive relief and I can see how much they are going to add to the game. After the basic implementation, I've been refining them in a further few days to have two initial types ('cook wanted' and 'lost item'), to set one noticeboard up per haven, to get them working with save/load, and to refine the random generation of them to feel a bit more natural. For now they are in our experimental branch on Steam (for anyone interested in trying it) and we're looking at getting them put into the main branch in perhaps a couple of weeks, along with other efforts to address player feedback on the game.

    The water leaking incident of this week was interesting too. I almost felt like I'd set myself up for it by talking up how it often seems that crisis pop along one after another that disrupt our flow. Luckily it wasn't too serious and I saw it as soon as it started so nothing really got permanently damaged. The interesting part of it for me was recognising that feeling of how that crisis just took over all thoughts and actions. I pretty much dropped everything else I was doing to handle it and get it looked into. It made me remember how when something unexpected needs to get done, I can just focus immediately onto it and decisions suddenly become easy because you want to get it sorted above all else. To tie it into the limiting factor of our actions, sometimes things like that need absolute attention but when we're talking about things carrying over days/weeks/months trying to focus on on one thing unrelentingly then that just ends up wasting time. The mind wanders and rebels against that level of focus because it just weighs down creativity and inspiration. My plan is to try and mix things up more. Namely, we've talked in the team about having a fixed day where we are deliberately not working on the roadmap/update work. Letting things wander for a bit before diving back into focus. I'm additionally thinking to take that further within a day where I try to concentrate for around 4 hours on the main priority and then to be content then to dip into what I feel like doing rather than what I've tried to make my sole focus...

    I guess I'll go a little into the team's recent typing and chatting, which maybe other posts might cover as well. What it boiled down to is another case of each of us having our limited box of what thoughts we'd allow out. Holding back from saying anything because we felt like everyone else was too busy or not really open to suggestion. Also perhaps that even when things are said, the other person isn't actually listening because of their own strong feelings on the matter. When you impose that limitation (of not listening, not asking questions, not putting out thoughts), then what you're really doing is passively accepting the status quo and biding time for a point which probably will never come.

    That's not to say that all thoughts are welcome or are good ones to say, because there has to be some empathy/trust and mutual understanding there! The question though, is if you feel passionately about something why is it better to hold back on it? Surely if you feel that strongly about it you want to speak up and test if others agree, learn from the experience, and let the mind move on? It's a case of reading the room as to how/where to do this but it could even just start with a simple question of "Is there some way we can talk about X, as I have some feelings about that?". For myself (and I believe other people too), there's a lot of irrational fear at times about opening up because it exposes something in your mind and has a risk that you're wrong. But is it a good thing to just hold on to a thought to the point where it becomes permanent yet gets no outside scrutiny from people with vastly different experiences? Is it not better to test your limits and evolve your understanding by taking that step? I guess I would just stress again that my understanding/experience is limited and perhaps the position I'm advocating is too extreme where some limits are necessary. Food for thought really and something of an experiment!

    Looking back on this post it has become quite an epic and I've still got thoughts flowing about connections that I've just realised in writing this. For now, I think I might leave it there and see what folks think of this. I know it's probably a lot to take in and perhaps not that much talks about the game itself but I do feel like it captures a bit of the way our development is going and some thoughts that right now really have me fired up. I definitely think I need to keep looking back on this particular post to remember it when I expect otherwise it might fade away in memory as more new unexpected developments take hold and as my mind wars a bit against being so open. Anyway, thanks to all of you who read this and I wish you all the best!



    Humming with Activity
     



     
    Another week goes by! This week I worked on the sounds for the smithing mini-game. In places, it's still a bit quiet as some sounds still need to be implemented. I also did sounds for the rating system on items you've crafted. There's 4 different levels of quality per aspect of the item, ranging from bad to perfect. I've divided the theme I use for personal growth into 4 individual segments for this so that the first tone in the theme is the bad rating, the next tone the ok rating, then good, and finally perfect to finish the theme with a flourish. (The full theme is more than 4 notes, but the first 4 notes already form a recognisable abbreviation to the theme.)

    This theme can also be heard when leveling up certain skills or during other moments of growth for the player character. It can even be heard when you wake up on the pier at the start of the game. It also makes an appearance in an as of yet implemented track for the main menu. Sometimes I hide it a little by giving you the theme in a slightly altered or subtle way. Other times it's front and center. This set of rating system sound effects would definitely qualify as a hidden iteration of it though, as you won't likely hear all 4 sounds in fast succession (or in the right order). But subliminally, it's there.

