It’s been a while since I last wrote anything, that’s for sure. Before I get to rambling about the reasons (excuses?) for that, here’s a new video of Exon: from starting the game to playing an Arena match to indulging in the side-questy exploration that will make up… the actual game. Some glimpses of the inventory, journal, shop windows and even a surprisingly seamless performance of the save/load system are included!
I Get Locked Down, But I Get Up Again?
The lockdown actually started quite well for me. Being put on furlough gave me all day to work on Exon as if it was a job and left my evenings and weekends for a healthy balance of other activities. As for lockdown, well, I generally lived a solitary existence anyway (not necessarily by choice, but it’s long been my reality so I’ve had to accept it).
I was always told that if I stopped work I’d lose my mind, but I was actually very disciplined in maintaining a routine. I broke for a lunch hour and played with my Lego to get some time away from the screen. I started doing a fake commute as soon as it became safe to go out for exercise more than once a day, heading up Calton Hill and back again to mark the start and end of the work period. I got a lot done, and at least proved to myself that if circumstances changed and there was even a sniff that Exon might actually be profitable, I really could pack in the day job and make a proper go of it.
On the other hand, I shouldn’t even have been on furlough. My employer at the time sold a product perfectly suited to the lockdown and should have been raking it in with us working from home. Instead, a questionable business direction took the company straight down the tubes and from early furloughs to a subsequent slew of redundancies. To be fair, poor business direction was one of the main reasons I had been wanting to leave for some time anyway; I was just lucky enough to finally find somewhere new that would take me.
Though I have to concede that starting a new job during a global pandemic was not the best idea I ever had. Trying to navigate new processes, new codebases and a new social heirarchy is tough at the best of times, and doing it remotely has been even harder for me. Interminable video calls and a deluge of new information without a stable office environment to give it focus has left me reeling. I end up overthinking myself into analysis paralysis as it is; being alone in my home without an established structure means I spend most of my time vaguely puzzled about… well, everything.
Besides, I never liked working from home. It’s always nice to have as an option, like being able to wait in for a big delivery without having to waste a holiday, but my home is my safe space and the job has no business intruding on it. To me, it is important to go somewhere separate to work and, more importantly, leave it again. (I am at least privileged enough to have a second desk I can sacrifice to work: the unseen casualties of the “work-from-home revolution” will be the people crammed into one-bedroom flats, or worse.)
So going back to full-time work has not been fertile ground for working on Exon, and any gains I made during the furlough period have been thoroughly offset. I’m trying to force myself back on track, hence the video above, but I feel like solo development relies a lot on momentum and without even the Saturday edindies meet-ups that would usually keep things simmering through dark periods, I have completely derailed.
Hell, earlier in the lockdown I even replayed the original Warcraft III campaigns. It felt really weird; while the Rexxar campaign and custom maps like Season of Uncertainty: The Dark Phoenix are regular fixtures for me and so remain eternally fresh, I hadn’t played the Reign of Chaos campaign since… Well, since The Frozen Throne came out. Which was about sixteen years ago. Half my life ago. And yet, every mission was startlingly familiar, eliciting repeated pulses of nostalgia in the pit of my stomach. I guess regardless of how I feel about melee, Reign of Chaos was where it all began and quite frankly I wouldn’t be here without it. I definitely felt that spark in the handful of RPG missions and all the grandiose campaign trappings, but the melee action still left me mostly cold.
Coming out of all that, I was getting a strong hankering for Baldur’s Gate, but I recognise that while wallowing in the past might be a useful safety-net in times of crisis, it is very unhealthy to indulge too deeply for too long. Thus, I resolved to buy something new to play next — I settled on Pathfinder: Kingmaker because I’d heard good things and figured it might scratch the same itch as an Infinity Engine classic, so we’ll see how that goes.
The Write Stuff
In amongst all that, I have at least been writing a bit more than usual — I mean, writing fiction, clearly not blogs. I got a new little laptop and finally forked over the cash for Scrivener so I’ve organised all my notes for When the Freedom Slips Away, This Wreckage and Shattered By Light for draft number… oh I don’t know, five? Six? The difference this time is that I’ve now got a line all the way through — I have finally arrived at the missing pieces of Shatter so now it really is a matter of just writing the damn things.
But in the spirit of shying away from anything too heavy, I’ve mainly been practising by writing short-stories (or fragments thereof) about my current D&D character. Turns out, a reluctant adventurer, born on the wrong plane of existence, with a lot of fear and self-esteem issues, is more fertile ground for writing than a self-assured warrior who just wants to explore and trophy-hunt. Who knew? (To be fair, my Eastenders-voiced dragonborn fighter was the first D&D character I had played since university so I deliberately designed him to be… simpler. Didn’t really consider at the time that he might actually live to level 20 and take down the Tarrasque.)
If nothing else, maybe I can recycle the fragments as excerpts from fictional books in Exon. I’ve always loved the parts of Jacob’s Shadow that are scattered throughout Deus Ex, so that’s been on my feature list right from the beginning — so it wouldn’t be scope creep!
One thing I really haven’t done is test the latest batch of forward-compatibility fixes for This Wreckage in Warcraft III: Reforged. There were enough guffs in my last run that I need to give it another full spin but, well, a seven-hour RPG isn’t something for which one does two completist drive-throughs lightly (once on 1.26 to ensure nothing Real has been broken, once on latest to make sure the tweaks have taken). It doesn’t help that there are a load of cinematic camera position and timing issues that I simply cannot fix or work around, either. Thanks, Blizzard.
I do have a new release candidate ready to go, though, so if anybody is up for a test run, hit me up!