Recap: 2018

January 3rd, 2019

Filed under: Recap/Roadmap Web Development Game Development Life Writing

Let me start by saying I have no clue where the year went! One day I’m making additions to my portfolio, another I’m driving to a production assistant gig, then another I’m developing a game! Then another still I’m deep into a development course. Next thing I knew my birthday was coming up and my car windows were freezing over again. I haven’t had the chance to just look back at the year and reflect on it, until now…what happened?

What you’ll see first is an attempt to answer that question: a recap of the previous year’s major accomplishments as best as I can condense it into something digestible. I won’t lie and say the year didn’t have its share of missteps, failures, missed oppotunities, but in the spirit of moving forward I’m focusing on the triumphs, successes, achievements. If you’re in the driver’s seat not looking forward you’ll drive off a cliff, yeah?

In a follow-up post is how I’ll be paving a new road with those experiences, constructing a roadmap to the future I’m striving for and setting what I hope is the tone for 2019.

This is part one, Recap: 2018! Let’s jump in!

Made an effort to establish EnMod Games

EnMod Games is an indie game development team currently comprised of one dev: me! While this means I have complete control over the team’s output, it also means that to get it off the ground I end up doing much of the work myself. Last year I pushed hard to establish some sort of foothold for EnMod Games to stand on, doing what I could to make it known.

A solid repertoire

One of the most important aspects of a gamedev team is a solid repertoire, an area I have been lacking in. While Neci’s Nightmare and School Years have been out for some time, I needed to make something else! A roster of only two games is more than a large percentage of devs manage to do, but I still felt that EnMod Games should have more titles under its umbrella.

To remedy that, and practice Godot Engine more as I felt I was lagging behind, at the beginning of the year I finally released The Labyrinthine Night! It’s a survival-horror title I meant to put out during Halloween in 2017 but needed to polish it to a shine. Even though it was a bit buggy on launch, multiple people played it throughout the year and even made some videos (shoutouts to GameWG and Xandre Retro PC on YouTube)!!! Given my lack of marketing the fact that word of mouth was spreading the game around like that was a pleasant surprise.

After that, I was on a roll! As much as I like the concept of The Labyrinthine Night and considered expanding it, I went on to develop The Sieve and the Siphon: my first on-time entry for a game jam 🎉 This was for the Twine Games Jam 2018, where it won first place!!! Again, I couldn’t believe it was happening, especially with some stiff competition.

For a long time after that I had less and less room for gamedev, but thought if I can’t get a full project out at a time, I’ll chip away at a bigger one. The Big ARPG project still needs a bigger team, so I thought I’d tackle something on that scale I could more or less handle. My choice was an adventurous sports RPG! Still not sure if I can tackle it myself, but I’m going for a vertical slice of it first! Wrote the script for that this year too. This information intentionally left vague, more to come 😉 (also more on EnMod Games’ many accounts!)

Got the word out

Establishing a proper presence for anything these days is a Herculean effort. If you’re not paying for ads, you’re not reaching anyone generally, unless you’re building your audience as organically as possible and working every day on it. In sharing updates on the work throughout the year I’ve been pushing forward on organically building, but of course social media and writing a postmortem for School Years doesn’t quite cut it.

At my SO’s suggestion, we set up the first ever EnMod Games convention booth at A Video Game Con! We had a significant turnout at the booth, with players of all ages giving School Years, The Labyrinthine Night, and The Sieve and the Siphon a try, with many going for multiple runs on the first two. Looking forward to more booths in the coming year!

Stepped up my webdev game

By night and weekend I make games (when possible), but by day I sling divs and push code as a web developer. HTML and CSS were very much in my wheelhouse for years, but anything more than basic JavaScript eluded me. I’d either rely too heavily on jQuery or have to constantly look up basic functions like filter() or map()…the easy-to-grasp Simple Steps JavaScript really helped me nail down the basics two years ago and that helped. However, the expert level was always just out of reach! Last year I put my foot down and said enough is enough.

Finished some Wes Bos courses

If anyone’s seen Wes Bos’s tutorials they know he has a very unique method of presentation and explanation. It’s that method that seemed to be the thing I’ve been looking for to help me over the hurdles in my way; it’s approachable, laidback, without being uninformative or vague. Those hurdles in particular were Flexbox, making more JS projects, and understanding advanced JS. Wouldn’t you know it; Wes had three courses that tackle those exact topics!

