Tuesday, March 4, 2014

An Arbitrary Release

I was standing on the divider between two parking spaces, smoking my "just arrived at the office" cigarette, at 9.52am on Valentine's Day. That was when I found out Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love had gone live on Steam.

I can't remember precisely how I found out. Either @TheDopplerDuck told me or I got an email or... something happened. Something happened.

I've started this blog post multiple times. I'm stuck in that... situation that T.S Eliot spoke about:

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
  And how should I presume?

Plus. I like the imagery of myself as a worm or a moth of some sort.

Yes - it's live! It's... out. People have reviewed it, Youtube streamers (my new favorite and proactive people) have recorded it... people have experienced and evaluated it.

You can get it right now on the Humble Store or on Steam.

And of course - it's all DRM-free.

Steam is just a content distribution network for us. It makes updating faster than having to email somebody.

(No disrespect to Steam. They've been really really kind and patient and helpful during the whole process).

It's a bizarre feeling! Like waiting for your tax return to be approved by the IRS.

So I guess... the next steps are... patience, virtue and a Wii U release.

...some sort of post-mortem series of blog posts, media review summaries, maintaining the Steam store...

And then? A new game. But we have to eat our vegetables before we eat our meat. Support the existing game, and then move onto a new one.

I think I've already waxed lyrical on this blog about the complex emotions you feel when releasing a game.

So that's it! The .... anti-climactic conclusion to an almost-year of development. It's so strange... you expect... against your better knowledge... some sort of dramatic explosion of ... something.

But like everything in life - it's a process. Requiring patience and hard-work and commitment and... thinking and effort.

Which is bizarre - and very telling about how thoroughly the cultural machine has lied to us: The just reward for work is more work.

I think that's why sitcoms and films end with the closure of a kiss, a wedding, the ever-insulting dance section. Did you see the final few episodes of The Office?

It transformed all of the goodwill you had built toward the show over the years and turned it into a brutal commentary on how white and docile and mindless your viewership of the show really was.

A beautiful, cynical symphony.

But... work is a good reward. An honest reward. It's the reward of... more work but with more leverage.

Last time you threw a small stone into the village, this time it might be a cinder block. And eventually? The culture-destroying boulder.

Well. That's my really abstract post-release blog post. It's more of an emotional and spiritual vent than anything else.

I'm looking forward to doing a full post-mortem of the project. The technical hows, the cultural whys, the circumstantial wherefores.

Until then!

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, 
And in short, I was afraid.

-Joshua McGrath

Monday, February 10, 2014

Moral Relativity

It's 03:43, Februrary 10th, 2014.

It is cold and quiet, save for some strange unidentifiable grinding noise out on the sidewalk.

I am an old man. And I am very tired.

I have just made this video in a mad, slapdash rush to fulfill all of the submission guidelines for upload to Steam.

I've noticed an interesting phenomena....

I made Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love, right? I ... programmed the behaviors. I designed the logic.
However... I've noticed that @thedopplerduck, who put in a little over 60 hours with the game this week - seems to know more about it than I do.

And this puzzled me for a while - but in actuality... it makes an awful lot of sense.

You see... I get how the systems work. The individual creatures. I get what they do.

But I so rarely spend time with them all working in unison - the digital ensemble. They pick up this weird, random little life of their own when left to just... live within the system we've created.

And this is a very exciting thing, friends. It's emergence. It's... complex, surprising, funny or bizarre behaviors stemming from a very simple set of interacting behaviors.

I think that's an exciting quality to have in a game.

And when I am no longer tired, I'm sure I'll be excited about it, too.

Valentine's Day, friends. Be there or be square.

I've organized to go out in the evening on launch day. That ought to absorb some of the anxiety.

Exciting times!

-Joshua McGrath

Sunday, February 9, 2014


There's something soothing about scrawling all over a screenshot. It's like... pushing over your child. You know they won't get hurt, and you get to exhale a tiny bit of frustration.
Friends, there is a huge, glaringly-obvious and distinct danger in underestimating the amount of time it takes to test, polish and prepare a game for launch. And I... being some sort of homebody punk, succumbed to that danger.

But here we are... seven-or-so days later, and my excellent tester: @thedopplerduck has tested the everloving-cripes out of Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love. I've spent the evening adding all 89 achievements to Steam. It's... a go. It's... a go.

It's a strange feeling, I tell you. Seeing your to-do list shrink and... shrink permanently. No more frustrating little tasks. No more... weird AI-timing issues.

