4 Hugues Ross - Blog: 09/01/2017 - 10/01/2017
Hugues Ross


Update: Thinking About the Future, and Looking to the Past

Thanks to my shoulder, I've had a lot of time to think lately. I'm not very happy with the work that I've produced over the years, and I think that something fundamental needs to change. If you don't care too much about the specifics, you can scroll to the last heading for a quick summary of what I plan to do.

...Still here? Alright. Let's look back over the past 5 years.

In the beginning...

In late 2012, I was an eager and bright-eyed lad who was ready to try out this whole blogging thing. I was primarily inspired by the work of Shamus Young, whose blog I'd been following for a few years. To some degree, I think it shows:

"Shamus wrote some really great D&D stories, I should document the D&D campaign that I'm playing now!"
"Shamus wrote about some cool programming projects. I should do cool programming projects and write about them!"
"Shamus has a webcomic. I should do art stuff!"

He wasn't the only influence, but certainly the strongest. I also remember seeing video creators on Youtube and webcomic artists putting out work several times a week. For that reason, I created this ridiculous daily posting schedule. One thing that I failed to consider was that these individuals did nothing but make what they were posting. Indeed, for many of them this was their job, and I've heard that many such creators work well over 40 hours a week to keep such schedules. This plan of mine was doomed from the start, because I chose to try and mimic people who were quite different from me.

Alas, looking at work made by someone else and thinking that it's cool doesn't always help your own work. I couldn't simply copy Shamus's work, so the blog spent a long time being updated intermittently, with occasional apologies and failed promises.

Good projects, and AMAZE-ingly bad decisions

Around early to mid 2013, I started one of the projects that would last throughout this blog's life: Singularity. I started it with no plan, merely creating it out of necessity. Despite that, I could argue that it's also my most successful project: I created something just for myself, with no expectations, and ended up with something nice. Keep these italicized sentences in mind, they'll be important later.

Singularity is not all that I started then, either. During the summer, I also started AMAZE and the "Games I Play" series. The latter was about as doomed as my first schedule, and here's why:

I still remember how the concept of "Games I Play" was conceived. I had the problem of having too many untouched games in my Steam library, and no time to actually play them. Why was there no time? Well, I had to work on projects and post about them online! In other words...
  1. The Problem: No time to play games, because I had to work and blog.
  2. The Solution: Make games part of the work and blogging.
Seems pretty damn stupid in hindsight, huh? But hey, "Shamus Young writes about the games he plays, I should do that!" Here we have a time commitment issue, and a response that worsens the true problem in an effort to be someone else.

Now, let's talk about my darling AMAZE. Despite how much I hate the final product, AMAZE was ok as a subject. I posted screenshots, and wrote regularly about the things I was interested in! However, there's an interesting trend hidden in the AMAZE posts. As I became less interested and more "serious" to hit deadlines that I'd set, my blog posts went from this to this. Excitement and screenshots gave way to changelogs and walls of text. Once again, these two projects demonstrate a simple fact: I produce the best content when I'm excited and engaged with it, not when I feel obliged to make it. Obvious, I know. But let's move on, there's more to cover.

Total overkill

I'm skipping Space Douchebag because the same conclusions can be drawn from it as from AMAZE. Instead, we now fast-forward to 2014, DFEngine, and Akradion. Technically, DFEngine began with AMAZE, but this point is when I really got serious about it. As I've elaborated before, the concept of DFEngine was flawed. Trying to make a full-blown game engine because I'm too slow to iterate is like trying to build the LHC because there's a mosquito in your room: Not only is it a glorious waste of time, it also makes absolutely no sense. I still believe that DFGame will be a better bet in the long run, as it's mostly just a way to skip writing boilerplate code.

So, what about Akradion and Cloudy Climb? Besides being the first projects made after a DFGame version, they have one other thing in common. Rather than being games that I dreamed of and was excited for, they were instead an attempt to prove something. Ultimately, both games suffered dearly because of that. My line of reasoning when making these games went a little like this:
  1. If I'm making a game engine, it obviously needs a physics engine. That's a thing that game engines have.
  2. I need to make a game to prove that this game engine idea works
  3. My game engine has physics, so I need to make a game with physics to prove that the physics engine works.
 That set of thoughts above has many problems. Let's dissect them a little:
  1. My games have always been simple and 2D. Obviously I didn't need a physics engine, I had never used one before!
  2. As it turns out, making a full-length game just to be sure that some tech works is a huge waste of time. I keep doing it too, it's a bad habit. This is why I forced myself to keep the demos I'm making for dfgame as small and simple as possible.
  3. Neither Akradion nor Cloudy Climb are actually good choices for testing a physics engine! Seriously! Akradion is a game that relies on an object that retains constant velocity at all times, a worst-case scenario for physics! Cloudy Climb only really makes use of gravity, so a big physics engine is totally unnecessary.
In other words, a project that started as a supposed time-saving measure wandered off course in an attempt to make a fancy game engine. It then split into more projects, which were doomed from the start because I'm a bad planner. Ultimately, DFEngine was about a one and a half year-long diversion from what I cared about. I'm actually ok with most of that, since trying out things that interest me is fun. However, looking at the posts you can see the usual changelog post structure from AMAZE take over after a while.

Why teach?

Next, let's discuss tutorials. The roguelike tutorial series that has been in progress for years has never really reached a point where I was happy with it. So why did I start it? For that matter, why am I still writing it? Let's discuss.

I spent many years learning to program and make games. I actually started all of this back in middle school with Game Maker, only transitioning to more "professional" tools once I started college. Throughout my life (even now, in fact), I've regularly referred to guides and tutorials in order to learn various tricks and techniques. For much of that time, I felt a desire to give back with tutorials of my own once I got good at my craft.

