Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Couple of new enemies

Neither of them have names yet. The one on the left is probably going to go in the hub area. The thing on the right, that I'm now calling an "Evil Roomba" is for the volcano base and will wind up and jet steam to move around as well as shooting with it's cannon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nuke/Flight/Boost Video

Abilities Tester Video

Nothing playable just yet, as flight so overpowered it gives access to areas of the level I don't want anyone near right now. Also I want to polish a few more rough edges and crash causing bugs before I make it playable as well as add a half decent tutorial sign. I'll probably take the player through ALL the abilities as part of the starting tutorial.

It was mentioned yesterday about autofire. You don't have to use it. You tap X to lock on and now as long as you still have a target he will stay locked on until you have got about 2-3 seconds without one before putting the gun away again. Yes, you can just blaze away at everything anyway, but the number of misses you will get due to recoil and loss of damage for not getting perfect critical hits will cost you in the long term.

So work plan for tomorrow. Clean up the ability code a bit, prep the new stage area and try and get the player in it with a couple of new enemies spawning. Perhaps lay some of the ground work for timed hits, although it's getting harder and harder to work with the guns since there designs are still subject to change.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Battle Alpha Version

A new version of the Prototype

The final iteration of the combat controls. I'm pretty settled with the setup I have, although rolling needs some tweaking, as the player needs a little more control over where it ends, or you roll into enemies way too much.

You can roll/backflip/shoot any time. There are a few small animation bugs and damage can occasionally make the character misbehave. The new meter in the top left that increases when you shoot is basically a special attack meter. You hold down to charge it up and unleash a special attack which does crazy awesome stuff. Right now only the basic Nuke move is done (does massive damage to all nearby enemies) with a simple effect.

Tomorrow I'm going to work on adding Flight and Boost/Vampire to the specials and tweak out roll a bit so the player can adjust momentum within reason. Which when finished should cover all the complexities of the combat/movement part of the game. The new level should be preped enough that the next alpha version can be there rather than the temple, which I'm getting a little bored of myself. I don't want to make that leap until the new enemies (Basically ones that attack you to do damage rather than being damage on touch) are ready.

Also, yes, I was back to work yesterday. But I found out a friend had been in a car accident over christmas and it kinda knocked me for six when it came to focusing on development. So I didn't really achieve anything notable to post about.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Office Tidy Day

Usually on Fridays I have 'office tidy day'. This is when I clean up the junk on my desk because a tidy clean workspace makes me more keen to work on stuff. It's not Friday today, but it is almost Christmas and I spent most of the day cleaning anyway. So today was office tidy day.

There is a deep and meaningful reason behind having an certain weekday for cleaning. During my 'heavy' periods I start to pull 10 hours a day working on a game out of enthusiasm for the project. Doing it for a long time burns my brain out a bit, so the idea is by tidying, I've got something to force my mind of work for a bit. Or at the very least spread it out between bursts of tidying/cleaning that give me time to think about what I'm doing.

Due to my Christmas commitments, I won't be back to work until the 27th of December. Tomorrow will be my last game related post until then. Until then enjoy this slightly buggy animation loop of a 'riser'. You can grab them, they drag you up to higher ledges.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Eternal Ascension Floor 1

New demo level went into production today (I still have the map for the Volcano base, but it's going on the back burner for now). Going to do the first area from Eternal Ascension. The 'hub dungeon' for lack of a better word. You'll need to work your way through this dungeon to access other areas and progress through the story. After each story checkpoint the dungeon will change slightly, so what you see here is ONLY the lower levels. It has a couple of unique properties. It's multi-pathed, although some paths will become blocked based on your choices progressing through the game. You don't gain any levels in it, Exp is just converted into currency. It will contain 'ghost' objects from other that can only be unlocked and become usable by completing said levels.

It awaiting some enemy designs and other bits. Should be able to start putting something together right after Christmas (I've got family around during the Christmas period who would glare at me if I spent it working on video games). To get a demo out in the second week of January, assuming I don't get nuked with something out of nowhere ruining my schedule.

I'm working on something to make navigation and combat more interesting right now. Don't really want to talk about it too much until I've proven it out on the prototype. Talking about features too much makes it too easy to get carried away in the hype.

Also is this awesome, or what :-

Friday, December 18, 2009


Today I took the plunge and pretty much removed most of the features I wrote into Gather Up recently. I wrote the Z targeting system, it didn't work. I was in fact getting hit more with a system that was supposed to make it -easier- to dodge which made the whole thing a tantamount failure. I had half sense it wasn't a good idea because it was straying from the 'two button' paradigm, multiplying complexity (I have a rough calculation for it, but I'll talk about that another day).

There is a positive side to it. I've lost about 3-4 days of work, including some other stuff to do with the way ammo is handled. I re-wrote a huge chunk of the code to support the Z locking which transfers well (I had to remove/tweak a few lines of code to get back to the stage I wanted) so overall everything now works better. My issues originally was handing the gun between during dodge moves and I had to write that for the last system to work. So everything that respect is cleaner and better than if I had directly switched from one system to the other.

