DIALECT: A Game about Language and How it Dies

I love languages, and I love constructed languages.

Years ago, I heard about a Kickstarter for this game: Dialect. I was excited, and so were other Esperantists.

I finally received my physical copy of the game and I was so excited to play it with friends, and seeing the variety of Backdrops provided with the game (four core ones, and several additional ones contributed by others) inspired me to start thinking about how an “Isolation” is formed, and what counts as an “Isolation”.

I can’t find a lot of information about the game elseware online, but I hope popularity for it blows up. I would really like to read about other peoples’ stories and languages they develop through the game.

In the meantime, I’ve created a BitBucket repository with a template “Backdrop” page, and some custom backdrops I made, inspired by stories that I like, or games my friends and I used to play as kids. Feel free to print and use them however.

https://bitbucket.org/rejcx/dialect-extra-backdrops/src/master/

I miss Fin ‘N’ Kit

Where I was, job-wise

Back in 2012 I quit my job as a software developer and decided to go back to school and use this chance to try to make and publish games. I was so sick of working in the basement in a 6’x6’x6′ cubicle (in retrospect, I was lucky to have a cubicle!) and I was incredibly depressed. All things considered, it was a good job – I look back on it as the best place I’ve worked as a programmer, but back then I was waking up and panicking because I did not want to go into work.

I did go back to school – one semester at one place, and one semester at another place, different degrees each time, neither of them a good fit, but I still had to pay for those classes so I had racked up more student loans.

I’m trying to look at my LinkedIn to put the pieces in place, because I don’t remember exactly when I ended up being unemployed for an extended period of time. I had part-time jobs at an office store and at a music store, but those paid nothing. Anyway, it looks like the original Fin ‘N’ Kit was published in 2014, so around then – I finally went back to work as a software developer around May 2014 because school is expensive and I needed money.

So somewhere in 2014, I had no job on purpose, because I wanted to try to start making and publishing games. While at my previous job, I had always been day-dreaming ideas for all these great things I could make if I just had the time and the energy. Was depressed, quit job.

Taking the plunge, unsuccessfully.

At the time, I was fortunate enough to have a boyfriend that I lived with and seemed relatively okay with me only working part-time retail jobs while trying to work on games. There were two projects I worked on during this time – one was a contract game for a client to advertise their brand, but Fin ‘N’ Kit was what I did first.

The old title screen of Fin ‘N’ Kit, back when it was Delfino & Katyuno

It was originally named “Delfino & Katyuno”, which is an Ido language title, but nobody is going to remember how to spell that. Anyway, I was working on Delfino & Katyuno for a while. The gameplay and having a cat/dolphin I thought up in a dream, and it seemed really cute.

Gameplay of Fin ‘N’ Kit for Android

I also wanted to include a level editor so people playing the game could also make their own levels.

The old level editor

(The level editor ended up taking me a majority of the time to make.)

I built the original Fin ‘N’ Kit with Gideros & Lua, as well as that contract game that became Gift Grab. Gideros made it easy to test on mobile and publish on mobile, though trying to figure out how to do certain things with the filesystem was a little difficult. I published a Fin ‘N’ Kit demo for free here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.Moosader.DelfinoKatyuno

After the demo was released I began working on the contract project. However, now I was unemployed and stopped seeing my therapist because of the cost. I was depressed at work, I was depressed off work. I did get the project to a complete state, despite feeling useless and lethargic and often crying on the floor, immobilized. But it had been like this for years – it was always a struggle to get myself to move forward. It felt like there was one me, who wanted to get stuff done and felt terrible if they didn’t (the Anxiety-Rach), and the other me, who felt like I was a failure and useless (the Depression-Rach).

So the whole “quit your day job and make games” experiment failed.

And of course I felt bad about that.

Back to work

I went back to work as a software developer for two more companies, from 2014 to 2015, and again, I was so fed up with that world. Every subsequent job I took was worse, and I kept looking back at the job I had before I quit with nostalgia. Sure, I broke down and cried a lot, but at least that place was decent. Oh well.

