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

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?

Entrapment Dev Diary #04

Entrapment is an adventure game that I created for the AGS Bake Sale a year or so ago and is not currently available for people to play, as it was exclusively for a pay-what-you want bundle in which the proceeds went to charity. Now the time-frame of exclusivity has lifted and I’m free to release Entrapment to the public, but not before I make a few changes. While I am making these changes ready for the game’s re-release, I thought I’d share some old development diaries I kept from making the original. The following post was from September 2011. It has been updated slightly:

Adventure X was an expo that was held in the UK on Saturday and Sunday, December 17th 2011. It was a humble gathering of Adventure Game fans, Point and Click lovers and Game Designer and Developers from all over the world (mostly the UK). This marked the debut of the event and since then it has been a yearly thing.

You can find out more about the event by heading on over to the official website:

Adventure X

Entrapment had the privilege of being one of the games that exhibited at the first event. I was also there personally to answer questions about Entrapment, Scared Square Games (which was known as Lightbulb Games back then) and also to have some friendly chats.

Above is a video of highlights from the event. The movie contains the talks by Chris Bateman and Neil Rennison and also a few words from me about Lightbulb Games, Entrapment and the AGS Bake Sale.

There has also been a wonderful write up from Will Ross over at Cubed Gamers about the event. I had the privilege of speaking to Will and he had this to say about his experience playing the Entrapment Demo:

Next, I met Stuart Lilford, director and designer of Lightbulb Games, who had brought along his little gemEntrapment, run on AGS, for me to try out. With “classic low-res goodness” and pointedly sarcastic comments from the main character, this demo game is well worth the time and effort put into its creation. You wake up in a sleazy hotel, with a corpse in the room you don’t remember, and an essay on the window explaining that there have been episodes of sniper elimination of cheating partners who have tried to escape in the past, hence the bars, instead of a simple “it’s locked”. I really enjoyed the selectable environment that had clearly taken much thought, red herrings and multiple options to make the experience unique every time you play. Hmm, I think there was a reason I didn’t first try the door… oh yes, that’s right. Because of the huge BOMB attached to it.

That last comment will only really make sense once you play the game, which you will be able to do soon. Here are some more snippets from the interweb regarding the bake sale:

The AGS Blog – We find out more about the background  and the Development of Entrapment.

Cubed Gamers – Will Ross of Cubed Gamers who attended Adventure X asked me about the future for Lightbulb Games (now known as Scared Square Games).

After the original AGS Bale Sale Bundle was available for a month with 14 great games being available, the AGS Bake Sale managed to raise over an amazing:

$4000

Thank you so much to everyone that bought the Bake Sale and we hope that you enjoyed all of the games. Some of the developers of the Bake Sale games took part in commentary of Let’s Play videos. Unfortunately we are unable to create one for Entrapment, but you can check out all of the existing ones right here:

Bake Sale Let’s Plays

That’s it for the old Entrapment Development Diaries. Entrapment will be available to play again from this Wednesday! So keep an eye out for the announcement.

Entrapment Development Diary #03

Entrapment is an adventure game that I created for the AGS Bake Sale a year or so ago and is not currently available for people to play, as it was exclusively for a pay-what-you want bundle in which the proceeds went to charity. Now the time-frame of exclusivity has lifted and I’m free to release Entrapment to the public, but not before I make a few changes. While I am making these changes ready for the game’s re-release, I thought I’d share some old development diaries I kept from making the original. The following post was from Wednesday 2nd February 2011. It has been updated slightly:

I’ve been getting a little frustrated with myself as of late as I feel I am a little lacking in the art department and when creating the graphics for project: Entrapment I had loads of trouble, but I feel as though this artwork for this bedroom scene has worked quite well and I must say that I am actually pleased with it. The main problem I had at the beginning was the perspective. when using one point perspective and then seeing what the character would look like walking around the room, I noticed that as he moved closer and further away from the screen, he seemed to shrink and grow respectively with regards to the perspective of the room. One way to solve this would be to use character scaling so that they get smaller as they move towards the back of the room. However I didn’t really want to do this as I wanted the character size to be consistent and also AGS’s character scaling feature looks a little… odd.  In the end I used two point perspective, but with the two points close together near the centre of the room.

I also had problems with lighting/shade. As I said earlier I feel as though I don’t have an artist’s eye and so had difficulty getting shadows and light to look right. I still don’t feel as though the lighting looks right in this image, but it will do. Let’s hope now that all of the other graphics go a lot smoother than this first one did.

Entrapment Development Diary #02

Entrapment is an adventure game that I created for the AGS Bake Sale a year or so ago and is not currently available for people to play, as it was exclusively for a pay-what-you want bundle in which the proceeds went to charity. Now the timeframe of exclusivity has lifted and I’m free to release Entrapment to the public, but not before I make a few Changes. While I am making these changes ready for the game’s re-release, I thought I’d share some old development diaries I kept from making the original. The following post was from Sunday 30th January 2011. It has been updated slightly:

Okay, so I’ve begun my Second semester at University and for my Major Project, I have decided to work on my Adventure Game Drama: Entrapment. Last Semester I created the prototype, so now I’m working on the actual game and there’s a lot to do. Organization is a key factor when designing/creating a game and when looking at the Minecraft website I noticed that the creator ‘Notch’ had an online To Do list using the Toodledo website. I decided to sign up and create my own for Entrapment, which I am making public for anyone to view.

My Entrapment To Do List

Hopefully, this will help me keep organized with what needs to be done. Other than this I have been busy at work on the artwork such as the background Images and the animations for the player character. I still have a little work to do on the Backgrounds, but here are some attempts at sprites for the main player character.
 

I think they are a lot better than the ones that were in the prototype! My main priorities right now are creating the backgrounds and working with the walking animations for the player character, so hopefully I will have an update on these soon.

Entrapment Development Diary #01

Entrapment is an adventure game that I created for the AGS Bake Sale a year or so ago and is not currently available for people to play, as it was exclusively for a pay-what-you want bundle in which the proceeds went to charity. Now the timeframe of exclusivity has lifted and I’m free to release Entrapment to the public, but not before I make a few Changes. These changes include:

  • Improved Menu System
  • Removal of spelling errors
  • Removal of flashing cursor bugs
  • Improvements to opening cut scene
  • Improvement to some of the puzzles

There may be other changes, but this is all that is planned for now. While I am making these changes ready for the game’s re-release, I thought I’d share some old development diaries I kept from making the original. The following post was from Friday 14th January 2011. It has been updated them slightly:

The following is a screenshot of the prototype for project: ‘Entrapment’. Entrapment is an adventure game with a story written by me.

 Of course the artwork is simply placeholder, but I’ve been mostly working on the code/script for the game. It has been created using Adventure Game Studio.

 

 Looking back at the prototype, I can already tell that my artwork has improved since then. With the prototype, I sent it out to testers and got some feedback on the game. I think it was around 3 people in the end, who gave up their time to play this awful demo. They mostly were saying to keep going with it and they were looking forward to seeing it finished.

I’ll be updating with more Entrapment posts in the coming weeks/months/however long it takes to get it ready.