Hello friends, and welcome to the annual retrospective summary of progress for Moonshell Island in 2020! As I write, I am recovering from a quadruple wisdom tooth extraction I decided to have right before Christmas, which is a fitting way to end a year full of challenges, but I’ll try not to leave out any important details. Here goes nothing!
Happy New Year?
Boy, and I thought 2019 was eventful! 2020 started off optimistic for me when I shared a small tool I created for balancing tasks with self-care called the Daily Achievement Log, which I got printed on notepads for the shop and patrons and provided a free printable version of here. I have since closed the shop, but I found this tool helped me to change my approach toward productivity and to avoid burnout. It turns out that self-care is much more productive than neglect is!
January was still a hectic month, but in a good way!
Massive Sacks of Cash Grant
I am particularly grateful for how Massive Corporation Game Studios has affected my life this year. On the last day of January, the same day I was featured in this article about local gamedevs in the Leader-Post (also thanks to Massive Corporation for that opportunity), I came to the Global Game Jam kick-off party in my area and was awarded the Massive Sacks of Cash Grant, which I had applied for with Moonshell Island!
The beauty of the Massive Sacks of Cash Grant is that it gave me $500 each month of 2020, to use however I wanted, no strings attached. This is exactly what aspiring game developers need when they have to scrape by and work themselves to the bone to survive while building their first projects. Thanks to Massive Corporation, I was finally able to pay off my student debt in full, and I even had extra to cover my costly but necessary oral surgery, which I had put off despite the risks due to my financial situation previous years.
On top of all that, Massive Corporation’s CEO, Kai Hutchence never failed to answer my countless questions and provide invaluable clarity as I went through the otherwise very overwhelming process of incorporating and starting up Cheekynauts Entertainment LTD. So as hard as Schotti and I worked this year, we would have only accomplished a fraction of what I’ll be covering in this post if not for this local hero of the game development community in Saskatchewan.
If you’re not already, please follow and support Massive Corporation on Twitter, see how they are affecting change in the Regina Gamedev community and check out their recently launched Brandins Buttons on Steam!
Show us the progress!
Absolutely, let’s start at the beginning of 2020. If you recall from the 2019 Retrospect, Moonshell Island still had a static camera focused on the same test area that became quite familiar as we showcased each added functionality.
In January, we added a canvas for full-screen mode and began the long process of perfecting a shoreline animation.
After winning the MSOC Grant in January, we were highly motivated and made a lot of progress in February. First we gave the player run and idle states…
…then we got the camera following the player, began improving the tileset, and implemented tomato “nomsters” to fight, defeat, or be defeated by. It was starting to look like a real game now!
This was when the pandemic started affecting our area and our plans to showcase our demos at Sask Expo were postponed. This was disappointing, but also a relief as we would have fallen short with completing anything very playable in time for that anyway. Around this time I had recorded this (way too quiet and awkward) video devlog showcasing the settings menu, climbable vines, health status updates, pause menu and KO state we had implemented.
We kept going and added item interaction and multiple choice to the dialogue system. I’m still quite happy with the thinking cursor we settled on.
As the game improved, so did the logo. Since I had streamed the design process, it was a rush job I had intended to improve, but didn’t prioritize for a while. Now that it’s more chunky and clean, I’m satisfied.
In April, we added a game over screen, special item pickup, and an in-game planner menu with sections for journal entries, quest to-do lists, and achievement sticker collections!
In May, we implemented tutorials, updated the UI for gamepad, and finally left our test map to start building real in-game areas and populating them with props.
Behind the scenes, I had been working for quite some time on the shoreline tileset to get it just right, which lead to breaking my existing palette. To make that work, I shifted a lot of colours for all assets and adjusted the texture of grass and sand to go best with the ocean. Painful, but totally worth it. I share about the process for the shoreline on this publicly available Patreon post, if you’re curious how I did it. 🙂
In June, after mapping several new areas, our first officially implemented NPC was introduced. Meet Harriet, owner of the local produce stand, Hattie’s Harvest!
In July, we connected and revealed the new areas we had mapped and implemented loot drops and pickups. It was so good to finally see the Cabana Club established in-game.
We also added sea urchins that spike out when you approach them.
In August, we implemented a cool flippy quest completion and finally introduced Crabby in-game! Took us long enough, I know!
