Monthly Archives: August 2014

My first Ludum Dare and how I failed miserably

This is a list of advice that I want to write to my future-self, in case he attempts to take part in a game jam again.

The Condensed Version:

Don’t waste time

If the majority of your time isn’t spent on actually developing the game, you’re doing it wrong.

How much Time Do you Really have?

Yes the game jam is for 48 hours, but how many of those hours will you actually spend making the game? Plan accordingly.

Don’t make an adventure game

Adventure games are all about pace, exploration and investigation. The design process is the same and therefore not suited to be done in 48 hours.

SCOPE! SCOPE! SCOPE!

Make something super basic to start with and build on it over time.

The Longer Version:

This Bank Holiday Weekend, I attempted Ludum Dare for the first time. For those of you that don’t know, Ludum Dare is a Game Jam in which a person must make a game within 48 hours on their own. I failed miserably at it. the following is what I think went wrong.

Wasting Time

For Ludum Dare I attempted to make an adventure game. I got as far as having 4 backgrounds, 2 character sprites and barely any functioning puzzles. How did I manage to have so little by time the competition finished? Well, I tried to keep a timesheet to monitor my progress and this is pretty much how it went:

07:30 – Got up, looked at the theme. It was “Connected Worlds”. Rather then jump straight into making a game, I thought about it over a cup of tea and discussed it with my wife before she went to work.

08:15 – The wife just left for work leaving me with the whole house to myself… And my 2 dogs. I should probably walk them. During our walk I thought more about what game I could make for the theme. I came up with the basic idea for an adventure game.

photo 1

09:40 – Arrived home. Had breakfast: Porridge [pictured] for energy. Set up my work space. Looked at Ludum Dare Website whilst eating for inspiration and to nosey at other peoples work in progress. Realised that shit… some people are actually really far ahead.

photo 2

09:50 – Started fleshing out my game idea.

10:00 – This idea is going nowhere. I know, I’ll start making the basic game and add in the details after. I used Ghost’s BASS Template for Adventure Game Studio (http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/forums/index.php?topic=48441.0)

10:07 – Remembered Ron Gilberts Puzzle Dependency Charts article (http://grumpygamer.com/puzzle_dependency_charts), so had a quick read through to see if it would help. It didn’t.

10:33 – So far, all I’ve done is add basic navigation to the game with placeholder art. Still no idea what puzzles to include in the game. My notes say “Maybe something with a tree?”

10:54 – This note just says “DESIGNERS BLOCK NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

11:10 – Okay, got a few puzzles designed now, making tracks

11:25 – This note just says “This is Hard. FUCKING SHIT THEME.”

12:05 – Spoke to a developer chum over Skype. We pitched each other our ideas. Thinking ‘He’s a proper coder, so he’ll probably finish.’ However, I managed to complete my puzzle dependency chart!

photo 4

13:08 – By this time I had now added some of the basic puzzle mechanics into the game as well as adding in the additional characters with placeholder images.

14:17 – Ran into an issue where I needed the game to know which character was currently the player character and I thought it would be a simple thing, but ended getting confused with it. My not here says “BULLSHITE!!!!”

Outside

16:06 – By now I spent some time in Google Sketch Up creating basic environments for me to paint over. I also started to think about my colour palette. Having never worried about a colour palette before, I used this website: http://paletton.com/#uid=73G1f0kmjsEaSqPgosKsGvoEIxS to come up with one for me. This was my work in progress background before I remembered that I needed to go to shop:

Progress002

16:43 – Got back from shop and figured I should probably tidy up some of the days mess.

19:11 – All the time before this was spent painting all of the backgrounds. Now that they’re all done, time to start work on character sprites.

19:28 – My notes here say “Feeling Broken. Adventure Games are a bad idea for game jams.”

19:58 – Stopping for today

Progress003

And I never went back to it. I wanted to try and figure out where I went wrong with my time and so if we break it down in to a chart where we can see where the majority of my time was spent.

