The Red Market Dev Log #13: Life Finds A Way (To Get in the Way)

In today’s fortnightly dev log: slow progress, and a one-month hiatus.

This past fortnight has seen me plink away at a pile of necessary improvements to the game:

  • Revamping the game’s RPG statistics from an overly abstract, kind of boring set of four (Physical, Human, Natural, and Preternatural), to a sleek, perfect, endlessly attractive six (Observation, Subterfuge, Power, Control, Grace, and Flair).
  • Revamping the game’s Injury system, so that injuries don’t disappear at the end of an expedition, and instead stack for progressively negative effects.
  • Implementing some uninteresting but useful UI and quality of life changes.

It’s going…okay? I know what I need to do, and so far I haven’t had any problems with the nuts and bolts of development. What I have had problems with is: being an adult living in the world, walking around and doing things.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that being alive is difficult. Being alive and functioning at somewhere between 60 and 100 percent efficiency doubly so. This month, a lot of things have been thrown my way, from visa issues, to health issues, to day job issues. I won’t bore you with the details, since this isn’t LiveJournal, but suffice to say it’s been pretty full on.

This has taken a bit of a toll on the time I can devote to development. I will be quitting my job as a teacher at the end of this month, and going freelance as a translator/interpreter, which will give me a fair bit more time for game dev, but that switch has also naturally thrown up its own roadblocks.

In order to devote time to game dev I need these little things called ‘money’ and ‘money for rent’, so I’ll have to pick up work when it comes my way. Sometimes that work will be a pleasant drip feed, and other times it’ll be an awful work spigot shooting lukewarm, foamy work all over my hands and face.

This spigot has just shot three weeks of intensive interpreting work my way, and turning it down would be very silly indeed. So for the next three weeks (and the week after that, since I need to go to Tokyo and sort out the switch to a new visa) I’ll be taking a break from The Red Market.

I’ll be thinking about it a lot while I’m gone, and I’m honestly surprised by how much I’m looking to get back to it once all this is done. So it’s not goodbye, it’s just ‘see you in a bit’. In the meantime, let me tease the next major update:

The next major update for The Red Market will include all the improvements I mentioned at the top of this post (and those in dev log #12), as well a new, secret monster. I won’t say much about this monster except that you won’t find it by normal means: you’ll need to open yourself up to watery tragedy before it turns its hollow eyes your way.

I’m also hard at work on a new major series for my blog, tentatively called RPG Autopsy. In that I’ll be playing through RPGs of all kinds, and trying to figure out what makes them good (or what makes them terrible). Look for that, and the next update for The Red Market in mid-late April.

Bye for now,

Nick

(And remember, you can follow me on Twitter by clicking here. The current early version of The Red Market can be played online here, if you haven’t already.)

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2018: The Year in Books – ‘Painter to the King’ by Amy Sackville

(In the final part of our 2018: The Year in Books series, we look at my absolute favourite book of last year. (and my god, it was actually published last year (who could believe it)) It’s the one, the only – the incomparable ‘Painter to the King’)

The Bestest Best Book of 2018 Award

Amy Sackville – Painter to the King

Painter to the King

Painter to the King follows the life of Diego Velázquez – one of Spain’s most important artists, and official painter to King Philip IV.  As a young man, Velázquez  is summoned to the King’s court for his prodigious talent. The King too is young, restless – at turns consumed by optimistic cheer and crushed by the stultifying routine of royalty.

We follow them both. In later years, so laden with titles and offices, we see a Velázquez far too busy to paint. And the King quieter, subdued by age and tragedy and long-endured routine. We see the warp and weft of a life – or rather, of two.

It’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

The King, The Man:

Painter to the King is as much the story of the king as it is the painter. And it paints (aha) a portrait (just shoot me now) of royal life that makes you pity royalty – the crushing expectations, the tutors, the timetabled days without a moment to oneself. Immense wealth, immense privilege – but happy? No, very likely not happy.

Children born, the requirements of producing an heir heavy upon you once again, and foreign wars and shows of piety and so much power but only in the abstract as others run your life for you. The lassitude not just of being endlessly managed, but of being so rarefied, so distanced from normal men and women that you might as well be on different planes of existence:

‘…only the most necessary staff attend the King’s lonely, largely silent repast. He would like a sip of cinnamon water, holds out a long hand for it. It is fetched from the dresser. It is uncovered. The physician approves. It is covered and presented; the cellarman kneels, flanked by footmen; the King drinks. The process reversed itself, the cup received re-covered restored to the dresser. And if, a moment later, the King thinks he might like to take another sip – – the glass is fetched again and uncovered and approved and covered and presented and so on and so on. Or sometimes perhaps he thinks better of it, prefers to go thirsty for a few minutes more.’

The arc of the king’s life is fascinating, sombre, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I, but Velázquez also feels the weight of expectations upon him. As he rises in importance he receives money and titles and privilege – yet more keys open yet more locked doors in the King’s court. But his responsibilities multiply. He must manage the King’s collection. He must meet and talk and sometimes bargain. He must do a thousand different things, and painting is just one of them. In his youth he was consumed by passion for his work – now his passion consumed – starved of light and oxygen – by all the things he must do.

Painter, Preserver:

Amy Sackville writes like no one else I’ve ever read. She hone in on the intense detail of small things and small, glossed-over moments with the precision of a Renaissance painter (which is, obviously, appropriate to the subject matter).

Just take this randomly-selected passage from near the beginning of the book:

‘The cool curve in the hand, the rough striation of the clay and the smooth glaze, the fine cracks snagging lightly each ridge of the fingertip; he attends to all of this, plasticity, rigidity, fragility, damage and flaw, detail, surface and shape.’ 

