Travelogue 9/12, September Thoughts

As the number of remaining levels switched to a two-digits number, I have a strange feeling I can hardly describe. Even when I reached the “more than half of the road” milestone in July, the end of this project still felt very abstract. Now it’s getting serious. There’s something I’m the only one to see: the ID of each map I create in the editor, which is decrementing. The countdown is now under 100, and it feels real. Every day brings it closer to zero.

The game has been downloaded about 25,000 times. That’s barely 700 downloads for September, so its seems Itch’s algorithm is burying it even deeper. Not that I care at this point. I never expected it to reach such crazy numbers in the first place.

When I look back at the first levels, I can’t help but notice the road has been slowly evolving, and started to follow its own rules. Over the last couple of months, I’ve added new sound packs to Mixtkl (well, old, kind of deprecated packs, in fact). Which means it’s been a while since I don’t simply take the first generated ambient track that comes up, but make several tries before finding something that sounds satisfying. To my surprise (and my delight) there are quite a few instruments with darker, more aggressive vibes, including beats. While I like most of them, they rarely fit with A Road to Awe’s initial ambiance, so I have to tweak a bit my generative process, which takes longer. Good thing I don’t use a time limit any more, eh? I guess over the months, making a level went from fifteen minutes to one hour…

On the other hand, there are plenty of new drones and synths that add some variety to the mix. Maybe you’ve noticed slight changes, a small evolution in the game’s soundtrack. That’s the reason why. While two tracks can never be the same, after eight months, they started to sound very similar, so adding new samples kind of feels like a breeze of fresh air.

30 seconds of procedurally generated ambient every day.

A while ago on the RPG in a Box Discord server, Tchey, who runs the French indie games blog Jeux 1d100, asked me a few questions about A Road to Awe.

I just realized you were releasing one level everyday for one year, for your game to awe. That’s awe-some. I don’t like much the game or the levels by themselves, but the performance is quite something. Not sure what to think about it to be honest, but surely “awe” is one word for it. Did you really start 235 days ago ? Did you miss one day for some reason ? What’s your hidden goal with this plan ?

I came up with answers that I believe would be interesting to repost here.

It’s an experiment inspired by a few artists using time as their main material. A way to explore creativity through constraints. An absurd challenge that gives meaning to the passing of time. An exploration of self-discipline, boredom and repetitiveness. An auto memento memori.

I guess yes, this game, from my point of view as a developer, is a journey through daily monotony and the means to transcend it. It’s a Sisyphean project. Let’s quote a bit of Albert Camus’ thoughts on this subject, shall we?

The struggle itself […] is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

And I think that sums up my feelings regarding this project. I’ve learned to love it, despite, or because of, its absurd repetitiveness. Not that I made huge efforts to start it. I had to do it. But to adhere to a strict daily discipline hasn’t been easy in the beginning. Now, it has become natural. I won’t lie, making my daily level isn’t a pure moment of joy. It takes efforts, especially between the moment I rendered the ambient loop and the moment I put the first block in the map.

These are seconds of existential torment. What will I build today? How can I make it different from yesterday? How comes I always end up with variations of the same structures? How comes it’s so hard to create something new? Have I exhausted my creative juice yet?

And then a pattern of some sort forms into my mind. I visualize where I should click to claim the emptiness of my computer screen and turn it into architecture. Then all bricks fall into place and a new road section is built.

I actually started more than 265 days ago, because I tested the process before the year started. I never missed a day so far.

I don’t know what would happen if I missed a day. Would it make the whole process meaningless? I had a few moments of panic, where my new level was uploaded only a few minutes before midnight. But does it makes sense in other time zones than mine? The game is available worldwide. You can get it anywhere, anytime, if you have an internet connection. It’s not like every player is waiting for the new version at a precise hour.

One light equals one week. We’re getting closer.

Initially, I decided that if I lacked the time to make a level, I’d simply upload its basic template. But now I know I wouldn’t be happy with that. I’d still make a level for every day of the year, even if I’m late. I’ve broken my limited building time rule months ago because I found it too frustrating, so there’s no way I’d skip a day or upload a “permanent placeholder” section.

I suppose I should mention that due to personal reasons, there are increasingly more chances that future levels will be delayed at some point. Maybe the game will be complete on December 31st. Maybe it won’t. But in any case, I intend it to have 365 levels.

My hidden goal is to laugh at the whole thing once it’s finished. And probably to make a bunch of ambient records using the loops generated every day, following a new set of rules I still have to define. Maybe I’ll also release some enhanced version with a few tweaks and different ways to experience the game, I’m not sure yet.

And that’s for what will happen in 2018. There will probably be some kind of epic ambient album recycling the loops of 2017. And possibly an enhanced version of the game, whether if offers more ways of experiencing it, or better visuals, since RPG in a Box will be updated to Godot 3, which offers many improvements regarding lighting and shaders.

I don’t exclude more time-based projects like this one in the future. Maybe I’ll even reboot it at some point. But I still have Nékromegà, Phalanstery and other projects to work on, so we’ll see…

Until then, you can play the game here: