2023 – My year in game design

The draft of last year’s “a year in design” stayed as a draft. I guess it says something about how 2022 had been a year of uncertainty and some struggles for me. In comparison, 2023 has been much, much better.

For one, the project I have been professionally working on for the past few years has a name and is live for a limited amount of users. There is not much more I can say about wim at the moment, but if you want to give it a look, check it out on the official website.

This was also the year of Godot. As someone who had been using Unity for the past decade and used to love it, the idea of using another engine was scary and uncomfortable. There was always the latent fear and the lingering laziness of not wanting to learn new workflows (and what if I am only good at using Unity and my skills are actually non-transferable?). But at some point – you can guess when – I felt opening Unity just didn’t give me any positive feeling anymore, so I just decided to learn to use Godot.

You can see how it went after a few weeks here but I can confirm, some time later, that Godot reignited my passion for personal game projects. I am actually in the middle of making something right now and it’s such a joy to work with Godot. It’s freeing and fast in a way that I have not seen before.

A little sneak peek at the thing I am currently messing around with in my spare time. Maybe it will become something, maybe it won’t

Keeping up with good feelings, this was the year where I made a game that resonated with a lot of the people I love. Friends and family told me how much they liked it and how, for a while, they got obsessed on trying to beat their high score. I am talking about SphereCats, a little suika-like game I made before Suika/Watermelon game came to the West. Compared to its inspiration, I think my version has a bit more interesting physics, snappier gameplay, a couple of subtle tweaks that makes it a tiny bit more predictable… and then there’s the whole thing with accessibility. Improving my Godot skills was my main motivation in making this game and, since it was a pretty straightforward riff on another game, I decide to not monetize it at all. So I put it online as a browser game that anyone can play for free. Being able to just send a link and having my mom and dad play it on their phones made all the difference. No ads, no payments, no downloads. Seeing people I love playing it felt truly special and it reminded me why I love making games. Good stuff.

A screenshot of the version with the improved graphics made in collaboration with my sister Virginia

But this year was also the year I said goodbye to a project that I tried to make happen but ultimately did not work out. Maybe I will write more about it, and maybe one day it will come back in another form. But for a short while, it seemed like Gourmet, an action RPG based on emergent gameplay where you cook instead of fighting, could happen. It did not.

Here’s a couple of videos of what I managed to create in a few months of evenings and weekends work:

This shows how food could be used as a “weapon” to feed the monster, but also to regain health
A glimpse at how different food gave different effects so the same situation could be solved in multiple ways
A full playthrough of one of the latest versions of the demo

Ultimately, Gourmet sort of fizzled out, too big in scope to be realized in any meaningful way. But, at the very least, it allowed me to keep the flame alive and play around with emergent systems, which are the ones that interest me the most.

In the end, this has been an incredibly full year, tiring, stressful, with some hard moments and a ton of happy ones; a year in which I managed to keep doing what I love. There’s not much more one can ask for.

PS – My end of year favorite media list

Movie of the year: The Boy and the Heron

Album of the year: Jungle – Volcano

Game of the year: The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom (duh)

Favorite book I’ve read this year: Various Authors – An Editor’s Burial: Journals and Journalism from the New Yorker and Other Magazines