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👷 Project Update: Introduction to Tiny Starpilot

I juggle a dozen little side-projects which I dust off from time to time.

Tiny Starpilot was a minigame I conceived of years ago when I was freelancing between jobs, and considering the possibility of becoming a one-man-band mobile game developer.

The design was simple: hold the phone sideways and slide your thumbs along the side to act as tank-tread controls. Your ship would autofire on a regular beat.

Pew! Pew! Pew!

I scribbled some quick & dirty pixel art, downloaded some public-domain music, cooked up some bloops with bfxr, and scripted it up in Unity in an afternoon.

I was fortunate to participate in a San Francisco co-working space at the time – camped in a generously-donated spare-room at Double Fine – surrounded by other talented creators. I received feedback to use a 3D art style, since sales prospects were better that way. So I slapped some cubes together to make a more dynamic demo.

I thought the green guys could be, like, Space Squids.

I didn’t end-up going the solo-dev route, because I was recruited to join the amazing team at Giant Squid to collaborate on ABZÛ. It was a life-changing oppurtunity where I had a chance to grow as a programmer and as a technical game designer.

In particular, I learned a lot about 3D Camera Design and Character Control. I grew ambitous about making my side-game Full 3D, and not just “2½"D.

Asteroids, eat your heart out.

The idea for “drifting” came from conversations with my colleague Pete Angstadt as an alternative to the “reverse shooting” that wasn’t possible with the transition from tank-tread controls to a 3D flight yoke.

By this time ABZÛ had wrapped, and I’d transitioned to the new project at Heart Machine which would become Solar Ash. I was doing a lot of research into procedural animation for the Level-Scale Remnants, which bled into my silly side-projects, too.

Tofu-Bot 4000

I’m a life-long 80s mecha anime obsessive, so instinctively I thought: if I merged this with Tiny Starpilot could this be a Macross fangame??

Just call me Shoji Kawamori

After posting low-key incremental updates sporadically under the #screenshotsaturday tag for a few years, suddenly this blew up:

3k likes in 24 hours on my low-follow feed probably represents the majority of engagement I’ve ever received on social media cumulatively in a decade, so I was (to say the least) surprised and humbled. That’s when I decided to start this devlog.

I hope that by posting more in-depth footage and generating interest, it’ll light a fire under my butt to update more regularly, and bring the dream of a public release closer to reality. 🤞

I envision posting in a few different flavors:

  • #update to track the game itself, with footage of new features
  • #tech for explainers on math, programming, and nerd shit
  • #art for concept sketches and 3D models I’m noodling on
  • #design for thoughts on action, iteration, and experimentation
  • #research for reviews of related games or anime that I’m studying

Thank you for reading my story, and following along in the future. There’s an old bit about how gamedev is like telling a joke and waiting for years to hear if anyone laughed. Your attention and engagement in the process motivates me to do the labor of pulling this stuff out the neoplatonic playpen of my imagination and presenting it online.