Category Archives: Games

Introducing: Subtraddition

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:

 Subtraddition

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.

skecthbook]

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:

B-YaRXWIgAAA8HI B-ZEvhiIcAA448Y

I went with number 12.

The 8 lessons I learned from making a Twine game with less than 300 words

RPG-ish_Logo_GameJolt

Lesson #01: Keep an eye-out for cool jams

Twiny Jam – Make a Twine game in under 300 words.

I read the Tweet and was immediately intrigued. I’ve always wanted to take part in a game jam and although I’d made attempts in the past, they’d always been unsuccessful. I’d also always wanted to make a Twine game, having read about the tool and even played a few games made with it. 300 words wasn’t a lot either and I think this is what ultimately led me to take part in this Jam. The 300 word limit made creating this game unintimidating as I felt it could probably be done in a few hours. On top of all of this it was Easter weekend and my wife was working long shifts, so I’d be in the house alone, free to jam for a couple of days.

Lesson #02: Try something new

I set to work, firstly learning the toolset. From what I could tell, twine has 2 versions, the older desktop version and a newer in-browser version. I opted for the desktop version as a part of me didn’t trust using the in-browser version to save my progress. Twine is a great bit of kit, easy to pick up and simple to use. Plus there are a bunch of helpful tutorials and resources online.  Once I had a handle on Twine I started brainstorming ideas for a game.

Lesson #03: Don’t settle on the first idea you think of

My first idea drew inspiration from my time working in a call centre trying to sell PAT Testing. The game would be a series of dialogue options that would lead the player to make a sale or the person on the end of the phone would say nasty thing to you and hang up. When they hung up, the player would *sigh* and make another call. The game would be an endless loop just like my days in that call centre. Call after call after call. Every call would go one of a number of ways and the game would reflect that with only the slimmest chance of making a sale. I quickly ran over the 300 word count for this game with dialogue options, I would have to think of something else.

Lesson #04: Be inspired by the work of others

I started playing some of the existing Twiny Jam entries and played one where you were in a tiny dungeon and you had to give a kettle to a dragon before you could win. This got me thinking about creating a miniature role playing game and my mind drifted to past RPGs that I’ve played. Games like Golden Sun, Final Fantasy and Pokémon sprung to mind and I found myself thinking about that place I had always gotten to when playing RPG games: Wandering around some cave grinding to Level Up. I thought about how this mechanic (although it’s more of a side effect really) was present in a lot of RPGs that I has played. I thought about how even though killing low level enemies to gain XP sounds intrinsically boring, there is an element of fun to it, it’s almost therapeutic. This is what I decided to make my game about.

Lesson #05: Be prepared to drastically downsize your game

Initially entitled ‘Every RPG Ever’ the idea was that you started in a village and progressed through grasslands, mountains and eventually a dark castle to reach a boss at the end. The different locations would have increasingly difficult enemies, forcing you to level up by grinding against lower level enemies. You would have bare minimum dialogue and battle options, but enough to feel like an RPG. After implementing the first area into the game, I realised that I would have to cut a lot of planned content in order to land within the 300 word limit. Initial plans to include numerous items that increased HP, armour that increased DEF and weapons that increased ATK, multiple areas and a boss that had 3 final forms where all scrapped and the game was now a mere third of the original scope. I instead I chose to focus on making the game appear non-repetitive.

Lesson #06: Randomness is your friend

I included a lot of random elements to the game. Whether you find treasure, nothing or an enemy while exploring, the type of enemy you encounter, should it be a Rat (Oblivion), Spider (Skyrim) or Boar (A reference to that South Park episode Make love not Warcraft), the damage dealt by an enemy as well as enemy HP, the number of XP and currency found at the end of a fight are all randomised between a certain range. This allowed the game to at least feel different for every playthrough, while still having the player doing essentially the same thing.

