Random Thoughts From My Desk


It doesn’t matter what the goal or project I’m thinking about doing is, the first obstacle to overcome will always be just getting started. It’s almost always easier for me to imagine all the reasons why I shouldn’t try something new than the reasons why I should.

I took about a month off from game development just to recharge. When I came back I found out the Unreal Learning Challenge was underway. The ULC was setup by Epic Games to give aspiring developers a chance to learn more about game development in Unreal Engine. The challenge was to complete 5 free online classes and submit a picture of a current project or proof that you completed the courses.

“There has never been a better time to learn about game development.”

In the past I’ve considered participating in game jams or learning courses similar to this one, but I always made up reasons to not try them. Whether it was lack of confidence or general laziness, they were bad excuses. The truth is there’s never been a better time to be interested in game development. The amount of high quality, free information on game development from people that are willing to teach on the internet is insane! In terms of equipment needed, the barrier for entry is lower than its ever been.

In completing this challenge I was able to learn about lighting in games and sound design. This was prefect because lighting is something I’ve been working on in my current project and sound design is what I’ll be working on next. Normally, I would’ve learned how to do lighting and sound design through a long process of trial and error. These courses gave me a huge boost and will save me quite a bit of time in the long run.

Taking the first step is still a challenge for me at times, but the amount that I was able to learn from this challenge was definitely worth it. If you’re interested in game development, just start! There’s no better time than the present!

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Problem Solving and VFX


Over the last few weeks I’ve hit a wall in my game dev project. I’ve been stuck trying to figure out how to make some gameplay elements more cohesive with themes in the game. I eventually figured out how to accomplish this, but I was also able to learn a few things from the time I spent figuring out how to get over this obstacle.

A good friend taught me a problem solving strategy he calls The Rule of Fives. The rule operates on the belief that every obstacle has at least five solutions. When I’m trying to solve a problem, the first thing I should do is write down five possible solutions. If the initial five don’t work, think of five more and try them out. I repeat this process until I’ve found a solution.

The purpose of this method is to encourage creativity in problem solving. I have a tendency to let logical thinking limit my thought process, which can be bad because complex problems often require unique solutions. With the rule of fives, I usually run out of logical ideas around the 4th solution and am forced to think outside the box.

To give an example of the rule in practice, let’s say there’s a wall blocking the path to my destination. Five possible way to get past it would be :

  1. Go around it
  2. Climb over it
  3. Tunnel under it
  4. Back track and find another route
  5. Go through it

After trying these solutions, I find that none of them work.The wall is too long to go around, the surface is too smooth to climb without tools, the ground is too tough to tunnel under, there are no alternate routes, and too thick to break through without tools. Since the first five, didn’t work I would get more creative and find 5 more:

  1. Fly over it
  2. Use a tool to scale it
  3. Blow it up
  4. Get a wrecking ball
  5. Build a ramp

It doesn’t matter how ridiculous the solutions get, they show that the problem still has solutions. After exploring each solution I can usually find a practical way to solve the problem. For me the solution tends to be a combination of multiple possible solutions. 

In my project the obstacle was figuring out how to add visual effects (VFX) to special moves that fit the current theme of other VFX in the game. The 5 solutions I came up with were :

  1. Natural Elements – My game already had some VFX that referenced a few natural elements (thunder and fire) so I could’ve built that theme out more and added wind, water, and ice.
  2. Replace VFX that was already in the game – Since I was unable to make the VFX that I already had work with new features I was adding, I could replace them with VFX that would work for both.
  3. Rework VFX I already have – Although I do not know how to completely alter the VFX I had, I knew enough about the tools I had to be able to tweak the VFX I had.
  4. Replace the move sets I selected – If the moves I selected wouldn’t work with VFX that were available, I could go find new ones.
  5. Rework the move sets I had – I could also go learn how to modify the movesets in Blendr to make them fit into the theme I was going for.

I decided to go with a combination of 3 and 4 to solve this problem and here’s the end result :

As always thanks for supporting!


Hurdles in HUD Design


Over the last few weeks I’ve been putting a lot of effort into making a HUD for my game. I think I’ve played enough games to know a good HUD when I see one, but designing a good HUD has been a completely different experience. 

