The Voxel-inator

Okay, let’s get into some game design for Grindcraftia finally.  I’m making a voxel-inator.  It’s a voxel modeling tool, but it doesn’t have (or need) all the functionality of say Magica Voxel.  But what it does need, is to be inside the game.  The tool will eventually be used by players to mod their game, in game.

Grindcraftia will be an isometric voxel game, so I’m making up a system of rendering isometric voxels.  One of the things I liked about Minecraft was their design integrity.  They would take a simple idea and see how many things they could do with it in the game.  Lego, Ikea and Minecraft all have that same design philosophy.  All three of those innovations come from Scandinavia.  Maybe its the long land-locked winters that inspire people to stay indoors and invent cuby things.

So I’m inspired to see how far my design for Grindcraftia can scale.  We have to be able to build time machines and go into the quantum realm, and alternate universes.  So the isometric voxels have to be craftable on the atomic scale, up, and buildable.

So you know, a voxel is kind of like a pixel, except it is in 3d space.  A pixel is “The basic unit of the composition of an image on a television screen, computer monitor, or similar display.”  Everybody knows what a pixel is.  But when talking about voxels, there’s no tangible “3d screen” in people’s living rooms.  A true voxel would be like a grain of sand in the vibranium communication devices from the movie Black Panther.

But right now, you can’t look directly at a voxel like you can look at a pixel on a screen.  Pixels represent voxels, but they are not voxels.  So a voxel is more “concept” than “thing you can point to”.  But (googling), it seems a voxel is not so abstract as to just be pure data.  The connotation is that it is visual, usually represented by a cube projected onto 2d space.  Whew, we’re out of that rabbit trail.  What I really wanted to show you was a voxel I made for Grindcraftia.
Here it is:

It’s there, believe me.  If we were to double the amount of voxels in the x, y, and z directions, you’d think it would be “about twice as big”.

But you’d be very wrong.

See, placing a voxel in 3d space means that it has to go through a matrix transformation, and lots of tan cos sin,
and then orthogonal projection from an overhead camera tilted at a certain angle.  All this before it can ever be rendered on screen.  After all that very amazing math, the end result is that you scooch it down 1 and over 2 and put a pixel there.  It ends up being about twice as big:

There.  Now you can see it better.  You can continue doubling the size of the cluster of voxels, and with each doubling, the number of voxels grows by a factor of 8.  Their collective length, width, and height grow by 2, so 1, 2, 4, 8, etc.  Interestingly, that happens to be the exact size of the png.  1×1, 2×2, 4×4, 8×8, etc.  Design integrity.  Love it.

In Grindcraftia, the voxel is the equivalent of a sub-atomic particle, like an electron, proton, or neutron.  From there, cuby atoms are built, then molecules, materials, bricks, and blocks.  The subatomic level is not invisible in Grindcraftia.  Instead, its just as small as a pixel.

Commitment

It’s what comes after passion and vision.  Commitment is a trap if you don’t have your passion and vision well-defined.

When the question of “How much time can you commit?” comes up, and I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to accomplish, I used to tell myself and everybody else whatever they wanted to hear just to get them off my back.

I don’t do that much anymore.

Drive with no vision means you’re going to do things by trial-and-error.  When you commit to something, or someone pushes you to commit, but you have no vision for it yet,  you’ll end up spending a lot of time discovering what it is you’re trying to do.  I’m going to write a book. No, start a business. No, invent something.  There’s a time for discovery. But commitment comes after that, not before.  So make sure you have passion and vision.  Then when the question of commitment comes up, you have a well thought-out answer,
and the question doesn’t feel like it backs you into a corner.

In the real world, figuring out a core passion can take awhile.  Sometimes it comes through a lot of introspection.  Sometimes it comes from a super difficult time in your life that tears you apart to the core.  Sometimes it comes at the end of a marathon, where you’ve pushed yourself to your limits.  When you’re going through events which form you as a person, your identity is in flux, and therefore so is your passion.  Major events in your life will change who you are – graduation, first job, death in the family, marriage, birth of a child.  So in reality, it might take time to discover your passion.  Making a vision around that passion might take more time.  Maybe it takes so long that by the time you have a vision, you’ve changed and need to re-hone your passion.  If you’ve started a project and not finished it, then you know what I mean.  It could likely be part of the process of discovering your passion.

Eventually, a passion becomes well-defined and well-weathered.  It still goes through changes — a person’s passion should grow and change as they do — but the changes are slower.  It changes slow enough that you can build a vision around it.  And the vision based on that passion will also grow and change.  So, the product you end up with may not be the one you start with.  You may throw out a lot of ideas and adopt new ones along the way.

