These months where years happened
Oh how things have changed...
Hello! It's been a while. Again. Seems to be a pattern with me.
I just went through a whole lot these past few months! To make a long story short, I was going to make more 3D web games, then I was nearly unemployed, had my creative outlook rocked to its core, and am now instead making simple vector art (shown further below) with my dwindling free time. I have future ideas of how I can grow it into something as impressive as Stickmen 2020, but I’m just going to embrace the uncertainty for now.
That’s the TL;DR if you’re not interested in a long read, but for those of you that are, feel free to continue…
So when we last left off, I had finished making a funny little demo of a house filled with physics-enabled objects that you can shake around. I was pretty proud of it after several painful weeks of using Babylon.js, the obscure game engine that makes this demo run so well in your web browser compared to something like Unity WebGL. Put simply, it’s not very fun to use Babylon.
Nevertheless, I began to ask Tom Fulp to help me get the demo working on his platform Newgrounds in order to have more people play it. He told me he got the game working on his end, but it kept breaking on mine with this weird console error:
And sure, there’s a fancy new browser technology called WebGPU that’s coming along soon to replace this WebGL shitshow, but once it arrives, there's no point in using Babylon. You might as well use an actual game engine that will be able to properly export a 3D game to your browser with it, like Unity or Godot.
I’ve heard lots about that engine, especially in the comments of my game dev logs on YouTube. Godot is a game engine that’s probably the most well-built there is for a free and open-source program, and it even comes with a vocal fanbase of people that make the software their entire personality: just like Blender! Wow! Despite the super-passionate users (and actual criticisms of the engine I’ve been told by some Unity users,) it’s very impressive what it can do for 0 dollars.
But what really caught my attention was that the team released version 4.0, a complete upgrade of the engine that makes the 3D more powerful and detailed. The WebGL exporter wasn’t really improved at all, but I finally decided to throw away my dreams of interactive 3D worlds in a web browser just to give Godot* a try. And wow. I loved it.
I recreated Camera Snap and House Shake in the engine in a SINGLE week. It was absolute bliss, and I will forever recommend Godot's* wonderful intuitive-ness to any aspiring game dev. Sure, it’s not the most powerful engine, but the learning curve felt almost non-existent. It was a joy to get things working, and I felt more empowered than ever to be a game developer.
However, I couldn’t really share my Godot* creations online as easily. The only existing platform I had was Newgrounds, but as established before, Godot’s* web exporter (like Unity’s) isn’t very good. I asked Tom if it was okay to upload gameplay footage of my Godot* games to the Animation portal instead, but he correctly pointed out that the portal’s really only meant for animated films.
We chatted for a bit about creation types that can’t find a home within the existing Newgrounds portals, since the site is built to prevent the low-effort content spam of YouTube by filtering through specific kinds of media with demonstrated effort. The only thing I could really do is post game screenshots in the Art Portal with some artistic angle, but that would hog attention away from hard-working artists that also post via static images.
It seemed like I had nothing to post to Newgrounds anymore. So I left.
I then did one last interview with the very talented host Aalasteir on the Newgrounds-centric podcast Off the Wall, where we discussed everything that happened to get to this point, as well as other things in general about online creation. If that sounds interesting to you and you have two hours to kill, give it a listen!
Unfortunately, the reason why I didn’t tell you about this podcast interview sooner is because it quickly met the same fate of all my other interviews: what I said on there about my future has already become outdated.
Because while all of this was happening, I was starting to apply for new jobs since I was feeling burned out at my current one. (It’s my only source of income, as I don’t have the discipline or networking ability to freelance. Doing job applications every day is also quite draining for me.)
It looked like I was destined to become a Godot* game developer, and to also find a new day job at a relaxed pace. But once March ended, this would no longer be the case.
It was no April Fool’s joke. At the start of this month, I found out my job was going to be switched to a half-time schedule, and once I finished all current work projects in May, it would then turn into unemployment. Oh dear.
To be clear, this did NOT happen because I was already looking for a new position, but my job search did ramp up (along with the stress.) I was really starting to grapple with how much more energy I needed to start putting into getting income for survival, and not waste it on self-actualization through creativity. It all led me to start seriously re-evaluating my life.
I’m not going to disclose much about my job for privacy reasons, but I can at least say that it’s a desk job. It involves sitting at a computer all day, and so I started to ask myself, “why is your primary hobby and source of joy ALSO sitting at a computer all day?”
This is why I posted statuses on my website talking about starting to be repulsed by programming and wanting to go outside more. Obviously I’m not trying to shame people who code for a living or for fun- hell I might even end up coding at a future job one day. I’m also not implying that I’m going to throw all my electronic devices into a dumpster and start camping in the wilderness for weeks on end.
