Tearing apart Titans

You only get one, so do the Titans
Going with the theme, the player gets 1 health, 1 arrow and each boss/Titan gets only 1 health also. This made the designs a lot more interesting to come up with, since giving something an obvious weakness usually meant “hit this bit a lot until it dies”. This can work great, like using windows of oportunity in Zelda or Shadow of the Colossus to get in damage. However if it becomes a rinse and repeat type system it can become tedious and pointless unless survival is a difficult task to sustain like in Dark Souls.
So designing weaknesses around this restriction was pretty enjoyable. The core element that runs through the Titans in the game is timing. The Eye and Colossus bosses had very short windows in which to hit their weakspot, so the fight was about surviving, studying the boss’s patterns and pre-emting an attack location and time.

ts_1

Screenshake
Before the jam I got my code ready to go (AS3 + Flashpunk) with a few basic classes, got some basic 2D collision stuff in place, map loading and most importantly, wrote a couple of neat screenshake functions.
(Note, screen is rendered at 320×240 and scaled up)
Just bog standard shake stuff, but made it easy on myself to just throw in dynamic camera movement when it game to making the game. I feel in games, especially action games, screenshake is the most important thing to make things ‘feel’ right. The basic functions were ShakeX and ShakeY (pretty self explanitory) which take inputs of how much to shake in pixels, number of frames to shake for, and how much it should be shaking by the end frame. It just linearly interpolates to the target shaking amount. This lets you do stuff like large shakes in the Y axis that rapidly drop off to a smaller amount to simulate something heavy landing (like a giant block of ice with a brain in it crashing into the floor). Then using these you get the basic Shake() which does the same to both X and Y and also ShakeVec() merging X+Y functions.
Anyway, using them in game, first up was the roll. The animation for the roll was great straight away and gave a good sense of weight, then when the sound effect came in it was perfect. I added a very small amount of shake here (X+Y) to give it a tiny bit of grit and response when you hit the floor.
Next was the arrow firing. I was fully inspired by the bits in Shadow of the Colossus where you plunge your sword into the weakspots for this; the camera zooms in slightly and it feels as if everything slows down a touch. I just added a percentage to the flashpunk screen scale (FP.screen.scale), that percentage was also the ‘power’ of the arrow charge (longer held = more power, with diminishing returns up to a cap of 1.0 I think). The shake was actually a byproduct of moving the camera in the direction you’re aiming. When the arrow is fired the vector used as it’s trajectory is also the one used for determining camera offset, so when it gets fired the offset goes larger for 1 frame as the camera chases the arrow, then pings back into place. I actually tried removing this, inverting it, and adding regular shake, but none of it was as good so stuck with the original!
Now with the bosses there were 2 real shakes, both pretty simple. Jumps would cancel all shaking, and the landing would cause a large shake in the Y (~30px) and small in the X (~4px) then both come down to stay at 4px, all over around 10-15 frames. This gave a big impact shake and made the Titans feel heavy. The other main shake was a vector shake. When a Titan hit a wall (Eyedude or Brainfreeze [totally official names]) it would take their direction vector or veclocity and use that as the percentages to shake each axis. Scale all of these to perceived Titan weight and boom, shakey!

Too Hard
Nah.

Wasn’t that hard
Yeah probably. The brainfeeze fight was challenging (although also a tiny bit buggy, adding to the frustration), but the Eye is pretty straightforward and the colossus as well. Both had tight timings but were quite easy to dodge until you learned your window of attack and could get the hit in.

ts2

Too Frustrating
Now, this is the bit of the whole process I’m currently finding super interesting. The main complaint aside from general difficulty is that people do not like having to run back to the boss after each death. A mechanic borrowed from one of my favourite games of all time, Dark Souls (the bonfire run).
Each run is < 30 seconds back, so not too painful – but its not supposed to be enjoyable. You died, you made a mistake, and as punishment you’re gonna have to walk back to re-try the fight. Now I totally understand why this frustrates people and why they don’t like it, your not supposed to like it. I’ve ran bonfire runs in DS hundreds of times angrily, then landing the boss kill was always so much sweeter. This is something people might not agree with or may not actively realise. This is why I’d imagine complaints about it in TS are vocal, because you wouldn’t notice the positive side nearly as much as you’d notice the negatives and frustrations of it, which is again, totally understandable and fine! I think it’s an interesting thing to think about and consider whether it is actually better for the player to be forced back to the start, or to just let them dive back in over and over. I’ve certainly spent many hours thinking since the jam ended about which aproach is ‘better’, and came to the conclusion that it’s a polarised personal preference.
I personally still feel strongly that it benefits the type of player the game is aimed at, people who like to overcome challenges (and perhaps are like me, slightly masochistic when it comes to games!). However I think a core component to improving the way it is in the game’s currently would be allowing some kind of ‘flow’ in the run back. The maze section before the colossus boss (East) could be formed much more neatly in a way that allows optimal player rolling down corridors, so they have to think about how they roll but can nicely get into a groove that doesn’t get interupted by sharp 180 degree corners or something like that, and they can maximise the time spent rolling.