I had quit my last software development job, and had an interview with a new place. They were going to offer me a salary of $100,000, which would have been my highest salary I had made, but after I informally verbally accepted, I kept breaking down. Again, I was on the floor crying, and I couldn’t quite explain why, but staying in the field felt wrong.

After a few days of this, I told myself: Look, this is my body telling me that this isn’t the right decision. I can’t keep doing this.

So I rejected the job. What else could I do? Working part-time in retail was beans, and I can’t support myself with that (I was with a different boyfriend at this time). Back in 2013, when I was going back to school at UMKC, they had given me the opportunity to be an adjunct there for a couple of semesters. I really enjoyed teaching there, even though it really challenged my shyness and difficulty speaking in public. I had always really enjoyed teaching – my first job was tutoring math at my community college’s math lab. And, being an adjunct, while the cheaper alternative for schools to go with for hiring, was still a better paying job than working part-time at an office supply store.

The CS department at UMKC has always been pretty good to me. I was able to email the chair and ask if I could teach there again, and I got one class. I also ended up meeting another instructor at JCCC through a friend of mine (who was a classmate of mine back at UMKC), and that got my foot in the door for teaching there as well.

In Spring 2016, I was teaching two classes: CS 201R at UMKC, and CS 200 at JCCC.

I also had asked my doctor for antidepressants.

I had also met this cute boy on Tinder…

Rai and Rachel!

Rai and Rachel!

Teaching and gamedev

2016 was the best year of my life in a very long time. I was excited to teach – I loved teaching and making programming assignments and lectures and recording videos. I had also began my relationship with Rai and we hit it off so well, unlike anyone I’ve ever met. I was also on antidepressants, so that probably kept my mind more focused as well.

I was committed to continue working on games while working part-time as an adjunct, and I did manage to do that, even though this was my first semester teaching in a while and I had to prep basically everything. (I’m picky, I think textbook resources are really boring.)

I decided to work on Fin ‘N’ Kit but I didn’t want to use Gideros – I was having a hard time working with the filesystem, and now I had teammates to help me work on levels but the problems with Gideros made it hard to work online and send each other levels. I decided to rewrite the game.

In C++, SDL, and Lua.

Actually I had a lot of fun writing it – though of course I would also get worn out by having to implement everything as well. I split the game into two parts: I worked on the Kuko engine, all the reusable bits common to any game, while simultaneously working on Fin ‘N’ Kit itself. I also used the Lua scripting language, and that’s how levels, language files, menus, and other things are stored. I was so proud of that code. I would go back and refactor as I saw fit because, unlike writing software for someone else, you can freaking choose to take the time to make things better!

The beautiful map editor

Like the first version of the game, I also spent an ungodly amount of time on the map editor itself. My excuse this time was because I needed other people to build levels, too. I kept tweaking the UI and adding features to make it better and better.

A cutscene – Fin says “Hello!” and Kit says “Hi!”

I went with a totally hand-drawn look, and wanted to make it super cute. The main game had still cutscenes you could watch before playing the story-based levels…

The level select screen

I had intended to add several map types – Beach, Swamp, Lava, or something I don’t remember what they were!

“Balmy Beach”, the first world

And I kept polishing it up and updating it to look really nice.

Fin ‘N’ Kit looking really nice

I worked all through the spring semester on this, but I was also feeling weary – my teammates couldn’t work on anything while I was the bottleneck, programming this entire game solo.

And, there was a texture glitch – probably because I used vanilla pointers in the Kuko engine and was manually managing the memory, instead of using smart pointers.

Where did Kit go??

Textures would disappear or be replaced with other items’ textures, and I knew it would take a while to figure out what was going wrong. In the meantime, my teammates didn’t have anything to do. So, for the time being, we put Fin ‘N’ Kit aside.

The client who contracted that game I worked on back with the original Fin ‘N’ Kit had, years before, decided to not publish that game. I was really proud of my work on it, and I thought it would be a waste to just let that code die, so I had ended up paying back the money they paid me so that I could keep the code and republish with new assets, but it had always been sitting around – no time to work on it.

So in autumn of 2016, I was working on new graphics for the game, Tea worked on translations, Jessica worked on marketing and the trailer, and Rebekah helped with testing. We put out Gift Grab: Christmas Quandary together by Thanksgiving.

