Archive for April, 2015


Ludum Dare 32 is over and I survived lol There’s something demented about voluntarily participating in what’s basically “crunch mode” for no reason other than to make something cool but I’m glad I did it. Here’s my post-mortem on how things went and my general design process. First up this is the final result of my 72 hours of slaving away in GameMaker: Studio and Spine:


You can check it out and give it a play here.

PLAN OF ACTION

LDJAM’s topic is announced once the event begins and this jam’s topic was “An Unconventional Weapon”. I decided the 72 hour jam was more my speed over the 48 hour competition because I don’t really care about winning or anything, this is more for me to get my creative mojo kickstarted and possibly come up with a prototype I could turn into a full game down the road so that extra 24 hours to throw in some decent art was too hard to resist. The time limit in general adds a huge doom clock hanging over your head but I know a solid concept is half the battle…there’s no point spending all weekend working on something that wasn’t a good idea to begin with and it’s hard to force creativity so I decided to give myself 2 hours with no pressure to concept ideas up. Even if I came up with a decent idea right off the bat I would keep roughing ideas out till the time was up, so if I couldn’t think of something right away I didn’t freak out since I had a full 2 hours to kill.

I had 3 main goals for Ludum Dare:

1) I wanted one good core mechanic. I’m thinking in iPhone game terms instead of making an epic RPG or something. I wanted an idea that I could theoretically clean up and ship as a simple casual game.

2) I wanted something flashy with a lot of Spine animation because I wanted to really put my GameMaker + Spine workflow to the test since I’ll be using that combo for basically anything I make.

3) I wanted to avoid menus and text because I find doing that stuff in GameMaker is a whole project in itself. It means writing scripts that display and activate buttons and draw and transition menus and lay out text areas, and there’s nothing that easily sets up scrolling menu lists etc. If I made a text/menu heavy game I would spend at least half the 72 hours just trying to get those looking good and working nice. So I wanted as little GUI coding as possible.

PLAYING IT TOO SAFE

Here’s the size of my final FreeMind mind-map of ideas:

These always seem so much smaller when you're working on them

Let’s break it down stage by stage. I started by throwing down any words or ideas vaguely related to the topic:

It's like a word-assosciation improv class for nerds.

Looking back on this list I can actually think of a few cool ideas based off it, so as far as I’m concerned just doing this exercise alone was beneficial. Who knows, some of these concepts might make it into games I make down the road.

I started out with a pretty safe idea…I was going to try some clever meaningful artsy deep outside-the-box take on it. I watched some Let’s Plays of Life is Strange recently so I think I was just in that slow-paced mindset:

Most of these are half-thoughts that made sense in the moment but now I have no idea what they mean lol

It was actually a solid game idea. It would be similar to a Diner Dash game where you micromanage a group which is already a proven mechanic. You’re a villian working as a teacher to distract a class from passing their exams to prevent anyone from being smart enough to thwart your plans down the road. It wouldn’t be too art-heavy either, I would just need to draw a classroom for a background and I could set up a sweet camera angle and hand-draw the characters so it looks like a shot out of an anime:

No idea what anime this is from

It was something I knew I could pull off in 72 hours and fit the theme but it was boring lol And it would either be text/menu heavy or I would have to come up with some icon system that made sense and it would just be a lot of GUI coding. My buddy Derek was like “what? no defending your hot dog stand from ninjas by throwing hot dogs at them?” and I realized that my idea wasn’t really something I would have fun making. A big part of why I’m making my own games is to make whatever I want and I’m a simple guy: I like flashy action and explosions lol

TOSS IT OUT

So I scrapped that idea, threw on a bunch of Sakuga anime compilations (basically the most fast-paced over-the-top action scenes from anime), blasted some high-energy Megaman music and wrote out a bunch of words related to the theme but more action oriented:

ahhhh, this is more like it!

I liked the ideas of “killing enemies gives you a new thing to use”, “merging body parts from enemies to self”, and “stacking effects”. The most natural idea that ame to me would be killing enemies and taking their body parts to attach to yourself, stacking the effects of whatever it is you’re taking from them. Robots/mechs made the most sense because it’s logical that you could replace a robots body parts with other body parts so the concept would be clear from the start. I’m terrible at drawing/designing mechs (I’m more into medieval stuff) so I went with a robot chick as a main character, plus I loved the whole idea of Astroboy as a kid. So I started fleshing that out:

Approximately 3 weapons off this list actually made it into the game lol

I had no idea how much I could do in 72 hours so I put down anything I could think of to help me visualize how things would work. When I got enough down to have a solid idea in my mind I revised it again into something more final to follow:

In theory you could mind-map an entire game out down to every function/script and variable needed.

