4 Hugues Ross - Blog: Halberd Studio: No Sleeping, Just Scheming
Hugues Ross

10/16/18

Halberd Studio: No Sleeping, Just Scheming

I didn't sleep last night. The cause had nothing to do with my projects, but I ended up thinking about Halberd for a few hours. The more I thought, the more I became certain: Something has to change.

If you read my roundup for September, you'll know that I actually made some decent progress. Despite that, I still have a lot of doubts. After last night, I re-read all of my recent posts and decided that a new strategy was in order.

There's a wall of text about my motivations between you and this strategy. Click here if you'd prefer to skip it.

...But Why?

Obviously, this is coming off as indecisive. Still, I came to an interesting reason to change things up. I wrote about a similar feeling in August. At the time, I wasn't happy with the game. I looked back at my first post on it, decided that my reasoning was still correct, and kept going.

As a refresher, here are the reasons I had for starting:
  1. Making a game is a way to validate that the tool works, by forcing me to engage with all of its features. If there are any bugs or missing parts, I can fix them before release. It also lets me see which features need the most love and which are 'good enough' as-is.
  2. Having games made in an engine is also good for proving its capabilities. Anyone can make game development tools, but if no good games have ever been made with them then they'll be a tough sell for other devs.
  3. Finally, games can also serve as a useful reference for anyone who wants to try Halberd out. I don't think anyone will at this point in development, but when people do start using it they'll have something to help them.
  4. Additionally, the large scope of Halberd makes it a real marathon of a project. I need to break it up with smaller game projects if I want to keep my sanity! Not all of my 'filler' will be made with Halberd, but it's still a convenient excuse to give the engine a workout.
I still think these points are sound. However, my current project isn't actually the best way to address them. Let's go down the list again:
  1. The first reason is spot-on. Making a game is a pretty solid validation process. Making a demo of the engine's features could also work for this.
  2. This point disqualifies a demo as a complete solution, but there's an important word in there: Good. A bad game won't convince anyone to use an engine, it may even turn them away.
  3. See point 1.
  4. Here's the other problem: I replaced one drawn-out process with a drawn-out process and a diversion that I didn't personally enjoy. Demos won't fix that, but I have some other plans.
'Henry' is not a good game. It won't be a good game, and I'd even go as far as to say that it can't be one. As I work on this project, I can feel the time I'm wasting. That has an impact on my productivity, and it's exacerbated by the fact that I was never really that interested in it. I knew that my options would be limited, so I tried to go as simple as possible. I also used the game to try a new post format. That's pretty much all I have to say about it, because there was nothing else to hold my attention.

Despite my lack of interest, I still want to make RPGs in general. I have a few 'real' ideas on the backburner, but Halberd just isn't ready for them. The engine is technically in an 'MVP' state because you can make a game with it, but it's not viable for anything serious yet.

The Plan

That last section went long, but it felt good to get it out. Next, let's talk solutions. Back in August again, I listed some wants. After re-reading them, I can confidently say that they mostly hinge on being more patient and giving Halberd the time it needs. Working solely on Halberd brings up the issue of fatigue, but nothing is stopping me from keeping my current 'alternating weeks' strategy. Let's run with that concept.

Halberd is a huge project, and there are a lot of very different tasks needed for its success. I've split them into roughly four different categories:
  • Foundations
  • Progress
  • Polish
  • Content

Foundations

Halberd rests on top of DFGame, and I've regularly had to dive in to fix issues and add features for the engine's sake. One thing that bothers me is that I never have enough time to polish all of this internal code. With the pressure of getting a feature to work so that I can finish whatever I started on Halberd, it's hard to spend extra time on code clarity, tests, refactoring, and so on.

Long-term, these things are necessary for a healthy engine.

Progress

The 'critical path' to making my dream games, if you will. This category represents the features needed to make a powerful and flexible engine, things like custom equations, items, cutscene and dialogue tools, etc.

Polish

Just getting Halberd to work well is enough for me, but to really sell (figuratively) the engine to the public I need to make sure that it also feels good to use. That means taking time to fix minor gripes, improve workflows, write help docs, and work on unifying the engine's look and 'brand'.

Content

I've never brought it up, but I think a big factor in novice-oriented engines is the quality and variety of the assets they pack in. I'm convinced that this is partly why so many people are attracted to RPGMaker, and also why some people look down on games made with it. Assets matter in the market that I'm planning to enter, and they're also a good source of practice.

If I spend enough time building my art and audio skills before I start my RPGs, I can make them truly live up to my expectations.

Conclusion

With some diverse long-term tasks prepared, the remaining question is how to divvy them up. Conveniently, I found out last month that I can get a couple solid features done per week. For now, I'm going to try focusing on each of these categories for one week every month. I'll keep this up until the end of the year, then I'll re-evaluate if I'm still not happy.

Looking further ahead, I'm about 5 1/2 months away from the first anniversary of Halberd's announcement. I don't think it'll be ready for release at that point, but I'd like to at least have some convincing demo videos by then! I'll also make the code public some time in the next few months, so that I can point people there for more detailed progress.
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