I recently started trying to refresh myself with the Unreal Engine. I started messing around with the landscape tool and post-processing effects of the engine, which is something I’m relatively new to. Colours inspired by Fortnite. There’s a little bit of pop-in, but I like the way the light shines through the trees.
Most of the changes made to Subtraddition over the past few weeks have been aesthetic. I’ve redesigned the first world layout and spent a lot of time playing around with pixels to make it look nice. As I’ve said before, I’m no artist (I’m no programmer either) so trying out different designs for tiles sets was pretty challenging. This is what the game looks like now:
This screenshot is by far the best looking screenshot I have taken of the game so far. The bridge alone went through 3 iterations before it got to its current look and I’m quite pleased with how the game is coming along visually.
But there’s something I’m worrying about internally. Mainly: Should I retain the Gameboy inspired colour palette? I initially went with this style as I wanted to practice using only 4 colours and the Gameboy palette seemed like a good place to start. I always intended on keeping this palette, but lately I’ve been asking myself questions like “Should I allow the game its own identity rather than piggybacking on something already known” to more absurd ponderings such as “If I ever wanted to port this game to a console, would publishers want to avoid the game as it has associations with Nintendo?”
Strangely enough, Just as I was about to write this update I posted the above screenshot on Twitter and someone responded with “I love the atmosphere the color palette creates (Gameboy-inspired? Nice!). So the game is already getting people liking it due to how it looks.
I sort of feel in my gut that I should probably just keep the colour palette I’ve been using as there are commercial games out there which use these colours and the game is looking good, but I’d like to open it up.
A note on worlds
I mentioned ‘worlds’ earlier, so let me explain how levels are structured in Subtraddition. You start in the Start Zone which will mainly exist to teach the player the basics of the game. From here you navigate to the Hub Zone which contains all doors leading to the game’s main worlds. There are 3 worlds and within each world there are 5 rooms/levels which contain a core game collectable. Each room/level will be it’s own unique challenge to complete, but if the player finds themselves struggling they can exit and try out one of the others and come back later. There are 15 unique room/levels in total and I will probably try to include some sort of final level as the games climax, but I’ve not thought that far ahead.
Enemy Sprite Update
I’d like to do a post about the different enemy types that are found in Subtraddition (they’re not traditional enemies. They’re not alive or anything. Mostly just objects that can kills you) but for now, I’ll just show off some updates sprites. First is a weird fire breathing head thing. Before the update it was just a brown square that fired red squares (and no I don’t mean the Russian vodka), now they conform to the colour palette and the fireballs are even slightly animated. This GIF would have looked better if the other sprites were updated, but still.
Next is the thwomp block. Before the update, these were just red squares with a scary face drawn on them. Anyone recognise the new sprite from somewhere?
How about that screenshake! Screenshake is something I’ve added into the game to make it feel as though there’s a lot more going on in the game world than there actually is. I was inspired by this talk aptly named talk “The Art of Screenshake” from Jan Willem Nijman of Vlambeer. Worth a watch for some ideas on how to help your game better connect with players.
There are lots of other visual updates I’d love to tell you about, but I’m hoping to write something about how I created some of the tile sets within the game and I’ll cover a lot of it in that. I also implemented some parallax scrolling into the game which makes the game look and feel a lot better.
My current to do list contains a few more aesthetic changes including finally adding a door into the game (currently you walk into a big white rectangle) and creating some decorative background and foreground tiles to make the levels less boring. After that I’ll mostly be fine tuning the start level and Level 1, so that I can hopefully send the game out to people to try out.
It’s not been long since I introduced Subtraddition, but I’ve updated a few things since that I’d like to share. Firstly, a new tile set. The area is supposed to look like a mossy cave. I’d like to do a post on how I created the tileset at some point in the future.
Next I finally updated the sprite for the checkpoint instead of it looking like a horrible pink box (see above GIF). The idea is that the sphere is a resurrection stone and when you die you are resurrected at the shrine. The GIF below only shows the shrines being activated and not put into practice.
I mainly started working on the visuals for the game because I was generating level designs and it was becoming very time consuming and I felt that my brain needed a break from it. I updated the images for the tiles in the first area, the block that you can move around and the spikes (these feature a lot in the game). Now that the checkpoint doesn’t look so much like a hideous pink obelisk I think I will get back to getting the level layout completed for the rest of the game.
I’m making a game! I started working on it just after Christmas I think? Anyway I was toying around with the idea of making a puzzle platformer and then I started working on a prototype and now I’m going to be making it into a full game.
This is the core mechanic of the game:
The game is being made with Game Maker: Studio.
Hang on, I thought you were making a game called Gravity Square or something?
Gravity Box is currently on Hiatus at the moment. For some reason as we got closer to Christmas I started to lose interest in working on it and ultimately stopped all together. This isn’t to say I don’t want to make the game at all… I’m just more motivated to work on this puzzle platformer game. Plus I’ve since learned a lot about game development that I can use to create a better version of Gravity Box than the one that I was working on.
So what’s so special about this new game?
With Subtraddition I actually made a small prototype last year before I started working on Gravity Box. The prototype saw you placing blocks to help you navigate the level and as I worked on it more, the more I began thinking up puzzle/level designs for the game. I was also really inspired by playing Fez around that time and loved the sense of exploration that the game made you feel as a player. I also began to think about old platformers I used to play as a kid that I loved like Banjo-Kazooie and Jak and Daxter. Essentially, Subtraddition caught the attention of my imagination more than Gravity Box ever did and I think that’s why I’m running with it instead.
What is it about?
The core mechanic as shown above, is that it’s a 2D puzzle platformer in which you can remove and place certain blocks within the level in order to allow you to use them as platforms and reach new levels. They’ll also do other stuff like protect you from damage, reach new heights and jump across distances you would otherwise be unable to reach.
