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My Jimmies Rustle Even In The Snow

This week has been one of record-breaking snowfall in my neck of the woods.  Living here in a valley of the pacific northwest, it is highly unusual to be hit with a sudden snowstorm that dumps about a foot of snow overnight, followed up by a freezing weather that goes as low as single digits.  It was enough to get a day off, guilt free, as the workplace was closed.
Four days later, the snow has transformed from a glorious winter wonderland into a nagging, persistent house guest.  The weekend is not quite as fun when I cannot just nip out for some fast food due to hazardous road conditions making that a perilous undertaking.  I bought a light and small car, hoping for added fuel efficiency, but the lack of mass is a real detriment when it comes to trying to drive in weather like this.

With my day job being a major community service (a public library) they've decided to stop being cautious and open at normal hours despite the fact that every night brings a new layer of black ice.  Fortunately, I have been blessed with a neighbor who owns a large truck and works in the same location, so I have some means to be there even in bad weather, but this also means I do not get an excuse to stay out of that frozen hell.
For these reasons and others, anxiety largely dominated my extra free time.  What a waste.

As far as gaming is concerned, I seem to be looking at a rut and a deadline:
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda is due out in March, 2017.  It would be nice to beat Mass Effect 3 before then.  In that case, it would also be nice if I had a save to import from Mass Effect 2.  Both games have dated so hard that I half-suspect EA substituted uglier polygons: I just don't remember Mass Effect 2 being so ugly!  To make matters worse, I can't decide on the vocation for the main character.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II is also due out around the same time.  It would be nice to beat Divinity: Original Sin before then, but I will say that the characters are not quite as endearing as in the Mass Effect series, so it does not seem to be as important.
  • When the 7-year-old nephew comes to visit and wants to be entertained, I often end up doing what he wants on the computer for 6-12 hours straight, and this thoroughly derails my gaming groove.
But what really bothers me is something even worse.

To explain the problem, lets start with my most recent entry on the reddit roguelikedev sharing Saturday thread:
I managed to get some more hours in on the project this week. I'm still working on getting my project to a basic playable state. I'm thinking of tearing off most of the UI right now because then I have less elements to populate in order to get there. Although that is an important goal, I like to try to introduce new things to games, and so I have a tendency to do so in a rather complicated way.

This week, I was working mostly on my character turn resolution model. I had already decided to do a basic energy system (where actions have energy costs and characters cannot act until that cost hits zero). However, to make things a bit more interesting, I decided to try to implement a reasonably advanced AI model I came up with (not to assert I was the first).

The way it works is that each character has an array of literal "problem" objects that are automatically populated as their needs assert themselves. For example, a character is hungry, that's a problem to solve, it gets added to the queue. If a character has a hostile foe appear in their view, that's another problem to be solved, likely a more urgent one than getting something to eat. Each problem has an "urgency" score that determines what the character will try to do in the next turn: top urgency wins.

Because solutions are relatively unique to problems, the logic involving how to solve them can go right into the polymorphic problem classes. Although, maybe down the line I will determine I need my solutions to be unique classes in themselves, as this would promote more code re-use. What I am shooting for is a flexible AI that is capable of some fairly advanced behaviors.

One thing I am noticing right away is that it runs a bit counter to the idea of a player character, because telling your character to move one step to the east is not a problem, it's a demand. One way I can solve this is simply creating arbitrary "manual control" problems with a very high urgency. The other way is to actually change the way the game is controlled, where a player asserts needs and has the player character attempt to solve the problem themselves. That latter method would certainly be different!

An interesting thing about this model is that an AI that has nothing to do is basically confused. It has no problems to solve. This makes me immediately aware that an NPC needs a bigger purpose beyond basic needs, and this is important to my vision of the game, as I want to make a virtual world with purposes beyond survival.
What's so bad about that?  Sounds like I'm making good progress.

Well, the problem is that this sounds more interesting to me than any game in existence.  Of course I feel that way because it's a product of my own creation; I've a creator's bias towards it.  However, it's not all bias because frankly it's rare I can find a game made by others that is particularly interesting anymore... I've not only seen everything under the sun, it's that many developers have resorted to developing for easier to please audiences.
I'm a case of a core gamer's plight gone critical.  I'd love to just play the games made by others, but it's proven too costly to sift through the lousy games to get to find ones that still satisfy.  My core gamer identity is in jeopardy, giving way to the budding indie developer within.  Not necessarily a bad thing, as the spoils of making games are surely more fruitful than simply playing them.

Yet, there are a few good reasons that I should be playing games, not just making them.  First, I really ought to do something to unwind, all work and no play leads to a joyless existence.  Second, it's bad for my game development perspective if I do not make time to seeing others' work, leading to a state of designer myopia.  Finally, why make games at all if I do not enjoy them?

At last, I come to what is the probable cause of my anxiety lately: I have three full time occupations, and not enough time for them all:
  1. The day job: a source of income, physical exercise, and giving back to the community, but not the dream (although I find a library to be an excellent ideal to do my best for).
  2. Making my own games: a source of creative fulfillment, mental exercise, and possibly will produce a few lovely artifacts, but it is also a lot of hard work so I can't say I'm allowing myself to unwind by spending my free time that way.
  3. Playing other peoples' games: a source of game design perspective and possibly (if I am lucky) enjoyment, but it's usually not as interesting as making my own.
With the day job recently upgraded to full time, I find that there is just no way to fit all three activities into my schedule.  Being so rushed makes me feel anxious.  So anxious I waste time on idle activities (like writing this blog entry) which just makes the problem worse.  In the face of such anxiety, there is nothing left, I am stretched as thin as I can be.
Here, you'll need this.
Then real life has the gall to happen.  A disaster at home.  Parents need eldercare.  Manic depressive brother has an episode.  The sister needs free babysitting.  Cats want attention.  Bah!  Constant interruptions!  My brain has enough to occupy it already!  Real life has absolutely no respect for a fellow trying to juggle a job and what he loves doing most.

This is ridiculous; I can't keep doing this.  The plates are spinning, but they must be teetering noticeably.  If I can keep them spinning through a Trump presidency like this, I'll be surprised.  When those plates start falling, change will become unavoidable, but the trouble with change is you can never be certain if it is for the best.


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