I went into this knowing very little about how to design a HUD, so the first thing I did was define HUD. The basic definition of a HUD is an overlay that communicates vital information to the player. Turns out, there are 4 classes of HUD components that can exist. For a great breakdown on types HUD check out this article. For my game I decided to use a combination of non-diegetic and spatial properties – most of the HUD exist outside of the game story (bars and meters) but a few things exist in the game space (auras).

4 Classes of HUD components. Image from Micah Bowers – https://www.toptal.com/designers/gui/game-ui#:~:text=What%20is%20a%20game%20user,Diegetic%2C%20Meta%2C%20and%20Spatial.

I also found that I had a lot of assumptions about HUDs that needed to be re-evaluated. I assumed less is always more when it comes to HUD. I thought any method that replaced bars or numbers on the screen with more abstract forms of communication would be more visually appealing.  This is only half true. I think good HUD design minimizes unnecessary clutter in the overlay, but just because some information can be communicated abstractly, doesn’t mean it should be. 

In some games knowing the exact amount of health a player has completely alters gameplay. In a FPS communicating health by an on screen indicator (like red around the screen) works perfectly because the player never needs to know exactly how much health they have. When the screen gets too red they know to dip out and recover. However, in a fighting game knowing the exact amount of health each player has can change strategy drastically. A standard health bar is 100% vital for communicating health because of its accuracy and legibility.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare Damage indicator. Image from Kotaku UK (https://www.kotaku.co.uk/2019/04/12/i-had-my-birthday-party-in-modern-warfare-2)

Another assumption I had was that the HUD display should be visually immaculate. This is pretty far from the truth. One key purpose of a HUD is to be easily readable when needed and totally ignorable at all other times. Having an immaculate design is only necessary when the player is going to spend a ton of time looking at it. I think Persona 5 is a great example of this. 

Persona 5 Battle Scene – Image from Jiaxin Wen (https://jiaxinwen.wordpress.com/2017/04/27/the-ui-design-of-persona-5/)

The unique design of the HUD makes it a pleasure to look at while planning strategies and picking next moves. However, in most fast paced games HUD is only briefly glanced at. The HUD just needs to be styled to match the theme of the game and minimally designed to reduce distraction.

A good HUD is there when the player needs it and completely ignorable when it’s not. They are extremely easy to read and are not bloated with too much information. Glancing at the HUD should not distract the player from the gameplay at hand. It is the responsibility of the devs to understand what information is crucial to the player and deliver it in the most legible way.

Rough Draft of my current HUD

For my game, the most important information is the player’s health and stamina. This will be communicated non-diegetically through bars. The player also has a special move that builds up as aura is collected. This will be communicated spatially in the game’s space. I still have a lot to learn about designing HUD, but I am satisfied with my early drafts and am excited to see where this goes.

Thanks for reading!


Learning to Pivot


Generally it’s always good to have a backup plan, right? If things go wrong, it gives you a safety net to fall into. For most of my life I’ve relied on backup plans, and it has helped me a lot, but I think it’s time for me to change my perspective.

I set out to make my first game a while ago. It was a cool concept, but the design pillars I decided to build on were a bit too ambitious for a solo game dev. That resulted in a scope that was too large, gameplay mechanics that were unrealistic, and feeling like my initial goal was too lofty to be accomplished. 

Normally I would chalk the project up as something to come back to later and transition to another project (a.k.a. My backup plan). I have been able to learn a lot about the process of game development by doing this, but ultimately all this has given me is some experience, about a dozen partially complete projects, and 0 released games. =( 

The strategy is a living ever-evolving pivoting mechanism.

Pearl Zhu

Instead of accepting things as being out of reach, I decided to try pivoting instead of transitioning to a backup plan. In this context, that meant every time a core element of my game wasn’t working the way I expected, I took a step back, re-analyzed design pillars, made some adjustments, and kept pushing through. Instead of walking away and starting a less ambitious, equally cool idea; I tinkered, tweaked, and modified enough to maintain design pillars and continued to work on the project. 

Even though the project has been scaled down quite a bit, and the gameplay loop is completely different from anything I’ve shown, I’m still very proud of the game that I have now. It is still ambitious for a solo dev’s first release, so I may have to continue to pivot but overall, the game is coming along well. Can’t wait to show you all!

Thank you for your support!


Spyro – Ebb and Flow


A brief analysis on why Spyro is a great remaster that has been well received.


Music – Morning Routine by Ghostrifter Official | https://soundcloud.com/ghostrifter-of… Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…