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A New Version of Catlandia: May 31

I guess I’m kind of a perfectionist. When we released a demo last year, I envisioned releasing a new build every couple of weeks, as new features were added, because it kinda felt like the game hit a functional milestone, and it would all be content and polish from there.

It was not all content and polish from there.

Part of the problem is quite simply, I got better at Unity. I felt more comfortable with its tools, with plugins, with animating, with coding. And looking back at what I’d already done, it didn’t seem adequate. I could do better, so I should do better.

And so began a long process that tore apart much of what made the game work. We had a playableish version working around July of last year that we showcased at Edmonton’s K-Days. Then I kind of didn’t do anything for a couple of months. It’s hard work, making yourself do something so complicated, after 8 hours of your day job or on your weekends, when no one pays attention to your fun, creative work and you accept you’ll just have to make a career out of what they do pay your for: selling print advertising.

(I don’t do this any more, phew)

I came back to the project around October with an aim of “finishing” Catlandia: Prologue within two months. It would be rough, it would probably not be good, but it would get you through a couple of quests, and I’d be able to say I completed something.

I looked at my UI. It was full of dull brown boxes that just slid in and out. They did the job, but, dammit, I played through Persona 5 twice last year, and that beautiful, stylish UI left a mark on me. I could obviously not hope to match the perfection on display in that game, but I could do things better.

Here’s the old battle (I don’t even have a high res version!):

And here’s how it looks after I redid the UI (and got new art, and animated the enemies, and and and:

But it was a month-plus long process of redoing the UI. I picked brighter colours that better matched the background art. It’s still all basic Unity UI boxes, because we have to stop somewhere, but I put them at weird angles. I had them spin and rotate and slide and bump and roll in and out. I’ll still probably add a few more animations to them later, but it got me looking at the game in a whole new way. It felt better. Like, compare this old version of the dialogue box:

To the new, redesigned one:

It’s a curse, though. I don’t regret making them better, but it also meant that, well, I couldn’t release a new version during this process, because UI that didn’t match would look gross. Then I couldn’t release a new version with hats that didn’t flip properly. Then I got new art for the enemies, and I couldn’t release a new version if they didn’t all have neat animations. Then I found a dialogue/quest system plugin that would solve all my problems, but I had to integrate it.

You might notice in the video above, the combat now happens seamlessly (okay, there’s technically a white flash where I cheat) on the field, without going to a separate area. That meant removing the random encounter code (which, quote, “bummed” someone out who played a version last year), making enemies walk around (they won’t target you, yet), trigger the battle upon hitting them, handle the player/sidekick/enemy objects, change control of the camera, and transition back out on win, loss, or run. Boy, it was a lot. But it sure is worth it to jump into and out of a battle.

Okay, yes, Chrono Trigger was a big influence on me.

The loose December “finish the Prologue” goal sauntered on by. It turned into “make a new demo for March, April, May.”

Eventually, I sat down, and I drew up a list of everything I felt I needed to do to have a new version of a demo feel good. There were long-standing confusing issues in the combat I knew had to be done, but I cut, for now, a combat tutorial. That sucks, but hey, the game’s unabashedly not finished. I had to complete the UI revamp, but I left the shop UI out. The shop itself works fine. But you know what, it can wait.

Anyway, I’m writing this, because that list? It’s done. And I feel the urge creeping in again. The urge to “just add this one other thing”.

Instead, I’m committing to a May 31 release of a new version of Catlandia: Prologue. Also, it’s now called Catlandia: Crisis at Fort Pawprint. I thought that would be a lot more interesting and less pretentious.

In these last two weeks, I’ll be focused on correcting a bunch of bugs. I should be able to get them all. But if not? Enjoy them! See you May 31.

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