Conclusion
What next with the game? I really would like to make this into a full experience in the future, just focusing on creating interesting boss fights would be really enjoyable as well as tying some more narrative and exploration out into the world.
I’ve got a pretty solid version of the game running with adobe AIR, but maybe I should port it over to C++ for a more stable game and things like actual controller support if I continue it further.
There’s loads more I could say about this short jam, it was a hell of a lot of fun and I always learn a great deal doing a solid 72 hour LD, but I will cut it here, already getting a bit long!

Link to the game: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-28/?action=preview&uid=7984

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ATTACK ON SHADOW OF THE COLOSSAL DARK SOULS

ld2

Did Ludum Dare 72 hour jam with @_andrio and @autotwitch, rad few days, here’s the game:

TITAN SOULS

It’s a tough and harsh game, but I like that.

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ART ATTACK

I should write more stuff down in case I accidentally make something useful/interesting.

I thought I’d lay down some of my process of creating art for Chroma. I’m not gonna go into detail about the normal mapping process because I’d need to think of how to explain it and my caffeine is wearing off so I’m gonna dodge that one for now.

A picture speaks a thousand words, so here is my art process from left to right, top to bottom in order of progression:

art_example

1) Concept scketch/doodle on paper. I drew a bunch of these for this thing and couldn’t get anything on paper that great so I just dived in with this basic shape I liked and thought I’d fill in the gaps later.

2) Basic layout and color selection

3) Start filling in some ambient lighting (or ambient occlusion, is that right? whatever it’s called I’m just burning the image to make it a little bit ‘front-lit’)

4) Adding in some detail and contrast (the orange removed from the later bits as it’s place-holder and will be glowy-material in game).

5) Playing with contrast and color/brightness etc.

6) More color and constrast tweaking. Saturated it slightly, added spots of rust and a bit of visual noise.

Then I made the normal map (again I’ll probably explain this process in some detail another day):

normal_example

Aaaaand here’s what it looks like in game:
ss_mining

There’s still a lot to do for it, I’ll continue it tomorrow or some time with fresh eyes.

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New Chroma Video

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Leaf me alone and I’ll make some games.

I did Ludum Dare this weekend and pretty much had a ridiculous amount of fun making a game. The game, Leaf Me Alone was a product of the first three hours of the jam me and David saying “I have no idea what to do that’s minimal”, and eventually collapsing into “fuck it, here’s a random idea I had, lets make this anyway”.

The game’s ‘minimalist’ qualities lie in it’s aesthetic, and it’s stripped down metroidvania form. ANY Ludum Dare game is minimal, that’s a given, which is why we were a bit shitty at thinking up ideas for this jam. We didn’t want to make a game about squares or shapes and saying “yeah, minimal yo” because that wasn’t fun or interesting to us. My main personal thoughts were “we need an idea that is interesting both as a game, but interesting to create from an audio perspective” since I had @autotwitch on board making the music and audio I knew it would need to take full advantage of this fact, because it blows my mind how good his work is – the end result of this jam proves that.

So we set off with a concept of “hey did you play wind waker? Well I think you could do loads of cool stuff with that leaf man”, and ran from there. We didn’t pay too much attention to the theme from this point, but really LD is just about making a game, and I was pretty happy to be doing just that.

