Update time! Sorry it’s been awhile again, but it’s amazing how fast time flies during 20/20. At first you can’t fathom how you’re going to make it through Week 1, let alone 28 of them; the next time you look up, it’s Week 14 and change. I hope you all are doing well!
Before I get into the usual updates, I’ve been remiss in announcing this outside of Twitter (and between the two of us) for time reasons until now, but our annual game development jam is still planned for this year. The theme for EXPER3 2017 was ready for John’s birthday in spite of all the chaos, and I’m rather pleased with it. For the curious, when I decide on each year’s theme, I try to go with a concept word that’s iconic enough to be taken verbatim, but also broad enough that it can be taken in any direction the developer chooses. For example, the first year’s theme was “power,” which we could have taken as “a game about being powerful” or “a game with power-ups” or “a game about a character who feels powerless and must overcome his limitations.” The goal is to provide a starting point, but the actual game’s direction is up to each of us.
(Lest you worry: every theme I have chosen has by NO means suited my own desires – or even John’s! I aim for concepts that I think we’d both enjoy, because nobody wants to create something that doesn’t excite them, but every year I have struggled as hard as he has to figure out what I plan to do. I don’t sit back, pick a theme that fits what I want to do, and then figure he’ll come up with something too. 🙂 It wouldn’t be fair or interesting that way, even accounting for my coding “handicap.”)
This year I was struggling to narrow down my ideas for themes into something that fit that criteria. I had tons of ideas, but they were getting too specific; escape-room puzzles, thriller/mystery stories, etc. I had to go back to the mat several times and think hard about what kinds of concepts go into games that feature those things; the core elements beneath those stories when they’re told. At last it hit me: games of this kind have puzzle-solving at their heart. For an escape room, puzzles are at the heart of keeping your player from simply walking up and opening the door to get out; finding a well-hidden key through a series of smaller puzzles is mandatory. The heart of any good thriller or mystery, of course, is trying to follow along with the plot and figure out what’s going to happen next, and who the culprit is – a puzzle if I’ve ever heard one.
And with that, I decided. EXPER3 2017’s theme… is PUZZLE! Fortunately, both John and I are avid puzzle game fans – both the kind I’ve just described, and games that are much simpler. Word puzzles, number puzzles, logic puzzles – we love them all, with varying degrees of frustration thrown in. 🙂 I think it’ll be a good year.
Our typical time frame for EXPER3 has been July 12th through August 12th, but the dates have always been a bit fungible due to the fact that I know John has to prioritize his day job. Each year there’s been some major challenge to our time that we’ve had to account for, either by starting later or taking a break midway through. With 20/20 eating up all but maybe 3-4 hours of every day, we both know that we need to a) manage our expectations for what we can produce this year, and b) do what is required for the sake of maintaining our progress with the program. If it turns out that this is too stressful for us to handle on top of everything else, we’ll do the smart thing and call a halt until our lives free up a little bit. That said, neither one of us was content to just skip it this year. It’s good for us to stretch our wings as developers, and the entire point of my creating this challenge in the first place was to prove to John that he CAN make video games in his spare time, even if he’s unable to be an indie developer full-time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I’m still nervous. I am still the sort of person that gets into things deep and hard; when I’m on a project, it’s easy for me to lose 8-12 hours a day working on details and/or content. That’s how The Looking-Glass Girl got made, after all! And… even if I know it’s not good for me, I feel most alive in that zone. I’m not accustomed to this two-hours-a-day-and-that’s-it thing, and I still struggle with those limitations when I have to have them. I’ve learned to manage writing this way on occasion, but coding is something I’m a few years out from being able to do efficiently. I’m frustrated to see that much of what I learned last year for Space Hearts has started to slip from my grasp, and it’s clear that the longer I go without using what I’ve learned, the harder it becomes. John keeps telling me I’m learning (and re-learning) amazingly well, and maybe I’m not the same kid hamstrung by RPG Maker limitations that I used to be, but now that I know what’s possible, I have no patience for setbacks!
