Toytles: Leaf Raking Progress Report – Having a Dialog

A few weeks ago, I started working on a new set of updates for my leaf-raking business simulation Toytles: Leaf Raking, originally released in 2016.

I wanted to focus on making the neighborhood come to life by giving it some personality and character. I plan to do so by allowing your neighbors to talk about story lines happening in their lives.

My current project plan is in a spreadsheet I manage through LibreOffice, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, it took me quite a few months before I could focus on it. It mostly came together in June.

The original plan was broken down into weekly sprints, and I decided to continue to do so despite not having nearly as much capacity to get much done in a given sprint. Still, having a plan did wonders for my productivity.

What follows is a quick report on how the last few weeks have been.

Sprint 1: Start of personality injection

The first sprint was from June 21st to June 27th, and I wanted to get a few things done:

  • Give player option to accept a client when visiting a neighbor
  • Update copyright date on title screen
  • Chat w/ Mr. Matt at General Store
  • Give each neighbor unique chat text

Before that sprint, visiting a neighbor was the same as asking for work. Effectively, it meant you never visited anyone because you didn’t want to take on too many clients, which meant most of the neighborhood was pointless. This change should open up the way towards future work which will allow the neighbors to have more personality and give the player a reason to chat with them that doesn’t involve cold calling them for business.

I wanted to add the ability to talk to the store owner for the same reason. He doesn’t even exist in the game except for his name being on the store, and I want to make him a living, breathing character, too.

I wanted to update the copyright date to make it dynamic instead of baked into the title screen art, which should make it easier to update in the future. It was a fairly straightforward change.

And once you can visit a neighbor without asking for work, I wanted the ability to hear each neighbor say something unique when you call upon them. This change should mean that the neighbors are no longer essentially interchangeable numbers in a simulation, even if it is only one piece of dialog.

For that sprint, I did 2.5 hours of game development. It may not sound like much, but…well, it isn’t much. But again, we’re in a pandemic, I have kids, and there was some turmoil at my day job, so all in all, I think 2.5 hours sounds like plenty. Well, not really. I still worry when I don’t get much done in any given week, lamenting that if I was focused full time on it that I could probably get it all done in a day, but I’m trying not to dwell on it.

Unfortunately, I only got the copyright update and the visit option done.

Sprint 2: Start of personality injection (continued)

It took the next sprint to get the other two pieces of work accomplished, and that took me 7.75 hours of work, which included putting together the v1.4.0 release for both Android and iOS.

Mr. Cardinal's greeting

Sprint 3: Start of personality injection (continued)

Ok, so my first update to Toytles: Leaf Raking has introduced the tiniest amount of personality to the neighbors. To build upon it, last week’s sprint from July 5th to July 11th focused on writing more dialog:

  • Give each neighbor unique text as clients
  • Give each neighbor unique text as ex-clients

There are 19 neighbors currently in the game. The v1.4.0 release has the neighbors say something unique, and now I wanted them to say one thing as a prospective client, one thing as a client, and one thing if they become an ex-client.

For example, Mrs. Smith is a sweet neighbor who loves it when you visit, so she says, “It’s always a pleasure to see you.”

Once she hires you, she says, “I’m so proud of you. It’s a joy to see you work hard. I’m sure you’ll go far in life.”

And if she has to fire you for doing a poor job of raking her leaves, she says, “Well, not everything works out. I’m sure you’ll bounce back.”

Not all the neighbors are so nice.

Last week I did 3.75 hours of game development, finishing the sprint very late on Saturday night. Considering I also spent 2 hours writing a blog post and a newsletter mailing to announce the published update from earlier in the week, I felt like I did well to make time for the project, all things considered.

I also gained a greater appreciation for the work of game writers.

Sprint 4: More personality injections

Which brings me to this week’s sprint:

  • Give each neighbor unique text as unhappy clients
  • Add variation to weekend flavor text

Currently, if a client is not happy with you, you will learn about it in the morning from your mother. She will inform you which clients are worried that their lawns are not being taken care of, often when over half of the lawn is covered in leaves.

Mom about to tell you bad news

But if you talk to those clients, they will continue to say the same thing they said before. Giving them something to say when they are still clients but are also concerned about your work is once again adding a little more personality and character into the game. Eventually I’d like to get to the point where the way they say something is impacted by your reputation with them, the weather, and possibly anything that is happening in their lives unrelated to your work.