I spend my time alone in my bedroom most days, drawing, programming and thinking, designing Chroma. I used to think Chroma was a lot like Fez until this jam. Fez is lonely, but open and loving and beautiful. When people saw LMA being made they said “FEZ FEZ FEZ!” which is true and fact, it was inspired heavily by Fez, although actually more by Melodisle! I learned a lot about color in this jam which is INFINITELY useful in my main project so I’m super happy about that. But Chroma is a grim place, born from rough times and sad thoughts; it has it’s core, I guess most of my game ideas generally come from the same place in my head. But Leaf Me Alone broke away from this as much as it could, I became a child again, 7 or 8 year old me just colouring stuff in in nice bright colours, in a permanent state of joy as I filled in each pixel, then each tile. I didn’t worry about puzzle layouts, whether it was difficult enough. I lay some shapes down and thought “that looks cool” and that was that. The design of the game was 50/50 split, David might not even think so but it was, and it was all the better for it. At one point making the tree area he just said “we need a throne at the top, and it needs an animal king, A SQUIRREL, GET A SQUIRREL IN THERE!” and child-like me just loved it, drew a tiny pixelly squirrel (although first time round messed up the animation and it was dry humping it’s throne, yikes).

This game was pure fun to make, and pure joy for me to go back and play through. I feel like a kid when playing and that makes me feel pretty good. It’d be nice to expand upon it, I sure have loads of ideas for making it bigger and more interesting, and it let me try out some cool ideas and to learn flash.

Basically this post is me saying that this weekend re-kindled my love for making games, and reminded me why I love it. It’s about the experience, good or bad, I can look back on why I wanted to do this in the very first place when I was 5 playing through sonic on my megadrive, and remember what games really can mean.

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I MAD A GAEM

Learned flash yesterday and made a 2 player bomberman style weird territory annihilation game!

Player 1:
WASD: Move
E drop bomb

Player 2:
ARROWS: Move
SPACE: Drop bomb

Or a Link for bigger screen: BOMBERJAM

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Dawn of a New Day

So here I go, today I finished my job and I’m now a full time independent game making person.

Chroma is now my day job, so pretty exciting stuff. Also signed a contract with audio creation person and super cool dude James Dean to do the audio for the game today – looking forward to working with him and doing some weird and interesting things with sound.

So it’s an exciting time, also a fucking terrifying, because if I screw up I kinda end up homeless and stuff so there’s that. I have enough in the bank to live off for at least a year + go to some events like GDC at some point so I should be okay for a while.

The one thing I’m weary of is going more insane, lack of human contact while I sit in my room all day tapping on a keyboard. I’ll do many things to avoid this but hopefully I’ll handle it.

Also, Antichamber today – fuck yeah.

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Constructing Chroma

Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar
Stood ruled, stood vast infinitude confined;
Till at his second bidding darkness fled,
Light shone, and order from disorder sprung.

 

Thought I’d write a short blog post to detail some of the weird and hopefully interesting methods I’m taking in the development of Chroma in terms of level and world design.

Base facts:

  • There are no power-ups or upgrades that alter the character in game beyond getting the light/shadow power at the start
  • There is only one level, the entire world is one large seamless map with no intermittent loading.
  • The player can go pretty much anywhere straight away, there are very few areas that are locked ‘until you get item xyz’ type things.
  • It’s mostly non-linear; different areas generally have multiple connective nodes, so there’s not often ‘only one way’ to get somewhere.

So with those things in mind I can tell you it’s a brain explosion inducing thing to design. Teaching the player without pointing things out is very important to me, yet in a non-linear environment there’s a chance a player can encounter something new that seems very difficult or advanced or obtuse as they haven’t been introduced to it before. This is pretty interesting, because I kind of like that.

I see Chroma as a metroidvania type exploration game with a puzzle backbone. Instead of collecting a new power to access a new area, the player behind the keyboard learns or figures out patterns and advances these methods themselves to figure out escalating puzzles. So they might find something really strange and can’t work out how to use it, then later find a different version of it used in a different manner and think “oh snap” and realise what they need to do at the previous thing they found.

That said, they should never be totally stuck, if they can’t do a puzzle there’s always a different way to go, leading to new adventures. Also if people crack harder puzzles early on without seeing some of the pre-cursor then that’s fine too, they’d probably feel pretty smart, which is a good thing.

Since the world is just one big level, and the game revolves quite heavily on the ‘where? why? what? and who?’ the world you are in has purpose and meaning, the actual environment needs to be a certain way with functioning areas for a bigger purpose, so I have to design around this.