Just... screenshots and promotional material and video production and... uploading the thing and hitting that frightening "Launch" button.

I've got to tell you... it's been a strange process.

I've been digging deep - both into the game and into my own energy reserves. It's been like going back in time and meeting Past Joshua.

Reading dialogue I wrote almost a year ago. Seeing all those little intentions I had for the game that were lost in time.

I tell you man; Past Joshua is a dark guy. I kinda like his style.

But here we are. The final test build is running like... 5 feet away from me. @thedopplerduck is laughing at the dialogue. It's all happening.

Cube & Star is a dense game, people. I originally had such simple aspirations.

Look at that screenshot! It's... full. It's at capacity.

And me? I'm tired.

But here we are. Saturday. I'm going to upload all of the builds (Linux, Mac, PC) to Steam tomorrow morning. We've got the screenshots (culling down from hundreds - thanks to Jessi's enthusiastic screenshot finger). And... Steam-gods prevailing - we'll be live on Valentine's Day.

And then?

And then?

Boy. I just don't know. Who will I be, without the Cube & Star stone hanging perilously over my head?

Will I be the same Joshua?

Will I still be gruff and aloof and exhausted?

Or will I metamorphose into something entirely new?

Some sort of strange game-developing Brundlefly?

Time will tell!

And that's all I've got to tell you, friends.

From here it's all... marketing assets and post-mortems and sweet rest.

But I'm no Nostradamus.

Something else will likely come up.

And when it does - why... I'll blog facetiously about it here.

Because that's how this relationship works.

-Joshua McGrath

Monday, February 3, 2014

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

The life of a Tiny Thing is turbulent, and strongly impacted by external forces.
February 3rd, friends.

For me, it's a Monday. For you... it's impossible to accurately judge. You're an unknown.

Does that feel good? To be an unknown?

Unknown winds tussling your unknown hair. An unknown wisp of smoke leaking from between your unknown clenched teeth?

It should. That sounds amazing.

Well. I've got a bold statement to make.

And it's a bold statement based on a lot of unknowns - so it's a bold statement that I will make with no shortage of consternation.

And it is thus....
Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love will be available on Steam; this Valentine's Day.
That is... the 14th of February, 2014 - vaguely-American time. Somewhere in the middle of all those US time zones.

There are a few really obvious things to cover in that sentence.
  1. Did you see that? The name change? Because I sure did. You see, I'm the king of snap decisions that could potentially be to my own detriment. And, in the spirit of this, I decided to change the tagline for Cube & Star from "A Love Story" to "An Arbitrary Love".

    I thought.... it's important to be really clear about the tone of the game. I don't want any miscommunications right off the bat.

    We're talking about scrolling eyes here. It's no time for subtlety.
    I'm moderately happy with "An Arbitrary Love". It's vaguely clinical. Vaguely mathematical. It conveys tone far more successfully than "A Love Story".
  2. Valentine's Day! Funny, right? Yeah. I was pretty happy with that brain-jolt.

    The real risk here is... I have no idea what the processing time is like on the Steam front. I'm hoping that... if I submit to the store say... this evening, the game will be live by a comfortable margin by the date I'm promising here.

    But can I really make that promise? No, I can't. But I am, anyway.

    You've got to roll the dice, occasionally.
End list.

Decrypting the history of the Tiny Things. A really bizarre gameplay addition on my part.
 But maybe that 1% of the audience might get a real kick out of it.
It was a really strange weekend for me, friends. The "to do" list shrinks and, in response, grows - but only by tiny amounts now. The volume of work becomes a trickle.

The heavy, vaguely foggy depression of being stuck finishing up a game begins to lift - and a strange little excitement takes its place.

A happiness-with-reservations.

I'm not really saying much here. I guess this blog post is a premature celebration. A kind of "nearly there" exhalation of stale development air.

I'm pretty happy with the game, friends. It has... definite good points.

There are points that I'd love to add, obviously. Or change. Or tweak. Or polish.

But there needs to be a line drawn. At some stage you must call something finished - or doom yourself to an endless, joyless state of "unreleased".
On the path of the strider. Do you see him?
The Silt Striders from Morrowind are one of my favorite pieces of visual design.

 I guess that's probably enough vague textual meandering for one day.

Best wishes to you and yours, as you navigate another week.

-Joshua McGrath

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ocular Diabetes.

Have I used that title before? Man, I'm pretty sure I have. And the serpent consumes its tail.

I'm tired, friends. I'm just... tired.