Another area of the game that could use some variety is the weekend text. On weekdays, you wake up, go to school, and then come home to start your day. On weekends, however, you currently get to hear about one of two dreams you have. I want to add at least one more weekend dialog for each week.

Eventually that weekend dialog should have random events, such as a neighbor willing to pay double for getting to their lawn that day, or perhaps you learn that a client has a nephew in town who raked their leaves for them so you aren’t needed that day. But that kind of feature will be for a future update.

Until next sprint

I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes report of my progress on Toytles: Leaf Raking’s Personality Injection updates. I plan to provide a weekly report going forward.

While I would love to have a huge big bang update to release with a ton of changes, I will instead be working slowly but surely, adding a little character each time. Eventually, the game will feel completely different, but I will get there one step at a time.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

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Say Hello to Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.0

I just released a new update for Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. Learn how to get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Version 1.4.0 is a small update that allows the neighbors to express themselves in unique ways.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Before this update, the neighbors were all mostly interchangeable. They had a unique picture and name, and each had their own house in the neighborhood, but otherwise they were identical in terms of behavior. They could hire you, but then you would never hear from them again unless they fired you.

Mr. Cardinal's greeting

Now you have the option to visit with your neighbors, and they will each have a unique greeting for you.

Even the store owner, Mr. Matt, has something to say, whereas before he only existed in the name of the store and otherwise made no appearance in the game.

Mr. Matt's greeting

This latest version is the first of what I refer to as the “Personality Injection” updates.

My plan is to slowly add multiple storylines for each of the 20 or so neighbors and provide ways for your actions to potentially impact them. For example, Mr. Cardinal, your first client, is an inventor, and one of his storylines will follow his attempts at creating something that gives him the prestige he has always desired.

It’s my attempt to give the game more character, and I look forward to exploring the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and fears of the town’s inhabitants.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

Mere Hours Left for itch.io’s Racial Justice Bundle

I was surprised to learn that people I know who I consider to be the kind who spend a lot of time in game news didn’t know about this bundle, but the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality sale is about to end in a few hours.

We reached out to our community and an unprecedented number of creators donated over 740 projects to be part of what we believe is the largest bundle ever. Over $3,400 of paid works are available Pay-what-you-want with a minimum donation amount of $5.

All proceeds will be donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund split 50/50.

What’s amazing about this bundle? A few things:

  • Hundreds of creators joined in the bundle after it started, so now there are over 1,700 items available. Most are games, whether video games or table-top games, but some are tools, asset packs, engines, plugins, audio files, soundtracks, etc.
  • So far, over $7 million has been raised through this bundle. That means each of the organizations are getting at least $3.5 million by the time the sale ends.
  • They’re all DRM-free, and many are available for multiple platforms, such as GNU/Linux, Mac, Android, and Windows, and some are for the PICO-8 (which is also in the bundle), and some are for your web browser.
  • You only need to contribute a minimum of $5 to purchase over $9,000 worth (but feel free to contribute more)!

If you’re into video games, there are some prominent indie titles, such as Overland, Night in the Woods, Celeste, Wheels of Aurelia, Nuclear Throne, Minit, and Quadrilateral Cowboy, among others. There’s…a lot to sift through, and hopefully itch.io makes it easier to peruse the games in the bundle soon.

If you’re into table-top RPGs, there are multiple campaigns, rulesets, and even tools to help create maps. I’m not as informed about what is going on in this area, but I was delighted to see such a variety that wasn’t just D&D.

If you are a game developer, there are design tools such as TTRPG Design Lenses, art packs, audio packs, tilesets, and more. Oh, and PICO-8 is there, so you can make small games for a virtual game console.

It’s amazing how much of the game community came together to make a dent in injustice.

Want Peace? Demand Justice

A man was murdered by a police officer who walked away free that day.

Almost everyone on my social media feeds who usually posts their concerns about a police state and tyranny? Silent.

Then people took to the streets to protest the abuse of power by the police, the police escalated, and then there was destruction of property.

Suddenly there’s clutching of pearls and tsk-tsks and smarmy comments about how wrong and counterproductive it is.

A man was murdered by a police officer, who got arrested only after people took to the streets to demand justice, and it is very clear who is actually worried about tyranny and injustice and who just wants to pretend they do.