In this stage I try to group things together and think about what I can re-use code-wise. So I’ll jot down a list of weapons and then break them down into “projectile” and think about what attributes projectiles are going to need to do all of the behaviors I’ve listed. A pistol bullet, machine gun and shotgun blast are all just variations of firing rate, ammo per shot and spread angle. This is actually the part about game design that I enjoy the most, I like breaking big ideas down into smaller efficient chunks. This helps me visualize how a lot of the code will work too. I’m still an amateur programmer and can get lost in my code easily without a good clear overview of what I’ll need.

I really wanted to have her legs switch out for legs that can jump, jump really high, and float/hover in the air, but I knew I should start with her arms and save the legs for if there’s time.

TESTING THE TECH

First up was making a rough Spine file to see 1) if I could get Spine files loading/animating in Game Maker properly and 2) if I could get Bone coordinates off a Spine Skeleton and attach new Skeletons to them that would follow their motion. This was the major tech hurdle for this game idea so I knew if I tackled it first the rest would be smooth sailing and if I couldn’t figure it out I’d have time to switch to a new idea.

First rough idea for a character. Short hair like this would've been way easier to animate but I like a challenge

Fortunately that went silky smooth and I got it working without many problems. So I revamped the character with plans to do her hair and skirt with FFD-animation in Spine. One of the nice things about using Spine is that I can lay out a character and animate her and get her in-game, then go back later and rig up her features for more detailed animation (hair, skirt, facial expressions, adding shading to the art, etc.) and know it’s not going to break anything:

I tend to use 0-length bones so I can attach different angles for bodyparts to them but I regret that on this character, using longer bones would've made animating a lot easier.

In the end I only had time to do her bangs and I used really rough FFD placement so you can see her hair bend with sharp corners in places but the gameplay would be fast-paced enough for no one to notice…or care, because I only had 72 hours lol I had to keep reminding myself that things were “good enough for 72 hours”, no one is expecting to see some AAA product in 72 hours the fact that I had a character animating at ALL was great:

I animated some basic motion and threw her into the game to make sure everything was working and to learn how to do collison. I messed around with Bone compensation (so in Spine I could move her backwards as she dashes back and control the distance/momentum in Spine with her x/y info updating to match in code…this is something I’d want for doing a huge boss that stomps his feet as he walks and pauses with each stomp VS moving at a constant rate of speed), and I managed to pull off a while back when I was doing tests but had way too many problems getting it to work now so I gave up and stuck to animating in code. I’m using TweenGMS to set up tweening and I was able to get a good enough result that way, but I’ll definitely revisit Bone compensation in the future.

The next test was making sure I could turn off the Image Slots and spawn new Skeletons (gibs, weapons flying out of hands, etc.) at specific Bone positions, and, well:

In retrospect this probably makes me look pretty demented lol

No probs there lol The head is a separate bone. I also set it up so that “gibs” could be guns, bones, etc. and spring out at various speeds/angles etc. I’m pretty new to parent/child heirarchy stuff in code but it worked out just like I hoped. The code for this game in general is some of my best, I wish I could rewrite my main project from scratch to make it more like this but I guess you just have to accept that no project will be flawless all the way through. Definitely looking forward to starting my next game after my main project so I can write a bunch of fresh new clean organized code from scratch.

Next up was replacing her arm with a gun and figuring out how to do a nice chain of command up the guns. Each gun has a child gun that attaches to it’s attachment slot and receives commands from its parent. There’s a LOT of potential in this setup, I can have each type of gun animate in a different way and have different attachment slot positions and different length/speed animations for shooting. Originally I was just going to have one gun with a few attachment slots for other guns, but I wanted to test out optimizing my Spine code. On my main project I’m working on I tried implementing Spine but I didn’t really know what I was doing and I was getting a lot of lag with just a few Skeletons. So for this project I wanted to try optimizing things since I had a nice clean empty project to start from where nothing would break.