I've returned all the dodge controls to something even simpler than the demo. No more 'toward' and 'away' nonsense. You shoot the nearest thing pressing or holding X. You can roll any time but tapping down + direction. You can backflip any time by pressing up. Next up I'm going to alter the 'hover mode' to be a bit less crap and be more like a short period of floaty/flight type movement to add a Ariel dimension to fighting. I want to create something like the air suspension moves in Devil May Cry, sans actually having to shoot to stay in the air. If done right it should add something else new to the platforming element as well as combat. I've still got the issue of weapon and target cycling, but I think they will be manageable.

The other paradigm shift (see what I did there) is that I've changed with level I'm going to be doing for the demo build. A few people expressed concern about the lack of exploration and I think I need to address that as part of proof of concept. I'm quite happy with the results for linear areas, which feel a bit dead right now because they are awaiting the epic story content that is going to make them interesting to play. Since the movement mode has changed so much, I think I'll need to re-prove the open world mechanics of Level Up under Gather Up's altered movement mechanics and focus on fighting as well as collecting.

In other news. I worked on a house:
I'm not really sure about using this style right now. It feels a bit too busy and distracting and the windows/doors -really- clash with the brickwork. I do like the colours though.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Timed Shots and Dodges.

I was supposed to update this blog a couple of times a week (perferable every day). I've been slipping and also missed my deadline because of the Kongregate version of Level Up. The API did not want to play nice. Since I've been getting good publicity there and some half decent revenue I decided to work it out so I would get badges (Achievements) on Kong that would drive my traffic up a bit. Which took me the entire weekend. It sucks when a 20 minute job winds up taking several days.

I've done a bit of work on Gather Up. The new dodge mode is working, albeit buggily. As well as the new key layout, which doesn't feel entirely natural but I'm working on it. Will have a playable version up real soon, I want to do a couple of either enemies or trap so the changes I've made make more sense in context. With the current mechanics of the enemies it doesn't really fit.

Anyway, I was going to talk about timing and rhythm and what a subtle and awesome element in design it is. Using a rhythm or timed press is one of the better ways of getting the most out of simple controls. Just look at something like rhythm heaven. It also sneaks it's way into other genres. Particularly fighters where you deploy attacks at a certain tempo to control a juggle and brawlers where enemies block when attacked repeatedly.

A rhythm of taps on a single key is usually a lot more natural to memorize than a combination of buttons. I think it closes the gap between skill and memorisation in a game adding a kind of aural pattern along with the physical movement. It also improves the sense of direct interaction between the player and the game. I'm planning to use a kind of rhythm mechanic in Gather Up! called 'perfect shots' where well timed shots do additional damage.

Every gun has three important stats (and a few other minor factors) that effect aiming. Distance, Recoil and Aiming are core of shooting. Certain guns optimize at certain distances, this is a no-nonsense thing players are used to. Pistols work well at med/close range. Shotguns work well up close and crummily at mid range, and so on. Perfect shots are tied up with the -other- two vital stats, Aiming and Recoil.

Aiming ticks up over time when you are standing still. It scales differently with different guns. The sniper is enhanced by aiming a lot, where as the shotgun isn't. Recoil shoots up a bit every time you shoot a gun and ticks away when you don't. At the moment both of these things are at 0 at the same time there will be a window for a 'perfect' shot. Shooting in this window scores critical damage. This establishes a perfect 'rhythm' of shots for each gun for maximum damage per bullet (but not necessarily best damage output overall). Since gun stats will change over time, it's going to be another factor players will need to consider when altering their gun.

The other timing factor I want to add are Dodge Reloads. A well timed dodge (ie, one that means you an attack sails past you) gains extra EXP during a battle. A well timed dodge when your gun is empty will trigger a full reload and perhaps a damage bonus for that clip too. The idea is that it will create another risk:reward choice for the player. Pay more attention to clip length against position and risk taking damage needlessly, or reap the rewards of audaciously getting up close and rolling around an enemy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More Animation Work

I failed to update last night, I was -not- having a good evening with Gather Up code. The new control scheme seems to be working out, I'm held back in testing because it's as buggy as hell since it doesn't really fit with my old state machine that ran the character code. Additionally I had to do a ton of animation work since you can now be locked on and not carrying a gun. On the bright side I have wipped up a kinda nice flip animation for the overhead dodge, (although the hover part of it is still questionable).

I uploaded Level Up to Kongregate today and I've been swamped by another bunch of bug reports I feel like I'm probably going to miss my deadline at this rate. Which is annoying, since there is a new Ludlum Dare competition I would like to enter over the weekend.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Volcano Base Progress

Elevator for the Volcano Base:

This is an elevator that features at the start of and half way through the Volcano Base level. Everything in the base I think should either be powered by steam or lava since that's what it's built for. For a lot of the mechanic parts I've been going for a steampunk-y look. Technology in the land of Gather Up needs to seem like more of a rarity to make the computer stand out for it's importance (mechanical devices on the other hand, appear a bit). There are two versions there, I decided that the moving parts moved in too much of a regular pattern, so I added four more frames so I could make the pistons movement look a little better.