Black Lives Matter. The lives of people matter. Buildings and consumer products should not matter nearly so much.

If you don’t want to see destruction in the streets, stop tolerating abuse and extrajudicial executions carried out by your police.

Demand accountability.

Demand justice.

Don’t demand peace from the people who are getting murdered and who have tried peacefully protesting, which has been met with vitriol and anger anyway.

If you truly want peace, then you want justice.

There is no other way.

Happy Indie Day to Me

May 21st is my own personal Independence Day. Even after running out of money and returning to corporate welfare, it’s a day that holds a lot of meaning for me.

10 years ago, I went to Chief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant to celebrate my last day working at a company that made slot machines.

Chief O’Neill’s is where we went to send people off whenever someone moved or changed jobs, and I remember realizing that no one was organizing an outing to do so for my last day.

Welp.

I told everyone that I was going to Chief’s, and for the remainder of the afternoon, people from work came in and out, hung out with me, and wished me luck on my next endeavor. It was a pleasant time.

Two weeks before, I had given my notice that I was quitting to pursue full-time indie game development.

Rereading the comments from other indies and friends from my blog post about going full-time indie brings tears to my eyes every time. Everyone is so encouraging and supportive. And I love how since that time I’ve even met some of you in person!

When I reported how things were going 6 months into my indie journey, which was frankly embarrassingly not well due to a lack of focus and direction, I got even more advice and encouragement.

You know, I miss everyone being into blogging rather than toxic social media.

Anyway, within a couple of years, I ran out of money and ended up back in a job, as I said. I wrote a bit about it in I Have a Day Job Again, but it was hard to go back to a day job, partly because I felt like I had squandered an opportunity.

I remember the first day. The commute felt foreign. Sitting in a cube and seeing everyone else sitting in their cubes felt foreign and familiar at the same time. I remember it feeling wrong.

And then I remember the day when I noticed that the day job didn’t feel different anymore, when it felt normal and I hadn’t noticed, and it was another sad day for me.

When I went back to having a day job, I figured it would be for just a couple of years at most. I would do what I did before, working on my business on the side, saving up money, and building myself a runway.

I’ve been working a day job for about 8 years now.

Most of the following comes from a tweet thread I did late last year.

10 years ago, I took a leap, and I hovered for a bit, but then fell.

I’d like to say that I’ve been trying to get back up in the air ever since, but things are different for me now.

Actually, I’ve considered myself an indie game developer for about 20 years, most of it very, very part-time.

I struggle with whether I can still call myself an indie game developer due to my lack of significant output in all that time.

When I was five years into it, I once asked a question on IRC & the response I got was not terribly helpful. That’s fine. But it ended with “I wouldn’t worry about it at this stage.”

Me: This stage?

Them: As a beginner.

I felt quite insulted at the presumption, but then again, I hadn’t shipped anything in those five years.

I have both the identity of a veteran and a never-was. It’s a weird place to be to think that I don’t have a beginner’s mind about game dev when maybe I need it more than ever, but, like, no, kid, you don’t need to introduce the concept of a navmesh to me.

And since I’m older, married, and have kids, plus have some volunteer work, my indie game development time is a lot more constrained than it used to be.

I used to have this fear that time was running out, that I needed to work faster to get something out before it was too late.

And by too late, I mean I was worried that once kids entered the picture, if I hadn’t gotten my business off the runway, it wasn’t going to get off that runway.

I feel like, 20 years later, I have the skills, the knowledge, the business sense, and more, but I’m not practicing it regularly, so I’m atrophying and falling behind.

Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for stress and anguish, but it’s hard sometimes seeing others building upon past successes while I’m still trying to build upon past failures. They are inspiring, but they’re also a reminder that I’m not as far along as I thought I’d be by now.

My priorities aren’t the same. Some people take on mortgages and credit card debt to get their runway extended and give their all. I never went into debt, but I quit my job once and had no income for a year while I tried to make indie dev work.

I’m not in that position anymore.

I think if I had a 2nd chance to focus full-time on indie game dev, I would do a much, much better job of running my business as a business, unlike last time when I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels on unfocused game dev and almost nothing on customers or marketing.

But I’m no longer in that position.

I have a family to take care of.

So my current indie game development plan for the last few years has been to slowly build up something until it becomes my primary source of income.

I just worry that there is such as thing as “too slow” and that I’m fooling myself.