That said, I’m so lucky to know that I have folks I can turn to if I’m struggling. I’m trying hard this year not to run to John for everything, because I want him to be as surprised as he can be at the end of EXPER3, when he sees what I’ve been working on. The eternal problem of having someone you love also be your editor means that they never get to see the end result with fresh eyes the way that other folks do. Unfortunately, right now he’s the best person able to help me, because a good 95% of the issues I face aren’t code alone. Even assuming I can write perfect code (which is a hell of an assumption,) that doesn’t always tell me how to make said code work with RPG Maker in the ways it expects. If it’s ever “just” a coding issue, I know I’m in excellent hands, and that’s a huge weight off of my shoulders! The trouble is learning what to do when it’s not. John’s the only other person I know that uses RPG Maker for anything, so unless I’m lucky enough to find help on forums or in the game/engine code itself, I’m stuck with trial and error, which takes time.
This is one of the many reasons I’ve stuck to the process of announcing each year’s EXPER3 theme on John’s birthday; it gives us a little over a month to plan out what we’re going to do in our heads, even if the heavy work doesn’t begin until July. We start taking notes right away. We are allowed to build things for our games ahead of time; gathering and/or creating resources like music and art take a TON of time, as do map/level design, battle systems, game systems, databases, etc. This is the phase we’re in right now. It’s almost impossible to get everything done ahead of time, but the more we can, the less stress we’ll face once the clock is ticking. By the time July 12th rolls around, it’s butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard time for the actual content – text, designing/directing important scenes, etc.
I’ll talk more about my game once it’s more developed and we’re closer to start time – right now there’s so much in flux that I’m not ready to try to explain it! This is a bit weird, but my personal trainer is the only person that knows anything about it right now, since we got to talking about EXPER3 a few weeks ago and she seemed interested in following along. She isn’t a gamer herself, but the story beats are at least entertaining to talk to her about, and it’s good practice for me to try to engage with folks that don’t do this for a living like I do. It helps that she’s a patient listener, even if I’m sure not everything I say is fascinating to anyone but me! (And honestly… when you’re on a treadmill, you’ll say anything if it distracts you from the fact that you’re walking fast and sweating to death!)
Moving on to the rest of the update…
20/20 continues to go great! As mentioned before, today is the start of Week 14. I can’t believe it’s almost time for more measurements – we’re still on track to have them done every five weeks of the program. Despite the foot injury I had last week, it was also a major week for weight loss. I’m down to 270 now, though the scale briefly tried to dip down to 266! This is a big milestone, since I’d been hovering around 275 for several years before the worst of the social anxiety took hold. Losing the weight between that and my college weight (around 220) is going to be my main goal for the rest of 20/20. Given how much time is left, and given that I seem to be managing about 2 pounds per week (slightly less than the 1-2% of body weight that they say is optimal for the program,) I’m not sure I can expect to be any further down than that at this point. My team still insists that I’m doing everything I possibly can, and nobody thinks twice about it – as a diabetic, my body’s going to be stubborn about this and speed just doesn’t matter as long as I’m losing the weight. Even if I’m a little bit disappointed that my goal weight is likely going to take longer than hoped, I’m down every week – and I’ll probably still keep losing more once I switch into post-20/20 maintenance.
That said, I’ve ended up with a cold – I missed last Friday’s session after coming home exhausted on Thursday and crashing in bed for several hours. (It occurs to me that someone I passed by in the gym earlier that week was hacking up a lung… sigh.) By the time I woke up, I had a stuffy nose, the urge to cough, and overall just felt tired and dizzy. I’m thankful that it’s stayed minor, but today is the first day I’ve felt anything approaching normal, and even now I’m running at about 80%. My plan was to see a doctor if I wasn’t better by today, but I’m enough improved that I think I’ll be back to normal by Wednesday. What I didn’t want was the kind of sickness where I’m just as bad a week later as I was on the first day! I’m going to make an effort to go in for my dietitian appointment tomorrow, but the less I try to run around and push myself physically, the faster I heal right now, so that’s the plan. Alas, that means no TRX this week. I’m disappointed, but I also know it requires nothing less than 200% of my best, and I just don’t have it right now. Next week will be another story!
Our diets have both evolved again, and we’re now partway through Stage 7. As it turns out, Stage 7 is divided a little differently than we’d heard. They break it down into starchy vegetables, cooked grains, bread, and snack crackers, each of which you take on at different times so that they can be sure you’re not struggling or halting your weight loss. The week before last, we chose to start with starchy vegetables, because we thought that would be the safest of them. Then we remembered that this group includes corn. Which includes products made with corn. Like corn tortillas! And cornbread! I admit that we went out and bought taco making supplies immediately!