I was mostly implementing my new map importing scripts today and doing some prep work on getting the first section of the level playable enough to release. I've started work on re-writing the player class file so that it follows the new handling style and the code still reads nice. The new layout is going to work something like this.

Z - Lock/Dodge Mode. Almost exactly like Z targeting in Zelda. Release to exit Lock/Dodge mode. (May add toggle option). You will probably be blocked from running off the edges of cliffs like this (but you would still be able to backflip/roll off them).
X - Shoot when in Lock/Dodge mode. Use in normal mode.

Dodge/Lock Mode -
Tap AWAY - Backflip.
Toward + Down - Roll.
Up - Air dodge (suspend in air for a few seconds).
Down - Tap to cycle targets. Hold to holster guns.

Practical reason for this. Basically I want for
a) People to be able to fire their guns when they don't have target, accidentally wasting ammo.
b) For there to be dodging/acrobatic areas that focus on traps rather than enemies.

Outstanding issues.

I'm thinking about having guns effect movement speed when in use. This would be frustrating if the holster button has to be held down. Possibly alter it so weapons just effect dodge cooldown. It's going to be much harder to execute a triple back flip when holding a sniper rifle and opposed to a handgun, for example. Weapons are going to have a weight attribute and it should have some kind of physical impact on the way the player moves.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Volcano Base Demo Deadline

I didn't do much today asside from making a few map importing scripts that crashed my tile map editor, which means I've spent two days slacking (I blame it on Borderlands, SO MUCH FUN!). Which can mean only one thing. A new deadline to get me motivated again!

So. The next Prototype, I'm tentatively calling the Volcano Base Demo is set to be done by the end of the week and is going to contain the following

- Remapped and finalized Dodge system.
- All three modes of dodging (Foward/Back/Up).
- Lower area of the Volcano Base Level.
- A few enemies for that level, with an attack or two.
- Beginning of the Exp gathering 'Karma' System.
- Underlying work on the weapon mods system.

It's a pretty ambitious target, but the more I push for the more I actually get done.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Volcano Base Editing

The lower area of the Volcano base in the process of being worked on. I didn't really do much aside from that today. I've been writing a Flixel Preloader with integrated adverts for the Newgrounds constest.

Friday, December 4, 2009

New Version Up

Gather Up Prototype 0.6

+ Added dodge roll
+ Re-worked control scheme for combat.
+ Added guns. SMG, Scattergun, Assault Rifle, Sniper and Rocket Launcher.
+ Tweaked the aiming/damage calculation.
+ Added splash damage for all new guns. SMG/Assault have a small chance of splash damage when they miss the intended target. Scattergun hits pretty much everything near the target
+ Altered the reloading code.
+ Added a HUD item for guns.
+ Made turning less 'slidy'
+ Added ledge hanging
+ Fixed an issue where getting hit caused you to leave combat stance.
+ Changed damage colour to white.

Backflip - Tap AWAY from the enemy.
Roll - Tap TOWARD an enemy whilst holding the down key.
Switch Target - Tap DOWN
Exit Combat - Hold DOWN for a short time
Hang - Hold DOWN whilst climbing a ledge.

- The Assault Rifle is overpowered right now, without an ammo economy to limit it's use (it's major drawback is Ammo consumption).
- Sniper is overpowered right now, need to reduce it's base aim and increase the 'aim factor' (increase of accuracy over time stood in the same spot)
- Sniper Rifle and Rocket Launcher need adding.
- Dodge rolls are still kind of a pain.
- Still not enough 'kinds' of dodge.
- Possible rolling outside of combat, I dunno.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Late Night Edit!

Guns galore in Gather Up!

Well, three guns. I don't know if that constitues galore yet.

I've got the Handgun, SMG and Scattergun working in Gather Up. Now with an awesome splash damage feature. Basically if you fire the scattergun enemies nearby take 'splash damage' dependin on their distance. With the SMG if you -miss- theres a chance that it will still hit an nearby enemy in a similar way.

The same will apply to the Rocket Launcher and Assualt rifle. It's a bit of a double eged sword though. Firing on enemies causes them to attack you, aggroing a whole bunch of Spikers with the shotgun is NOT pretty.

Also, I settled on a temporary control scheme for doding

Roll - Forward + Down.
Backflip - Tap Backwards.

Definitly needs another two types of dodge, neither of these for att attacks yet.

The Toy and the Tech

I didn't do much in Gather Up today, so instead I'm going to talk a little about *drumroll* developmental process. One I've been using since I started making Flash Games solo over a year ago. If I liked to coin redundant terminology I would call it something like "The 2 T's". The Toy (the fun part of the game) and the Tech (unique features that the Toy depends on).

Right after conceptualisation (Hey! A platform game with levelling would be fun) the first two things I identify are The Two T's. For level up, the tech was the platforming engine. I spent about a week familiarising myself with Flixel and seeing what it could do. How tool chains would have to be set up and stuff like that. During this time I also started working on the toy.