Not only does her writing feel like poring over the brushstrokes of a masterpiece in some dimly-lit European gallery, but it feels, at times, like the most direct communication of a person’s thoughts, feelings, fears, and obsessions I’ve ever encountered in fiction.

Not of Velázquez, but Sackville herself. Throughout the book we keep returning to a nameless narrator – a person in the modern day travelling, presumably, to see the paintings, and piece together the life of Diego Velázquez. Not the biography and the dates, but the man himself. It’s impossible, at least for me, to see this as anything other than a stand-in for the author, and her thoughts, her feelings – her fears and obsessions. Perhaps it’s not that at all, and I’m reading too much into it. But like I said – it’s impossible for me not to.

Sackville’s writing is intense and obsessive – employing stream of consciousness, and an especially liberal creative licence with punctuation to build something incredibly human, incredibly personal: a reaching out – driven by an unspeakably personal sense of connection – to a painter three hundred and fifty years dead. Knowing all the while that, ultimately, you’re chasing thin air. Talking to that person directly, knowing they are long gone, but hoping that through art, somehow, something can be preserved:

‘I want to know if – – you know, for example, when you split an almond lengthways in the teeth, and find the perfect smoothness of the nut’s inside surface on the tongue– I want to ask – – I want to ask you, do you love that, as I do? The smoothness of it and the sweetly bitter oily tang? No one will remember this about me when I die.’

Painter to the King is, like most great novels, about a lot of things. It’s about the painting. It’s about work and passion, and being pulled ever so slowly away from those things. It’s about piety and sin and regret – the willingness of the spirit, the weakness of the flesh. But, at it’s heart, I think it’s a novel about how art can touch us. How we can see so much of ourselves in the paintings, the films, the writing of another, and how that can make us want to reach out to the painter, the director, the author. How it can make us feel that there’s something personal – something somehow two-way there. That the painter – the man – is reaching back to us, through the centuries.

Are they really? No. Does it matter? Not for a second.

– – –

That’s all for this series. I’d like to keep writing about books in the future – though maybe at a slightly more relaxed pace. I’m currently mulling over a piece on Endo Shusaku (one of my favourite writers), and his short novel The Sea and Poison. That might take a while though, as I work on other projects (some of them to be announced on this blog very soon).

In the meantime, thanks for sticking with me through these ten posts. They’ve been fun, if sometimes very difficult, to write. If any of the novels I’ve talked about in this series seem interesting to you (especially Painter to the King, which, as you can tell, I can’t recommend enough), please do give them a go.

And if you want to follow me on Twitter (for some reason), you can find me here.

See you next time!
Nick

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The Red Market Dev Log #12: Cutting Out the Faff

In today’s fortnightly dev log: I did some things, and didn’t do some others.

Bit of a small update today. I’ve been very busy with work recently, and I’ve also been busy planning: (a) my wedding, (b) my honeymoon, (c) bringing nearly 20 family members over to Japan for my wedding, (d) a move later in the year, and (e) career changes for both my fiance and me.

Woe is me, I’m getting married and spending quality time with my family. I know. I’m not complaining, but just letting you know that development this fortnightly sprint has been slow. I only managed to do some of what I wanted to do, so the rest is going to spill over into the next sprint.

What I Still Need to Do:

  • Completely revamp the game’s Stat system
  • Revamp the game’s Injury system, to include stacking injuries, and strategic, cost-benefit decisions about when to heal injuries
  • A few uninteresting UI changes

I’ll talk about these next update, assuming life doesn’t keep finding a way to slow down development.

What I Did Do:

  • Rebuilt the game’s item system in a pretty significant way.

Before the player could buy everyday items like writing supplies, offal, and heavy-duty emetics, then use them on monsters. (to communicate with a mouthless shape-stealer, or to fatten them up before selling them on, etc.) These items could be bought, and were lost upon use – if you ran out you’d just have to go and buy some more.

I made it this way for one main reason: to make the player careful about what items they use, and when. Using the right items with the right monsters could unlock some pretty cool, useful interactions, and if the player can just repeatedly try using every item with every monster it’d (a) be very boring, and (b) lose any sense of challenge or mystery.

However, I’ve noticed this had some downsides. Most importantly, it can lead to a lot of busywork on the part of the player. In a graphical game the player might be able to click on a menu and instantly buy whatever items they want. But since The Red Market is text-only, a player who runs out of an item has to click to return to hub -> click to go to the market -> click to buy the item -> click to return to hub -> click to go to monster -> click to use item.

I ended up doing some stuff behind the scenes to speed all this busywork up, but I realised that it was still busywork – just slightly faster busywork. Not only that, but it was taking dev time away from actually interesting stuff.

So I decided to make items permanent unlocks instead of single-use. Now, when you buy an item you can use it again and again, forever. They’re a little more expensive, as a result, but it takes a lot of the faff out of playing (and making) the game.

How am I going to prevent players from using every item on every monster, then? Well, in the full, graphical version of the game (which I’m planning to start work on after finishing the current text-only version in July) there’s going to be a cool-down system in place, so players have to wait between interactions with their monsters. However, this is very difficult to implement in a text-only Ink game, so I’m going to just have to trust the player to not waste their own time doing something incredibly boring.

That’s it for today. I’m hoping to finish everything listed above by the end of the next sprint, and ideally upload a new build of the game then.

Nick

(And remember, you can follow me on Twitter by clicking here. The current early version of The Red Market can be played online here, if you haven’t already.)

 

 

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