Lesson #07: It’s never too late to research

After a quick google to see if the working title would clash with anything existing I came across an infographic entitled ‘Every RPG Ever’. It’s a pretty accurate representation of RPG games (my experience at least) and I even took a few things from it such as having an inn that replenishes all HP, having to go on a quest for a Questitem and I even managed to fit a plot twist in there, all in under 300 words. Because of the infographic I decided to change the name and went through a number of name ideas including Micro-RPG, Mini-RPG, Twiny-RPG, RPGrind, but eventually settled on RPG-ish as the game isn’t quite there in terms of a full scale RPG.

Lesson #06: Seriously, you’re going to cut a bunch of stuff from that initial idea

In regards to the word count, I went through the game quite a few times to cull any superfluous words where the space could be used by a more useful word. I also looked for any repeated sections which could be avoided by using the same passage within Twine and referencing it from another passage. The stats shown within the game for example, display before a fight, after a fight, when you level up, etc. but each section merely references the ‘stats’ passage, so this kept the word count down.

Lesson #07: Think of ways to quick polish your game

One important aspect for me when making this game was to make sure it didn’t just look like a default Twine game. I had seen some really cool examples of games made with Twine and although I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, I focused on trying to get the game as far away from the default template as possible. I used the Final Fantasy menu system as a base and found a suitable font, replaced the cursor icon and even learned some CSS to get that Final Fantasy blue gradient colour. Sound was also an important factor when distancing the game from other twine-made games. I didn’t make the music, but found some very good RPG-ish sounding things on Newgrounds by some talented people who are credited on the game’s pages.

Lesson #08: Be prepared for criticism (but also nice things)

I made the game across 3 days in chunks of a few hours at a time and submitted the finished result to itch.io and Game Jolt. I didn’t expect an adoring reaction from the indie game community, but I figured someone from some corner of the internet may appreciate it. When I checked the pages the next day, I found the odd comment stating that the game wasn’t for them and a couple of people had rated the game 2/5. I must admit it was a little disheartening. It sounds ridiculous really, I mean, I only spent a few hours on the game and knew it wasn’t a masterpiece by any means, but there’s still a part of you that gets a little upset when players don’t enjoy your game. Later I found someone comment on how impressed they were with the game given the limitations and they enjoyed the random aspects. The comments on the games Jam page were really supportive, discussing how a lot had been done to say it was made with Twine, which I’m really happy with.

Summary

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot. I had never taken part in a Jam before, never used Twine, never used CSS, and never made a game that was playable in a browser. It might be far from perfect, but I’m proud of what I accomplished in such a short space of time.

The reason I think that I was successful in finishing a game for this Jam comes down to the limitations. Knowing that I only had 300 words made it easier to cut things from the game and reduce the development workload.

You can play RPG-ish over on Game Jolt or itch.io.

RPG-ish

RPG-ish_Logo_GameJolt

Over the weekend I took part in a Game Jam called Twiny Jam, where you had to submit a Twine game using less than 300 words. This was my first time using Twine and the first time I successfully finished a game for a Game Jam. Although the end result is pretty basic, I’m happy with it considering the limitations and time constraints.

RPG-ish is a Micro Text RPG which takes inspiration from the Final Fantasy series. Try to be at least Level 5 before fighting The Dark Lord and stock up on plenty of potions.

Or play it over on Game Jolt!

I’ll probably right something about the development of the game soon, but for now give it a try!

Gravity Box Update #02: Happy Halloween

Gravity_Box_Screenshot_141027

Happy Halloween everyone. It’s been two weeks since my last update and I’ve had a bit of time to work on Gravity Box. After my last update, I thought to myself: What intrinsic thing is missing from the game, something that would improve the overall experience with one simple feature. Then I thought of the one thing that would add so much to the games experience:

Added Explosions

You may have seen these red objects appear in some screenshots from Gravity Box. These are the games enemy. These are the spikes/goombas/balls of flaming death that populate some of the levels and their only purpose is to kill you. There are a couple of different types of enemy: ones that move and one’s that don’t. The one’s pictured below are static enemies and you have to carefully manoeuvre around a particular corner in order to avoid them. In the early prototype, the level would simply reset if you touched these red death traps. I felt it was important to offer feedback to the player as to why this happens when you touch them and the answer was simple: They explode.

dswda

So one of the first things I did when I had time was to make these little red buggers explode when you touch them and in turn, the box explodes and restarts the level. It was a simple thing to implement, but it made so much difference to the game. I also added a nice sound effect to really make it pop.

The Game now shows Gravity Direction

As I said in my previous update, I wanted a way in which to give the player feedback on which way the gravity was currently flowing. I thought about having smaller objects in the background also reacting to gravity and have them loop if they fly off the edge of the level. This ended up being too much to implement and I’m not too sure how to code something like that, so instead I added a background texture which scrolls in the direction the gravity is pulling towards. It seems effective and works for now and was inspired by the types of background textures that appear in VVVVVV. I’ll see what feedback is like for this feature when I get people to test it next.

Added More Levels

The game now has around 25 levels. I said I had 20 in my original post, but I removed some of the levels as well as adding new ones in. Some levels I removed because I felt that they were boring and weren’t adding any thing to the game and I removed others due to altering the mechanics of certain objects slightly, which meant some of the levels no longer worked. My aim is to be able to say that the game has over 100 levels (I’m just thinking ahead for my key features section of the game description) and I think this will be achievable. I have a lot of level designs still on paper and some additional mechanics which I may or may not add in, which would add to the number of levels. That being said, I managed to speed-run the game in under 6 minutes, so I’m going to have to see how long it takes others to complete these 25 levels.

I’ve been designing levels intended to appear towards the start of the game in order to ease players into the mechanics of the game and for them to learn how to play the game. Of course, I won’t really know if the game succeeds with this until people who haven’t played the game before tests it. I also accidentally created a couple of super hard levels that even I struggle to finish. I’ve put these in a folder marked ‘Bonus Levels’ for now.

dedf

Added a Crude Menu

The game has a very crude menu at the start, but eventually this will work properly (currently only start and quit work, the rest do nothing.)

This was made by following a tutorial by Shaun Spalding. He’s an indie game developer and video-tutorial maker who’s Game Maker video tutorials have been invaluable while I’ve been learning to develop games using Game Maker myself. I recommend checking out his YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/999Greyfox), especially if you want to make games with Game Maker. They’re mostly platformer-related, but you’ll learn a lot from following them.

What Next?

That just about brings you up to speed with Gravity Box’s current developments, but where do I go from here? Well I’ve updated my list of tasks and it includes implementing 2 new mechanics which will then need levels designing and creating around them. There are also a number of things I’d like to play around with within the game aesthetically, but these things aren’t too important for the time being.

I also need to update the website with a section on Gravity Box, which I can update as I add more screenshots/videos. There are few other things I’d like to update you on such as Scared Square’s new digs, but you’ll just have to keep your eyes out for that one.

Gravity Box: Update #01 – New Art Style & Preparing for Ga-Ma-Yo

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?

Gravity Box Game

Player Feedback

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.

Art Style

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.

VVVVVV

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-heart

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.

Adam+we_58f4bb_3796905

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:

GravBoxMockUp03

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

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.

Introducing: Gravity Box

So this is what I’ve been working on since the release of Entrapment. It’s an idea that I’ve had for a little while now and something totally different from my previous releases. For starters it’s not an adventure game, it’s a physics puzzle game. Secondly it’s not being made with Adventure Game Studio, it’s being made with Game Maker: Studio.

GravBox

Why I’m making it

At one of my previous jobs I used to work in sales and I hated every minute of it. Every day was the same mixture of repetitive, monotonous phone calls and tedious boring paper work. My only solace was an hour-long dinner break that I had, in which I would sit and play games on my iPhone.

The type of games that I like to play on iPhone or any touch screen device are games that I think suit touch screen the best: Puzzle Games. I’m not saying that a Platformer, RPG or Action game can’t be done well on a touch screen (there are many games), I’m saying that these types of games aren’t best-suited for a touch screen platform. If someone were to say to me, you can play Sonic using a game pad or a touch screen, I would opt for a game pad every time. The genre that I feel suits a touch screen really well are puzzle games. I think Adventure Games do pretty well on that type of device, but I would still rather play it with a mouse. Also tower defence is pretty good on there. Anyway…

So on my lunch times I would sit and play games such as Where’s My Water and Cut the Rope and it was around this time that I started thinking of a game design that would work really well on a touch device and this led me to start thinking about Gravity Box.