The Toy is the part of your game, that no matter what HAS to be fun. It's especially important in a game where you are taking risks or you have some kind of message to get across. A well designed Toy, that makes the heart of your game fun, will save you against a lot of poor decision making down the road and makes the game easier to market. It's not to be mistaken with the 'main feature' as it isn't always the focus of the game. Just the moment to moment behind the scenes 'fun generator'.

To give a few examples of this. In Assassins Creed the toy was free running. However dull the rest of the game was, care an attention had been placed into the free running to make it fun no matter what. In Spore the toy was the various editors, the game itself was dull and repetitive in so many places, but the fun of being able to edit everything made it survivable.

In Level Up the 'Toy' was exploration. When I let people loose on the simple platformer prototype I had put together they mentioned a few things, that gems where fun to collect and that they enjoyed exploring the level. The 'Toy' in Level Up, thus became exploration. The level would be big and detailed with a wide variety of locations to visit. The breadcrumb trail of gems would give initial motivation to explore and give significant reason to level and reach even more areas of the map.

If a project fails at this hurdle, it gets scrapped. No second chances. You can develop a fun toy in about two days flat in flash so there isn't any point in trying to jam something into working when you could start over. If it passes the fun test at this point, then I turn back to tech and look at what I need to enhance the fun. Exploration is great but what this game needs is some background and character, so the need for Cut scene/Event handling tech is born.

The important thing here is I've now secured the safety of the new tech I'm working on with the fun toy I've developed than ensures the project is going to hit off.

In Gather Up, the first line of tech was handling multiple areas (I already have the engine from Level Up, so I don't need to worry about that). I knew it was a game that was going be bigger and have more environments than Level Up, so it needed area transitions. The Toy is the gun combat. Fluid movement between exploring and fighting. Focus on movement rather than aim. With the auto aim and jump the game stops being so much about how good your aim is and more about how good your reactions are and your strategy in battle which is why I developed the fighting core first. This makes the guns the tech that is need to support this toy and give it some depth.

In my opinion you can make a game about ANYTHING as long as your toy is good. You could make a game about things as dull as being a waitress or an amoeba. You can even get away with injecting some meaning into them without totally alienating players.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mockups Yay!

So today I've been working on the first area of the game, because the rules are fairly complex, I think the tutorial is going to be a lot of work to get 'right'. The first area involves climbing up a base built into the side of a volcano. Lots of big catwalks stretching across between rooms cut out of the rock. Up the centre of the level is a big ominous pipe/machine thing.

On the left you can see the first and second pass on the boss area, I had originally been going for a classic orange/brown/red theme for the level. I've since changed my mind to a blue/red/orange one. I didn't like the look of the brown tiles and it all felt too traditional anyway. There's a lot of animation work to go into it yet.

The background is due for some pretty big changes. I want the player to be able to see the back of the Volcano as they climb out, but also have desert/mountains behind the outer area. The parallax for that stuff will probably be a real pain in the ass.

A bigger area test of the tile sheet. I tend to do these whilst making a tile sheet to make sure I don't need extra tiles before I dump it into Mappy to start drawing the map.

A possible enemy design for the area.

Hopefully I'll be putting a new alpha out in this area at the weekend, dependant on how much I can get done.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gather Up - Dodging System

I've been doing some work on the dodging in Gather Up today. In fact I have the code window up right now, I've just decided to do this blog post as a quick breather.

I've got a couple of small issues with dodging. I'm modelling the combat after Zelda's Z-Locking system. Only I have the issue that I have a LOT less buttons to play with and am reluctant to add more. Too many buttons normally adds needless complexity.

During combat the player needs to be able to do quite a few things. They need to be able to shoot, either on Auto, or one shot. They need to be able to move. They should be able to dodge. They should be able to switch to another target. They should be able to switch weapons. Now consider I'm mapping this to Arrow Keys and X+C. Not an easy task.

Here's how it breaks down right now. Lots of contextual stuff going on.

X - Lock on/Shoot when you have target
C - Menu (pauses so you can switch guns, considering making a quick switch menu by holding C rather than tapping it)
LEFT - Hold to run, Tap to dodge. Dodging toward an enemy is a roll, away is a backflip.
RIGHT - As Above
DOWN - Cycle next target, hold to exit combat stance.
UP - Cycle weapon (perhaps I don't need this with a menu though) OR another dodge

I'm already coming up with issues doing this. Targeting feels clumsy against multiple opponents. I want something more like the simple 'Holding Z locks on to the nearest thing' system.

So perhaps I should add another key.

My OTHER consideration is that I want to add another dodge to make the game more...unique from the Zelda system. I've been thinking some kind of grappling hook type system. So you tap up and the hero fires a piton into the roof and pulls himself a couple of tiles off the ground so you can shoot from a slightly greater height and dodge ground based attacks. It would probably be a bit of work to prototype, and seems like a big risk to take on already complex controls.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Gather Up

Alpha : Play Here

Concept: An Adventure game played backwards. The player starts out awesome and godlike defeats the final boss then slowly gives up their abilities working their way back towards the inciting incident that started the game.

Gameplay: Guns + RPG + Zelda + Collecting. The player runs around dungeons and areas killing monsters and collecting goodies from them to upgrade their weapons, progress further and advance the story. The main chunk of the game consists of a core main multipath dungeon with branching mini themed sub levels that need to be complete to progress.