When your passion and vision are well-defined, then commiting becomes a different question.  Without a vision, the question of commitment is like a blood pact.  You’re going to force yourself to do something against who you are as a person.  For artists, this is a bad idea which either drains creativity or makes you quit and weakens your integrity.  But with a vision, the question of commitment is like a powerful tool, like compound interest.  The affect should be that you wish you could spend all day working on your project, but unfortunately, you have a limited amount of time to dedicate to it.  When you get to that point, you’re not committing to something you’re unsure of.  Instead, you’re insuring that life’s responsibilities don’t eat up all your time.  You’re able to dedicate a certain amount of time to your project, but you’re also letting life set constraints on it, which inspires innovation and keeps you on track.

Another pitfall concerning commitment is that you should commit all your spare time to your project.  In some cases, this can be unhealthy and backfire. You may need recharge time.  My advice is don’t just budget for working, eating, sleeping, and doing your project.  If you don’t need recharge time, then go for it. Just be honest and realistic when budgeting your time.

What Happened in December

What happened in December is our car got totaled and we’ve been in and out of a bunch of hospitals and clinics.  Did I stop working toward making games?  No.   See?  Passion, when you figure out who you are, pulls you through automatically.  Figure out who  you are.

So, I won a grant for writing a different grant last month.  If we get the grant in July, then Grindcraftia will be funded.  Maybe it will get funded before then.

In January, we’re supposed to sell an engine, and that should give me enough time to port GrindCraftEngine to Javascript, and finally do some environments for our Mall Crawler.  If I didn’t mention before, Stranger Things is doing the exact same game setting – an 80’s mall in top-down isometric.  There’s is going to fight monsters.  Ours is like retro-future Streets of Rage.

Next up for us is creating our environment tools.  I’m really glad to start working on something more detailed after doing a bunch of business stuff over the fall.  This tool is going to be pretty powerful.  We’ll be able to create art assets very quickly, like as fast as you can do a build in Minecraft.  So we can throw together a few blocks, create some game world item, and hit save and we’re done.  Then, we’ll be able to combine items to create bigger items – a desk, for instance, or a rack of clothing.  And it will be done in voxels that can be super small, so it looks as good as 3d, but without rigging and meshes and stuff.  This means anyone and everyone can create items, and it allows us to put the editor inside Grindcraftia and allow players to make content.  Like imagine if Roblox or Minecraft allowed you to hit a button and upload your build so everyone could see it instantly.  By flattening out the user-generated content pipeline, it will be super easy for players to make and sell items.

That’s it for now.  Thanks for reading.  Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukkah, and Happy New Years.

The Grant Scheme of Things

This month, we’re applying for a grant.  Full disclosure as follows, minus trade secrets.

Grindcraftia will allow users to configure any part of it.  In addition to modes like hardcore, survival, and creative, Grindcraftia will have a “meta” mode.  In meta, you have complete control over every aspect of the application.  You can change the color, size, shape, rotation, and position of things… almost every property, in fact.  Change names, layouts, labels, whatever you want.

I love Minecraft, but I think they only went a little ways down this path.  Like, I don’t know about you, but given the choice between an update for fish, and the ability to mod anything in the game I was playing, I’d take the mod option.

In Grindcraftia you can mod anything, even behaviors.  For instance, drag a behavior called “shoot and seek cover” onto an archer, and the archer will shoot an arrow, then look for a tree or something, and run behind it.

But what about modifying the behavior itself?  You can script your own behaviors and events, using a proprietary high-level subset of javascript.  So you can make that archer run zig-zag to the nearest cover.  Or maybe you want him to shoot two arrows and then run away.  Or you don’t want him to seek cover until he’s down to 1 heart.  Whatever you decide to do, it’s all done in-game, during runtime.  No IDEs to download, no tutorials needed, and no compiling.

When you’re done with your mod, upload it to the store if you want.  Players can try it out with one click.  They don’t have to download a potentially virus-ridden plugin, find the right folder, download Forge, make copies of the original file, and just hope it all works.   They just click and go, no matter if they are on a phone or desktop, or a browser on their grandma’s computer.

So, we’re totally turning modding on end, and opening the floodgates to all sorts of opportunities and trouble.

Ok, so what does all this have to do with a grant?

Well, all the above adds up to being able to do whatever you want to any app, not just a game, not just Grindcraftia.  You can change the look, layout, functionality, events, and more of any app which uses the framework.  All updates propagate in real time across all devices and OS’s.  Instead of weekly updates, there’s a storehouse of user-generated functionality to choose from.  The result is that anyone can modify the applications they use.  That’s powerful, maybe even scary.  Maybe it could be said, When everyone’s a programmer, no one will be.