The game is also about exploration. You start of in a starter level, which leads into a hub world with multiple levels and multiple puzzles to solve and a butt-tonne of secrets.
Subtraddition Key Features
4 COLOURS – I’m doing the art for the game and as I’ve said previously I’m not that great at art. I mean, I do okay… I get by. So I felt that limiting myself to only 4 colours would mean that I had less chance of making it look shit than if I made a colourful mess with a bunch of colours. I’m also working to quite a small resolution, so I’m practicing my pixel art with this game. I find that it helps to give yourself restrictions/limitations as otherwise you can overscope.
SECRETS – After my recent playthroughs of Fez, I loved how the game is filled to the brim with secrets. Although my game won’t be anywhere near the scope of Fez, I still like the idea of including little hidden secrets that will reward the player for exploration. Which brings me on to my next point:
EXPLORATION – As I mention above, one of the things I love about video games is exploration. It unfortunately means that it takes me a lot longer than it should to complete games. I mentioned to someone the other day that it took 6 hours to complete Gone Home and they were all like “SIX HOURS :O … You can beat the game in 10 minutes!” But I like to take it slow and explore every nook and cranny of the world. I was the same with Bioshock Infinite. I’d spend ages just wandering about looking at stuff and this is something I’d like players to want to do in Subtraddition even though I suppose it largely depends on the type of player.
Where is it at?
Subtraddition is coming along nicely. I’ve almost completed the level designs for 2 out of the 3 worlds that the game will contain. I’m currently working on updating the graphics for the game and implementing tile sets into levels. Navigation works, the character movement works, the block removal/placement works and there are a few levels to run around in with puzzles and platforming to complete. I have no idea how long the game is going to take, but I’m using every spare minute I get before the big life-changing event happens. September is my deadline! More updates soon.
In other news…
A couple of our games are being placed on Indie Game Stand’s Free Games section. You can find Time Stone HERE and Entrapment will be on there soon.
You might have seen the recent ” game” announcement and yes, it was an over-elaborate metaphor for me and my wife having a baby! It’s our first child, so I’m going to have a lot to learn about becoming a father. It also means that my hobby game dev stuff will most likely be taking a lengthy break come September.
BONUS ART TEST FOR SUBTRADDITION DUDE:
I went with number 12.
It’s been over a month since I introduced Gravity Box in my last blog post and in that post I said I wanted to be as transparent as possible, so I thought it was time for an update on my progress. This is officially the first ” for Gravity Box, since the last post was more of an introduction. Any following updates will use the Update#XX title. So what’s been happening with Gravity Box?
I’ve had a couple of people play a very early prototype of the game and have found out some interesting things about my game. The first thing I found out is that some of the levels ARE REALLY HARD. This is an easy trap to fall into when developing your own game. Obviously, you know how the game works and you test it every 5 minutes, so you know the controls so much that they basically become an extension of yourself. The problem which occurs is that new players will not have that same knowledge and experience and so when they are struggling on a level which you find so easy, you need to think about introducing interim levels to allow players to gain more experience with the mechanic, make the level easier or moving it to an optional bonus level. People seemed to have fun at least trying to complete levels though, which is good.
The other thing people was suggested was some form of visual representation of the flow of gravity. This had occurred to me already, however having someone suggest it reaffirmed its need in the game. The current plan is to have a texture in the background which moves in the current direction of gravity, but this is something I can play around with further down the line.
I was recently playing VVVVVV my Terry Cavanagh. It’s an awesome action puzzle platformer in which the player can switch the direction of the gravity. Due to the game mechanic it’s an obvious source of inspiration for Gravity Box, but there’s something else I really liked about the game: the art style.
The graphical style of VVVVVV is heavily influenced by the Commodore 64. In an interview with indiegames.com, Terry said that he lacked the technical ability to make his games look good, so he worked within his own narrow limits and had only 5 shades of colour for each room in the game. His feelings towards his artistic ability mirrors my own in a way. I know I’m not a great artist and so I wanted to use an art style that would be easy to work with and quick to produce.
This also got me thinking about these for some reason:
Lite-Brite is a toy created by Hasbro that allows users to create glowing designs by inserting coloured pegs in to a matrix of holes which illuminate to create a lit picture. I have vague recollections of playing with something similar as a child, but my main knowledge of them comes from pop-culture references in various TV shows.
So I somehow had this mixture of VVVVVV’s art style and the Lite-Brite toy and wanted to produce an art style that took inspiration from both these things. After toying around with ideas and mock-ups in Photoshop and getting some advice from Ben (Ben304) Chandler, I eventually produced these mock-ups:
The style I’m going with is number 1. These mock-ups are obviously WIP and I plan on doing as much as possible to polish the game visually. Number one is the image which most closely represents the Lite Brite style and the final game will look something like it, but much better!
As I said in the previous post, Gravity Box is going to be a Sci-Fi game. I think that Lite Brite already has a Sci-Fi feel to it, so hopefully with a few adjustments, the art style will suit the tone of the rest of the game.
Ga-Ma-Yo stands for Game Makers Yorkshire. It’s an informal network of people that make video games in and around Yorkshire, England. A few times a year they hold an Ga-Ma-Yo event where these people who work with games meet up, have a few drinks, network, listen to a few talks and show off their games. The next event is the 13th of November. This gives me just under a Month to update the game into a standard that is fit to show off to people. The event will be an ideal opportunity to receive input and feedback on the game and one that I can’t pass up. With less than a month to go, I need to prioritise what needs to be done and do it fast! I also need to work on a way to pitch Gravity Box.
That’s about it for this update. Hopefully I’ll have more to share soon as I crunch on a version for Ga-Ma-Yo.
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.
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.