Story: Years before the events of Level Up, Elizabeth Sable psychotic killer stalks the world attempting to eliminate every living soul who has 'Deity Syndrome' a unique condition that prevents people from ageing past their mid twenties and marks people as being chosen by god. A lone boy sets out to save a single girl from her fate to die at the killers hands. He might save the world and meet god too, you never know with these things.


Progress so far (stats are subject to change):
Engine/Core System - 70% complete
Guns :- 1/6
Areas :- 1/7
Story Events:- 2/??
RPG Systems - 0/3
Bosses - 0/4
Enemies - 3/28

Currently in Progress:
Extra Guns.
Karma for core system.
Starting area.
Enhanced dodging for core system.

Level Up Fan Art

It's only been out a week and I've had a couple of fan works for Level Up!

This is from Rumrusher :

This is from Crell :

Really cool!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Level Up A Post Mortem

Back in July of 2009, I had just finished working on my word game, to an underwhelming reception and decided it was time for something different. I have a secret love affair with RPG's, and a public one with Platformers and after playing Upgrade Complete I felt inspired to create some kind of weird mashup of the two. The concept was very simple, a game with platforming movement mechanics and goals but with RPG stats for all the actions the user could perform. Jumping would level up and players could jump higher, Running would level and players could move faster. So on and so fourth.

I pulled together this fun little prototype of moving a girl around a 2D world collecting gems gaining levels. It was good, satisfying and I was getting lots of positive feedback about it. I had fulfilled that most important requirement most designers will tell you about 'make the toy first'. Building on my strengths, I started to add more exploration to the game and fleshed out the world a little. The JRPG parodies started to creep in at this point. This is how I finally arrived at having a narrative present in the game. Something interactive.

There was still something missing though. It was fun, but in a shallow way and once you where done exploring the world there wasn't really a big enough reason to continue playing. I had intended some kind of message about Levelling Up in video games (I had also been playing a WoW trial), but it wasn't really coming through. Which slotted the final piece of the puzzle, the Nightmare into the game.

It worked in three ways, firstly it created a situation where players lost something that took no skill to gain if they couldn't work out how to apply it. Secondly, it connected players directly to the character, she is suffering frustration with her losses, as did the player. Thirdly it added an element of challenge to the game, there was now an economy of time when playing.

Overall development went rather smoothly. The game took about 16-18 weeks to develop. I had originally planned a 3 month deadline, but extended it after adding the extra elements to the game to make it less arcade-y. To me it feels like a one of a kind game not because of the product, but the crazy chain of development choices that lead to the final product.

What went well:

1. The Flixel Framework

I cannot express how much of a joy it is to work with. Using Flixel I went from knowing nothing to having a fully working prototype up in about 3 weeks. The framework is pitched perfectly between simplicity and usability and still doesn't punish the game much speed wise. It really takes the edge off exclusively using FlashDevelop to create with.

2. Development Mantras

As I added new layers to the game, each one had it's own kind of mantra I associated with it. The rule of the level design was "Detail Detail Detail" as I wanted to the player to enjoy exploring the world as much as possible. The mantra of the overall game was "short but sweet". The mantra of the graphics was "Nothing but Cute" By sticking to these simple ideas I solved development dilemmas much faster and with a much more cohesive result. If it didn't add to the original intention it didn't go into the game. It's certainly a good solution when time doesn't afford for extensive documentation.

3. Mappy

When I first started working with Flixel, there was no editor for tile maps that was designed to work with it. Since then Flan has been released, but at the time I had to find a solution for designing the world. Like Flixel, Mappy works in a bare bones, no frills kind of way. Importantly, it supported Lua scripts for adding extra functionality. This worked perfectly for me, it took few days to come up with a script that exported in a Flixel Friendly form. Since I had complete control over how the data was exported, I could create something that was easy to import and it was simple to add extra data to the map file on import.

4. Characterisation

I worked a lot of detail into the world in the environment, but that wasn't going to be the end of it. The game needed NPC's to be truely reminiscent of a RPG. Thus the Roundites and Squarians the live in the world where born. Designing them was a challenge, inspiration of 'NPCs the reflect shapes' is pretty non-specific. The thing that really brought them to life was the writing of Keith Evans. I had been looking around for a writer/editor for a while, not only did he do it quickly and in a format that made it easy to get in the game but also turned each of the ten NPC's into a memorable and quirky archetype.

5. Ongoing User Feedback

I have a policy of getting player feedback from as early as possible. It can save a lot of trouble down the road in the sense that you don't spend a lot of time creating a feature that players don't use or aren't interested in. Very occasionally people will come back with things that lead to absolutely INSPIRED ideas that enhance the game

And some stuff that went not so right:

1. Bugs.

These absolutly SLAUGHTERED me on release.