But then think about hooking it all up to an AI and that’s skynet scary.  (If we can get it to work.)

These type of high-risk, high-payoff ideas are what institutions like the National Science Foundation like to fund.  So, if we get picked, you’ll be playing Grindcraftia a lot sooner, and probably learning how to code for a very crazy future.

Vision ision bo bision banana fana fo fision a me my mo mision Vision

Vision is another one of those big mysterious words.

If you’ve ever had an idea, it might have been a vision.  But a vision is different from just an idea.  A vision will answer questions you haven’t asked yet. Ideas don’t do that.

For instance, you start working on a game and then you get to a design issue and you’re like “What do we do, now?” Having a vision can answer those types of questions.

A vision is like a set of rules. Whenever you have an idea, you run it by the rules.

Here’s how having a vision saved a really good idea from being a really bad idea:

In Grindcraftia, the world map is literally all the matter in the game universe.  So I thought it would be cool to warp time, like relativity or something.  As you zoomed out, time sped up, and as you zoomed in, time slowed down.  People didn’t like it.  Plus most of our in-app purchases are things that speed up time or reduce the number of clicks.  So it was a bad idea. But there was something driving it, and I couldn’t figure out what it was.

So I go back to the drawing board, and look at the vision.

We want to be able to speed things up and slow things down.
Why?
Speed things up so the game is not a total grind.
Slow things down so you can manipulate on a granular scale.

Brainstorming:
One theme in the vision behind Grindcraftia is “multi-dimensionality.”
1.) You can go back in time.
2.) You can visit parallel universes.
3.) You can do molecular-level crafting.

Another rule in our vision is that if something can be in-game, it should be.  In order to get a map of the world, you have to craft it in the game.  And in order to get those multi-dimensional features, you have to build a time machine, or a quantum tunnel, or some kind of shrinkinator thing.

So putting that all together, we see that we need to also make a craftable machine that speeds up and slows down time.  Not just jump around in time but alter its speed.  Making it craftable means that it’s optional, so players have control, rather than forcing time to warp whenever you zoom.  And we can create an in-game store that sells them, or sells blueprints + raw materials (kits) to make them.  So we (the developers) win, too.

A vision answers questions  you can’t think of yet, and avoids bad ideas, sometimes even turning them into good ideas.

What’s This Thing about Passion?

For me, passion is like stacking the cards in your favor, so when difficulty comes along, you automatically plow through.  For me, passion comes at a cost. But the cost is not “hard work”.   The cost is being super honest with yourself about yourself.

I always thought passion was some magic thing, and only cool people knew what it was.  Like, if you’re successful, then you can talk about passion.  But if you’re not successful, then you obviously don’t have it and you can’t talk about it.

Lies!

But I didn’t know that, so I would think about passion as if it were another word for “will power.”  If I worked hard enough or believed in something enough, eventually I’d get what I wanted.  Not true, in my experience.

This is what I’ve been told from self-help gurus:

  • Get up early. Eat well. Get plenty of sleep.
  • Never give up. Always be ready for a new challenge.
  • Have a good attitude. Be positive.
  • Be excited about life.  Have confidence.
  • If there’s a problem, go talk to yourself in a mirror and tell yourself you can do it.

However, nothing from that list has ever worked for me.

  • I stay up late, eat sugar, and get 6 hours of sleep.
  • I give up frequently, frustrated in seconds.  But then frustration goes away. Sometimes I have hope that defies logic. But then that goes away, too. Sometimes dull, sometimes a rollercoaster.  Some things are enjoyably challenging, but I’m not “always ready for a new challenge”.
  • I’m not positive.  I’m not skeptical.  I’m critical.
  • I appreciate being alive, but its frequently circumstantial, my bad.  I have moments of confidence, and moments of stupidity and embarrassment.
  • Whenever I talk to myself, I create problems and then tell myself they’re unsolvable.

I don’t mean be “meh” all the time.  To the point, I fit the passion checklist like 25%, but it hasn’t stopped me.  So, I think passion is something totally different than what people tell you.

I think you can discover your passion by being honest with yourself.  I think you can discover a much deeper and stronger passion.

One that doesn’t need to constantly avoid obstacles but can weather any change.

One that doesn’t have to always be positive, but is strong enough to accomodate any emotion you may have.

One that doesn’t make you into a dream junky, but helps you to enjoy the pursuit.  It can fail as many times as it needs, and still keep going.

I think you can discover that thing in you that can hold its breath for years until circumstances change.  It can die and respawn. It can survive extreme adversity.  If it gets chopped up, it grows back.

