Design notes on the Electric Zine Maker’s Tool Update! (and general life update + overshare)

Earlier this September I released the tool update for the Electric Zine Maker.

You can download it here.
You can read the devlog about it (a list of all the new tools) here.

It’s not a complete tool update. I released it because I’m kind of in the middle of a lot of uncertainty about the future right now, so (to get around that), I’m changing the release schedule to be more frequent instead of what I planned.

I originally wanted to release tools in larger chunks so that it stays interesting to people… You know, if you release too often then people tend to lose interest.
Either way, as things are, releasing smaller sets of features will probably be best.

This tool update is an exciting one!

The tool update focusses entirely on tools that are meant for drawing and creating art.
Quite a few of these tools are more goofy and playful. They’re kind of “animation” based.
For example, Runny Ink will run and kind of morph as you draw with it. It’s a bit “glitch art meets watercolor” inspired.

What I like about these is the slight lack of control involved in using them. I think there’s a disarming quality about tools that encourage you not to be serious about the art you make. They’re kind of uncontrollable, so at this point you’re more in the mindset of doodling and playing around rather than making “serious” art.
The direction most of these are going is exactly that.
I’m designing most of them in a way that they encourage you to explore and find uses for them.

(some art quickly made with the new tools)

What I think is interesting about experimental tools is how people have to find uses for them. We all have a common understanding of how to draw with pencil, how to paint with watercolor… Watercolor in general is an interesting example because it’s completely impractical and hard to control. Either way, we know what to do with that.

So when it comes to digital art tools, I think it’s interesting how we try really hard to imitate these things from the real world in a hyper controlled overtly functional space.
For example, even if you had watercolor in Photoshop the colors would not “run” and animate into eachother. The mimicry of such mediums becomes purely functional.
The focus on that “pure functional” kind of strips what you make of a lot of the accidental playfulness you have when just casually doodling with mediums like watercolor, paint, spraypaint…
So, with these tools and the others planned, I’m designing toward a sense of lack of control.
The line tools randomly animate, the colors bleed and kind of morph as you draw, the lines fade as you draw, you can even set lines to just jump in all directions.

The “Custom Ink” brush is a good example of this. You can enable the “toggle” feature and make the random X/Y values really high and it basically turns lines into spraypaint. It looks wonderful on low alpha… You get a lot of interesting textures this way.

Most of the things you click and toggle and values you set in all these tools are very nondescript. You have to figure out what does what and how to use them.
I think there’s a charming quality to that for experimental tools. You’re exploring them. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to use them. How you apply them is entirely up to you.

The whole point of a lot of these tools it to discover interesting ways to combine everything. Draw with the Custom Ink tool, use some of that Softbrush, export the art with the green “Export this panel” button at the bottom of the canvas, then re-import it using “Blend & Displace” and start layering your work… You get the idea. The effects you get are really interesting.
You’re discouraged from having to KNOW what you’re doing. You’re encouraged to explore and find your own uses for all these.

I like the idea. It’s a lot like Play-doh meets any crafting game. Combinations are up to you!

Moving forward, another thing I’m going to try to do is continue putting out silly goofy charming and funny “hotfixes”.
I get a good laugh when people discover the potato hotfix. :)

I just released a “Scream into the Void” hotfix (read the devlog), which adds the ability to scream into the void and the void will reward you with great art…

This one is basically a very impractical glitch art tool. It glitches your art. The more you glitch it, the more it starts to do stuff. Like after about five or more times that you “scream”, it starts to generate perlin noise to use for glitching so you get these strange organic looking broken glitchy static effects.

You can also do this to a blank canvas, so it can be a fun stepping stone for making art if you don’t know what to make (hence the “artist with a capital A joke”).

(printed Zine Maker art made in the void)

So OK… moving forward with the Zine Maker…

I’m going to keep updating the tools until I’ve made all the tools that I was originally planning on for one BIG release.
My time estimate for the tool update was about three months of development. This is probably going to take longer because of uncertainty for my future + lots of fear and anxiety about it. I’ll do my best to “hold in there” tho.

The next set of features that I’m SO EXCITED for (most excited, I can’t wait!) are going to be virtual friends.
I’m planning on making a set of “tools” (part of that tool panel that you page through) that are actually cute silly goofy charming little creatures that you “invite” to make art with you.
They’ll be outright quirky and meant to make you laugh. There’s lots of space for humor here!
The number one reason for doing this to get people past the “blank canvas” fear. You know, when you’re shown something white and your brain farts and you get performance anxiety about making something…
Having some silly friend that you unleash on the canvas, that makes art in really sweet and dumb ways, will help. They’ll draw on the canvas for you. You can draw with them… You can also manage them and laugh at their silly behavior.
Think any pet in Cyberpet Graveyard… That’s the direction these will take.