I was amping down on the round of bug testing near the end for two reasons. One is that I wanted to keep certain details of the game a secret until release (this turned out to be unessential) the other is that since a lot of testers had started early, they where getting bored of playing the game. I know I was. So a couple of pretty nasty bugs made it into the initial build that went Live with the first release. This problem was then further compounded by two things. Firstly I didn't know that once a certain number of people had viewed the game I wouldn't be able to update for 6-12 hours after compiling. Secondly, I tried to push fixes to hard and fast that caused further bugs because I didn't take the time to test thoroughly.

It's been four days since release and I am STILL trying to fix bugs that appeared from the release version. The silver lining is that with the success of Level Up I should easily be able to find enough testers to make sure my next release is as bug free as possible.

2. Art.

I wanted some fancy art for the game. My own pixel art has come under criticism other game artists and I wanted something to help sell the game on the visual side. In the end I think it was a fairly unnecessary expense to go to. Only one bit of art was used in promotional material and a lot of users criticized the cut scene art. It didn't end up having quite the impact I intended it to have. In future I've got to look for a higher impact solution, more bang for my buck.

3. Mappy.

Whilst Mappy went right a lot of the time, there where a couple of initial teething issues that really killed me. There still are a few things about it that I still haven't nailed down. Specifically some features like enabling tile transparency and the lack of some kind of update/refresh button for importing graphics really slowed down level design initially. It wasn't that they didn't exist, it was just hard to find in a not particularly well documented, bare bones but robust tool. Having now established a pipeline these issues have been reduced. I have yet to find a better alternative, having tried several other Tilemap programs.

4. Feedback on Features

A couple of the game features where not signposted well enough. Particularly saving/loading, although also in a way the CODEX which had some hints on game completion. Many players where not away these features existed or how to use them. Some players where also confused by the game completion code. All of these features needed to be pointed out better in game.

5. MOD Playback

Early on in development I had decided the game should use MOD music to fit with the retro theme and to keep file size down. Less waiting time means a lower entry point and more people playing the game. Initially I started using a mod player called FlodPlayer, and wrote a Flixel Wrapper for it. This was seamless, but when the music came in from my musician (TripleFox) Flod completely distorted it. This put all my work to waste and I was basically lucky that the musician himself provided me with a packaged version of ModPlayer that I could use. A big drawback of this is it added part of a seconds loading time delay when playing when frame rate crawled. Based on this I think it would have been better to just go all out and use Mp3 music.

At the end of the project I am incredibly pleased with what I produced. The game radiates the attention to detail and care that went into it's development. It's given rise to a series that is going to keep me occupied for a fairly long time. All around I've been astounded by how incredibly well received it was considering I started out with the simple idea of a genre mashup game.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Philosophy of Age of Hats

Keep it simple, stupid.

That's it. I wanted to make a very very simple game, one that you could potentially play (at least in essence) with bits of paper. What I came up with was a grid based game placing importance on the placement of pieces and the economy of use. It started with the premise of there being x number of enemy units on a grid and the player having to position a limited number of templates to fit over them all in one go.

There where three types of template. Each template when used would take two turns before they could be used again, the focus was not just on thoughtful placement, but also use. Planning ahead to decide when you would need a certain shape. I bolstered this out with a combo mechanic. To get maximum effect each template should be placed in the row/column as another. This added another dimension of choice. To place templates for maximum coverage or maximum effect.

I didn't plan a turn based strategy when I started. The game was mostly based around finding an alternative way of approaching a Match-3 concept of making changes on a fixed grid with a focus on placement. Something that players of Bejewelled and such can identify with and yet find different and refreshing from playing gem matching games.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Dark Side of Internet Communities

I know this doesn't sound like it's very related to games design (and well, it didn't start off that way) but bare with me a moment. I've just joined a new online community for creative writing, they seem like a cheery bunch that made me feel very welcome and things seem quite friendly there. I've made friend with some of the moderation staff and chat to them a bit on and off.

Recently I asked about some changes that where made to the forum and if it was worth saying anything about it or if I would be wasting my time. I did spend about two years administering for an online community myself so I know that generally moderators/admins already have enough on their plate without a small minority of users (and there is always one) kicking up a fuss because the changes made didn't perfectly suit them.

That's when it came out that the forum had gone through a bumpy change of management, people had been swept under the rug. Well not swept, but people who had already put a lot of work into a community would never be appreciated by the new people that arrived there. It's something I like to call the "Dark Side" of the online community, perhaps being a little over dramatic.

Behind nearly every community online there is at least one over stretched individual (or perhaps more) trying to build something out of their own blood sweat and tears. Usually for no money. The average user never really appreciates what they do. They perhaps get some token recognition for what they do, there are always member of the community out there complaining about how the forum isn't being run the way they like it. This causes tension, tension causes drama. Drama has a negative effect on the community, particularly non-core members.

How does this relate to games exactly? Well so many games now rely on an avid community to support them. If mutliplayer is one of the pillars that holds up your experience then it's important that it is inviting for new users. What I am trying to say is that building this community is a much more stressful and time consuming job than it would seem. On top of that the quality of the community is dependent on your ability to hide those stresses.

Or perhaps people should just learn to appreciate that there online experience is held up by a very patient and over pressured few...