What it’s about

Gravity Box is a game where the only thing the player can do is to change the direction in which gravity is pulling. For example, if the player swipes upwards on the touch screen, then all of the physics enable objects in the level will be pulled upwards. If the player swipes to the right, then gravity will pull all of the objects to the right.

This is the only thing that the player is able to do to affect what is going on in the level, much like how in the early stages of Where’s My Water, the player can only move away dirt. That’s it. The aim of each level is to alter the gravity in order to guide a box through the level to the exit, but it won’t always be simple.

GravBox2

Key features

Here are some important things about the game:

Focus on Level Design

The key focus of the design behind gravity box is going to be making sure that each level is unique, fun, challenging and engaging.

Lots of Levels

The current goal is 100 with around 20 already designed. I’ll perhaps maybe add even more into the game if I come up with additional mechanics that warrant more levels.

Sci-fi storyline

Although Gravity Box isn’t an adventure game and is essentially just about flining a box around various rooms, I’ve still managed to come up with an idea for a story. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but some things that inspired the story are the movie Event Horizon and the adventure game 7 Days a Skeptic.

Quick level restart

I’m currently working on a prototype for the game. If the player dies, the level resents itself straight away in a similar way to Super Meat Boy or Flappy Bird. I think that this is a key thing to take forward with the design.

Puzzle Mechanics & Progression

With early testing I can already see that the game is currently WAY TOO HARD! One thing I want to do well with Gravity Box is to ensure that new puzzles mechanics are introduced in a way that the player can easily understand them before progressing them onto levels where the same mechanic is used in a more difficult way.

Its current state

I recently finished a build which has 20 levels in it. This is a prototype version, but it has many of the core puzzle elements which I want to include in the final game. Next thing I want to look at is maybe the art style. I’ve already got a few ideas around this and want to try them out before committing to one. I’d also like to implement some form of Interface.

Why I’m talking about it now

Tom Francis is the developer behind Gunpoint and who is now working on Heat Signature. As soon as he started developing Gunpoint, he started to talk about it and this helped him with promotion, feedback and keeping motivated. I’m hoping that writing about it will do the same for Gravity Box and I hope to release GIFs, Videos and developer diaries along the way. So if you’re interested, make sure your following Scared Square Games in some way. You can do this using one of the methods shown underneath the ‘Get Social’ heading near the top of the site.

Want to help?

I’m looking for people to play the aforementioned prototype and offer some feedback. The game is currently Windows only, but if you’re interested then get in touch!

Stuart.lilford@scaredsquare.com

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

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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!

Entrapment Postmortem

It has been over a year since Entrapment’s initial release with the AGS Bake Sale and this space of time has allowed me to contemplate on the development of the game. As I recently released a slightly updated version of the game it seemed like the ideal time to write a postmortem of the development behind the original game. This article was featured on Game Career Guide as a Student Postmortem as the game was created initially during my time at University. In it I discuss the good and the bad elements behind the development of Entrapment.

Introduction

I was probably 7 or 8, when my older sister’s boyfriend gave me his Super Nintendo Entertainment System. He was into sports and racing games and so had a couple of driving games and golf, I think, but I was never really into sports. I found the games dull and boring and so it wasn’t long before I went to my local Gamestation and bought something with brighter colours and a familiar face. When I first put the Super Mario All Stars cartridge into my second hand SNES I was blown away. What appeared on screen was a world that I could explore, characters that I could manipulate and interact with and secrets that I could discover. What I witnessed resonated with my childhood self and left a voice in my brain that would echo around my head for the rest of my life. ‘This is it’ it said, ‘This is what I’m going to do with my life’.

From that day on I was obsessed with the notion of making games. I drew characters, I invented worlds, I wrote detailed scribbles on game mechanics and began coming up with stories rather than having them read to me at bed time. Throughout my education I strived to cater my subjects to courses that would benefit me in my dream goal of becoming a game designer. This eventually led me to the University of Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, UK, where I would study a degree in Computer Game Design. In my final year I started work on my major project, which started off as a demo for an adventure game, but within a year grew into a short game that was included in the AGS Bake Sale Bundle and helped to raise over $4000 for Charity.

