Friday, July 18, 2014

Salem

It has been a while since my previous blog post. It is easy to get carried away by the workload. "Just one more character drawn and animated, then I'll post. Just one more feature programmed, then I'll post."

This is not the first time that I have made tremendous changes to the initial design direction of a project. This one started as a time optimization puzzle game, where the challenge was to destroy a passive target in as little time as possible. The first bare implementation a month ago proved to me the idea is less interesting than predicted.






It is now a defense game with a theme inspired in part by the history of the Salem witch trials. It offers a choose-your-own-adventure where you role play as the mayor of a small town being overrun by the undead, reanimated by two witches. There are eight different units that can be hired, each with four skills (first image). The fenced space expands later in the game, consequently increasing the difficulty.

This time I plan to upload the game for playtesting very early, with less than a quarter of the story finished. Minor features are added as needed, so there is a lot of freedom. I did this with Zombie Tactics (to be released by my sponsor very soon), where much of the story and dialog was written on a laptop away from home.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Back to Isometric

I had long been wanting to explore isometric art again, specifically where the horizontal and depth lines are angled at 30 degrees and the vertical remains the same. I attempted this style previously, but with minimal effort that consequently left me discouraged.

This time I used the same painting process as my characters, where first I sketch repeatedly and freely; it feels more organic, like modeling a sculpture out of clay. Once I have a decent sketch, I trace with thick outlines and splotch the usual colors with shadows and highlights.


My two previous projects Zombie Tactics and Demons Down Under turned into a handful. This time I wanted to create something a bit more confined and minimal, while also getting a feel for a new art direction. Therefore, here is the current progress of my next game:


In a nutshell, you must unlock and hire units to join a revolution in a fictional world, reminiscent of early Europe with a hint of traditional fantasy. The entire focus is destroying the statue, symbolic of a corrupt dictatorship. 

It will play like a strategic puzzle game where the challenge is to destroy the statue in as little time as possible, balancing resources and economic power. The statue will have, say, a million hit points, and units (e.g. teachers, engineers) that arrive by train will have special abilities that can support surrounding allies.

This idea all started with just one unit gaining many various special abilities that must open a treasure chest by inflicting sufficient damage. The prototype was not very entertaining, so it evolved to this current iteration.

I estimate 90% of the art will be finished by the end of the week. Afterwards I'll be going on a week long trip with a laptop, so I can focus exclusively on programming. I already prototyped most of the game, so now it is a matter of filling in the gaps.

In the future I want to refine this art style, and pursue simulation games. There are so many new possibilities.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Demons Down Under playtesting

Demons Down Under is available for testing! I am opening testing to the public rather than spamming a private list. Just register as a player on FGL.com and navigate to the game. There is a forum thread for all feedback which already I have taken advantage of.


Meanwhile I am very excited to be experimenting with a particular design idea for my next game. More on that later...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Beneath the surface

Ludum Dare #29 took place on the weekend! Ludum Dare is a game jam event held three times a year, featuring 48 hour compo entries (do everything yourself), and relaxed jam entries where teams and existing content are allowed with an extra day.

My entry for the compo is called "Giant Pumpkin" While thinking of the theme, I was watering my plants, figuring beneath the “surface” could imply soil. Roots get really chaotic. Meanwhile I remembered a trip I took to the York, Pennsylvania fair, featuring enormous pumpkins. You get the idea, I latched onto the spontaneous design idea and proceeded from there.


The Good:

Using Flash, I got a lot of bang for the buck using Tween objects for small animations. For example, the plus symbols on roots and stems grow spontaneously in a fraction of a second. That bit of polish does make a difference as it makes the game feel more interactive. 

The sound effects came together well using a cheap microphone to record things found outside. I need to get into the habit of making more of my own audio for my larger projects; finding that exact one needed on free sound websites is arduous.

The little popup that comes up when the cursor hovers over something became really useful and easy to manage.

