Where Have You Been?

I got an email a long time ago, probably a month after I stopped posting, asking where I had gone. My reply was simply, “I’m busy.” Needless to say, it’s been way too long since I’ve blogged, and I figure it’s high time I start up again before the entire year passes by without a single update.

Firstly, I’ve installed a new theme. The older theme I had was custom-made, but its style is rather old and not something pleasing to see. However, I’ve done my best in not going too far with the theme, so this new theme is as minimalistic as the old one.

This past year, a lot of work has been accomplished on Zems. While we’re still not quite at alpha stage for the game yet, we have released a lot of new content such as stories, artwork, and even some music. A lot of general playtesting has also been accomplished, and many of the ideas in the design document for the game have been cut. Cards have been revised, tested, scrapped, rewritten, and tested again. And after all this, I still feel like I wouldn’t be ready to release the game, even if we had the platform ready to go. No release is perfect, but I want Zems to launch with the minimum number of issues in terms of the content within the game.

All this testing has led to the tossing aside of numerous media. I now have a small stockpile of artwork and music I won’t be including in the Zems release. For about two months, I’ve been deliberating what to do with it, but about a week ago I finally decided I’m going to give it all away for free.

Giving Things Away Is Easy Right?

Not if you value your content. Most of the stuff I plan to give away would be best used in someone else’s indie game project, and so this past week I’ve been searching for royalty-free, indie game content sites I could release my stockpile on. I found quite a few, and they were more or less the same in terms of how they were run. I ended up discovering the following (what I now label as “universal”) problems in royalty-free media sites:

  • They are third-party submission dependent – these sites depended on outside sources to submit new works. The sites themselves didn’t have any internal development team that progressively released new content.
  • Quality control is nonexistent. These sites, being depending on third parties for content, are happy to hear when an artist wants to contribute work. This leads to a massive cluttering of submissions that differ in quality. Sure, some of the sites I found said they screen all submissions for quality, but for the most part I didn’t find much “high quality content” on those sites.
  • The sites look like crap. Now there are a few well-designed sites out there that I found, but most look like they were made by inexperienced developers who scrapped together a bunch of free web scripts they found online, without any sort of cohesive framework tying the site together.
  • Licensing is inconsistent. Since most of these sites have art contributed by a wide variety of artists, there is no standard license used on these sites. Instead, a developer looking through these sites will have to make sure the content they want will not have licensing conflicts with their project.

I, for one, take too much pride in what was developed for Zems to release my content on any of the sites I found. Instead, I’m going to launch a new web project that promises to fix the aforementioned problems.

Another Web Project… But You’re Not Done With Your Current One!

It’s true. I very rarely work on two web projects at once. Back when I first started working with the web, I had bunches of ideas stored in my head and I tried to create them all – and ended up finishing none of them. I learned pretty fast that if there’s a project you intend on finishing, you better give it your sole attention and put all other side projects aside until you finish it. So why the exception here? Well, the way I see it is, I’m working on Zems but by doing that I’m also garnering this stack of unused media as we go through Zems testing stages. By creating this side project, I will be able to release that media to the public. This side project is actually more of a subproject that spawned from the Zems project, so there’s not really much harm in making it. Will it take away from Zems development time? Yes. Will it degrade the quality of Zems? No. Will Zems still get finished? Yes. Once this site is up and running, I won’t be making massive changes to it, but rather use it as a platform to release unused Zems media.

As to how this site is going to tackle the above four problems, here are my solutions:

  • Hire a team of artists to regularly produce content for the site. None of these artists are working on Zems, therefore this won’t delay Zems work, but they are all personally screened by me to be high-quality artists. This eliminates the source of most of the problems, since this new site won’t be dependent upon third-party submissions but instead be able to regularly produce content on its own.
  • Require human quality control. Since the site won’t be starving for third party submissions in order to produce content, we can raise the standards on this site to a level much higher than the royalty-free media sites currently in existence. Each third-party submission will be screened by me personally on the grounds for quality before release on the site.
  • High-quality, coherent website design. Just because the content on the site is going to be released for free doesn’t mean the site itself needs to look like it was made on a cheap budget. I’m personally investing money in order to have a clean, user-friendly site design. As one of the primary coders of the site, I will be able to personally ensure the site isn’t merely a series of scripts scrapped together to add functionality.
  • Sitewide license for all released content. Everything on the site is going to be released under the Creative Commons Attribution License 3 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/). This way developers looking through the site won’t need to check each content’s individual license – instead, they will be able to rest assured that everything is under the same license and by reading the license text once, they know what they can and can’t do with the site’s publications.

Most free media sites also have a forum, and I’ll certainly include one, but as to the structure of the forums I’m still deciding. I want to avoid a mass-cluttering of indie developers requesting help and free content specifically tailored to their games, but I also don’t want to drive away developers from collaborating and helping each other. I simply need to do more research on forum structure, but that’s not my primary focus with this project yet.

Good Stuff… So What’s the Site Called?

Illustrosity. Not sure on the slogan or tagline yet, but the idea is that indie developers should be able to come with their working game prototypes, find the media they want to make their game look ‘good’, and then drop it into their games. Most indie games run on what is labeled ‘programmer art’, and nobody likes to prototype or test something that looks low-quality, even if the project itself is developed with a high sense of quality. I’m hoping Illustrosity will be able to help indie developers illustrate their game by providing high quality content. I figure most of the content won’t be directly used – instead, developers will take what they find on the site and modify it for their own projects. This is fine by me, as the hardest part in making something is usually creating the base or framework for the content, and Illustrosity will be a fine place to get those bases.

So yeah, that’s my website side project I’ll be working on.

…And School?

School is tough. But, I’m enjoying my classes this semester much more than my classes from previous semesters. Most notably, I’m taking a computer science course on the Java programming language, which is something I’ve always wanted to learn.

My other classes are Signals and Systems, Social Psychology, and I’m teaching a student-run course on web development. Overall, this is an exciting semester so far.

I hope the few readers I have left enjoy this update on my life. I need to get back to work and finish some homework. I’m not sure when I’ll be blogging again, so this might be it for the rest of this year. Goodbye and thanks for reading!