What the Flexbox?! covered everything about Flexbox I needed to know, from axis orientation to flex-basis to nesting Flexbox for advanced usage. #JavaScript30 was thirty straight days (with gaps in my case) of miniature JS projects, in which I felt I could spread my wings a bit more than if I was implementing small additions at work. Last of the three courses was ES6 For Everyone , covering everything advanced JS from the ES6 spec onward. There was a whole new set of concepts there on top of some I really should have had a handle on up to this point.

Learned two major JS frameworks

To advance your career in the current webdev landscape it’s helpful to have a modern JS framework or two under your belt, be it frontend or backend. I focus on the frontend, so if I were to work elsewhere or work on a side project with another dev my framework of choice would come down to Vue, React, or Angular 2+. Given their popularity and growing communities, I decided it would be best to learn both Vue and React.

After taking the course VueJS 2: The Complete Guide , I was more than ready to work on some projects with Vue! I first set about refactoring an MCCC site in Nuxt, a server-side rendering framework utilizing Vue. The result using dummy data was…lacking, but it got me practicing Vue so I didn’t really mind. The real achievement was rebuilding my SO’s landing page with Nuxt; I really feel that I outdid myself with that site compared to the work I did while learning.

Vue is a joy to use and to build with, so I wasn’t really keen on learning React…but I came to accept that what’s fun isn’t necessarily what’s practical. The practical choice when it comes to learning JS frameworks, based on the job market and sheer developer market share, is React. So shortly before the year’s end I bit the bullet and finally learned it, through React 16.6: The Complete Guide .

Learning React helped me vastly improve my vanilla JS skills due to how it leverages vanilla JS features and patterns in its own patterns and workflows; that’s something I can’t say happened while learning and using Vue. Not to say Vue is bad (it’s still a fun time), but for me, I’ve found it isn’t as practical to stick with at the moment. I’ll likely be putting React at the top of my “To Use” list for web projects going forward.

P.S.: shoutouts to Maximilian Schwarzmüller at Academind for creating the React and Vue courses! They’re incredibly comprehensive; I’d recommend them highly to anyone who wants to learn either framework.

Reinvented my identity design

My identity design and – to a lesser extent – my logo have been in a state of stagnation for more than five years…in 2018 I decided it was finally time to dig deep and bring myself into the design.

The beginnings of a new look

Long weeks of introspection and reviewing what resonated with me most culminated in a new logo, informed by themes of simplicity, practicality, and minimalism:

Author's new logo

The classical elements of many traditions were a huge inspiration as well as the Lower Dantian, as far as it is considered in the practice of taijiquan (a.k.a. Tai Chi). From the logo, I derived a design system adhering to the same principles governing the color choice and placement in the logo, redesigning avatars across my social media presence to match:

  • General avatar, basically the logo above
  • Avatar for EnMod Games
  • Avatar for Modified Waves, the moniker under which I create audio

Ideally, I’ll be able to finish and open-source that design system at some point in 2019. Not as much of a priority as others on my roadmap, but more on that in Roadmap: 2019! More explanation on both the logo and design system will come in a separate post, covering the choices made in both design and implementation.

Landing page revisions

My landing page’s design had languished about as much as my identity design, and it too was in dire need of an upgrade.

First I wanted to revamp the backend, because managing site content through local HTML seemed…dated. In the interest of simplicity I wanted a headless CMS that was intuitive to use and published JSON that was easy to parse. Hosting also needed to be free for cost and headache reduction (at that point I was done managing a DO server), while being versatile to use for other needs in the future. For me, using a combination of DatoCMS and the already-wonderful Netlify to power my landing page was the first step in the upgrade, due to the former’s simplicity, the latter’s features, and the combination’s cost of $free.99 per month for my usage.

The second step was giving the frontend a facelift. One particularly helpful site (if a bit crass) that got me thinking about new designs was, featuring a “lean 7 fucking lines” of CSS on the body tag to transform an unstyled layout into something very readable. The explanations for each choice in the CSS were sound, and by applying similar ideas alongside learnings from other materials about font choice, I was able to bring my landing page to a place I was more satisfied with. I wouldn’t say I’m happy with it at present, but it’s a large step in the right direction.