Depression, revisited

Two weeks from November 1st, 2016, Rai’s employer’s client decided they didn’t need him on-site anymore since they were going through budget cuts. They let him know he would have to return to India in two weeks. We were already living together, but had only been dating for eight months. Those two weeks were so tough, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen to our relationship. He went back on November 1st, and leaving my night class, walking to my car, knowing that he wasn’t there waiting for me was crushing.

Soon after, the election happened. Antidepressants can only combat so much.

For the rest of 2016 and most of 2017 I just got through each week like a zombie. Each workday like the last, just class prep, teaching, grading, repeat. Kabe the cat was there for me in the evenings, and most nights I just laid on the sofa and watched TV after work.

Kabe and me

I did go to protests, I did some volunteering for refugees, I donated money monthly to multiple causes. But I can’t remember much of anything from 2017, except my trip to India to see Rai, meet his parents, and officially get engaged.

Rachel and Rai at his parents’ house after engagement

OK, but what about Fin ‘N’ Kit?

I’m still really proud of that code. I’m also proud of the game and the polishing I did on it. Sometimes, when my students ask about using graphics in C++, I pull down the code and run the game and step through how it all works together (from a high-level overview). Every time I open it up for my students, I remember how much I love that game.

Through 2017 I was working full-time and more-than-full-time, so I didn’t have the energy or the time to work on much in the way of game development. This year, I’m working on focusing! I’m so bad at focusing on one project. But after these visual novels, maybe I’ll work on Fin ‘N’ Kit on the side while everyone else works on their own games. I know writing a game from scratch… IN C++… seems like a weird thing to do, but I really enjoy it. I love so many aspects of game development: The UI design, the art, the animation, the programming, the code design, just putting all of it together!…

…Awwman I want to work on Fin ‘N’ Kit so much!!

Inspiration and meaning

Since the election, I have had such a hard time getting inspired.

As news unfolds, creating an unwelcome climate here in the U.S., but also news from other countries such as the atrocities happening in Syria, I find myself wanting to do something with my work, but don’t really know how to go about it. At the moment, the best I can do is donate my money.

As we think of the next game that we are going to make, or just little games I could make in my spare time, I keep wondering what I can make that has meaning. That makes a difference.

Of course, making games that make people happy can be important, too. Sometimes, we all need a little escapism, and it can be hard to stay motivated to get shit done if you’re depressed and worried constantly. If you can at least get some reprieve, you can work towards doing more good.

But beyond fun games, what else could I be making? To help support others? To teach others? What?

I’m not one to sit around idle while I wait for an answer to be fed to me, so I’ll keep going. I got hired on full time at my school, which means a steady income for now, and I can set up monthly donations. I can work on projects and work on making my business more viable, and perhaps once we have money (beyond what I put in out-of-pocket), my company can have more weight.

I’m just kind of stuck in a rut without any inspiration, because I have essentially been constantly worried since November.

Attack of the Mutant Lawnmowers, November 4th

Back when I was an awkward 12 year old, I loved staying up late, listening to the radio, and building adventure games in Visual Basic 5 on my very own compy. Attack of the Mutant Lawnmowers was one of these games, though I have long forgotten the ending of the game, as it crashes part-way through.

To get the Moo team used to RenPy, we’re having a game jam this month to build a short story with RenPy. It is the Moopy Jam. My project is to remake Attack of the Mutant Lawnmowers.

Sometimes it is a lot of fun to step back from complex programming and just work with art and basic story. I’m terrible at writing stories, but oh well! I’m remaking a 16 year old game, so who cares?!

  • Original title screen
  • New (WIP) title screen
  • Original opening
  • New (WIP) opening

Jeopardy for Computer Science

Sometimes, class gets quiet. Especially during review days, students usually don’t speak up on their own to ask questions. So, this semester I wrote a little Jeopardy program and used it for both of my classes.

The students at the community college I’m teaching at seemed to enjoy it; I was even asked to make more questions and come back with candy as a reward next class. So I will. I upgraded the Jeopardy program and wrote new questions dealing with different topics in Computer Science / C++, and it’s all ready to go!

