The games I didn’t finish making this year

It’s about that time of year when people like to start making year-in-review posts of various kinds, and I have to admit: while I did have a lot going on in 2018, I feel like I have very little to show for it, especially in a game-making sense. So, in the spirit of queer failure, here are some games I started working on in 2018 but didn’t get around to finishing.

The Commune

After finishing you used to be someone last year, I thought about working on another 3D walking simulator-type game in Unity with flat 2D graphics, only in a more hand-drawn cartoon style. I thought about having it be about wandering around a failed queer commune in a speculative universe not unlike our own, and piecing together what happened to it.

Then, after that, I got so intrigued by the idea of the failed queer commune that I started thinking instead about exploring that concept as something happening in the present, rather than as something that already happened. So, I played around with the idea of having the player character be an outside mediator who shows up at this commune that’s about to fail, and has conversations with its remaining members to help them figure out whether to stay together or sell the property and disband.

The more I thought about this, the more I started to feel like a visual novel would be a better format to explore than a walking simulator, so I started taking a look at Ren’Py (an engine I haven’t used before, but that seemed pretty straightforward to pick up) and also drew a few character portraits:

But then, in this weird, almost prescient kind of way, real life ensued: a band I play in wound up in a similar sort of conflict, up to and including bringing in external mediation. This game idea then felt way too close to home to continue working on, so I shelved it. But who knows: maybe one day, I’ll come back to it; maybe it’ll wind up morphing into something else.

Brecht to the Future

This game idea came pretty much entirely from its title, which was an off-hand joke comment someone made after I posted a picture of books I was reading for my comprehensive exams1 on my instagram. I, of course, thought the idea of a Brechtian remake of Back to the Future sounded awesome and hilarious, so I made this logo:

I started out writing this game in Twine, with the intent of entering it in this year’s annual Interactive Fiction Competition, which I haven’t done for the last 5 years or so. The premise was that you, the player character, were in conversation with me, Squinky, as I told you about this weird new game/performance art piece I was writing, called Brecht to the Future. It was going to start out as a straight-up parody/satire, in which a teenage boy named Whyte Mann from the year 1985 (which, as I noted, also happens to be the year of my birth) is, for some reason, friends with an old man named The Professor who gets him to test out his time machine. But then, it was going to get all weird and meta and delve into my own anxieties about masculinity and time and the world we live in today. I don’t entirely know where I was going with it. The fonts and colours kept changing a lot, though.

At some point, I decided to scrap the idea of a Twine game and instead turn this premise into an actual interactive theatre thingy, in the vein of Coffee: A Misunderstanding. By this time, NaNoWriMo was on the horizon, so I decided I’d use that as an opportunity to crank out a bunch of writing. This iteration renamed the main characters to Marky McDude and Professor White, and more strongly characterized the former as a guy perpetually confused about why people keep treating him as the “chosen one” fated to uphold white male supremacy, and the latter as a skeevy Jordan Peterson-esque authority figure who cares a little too much about his right to sleep with his students. While I did manage to generate some writing I felt proud of,2 in the end, the premise itself just wasn’t enough to keep my momentum going, and I ended up ragequitting after about two weeks. Some joke ideas are best left as jokes, I suppose.

Now, I’m working on a completely different interactive theatre project, which will be part of my dissertation proposal, which I am admittedly currently procrastinating on by writing this blog post. Hooray?

Robot Slow Dance

I’ve had a thing for dioramas for a while, and have been wanting to make some kind of interactive game/diorama installation for a while. Also, since finishing The Truly Terrific Traveling Troubleshooter with Jess, I’ve been wanting to make more games that fit entirely in carry-on suitcases.

The idea for Robot Slow Dance came to me at some point while Jess and I were showing rustle your leaves to me softly at Ars Electronica last September. I saw a lot of art I liked, but there was this interactive diorama involving a talking robot you could tweet to that particularly inspired me. I then started to design a two-player game where you make robots dance with each other, and they say various things (in very robotic text-to-speech voices, of course) depending on how and where the players move them.

I actually got as far as buying some electronics and getting a bunch of servo motors to move via a couple of arcade joysticks, but alas, I’ve had to also put this project on hold because I’ve been busy with that aforementioned dissertation proposal. I do hope to pick it up again sometime in the new year, though.

And that’s that for unfinished projects! Will 2019 will be a better year for having actual tangible things to show for my efforts? Who knows!

  1. Which I did pass, so hooray for at least accomplishing something this year.
  2. My favourite scene was one in which Marky meets a woman named Marlene who, unbeknownst to him, is actually her future self post-transition, in a sort of nod to when Michael J. Fox played Marty’s daughter in the second movie.