I did a bunch of digging through the tutorials and trying different things out and the end result was fantastic. I was stacking guns on top of eachother because that was the easiest way to test and at first the game would lag by 30 Skeletons, which really isn’t very much. When I originally tried Spine out I envisioned doing all the art for my games in it, like down to menu animations and bullet effects but no way that’s possible with 30 Skeletons so in my main project I was already planning to use Spine as little as possible.

But after optimizing I had *700* guns attached to eachother with no lag lol:

It's like a giant french-fry of death.

GOING OVERBOARD

The sight of it made me laugh and I decided to leave the huge stack of guns while I tried to get them to shoot and once I got the entire stack shooting (with a delay too so you can see it flow up the stack one by one) I decided it would be cool to let the Player actually stack like this instead of what I was originally planning. I set up some different guns and timings and the whole thing felt absurd but made me smile so I just kept going with it. But the guns quickly go off the top of the screen so I looked for tutorials on doing zooming cameras that can zoom out to keep two objects in the view at all times and found a great one. I set it up to use the player and the top of their gun stack as the zoom targets so the higher you stack the guns the further out the camera zooms. As far as I know there’s no maximum limit, you can stack till the game crashes lol

Spaghetti missiles, explosions, robots and anime chicks...if there's more to life I can't imagine what it is.

I got cocky and decided to try spaghetti missiles that would home in on targets and leave particle smoke trails…really it would’ve been a more complete game if I had focused on the gameplay at this point instead. I had a lot of ideas for stuff like enhancements you could get that would add fire/electricity/etc. effects to your weapons, which would add a little strategy to the collecting aspect. Or even better, have it detect when you have X number of guns of the same type stacked in a row, so if you stack 3 pistols they glow and fire larger deadlier shot. That would create a mini-game within the game where you would be picking and choosing which guns you wanted to catch, having to make snap judgements as the guns fly up kind of like Tetris. Another idea was to have negative guns that you can accidentally collect, which would be in your stack and fire with the rest of the guns but would do stuff like fire a missile that homes in on you so each time you shoot you also have to dodge a missile from your own gun as a penalty for grabbing that negative gun. I planned to have a huge boss that the camera would have to zoom way out for, like you’d need a big stack of guns to defeat him etc. but ran out of time. Because of all those ideas I think there’s something here that could be expanded on into an interesting game, but I don’t know if I see enough depth in the game to keep going with it.

Anyway so from here I had to grab some music from incompetech.com and whip up sound effects in Bxfr. I threw in some random pitch changing so most of the sound effects will sound slightly different each time you hear them to avoid being too monotonous. The background I left till the last minute and whipped up some quick terrible buildings in Blender and had tons of problems trying to get a scrolling background working right so you’ll see lots of glitches in that but I got it working literally at 8:59pm one minute before the deadline lol It’s glitchy but hey, 72 hours cut me some slack.

GAME FEEL/PLAYABILITY

Also a bit earlier I spent some time balancing things for the Player. I’m big on not wanting to bog the player down with tutorials, I like when games naturally teach the Player to play. So there are little nuances for ease of playability since most people won’t do more than play for a couple minutes. If you have no weapons you won’t be able to get a missile launcher as your first weapon because the delay on it makes it too difficult to use as a first weapon, you’ll get overpowered too easily unless you really know what you’re doing and even then it’s almost impossible to make a comeback, so I didn’t want the Player to deal with that frustration. You won’t see the robot guys until you have 3 guns attached so you have more of a chance to beat them, and they won’t start attacking you back or changing what height they fly in on until you have a solid stack of like 10 guns. So the game should have a nice easing curve for people to play without a lot of frustration. I love adding these little details to help guide the player into being able to handle the full experience.

I was also originally going to have the Player’s stack build a lot slower, like they just get one gun per enemy but because of a bug the robot enemies were able to get stuck in a “being hit” loop where they would keep spawning out a weapon every time they got hit but as you got more weapons you would hit them more times spawning more weapons which made you hit them more etc. and it became a huge bonanza of guns being tossed in the air like Oprah handing out schools and hump-backed whales. When I fixed the bug I decided to leave the insane gun bonanza in because it added to the absurdity and I figured people would only ever play the game a few times for a couple minutes and then move on so I wanted them to have a memorable little experience in that short window of time.