Friday, February 13, 2009

I love you *insert name here*

Today I picked up Chrono Trigger DS whilst I was out shopping. I don't usually buy games right after they where released, but my joy that Squenix had made it available in the UK and the sweetness of the limited edition soundtrack CD (It wasn't that good, it turns out, I've been spoiled by Atlus having much better limited edition stuff).

I have a rule, when it comes to playing RPG's. First play through I never change the character names. I guess it's a little sad, but I want to maximize the purity of the experience. Also it avoids nasty surprises where you find out there are certain characters you can't rename and end up with the epic RPG trio of "Yukari, Junpei and Duncan" which just seems strange. Seeing as this would be my second time around with Chrono Trigger, naturally I put in Titch for the main character name, after that everything got complicated. I wanted to name Lucca, the inventor character, after my friend Shanna only she didn't have a fixed nickname that matched mine (she just uses whichever character she happens to be idolising at the time, the lack of personality assertion depresses me).

The really interesting part though, was when I got to name my third character, the rebellious and spunky princess, I had so much trouble picking a name. This was because I would only name her after a friend who met three very specific requirements
1) They had personality in common.
2) There was some visual connection between them.
3) They had to be someone with 6 characters or less in their name.
I spent at least ten minutes sitting there and thinking about what to name a character. This is highly unlike me, for me gameplay is king and everything else comes second and third place. I've moved away from my CRPG playing roots in the past few years.

In this particular instance I think I was having trouble because I find the journey you take in Chrono Trigger to be a particularly intimate experience, as RPG's go. The silent protagonist, the simple but emotive themes and well written dialog make it easy to picture myself and my friends in the roles of the characters. If I put the wrong person in the wrong roll, there would be a break in immersion when I would notice something was out of character for the person I had cast in that roll.

There is a lot of focus in games these days for customizing the protagonist. Creating an avatar that looks like you; but nothing for those people who want to turn their game into something that resonates more with their real life. If you've played Earthbound, then you can tell how much that extra detail resonates with the player. In fact a friend of a friend who introduced me to Earthbound refused to play on my save game as I was in a silly mood and wrote "p0rn" as my favorite thing. He felt embarrassed casting "p0rn alpha" on his foes.

There are of course, loads of practical issues with giving the player free reign over what characters are like. Detailed storytelling and snappy dialog mean the writer has to know the characters they are writing for. Artists would argue that if the playable characters where all alterable, there would be no iconic character to associate with the game. Perhaps the player doesn't want to go to all the effort of setting it all up themselves, they paid for someone else to craft the experience after all. I never even tried Elder Scrolls because I couldn't be bothered with all the character customizing, which is an subject worthy of discussion all by itself.

However, it might be possible to let the player creatively mix and match their characters. Lets say there is a hypothetical plot driven game called I dunno 'X Quest'. For the sake of simplicity we will assume it already contains tools for robust main character design. There are perhaps seven characters essential to the game that appear in the players party and are nameable. Instead of giving them names, each character is represented by their chief personality aspects. The cynical one, the heroic one, the funny one. Each one has is a static instance in the story, so the writers knows that the rebellious but spunky princess character will be appearing in the scene, so they know what to write and you don't have a messy bunch of dialog trees going on. It also simplifies character generation for the player. They don't have to craft personalities, just play match the pairs.

Each character also has a default appearance attached to their personality aspect, but they are all build on the same character customization model that the player used to build their own avatar. Perhaps each character has a fixed item or two that associates with their persona. The bad ass mercenary character always has a giant sword and spiky hair, everything else is up to you though.

This sort of stuff is already happening in some current gen games. In City of Heroes you don't just design your Hero, you design a matching villain too. The player can create a rivalry that personally resonates with them more than a stock opponent designed by an art guy to look cool. There is a game now that generates content based on your MSN conversations to increase the personal connection between the player and the game.

It means a new approach to writing for games. A good writer usually knows everything about the characters they are writing about. Favorite colour, parents names, age, gender, future children. This model means drawing a big circle around the things in a character that have to be true all the time and leaving everything else an metamorphic blank for the player to mold to his fantasy. This has to be done in such a way that characters retain enough individual charm to hold a story together.

Perhaps it's all too much work to put into a game just to cater to picky people like me that don't want to have their female friends fall in love with them whilst saving the world because they didn't know that's what the writer decided. I think it's certainly something worth prototyping though. Playing a game is an intimate experience and if anything making it more so would heighten the emotional response from the player. Apparently that is what the current gen is all about when it isn't busy with high def graphics, right?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Catering for Playstyles

Recently I've been playing Iji. A free 2D platform shooter/rpg for the PC. It's fairly unique in it's genre providing more detailed story and leveling system than your average 2D shooter. It's been in production for four years and the attention to detail really shows. From well thought out level designs to detailed backgrounds and some excellent dialog and voice work.

I'm waxing lyrical a bit about Iji, because I do like it a lot, but I'm about to lay into one of it's biggest shortfalls. Iji offers two different play styles. Whilst the choice between going in guns blazing and sneak pacifism isn't exactly new, Iji really shines when it comes to showing it's effects on the world and the character in lots of subtle detail. So much of the dialog and set pieces can change depending on how many enemies you killed. In particular one of my favorite touches is that Iji's voice 'barks' change. If you kill an enemy when you have been avoiding kills Iji will let out a forlorn and desperate "Sorry". Dispatching and tough enemy when you have been killing everything in your path and Iji scream "Die" in a desperate berserk fashion that eventually made me feel like she might just start pouncing on enemies and savagely beating them in the face without any input from me.

