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July 21, 2017, 12:42:10 pm

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TIGSource ForumsFeedbackDevLogsBallad of the Space Bard: Queer musical adventure with a cause
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Author Topic: Ballad of the Space Bard: Queer musical adventure with a cause  (Read 723 times)
nathy grrrl
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« on: May 25, 2017, 10:36:56 am »





Welcome to U.T.A.H.

That is, the realm of Space where we'll be celebrating real-life Utah culture in an alternate universe with less mormons and homophobia!



What the hell?

This is a sci-fi game about a washed-up musician, inspired by BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, and life. We're working on our first prototype, but already have so many ideas and aspirations that it's hard to know what to put in the first post! Here's a peek at our Trello board:



Technical Info

This is my first game in Unity. I've been using frameworks like XNA, LibGDX, and SDL to build custom engines until now... And wow. It feels awesome to be working in C# again (my favorite language) and to have development moving so fast.

Right now the placeholder art is from sets licensed from Oryx (oryxdesignlab.com). Hopefully we'll find it in the budget to give the game its own visual identity, but for now, it's all about the audio and the gameplay!

Stay tuned...  Cheesy
« Last Edit: July 20, 2017, 04:35:39 pm by nathy grrrl » Logged

nathy grrrl
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« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2017, 12:01:15 pm »

Space Bard: Origins

I conceived of this game almost 2 years ago (November 16, 2015) when a silly pun popped into my head.



It ended up buried in one of my many Trello lists of wacky & stupid ideas, most of which come to nothing. I originally was envisioning a simple one-button BIT.TRIP Runner type rhythm platformer in space to get the experience of making a rhythm game. Maybe a game jam type thing. I definitely rolled it around in my head as something I could do on PICO-8 and make a bit of music myself. Composing game music is something that's been on my list forever and I still haven't done much to learn it.

The title Spacebard stuck in my head enough that several months ago when my musician friend Gavin Clements approached me and said "Let's make a game" it grew into a big vision. Usually when people with less gamedev experience approach me with ideas, or wanting to collaborate, I'm reticent and mostly send them off with a few pointers on getting started by themselves. This time, though, I kept mulling it over, and realized two things: I've been yearning to work on more collaborative projects for a long time since my main dev partner went to Berkeley, and working with a real musician I know personally is an amazing opportunity.

So my mind went Rhythm game -> That old Spacebard idea -> Space opera -> The first rhythm game that's actually a musical1 (meaning theatrical and story-focused) -> Rick and Morty/BoJack Horseman inspiration -> The main character is an alcoholic -> It's a story about recovery on a 12-step plan -> 12 levels -> 12-song original LP soundtrack.

We had our friend Ely Kauffman draw up some quick character concepts for the Bard (who I began to envision as a genderless or gender-fluid alien inspired by my own experience) and a few band members:






And that's the idea we first fell in love with. It changed dramatically from then till now, but I think we love it more and more.

I've got a lot to write about from the time since my original post, so I'm breaking it up into little chunks that won't divert my attention too far away from actual development. Subjects to come:

  • How queerness became a core part of our story and the Bard's character
  • Designing mechanics for the player to experience the Bard's gender fluidity
  • Why we abandoned making an OST, and how this helped the game find its identity
  • Networking in the Utah indie music community
  • Is it a rhythm game, or an adventure game?
  • Visual style?
  • Episodic release
  • Angling to be the Utah music game
  • Pivot to mobile?

Till next time. Wink



1Eventually I discovered that we wouldn't be the first game musical like I had thought. There's already Dominique Pamplemousse which became an early inspiration for some of our themes after I played it.
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2017, 05:15:24 pm »

Following for all the cool updates, like you always give man! Much luck with this one!
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nathy grrrl
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« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2017, 08:22:19 am »

Let me explain the Vibe

One of the earliest ideas we had when we decided to go for a melancholy/comedic tone for the story was that character interactions would be tied to a Mood system instead of a Morality system. Somehow, we wanted to tie this system to the rhythm gameplay also, letting the player make choices during songs that would affect the mood of the music AND the way NPCs react to you. (More later on how the first part of that equation will have to adapt now that we're using existing songs by local bands instead of original music.)