    Another thing I did this week was to alter the main melody of the track I worked on last week. The feedback the team gave me on it mentioned that this melody needed to be easier to hum along to. One way to facilitate how quickly you can absorb a melody and hum along to it is to make the melody consist of repeating patterns. The more something repeats, the easier it gets to memorize. But a repeat doesn't have to be identical each time. A pattern with a deviation can still feel like it's the same general pattern. This allows you to walk the fine line between keeping it easy to memorize and keeping it from being boringly or annoyingly repetitive. And oh boy, is that a fine line alright! If the team approves of the new melody, I still need to fix some other little things in the track before it's game-ready. But it'll get there...



    RIP Keyboard
     



     
    I'm going to keep my article a bit brief (brief for me), partly to avoid this week's issue from getting overly long but also because I feel I've been typing a short novel's worth this week already! As mentioned above by my teammates, alongside our normal development work we also found ourselves deeply engaged in all manner of discussion. It's become something the team does semi-regularly on the project to help keep things going smoothly and to highlight any areas we want to make course adjustments on.

    Above all, I think these talks tend to have a cathartic effect where it allows us to just dump a bunch of thoughts and ideas that we each have been meaning to bring up yet never really finding time to do so during the busy bustle of working on the game directly. Not being someone known for their brevity, I tend to dive pretty deeply into these talks and contribute paragraphs and paragraphs of my own. So it all makes for quite a bit of writing after a week's worth of these discussions.

    Rather amusingly, the very first day these discussions kicked off I had just bought myself a new keyboard. So I picked one helluva week to start reestablishing all my typing muscle memory that I'd obtained over the last couple of years with my last keyboard. Sadly that keyboard had become broken and thus it was time to get a replacement. Whenever discarding one of my PC's peripherals like that, I always get a slight tinge of weird attachment over it. That was the keyboard which was by my side from the very beginning of this project all the way to now. It was the keyboard I used for basically every development update, every Discord message I've ever written, and every issue of The Post up to this one. We'd been through a lot together, that keyboard and I. So farewell trusty keyboard. May it type away happily in the text fields of keyboard heaven.



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    Last edited by Matt; August 13th, 2019 at 08:42am.

  2. #2
    LynnSnow's Avatar

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    I think it's probably obvious that I avidly read every issue thoroughly. Ironically, even as a diehard supporter of this project, I also find myself holding back and tempering myself about it. I spent a lot of time growing up, being told I was passionate about the "wrong" things and being made fun of for being "sensitive" (being empathic, a "tree hugger", etc).

    "Don't be a bother, Lynn" is usually what cycles through my head as I contemplate a comment or a message. It's a nasty world to live in where you think everyone is too busy to listen or that no one will care about your opinion. I lived blissfully for six months in a job I loved where my team was constantly on the same page, we enjoyed each other's input, we respected each other, and the culture was open and curious. When my boss left for a promotion, she was replaced with someone who had the exact opposite effect and it was all down hill from there. Metrics my team had raised by ~130% suddenly tanked, customer satisfaction dropped incredibly, and criticism became so personal, toxic, and laser-focused that in the final weeks of me working there, I found myself hiding in dark corners of the store and crying at work. Before that, having worked retail for about 10 years, I'd only cried twice at work: once in my first year of my first job after my last customer of the day tore me apart for things that were not my fault, and once when I spent hours putting together a massive sale and going out of my way to provide unreasonably excellent service just to be screamed at and insulted with things no one had ever said to me before.

    My point is, both frequency of and quality of communication in a workplace are wildly important. It's easy to get in "the zone" and silo ourselves, even with the best intentions. What's wild is that it can happen without us even noticing at all. One day, everyone is working as a team, and then six months later, you realise you haven't had any proper personable interactions in weeks and that things aren't nearly as efficient and easy as they'd been months ago. Meetings meant to defeat this often become repetitive, expected, and fade into the white-noise of business.

    "Team building exercises" sound like eye-rolly corporate mumbo-jumbo, but if done correctly...they can set everyone back on pace to work together and well.

    You're all lovely people. You're all very clearly passionate about what you do. You love the world in Kynseed, and we can all see it. Some of us are just as passionate as you lot are about it. Those of us who are can probably make an effort as well to make sure not to stay quiet, especially if we're in fear that we'll seem a bother or too intense about it.

    Thanks for sharing. Especially Neal, this time. It was a great read and definitely touched on some things I'm going through as well at the moment.

    Also, RIP Matt's keyboard.

