Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bringing an Idea to Life (Part IV)

Picking up where I left off, I had just discovered the amazing Metroid example created by Arne Niklas Jansson and felt totally inspired to focus on developing a game, instead of trying to pair up a children's book with a game.
After failing terribly with the first attempt at the Adventure Apes game, I figured it was time to sit down and really establish a solid plan for what I wanted it to be like. I had just found my stylistic inspiration with this image (I honestly never get tired of looking at it):

The next step was to spend some time planning what the game should play like. Over the next little while, I spent a lot of time doodling level maps on grid paper. I wanted the game to be enormous! Everything was to take place inside a Mayan temple, so I researched lots of things about Mesoamerican culture: architecture, sculpture, music etc. My intent was to make something with a few levels that would really challenge the player's ability to find their way around. Each level would have a distinct theme, basically working downward inside the temple, from the main temple to a 'basement', then even further down into an aquifer and ancient lava tubes.
Up until this point, everything was really generic and lacking. Here's a screenshot of a mockup I did for the original style to drive the point home:

And as a comparison, here are a few images from the updated version of the game:

It's pretty night and day huh?

As I got into the level design, I came to realize my plan to make each level enormous was going to cause trouble. There is a balance you can find in any game with the size of each level and the amount of stuff the player has to do there. My first few tests were huge, but it meant that every goal for the player was spread way too thin. It made the level tedious to get through, and the last thing you want when planning a level is the player to get bored! You can challenge them and push them in one direction or another, but in the end, you want them to feel like they're actually getting somewhere. With that discovery, I decided to scale things back a little.
Once again, I used the first Metroid game as reference. The game was large enough to take some time to finish, and a lot of the levels had rooms and layouts that were similar, which could easily confuse the player if they weren't paying close attention to where they came from.
I still love this aspect of the game, but in this day and age where people want instant gratification, it's a hard sell when most other games you can basically run through them and blast your way through pretty much everything. That brings up another aspect of the game, I really wanted the player to be mindful of their ammo, so it was limited. Sure, enemies would drop health or ammo when you beat them, but if your mindset was to plow through the game with your thumb on the shoot button, you'd get discouraged easily. It became a point of contention with a few people as I asked for feedback, but I ended up keeping the limited ammo feature for better or worse.

Since I was spending so much time working on the game and ignoring the illustrated book, it was about this time that I had the bright idea to add another one of my favourite features from old school games; the instruction booklet! I'll leave that for the next post though :)

Bringing an Idea to Life (Part III)

Like I mentioned at the end of Part II, I had come down with a serious illness, and was stuck at home for a few weeks while I recovered.
Even though most of the time was spent sleeping and feeling horrible, I forced myself to keep trying to work on the game. No matter what I did, the game still lacked the charm I was after.

So I stopped working on it.

During that downtime, I stumbled across a little image made by one of my favourite artists, Arne Niklas Jansson. He has a really distinct style that balances nicely between being cartoony and highly detailed. Looking through some work of his, I found this:

Behold! It's miniature Metroid, and it's absolutely amazing. (This is a much more recent iteration btw)

This, ladies and gentlemen, was a watershed moment for me. When I saw this image, it's like everything clicked in my head, and I knew precisely what direction to go for my game!
By making everything as small as possible, there isn't any space for something unnecessary in a design, simplifying any elements to ensure they stay readable at a glance. Anything that you want to add for atmosphere or extra detail is implied only, using a few pixels or different colours/values, and the player has to interpret them as they see fit. It blended perfectly with the idea and style for the little book, and I was on my way to making the two of them.

Over the next few months, I was busy posting things in art forums, and got some great feedback. Most of it was focus on the game, and there weren't too many responses to the illustrations. As much as I was loving making an illustrated storybook, the fact that in an art forum people were more interested in the game hinted to me that perhaps it would be better to focus on getting a game put together, rather than having it as a small addition to a children's book. And so, the direction of the path I was on changed.

In the next post (Part IV), I'll start talking about my process for planning a proper video game. Hope you'll check it out!

Bringing an Idea to Life (Part II)

In the previous post, we got up to the point where I had a solid idea on how to approach my story/video game idea, as well as the sort of style I was after. At the time, I was absolutely clueless about how to put a game together, let alone the insane amount of work required to plan even the simplest of games!

I can still clearly remember seeing how one particular program branded itself as being easy for beginners, and best of all, it was cheap (something like $20 US at the time)....that program was called Game Maker (at the time, the version was 7, and was created/run my Mark Overmars). With Game Maker, you had the option to try and write out each line of code, or you could use drag'n'drop icons to make games. It seemed like the ideal way to quickly put a game together! Of course, the drag'n'drop method was way more limited in what you could do as I soon found out, so writing everything in code was the way to go.
Writing code was a slow process, let me tell you! Going through tutorials and trying to figure out the right way to do things from scratch was challenging to say the least. There was a forum full of more experienced users of the program, thankfully. You could ask questions, find examples, and give advice if you were ever that fortunate. 
It took several months, but I managed to get something playable. By 'playable', I mean the game would start up, and you could run around and shoot enemies, but it was lacking pretty much everything that would make a game appealing. 
The game followed my idea of something similar to Metroid, and was fairly colourful, but fell short on charm. The illustrations in the book were cartoony and had outlines to define the shape, and I thought a good way to carry that through would be to use the DuckTales/Mega Man games by Capcom as a reference. Of course, my lack of experience with making nice pixel art came through loud and clear. See the below images for an embarrassing comparison.

 DuckTales Screenshot (full of charm and character):


The original version of Adventure Apes (pretty much the worst thing ever): 


So now that's out of the way, I can tell you that the gameplay closely matched the quality of the graphics. The version above was made available on my defunct website at one point, to put it out there for anyone who was curious and willing to suffer through the experience. 
It was about this time that I got really sick, and during this time, a dramatic shift occurred....which I'll go into in Part III.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bringing an Idea to Life (Part I)

I haven't done anything with a blog in a super long time, and figured this would be a good starting point for a new one: My first game is Greenlit on Steam!

The story of how it ended up getting there is a strange one, so I hope you'll stick around! It's kind of long too, so chances are I'll split it into several posts, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

I have always loved drawing, and had the bright idea one day to try my hand at making a little illustrated storybook that followed the adventures of two young monkeys who were trying to stop an evil bird bent on world domination.
Not bad, right?
Well, I knew that it was a pretty cliche concept, and wanted something to set it apart from other stories. That 'something' was to make a little video game that would come with the book, so that kids can read the story as well as play through the different scenes. The idea was an exciting one, so I set off on my journey to make it happen!

As you can see, I wanted things to be colourful and cartoony! I also wanted the story to seem not completely far-fetched, despite the fact that there are talking monkeys and birds (The island is based on a small island on Mexico's Pacific Coast if you want to try and find it!). While putting together illustrations for the storybook, I was planning the game and slowly piecing together what I wanted it to be like.
I grew up playing games on the original Nintendo, and my all-time fave was one called Metroid. In it, the player needed to explore an alien world and gain all kinds of powerups along the way before battling the final boss. The aspect of exploration seemed like a perfect fit for my game, so that was a starting point! Next, I needed a style of graphics for the game. Back in the NES days, everything was really basic pixel graphics, and games were restricted to only a few colours. I liked the aspect of using pixel graphics for a retro feel, but limiting the colours seemed like it would take away from the colourful nature of the story (the guys who made the old school games were masters at making games visually appealing with what they had by the way).
So, an exploration game with pixel graphics and lots of colours. Sounds easy enough, right? Sure, but at this point, I still had no idea how a game was made!