Learning to finish

Hello again!

Today I wanted to talk about the many different creative projects I’ve worked on in the past, including Monster Embassy, which I worked on from 2015 to 2021. I think this will help me leave those projects behind, “close the door” so to speak, and tackle my current project more effectively.

I also want to talk about this because, to be honest, after creating stuff on my own for most of my life and never finishing anything “marketable” (aside from some minor stuff, which imo is not good or interesting enough to share), talking about these projects here will make all of this work feel more real. I’ve had a lot of fun with these unfinished projects, certainly, and I’ve learnt a lot, but that is such an intangible thing. I do hope to finish something and share it with the world, eventually, but for now I’d like to narrate a bit of my fruitless creative history here, so I can remember it better, if anything else.

As I explained in the previous entry, from a very young age I always wanted to create something “big”. That first started when I was like six or seven years old. Until then I had been doodling aimlessly (for the most part) on my school notebooks, but there was a point when I decided that I wanted to create something more specific: an entire monster bestiary with hundreds of creatures, which at first were some kind of a weird hybrid between Digimon, Pokémon and The Powerpuff Girls (yeah I know, kid from the late nineties…), and eventually settled on being just original Pokémon designs.

That was my first big project and I worked nonstop on it for FIFTEEN years. It spawned many “subprojects”, like literally dozens of Pokémon fangames (I always had grand plans for them, but never finished more than a couple maps and a titlescreen for each), complete encyclopedias with quality illustrations and detailed info for each creature (those never went beyond 20 or 30 monsters at most. I must have written the entry for monster #001 at least thirty times), even entire blogs or webpages (which never lasted more than a few months before I grew tired of them and deleted them. Notice a pattern here…?).

Aside from the bestiary, I had many other unrelated projects over the years, although in most cases calling them projects would be a disservice… maybe better call them “ideas” or “concepts”. Most of them were narrative in nature. First they were comic books (I had this entire manga concept when I was like 12, with all the character designs and a list of chapters and volumes and everything. I never went past the third page), then they morphed into novels (my final project for high school was actually the “first volume” of an illustrated novel. Obviously the second volume never came), and then they eventually turned into videogame projects and kind of converged with the bestiary project.

As you can see, my narrative projects have been many, but mostly fruitless. I must have written thousands of novel pages without never finishing a single draft, always starting over and over again, and I have lost count on how many times I have “planned” a novel from beginning to end and then have never come around to writing it.

There is an exception, though: three short novels that I managed to finish, but would never even dream of showing anyone because they’re horrendous. But hey, it’s something! At least they taught me that I AM able to finish something, if I am stubborn enough. I’ve also written some acceptable short fiction over the years, thanks in part to the fact that I took some creative writing classes a few years back, but short fiction has never been my goal and I’m honestly not that interested on it or on publishing those tales. So yeah, I can finish stuff if it’s SHORT… but I’m not into short stuff.

Curiously enough, the bestiary, my longest standing project, DID come to a somewhat satisfactory conclusion. It was 2015, I was 22 and it was summer, and I was very tired of never finishing this “bestiary” of mine and dragging it behind me for all of my teenager and younger adult life. So I took my dozens of notebooks, folders and whatnot (which were full of around 1600 (?!) scattered monster designs that had been piling up since I was seven) and I said to myself: you need to finish this. Just choose 150 of those designs, redraw them in better quality, give each a name and consider this done.

So I did. I spent all summer working on it, drawing those designs on paper and coloring them with felt tip pens. I chose my favorite designs, reworked some entirely, combined some others into a single one, etc., until I had a full bestiary of 150 creatures that I was satisfied with.

And… yeah! I did it! I finished something! It might not have been up to the unreachable standards of my ten-year-old self, but it was something, and it was DONE. Phew. That was it, right? Could I finally rest now?

lol no. When I had all those drawings in front of me, I saw so much potential. I had all those monsters… great. Now, what did I do with them? Was there a point in designing all of these characters if they were never used for anything? For a story? For fiction?

So I reached the obvious conclusion, which was to create an overscoped RPG Maker monstruosity with turn-based combat, complex interactions between different types of monsters, magic, hundreds of items, a huge worldmap, an open world, unique graphics and personality for each NPC character in the game and fully destructible environments.

Oops?

So, in 2015, all of my creative interests had converged into one. I still did want to write fiction, and I have attempted to write some novels and stories since then, but after years of going around between drawing, pixel-art, fangames, music, writing and web designs, narrative videogames (that is, interactive fiction) had finally become my main goal, a way to combine all of my interests into one single project.

Later than year, I decided on a name for the project: Monster Embassy. And I spent the next year and a half “working” on it, that is, messing around in RPG Maker VX Ace, learning how to script and creating a pretty nice prototype with almost no content that I scrapped as soon as it became decent (or, as I told myself, as soon as I reached the limits of what RPG Maker could do). Not that I actually needed to go beyond those limits at the time, but hey, if I accepted that, then I would get to FINISH the project, and we wouldn’t want that, would we? 😀

So, after reaching a point of frustration in RPG Maker, I then spent weeks researching other game engines, hoping beyond hope to find something that I liked (I had already done the engine hunting dance almost yearly since I was in high school, to no avail, since RPG Maker was the only thing that appealed to me), and… surprise! There was a new engine around, called Godot Engine! It had appeared in 2014! The engine was beginner friendly! And worked natively on Linux! (back then I was a Linux-only user) I tried it out and it made sense! How wonderful!

So there I went, remaking everything from scratch in Godot Engine. Yay! More delay time! It was December 2016. I began a devlog shortly after and maintained it (more or less) until 2020, when Covid hit and the project burned to ashes.

What happened during that time? Lots of things! Of all the unfinished projects I’ve worked on, I think that Monster Embassy has been the most fruitful. If anything, thanks to it I’ve learned to make music and have finished a chiptune album, I’ve learned to design UIs and how to use an all-purpose game engine (Godot is an excellent next step for beginners after RPG Maker. I don’t regret the engine switch at all, even though it WAS just an excuse Not To Finish at the time), I’ve learned to make scripts from scratch and program with a high level language thanks to GDScript (Godot Engine’s own scripting language), I know how to prototype and playtest specific game mechanics, I have made lots of gamedev and game enthusiast contacts, and… this is a big one… I’ve been slowly, very slowly learning to be more realistic when planning out a project.

I must have rescoped Monster Embassy at least five times. Each time, the number of characters, monsters, systems, scenes and features has been reduced. At first, I wanted to make in Godot almost the same game that I had been creating in RPG Maker, minus the turn-based battling, since I had already decided early on that I wanted to make a peaceful game. Still, it was an extremely complex project that was almost impossible to do for a single person. Since then, the number of monsters has gone down, down… from the original 150, to 64, to 32, to (in my current project, which reuses concepts from Monster Embassy)… 22! The human characters have been greatly reduced in number as well, and the game systems have been simplified on each rescoping. Slowly, I’ve been letting go of the illusion of “grandness” of my previous projects and trying to focus on something that 1) I’m truly interested on, not just doing it so other people will like it, and 2) I can actually do.

When you’ve spent your whole life dreaming up crazy impossible projects and never getting around to bringing them to life, as soon as you get more down-to-Earth and start doing the grunt work, you quickly find out there’s a (huge, terrifying) disconnection between those imaginings and what you can actually do. I was always aware of that, in theory, but experiencing it made it hit home. I’ve also realised that, all along, I’ve been trying to fulfil some “external” ideal instead of doing what I intimately wanted to do. That’s part of the reason why my inner perfectionist has made me sabotage myself and never finish all those projects. They were just general ideas, not grounded on specific things that spoke to me.

The game used to be mostly about monsters and a typical heroic quest, but it’s slowly become a game about people, focusing more on character development, relationships and exploration of the world around you, which was what really interested me all along. So you could say that this whole process is also a journey of artistic self-discovery, as I keep learning what I want to achieve, and by doing that get closer to achieving it for real.

My current project is very similar to Monster Embassy. In fact, I will be reusing its code, and characters, and part of its concept. But I wanted to give it a different name this time. Because I was growing tired of the old name. Because I had been holding to some concepts and materials for too long (sunk cost fallacy, I guess). And because, after the forced halt of Covid, I want to start a new chapter in my creative life, and finish something meaningful once and for all.

All those bestiary attempts, scrapped comics and books, unfinished fangame projects… they’ve taught me many things, such as character design, storytelling, composition, pixel-art or programming. Very useful specific skills in gamedev. So what do I have left to learn?

Exactly: I need to learn to finish, the very thing that I thoroughly suck at. Wish me luck…

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