the Paint Game post mortem... kinda


Till that Soil to heal your soul

(You can also play through the post mortem here: https://mjm.itch.io/tts - it doesnt have the pictures, but its interative~)

This game’s release represents for me at least, the end of a kind of era in my life (creatively? Literally? Who knows) so I reserve the right to be as extra as I want. No complaints about my melodramatics, I will not hear it. I don't know what purpose this serves, but I know I needed to write it so, this is what you get.

In mid 2017; I started what too my myself I called “the Project” an ominous name for something fairly benign. It was an attempt to release as much as I could in a year (that became eventually became). I wanted to make a body of work, so this is how I did it. This is a retrospective on that process, each of the games that came about because of it, and a reflection on what it became. It felt weird to talk about Paint Game without talking about what lead to it, so hence all this.

The Project has existed in the back of my head for these two years, a constant simmering bubbling thing. It was something that I would I was always doing; as much as I could. I rested yes, and took breaks, worked and did things that were more important. But my time was focused on the Project, in one way or another. It was an excuse to explore, work and make; so this is as much a reflection on that as it is  a goodbye to something that dominated what I did for so long.

Each game is a part of a long, ongoing conversation with myself. They share too much for me to ever really separate them out into their own distinct pieces; I refuse to silo them. I don't get to paint game without first making tree game, which couldn't exist without all things left behind which is a response to love me not and so on and on.

Every single one of these thirteen fits into this long drawn out attempt to see if I could do it. I didn't know what it was I was seeing if I could do, and I still don't; but I did it anyway; and this is what came of it.

This whole thing came on the heels of GDC 2017. My experiences, and feelings about them  acted as the catalyst for this. I went, and it was a lot. I was scared, and I didnt have anything to show people who I was. No one cared. I didn't care. So said to myself that if I wanted to make games, then I had to make games. So I spent the next 3 months as I wandered around America, on busses and trains attempting just that.

And then I got home, and within a few weeks (I think) put out the first game, and the tangibles start to this all; Out of Context (OoC), a game that had begun life on the roads and rails of America as I dealt with myself post GDC. OoC is important to this story not really in that its good, or even particularly interesting. In fact, most of the games on this list aren't; but that's not the point of all this. This isn't about quality. OoC was the first, a solidification to myself that even if it turned out bad, even if it turned out no one would care; I could do this.


Something had to start this all off. A game about putting nonsensical objects together to make a computer smile is probably in the grand scheme of things; not a bad place to start. OoC is nothing more than a collection of various things I was working on and learning shoved together into one place; with a puzzle waved over the top. It has arches inspired by Nomata Minoru, the rails because I saw a lot of them, industrial parts strewn about, big red buttons and balloon because I had made them. A shader I had been learning and tinkering with for months; because in the end it was there.

It is this thrown together, haphazard thing; it doesn't really have a theme, or intention at all. I tried to be funny, and playful. I wanted to make a place that I liked to wander around, filled with things I liked; I made it for me. And then I put it out there.

Rather than try to make a game, planned out and perfect. OoC was the first game that started like a sketchbook. Throwing things in and trying things out. It was all practice, until it started feeling cohesive… kind of. So then I finished it, but every game from here on out began in a similar way, be that from the ground up, or cobbled together from various other projects. I start with the sketch book page, not the sketch, the messy idea filled page.

From OoC things get weird. I tried to write this a variety of ways, chronologically, in terms of lineage, grouped under themes, grouped under


 direct programmatic and asset links. And instead I drew this abomination:

In my head, this is the most useful way of explaining how they all fit together, all the games in one messy tree diagram. They are; linked together by the tenuous threads of something; be that proximity of ideas, thematic or just creation. It makes sense to me, hopefully it will to you in the end as well. 

But we begin with what I dub my “tiny games” “series”. These are all these games that were all made in around 6 hours.They aren't tiny in scope, but tiny in comparison to what I will call my large games, as they each took between 3 weeks to 6 months each. I know these scales are off by the rest of the worlds standards, but I don’t care.

