So, like I said last month, my 2024 so far has largely SUCKED.

Since losing my brother a week before Christmas, I’ve been struggling a lot with the drive to carry on working. Even the stuff that normally makes you happy can be difficult to enjoy when you’re going through the worst times of your life, and working on our game has been no exception. I went from working on the game (or at least the website) nearly every single day of the year in 2023 up to that day (minus just four days for trips away), to not working on it at all for the final two weeks of the year, and then only working on it six days in January. Not quite the end to 2023 I had hoped, nor the start to 2024 I’d have liked.

Whilst I don’t know if I’ll ever commit myself to such a demanding schedule again (committing to a blog post every month is about as much of a regimen as I can take at the moment, and even that stresses me out), I’m pleased to say I’ve been feeling way more capable this month, having worked 24 out of a total 29 days in February, and – considering how things are for me mentally and emotionally, and all the shit I’m going through – I feel perfectly OK with that.

And so, since I’ve not had a chance to think of any particular ‘theme’ for this month’s statutory blog post, I thought it’d be a nice exercise just to write up a February recap. Although it isn’t always easy, it honestly does feel good to be working on the game again and making tangible progress on it. My daily diary for February (where I document everything I’ve achieved each day for the project) is nearly 6,000 words long. Without further ado, let’s try and distil that down into a blog post…

Kinoko’s abilities

This month, I’ve added two new abilities for Kinoko. Although we’ve been working on the game for a year now, Kinoko’s moveset remains a work in progress. As we work on the game, adding new levels and introducing mechanics such as enemies and obstacles, we’re frequently coming up with new stuff we’d like for Kinoko to be able to do. We don’t always add everything we come up with, of course, but sometimes the stuff we think of makes perfect sense, and so we do endeavour to add those in.

The first new ability is dashing. Before now, Kinoko could only move at one speed – running. We’ve adjusted the run speed several times, carefully optimising it according to the ever-evolving format of our level design, but there was never any way of getting around more quickly. Now, the more confident players among you will be able to sacrifice a little of your control and permissible reaction time by switching into a dash!

Dashing couldn’t be more simple. It’s just a case of holding down a button (currently the left trigger button on a gamepad, or shift on a keyboard) whilst you run. At the time of writing, dashing is approximately 52.5% faster than running, and there’s currently no limit to how much or how often you can do it. Be careful, though, because you’ll have less time to react to oncoming traps and enemies whilst dashing, and it also becomes impossible to make sudden, sharp turns. We don’t want dashing to be something that players will use blindly, otherwise we could just as well increase the base running speed. We intend that you’ll need to choose carefully when and when not to dash, because dashing – or not dashing – at the wrong time could be deadly.

The second new ability is aiming with the raygun. Prior to this change, Kinoko could only shoot forwards. He could shoot ‘backwards’, but only if you turned him around first, so really that was still just shooting forwards. Now, though, Kinoko can finally aim in different directions! We’ve implemented eight directions for the time being, which does the job well enough, although it’s possible that we could increase this to sixteen directions in the future if we get the opportunity.

Aiming is also straightforward. On a gamepad, the player will aim using the right analog stick. Push up to aim up, push left to aim left, push down-right to aim down-right, and so on. Kinoko will then shoot in that direction when prompted. It’s fairly similar on PC, though it uses the mouse. The player will hold down the right mouse button to begin aiming, and then drag the mouse in whichever direction they wish to aim. There are some situations in which Kinoko can’t aim, such as when running, however the existing ‘run and gun’ method of shooting still works in those circumstances. Aiming just gives Kinoko a greater degree of control when the situation allows for it.

Although they’re both quite simple, these two new abilities open up new possibilities for us in terms of level design and in coming up with interesting challenges for the player – and they’re bound to come in useful when we get around to designing bosses too. Like I said, Kinoko’s moveset is a work in progress, and I know for a fact that Chelsey’s developed placeholder sprites for a few more moves she wants me to try out, so there’s a lot more work to be done in this area – but, for now, this is good progress!

Game improvements

Besides Kinoko’s new abilities, I’ve been hard at work on several other big changes for the game too. Fortunately, even if I don’t remember half of what I’ve done in any given month, my daily diary remembers all.

