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A Crisis Of Free Time

I've worked six days this week, and next week will be much the same.  I got this gig back in November, and I am glad to have a part in society's great machine, but this is the first time I've had so many hours at once, but unfortunately I've far too much planned for the time I have left.

Current priority: trying to finish Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The past few blog entries here have all been about trying to finish Skyrim, a game whose remarkably dense content defies finishing.  Part of it is because I keep getting an inventory full of a junk, and it takes quite a bit of time to sell it off.  Another part of that is because I keep getting side quests dumped on me, and I have a tendency to roleplay a Dovahkiin who likes to take care of business.

Supposing I started ignoring a lot of the loot I find and completely blow off the side quests that land in my character's journal, it's possible that I could finish the main quests of Skyrim, Dawnguard, and Dragonborn inside of a couple of days.  After all, my character is already developed enough to overcome anything the game throws at me.  But would that be wise?  Such haste could well end up undermining the significance of the entire Skyrim experience.

Upcoming priority: playing The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
The Bureau is a third person shooter based on a 1950s XCOM-themed experience.  You are essentially a man in black, a G-Man whose job it is to keep the public from discovering the horrible truth about aliens.  Except you're more than just an obfuscating prick here: you're actually fighting alien invaders off with your fellow undercover government operatives.  It's a really cool theme, especially considering they put a lot of effort into making the aliens genuinely weird.

In practice, it plays a bit like Mass Effect's squad-based combat.  This makes it a third person shooter about hiding behind cover to avoid enemies attacking while you try to take them down, Gears of War style, while simultaneously giving orders to other members of your squad to flank the enemy or expose them with unique abilities.
 Do I really only have three people in my squad at a time in The Bureau? 
If so, I wonder if that level of emulation was really necessary:
four squad members might have been slightly more novel.

There's a lurking suspicion that The Bureau will turn out to suck, because I've seen some gameplay footage that makes it look completely linear and overly-simplified.  However, this footage was of the opening mission, a tutorial, so it's hard to say.  Here's hoping that they haven't scaled it back to something so minimalist in scope that it leaves my veteran gaming sensibilities starving for greater substance.

In this gamble, I'm all in, having already preordered this game, but now I have a problem: it will be out in 48 hours.  One of those days will be spent working.  This means I only have about a day left to play Skyrim before it gets completely preempted.  Odds are looking slim for Skyrim's completion happening soon.

Ongoing priority: making a game of my own, probably using Game Maker.

I think the best thing about Game Maker (aside from its user-friendliness) is that its
cross-platform plugins could be very lucrative, but its distribution of pre-compiled code
and the resulting hits to security and efficiency have always been its achilles heel.  This new
compiler to be released in v1.2 (hopefully free to existing users) aims to solve that problem.

This is kind of important: before I shuffle off this mortal coil, I would like to express my creativity in at least one contribution towards my lifelong passion.  To finish a game!   Who knows?  It might even turn into a means of support for me.  I got great ideas, and I'm nerd enough to make them happen spectacularly.  So what hurdles are blocking my way?

First hurdle, I have to get used to the engine I have decided to use.  Given many months of practice using BYOND, I'm no stranger to programming games in event-driven environments, and so Game Maker is far from truly difficult for me to use.  However, I have yet to wrap my head around it, understanding its idiosyncrasies, building the neurons that would allow me to quickly translate thought to playable game.  Consequently, Game Maker still feels cumbersome to me.   I know that there is only one way to do build these skills: practice!
Unfortunately, Game Maker is a bit of an enigma, not because it's hard to use, but because it's too easy: everybody who talks about developing in this platform seems to be writing for novices.  I want to be a power user of Game Maker, but I am having a hard time tracking down a good resource on becoming one.  Derek Yu's tutorial is the best I found, but it's sadly outdated by today's standards.  I own both The Game Maker's Apprentice and The Game Maker's Companion, but learned that they're both pretty useless when it comes to becoming a power user of Game Maker (although they do contain some great information for people looking to emulate industry methods, especially if you want to make a side-scrolling platformer).   It seems the only path to becoming a power user in Game Maker is to utilize the built-in help reference of the program itself or try my luck on the official forums... neither solution really satisfies.

Second hurdle, I have to understand what, exactly, I want to make.  Right now, I'm thinking Sentinel Worlds with extensive procedural generation.  Tomorrow, who knows what I'll want to make?   This indecision is a real game-breaker.

The devil is always in the details; I know full well that to have an idea is just the start.  I've built many prototype games in BYOND, so I'm quite a few steps ahead of the naivety you'd expect  of a starry-eyed game development neophyte.  Coming up with a really good idea that can excite me enough to see it to completion is important.  
One such game I made in BYOND, but refused to finish.

Third hurdle, I can never quite bring myself to finish a game.  I honestly don't know what it is, but I have made games that were easily in a position to finish, but the muse walked out on me in a huff, refusing to accept it.  I've got a book on that now, maybe I can figure it out.

I wonder: if I did get back to work, would disaster follow?  Sounds really paranoid and superstitious to bring this up, but I have to say that I have had remarkably bad luck with horrible interruptions popping up whenever I managed to get back on the game development wagon.   Part of me is becoming desperate enough to spit in life's eye if it does this again, willfully throwing myself on the spikes of life's gauntlet, burning all my bridges, losing everything, if that is the only way to get a game made.

Tertiary priority: read.

Oh, the perils of hanging about the library:
  • I have book two and three from the Artemis Fowl series to read, and haven't been able to make the time despite rather liking the series.
  • I have the first book of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, looks good, but  I haven't touched page 1.  
  • I have volumes 6-8 of Bone, it's light enough reading that I can usually get through it during breaks at work, but unfortunately I'm on book 5, which is proving elusive to secure.  
  • I needed something to read today, so I checked out Training In Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Logong.  So far, it's turning out to be very nonsecular, just how I like it.
Given all the games I have to play and make (and all the useless blog entries I have to write) I really don't know when I have the time to read.  I'm also still working on that Phoenix Wright iTunes game and putting in a daily appearance to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, so there's another two distractions.

Well, I'm struggling now, but I bet I'll have a glut of free time pretty soon.  This is the last month I'm allowed to work over 69 hours a month on my current schedule: it's an official job restriction.  If I keep away from forums (something I have been doing mostly consistently as of late) then perhaps I might just have enough time to get all this done, after all.

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