This program is written with C++ and SDL2, as well as my Kuko framework. Since the class is about C++, I thought that it would be good to write the program with C++, instead of doing it as a webapp (which would have taken less time, admittedly!)

You can download the game code here: https://github.com/Rachels-Courses/CompSci-Jeopardy

It also requires the Kuko library: https://github.com/moosader/kuko

As well as SDL2 and Lua 5.2!

Fin ‘n’ Kit DevLog #6

end of level

Some of the art is temporary and will be reworked.

Not a lot to update with at the moment. The semester is coming to a close, so I’m grading and preparing the final exams and such, so consequently I’ve slacked off on Fin ‘n’ Kit development — It has been 12 days since the last coding session I did. And I’m just coding now because I arrived to another campus four hours early for a meeting. But that’s good!

I got a few things done, and actually the game is now somewhat like a game! You can create a level, add obstacles and trinkets, extra lives and mark where the end of the level is now… Obstacles and Trinkets have their own behaviors (though they’re really rough at the moment). You can play the levels. You get a 1-to-3-star score based on how well you play the level.

Still plenty more to do! But we can start building levels together now. Yay!

Always remember to kick Analysis Paralysis in the pants! Any time I am “afraid” that a feature will be a pain in the butt to implement, it really only takes like an hour. Then I just feel stupid for feeling intimidated in the first place. ๐Ÿ˜›

IMG_20160425_164711

My portable dev studio – except I forgot my drawing tablet. But I can basically do all my work from any location!

IMG_20160425_164729

To-do list mostly vanquished!

Fin ‘n’ Kit DevLog #5

Today I worked on level artwork (though I’m still not done!) and updated object behaviors. It is all looking pretty spiffy! Right now everything is still, I will have to add in animations later, but the animations aren’t really necessary to have the team go ahead and work on levels.

Check out this video for more:


 

And here are screenshots!

All of the obstacles and trinkets on the screen

All of the obstacles and trinkets on the screen

Obstacles!

Obstacles!

Trinkets!

Trinkets!

 

Fin ‘n’ Kit DevLog #3

On today’s episode of “I meant to program for more than just 3 hours today (but the day isn’t over yet!)”, I worked on the Fin ‘n’ Kit level editor!

I was interrupted by a phone call that ended up lasting about 45 minutes. It was my dad, who put his brother on the call so that they could get my input on their idea for a vlog series. Vlawgz. Well, if they start a trucker vlog I will let you know.

Anyway, back to what I was doing.

So first, I updated the resolution of Fin ‘n’ Kit to 1280×720 by default. It was something like 960×640 before, but most phones seem to be much wider resolution than that. The game can resize to whatever based on what you put in the config file.

config

So I retooled the menu Lua files to look better for the widescreen menu, more space in the map editor and all.

Lua files woo

Lua files woo

Fin 'n' Kit widescreen menu

Fin ‘n’ Kit widescreen menu

Still seems like a lot of empty space, so it needs to be adjusted more.

Anyway, got that up, and worked on the level editor. Actually spent about an hour on artwork for new obstacles and trinkets for the first world of the game. Also added some features that Tea wanted that I couldn’t actually implement in Gideros (as far as I could tell from my research).

Temporary low quality art for tile types

Temporary low quality art for tile types

So basically, you can place tiles on the map now. They’re still constrained to a grid at the moment, but they don’t have to be. Not sure whether to keep it on a grid or just free placement. Tea requested the ability to right-click to erase a tile, so I implemented that, and at the lower-right of the screen I also added a tile to switch quickly between the current brush and the eraser.

editor

Each item right now is a small 80×80 icon, but when actually playing the level, they will be of varying sizes.

Still more to do…

To Do List

Want to get this minimum amount of stuff done, then port over the gameplay state so that the rest of the Moose Team can start working on levels with the new editor.

And here are some of my bonus sketches…

sketches

For all my gamedev projects, I buy a cute notebook just for that project. Here is my Fin ‘n’ Kit notebook :B

notebook

That’s all for now!

–Rach


Rachel Morris is the founder of Moosader and the lead developer/artist.

Fin ‘n’ Kit is a game by Moosader being developed with C++, SDL2, Lua, and the custom Kuko framework built by Moosader.