Unlike the many of the blog-related decisions I've made, the decision to write tutorials in general had decent reasoning behind it. Furthermore, I think it'll work out eventually. So, why was the roguelike tutorial a failure for me?

At the time, I wanted to make an ASCII strategy game of sorts. When I returned to the project, I had a cool roguelike idea that I wanted to make. I don't think that's a coincidence. Rather than simply make the games that I wanted to, I found an excuse to try and work on something similar, via tutorials. Rather than just doing what I wanted, I invented a new series of posts to 'legitimize' my desire as an extension of my blog. It's no wonder then that the tutorial was never well thought-out or exciting to me. I wanted to do something else the whole time! Compare the forced and lackluster entries that I've been putting out lately to something like this post, and you'll see a world of differences.

Unfortunate truths

Ok, I think that's enough tiptoeing around the subject. What do all of these events point to? What's my point writing this? Well, it's really quite simple:

By forcing myself to only do "blog-worthy" things, and acting beholden to a theoretical reading audience, I'm harming both my blog's quality and my own life.
That's a conclusion that's taken about 2 months to reach. The one thread that ties many of my threads together is an attempt to emulate the content creators that I like. I envision myself as them, and imagine that I have an audience the same size that they do. Often, I make decisions based off of this. It's why I feel an urge to apologize at every delay and schedule change. It's the true reason why I just can't leave a series that I don't enjoy alone. To some degree, it also stops me from making progress. Every month, I spend:
  • ~1 week preparing, recording, and editing an update video
  • ~1-2 weeks writing a new segment of the roguelike tutorial
  • 2-4 days writing some other post
That leaves me with only a week or two to actually work on DFGame. It also keeps me from trying out new ideas and iterating. I've had a lot of really cool project ideas since I started work, and I've had no choice but to put them off until "after DFGame".

Except, that's not true at all. I have a choice to stop and do what I want, whenever I want. The only thing that stops me is my schedule. The only reason I have a schedule is to guarantee regular content on my blog. And why do I need to guarantee that? See Above.

The almighty power of boredom

Let me tell you a little story:

About a year ago, I had a cool game idea. The game in question would involve some fairly heavy adult content, so it wasn't "blog-worthy" at all. At the time, I was still adjusting to life in Montreal and figuring out post-immigration stuff. I also had a few issues in my life that put me in a bad position for a while, and I wasn't sure if I could keep writing the blog due to my job.

Since I didn't want to work on my blog, I worked on the game. In just a few scant months, I wrote an entire engine from scratch, complete with a data-driven dynamic UI system. I started writing down ideas, building roadmaps for development, drawing first-draft animated sprites for characters, etc. Then, I got the greenlight to blog again and I haven't touched the project since!

Flowcharts tracking development progress.
The bottom red circle was a public demo release.
So close, yet so far...

You see, I've written in the past about how blogging with a schedule keeps me productive and how vital it is, but at the end of the day you can lock me in a room for 3 months with no blog and I'll still write yet another game engine. Development is what I do. It comes naturally, and trying to keep to a rigid schedule or only focus on one thing for a long time doesn't help.

If you're scrolling past the wall of text, you can stop now

Ok! That's it! No more long-winded storytelling! It's time to talk about how I'm going to fix this problem. I'm going to keep this short and sweet, you just read the whole story so you don't need much more:

  • Effective immediately, I am cancelling the roguelike series. No hiatus. It's over, it was a bad idea, and I can always revisit the subject when I'm older and wiser. I'll leave the text around for now.
  • Starting next year, no more schedules and no more promises. I'll write when I feel the urge, and I'll develop whatever I damn well please. There will be fewer posts. I guarantee it. But every single one of them will be carefully written and edited for maximum quality.
  • When that happens, I'll finally redirect the huguesross.net domain to my site's landing page. That page and the about me page have been redesigned, and I'm working on the tutorials section. That section will hold both longer tutorial series and any informative posts that I think are useful and good enough to share.
If I change my mind about all of this, I may still keep the schedule. It's possible that I'm just in a rut, or mildly burnt-out. I'm giving myself 3 months to reconsider this decision, to ensure that it's really the right way to go. At the end of the day, I don't want to drop the blog. I think keeping a blog that shows your process of working and shares your knowledge is awesome, but I need to remember that blog posts should not be my biggest source of work.

This is a blog about programming, not time management. (except here, I guess)


Let's Make a Roguelike - Stats, Items and, Messages

Well, here's a new tutorial segment!

This one was pretty awful to write, mostly because I chose too broad of a topic. As a result, it's also quite a bit longer than most of the others (~14 pages, with a previous record of ~11). On the upside, I'm very nearly done here. Currently, I'm planning the remaining 3 segments to cover:
  1. AI and combat
  2. Generating artificial spaces (e.g. mazes, dungeons, buildings, etc.)
  3. Various remaining loose ends, like visibility and overall game structure
I didn't quite do item systems justice here, unfortunately. I seem to have missed dropping/equipping items in particular, although these actions should be fairly trivial to implement with the knowledge from the tutorial.
Since it looks like things are mostly on schedule despite last month's delays, I'm currently pegging the completion date as December 17th, 2017. This will be one full year after I restarted the series, minus a couple days to make it land on a Sunday.

Speaking of dates, this series will be 3 years old in a couple weeks. All I can say at this point is that I'm glad it's coming to a close. It's going to be a while before my next series, I have a few ideas but I want to put a lot of consideration into any future endeavors. However, I do have a one-off informative...thing that I'll be putting up on the tutorials page not too long after this series.