I just suddenly had a strong desire to REDUCE the intensity of my computer-centric hobbies, and INCREASE the amount of time I spend going outside to a park and spacing out for a bit. Nothing more.
I was going to put a giant list of other things I was reflecting on during this uncertain time, such as the growing oversaturation of young online creators and the destiny of most creative careers doomed to become soulless marketing pawns, but there’s no point in making you read all of that depression. The bigger takeaway was that this looming threat of unemployment really made me re-think my relationship with being a creator on the internet. And then something funny happened once April passed.
Surprise! Turns out after a thing or two happened, my job is safe again. I wasn’t going to be unemployed anymore. Wow, that’s great! Back to work I guess. Business as usual…
Except it wasn’t business as usual. I did not immediately frolic back to Godot* to start creating needlessly complex projects that may not even properly represent my passions, pursuing yet another complicated hobby that enables all the worst parts of my workaholism. It would be the same problems of my 3D YouTube animations all over again.
I needed something much, much simpler. Even if it’s less cool to online people.
This is where Plasticity entered the picture. It’s a pay-once-to-own-forever software that puts a new spin on 3D, where you model with curves and lines instead of vertices and sculpts. It’s basically CAD software for artists, and it fixes my long-time frustration of dealing with arranging stupid dots to make a 3D model.
I really like this program. It makes 3D fun again. It made me want to give something in particular one last go.
I tried downloading a bunch of Blender plugins, modeled a simple character in Plasticity, and made this rendering called “simple hill.“ I then posted it on Instagram just to see how people would react.
This was really done just as a last ditch effort to see if I have any love left for Blender after using it for nine years. To finish this render, I had to do a lot of work I no longer enjoy. Not great.
But I tried again with “mount melt.“ This time, I REALLY felt the friction and barely had enough will to pull this scene together. My bag of tricks ran out fast, and I had to re-use the grass plugin from the simple hill.
This was an important moment- it made me realize my future is no longer primarily with Blender. Though I can still use it to arrange models or edit videos, I largely don’t want to be “the Blender guy” anymore.
This brings us to “crossing over.” I used this piece to silently communicate to everyone that I was done trying to make 3D look pretty. Modeling’s only been fun with this new Plasticity program, and dealing with materials and textures is still no fun.
I decided to experiment with having a new primary program: Inkscape. It’s a free vector program (similar to Adobe Illustrator) that I occasionally used for video thumbnails and website assets. After using it to trace the simple character on the right, it seems to provide interesting results.
Finally came “shipment sea.” This is where I now found my new path. It’s not terribly exciting, but this is a whole lot more interesting to me. No need to worry about lighting and nodes when you can just create a plain 3D model, pose it, trace it in 2D vector lines, and bring it to life with only colors and gradients.
I’m not tied to simple 3D objects and basic Blender scenes anymore. I can try making deeper, complex pieces with more meaning, explore worlds more nuanced than my old comedy videos, and really start to tap into the ideas of my head that have been dying to get out.
Though I have no idea where I’m going. I can’t ever say for sure anymore. But I know that right now, I want to do more of whatever this is.
With this, I can return to Newgrounds. I have actual creative output again. I’ll make more of it and post it on there (and on Instagram too. Thank you Instagram followers for being my guinea pigs.) I might even create a dedicated page on my site for these renderings too.
I have a few ideas of where I can take this simple vector art into something more relatable and exciting like my old YouTube videos. Some of you may know what I have in mind, but I’m not going to say my plans right now. I don’t want to promise something I don’t end up doing like cavefolder, so I’ll just reveal it whenever it’s ready.
There is still a nonzero chance I could drop all of this and find something new again.
But for now, I'll be fighting against the draining urge to give up creating, and just keep making this simple vector art to show the world that I'm still alive and going. Maybe life, bills, and jobs will make me drop off the face of the internet one day, but maybe it won’t. I will keep updating you on what new things I try to make, even if they're very basic or infrequent. In a 2020s world of exhaustion and burnout, here's to hoping this blossoms into something new and greater.
P.S. Did you know there’s now 100 of you following this? Thank you all so much for being here! This is a lot nicer than social media, and I hope you’ve been enjoying how much more context and detail these newsletters can share like I have. Until next time…
*JULY 2023 UPDATE: In light of recent drama that went down in the Godot community, I can no longer recommend the game engine. It’s not a “scam” per se, but there are detailed accounts of seasoned Godot developers not being able to finish their games because all of the engine’s features are perpetually unfinished once you dig deep enough into them. Beginners like me would have never noticed this until I'd become advanced enough to file a bug report to the team, only to have it ignored for over a year and counting. It seems like commercial game engines are currently the most viable options for long-term learning. Oh well, maybe O3DE will be better