This is the story of Entrapment, but more importantly, it’s the story of the lessons I learned from making it. I will be covering the good and the bad, but let’s start with the good part first.

Screen01

What Went Right

 

1. Using the Right Tools

I’m not a programmer by nature. Throughout school, I much preferred making my ideas come to life through words and concept images, but that will only take your game so far. When I hit 17, I decided it was time to actually make a game instead of writing them down or filing ideas away in my brain. I opened my laptop and began searching for a FREE game creation tool. The idea of having to program something really scared me and I kept being put off by phrases like ‘programming language’ and ‘code’. I began to feel that my search was fruitless as I had no idea what I was looking for, until I stumbled upon a game editor specifically for Adventure Games. I should take this opportunity to mention that I. LOVE. ADVENTURE GAMES. Even before they made their come back, I was always fascinated by games like Broken Sword, Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer. With this Game Engine I could create my very own. What I proceeded to make was an abomination called ‘The Adventures of Turquoise Macdonald’. I returned to the game engine years later to make a few games for University. When it was time for my final project, I had accumulated enough basic AGS programming knowledge to create a decent demo. I then felt comfortable to continue the project and make it my first fully finished game (not counting Turquoise Macdonald). Selecting the right tools for the job is essential for development. By all means, try new things out from time to time – it’s the only way to make sure you are using the right tools – but for something like a final project at university, you need to ensure that you go with something you’re comfortable with. Choosing the right engine to make Entrapment in was a vital factor in it seeing the light of day.

 

2. Reaching out to the Community

I was working on Entrapment pretty much on my own. As well as being an awesome tool for making games, Adventure Game Studio also has an excellent community.  The forums are full of friendly people who are willing to help out whenever you need advice on your code or the best way to do something or even something totally non-game related. As I was working alone, I felt it was important to reach out to the AGS community for feedback on the game. I posted screenshots of artwork asking for improvements, I asked people what they thought was the best adventure game interface as well as looking and offering comment on other people’s work. This brings me to my favourite thing about Entrapment, the music. I don’t have a musical bone in my body and when it came to putting music into Entrapment I didn’t want to take some random loop I found on some website, I wanted it to be tailored to the game. I was looking for a way I could find someone who would be willing to make music for the game for free, and I thought what better place than the community of people who are interested in creating things with AGS. I added a post on the forums asking if anyone was interested in helping out with the game and within a week I had a number of replies. Because I reached out to the AGS community, I went from having no music in the game and no idea how to make it, to having someone who was talented and dedicated to creating an original soundtrack for the game. I asked Brian ‘SwordofKings128’ Carnrike to make the music for the game and he did a spectacular job. He also offered some valuable input on the game itself and without him and the AGS community I believe that Entrapment would have nowhere near the creepy atmosphere that it has.

 HallwayLivingArea-1

3. Joining the AGS Bake Sale

To begin with Entrapment was just going to be something I put out there for free on the Adventure Game Studio website and that would be it. It would probably be played by just a handful of people and it wouldn’t have received very much exposure.  Around a month before I was due to release the game, I heard about the Adventure Game Studio Bake Sale. The AGS Bake Sale was going to be a bundle of games made with AGS where players could pay what they want for the games and the proceeds would go to a worthy cause. Initially, this cause was going to be helping out the cost of maintaining the AGS website and forums, however this was scrapped in favour of donating the money to charity. I felt this would be an opportunity to give something back to the AGS community, gain some exposure and help out a worthy cause. I offered Entrapment up to the Bake Sale and it released in January 2012. Managing to get Entrapment to be part of the AGS Bake Sale offered exposure I wouldn’t have thought possible otherwise, appearing on The Escapist, Rock Paper Shotgun and Indie Game Mag. It also felt amazing when I heard that we had managed to raise over $4000 for charity. Joining the Bake Sale also gave me an awareness of the importance of seeking out opportunities for your game to gain exposure, even if it is a free one.