I originally got this idea when watching people at the Zine Fest try the Zine Maker. Some of them had a really hard time when it came to making something. A friend of mine also said that he has trouble with That Blank Canvas.
So some sort of art generating was necessary to get past that. Virtual friends seem the best fit.

Galaxy Kate has this amazing paper about this too. Reading her work was very validating for a lot of the design decisions that I made. She talks about the “blank canvas” thing too.
I wish I knew about her work sooner. If you’re looking to create experimental tools I HIGHLY recommend reading her stuff on Casual Creators.

Ok… real talk…

This is partly in reply to this, but I get it often enough, so…

I think there’s a really important point to make in terms of what we expect from work from small struggling indie developers.

Maybe I could have been more tactful in answering questions over Twitter, but I’ve been going through a lot and had trouble with tact.

As someone who has a strong genetic family history with disabilities (some actually life threatening), with two very close family members born with severe disabilities that inhibit the ability to function like normal people do, I completely get the importance of accessibility. They joke a lot that we lost the genetic lottery. I’m well aware of the stares from people in public, and how disabled are “othered”.

On the other hand, and very realistically, I am a small developer. If people come to me with usability concerns I can’t cater to all of them. I just can’t.
I do not have the resources, and I’m barely “holding in there” myself.
When I get attacked over this, and it does happen a lot, I really have a hard time discerning that from when Angry Gamers attack me for making art-games about feelings. It’s hard to tell the difference if people are trolling you because they don’t want you to exist, or if they’re asking for a feature because it’s important to them.

I can’t stress enough the extent that I’m struggling right now with having no hope in the future and not really sure if I’ll be able to keep this up.
When you approach a small developer, you really need to understand that. At the end of the day, when you strip away all the hype from their work, its PERSONAL work from an artist that you are engaging with.
It’s going to be rife with personal style, personal aesthetic, personal views, and philosophies. It’s also going to be very held back by social, economic, and cultural disadvantages.

WITHOUT all the stuff that I’m going through, and have gone through, just to exist in this space (my story is very public now, and I talked a lot about that struggle in older posts too here here here and here), asking for a feature that you think should be easy is asking for a lot.
Someone like me struggles to get funding, and just have my work taken seriously in this space on a basic level. I’m already fighting just to exist. It’s really important to understand someone’s context when approaching their work.

These type of demands are demands you can (and should) make to major software companies. If you do this to a small dev, and act like they shouldn’t be making art to begin with if it doesn’t fit your criteria for what should or shouldn’t exist, then you’re basically advocating for them to be erased.

If you want certain features, and if you want accessibility, the best way to ask for that is by offering help.
I realize that there are arguments surrounding not making disabled people, or minorities, work for you for free by educating you… this isn’t that case.
If people approach me and kindly tell me “hey, these are my problems, and i would really like to enjoy your work, i have trouble with these things…” I would do what I can to help despite the constraints that I have.
If it’s a simple solution then I’d be very happy to put that in.
Yes, I’m planning on some features for people that have trouble with the colors in the UI, BUT that’s going to take a long time because I have a long list of todo’s.

Making people happy makes me happy. I’m not intentionally excluding people. I’m trying my best.
I can’t make promises tho, and if it’s too much work then my answer is going to be “sorry, no probably not.”
If that happens then there really are better, more accessible, tools out there made by people with money that are more suitable for you.

At the end of the day, this is someone’s own art that you are engaging with. It can’t be more than that. I don’t have the resources.
When approaching solo devs with stuff like this, it’s really important to understand the context that they fall under in this industry.

Big overshare incoming (serious real talk)…

Getting hit with this over Twitter was probably harder than getting hit with all the people accusing me of lying, destroying an “innocent man” (there’s nothing “innocent” about what was done to me), and all the rape apologists that I’ve been cleaning out of my DM’s and other places.
It really brought out a strong episode of suicidal ideation. I didn’t have one that bad for a long time.
Being here is already such a struggle. Pretty much all I have to hold onto sometimes is my passion for making the art that I love making.