So far I have mapped out a fair bit of the start and middle of things, and added a few puzzles.
Here’s the optimal method of designing for this non-linear environment as I see it:

  • Place general areas + purpose on paper
  • Subdivide into more specific purposes (this is story/environment based)
  • Put into the editor the rough, physical view of this paper map
  • Analyse paths that can be taken and assess where puzzles can go and how to escalate their difficulty/complexity
  • Design puzzles that fit in around the purpose of each section and build them into the map, altering the base physical structure where needed.
  • When rough puzzles are in you can start pumping more back story into everything and polishing the environment.
  • Iterate (a lot)

That’s a rough breakdown of what I think the best way to do things is, I don’t totally follow this, however. I like designing the puzzles and testing them in game and building around them, and for things like the IGF I had to get SOME puzzle bits in, but admittedly the IGF build was very bare and lacked gameplay, ended up being more of a tech demo (which is why I think I don’t have a chance at this years IGF but not to worry).

So in theory if I followed my own rule set the game should get exponentially better, since it starts off massive and barren  but I think you need to use common sense when approaching it too, sometimes you need to make sure things work the way you imagined, and that things fit together properly before going all out on stuff. I have a terrible habit of starting to polish things before I’ve nailed the basics but I’m getting a lot better with this at the moment (everything outside the start area looks desolate at the moment due to lack of polish!).

Not sure why I’m writing this or who for, mostly so I can re-read and take a look at how I do things and see if I can improve it. Either way I thought it might be interesting to someone to see how I do/think about things in design. It feels like I’m doing things the best way, but a really weird way, and means that the game lacks a lot until I get round to iterating more on it.

Hopefully it will end up being fun and interesting anyway!

(started out by using the phrase “short blog post”, error).

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Two Thousand and Twelve

Thought I’d write a post about the year in summary, particularly my favourite games of the year.

There’s been a bunch of really great games released in 2012 throughout the year, and I’ve still not had chance to play most of them. But there are two games that really stick out to me as my favourites of the year, and pretty much make it onto my list of favourite games of all time.

Super Hexagon

super-hexagon_1

Pretty much a masterpiece of design purity, I’ve really poured way too many hours into this game and I’m still coming back for more. One of the outstanding things about Super Hexagon (to me) is that it has an actual end, simple thing for a game to have I know, but it seems unexpected in this kind of arcade game. The ending is fucking mindblowing, seriously. I saw Terry complete it at gamecity and people left the room carrying their jaws. After that I played it every day until I could complete it myself. He said some interesting things that stuck a chord with me at gamecity (Terry, that is), he said he liked it when a game doesn’t care if a player can complete it all (paraphrasing here). You can see this kind of theme through his other games, most notably VVVVVV, which is also preeeeetty hard in some places.

Anyway I realised I liked that too, I just never noticed. Even Braid had those stars that most players probably never got. I think this prospect will be at the heart of Chroma, so if I ever say Super Hexagon was an inspiration and people are like “say whaaaaat?” you know what I mean (hopefully). Hard games are good games.

This links in nicely to a game which is now probably my favourite game of all time:

Fez

Fez-XBLA-M2-600x337

This game totally surprised me in the best ways possible. I was super hyped for it before it came out, looked gorgeous seemed complex and interesting and just generally made my face produce drool. When it was released after that notoriously long development time, it became clear why it took so long.

The game was WAY deeper and more complex than I could have ever imagined a game to be. It made me think of the TV show LOST (before the final season/episode where my hopes and dreams were crushed into oblivion). So many secrets, have they all been discovered? Probably not. That’s what I love about Fez. Not only is it a beautiful and technical masterpiece, playing it feels like I’m taking a glimpse at a slice of time on an infinite timeline, the world feels soaked in history that goes back thousands of years and forward thousands more.

I could probably (and have) talk(ed) for ages and ages (especially after a couple of pints) about why Fez is one of the best games ever made, but I’ll keep it short and say, if you haven’t played it, play it. Hopefully it’ll be out on PC sometime soon for the people that don’t have Xboxs and I’ll probably play through it all again.

So those two have been my top games of the year, and fill me with hope and inspiration. I look forward to 2013 in which I hope to release Chroma. My aim/dream is that maybe someone will write a post like this next year and Chroma will be one of their favourite games of the year. Anyway late merry Christmas and happy new year guys!

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