The problem is that the pacifism doesn't really mesh correctly with Iji's skills, even though some of them seem like they would be useful they turn out to be less used than when you are playing as a strait shooter. I'll just do a quick rundown

Jump - Moving around, avoiding enemy fire.
Duck - Avoiding enemy fire.
Kick - Get through shield doors. Knock back enemies, but at the risk of accidentally killing them
Hack - Get through security doors. Hack enemies to disable weapons but at risk of getting a kill.
Weapons - Certain ones have specific uses for reaching areas on the level and bosses.

Of those skills only one is fairly useless when playing in an aggressive way (Hack, as you need be behind an un-alert enemy to do it) where as nearly all of them have a fairly specific use in pacifism aside from jumping. It makes pacifism so much of a shallow gameplay experience because instead of the intense firefights mostly you jump past enemies and kick/hack down the occasional door you wouldn't have in an aggressive mode (although Kick gets just as much use in aggressive for enemies).

This is highlighted in a level where if you are playing pacifist the enemies will ally themselves with you as long as you don't touch/shoot them or break nearby doors. If there was only some kind of ability you could invest points in that would help you avoid enemies, like rolling, dodging, ceiling hanging or something, it wouldn't be the frustrating experience of waiting for an enemy to move and then jumping over his head. It was interesting being offered a different experience from the same game, but that experience wasn't nearly as fun as shooting everything that moves because there is lot less variety.

I think I find it extra frustrating as so much thought has been put into making the skills useful for both gameplay modes. Only one of the seven stats you can improve is almost exclusively useful to an aggressive play style. Everything else not only multiple use, but all the uses fit within the game logic. It's worth noting that pacifism is still fun, markedly more than in a lot of other games that offer it as a play option. It's worth doing all the jumping and ducking just to see all the differences it makes to the story.

The moral of this story is if you offer more than one emergent play style it's important to make sure that the players abilities support it throughout and not just in particular circumstance. Otherwise you risk the choice becoming a trade off between rewards and fun, rather than one of pure personal preference.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sunken Garden

Working Title.

Sunken Garden is a 2D exploration game. The game revolves around rescuing people trapped in a giant pitch black garden underground. The player must light up a safe path to lead others to safety. It is intended to simulate a persistent world, the garden and rescued people continue to develop even when the player is not playing. Plants in the garden will evolve and grow, rescued characters will build up a village for the player to visit.

Or to sum it up in a few points:-
1. Light/Darkness Mechanic
2. Evolving Environment
3. Hazard evasion and path memorization.

Light and Darkness
All the areas in the Sunken Garden are pitch black. There are three sources of light for the player. Firstly they carry a flashlight which they point with the mouse. Secondly all areas built in by NPC's are lit, and cast light into neighboring rooms, creating a twilight in them where the player can partially see. Finally there are environmental fixtures which can emit or store light.

Evolving Environment
The game features two environments that develop over time, the garden and the npc village. The two environments will contrast heavily, the Garden is wild and chaotic and develops in a way which opposes the players actions. Although there will be ways of influencing the evolution of the garden it will start to fight back if the player attempts to be too heavy handed.

The second environment is the NPC town. This aids the player and can be tailored heavily by their actions. Although it will not be necessary to micromanage the town it will be an option for players who like to number crunch. Every town will develop it's own footprint based on a number of factors including the area it expands into. The nature of the NPC's the player brings and the choices the player makes in it's development. The players should feel the need to play the game to check on the development of their town.

Hazard Evasion and Path Memorization
The bulk of the gameplay is in exploring the Sunken Garden itself. The challenge is in identifying and avoiding the threats offered by the plants that grow their. Different plants react to different stimulus, such and movement, light and sound. It's up to the player to manipulate them so that not only they can pass but they can guide NPC's back past them too. As the game develops they will be given more tools in order to disarm plants and guide others around them.

Well thats the overview. More to come when I've done some more prototyping. Hopefully I'll cover some stuff about the different kinds of plants, NPC's, Tools and the world next time.

I hate doing first blog posts.

I've now had three and a half blogs under my belt and I still hate doing first page blog posts. They always start with a welcome title and a bit of background and end up winding on for way too long. I'll keep this short and sweet.

I'm a British Games Design post grad from Vancouver Film school. I spend most of my time making flash games in the hope that a real game development studio might notice my dedication to creating great gameplay experiences and hire me on as junior coffee boy, or whatever they haze new people as these days before they let them do real jobs like event scripting

I started this blog for two reasons. Firstly that I keep having thoughts about good blog articles I could be writing on game mechanics but never get around to, with a blog to upkeep regularly I might really do that. The second, and far more important reason is I'm starting work on my third big flash project. I thought a blog would be a good opportunity to share my design features and generally document what I'm up to.