There are a lot of aspects of this industry, and my own personal past, that reinforced the idea that I should not exist. I’m not alone in this type of struggle. Ask any woman, queer or trans gamedev how it’s like.
Not everyone was born with advantages like access to public schooling, a home when they were growing up, or basic humanity. I mean, there was a point when me and my sister weren’t allowed to go to school because of refugee laws. My parents did everything they could to give us an education.
Getting past that kind of economic handicap, and getting as far as living in America was really hard. I worked HARD to get the money together to be able to send my family to the US.
After coming here, this was largely my experience in trying to carve out a space for myself
So I mean, I don’t have much to begin with. I consider myself “rich” for other reasons (family, friends, and what you cultivate inside of you is what makes you “rich” imo).
I don’t see myself as even having a future. I never really did. I view it as a miracle to have gotten this far and to actually be someone people know about.
I somehow manage to get the resources and support together that I do have to be able to make my art. Making this stuff, being recognized for it, and striving to make an income from it (I believe that’s possible) is really all I can ask from life.

My experiences aren’t that different from anyone else in the queer community, or other marginalized spaces. Existing is an uphill battle. I have plenty of trans friends that fought through very similar things, and I view them as pure superheroes for being able to make art (their games) despite all that.
When you engage with our work you really need to understand that, and adjust your expectations accordingly.
We are just NOT given the same opportunities “normal indies” here are given. Even so, “normal indies” struggle pretty hard to begin with.

My future is tremendously uncertain right now. I’m already extremely broke (financially speaking… yes also emotionally, but that always heals).
I don’t know what I’m going to do about all the things I’m going to have to have money for just to fight someone that almost destroyed me the first time with what he did to me.
I spoke my truth. I did what I did because I wanted to be free. It’s really hard to bottle something like this up and just silently “live with it”… but I suppose that’s literally any MeToo story.
My mom was about ready to sell my grandparent’s house in Europe just to pay for the legal fees. I got really upset at her about that (we had a fight) because that’s all we have left of that family, and we can’t keep letting the world take from us.
I mean, my grandmother was a holocaust survivor. That was one big “annihilation” to overcome too, and just come to grips with (as a family also, this doesn’t just start or stop with the generation that survived the camps). I hate how the world does this to people.
I don’t want to take out loans or borrow money. We spent most of our life in debt to people and worked really hard to get out of that so we can actually be free.
Just talking about that, and how to navigate that kind of future, makes me feel like it would be better for those I love that I’m dead. It’s hard not to feel like a burden, especially if we start talking about selling things dear to us. I also realize that I’m panicking. Things tend to work out (or not) whether you like it or not… so there’s no point in being scared.

It feels like the world is constantly trying to put you out, and I hate how indifferent men (in any position of any kind of authority or power) are about how that’s like for women (or literally anyone else less advantaged).
There’s such a divide here, when we talk about these things, and people in advantaged positions can keep tuning it out.
I really have a hard time seeing how they can view themselves as “victims” when they are called out on their shit, and then act like they’re traumatized because of being confronted.
I don’t see any other hope for change unless they can actually stop and start listening to what it’s like for others. That’s the ONLY thing that can make a difference. If you have a social and cultural advantage, you really have to listen.
Sharing our stories, and just shouting into the void about what happened to us, the abuse we endure when in this industry, all the metoo’s in the world aren’t going to make any difference if the people that can make a difference and do something about it keep tuning that out.

Just the fact that what happened in games these last few weeks (month?) can get brushed off as “a moment”, comes from a place of incredible privilege.
This stuff is a reality for a lot of people, and it’s really killing us. It’s more than “a moment”. You can call it “a moment” because that’s how long you had to be confronted with reality.
We’ve got to get past the point of viewing that as a “moment” and acknowledge that it’s a very real problem that needs to be confronted head on by everyone.

Ok, either way. That’s where I’m at right now. I’ll do my best to keep existing, and participating, even though I would rather just die right now. I’m really tired.
I have the love for my work that keeps me going. People hold onto different things. This is what I hold onto; culturally contributing, mattering on that level, being recognized as an equal, and putting out beautiful work (as much as I can, for as long as I can).
I keep telling myself that I have every right to exist too.
You can argue that also, but that’s where I’m at.

I suppose I find it important to share things like this because solidarity helps others going through the same…I hope you can stay strong too.

Edit: A lot of you have been incredibly supportive to what I’ve been going through. I’m sorry for the negative tone, and don’t mean to invalidate all the support. I’m just being real about how things are right now. Thank you for everything.