Firstly, adding those new abilities gave me an opportunity to rework some of the game’s controls. I’m trying to think about them logically. Does this move require one of the trigger inputs? Is that move important enough to justify a whole input to itself? And so on. Right now, I’m happy with them. We’ll probably need to adjust them again in future as new – possibly more important - moves get introduced, so it’s very unlikely we’ve arrived at the final control scheme yet… but we’ll keep working at it. Controls are one of the things Chelsey and I disagree on most, and players will have their own preferences too, so we’ll almost certainly enable switching between different, preset control layouts anyway, and perhaps even mapping custom control layouts too.

I spent a fair amount of time working with music and audio this month too. We recently got our second soundtrack from our composer (‘Stones and Bones’, which sounds fantastic by the way, and which is currently available for early listening on Patreon), so that gave me the opportunity to handle what should happen to music when the player switches between levels. I’ve got it working now so that music continues playing uninterrupted when moving between two levels in the same zone, but switches when moving from one zone to another.

Whilst working on these changes to music, I also went ahead and swapped the three old audio toggles – which allowed the player to choose either between ‘on’ or ‘off’ for music, ambience and sound effects – with three new volume sliders. As you’d expect, these sliders allow the user to choose exactly how loud they want the different audio types to be, and, like before, music, ambience and sound effects volumes can all still be controlled independently.

Whilst making that change, I went ahead and redesigned the settings menu too. The previous version was extremely basic, and only had the three old toggle switches on it, so I split it out into three tabs – with scope for more in the future – and laid out the new volume sliders on the ‘audio’ one. I educated myself on Godot ‘themes’ in order to create something a bit nicer to look at than dull grey boxes (giving the game a neat blue theme with soft, rounded corners and some gentle drop shadows for the time being), though UI design isn’t something we’ve even begun to think about yet, so that’s all bound to change. I also took the opportunity to give the game a full screen toggle, which now lives on the ‘display’ settings tab.

Even the game’s HUD got a little more love whilst I was at it. I’ve continued the trend of decluttering the HUD as much as possible, implementing timeouts so that things only appear on screen for as long as they need to. This month, it was the starbits counter that got removed, so that’ll only be seen now when relevant – basically when collecting them, and also when spending them in the future. If it’s not relevant, I want it off the screen. That’s the case for nearly everything now. Enemy health bars, player oxygen, raygun charge – you’ll only see them when you need to see them. Only starsprites have a permanent home on the screen, since – what with them representing both your health and power-ups – we do consider those relevant at all times.

Oh, and zone title cards – we added those too. They’re basically quick title sequences that play over the screen when you enter a zone different to the one you were just in – you’ll have seen them in other games before, and we just think they look nice whilst also giving the player a sense of place in the world. They were one of the last things we added to the Unity build of the game before we were forced to start over in Godot, so there’s something quite symbolic about seeing them back – it’s like we’re finally all caught up!

Comics and characters

Whilst I’ve been working on the game, Chelsey’s published a couple of new comics – ‘Pet the starsprite’ and ‘Paranoid Neemal’ – which can both be viewed right now in our comics section if you haven’t seen them already. The comics section is filling up now, and it’s becoming a better place than ever for finding out more about our characters.

And on the subject of characters – although she’s been very busy with commissions – Chelsey’s finally begun to address the matter of Hanton, one of Kinoko’s other kuparkuke friends alongside Neemal and Cosmo. Hanton’s one of the project’s older characters, created long before the project started to go down the direction it’s going in now, and he’s a character who kind of fell by the wayside, undeveloped. We’re happy to say she’s finally begun thinking about a new way forward for Hanton, starting with a gentle redesign. Even though he hasn’t had as much of our love as the other kuparkukes in recent times, Hanton remains very special to us and important to our future plans for the project, so hopefully we’ll have lots more to say about him soon!

Website improvements

Now I’ll try to zip through this area, not only because I could write about website development for hours, but also because it’s 11 o’clock already and I want this thing published before it’s no longer February and I fail to release a timely blog post! But yeah, the website got a bunch of improvements this month too.

