Hello, John of Fungus here! Grandpa Pip's Birthday is a spin off game, a side quest on the way to making Super Sword Sword Shield. This is one our games here at Fungus that we hope to release soon. I'm going to describe a little of the history going into it.
Around 2013, Chris, Ronan (also of Fungus) and I started thinking about making a games company. Part of the idea was to just get back to making small games without pressure, strong direction or strong goals. Sure you can call it a lifestyle choice, but for me it really felt necessary - it's stressful not doing what you know you should be doing. I had already done a good bit of time working on games tech, tools, improving abilities, research, that sort of thing. But the urge to create something was strong. Perhaps, now after 10+ years experience I could finally let myself make games, that had been earned right? (This way of thinking is of course a fallacy, you're only getting experience at creating games if you're actually doing that and your right to create is implicit - but that's a tangent for another post). Also there's the problem that even doing the sensible thing can often still lead to layoffs, stress and a lack of financial reliability.
So one of the first things I did was to make small animated java-gl wallpapers for Android. You can see an example above. Eh... what, sounds very dry and not very "gamey"? So two things. Programming all the time can be a bit much - it was just a means to an end (making games) for me, and I'd mostly got pigeon-holed into programming for most of my career. Enjoyable as it can be, I've other interests. So the wallpapers were an excuse to start doing art (pixel art) for the first time. I enjoy the practice of it, even if I'm very slow, and it gives me some more independence when it comes to making stuff. There's something missing when you don't create your own art - opportunities for simple movement or animation, gag ideas, design ideas, sense of scale, interactive opportunities, development of taste and style. Plus it seems to use a different part of the brain that programming or design might. It feels awesome to be relaxed, listening to a podcast but still providing a significant contribution through art. The second thing is that wallpapers resonate with that world building, diorama making thing many designers have. Even if you can't interact (much, panning was allowed on some devices), you know that the wallpapers are not a video - it's a franken-thing on display, algorithmically animating the result of your process. I believe dioramas, for all their seeming non-interactivity, create an interesting conversation with the watcher. You agree to make something that provides opportunities to discover something new, the watcher agrees to engage their attention and wait for the inevitable shift of perspective provided by either the changing display or their stance. For me, dioramas resonate strongly with what it means to experience a game.
Anyway, perhaps not unsurprisingly, one of the wallpapers yearned for more agency. It was an endless loop of a knight on a horse, taking on randomised foes with perfect timing in a parallaxed 2d scene. Echoes of a SNES era game that also looked like an endless runner. Damn, I really dislike those, but I like this wallpaper, and how hard would it be to just make this thing, but as a runner I'd like to play. This became Super Sword Sword Shield. There's a diversionary blog post or two in the gap between which takes us to November 2014. I've demoed the game a decent bit now, it's playing well to audiences, even in a rather unfinished state. But in the intervening time we've this new thing called Fungus. You've probably heard of it. "Hmmm, How hard would it be", starts the internal monologue that usually leads to new projects if you don't ignore it, "to put the graphics of Super Sword Sword Shield into a Fungus story game?".
I didn't ignore it. I decided it wouldn't be very hard and it would be a nice test for layering Fungus over a pre-made game. It would also give me a break from Super Sword Sword Shield for which self-imposed art and design ambitions were starting to wearing me down a little. Perhaps I could find excuse to focus on doing the art for one section of the game, just enough to create this smaller game?
So thus existed all the reasons "why" I knew I'd make another game. But not "what" exactly yet. "Start with a great idea first!" seems the right way to do things, but it doesn't always work out like that. This is particularly true for industry game designers who often have to work to a remit, maybe not even in a genre they're fond of. Tip, if you end up in this situation, dive in and learn to love the genre, there's usually plenty of depth to occupy even the most jaded designer. Also in the spirit of experimenting, you quickly learn that "Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working" - Pablo Picasso. Circling the landscape of ideas like some vulture hoping to find a fresh carcass just waiting for you doesn't always work out, you often have to get down on the ground and hunt for yourself.
Also this had constraints. I love constraints. They're sort of training wheels for the design process. Something to help you make decisions with. A side cushion for the ball to bounce off. In this case the constraints were that, as a spin-off, it should be short, it should reuse the art and engine and it should use Fungus. So thus I had all the initial starting conditions I needed to get on with the design process for the next game. It's a wonderful moment when you know something new will happen!
Anyway, that's the history lesson, thanks for reading! Next time I'll talk about the process of writing and designing the world of, what would become, Grandapa Pip's birthday.