 

4. Including Humour

Initially I wanted Entrapment to contain very little to almost no humour due to the story and themes of the game coming from a very dark and creepy place. As soon as I started to write dialogue for the game I felt as though the exclusion of comedic elements was going against every adventure game I had ever played. From Monkey Island to Broken Sword, all these games included elements of humour, even if it played only a small part. Writing heavily serious dialogue for Entrapment felt wrong and so it wasn’t long before the odd joke began to slip in. Once I had written the dialogue the game contained hints of dark humour. Looking back, I’m happy that I made this decision. I feel as though the inclusion of humour allowed players to enjoy the game a lot more. Otherwise the game could have ended up being a dreary depressing mess. I believe that as long as your game isn’t focusing itself on a deeply serious topic, then the inclusion of humour can never be a bad thing and, if done well, will only enhance the player experience, just as those adventure games did throughout my childhood.

Pitch Board

5. Listening to Feedback

I think it is a good idea to gain feedback on your game as soon as possible. When you have a playable prototype, send it out to people that you trust and get them to give you feedback. With Entrapment, I got a lot of feedback from Brian who worked on the game’s music and it was him that suggested that I include some allusions as to Sam’s backstory and the possible reasons why he was doing what he was doing (could you believe I had an almost complete version of the game without coming up with this?). So I included the conversation at the start of the game to give a hint to players as to what was the cause of Sam’s *ahem* issues. Getting others to play your game and offer feedback is also crucial when it comes to testing. Listening to the feedback of others will ensure that your game doesn’t contain any serious flaws that players don’t understand or might not agree with and catching this early on in development is much easier than trying to fix these aspects further down the line.

 

What Went Wrong

 

1. Too Much Exposition

Looking back I realise now that the introduction to Entrapment is WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG. The series of cutscenes that start off the game are long, tedious and annoying. When you boot up a game, you want to be able to play the game. Take The Secret of Monkey Island for instance, Guybrush walks onto the screen, says “I want to be a Pirate” and that’s it, the game starts. If I had taken this approach with Entrapment and just let the player explore and piece together the story as they played, I would feel much better about the start of the game. When I watch people playing through that opening sequence it’s excruciating and not something I ever plan on having in a game ever again. Time Stone’s introductory sequence was tiny in comparison, but even then people felt as though it was too long, so imagine what people thought of Entrapment. People want to play games, not watch them and this is important to bear in mind when thinking of including cutscenes for your game.

 

2. Lack of Motivation

Throughout Entrapment’s development I had periods where my motivation was running thin. I would sense a feeling of ‘I simply cannot be bothered’ which led to poor animations, puzzles being cut and almost no polish to the game at all. The end result was that Entrapment lost some of its initial soul which it had when I started creating it and that then led to being less motivated as I felt I was working on a lesser version of the game I had envisaged. I’m not sure what caused the lack of motivation for Entrapment, but I didn’t do enough to maintain it. I should have given myself a clear development timeline with deadlines and interim deadlines so that it felt as though I was achieving things along the way. Take time to discover and reflect on what motivates you when working on a game and bear that in mind during development, otherwise you can lose steam and struggle to regain it.

 

IMG1

3. Art Frustration

I don’t consider myself an artist, even though I did the artwork for Entrapment and Time Stone. I DO think that my art has improved with each game I have made. I had a lot of frustration early on with Entrapment due to the fact that I couldn’t seem to get perspective right. I would draw out a layout of a room on paper using rulers to get the perspective right, then scan it in, put a sprite of Sam over it and see if it felt right. If it didn’t, I would start again with different perspective point locations. At one point I even made a small scale model of Sam Drake to put against these drawn out images to see if the scale was right. This may sound like a convoluted way around to do it, and IT IS! It took many attempts to find one I was happy with and it was a frustrating process. Now I have a much simpler method of getting the perspective right for my adventure game backgrounds. This method consists of creating simplistic 3D models of locations and then painting over them in PhotoShop, which is much easier than the method I used with Entrapment. My lesson here was to practice my art and read up on art techniques that could have saved me some time and frustration. Alternatively, there may have been someone I could have asked to help  out with the artwork, but for me, I wanted to practice my skills. In a way, I could look at the art frustrations as a positive, as they helped me hone my skills and find new ways of trying things, but at the time there was a huge amount of stress involved for me with trying to do the art for Entrapment when I doubted my skills as an artist.