I always had it in my head that one day I would eventually be a full-time indie game developer again.

Today’s not that day.

But today I am a husband, a father (that one is still new), an advocate for transgender rights, a speaker, a writer (even though I don’t blog as regularly as I used to), and a very, very part-time indie game developer.

My life is very full, and I often stress myself out trying to fill it even more, especially when I don’t see what’s there for what it is.

Part of it is greed. I want to experience and learn EVERYTHING. I want to turn my backyard into a garden. I want to learn how to play guitar. I want to learn Italian and maybe another language. I want to learn how to cook. I want to play soccer regularly again.

And I am running into the limitations of doing all of that while I have a day job AND a part-time business AND volunteer work AND being with family.

I’ve always liked the idea of being a Renaissance man. Why pigeon-hole myself into a single job or identity?

But, hoo, I’ve discovered in the last year or two that there are limits, and sacrificing sleep is a loser’s game, it turns out.

I realized I needed to start saying no to things a long time ago, but I haven’t quite internalized how much I have to say no to.

I had a side contract that I finished recently, which freed up the limited time I currently dedicate to it, but what kind of effort can I dedicate to my business?

Again, I worry there is a minimum amount of time and effort that I’m not going to be able to give with my current plan of working on my business on the side.

It would be one thing if I was Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a mountain and having to do it again and again. It’s another if I am barely budging the boulder while it grows moss.

I don’t know if I am mourning a past life or just the illusion of it.

I still identify as an indie game developer. I still expect that I will make games in the future as an indie game developer.

But what if I’m wrong?

This isn’t Imposter Syndrome. I don’t worry that I’ll be found out that I’m a fraud.

It’s more like I’m concerned that I’ve deluded myself into thinking I’m an indie game developer when any independent observer would think, “Eh, but are you really?”

I moved to Des Moines, Iowa in 2010 thinking that I would be a major driver of the indie game development scene, and instead I’ve been MIA from local meetups for many months. I have only recently been getting back into it, and I don’t have the energy or time to be a real leader there. I’ve had to be fine with being a participant who just happens to have access to the admin discussions.

I haven’t participated in game jams in years, and that was at least an area I could point at and say “See what I did as a game developer?”

The only fully complete game I’ve made commercially is from 2016. The contract game is finished and out, so that’s something to feel good about, but other than a name in the credits, it’s not really my game.

But I think the priority I give my indie game development isn’t where I would like it to be. There are competing priorities, and that’s a big part of the struggle I have with my identity as an indie game developer. A giant chunk of my waking hours are taken up with Not Game Dev, and the things that are Not Game Dev? Well, I’m not willing to sacrifice them for a variety of reasons.

And since I’m getting older, I’m finding myself getting tired sooner. It could be the lack of exercise? But it’s a phenomenon that I’ve noticed. So I don’t find myself spending as much time pushing past sleep to try to get some productivity in because I just can’t do it like I used to.

Still, May 21st is my Indie Day.

And I can lament all that isn’t going well when it comes to being an indie game developer, but what blessings can I count?

  • My business has a purpose, vision, and mission. It didn’t 10 years ago. My definition of success is not merely the default “I’m making money making games” and instead is focused on encouraging curiosity and supporting creativity.
  • My contract game development for the last two years has allowed me to throw significant money into my business accounts. It’s not quit your job money, but it’s money that means my business has turned a real profit for the first time in many years.
  • It also means that I have some money to spend on making my games better than they could be if I didn’t have the resources.
  • My 2016 game, which hasn’t seen an update in a few years, is now available for iOS and has new updates coming.
  • My insistence on ignoring the current hotness, whether it was Flash or Unity or casual game portals, and focusing on just doing what I was doing means that after all of these years, what I’m doing is still relevant somehow. Continuing to use C++ and SDL2 and focusing on supporting multiple platforms means that my games aren’t lost to some 3rd party’s decision to obsolete their technology. It might mean I don’t get to take advantage of some neat developments in existing game engines, but it also means that when something goes wrong, I feel empowered to figure it out and fix it rather than frustrated that someone else is not doing so for me.
  • I’ve got years of experience and insight into what does and does not work for me, and I know what I’m willing and not willing to do.

So happy Indie Day to me. It’s been years since I was a full-time indie game developer, and it might be years before I can do it again, but I was independent once, and it will forever be a part of me.

Twitter: gbgames

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