Friday, June 24, 2011

Tower defense characters

Progress on the new tower defense game for mobile devices is going okay. I draw and animate at least one character a day because I'm going to need about 20-25 of them. I started with very sophisticated animations, but then I cut way back so that each character only has at most six frames of animation. Animation is probably my least favorite activity working for myself, but it's growing on me.

The top row are the heroes, and the bottom row are the evil creatures. I actually have no idea what the second green guy is supposed to be. I'll probably replace the horns with large ears to turn him into an armed gremlin. There are no other views for these characters - they mirror horizontally and that's it. This means their primary hand will switch, but I am totally fine with it.

I'm still considering ways in which I can easily balance the game with confidence. This game is not written in Flash, so it's not like I can send out a URL to get some massive feedback. I suppose that would be one strong advantage of using Unity, since an app can be embedded into a browser. Again, I tried Adobe's Flash packager for iPhone, but it was incredibly slow and lacked features.

I'll be honest, I'm not really feeling this game as much as I did with my previous two. But, probably once I hit alpha and drop some good music and audio in, everything will just fall into place. I already have plans for my next project, which will probably be an experimental Facebook game.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The next adventure

Defend Your Nuts is currently being auctioned for sponsorship! It's going to need one more patch after I collect more feedback, but I am satisfied with how it has turned out. In the meantime I have been researching technology, since I have decided to switch to Android and iOS as my primary platforms.

I dabbled in Adobe's free Flash packager for iPhone during development of Defend Your Nuts, but with just a couple monsters on the screen, I was getting at most 5fps on my iPad! It was so slow that it did not matter if GPU rendering was enabled. I have some experience developing for iOS from scratch with straight up Objective C, so I knew I did not want to repeat such a miserable experience.

I eventually settled on Ansca Mobile's Corona SDK because I get to write all my code in a high-level language (Lua) and avoid tedious memory management and all the typical boiler-plate code that goes into a game. I understand those things are essential, but with the scale of my games I am better off putting faith in someone else's technology as a foundation. Plus I can continue to use Adobe Flash as my art and paper-doll animation tool, because I have found a way to export the transformation data out of my assets and into Lua scripts. For frame-by-frame animation, my license of Corona came with software that creates sprite sheets out of SWF files so this saves me even more time. The variety of aspect ratios on mobile devices always worried me, but Corona does a great job in handling all this with different scaling options. Porting to Flash should be easy because it has a very strong resemblence to Action Script and common data structures.

I got up to speed by prototyping some game ideas. I tried an experimental method by taking random clip art from the Internet and rearranging them in Flash while listening to music - that way I was oblivious to even the genre. Then once an idea came to me, I would export the assets and do some programming. The method is inspired by this digital artist who paints by first distorting an image to see a new unexpected image to work with.

Well, it kind of worked, but I got some strange results...

Here is a side scrolling game where you play as a knight hopping on cakes to collect cherries. The game lacked some serious depth and wasn't fun at all so I trashed it.

Then I rearranged clip art of food until some kind of veggies vs fast food tower defense idea came to mind. I refined it with additional art and a conveyer belt, but it was too strange so I trashed it as well. Also why would players want to destroy burgers and ice cream?

Then I continued to play around with clip art until a new idea came to mind. I refined it with some art of my own:

It's a tower defense game. The king hires you to recruit heroes to help defend against the onslaught. Here we see a cheap pirate/bandit hired to throw bombs, standing on one of the blue stumps reminiscent of a board game. I wanted to avoid a grid system and go with something a bit more natural. The idea could work, so I'm going for it. I expect a beta to take six weeks, so here we go...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Beta is finished!

At last the new game has reached beta status. This means I can begin collecting feedback to make some final changes. This was originally a four week project, but I invested an extra week into additional features: achievements, a leaderboard, and language localization.

I found a nifty way to get the game translated into a total of 16 languages (the screenshots show simplified Chinese and German) powered by Babelfish when possible and Google for the rest (Babelfish is more reliable). I write an html file that contains my text (written like an array in ActionScript with apostrophes and commas), upload it to the web as a webpage, get it translated, and then copy and paste. The rest is just programming where the subtitles go.

Thankfully I know a bit of Spanish so I was able to spot some problem cases. The text is simplified as much as possible. For example, rather than "Leaderboard" I wrote "The Winners", and rather than "Achievements" I wrote "Trophies". There are still some problem cases (like I used "mine" instead of "landmine" so it creates some hilarious sentences for the achievement), but it's good enough.