2017 Development Goals

What happened to 2016?! Man… it up and took off and took me with it. A whirlwind to be sure. Looking back at my game development goals… I give me a solid D for Doing Other Things. Important things.

GOAL ONE – Blog Reboot

Partial success. I didn’t hit the one-a-month pace, but it’s steps in the right direction.

GOAL TWO – Play my Game Backlog

Partial success.

  • Dark Souls
  • Castle Crashers [PLAYED]
  • Kingdom Hearts
  • Thomas Was Alone [PLAYED, FINISHED]
  • Shadow of the Colossus
  • Earthbound
  • Bonus game: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes [PLAYED]

Definitely play this co-op.

What a fun brawler romp. I always choose lightning when there are options, so it was the Red Hero for me. I got several hours in, upgrades, weapons, spells, bosses. I can see that it would be SUPER fun in local multiplayer. It feels like a great couch co-op game. Charming art and a straightforward narrative strung together fun and engaging combat that kept me on my toes. The bosses were fun and fun to figure out. I give it a wildly unfair B because I didn’t get that co-op experience and I’m not a huge brawler fan.

The lighting in this game is gorgeous.

A puzzle platformer, I played and completed Thomas Was Alone. It had some terrific moments in it, including one level that – no joke – gave me chills when the mechanic was revealed. For me, that moment was like the big reveal in Sixth Sense where you’ve pieced everything together wide-eyed just as it comes together on screen. My thoughts went something like this:

ME: Oh, you know what would be really cool… If you- YES. YES. THAT.

I very much enjoyed the narrator and the story, though I felt the story fell flat in the second half when you start telling the story of a bunch of characters not related to Thomas. Some of the level design felt lazy or uninspired (one of the pachinko-feeling levels springs to mind) and the difficulty ramp was pretty uneven. I give it a B+ or an A- because of the uneven storytelling and level difficulty, but it’s a solid A otherwise – I hold this game up as an example of something that can start life as a polished, but simple prototype that proves a solid core mechanic which, with lots more effort, can be turned into something larger and wonderful.

Playtest Reveals: Talking is no guarantee.

This game is pretty brilliant. An asymmetrical co-op game where one player has eyes on a bewildering bomb and the other player (or players) have a tome of bomb schematics they use to instruct the Bomb Defuser how to proceed. There’s a learning curve – expect to blow up in the first few attempts until you understand the possibility space – but it’s quick. Printed manuals are strictly better than digital ones.

  • Life is Strange [PLAYED, FINISHED]
  • Stardew Valley [PLAYED]

Life is Strange, a 3rd-person adventure game, was enjoyable simply for the pleasure of making an entire game mechanic out of correcting instances of l’esprit d’escalier. When it opened and the cast was essentially all teenagers in high school, I really expected to check out of the story there… teen drama is not my bag. But it was engaging. And the mechanic hooked me. A mystery to solve. And pretty quickly, Something Important to do.

Enough polaroid pictures for Memento.

The unravelling was surprising and heartwarming. Difficult. I wanted to punch the screen a couple times in the parts where you have to hone on an image’s ‘frequency,’ but that was a small frustration in an otherwise beautifully paced and assembled game.

There was incredible attention to detail even in the smallest things. My favorite is this moment where the main character is driving and listening to the radio and she gets a call on her cellphone. They made the audio of the radio broadcast do the little dit-dih-dut-duh dit-dih-dut-duh-dit it does when cell signal interferes with radio signal and the speakers pick it up. Beautiful. That’s most of the way through the game and I was already bought in… still, it’s great to see such attention and care.


I have not played Stardew Valley for the 500+ hours Steam reports. Many of those hours were spent with the game open and running because I hadn’t finished the day’s ToDo items and, so, couldn’t go to sleep. Really, I have no idea how many hours I have played Stardew Valley. A lot. A lot of hours. Many, many, many game days waiting for the rabbits in my coop to mysteriously spawn a rabbit’s foot (let’s just set aside the creepiness of that). It’s the last thing I need to collect. It’s been… like… two game years. And the gypsy has never had one for sale either.

Part of the fun is making your farm pretty.

READER: If you play Stardew Valley and you see a rabbit’s foot for sale ANYWHERE and you can afford it. BUY IT.

This game has got a lot to offer, interesting characters who reveal their stories to you piece by peice, a bit of roguelike dungeoneering if that’s your thing (it’s mine), farming, brewing, raising livestock, collecting, crafting.

There’s a lot to do. And the feeling of the world created… when I describe this game to people I say a couple things.

1)      Imagine that Farmville was actually fun. And actually a game instead of a raw, pulsing feedback loop.

2)      And, say, if your neighbor in Farmville could be a serviceman’s wife who is struggling to raise her boys alone until her husband returns from deployment. Which he does. After which you learn that he is struggling with PTSD and the challenges of fitting back in to his family and civilian life.

No joke. The characters are well-realized and have aspirations and anxieties about themselves and where and how they belong. There’s some seriously strong world building and dispersed storytelling.

GOAL THREE – Make Namesies

This is the only goal that I didn’t make any progress on at all.

What did I do instead? Lots.

I lost lots of sleep scratch-building two new classes for the Los Angeles Film School: World Building and Prototyping. The first iterations of each were hit and miss and I gathered a lot of ideas and feedback on how to improve them. Further iterations were improved, development continues.

I lost 50 pounds. That fitness initiative I mentioned after my goal posting (that’s a good phrase!) … it was and is very successful. I’m very proud of the effort I made and continue to make to be a better, fitter me. Diet and exercise… who knew?

I lost my father.

Thomas Plewman Sparks III

It wasn’t a surprise. As I’ve mentioned, he’d been in decline for years. His state was why I took a hard look at what was in store for me and my quality of life if I didn’t make some changes. In some ways it seems like he’d been gone a long time. It had been probably a decade since I had a conversation with him that he retained for longer than the duration of it. One of the last substantive conversations I had with him, I told him about my fitness program and that he’d been my inspiration because of how fit he’d been when he was my age. I asked him when he’d last done a pullup… had he ever done a pullup? ‘Yes, of course!’ It was basic Navy fitness stuff. Of course he had. I told him I hadn’t ever done even one pullup, but that I was training for it and trying. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘That’s a good thing to do.’

Progress on that pullup has been slow. I ended up with bursitis in one of my shoulders because in my newb-ish-ness to training, I trained too hard. That lead me to PT, which has actually been educational and fun. Enjoying PT has really made me pause and be grateful for my moving, working body. A lot of the folks at PT are struggling with difficult injuries and significant pain. Me? I hurt myself trying to do pullups I don’t really need to do. I really DON’T need the strength to do one to be healthy and fit.

But that…? That first pullup. That’s going to be for Dad.

And after that… new goals.

Because training and trying, ‘That’s a good thing to do.’

So, I have declared 2017 as ‘The Year of Trying Things.’ Things like:

  • Surfing
  • Parkour Meetup
  • Aerial Dogfighting
  • Camping on the beach
  • Make an app or game
  • Anything that opportunity serves up/strikes me as cool to try

There are still games in my backlog to play. And articles and blog posts to write. Positive momentum to keep.

Author: Karen M

Game designer and instructor.

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