Time01

We can from the chart that the main time was spent painting backgrounds, creating 3D models, designing the game and actually making the game. Which sounds okay, but if we look at it like this:

Time02

I wasted a lot of time making art assets, which didn’t even look all that good. The time I roughly spent on actually making the game is almost equal to the time I spent not doing anything related to the game at all. In the future, I think that the biggest chunk of this chart should be actually making the game. The art can fall into place around that.

Adventure Games Are a Bad Idea for Game Jams

The reason I like playing adventure games is that they have a steady pace, exploration, beautiful art work, hand-crafted animations, intriguing dialogue, clever puzzle design and a gripping story. The design of an adventure game should be exactly the same. You should go at a steady pace, explore ideas, spend time on creating nice art, painstakingly create each frame of animation pixel by pixel, think carefully about the dialogue, spend time thinking of innovative puzzles and create a story and game world that the player wants to explore and interact with. These things should not be rushed. I think that an adventure game CAN be created in 48 hours and I have played ones that have worked and played well, but they were made by more than one person and much more talented people than me.

So avoid adventure games, pick ANYTHING else! Make something really simple and build on it over time.

Be aware of how much time you really have      

In my head I was thinking that I had 48 hours to complete a game, when actually I had 12 hours or less. For some, they can easily spend near-enough the full 48 hours making a game. But for me, I have certain responsibilities, a house, a wife, two dogs and I wouldn’t be winning husband/owner of the year if I ignored my family for 2 days straight. If I’d of taking into consideration this factor and planned accordingly, then maybe I could have achieved something.

SCOPE!

Time Stone took 3 months to make. It contained 1 background, 1 playable character and 6 core puzzles. My game for Ludum Dare was going to include 4 backgrounds, 2 playable characters and 10 core puzzles and would need to be finished at the end of a 48 hour period. When I write it out like that I realise how much of a big stupid idiot I am and am even mad at myself for even attempting to make this game.

I teach game development as my day job and I always tell the students to think about Scope. Here I have completely ignored my own advice and tried to make something too big. I’d like to tell my future self to think along the lines of Space Invaders or Pong and build upon that over time.

 

There you have it. I hope that future-me listens to my advice. I think there’s another Ludum Dare in December and after failing to meet the deadline for MAGS (Which became Time Stone) and this Ludum Dare, maybe third time’s the charm?

The Background Art of Time Stone

Or ‘How I cheated to get the right perspective’

The following may shock you, but… I’m not that good at art. I mean, I get by okay, people tell me they dig the artwork in my games, but when I look at the art I can just tell it isn’t that good. People say that as a designer, you’re your own worst critic and maybe that’s true, but I don’t really think about things like colour pallets, perspective, shading etc and I feel that my artwork suffers for it.

One of these things that I’ve managed to find a way around for, a cheat if you will, is perspective. Yeah, sure you can sketch something out on paper or in Photoshop or whatever and have vanishing points for perspective and then create your background based on that perspective adding in objects to the room and such, but what if you do all that and it still doesn’t look right to you? This happened with me quite frequently when creating backgrounds for Entrapment (which was one of the things I mentioned in my Entrapment Post-mortem). I would create a rough draft of the room using vanishing points and perspective and place a character sprite in it and it just wouldn’t look right. Especially if you moved the character around the room and the scale would look all wrong. Then I would have to start from scratch with new vanishing points/horizon lines which was really frustrating.

For Time Stone, I tried something different. I thought, instead of messing around with all that perspective stuff, why don’t I just create my scene in 3D? That way I can move the camera around to get the right angle and my perspective will always be right. I can also move objects around when I please to change the composition without compromising the perspective like it would in Photoshop. So I did just that. Google SketchUp is free and simple to learn if you’ve never used 3D modelling tools before. You can use it to create really simple 3D interiors using an effective toolset, but the best thing about it by far is components. Components are basically, a collection of 3D models that people have already made and shared so that anyone else can download and use them in their 3D scene. Need a bed? There’s a ton that people have made. What about a bookcase? Yup, got that too. But you would think it would be difficult to find more obscure things like a giant birdcage, cauldron or a crystal ball? What? They have those too? Of course, they have just about any object you could think of. From random items of furniture to whole buildings! Even a football stadium!