Helpfully according to my memory, PongSK is the next game I made (it’s not in reality, that goes to Dimensions) so this order makes sense to me. Made for Bar SK’s first birthday jam, and notable in my mind for 2 things. It was the first time I got to see people having actual for real fun and joy playing a game by me after uni, and they didn't know I was watching. And it being my first tiny game.


To the first point, I remember making PongSK, after getting distracted, umming and ah’ing. Getting close to the deadline and then committing making it as quick as I could, before I could second guess myself. And then I saw people play my silly game; and how excited they where.

I remember a few months after, talking to some people as they played it and explained to me all the secret tech they could do; how they could make the ball spin with specific input. They didn't know I made it, they were just excited about this game. I knew then, that even if I made even more stinkers, at least I could do it sometimes.

The other things I learned from that experience was that I liked that short messy chaotic making. I couldn’t stress, I knew it would be messy, I knew it would be broken, I couldn't keep adding things. I had to get my hands dirt and make anything.

It let me write one sentence and let it end at that. Editing was for cowards.

And so I made more, or at least tried. I failed a bunch when attempting to do it, but a few more games got made this way. One more for SK during their 2nd birthday jam, and one trying to recapture something like PongSK; these are gamey games; they work, but that’s all they are to me, more games.. In some cases they may have better quality, but in the end they arent what I care about; so I’m not going to dwell on them.


The other three though; Dear Sisyphus, Love me not and words are seeds are all things that to me, are way more interesting. Less games, more zines.

Each of these was again made in around 6 hours. They are vehicles for what I would want to put in zines but can't seem to. They are a letter, poetry, and a singular idea in order. 


The first is a letter written to the mythological Sisyphus; and through that is a small confrontation to myself about making and about being disappointed about the man behind the myth. It was also a realisation to myself that justice was always guided by a hand. It was my attempt to grapple with the realisation that a metaphor I had identified with, toil for toils sake was on the back of a petty and cruel man who deserved what he got. All in one short piece about pushing a boulder up hill, as time slows the closer to the top you get. It was the first time I had really put my writing out there. Dear Sisyphus isn't important because its good, it's that it again exists, that I put it out because I had to start somewhere; why not here.


Love me not was a poem lodged into my head until I did something with it. It was part of a lot of writing I was doing at the time, tiny bits of prose and poetry I was jamming out at an unsustainable pace. A poem about pulling petals, overwhelming love. The poem carries what a friend of mine dubbed “post 2am Max” energy at some point (if I quoted you wrong, forgive me for I am goblin). But it stuck in my head and demanded to be made into something. I made love me not to get it out; because otherwise I would still be thinking about it. And I needed to move on.


The last in this set is words are seeds. A zine I stole straight out of Tree Game, repurposed and made into a kind of poetry maker. About turning words into procedural tree’s another way to explore the possibility space of L-Systems, but in a chaotic, and playful way.

It’s a silly and utterly broken thing; chaotic and more likely to give you garbage than anything nice. Words are seeds felt joyful to make, a silly concept, and an excuse to recycle something cool and show it off in a new way. It was a joke, and a poem; funny in its output but something I also still find a quiet poingancy. The idea that words are seeds, and things can grow from them, is something I like to have said.

Having finished up with the tiny game, it's time to move on to the bigger ones. And to do that we are off to; Our Myriad, and all things left behind. Both games that share a visual style, an exploration history and space, as well as a stylistic lineage.

Our Myriad is probably the gamiest game I made; and by that I mena the most mechanically focused. A game about placing forests, towns, mountains and fields; and that forming a story and history of a place. Depending on their placement, they would give you access to more cards, or spawn more things. Say if you placed a town next to a lake, it would turn the lake into a swamp. I wanted Our Myriad to be about history and to reveal how small things can cascade out. The idea was that it was the same place with each game being a different version of its history. Starting at the same place but cascading out in a myriad of ways.


Our Myriad was also the first large game I released. It took me three months of work to get it out the door; it was the longest time I had ever spent on a game outside of uni. It got me a job, and it also helped me realise that I could keep doing this thing. But it's not a game I look back on proudly, or happily. It’s a mess of ideas, and it feels half baked; but that doesnt matter in the long run. Its out.