If the game is the ultimate joint ambition shared between Chelsey and me, and all the art and stuff is her passion project, then the website is definitely my passion project. Working on it gives me a sense of comfort even at times when nothing else will, so it’s perhaps no surprise that I’ve made a lot of changes to it this month, particularly in those times when the grief’s been hitting me harder and I haven’t felt up to working on the game.

I redesigned the homepage this month, which is something I’d wanted to do for a while. The old homepage was one I knocked up quickly, back when we had very little content to actually put on there. Even though they seem like the logical thing to build first, I actually really struggle with homepages, and I usually leave them for last. I just don’t think you can build a good homepage unless you’ve got the content for it from other parts of the website. Only then can you build a good homepage, which ought to effectively serve as a portal to other, more interesting parts of the website. I think our new homepage now does a much better job of doing that, with a proper introduction, links to some of our more popular content, and a redesigned blog section.

I added new sections for some additional types of content: organisations, points of interest, and provisions. There isn’t an awful lot to see in these sections at the moment, but it gives us a place to share articles on new kinds of topics that we wouldn’t have been able to post anywhere previously. We’ve already got new articles on the Order of the Event Horizon and the Star Lounge, we’ll have one for the Milky Way Milkshake imminently, and there will be plenty more where those came from over the coming weeks.

I’ve made many smaller improvements to the website’s layout and visuals too, which all add up to make a big difference. You might notice, for instance, that we’ve now got way more planets and species listed in the ‘explore the galaxy’ section than we did before. We previously had no way to share them unless they had a corresponding page to link through to, and the last thing we wanted to do was fill our website with empty pages, but we’re now able to add new stuff to these pages even if we haven’t got around to writing about them yet. The search facility has also been improved – make sure to check it out if you’re looking for information on specific characters or planets!

Other business

As I mentioned earlier, when talking about comics and characters, Chelsey’s been rather busy with commissions this month, which remains as important as ever since it’s our primary means of funding the project at the moment! Whilst she’s been doing these commissions, she’s moved into a role that is more like that of a ‘creative director’, rounding up other people to keep the creative side of the project moving whilst she herself is busy.

Eagle-eyed Kinoko fans will have noticed already that we got a new logo. We loved our previous one, but Chelsey in her role as creative director still had quite a specific vision for what she wanted and the opportunity came up to get it made. The new ‘Cult of Galaxy’ logo has been sitting in the header of our website for several weeks now, but here’s a closer look at it for those who missed it.

As I mentioned earlier, we got our second soundtrack, and we’ll be unveiling that properly soon, although it’s on Patreon already if you’re eager to hear it immediately. It’s another great track from Ember/Strymes49, so – whilst I work on getting the cave levels added back into the game so we can actually use the new track, ‘Stones and Bones’ – Chelsey’s begun working with Ember to work out the specifics of the third soundtrack. With two excellent tracks at our disposal now, we’re both very excited about the way the game’s soundtrack is shaping up!

At the same time, Chelsey’s also begun working with other artists to start looking into other areas of the game – such as the environment art for instance! She put out another post recently looking out for level artists and we received lots of great responses to that, so she’s currently working with somebody to see what they can produce together. Although level art’s bound to be a difficult and expensive aspect of our game, given the number of levels involved in a metroidvania, we can just imagine the improvement it’s going to make to all our screenshots and video clips, just being able to see Kinoko standing in a proper illustrated world instead of those mockups we’ve been using for ages now. Hopefully, we’ll have more to share about all that fairly soon.

Anyway, I guess that about sums up our February. It’s been a busy one, and like I said in the beginning, for me that’s a big deal. There were definitely times throughout late December when I genuinely didn’t know how I’d ever get back to working on the game after suffering such a devastating loss, so even just looking back on the month and seeing a little bit of progress would’ve been something. It isn’t until we get to the end of the month and I look back over my diary that I realise just how much we’ve accomplished – and we’ve accomplished so much this month. With spring on the horizon and winter nearly in our rear view, here’s hoping March is even better!

Until next month, take care, and thanks as always for reading.