My name is Joe Sycalik, and I am a Towson University class of 2018 alumnus with a major in Computer Science with a cybersecurity track. The purpose of this blog is to follow my pursuits in game development, with this post serving as an introduction with some insight into my background.

My earliest memories of gaming span back to Dragon Tales, Scooby Doo, and, most importantly, Pokemon. Pokemon was the first game that truly captivated me, and it served as my favorite series of games throughout elementary school. Throughout middle school, I didn’t have access to any home consoles beyond the Wii, so I turned largely to the early age of mobile gaming with the first few games of Gameloft’s Modern Combat series at the forefront. I bought a PS3 early in high school, but I’ve since found that my years playing games on my iPod Touch and then iPhone significantly shaped my perspective toward mobile gaming.

High school sparked my introduction to PC gaming, leading to a long phase of Minecraft and MOBAs. Shortly after getting my first laptop, I was introduced to League of Legends, though I got a code to Smite’s closed beta a few short months later. I played Smite for years leading up to its official launch, though issues with my laptop and an introduction to my current girlfriend led to a few years with very limited time spent gaming. During my time in high school, I began learning UDK, though unfortunately I had no programming experience at the time. After some research, I began learning Java. In hindsight, I do regret choosing to learn Java instead of C++, but there is no changing that now. Due to this decision, my efforts with game development using UDK at this time stagnated, and I stopped working towards this goal later in high school.

I fell in love with Vainglory around the time of its Android launch, which fell in line with the summer following my first year of college. This refreshed my positive feelings towards mobile gaming. This was by far my most played game for well over a year, but during this time, I also discovered Crashlands, which I had a great time playing. Later in college, I picked up Rocket League for PC, which is now still one of my favorite multiplayer games.

You may notice a trend in my choices of games leading up to this point. Most of the games that I played featured online multiplayer. Most of my single player gaming leading up to my college years occured earlier in my life: Game Boy Color, PlayStation, GameBoy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, and Wii. Nonetheless, I still had picked up some single player games for the PS3 during high school; Infamous, Infamous 2, and The Last of Us are still some of my favorite games to date.

Early in college, I would often brainstorm in the car for a game that I still would one day like to make. Unfortunately, I did not begin working on it until early 2017 when I tried out Unity. One of the greatest reasons why I had not started on it prior to this point is because I grew too focused in the specific details. I searched constantly for the right engine or framework to use, and I almost started to work on it using the LibGDX framework. In the end, I focused too much on smaller details like scaling the game to support every resolution out there. I grew overwhelmed as I tried to focus on and learn too many aspects at once, especially in the realm of rendering.

In 2017, I finally tried Unity. I began following Catlike Coding’s hex map tutorial to begin learning the engine and to work towards laying down a framework for the game. Progress was going well, albeit slowly, until I hit the wall that is multiplayer networking. My lack of knowledge led my research in the wrong direction, which again caused me to grow overwhelmed. The project stalled as the summer of 2017 began. I attempted to find a good networking framework for Unity and eventually settled on picking up TNet 3, but at this stage I decided to spend my last summer before college ended relaxing and searching for internships. In hindsight, this was a good decision, as the scope of that specific project is larger than I believe one should take on for thier first game. Shortly before I began my internship later in the summer, I bought a Nintendo Switch, which has since significantly changed my gaming experience.

My senior year of college began shortly afterwards, and I grew too busy to make much progress on the project. It wasn’t until December that I yet again began to work on game development (third time’s the charm?). I attended my first game jam with members of the Baltimore Indie Game Developer’s group, where we made Gem Rush¬†for Ludum Dare 40. I had the time of my life and was very proud of how much I contributed to the project, especially given the fact that it was a first time experience for me. I was absolutely hooked at this point. It felt amazing to have finally created something complete, and my passion and motivation for game development has only continued to increase since.

In February 2018, I worked on Buddy System for Global Game Jam 2018 at Big Huge Games. I was admittedly quite proud when our team unanimously decided to work on the idea I had pitched for this jam. It didn’t take long for the concept to take shape. Development on the project didn’t go quite as smoothly as Ludum Dare 40, largely due to the fact that our team Global Game Jam team was over twice the size. Nonetheless, Buddy System was very well received despite being very rough around the edges. There was some strong encouragement from others to continue working on the game, so after a few weeks I decided I’d like to take on the task of expanding the concept of the game further. 3 other members of the team initially expressed interest in working on the project with me, but in the end they were unable to commit the time to it and it became a solo project. I began a full rewrite of the concept from the ground up in 3D on February 12th, and Bewildebots is the culmination of the work so far.

In April 2018 I decided to take on the compo for Ludum Dare 41, where I made Hungry Hungry Shippos. This was my toughest game jam to date, largely due to a lack of love for the project’s direction on Saturday night. On Sunday, I was able to make a good recovery and ended up with a game that was fun and complete with (ugly programmer) art and (very poorly made) music. This jam experience highlighted my need to work further on practicing art development and music development for games, so I made it a goal of mine to improve my skills in these area prior to Ludum Dare 42. Since then, my primary focus in regards to game development has been to continue working on Bewildebots, which is now in alpha!

Fast forward to today, and the limited amount of time I dedicate to gaming is largely focused single player games and multiplayer games that I am able to play with my girlfriend (of which Rocket League Switch, PUBG Mobile, and Wizard of Legend Switch are the top 3 currently). Super Mario Odyssey and Celeste were some of the first platformers I had played since Donkey Kong Country 2, and they each are some of my favorite games of all time at this point. Recently, Wizard of Legend has introduced me to the roguelite genre, and Octopath Traveler is my most anticipated title of the year thanks to last year’s demo.

For those curious, my favorite games (loosely in order) are:

  • Celeste
  • Pokemon Crystal
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Rocket League
  • Infamous and Infamous 2
  • The Last of Us
  • Pokemon Emerald

This admittedly went way further into my background than I intended (and this version is still relatively brief!), but this reflection has truly proved helpful in identifying where some of my core design values have come from. I’m a huge proponent for cross platform support and taking mobile gaming seriously. I want my games to be as inclusive and accessible as possible so as many people can play as possible, and so everyone can play the game how they wish to play it.