I find it hard to articulate but each one of these projects felt like a reminder that this thing I was doing wasn't fraught, or doomed to failure. I had something to point to when the little voice in my head would rear up, even if it wasn't good, I could say I did it before; why not again?

The second game in this section is also a failure. (I promise im not just grouping the failures) all things left behind is about putting snippets onto an island and leaving them to be found by others, as you transitioned between the past and present of the island. AsI lay it out plainly it sounds a lot more poetic than what it is; a bunch of weird ghost things wandering around an island with sentences in their chest. 

All things left behind was one of my first attempts at a particularly non gamey experience. I wanted to make a place; not an abstract way but concretely, something that felt grounded in some kind of world. I wanted it to feel like the kind of place that old bottles filled with inane thoughts washed ashore. 

But they were weird ghosty things instead.


This was also my first dabbling with permanence, or at least persistence. The ghost’s are made by anyone who plays, and can be found by anyone else who plays. This was unsurprisingly broken, and janky. But the idea that people could share and leave things in this weird digital space; that they could resurface and be found by other people, was captivating to me.

For a game about making detritus for other people to find, It was also constructed mostly from left overs of failed projects, and a period of deep listlessness that resulted in a bunch of 3D models.

Very much like Out of Context most of the geometry of all things left behind was not made with the explicit purpose of being put in -that- game. It was assets made to fill a void, or things made to text visual effect. It was half made things, and hastily finished ones. It feels like a place that things wash ashore because it was basically constructed as one, as I found and threw together whatever surfaced in my memory and on my computer. A game about making flotsam, made out of jetsam.

Both of these games come and go fairly quickly. But they hold the seeds for things I would keep coming back to; this idea of place, leaving things in it, and letting you take your time. I wanted to make places for you to rest in. For me to rest in. This is the torch that I end up carrying on for the longest.

From this collage, we move on to yet more games. But again, I will break from the established formula. I want to talk about failed projects. Most of these games only exist because of the sketches I never actually finished, but a few games matter more? Or at least stick out more..

I call them bike game and plane game, and will be placed together because they kind of do relate. They are both concerned with the delivering of letters, and they are much bigger than most games I have ever made.


They have these big vista’s with rolling grass plains and forest with dappled shade. They are games where I wanted to focus on travel and moving through a place; they are pure sketches. Explorations that I got bored of, or that lacked something that I wanted to finish. There are hundreds more, left by the wayside because I ran out of things to say, or what they could say bored me, so I let them sit, and take the parts I like and move on. Everything gets made like this, soil for other seeds; even those that made it to budding. 

The three games that sit at the end of this project are the last in the list of ones that I actually managed to grow. Each of these in particular comes with a direct lineage, or at least with a clearer one. These are all games, where the dirt is particularly present.

Tree Game came about because I remembered an old, old project I was tinkering with between uni semesters. A way of making procedural Tree’s, using L-Systems. The game began life as just an excuse to explore that idea, as a kind of gallery.

This exploration became the foundation of tree game, a game mostly about terrariums, but also about arcane technology. You can make gardens you want to spend time in, playing around with files and hack into tree’s. It a soft mess of concepts, its scatter shot without a core. The only thing I wanted out of Tree Game was to make places to lay down in. To make soft places to let people escape too who I knew needed something like that.


It is also to date, my most successful game. I have no idea what worked for tree game, perhaps it was the idea of “hacking a tree” that got people in, or maybe it was the comfiness. To me however aside from its comfort, it matters to me because it was a full arc. Something I had attempted once before, left to the soil, being unearthed and regrown.. I reused bits and pieces other failed projects, and from finished ones. Like everything in this, it feels part of an ecosystem

Detritus was made in about three weeks. It’s not quite a tiny game, and not quite a bigger one.  Made from half finished assets and concepts; the project its in began as an attempt at remaking the visual look of into the spiderverse. Its project file is the epitome of my sketching; different shaders and half finished 3D models strewn about.

It’s like a workbench half way through dis-assembling and reassembling a car; but I just clicked a button and no one could see the sins committed when they play. (god help ye, who see my files)

Detritus was exciting to make  it was so small, so self contained, and it made me giggle the entire time. The idea of displaying lost files as high art, is just deeply funny to me.