Everyday I cross things off the whiteboard, every day more appear.

But! We are making progress. We are making headway. We are surging forward with some sort of semi-liquid fury.

The non-newtonian byproduct of our passion.
A flurry of pink, some sort of... ochre storm, and then the cleansing fire.

Let's talk. About that frantic piece of animation you see above you. About colors. About life.

So here we are! Our character - bold cube, is flooding the world with color, and buildings are sprouting where trees once were.

And - if you've got sharp eyes and no concerns about epilepsy, you can probably see another little addition in there too. A new type of entity. With its own feelings and desires.

I call them: "The Tiny Things".

They shout for joy. They should in semi-religious ecstasy. And they shout in racist fury.

They really do. It's all... in there.

Everything has a part to play. Everything is there for a reason. Things take too much time and mental effort to do them frivolously, I guess. So it's like... energy-mandated utilitarianism.

Let's talk colors!

So what I've done here... I've implemented a sort of ... "Color Wheel" type logic. I used this page about the Color Wheel (from Microsoft, of all people) as a jumping-off point, and added some automatic palette creation. So if you look at the buildings there - you'll see that their trims are colored with a complementary color and the faces (excluding the windows) are colored with analogous colors.

So everything kind of... works nicely.

(As you can flood-fill the world with any color your fingers can muster, via speed / rhythm and note choice ... vaguely shown in the animation above)

And that extends on into the tone of the sky, which is a smooth gradient between the two remaining colors in the color triad (where the dominant color onscreen is one, and the top and bottom of the sky are the other two).

What is that... sort of... blue-purple, green and a yellow color.  It works pretty nicely. Note that in this screenshot, it's dusk, so there is a color-toning going on with the color of the world's light.
And that brings us to Friday.

The Friday of my life. The Friday of my vacation. The Friday of our relationship.

Man, that sounds ominous.

Two days, friends. Two days. During which to work as furiously on Cube & Star as my health and sanity will allow.

And apres moi?

Le deluge.

-Joshua McGrath

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Auld lang syne.

Man that song / poem has a kind of depressing tone to it, doesn't it?

Let's ring in the new year by framing out existence as a brief, unreal phrase in a broader, likely-meaningless fairy tale.

Classic cold-weather cynicism.


In the spirit of a swiftly-forgotten New Year's resolution, I'm going to write a little more. Be it these blogs, or other things. Not Twitter. Although that should probably be on there too.

So let's talk a little about this or that.

It's almost hypnotic. I wonder if speeding things up by 175%
is a weird psychological hack.
A way to trigger that "did I miss anything?" response in the viewer.
It's cold, California. It's cold.

And I'm on Day 3 of a "Cube & Star" development burst.

And the build, as it stands, looks a little something like this big old sped-up GIF you see to our respective lefts.

I'm pretty sold on spindle-vision as a final, releasable view for the game.

It was and remains a difficult choice.

The most outstanding "pro" is that it makes interesting screenshots / videos.
Originally, Cube & Star was a tricky sell because it's limited appeal wasn't immediately apparent. It needed a little time investment. A little love. And that.... makes it difficult to draw a player in.

My biggest concern - and we'll call it the "con" - is that it will detract from the "I'm painting a larger canvas" sensation.
It miiiiight also make the world feel a little smaller (because psychologically, the player will believe that the world is twice the size of the visible area, as it appears to be a sphere).

Time will tell. Time, and rash tobacco-driven balcony-decisions.

And then we come to flood fill. The most controversial function.

In this instance, we've made a very soothing salmon-color.
You see, those symbols represent the notes we've played.
And the final one, based on colors, speed and rhythm.
the ultimate color
You see....

It allows the player to mix together any color they like, and flood an area with it.

Which means that... pending a player's grasp of the mechanic, the world can get ugly quickly.

And an ugly world is a quit-able world.

Again, I took to the balcony to meditate....

And made a string of rash design decisions - ranging from "don't worry about it, ship it" to "cut it" and finally to a more moderate "reframe it and reward ugliness".

Where "reward" is meant in the abstract sense.

And so here we sit. World stretched taut over a sphere. Whiteboard "To do" list growing at a rate of 3:1 new/completed.

But I think we're getting to a nice, comfortable place. We're nearing some sort of cohesion.

And then there's this....

"This tweet, written in a Vorticon-inspired, made-up alphabet, for probable use in mid-game Cube & Star."
Which is a whole different thing.

For a whole different time.

Coming to you from 2014.

-Joshua McGrath