We can’t make tacos the way we are used to, because frying shells in oil plus ground beef is already too much fat when you’re restricting calories, let alone adding cheese – but we’ve made some delicious healthier versions. People in Arizona would scoff at our lack of real Mexican food in this house, but right now it’s ground turkey or chicken or nothing in tacos. I swear you can’t tell the difference once it has spices in it. We’ve made cheese sauce out of cottage cheese and spices. Is it what I grew up with? Heck no. Is it as delicious? Heck no. But it’s available on this diet and I am going to eat it and love it until I’m able to afford the extra calories once in awhile! The trick is not to expect the real deal when you know you’re eating something diet-approved. You have to appreciate it for what it is – not what it can’t be as long as you’re trying to lose weight. (Someday we’ll have real tacos back. It just isn’t now.)
Last week we added bread back. This is one of the big ones that tends to cause trouble for people, so we were asked to keep it limited to once or twice per week at first. That was fine, because I’d had my eye on two things: the breakfast English muffin sandwiches and the plan-friendly pizzas at the bistro. Both were just as delectable as I thought they’d be! The English muffins were topped with vegetarian sausage and low-fat cheese, and I know from experience they use Morningstar Farms “sausage,” which we’ve bought a few times on our own. It’s the closest to real sausage we’ve found so far, and the spice blend is great. The English muffins were the sort of heavy-grain kind that I like; I’ve never been a fan of white bread of any kind unless it’s artisan stuff like sourdough or Como, which is a huge benefit right now! Similarly, I’ve always preferred thin-crust pizza to the thicker varieties, and that’s good because the plan-friendly pizzas are all thin-crust. The one I tried was real whole-wheat pizza crust stretched super thin, topped with house-made (plan-approved) barbecue sauce, lowfat smoked mozzarella, and chicken. TONS of flavor without sacrificing anything!
We have yet to invite bread products back into our actual house, since we didn’t want the temptation of having them before we’re officially given leave to use them more often, but the list of suggested products contained a lot of things that we used to buy pre-program. Many of them I was using on my “pregnant diabetic” diet! It was good to have the extra reinforcement that we really were making smart changes back then, and with just a few more tweaks in other areas, we can use them without having to give up everything. I still don’t want to get in the habit of relying on them for every choice, as I do enjoy fruits, the occasional shake, and other things that occupy that same slot in our diet, but I’m glad to have them back as options for those days when I just have to have a wrap or a sandwich with thin-cut bread. The lettuce-wrapped sandwiches and burgers and such that we had to do before now were fine, but I usually prefer to have my salad on the side and just eat the meat/patty by itself; something about wilting cold, crispy lettuce with hot food turns me off. I like Asian lettuce wraps though, and I’ve mastered the art of the Jimmy John’s Unwich by now. Everyone has to do what works for them, right?
Last but not least: we’ve both had trips to buy some new clothing now! John went a few weekends ago to pick up some replacement jeans, since his were getting big enough to be hanging off him clown-style! 🙂 Right before I got sick last week, I had to go and do the same; mine weren’t looking as baggy, but I’d had a few too many close calls where breathing in deeply enough or stepping on the hem could have introduced everyone to London and France. We’re both the proud new owners of some much smaller clothing, albeit only a couple of items. Everything is still changing, and there’s no point in buying a whole new wardrobe when we might be doing this again in another week or two! John’s now down several sizes. For my part, I’m only down one size in jeans, but that’s going from almost-too-tight in my previous size, to comfortable-and-roomy in my new size, so I’m considering it one and a half sizes. The shirt I bought was down two whole sizes (now the smallest size I think Lane Bryant carries!) though it’s a stretchy knit fabric and I doubt I could rely on that size for things as a general rule. I’ll try to remember to get some good pictures of us in our new duds once I’m over this cold!
And that… is it for this update! Looking forward to the next time. Best wishes and love to all of you out here reading. It’s still a pleasure to have you in our lives, following along on this crazy journey of ours. We can’t wait to see where the road travels next.