CONCLUSION

I’m proud of the end result. I accomplished my goals going into this and with the energy I have these days now that I’ve got my Vitamin D levels handled I was able to power through the whole weekend working non-stop except for sleep and food. The time pressure was fun, it forced me to make fast decisions and throw out things that weren’t working while also plowing forward on ideas that I suspected would work…no time for waffling or second-guessing which can be a big hurdle for gameDevs on longer projects, feature creep and rewriting stuff that doesn’t need to be rewritten etc.

A MOMENT TO GUSH ABOUT GAMEMAKER + SPINE

GameMaker and Spine were AMAZING together. The workflow is so efficient that I was smiling ear to ear as I worked. It takes like 5 clicks to go from animating in Spine to seeing that animation running in-game exactly like I saw it in Spine. For people just getting into gameDev now where this kind of workflow is more common, this might not seem like that big a deal but man, in the old days I would have to do individual frames by hand and then write up text files with a list of coordinates and timings and image names to try to describe to a programmer how the animation should look and then just cross my fingers that they would come up with something that looked in some way sort of like the vision I had for it, which of course it rarely did. It was like dropping your child off at school and picking him up later and he’s all disfigured lol With proper optimization and memory management for Spine files in GameMaker I feel like I can literally make ANYTHING 2d. If I had the time and artistic skill I could practically duplicate Rayman Origins and Ori and the Blind Forest with this combo. If anything doing Ludum Dare and working under a time limit gave me even more of an appreciation for the tools I have access to. I WISH I had these kinds of tools and workflow back when I was a teenager. So if you’re in your teens or early 20s and you’re getting into gameDev consider yourself extremely lucky, you’ve got a huge head start compared to when I was that age.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I’ll be participating in Ludum Dare again in the future, this was all win/win for me. But for now it’s back to my main project. My Ludum Dare game has actually made me more excited to get cracking on this thing. I’ve been avoiding the art side of it because of the laggy Spine issues I was having in GameMaker but now that I understand the optimization stuff I’m looking forward to dumping a ton of sweet art in there. I’m planning full-screen bosses and can’t wait to get crackin’ on them. The menu system is pretty much done, I just have some last tests and cleanup to do with it but then I should be able to get into the fun art stuff. I’ve got the bosses planned out in my head and rough doodles, I just need to refine them into actual designs and start dropping them in the game.

All in all this has been an excellent start to the year. I’m hoping to keep this pace up the rest of the year and participate in Ludum Dare regularly, but one thing at a time…first I gotta’ finish my main project and ship the damn thing lol

Alright, time for an update. I hooked up with Rocketcat Games, makers of epic hits like Wayward Souls (grab it on the App Store here) and Punch Quest (grab it here), to do some Spine animations for their characters for a new Tactical RPG they’re developing. Lots of work but a fun project, I’m extremely comfortable in Spine now and got to mess with a lot of FFD mesh animation (capes, scarves etc.). I also hooked up with Ravenous Games for some top secret work I can’t talk about. They just launched Devious Dungeon 2 which adds a ton of new stuff to the series (grab it here). So with enough money to pay my bills for a couple months it’s back to my own game.

…but first, a detour lol On a whim I decided to enter Ludum Dare 32 this weekend. For those of you who somehow haven’t heard of it it’s a worldwide marathon weekend where you get 48-72 hours to develop a game based off a theme assigned when the contest starts. I haven’t done a game jam in years but my long-term plan over the next couple years involves actually shipping games (lol) which means I’ll be doing a lot of prototyping (I have a HUGE Evernote doc where I throw down any random ideas I come up with to flesh out later when I’m looking for ideas to prototype). Soon as I’m done my current game I want to roll right into the next one so there’s always a chance that whatever I come up with for Ludum Dare will be my next game. Or maybe I’ll fuck it all up and not even finish my entry in time, who knows lol I actually haven’t looked at the themes list, ’cause I like to live on the edge that way.

So if you want to watch me lose my fucking mind all weekend long, follow my Ludum Dare progress updates, setbacks, victory celebrations, mental breakdowns etc. on Twitter at @BPOutlaws. My Ludum Dare account is BPO_Jeff.