What we came up with is the Vibe. In the name of meaningfully representing life with mental illness, it will exist not only on a spectrum of happy/sad. We want it more complicated than that! In the name of scope control, though, I hope to limit its aspects to 4-5 emotions, possibly Strength (resilience), Joy (friendship, humor, dancing, etc), Depression, and anxiety. I want to make sure these elements are not fully under the player's control and easily "gamed" like a traditional morality system. Particularly, the latter 2 are often meaningless and randomly occurring, and I won't flinch from that in writing a humanistic narrative.


(Reference image source)

I have a concept in my head of the Vibe being displayed on the HUD sort of like the player character's face in DOOM or (more relevantly) like the Spiritual Barometer from I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream:



Character portraits brighten when you lead them to brave acts and moral redemption:



But we would be programatically splicing together 4 different Drama masks (also reflecting the theatricality of our vision) based on the current Vibe values. Maybe even coding the 4 masks (in 4 different colors) to swirl together like Rorschach's mask the way they visualized it in the Watchmen movie:



Another significance of using drama masks is the thematic question of finding self vs. changing masks. If I had to choose a single core mechanic (and I probably should), it would be the Vibe.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2017, 11:02:26 pm by nathy grrrl » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2017, 08:37:46 am »

i'm still reading thru this but just wanted to post that post-apocalyptic HR Gieger shred shed is very very good.  Hand Metal Left
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nathy grrrl
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« Reply #5 on: June 22, 2017, 02:51:16 pm »

Thanks for checking it out! Yeah, the Shred Shed was a much-loved venue in Salt Lake that closed down a few years back. We want to make a fitting tribute.  Noir
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nathy grrrl
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« Reply #6 on: July 09, 2017, 09:07:42 pm »

Major life events!

I got to go the Pride parade in Salt Lake City (my hometown & central inspiration for this game). SLC Pride was a great time, mostly because I was there with great friends, so it didn't matter that the parade itself is now overrun by pandering politicians, religious groups celebrating how great they are at being allies, and companies like Comcast for some reason advertising their trash.

I went to New York for 5 days and it was WORDSCANNOTDESCRIBEHOWAMAZING Kiss



Coincidentally NYC Pride was happening during my visit. It wasn't any better than SLC Pride...

But I got to go to the Gamedevs of Color Expo where I played some incredible games, talked with other Visual Novel devs, and listened to tons of new perspectives broadening my worldview and cementing my desire to make sure Utah's people of color are well-represented in Space Bard. The afterparty at Babycastles was brilliant, where I got to make even more friends, play and admire the wonderful game/art exhibit hosted there, and discovered some great musicians.

Take a look at a few of the wonderful people I met:

Catt Small
Alex A.K.
Sammus

I've been listening to Sammus's podcast which is great both for creative motivation, and learning more about music and writing (the heart and soul of this project).

I came out as trans/genderqueer/genderfluid to all of my family, friends, and the internet at large. It went inconceivably better than you might expect, bringing in an overwhelming amount of love and support, including Patreon pledges almost quadrupling my stable gamedev income! The experience of now being able to express myself more fully in public has made me much more confident about writing a game that celebrates queerness. I don't want the Bard's character to be 100% a surrogate for myself, but expanding my own personal experiences will absolutely bring more color and life to the writing.

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nathy grrrl
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« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2017, 09:36:34 am »

Less talk more rokk

I came back from New York painfully aware that I've been doing so much brainstorming and hype-building (in myself and others) for Space Bard, but putting dismally little actual time into development. Into gamedev in general, actually. There was a last-minute opening for a speaker at the local Indie Game Night, and I decided to wrap all of my lessons and new enthusiasm from New York into a talk, and start a new project to force myself to do gamedev every day.

I'll post the talk soon enough, but I still need to annotate the video with links and explanations, and it might be longer if I decide to give my Patreon supporters early access to it.

The thesis of my talk was: design like a crazy person, eviscerate your creative self-doubts, and remove every obstacle to developing quickly and releasing a lot of games. To put my money where my mouth is, I started a daily episodic Twine game: Stream of Pretentiousness, a slice-of-life type thing. I'm posting about it on an itch.io dev log, and also Glorious Trainwrecks which I hope will be another good online community to indulge in my new ethos of pumping out wacky junk.

