Couldn't Get It Done

Posted on March 26, 2018

Unfortunately, this weekend got the better of me and I did not have enough time to finish the game I had planned for the Heart Jam. Realistically, the idea would have been executable had I worked a full day on Friday. I basically skipped Friday, starting in earnest early Saturday morning.

I should have cut my scope down mid-way, as I have done successfully in the past - but by the time I made that decision, I wasn't left with enough time to get levels designed. I had implemented all of the mechanics I planned for and even a little bit of art, but alas, I was defeated by the dreaded level design.

If there is one take away from this experience I can highlight it's that level design is time-consuming. With some ideas, it can be a matter of throwing things at a wall and hoping they stick. This idea, which boiled down to a 2D puzzle-platformer based on speed running, was not one of those. In order to balance levels out for the items/mechanics the player was to acquire, the levels required considerable design. This sort of cohesion makes or breaks a game of that style.

As I approach Ludum Dare next month and any game jam in the future - I need to remain cognizant of ideas/designs that require explicit level design choices to be made. This is something that has stalled me in the past and has worked out for me, as well. So, I need to hone in on my designer Spidey-senses and make those saving calls earlier (or recognize them before I even start to develop).

For instance, in Ludum Dares 34 & 35, I built level-based puzzle games. Because the majority of my time was spent fleshing out features and implementing art - the time required for levels was cut short and the result was A.) fewer levels and B.) rushed design lending to reduced leveraging of mechanics.

Here's a little screenshot of what I had managed to get done:

The premise was to get to the top of the tower as fast as possible. In your way were gates, which required keys to unlock. Collecting gems and keys increased your score. In addition to that, you collect Relics, which are items that give you unique abilities, like Double-Jump or Gliding.

The idea and implementation was really simple and not too difficult to implement. I got hung up on the level design and my time was limited by work and life on Friday and a few distractions on Saturday.

I'll have some news and announcements on a little project I'm starting on later this week. Until then!

Peace and love.


The Heart Jam Begins - Theme: Scarcity

Posted on March 23, 2018

The Heart Jam began early this morning at 2 AM Eastern Time while I was in dreamland. The theme for this jam is SCARCITY. It's a broad theme and one that is applicable to almost any kind of game that relies on limited resources or economies of scale. To say the least, I'm diggin' this theme!

I have work today, so I won't have much time to work on my game until this evening, but I should be able to mull over some potential ideas I can execute on knowing we have a little less time. Alas, I'm pretty used to 48-hour jams, so I'll just treat it like a Ludum Dare compo and use my time wisely tomorrow and Sunday!

Given the theme, I'm leaning towards some sort of economic resource management game. I'm not sure exactly how I want to handle that, so I'm going to have to turn the old noodle on and do some brainstorming.

For this jam, I am going to roll with Construct 3 for my game engine. I'm a big Unity buff, but Construct allows me to do a lot more in a lot less time and really keeps me grounded on getting gameplay done and not dicking around with art and design too early. If I have the time I'll program out some tunes in FL Studio and do some art in Photoshop.

I'm considering streaming some of the jam over on the Twitch channel. I'll make an announcement on Twitter if I decide to do so (it will likely be tomorrow and Sunday afternoon and not tonight).

Anyways, I should uh...get back to work. Wish me luck!

Peace and love.



New Beginnings

Posted on March 18, 2018

Hello and welcome! My name is Michael DeLally, I am the founder and primary developer of Thought Reactor. I wear all the hats from programming, art, talent management, marketing, and music. This is the Thought Reactor development blog (and in some ways my personal blog).

For the majority of you who haven't kept up with Thought Reactor over the last couple years, I'll quickly summarize where we've been and where I see us going in 2018 and beyond. To be blunt, we've struggled to get things done - and there are many reasons for that.

Primarily, we just haven't had the time to run a studio. At our best, we had a small three person team meeting twice a week. Since then, life and full-time careers have taken hold and that time has diminished greatly. To make matters worse, the team has basically broken down to just me. Occasionally I'll get some assistance from good friends, but they're not able to commit much of their time (and I am often too stubborn to ask for it).

There is nothing unique about this struggle. This is the indie developer life in a nutshell. What is unique, perhaps, is that I am stubborn enough to keep trying to get this bastard off the ground, despite so much failure. I work at a learning development company full-time working on web and game development so I get some fulfillment. However, I still have a strong appetite for making my own interactive worlds, separate from the business development space.

In the last three years, we've managed to complete a handful of game jams, producing some fun little games that placed in the top 200 in Ludum Dare. Sadly, several of those have been lost to the cosmic whims of cloud computing and failed hard drives. Last year, I managed to take one of those game jam titles, IGEO, and polish into a small but finished game. To date, it's sold 2 units - the proudest three bucks I've ever earned. You can play a couple of those (including IGEO) in your browser if you click the link to the left.

Through all this, the mission of Thought Reactor has fluxed, changing from a full-spectrum digital media house to a game and software studio to a web development firm - to now just simply a game studio. In betwixt even that, earlier this year, I had all but abandoned the brand to pursue a different, smaller "stylized" brand called Ascetic Games. That was a flop. I wasn't invested in building the brand and the legal/financial obligations of getting it to run as a subsidiary to the Thought Reactor entity were not something I wanted to deal with.

Thus, here we are. I've come back to this brand with a different outlook on what is possible for me to do. Along the way, I lost sight of a grounded mission, perhaps due to lofty head in the clouds goals. Moving forward, Thought Reactor will essentially cease a traditional business plan of designing and developing medium-sized projects on a shoe-string budget with the hopes of marketing accessible commercial games.

To say we're becoming a hobby studio is a bit of an understatement, but that is the mentality with which we will approach projects. If I can make something big out of it, it will happen. I am one person. This means smaller projects, more game jams, and more of a community style of marketing.

I don't have the time or money bandwidth to keep running Thought Reactor like a traditional studio - and I shouldn't keep fooling myself that I do. I will continue to run a well-polished brand, that's just how I roll. I've always taken pride in how well the brand represents itself, but it's time to back that up with some games!

Given this, in the coming months, there will be nothing but game jams. Small games that I make in a weekend with little to no intention of fleshing out or selling. I am far from a perfect game developer and I want to explore and improve my talents whilst getting things done.

This weekend, starting on Friday the 23rd, I'll be taking a stab at The Heart Jam, run by fellow indie developer HeartBeast. It's a 72-hour jam with a set theme to be announced on Friday.

Lastly, I'm refining my work/life/gym/dev schedule hoping that I can find at least two days a week to start the Thought Reactor Twitch stream back up - so stay tuned on that in the coming weeks. I'd love to have a nice blend of gameplay, development, and instructional content on Twitch and YouTube, but I just need to to get my ducks in a row!

Thanks for joining us on this journey (for the umpteenth time, it seems). If you've been here the whole time - I love you for it.

Peace and love.