At this time we were beyond thrilled to announce that Anna Eichenauer (aka QueerGermanGirl) will be composing the Moonshell Island soundtrack! Please enjoy this preview of what’s to come:
In September, we continued adding cutscenes and started building the first in-game puzzle where the player must move in sync with the sea urchins to reach the other side of their exclusive limbo party. This meant establishing a lot of new AI behaviour, and it was one of this year’s bigger development challenges.
While Schotti worked on the functionality of the game, I prepared some artwork for the demo’s end credits and a quick reference sheet for the protagonist. The style makes her look more child-like than I intended, but with so much on my plate, I decided to leave it as is. For the record, though I don’t have a specific age in mind for Sam, it seems appropriate for her to fall between age 16 and 26. Of course, leaving it up to the player can make for a more relatable adventure, don’t you think?
By the end of the month, we had regular item pickup descriptions and more banter-filled cutscenes.
September was also the month when Cheekynauts Entertainment LTD was officially incorporated, and as the CEO, I had a lot of new things to figure out. Doing this while finishing a demo and running a Patreon was a huge challenge, but thankfully most of what remained to be done for the demo was on Schotti’s end.
In October, I revamped the portraits and dialogue sprites for consistency and better readability. Meanwhile, Schotti added knockback to the sea urchins, finished up the quest system, and wander-proofed each scene for a smooth player experience.
By the end of the month, I was still very overwhelmed with things to do, but I couldn’t resist testing my spooky version of Crabby’s Cabana Club in a separate copy of the demo, making it a little more magical than last year’s mockup.
In November, Schotti put the finishing touches on the functionality while I polished up the visuals and added a couple unexpected NPCs, including one snarky beatnik.
And then finally it was time to release the Moonshell Island Teaser Demo to our patrons! Although the demo doesn’t have sound yet, Anna had composed some sweet new music for it in time for the announcement. Please enjoy this small OST tease!
While all of the above was happening, I was also building and improving a gameplay trailer using demo footage set to Anna‘s music, and even the voice talent of Gabriel Castro, who did an amazing job narrating! Since it represents the culmination of this year’s efforts, it seems a fitting way to end the productive portion of the retrospect. Please enjoy the Moonshell Island teaser trailer!
As I’m sure you can imagine, Schotti and I were both in dire need of a vacation by the end of a year like this. Launching two demos and starting a business while holding day jobs is a challenge even when the world isn’t crumbling around you. Once the demo was released, I continued pushing myself to clear my plate so I could rest in peace for the holidays. After I had sent out the new Moonshell Island pins and winter postcards to our Patreon supporters, I would finally reach that carrot-on-a-stick called “time off”.
While I intended to take a good 4 weeks of self-care and recovery, things didn’t exactly go as planned. My day job still needed me, and I still had matters to sort for the Cheekynauts business (don’t even get me started on all the problems I had with this process), so I cut out the only energy-expensive thing I could afford to neglect: social activity.
I love the creative communities I’m involved in, but I do go by Crabby Sam for a reason. I am a hermit by nature. It takes energy and motivation to maintain a social presence, even if it’s rewarding. I’ve also seen a correlation between social inactivity and loss of momentum, so it’s not easy to pump the breaks when you finally start getting somewhere. But at this point I was heading straight for a brick wall if I kept going.
It’s not just social media though, I also run a Discord community for our patrons, which happens to be an awesome group of encouraging people. Fortunately, everyone was very understanding when I needed to go silent for the majority of December.
Once all matters were finally put to rest, and just as I was about to take mine, I got a call that there was a last minute cancellation at the oral surgeon who was going to handle my wisdom teeth extraction (long story involving radiation therapy in my jaw area 5 years ago, dentist drama, risks of complications, blah blah), so I took the opportunity to spend the remaining weeks of my holidays in bed on a liquid diet! I mean, who wouldn’t? Thankfully everything went well and I’m healing up nicely.
Now that it is the new year, I am starting to feel more myself again, and I’m easing my way back into a more reasonable lifestyle. My intention for 2021 is to prioritize self-care like I did in the earlier part of 2020 and try not to take on more than I can handle as I work toward the public demo releases of Santria and Moonshell Island with Schotti.
Twitter Growth Chart
In keeping with tradition, here is the chart tracking how our reach has grown on my Twitter account since I started posting about Moonshell Island. It’s encouraging to know that people out there are excited to play and rooting for us as we follow our dream.
And that’s a wrap on the Moonshell Island Retrospect for the year 2020! I hope you enjoyed the read. Here’s hoping 2021 goes easy on us all.
Thank you for sticking with Schotti and me as we take our time to make our games the best they can be without sacrificing too much of ourselves. We look forward to sharing the journey!