Specifically, its taken me a long time.  After years of working “even harder,” it suddenly dawned on me that pure hard work was not working.  Staying busy was preventing me from taking an honest look at myself.

Because if you can get to the core of who you are, and be cool with that,
then you can say what your passion is in terms of who you honestly are.
And your passion will be as strong as your very existance.
Where you go, it goes.
What you go through, it goes through.
It never goes away.

I haven’t gotten there, but I’ve gotten closer by being honest than by doing anything else. I’m just talking about my experience.  The pursuit of looking in the proverbial mirror (and not talking) has had a greater and more immediate impact on how I develop games than any amount of hard work, or positive attitude.

I realized:

I’m not someone who shovels games out the door.
If that’s what it takes to be successful, that’s not me.

I don’t like catering to the latest fads and trends.
But if they fit what I’m doing, I like to use them as tools — a means to an end to create an Experience.

And shockingly, I’m not actually a game developer. My passion is not tied to a certain technology in a certain time.
I’m someone who crafts experiences and transports people into another world.

Some ‘Splainin To DO

I feel like fans of GrindCraft are wondering if I’m ever going to make another game.  Short answer: yes.  Big question: When?  When are we going to release another game?  Well, last month I made 20 games.  They’re very bad, purposely made in 3 hrs each, just to get some frustration off my chest and say I did something.  (If you really want to see them, ping me on discord.)  The real question is  “When are you going to make a good game?”  Good games are subjective.  I have to think that a game is good, otherwise I’m kidding myself that its going to get done.  Even if everybody else thinks its good, I’m the one coding it.  So I have to think its good.  There’s rules to make it the best it can be.  I understand the rules.  But if I’m not into it to begin with, its not going to happen.  I don’t always throw it out.  Sometimes it has to incubate.   I’m probably not going to make “Barbie Makeup Simulator.”  But I do want to do a dungeon crawler.  We’ve been planning on it for a long time, thinking about knights and archers and things.  Life got in the way (hospitalized family members, loss of job, etc.).  Investors came and went.  And during that time, the dungeon crawler was incubating.

Then, Tom Lintern, the artist behind Girrion, came up with an amazing idea.  My biz partner Seth took it and spun it into a card game.  And then everything started clicking.  So we’re back to our dungeon crawler, which is now a post-apocalyptic 1980’s mall crawler, DeathMall.

If you like StrangerThings, or TurboKid, or Danger5, then you know what I’m talking about.  Our game takes place in an endlessly-sprawling mall.  Shoppers browse for the best buys.  And vicious gangs are there to prey on them.  You play Fred, a buffet manager, and you’re fed up.  You decide to clean out the mall with your trusty party of fry cooks.  But instead of fighting a bunch of orcs, skeletons, and zombies, it’s The Killer Punk Assassins, The Suburban Mom Death Stalkers, and the Arcade Creep-Freaks (and more).  And instead of breaking open chests of gold, its glass displays, storefronts, and kiosks.  You might get a +10 nailgun from the hardware section of the department store.  Or you might get a Magic 8-Ball from the novelty shop that gives you a random item.  Or maybe a cool t-shirt that allows you to have even more followers in your gang.

The first release will be a short run of 4 or 5 levels.  If the game is well-received, we’ll continue on with more baddies, levels, in-app purchases, and multiplayer.  Here’s our Fred walk cycle:

So, that’s where we’re at.

Goodbye!

We’re the guys who made GrindCraft.  It’s been played 50+ million times since its release back in 2015.

 

GrindCraft was a perfect storm of opportunities and ideas.
Seth brought me the idea of idle games, pointing to the success of Adventure Capitalist.
I had just finished up a 2-year Minecraft build.
It was Christmas break and I had 30 days, so I decided to program an idle game based on Minecraft.
We released it, and people liked it.

We have the fans to thank in a huge way. Thank you, fans!
You all spread the game far and wide, made videos about it. There’s even a remastered version now.
But I have to mentally say goodbye to all of that and move on to other games.
I had a lot of plans for GrindCraft — more levels, a mobile version — but I have to let that go.
It’s easy to focus on a success and not be able to move past it.  So goodbye, GrindCraft. It was fun.

We’re still planning on releasing Withering Heights, a small GrindCraft sequel, and Grindcraftia, an idle mmo.  We’re working with an artist that has a card game on Kickstarter.  One of its stretch goals is a video game version, which we will make and use that time to also finish up Withering Heights.
Without finances (or an extra 30 days), there’s zero creative momentum, and projects usually die or dwindle.  Better to wait for the next perfect storm.
Welcome to my dev blog btw.