 

4. The Ludicrous Storyline

This is my biggest regret with Entrapment. I could have spent the time creating a wonderfully simplistic story that still had elements that hinted at a bigger picture, much like Time Stone. Instead I chose to create a game about a man who is trying to frame himself for murder. When I write it out like that I honestly cannot see what I was thinking. How would anyone ever think “You know what, that sounds like a really gripping story” and it is. If you’re talking about it gripping hold of your gonads because it’s so painful! To make matters worse, the reason behind this character wanting to frame himself for murder is utterly ridiculous. The story for Entrapment is probably the worst thing about the game. I may be coming across as being really critical about it, but it’s just something that I feel really strongly about. I feel as though I have learnt from the experience and now know to think carefully about story and to get feedback early on to avoid making the same mistake again.  Games don’t *have* to contain a story, but if your game is centred around a story – as a lot of adventure games are – then you need to make sure it fits well and doesn’t detract from the gameplay.

The Letter 3

5. Long Gaps of No Work

The development of Entrapment suffered from long periods of no work being done on it. It could have been University, work getting in the way, personal life or lack of motivation as I mentioned earlier but, for whatever reason, I was unable to spend any long amount of time solidly working on the game and I believe that game suffered for it. What could have been completed in a matter of months ended up taking over a year to complete outside of other commitments. Sometimes gaps would last months and this may have contributed to the lack of motivation point from earlier. It meant that I would lose touch with the game and the longer I was away from development, the less I felt inclined to work on it. In the future, I feel as though it would be important to ensure that I will have time to work on a game before I start making it. The last thing I would want is to be really excited with an initial prototype, only to not work on it until months after and have lost all enthusiasm for it.

 

Summary

Entrapment started as a bunch of doodles in a sketchbook based around a simple game idea that I wanted to use as my final project at University. The end result was something I was only partially proud of. I like to think that players enjoy the music and the puzzles from the game, but I feel a little disheartened that I allowed myself to get as carried away with the story as I did. Here are the 10 lessons I learned from Entrapment in a handy list form. May you take away from them what you will; no doubt you will make your own mistakes as everyone does. Just make sure you learn from them.

  • 01: Choose the right tools for the job
  • 02: Reach out to the community when you need help
  • 03: Never miss an opportunity to increase exposure for your game
  • 04: Include humour where possible. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone
  • 05: Listen to feedback and get feedback early
  • 06: too much exposition can be damaging to your game
  • 07: Keep motivated
  • 08: Practice your art skills
  • 09: Revise your story until it feels right
  • 10: Stay on track during development

 

Entrapment Details

Developer: Stuart Lilford

Number of Developers: 1, with help on music from Brian Carnrike

Length of Development: 1 year

Release Date: January 2012

Development Tools: Adventure Game Studio, Adobe Photoshop, Fruity Loops

Platforms: PC

Time Stone & Entrapment now available on Itch.io

 

I just realised that it’s been over a year since I started working on Time Stone. Since then I’ve also re-released Entrapment and in that time my games have won awards and been featured on a number of sites. It’s been a crazy year and I’ll have to write up something about the year to come. But that’s not what this post is for.

Time Stone and Entrapment are now available on Itch.io. Why is this newsworthy? Well, Itch.io allows players to easily make donations to the games’ developers. Time Stone and Entrapment have both been on there for a couple of weeks and already someone has donated $5 to Time Stone. I found this amazing to say that I never even announced that they were on there! Someone must have found the game, played it and liked it enough to give a little something back to the developer that made it and I just found it heart-warming. It’s also hugely inspiring and even though it’s a small amount, has increased my motivation for making games.

So, If you have played either Time Stone or Entrapment and enjoyed them and feel as though you want to contribute something towards the future developments of Scared Square Games, then head on over to Itch.io and help us out by donating.

Scared Square Itch.io Page

Thanks to all the fans of Time Stone and/or Entrapment