A few years back, I found myself in a store for musical instruments. For the most part, they’re fun places to be, since you can bang around on instruments that you don’t own and get a feel for them.
I started playing on a keyboard, making up random patterns, and it was like lightning striking. It felt great, and I seemed to have some intuition on which keys I should bang in a given order. I went home with it that very day, and began to experiment. Every single day, I practiced until I got bored.
Over time, I started to develop the ability to sound out songs that I knew, and I ventured into composing. Although it was a struggle, I found that I could gradually translate ideas about music that lived in my head into actual music that I could listen to. During a long period of unemployment, I began exploring this full-time.
What I came up with for a first project was Butterfly Doom. The project is almost definitely a joke, in the way it pretends to be super serious and grim. Most of the songs were drawn from what I was feeling in 2019 – unease at the Trump Administration, the final death blow of an unhealthy relationship, and the long shadow of a depression that had followed me for years and years. In spite of this source material, or perhaps because of it, the resulting music takes the approach of trying to sound way too serious while also sounding way too outrageous. It’s largely tongue-in-cheek, and virtually every part of the process was a messy experiment.
So, without further ado, here is the result of ten months of work. The resulting sound is vaguely reminiscent of 90’s computing, MS-DOS, and adventure games. At the same time, though, it’s still effectively rock. The sound is slightly edgy, like Nine Inch Nails, but the lyrics are absolutely over the top, and I even get to channel my inner lovechild of Trent Reznor and Glenn Danzig.
All of this music was produced using MIDI and digital instruments (specifically, LMMS and Ardour on a Linux workstation), and the resulting music was released to Open.Audio under a permissive Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution Share-Alike license. If you like it, give me a shout and feel free to use or remix it in any way you see fit!
From a young age, I was exposed to Sierra and LucasArts adventure games, and became completely enamored with Quest for Glory and Space Quest. I’d spend hours exploring every nook and cranny, finding many ways to die along the way. For me, adventure games were something of a revelation – it was a way to experience a story in an extremely immersive way.
This obsession carried on for years, as I played through some of the biggest titles that Sierra and LucasArts had to offer. I’d spend hours working through frustrating puzzles, dying in hilarious ways, and getting my ass handed to me in combat. Eventually, I’d stumble all the way through to the end of the game, which may or may not wrap up the story in a satisfying way. Regardless, I loved this experience.
As I grew older, I learned about a nifty little tool called Adventure Game Studio, which provided everything a person needs to develop retro-style adventure games. You could map sprites and animations to characters, make people walk around and say things in dramatic sequences, and even build a custom point and click interface from scratch.
This was a game-changer for me. Suddenly, I had a wThe only remaining screenshots of NOLY live on in a traileray to make a pixelated man walk back and forth on a screen. I could connect rooms together, put items in places, and make people say and do whatever I wanted them to. As I continued to get more practice in, I started to refine how I did things. I learned to make my own sprites and animations, customize the entire game interface, and even design some interesting loops that made me feel clever. Throughout my high school years, I filled notebooks with drawings and ideas of where I wanted to take my stories.
The sad truth is, I never finished a game. I probably burned through several hundred AGS projects in trying to master the editor. At several points, I suffered hard drive failures and always neglected to make backups. As time’s gone on, the hosting services for my old game screenshots and project updates have gone dark, leaving me with only a handful of files to show off things I’ve made.
Here’s a peanut gallery of some of these prized failures. Keep in mind, the art assets in each of these are pretty unpolished, because game development for me was more of a sandbox where I learned to improve my skills along the way.
Space Quest 3 VGA
Somewhere into my early years of using the tool, I decided to try and collaborate with a bunch of volunteers to develop a VGA remake of Space Quest 3. Because when you’re 15 years old and want to start up a game development team, fan games seem like a great way to bootstrap.
The remarkable thing about this is that our development efforts were organized entirely on a forum, and we had no easy way of managing code or assets. It was basically a long process of attaching things to a forum message, pinging the right person who needed it, and uploading archived builds of the game for people to test out.
Eventually, that project petered out, and the upload services for assets all went dead. As a favor, a copy of one of these early builds was held by Steve from Infamous Adventures. Although it’s not the final product of what we released, it does give some insight into the implementation and general art direction.
No One Likes You
No One Likes You (or NOLY for short) was an edgelord comedy game that I developed during my years lurking on the Linsux forums. At the time, I was going through a major breakup with someone, and developing a game served as a welcome distraction.
The premise of NOLY is relatively simple: you’re an emo kid named Peter, you have ultraconservative religious parents that aren’t happy with how you’re living your life, you’re failing at school, and you’re not particularly popular. It’s your last two weeks of the semester, how do you turn everything around?
In a way, the game was meant to be a response to Willy Beamish, replacing the hip kid in a wholesome 90’s family with a depressed kid in a dysfunctional 2000’s one. Same as Space Quest, I constantly uploaded new builds to a forum for people to play with. I actually got pretty far with developing this one, but a hard drive crash led to me losing all of the game data and art assets.
Sojurn: City of Meteors
Sojurn remains a game that I wish I could go back to and finish. Realistically, very little code ever got committed for the project, but I spent a lot of time with plot development and world-building. It served as a love letter to games like Space Quest, but was intended to take a much more serious tone…generally speaking…
The basic premise of Sojurn is that humanity is finally living in space, Star Trek-style…but, economic and environmental problems have effectively caused the Earth to become a toxic wasteland. Human beings have yet to wander out of its own solar system, as technology never advanced enough for interstellar travel. This new society relies largely on mining and barter, struggling to keep the lights on and life-support systems running.
You play a young man named Billy, a grumpy punk who works for a waste management company. Your mission is to go from station to station picking up trash and toxic waste, fighting sewer mutants and uncovering a huge conspiracy along the way.
Why am I sharing these failed projects with you? Well, truth be told, I still love them for what they were. Game development was a great hobby in my teenage years, and my hope is that one day I might be able to revisit these different projects and maybe re-make them.
The biggest take-away, of course: BACK UP YOUR FILES.