    20??-2019

    May your keys forever clack in glory.

    Also, PS, lore-wise, I'm incredibly excited for Pott! I don't even know why, exactly. When I lived in a rural area growing up, I used to leave my offering of milk and honey once a week up on a hill covered in oak trees and big, mossy boulders for a long time. It will be nice to see a character directly affected by our offerings.
    Last edited by LynnSnow; August 11th, 2019 at 03:52pm. Reason: For my excitement as a Pott-head

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    Thanks Lynn, hope things are improving on your side. It's certainly tough when unexpected changes happen to a situation that was once comfortable!

    All the best,
    Neal

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    LynnSnow's Avatar

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    I left that job two years ago, almost to the day. Been working the one I'm in for a year now. It was also toxic and lacked communication when I got there, but over the last year, personnel changes and my attempts to claw my team out of a terrible culture have somewhat paid off. We're getting closer to where we need to be.

    It's hard to stay motivated to do so when it's not a job you love, or even a job you really chose. I was recruited by my current company and anything was better than the last one, so I just immediately jumped ship.

    All that being said, I hope this sort of resurgence of communication for the team helps everyone involved to feel comfortable and supported while working, cuz that's a good feeling. Having chosen this path of starting your own studio and self-publishing obviously has a different set of challenges than working for someone else does, but hopefully they're challenges that feel good to tackle. There's so many people that don't even take a single step towards chasing their dreams or doing/creating things they love. I'm so happy to watch a group of people do that! It's like standing in front of a complicated loom and watching the most beautiful tapestry emerge slowly, but we also get the added bonus of seeing the people responsible for it discussing their challenges and triumphs as they complete it. It's a special experience and a very special game. Thank you all for continuing to work through the good and the trying times. Seeing the narratives of both the game and the creation of the game unfold has been a wonderful process to witness.

    Love you all!

  5. #5
    Neal's Avatar

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    Glad to hear!

    There's definitely plenty of challenges to consider for us. The biggest probably being the whole business side of it given we've all only really seen that from afar till going on this adventure. I do like rising to the challenges so that helps! It's also surprising some times how just talking or asking for some help/guidance often is the answer at times to get a different perspective (I often forget/limit myself by not doing so).

  6. #6
    Matt's Avatar

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    Thank you for sharing all that, Lynn. Kinda boggles the mind that you've been reading these things since the very start! (And my mind is equally boggled that we've written so many over the project - surely a novel's worth by now.)



    Quote Originally Posted by LynnSnow View Post
    My point is, both frequency of and quality of communication in a workplace are wildly important. It's easy to get in "the zone" and silo ourselves, even with the best intentions.
    Indeed. What I've found is that the old adage of "communication is key in every relationship" is just as true in the workplace as it is anywhere else in life. In many ways, working on a game does sometimes feel very akin to a sort of close personal relationship. Since about May 2016 or so, many of us on the team have been in near constant contact, often speaking daily about the game. So by now we've been spending a lot of time together every day for what amounts to years - often talking at great length and sharing plans, hopes, concerns, laughs, and everything in between.

    So you end up spending an immense amount of time with your coworkers and, by extension, the community - the latter of which feels as much a part of that 'relationship' as the coworkers do. I've certainly had my share of retail jobs in the past, as many of us have, and the particularly good ones had a dynamic with my coworkers that made it feel a bit like a sort of family. Most folks who grind through retail probably know what I mean.

    All that to say, it can be easy for routine and regimented work practices to become the 'daily grind'. But as we've found, the team needs these periods of deep discussion every now and then. Communication, as always, is paramount. What's more, it's necessary for growth - not just as a team or as individuals, but also for the positive growth of the project itself.



    Quote Originally Posted by LynnSnow View Post
    You're all lovely people. You're all very clearly passionate about what you do. You love the world in Kynseed, and we can all see it. Some of us are just as passionate as you lot are about it. Those of us who are can probably make an effort as well to make sure not to stay quiet, especially if we're in fear that we'll seem a bother or too intense about it.
    Most definitely! If anything, we've certainly tried to foster the sort of open community where folks can share their thoughts and feedback without intimidation or fear of judgement. (Be it on the forums, the Discord, or even DM.) It all helps make for a better game in the end.



    Quote Originally Posted by LynnSnow View Post
    Also, RIP Matt's keyboard.

    20??-2019

    May your keys forever clack in glory.
    Thank you for your support. Such a loyal keyboard, struck down in its prime. I shall remember it always.
    Everything in moderation, including moderation.

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