Shifted my eating habits

I’ve never been the most fit person, but in 2018 I (and with more concern, my SO) thought that needed a change too. So, a few visits to my doctor later I found that my cholesterol was moving in the right direction, but weight needed to go back under 200 pounds for sure. Not having much time for working out or coming up with a plan, I asked the helpful folks at DevLifts to do that for me, formulating a diet and workout plan that would fit my needs and schedule.

What was most effective was their diet plan! With it I lost over 20 pounds to bring me down to 184 for the first time in almost six years. Key to that loss was greatly minimizing bread, sugar, and general carb intake, while doing something active on a regular basis. Didn’t really stick to that workout plan though…but I wager that my standing desk helped somewhat with the activity.

Got REALLY organized with Notion

This was a late addition to my list of things done in 2018, but WOW. NOTION IS…WONDERFUL. If you know me, you know I say “this is the tool I’m sticking with for XYZ, and I’m not switching” at least once a month. However, there are certain tools I have not moved from since finding them, and fit so naturally into my processes and preferences that I really can’t see moving from them. For game development that was Godot, for UI/UX/graphic design work that was Figma, and for project planning and organization it’s definitely Notion.

Moved from strict kanban boards and nested tasks

I’ve used Trello and other kanban tools for years, but couldn’t shape them into other views if I wanted to visualize the data in a different way. Trello’s extra features were also too gated by their business model for my budget’s liking; either the feature I wanted was in their $9.99/mo. Trello Gold, or was a combination of 2 or more Power-Ups, which would require Gold.

I had tried using Todoist and TickTick as well to organize all project related tasks as nested to-dos, and that was actually preferred, but something was missing there…I still couldn’t change views/sorts on the fly into something I found useful, nor could I work with project structure and organization outside of the apps’ constraints. Not to mention the pain of import/export that each software (Trello included) unfortunately requires users to contend with for moving data in or out of them. Well, painful for my picky data import/export preferences anyway.

The Holy Grails

Then, late in the year, I found Quire. Finally, an app that I could use to visualize tasks in both nested todo form and kanban! It even had an intuitive organization/project system to keep lists in check. That was great and all, but why could I only group my tasks by status in the kanban view? That didn’t make sense for some views that required more of a “character type” grouping or for general information storage. No…I came to find that Quire excels at task management, becoming my personal favorite tool for that purpose, but doesn’t necessarily excel in project management.

After all seemed lost, along came Notion. Where do I even start…how about a list:

  • You like nesting? How about to-do lists within typical page-style blocks? Or toggle-lists a la Workflowy or Dynalist? Notion has you covered!
  • Need to make your Notion pages public? That’s just two clicks away; links are shareable by default but require permissions to be set, a great model.
  • Lists of data can be organized as a detailed version of the same…
    • or in spreadsheet-style tables!
    • or in kanban boards!
    • or in a calendar view!
    • OR even as a gallery!
    • All on the fly, with sorting and filtering, at the click or tap of a button!

I could go on for a while, but…let’s just say I’ve moved every project plan or backlog I’ve had in every other tool into Notion. The organization features, flexibility, wealth of import/export options, Markdown inline generation and copy/paste…all of it for less than $50 a year??? I’ll be using Notion for a long, long time. Quote me on that. …Oh, and Quire too.

Contributed to film works

With that tome of text up there you’d think coding is all I do in my works; think again!

When there’s time or opportunity my SO and I help out on film sets for productions of all types! Usually I’m sound or a production assistant, but often I get something hands-on to do. This year was no exception to our long track record of film gigs, with some promising projects in the works.

2018 was also the year my SO’s short film paralysis began its film festival run, making it into such major fests as Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival, Golden Door International Film Festival, Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival, AxWound Film Festival, and over 10 others! The film was also hailed with accolades, ranging from Best Horror nominations to a Best Editing win from Chicago Horror Film Festival, and even a perfect 6 out of 6 reels from A Slice of Fright! Couldn’t be more proud of her 🎊

While I feel that my focus should be on my coding work for both web and play, I wouldn’t mind picking up some more advanced skills on set either. I’ve found that helping create other visual media has given me a better sense of design and storytelling patterns I can apply to my own work. I’ve put this into practice somewhat when making posters for some of the productions we’ve been on including, of course, paralysis.

To be continued!

Wow! I didn’t quite expect to write soooo much about 2018; on first thought it didn’t seem like I got done much of what I was planning to. On the contrary, I had material for what I think is the longest post on this blog so far 😅 Thanks for reading all of that, and don’t forget to check out part two: Roadmap: 2019!