The Bad:

Balancing many resource types in a game is very difficult! I would have liked it to be more educational, but overall is so far from being biologically accurate.

The Ugly:

There are several bugs with resource costs and weeds. Also the preloader does not work, as far as I know. The adrenaline kicks in as the clock ticks down the final minutes.






Overall an enjoyable experience!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Almost there...

So close now. Demons Down Under is now fully playable; it just needs minor tweaks and adjustments from here on out. I have been spending the past few weeks on a phase of development that repeatedly involves the following steps: play-testing, accumulating a list of a dozen small tasks to accomplish, finishing everything on that list, and then rinsing and repeating over and over. It takes quite a bit of perseverance. Each iteration is one step closer to completion.

Demons Down Under will be my 11th indie game. I have gained sufficient experience to understand that it is best to work efficiently, but not rush to the finish line. Rushing near the end leads to excessive down-time between projects, so is not beneficial in the long run. Rushing overall leads to early burnout, and worse, terrible shortcuts in design to save time. For example, compare turn-based game Zombie Tactics to the failed one of the same genre from years ago:

Failed turn-based project
Successful, Zombie Tactics

Also compare the hack-and-slash bunny game to Demons Down Under...

Failed hack-and-slash game
Successful, Demons Down Under

Similarly, compare the terrible stationary defense game to Defend Your Nuts 2:

Failed defense project
Successful, Defend Your Nuts 2

Lastly compare these two hack-and-slash games:

Failed hack-and-slash project
Successful, Paladin vs Demons

Each of these failed projects have something in common: I rushed too early, crunched too hard, and lost inspiration and motivation. I took too many shortcuts in attempt to reduce development time, which crippled the design. So basically when it comes to small games, work efficiently, but do not rush.

Interestingly, I also rushed on the following projects... perhaps within time I will return to them...?








Some of these have some interesting foundation from a game design point of view. A key benefit of working independently is exercising complete creative freedom. Gut feeling and spontaneous inspiration play a big role. The inspiration can originate from an arbitrary source. For example, I live near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, so may take a trip to Gettysburg now that the weather finally is warming up.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Demons Down Under

My latest game, titled Demons Down Under, is in beta! This is a room-to-room action arcade game with strong character progression through sequential play sessions. Find items, collect money, upgrade weapons, and dive deeper and deeper into underground dungeons, while saving allies.

It features nine weapons, six environments, 30 items, 11 demon types, and semi procedural dungeon and room generation. It was quite a handful to reach this point. Thankfully I can put it up for play-testing soon, while planning and prototyping the next game for this year..! Demons Down Under and Zombie Tactics were fairly large projects, so as a change I feel like working on something a bit more narrowly focused.







More info later...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Results of GGJ 2014

"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are". That was the theme for this year's Global Game Jam 2014. It is hard for me to decline a game jam opportunity, so similar to last year, I joined the location hosted by NYU along with hundreds of other jammers.

I got to stay in the heart of Manhattan's Chinatown, right along the street that separates it from the Lower East Side. Anyone who knows me well, understands I have an admiration for Asian culture. I gravitate towards the businesses in that area, which are incredibly competitive; the lights and signs light up chaotically, each fascinating, like scrolling through the endless parade of flashy icons in the Apple app store.

There were so many participants at the event. Many showed up just to play the 40 or so projects created in the brief weekend, which always is the best part. Very impressive projects this year. At first I had a group, but it fell apart because of their time constraints, leaving me to casually create something I later called "Contorted Shadows".

The theme reminded me of optical illusions, where we only see things because of ourselves, not for what something actually is. That notion led to shadows and using Box2D to create a hand with liberal flexibility in the joints.



Players seemed infatuated by it. It was highly recommended to attempt unique design ideas, so this was the result. You drag the hand and fingers to the outline shown, so it is like a puzzle game. Fingers can pop off, for shits and giggles in the most part.