I would be testing it, and see a test pattern, or mspaint file. And then this ghost would come along and comment on its sublimity. Detritus is a joke in the form of a garbage pile. The single best punchline I’ve ever hit. I like that it won’t work if you keep your computer clean, that its made for people who keep things, or forget them. A game for the messy. Made of things that were not intended for this.

Detritus is also the first time I felt like I had been funny in a game. I worked out fairly quickly that I wasn't all that funny as a game maker, so I tried to be ernest instead. I still tried to tell jokes, but I aimed to be sincere, and ernest rather than funny. Some people can do both, I dont think thats me; but Detritus is a joke; and it still makes me laugh.

Remake, reuse, recycle kids; assets, jokes and ideas.

To talk about Paint Game, I needed to explain how everything came about. 

Paint Game is its own whole lineage. Made up in part of 3 finished games; and uncountable unfinished. I have made some kind of painting mechanic time and time again, recycled, remade again and again. 

I Couldn’t let go until I made it. So I did, again, and again, and again.

Dimension is a puzzle game, you paint reality into existence around you, and depending on the colour different parts are revealed to you. Paint game is an Art game about colouring in with tools that encourage messiness. Dimensions is a short game, about selectively painting and exploring what begins as a white void. Paint game is about breathing life into a  Lifeless town.


Dimensions is forgettable and janky.

And without it I could never have made Paint Game.


It feels weird to talk about them separately, in fact it feels weird to talk about any of these projects separately. They aren't really. I called it a conversation earlier, because that's ultimately the best way I can articulate what was happening as I made these games. I would release something, and then the next thing I made would be a response to what I felt didn't work there, and so on. I would circle ideas until they spun off into wholey new tangents. 

I started putting games in white voids because I couldn't make bigger environments. Then I did it a way to make coloured parts stand out. Now I do it because I like it as a style; its in a void becasue fuck you its its a video game. Most of my games don't have sound because that’s not how I work, and I didnt collaborate as I was scared. Until I wasn't (thanks Maize!).

Paint Game, is a lot of things. It’s about releasing people to be messy and encourage childlike creativity. It’s about graffiti and sharing the joy of painting on something. It’s about perspective jokes. It’s also, and I didnt realise this until too late, a full stop.

This whole thing has been a part of me for two years. That's not super long I know; but this was basically what I -did- to me. I taught, and worked yes, but whenever I didnt I worked on this. Between semester it was day in day out on this thing. I explored, and experimented as much as I could. I made as much as I could. I had this conversation by making things, and finishing some of them.

It was a conversation about poetry, places I wanted to go, and the rest I wanted to find. It was about recycling and reusing, it was about bashing things out and being messy. It was the hundreds of seeds I planted, and the 13 the survived.

It was born of a desire to prove I could to myself, and became what I was too myself.

And, now I want to put a cap in it. I dont have the time to give to this anymore, so I will call it done. I won't stop making, but I’ll put a full stop here and see how it goes. I’ll say goodbye to this beautiful world. And put the Project down.

I joked a lot to myself while doing this that I was screaming into the void.

So, thanks for listening void, till next time.

-Max

A Manifesto in Retrospect:

Every game is a sketch pad

Make a mess

Jokes travel best

We aren't always funny

Remake, reuse, recycle

Make slow, comfy games for your tired friends

Let your art be a conversation

Get Paint Game

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Comments

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This was really nice to read. Did you write the shaders for Dimension and Paint Game yourself? I think they look really nice

yup! :D 

learning and exploring shaders was the main tech skill i focused on

Gotcha! Well it shows, very interesting work. btw, I tried to download Dimension, but it looks like only the data folder for windows was uploaded. Not sure if that's something you have time to look into...

Ah yeah; its fairly old (and super janky) so im not 100% sure if it works on mac, but i'll try get a version up soon!

But i am thinking about also uploading the project folders for a few of the games... the aweful messes that they are, which may end up being the easier of the two.

Who knows; but if your interested in the project files im fairly happy to share, but no promises as to quality

You mean like the unity files? For sure, would love that if that's what you mean.

Thanks for sharing <3