I’ve wanted to participate in Ludum Dare before (my buddy Mike is the guy breaking his back to run the whole thing) but as I mentioned in a previous post I was having a lot of problems with my energy levels for a few years. I was barely able to do more than sleep through the weekends. But now that I’m regularly taking Vitamin D3 I’m clocking in long productive days and want to challenge myself by entering. I’ll be doing the 72-hour Jam instead of the 48-hour competition because whatever I make is probably going to involve hand-drawn art so that gives me an extra day to make it look slick. Some of you may remember me as Tsugumo back in my pixel art days, but while I loved making pixel art the advancements we’ve had in technology that allow games like Rayman and Ori and the Blind Forest to exist, combined with all the slick tools us indies have at our disposal now, I can’t resist working with big HD art. I’ve coded my engine to support up to 4K (3840 x 2160) even though I don’t have a 4K screen myself lol

I wanted to make an alien race of giant goats to avoid just doing standard aliens...these sketches are just practice concepts changing the proportions of the basic goat design to get different characters that still look related.

That said, back on my own game I was having some creative issues so the break to work on other projects was helpful because it gave me time to brainstorm out some ideas on the art side. The major issue was actually kind of a silly one that I completely wasn’t expecting: because of the layout of my game (character on the left, enemies on the right, with as much space between them as possible to allow the Player time to react) I realized I needed all of my enemies to be tall and thin horizontally. If they were wide they would either cover too much of the play area (though one boss does that on purpose) or 90% of the sprite would be off-screen and basically be a waste. I also wanted to give things a sci-fi/mech theme, but you don’t realize how weird thin vertical mechs are until you try drawing some up and then realize they also have to be able to shoot from the three Track heights so if you make a humanoid robot it’s got to be able to shoot from it’s ankles etc. It sounds dumb, but it threw me for a loop for a while.

Now I’ve nailed down my theme and designs and while the game still looks the same as it did in my last update, I’ve been slowly plugging away at the code during my minimal free time and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soon I’ll be able to go on a massive art overhaul and just start dumping art in there. At the moment I’m finishing up the menu system and coding support for game pads, iCade, etc. Doing a lot of stuff that’s way outside my experience level like setting up customizable keybindings and achievement lists and save/load encryption etc. Plus I want to release on iOS and PC, so there are a lot of platform-specific nuances to deal with (even simple things like on a touch-screen device you tap menu options but on PC those options need to visually light up as you drag the mouse cursor past them etc.). I’ve basically got 10 FireFox windows open with tutorials all day as I work lol I’ve learned a lot though, I’m looking forward to my next project where I would refine a ton of this right from the beginning to save some of the hassles I’m running into (like right now the menu system and gameplay are COMPLETELY independent from eachother so when you set options/controls in the menus they don’t do anything in the actual game and I have to stitch these two giant sections together…it’s gonna’ get messy [edit: nevermind, I totally fuckin did it my first try just now. I'm awesome lol]).

On the gameplay side I’m really proud of what I’ve come up with. I’ve got all the bosses except the final boss coded and each one requires a different tactic to defeat instead of just bumping up the amount of damage they can take…so the core mechanic the Player has to learn stays pretty simple, but each boss throws their own twist on it that you have to figure out as you’re fighting them and they each have 3 levels of damage where they change their tactics up forcing you to adapt on the fly. When I get to where I can record some new in-game footage I’ll show this off a bit more…right now the bosses are literally giant red rectangles lol I talked about some of my ideas for this in a previous post but now I have them fully implemented and they came out as fun as I pictured in my head…there’s a nice sense of “Yes!! I knew it, I’m awesome!!” satisfaction in that.

On top of all that I’ve started teaching myself how to use Blender whenever I get the chance. I’m hoping to learn enough about the particle system stuff in it to use it for doing cel-shaded effects but I am a complete noob so far. I’ll also be using it for more technical stuff like backgrounds or detailed mechanical objects in perspective where I don’t want to figure that all out by hand. I used 3d for the background in Elusive Ninja:

This was way too simple a game and did terribly, but I was always proud of the art in it lol

Gotta’ work as fast and efficient as possible when you’re working solo. Overall this year is going toward upgrading my skills across the board so I can put out quality games solo. Now to go stock up my energy drink supply to survive Ludum Dare.

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