Now I’m not saying that you need to find the exact item that you need for your game, you’re just using this to get the right perspective. For example, the bed in the scene above is different to the bed which was drawn for the background in Time Stone. I simply used it as a base when painting the bed in, in order to get the correct perspective for it. You also can’t rely on the lighting from the Google Sketchup image as you may have light sources in different locations. You need to think about this carefully when you are painting over the objects from your 3D scene.

beds

Once you have created your room and added in all of the key objects for your game then you can set up the camera and export an image of the current camera view. This would work from any perspective. Side on, top down, some weird perspective from an awkward angle if you’re going for a certain style. For Time Stone, I chose a side on view of the professor’s house. Below is the final camera view used or the background in Time Stone:

It contains all of the essential items from the room. Any object that would warrant me needing to get the perspective right for it such as the bed, the table, the fridge, the bird cage, etc. But notice that I didn’t bother with the paintings on the walls or the tapestries. These were added in later using the existing objects within the room as a guide for the perspective. The reason for this is that I know enough about perspective in order to draw these items myself. I also included a handy scale model, so that the character art and background art would look correct in terms of scale. The only thing I wish I had done is adding in foreground  features. Maybe next time.

After that it was simply a matter of painting over the scene to create the background for Time Stone. This Gif shows roughly the steps taken.

1. The base image, before I started to paint over it.

2. I blocked out most of the colour and detail for major objects

3. Coloured in the rest of the image

4. Added in some smaller objects for detail

5. More detail

6. Lighting and shadow (also made some changes to a few objects).

Some things missing from the background are the objects. This is anything that needs to move/animate in the game. For example the main door and the blanket over the cage are missing. These won’t have been painted as part of the background as they would have to move and so there obviously needs to be something behind them. These were done on separate layers to appear in front of the background.

Something that is easy to forget is to make sure you remember your interface. That’s what the black space was for at the bottom of all of the images. You need to think ahead and figure out if your interface is going to take up any of the screen. You don’t want to waste your time and effort and creating an awesome part to your background only to cover it up with the GUI.

There you have it! A few insights into how I created the artwork for Time Stone. So if like me, you have trouble getting the perspective right on your adventure game backgrounds (or artwork in general), then try out this method. It was a much more efficient method than the one I used for Entrapment and although it might be “cheating” in terms of not learning how to create a correct perspective, it gets me the results I want and who knows, using this method a few more times may help me learn a thing or two about perspective and scale.

We’re Back!

Hello! We’re back after our brief hiatus which included (but not limited to) camping trips, travelling across the country, changing jobs, spraining an ankle, flash floods, anniversaries and swinging around through the tree tops at a large forest (that last one is actually real!)

So what have been up to since our return? Well there’s a few things to announce.

New Version of Time Stone

Yes Time Stone Version 1.1 has now been released and you can download it via the game’s page, Game Jolt or Itch.io. The new version has fixes to some bugs that were pointed out to us during shortly after the games release in November, but we’ve only just got round to it now. Better late than never I suppose! The changes include fixed typos, fixed audio issues and fixed graphical problems.

 

Donations Upgrade

We’ve updated our Help Us Page in order to incorporate the option to donate by “buying” our games via itch.io. Essentially our games such as Time Stone and Entrapment are free, but you can buy them from Itch.io on a pay-what-you-want basis. Meaning that you can spend anything from $0.00 up to whatever you see fit to donate. Any help you wish to give us would be GREATLY appreciated.

Donate to Scared Square

Tumblr

We’ve found that we often want to post things that may not necessarily be related to the development of games. They may be a bit of artwork here or a photograph there or maybe even an article or two that wouldn’t fit on the Scared Square Games site. Now Stu’s got his very own Tumblr! He’s even imported his old blog so that you can see his old short stories and game design competition entries. Please follow us there for a behind the scenes look at development and other shenanigans.

http://stuartlilford.tumblr.com/

That’s all the news for now. Next we’re going to be busy working on our next project which we will hopefully be unveiling shortly!

Bye for now!