As for Space Bard, I decided to hell with the placeholder Oryx pixel art which wasn't great for putting me in the mood of rampant self-expression central to the project.

I found a box of colored pencils (crayons having been my first choice) and drew up a couple of dank spritesheets and a new logo:





7 styles for the Bard to experiment with. I think the Bard will be some kind of shape-shifter or skilled illusionist, who can try on any appearance or identity at will. (And yes, that will include masculine styles as well, although I've only drawn one here.) This makes the Bard an excellent cover musician, which is how we explain the player playing music from so many different bands as the same character.



Some icons for the four aspects of the Vibe that I listed in the last post.

It's all extremely temporary programmer art... or IS IT?!?

I coded up a quick system in Unity to track the 4 Vibe values (Joy, Resolve, Depression, Anxiety) where increasing one of them subtracts from the others, implying a balance or a push and pull between different feelings. By writing this system, I was forced to consider its edge cases and limitations, so I think I've come up with a better one. More on that later!



Learning Twine for Stream of Pretentiousness turned out to be a huge boon for Space Bard, because the dialogue system will almost certainly be Twine-based thanks to a Unity asset recommended by TheWanderingBen (thanks!!) in his dev log for A Case of Distrust.

Oh and I'm streaming again now! I've tried gamedev streaming on Twitch for various projects in the past, and always lost steam. This time feels different, though! So hop on over and follow my channel if you feel like it. I'm actually streaming RIGHT NOW, so!

Nat Quayle Nelson on Twitch
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nathy grrrl
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« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2017, 05:06:55 pm »

Mental health day

Today I felt more depressed and exhausted than I have since school ended for the summer. It was awful getting up in the morning and having only the energy to force myself through books when I had planned a lot more for my day. But (and thank the stars I realized this as early as I did!) it was either gonna be a mental health day or a mental collapse day, and I chose the first one. (Featuring: Authority by Jeff VanderMeer, literally cuddling with a giant teddy bear, burning incense and polishing off Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Art of the Animated Series.)

And guess what? I feel way, way better now, good enough that I was able to do my daily Twine and I'm gonna go out for a movie after this.

Aside from sharing an experience with my mental illness to perhaps prepare you for the kind of themes to expect in Ballad of the Space Bard, I thought it would be worthwhile sharing what was running through my head while I studied the production process behind Avatar, one of my all-time favorite works from any artistic medium.

Today on Stream of Pretentiousness: The Inspiration Paradox



What is this, a crossover episode? Cheesy To go along with this part you might want to play today's entry in my daily Twine game/story: Go to 7/20/17: The Inspiration Paradox.

I set excruciatingly high expectations for myself. This is a weakness, not a strength, and I'm working on it. When I have an original idea like Space Bard it can grow into an infinitely complex/abstract/expanding plethora of visions for what the project will be, what it will express, and how it will change the world. (They laughed at co-working when I said "I will consider the game a success only if it converts at least one person to atheism with a positive attitude.") Part of these visions for Space Bard is that the game be visually stimulating and present players with a frenetically fun environment full of zany characters,1 dancing,2 and musical energy.3 Meanwhile I'm here making my own doodles in colored pencil. At some point I've gotta face it: I don't have the budget, skill, or teammates I need to even approach what's going on in my head. Instead, I need to get crafty.

Something that hit home reading about Avatar is how big of a crew it takes to stuff a scene with original, expressive character designs. Lately I've been taking selfies and pictures of my friends' outfits that I think would make cool styles for the Bard... so I thought, why not take this all the way? The Bard's many forms will all be adapted from my friends in real life, characters in other great media, etc... And in many ways I like this approach even better than the ambitious "let's draw our own fantastic dancing aliens" one, because Space Bard is about a young creative person entering the world of very talented people and trying to find her own place in all that. Just like me! And the honest truth of that journey is that it starts with a whole lot of emulation & imitation of others. Hell, this is only my first step into original story and worldbuilding: my first real game was an adaptation! Baby steps are called for.


Reference materials
1 Spirited Away, Rick and Morty, BoJack Horseman, Avatar: The Last Airbender...
2 Myself letting go in concerts, parties, zumba classes...
3 Baby Driver, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, La La Land...
« Last Edit: July 20, 2017, 08:59:26 pm by nathy grrrl » Logged

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