Category: Elusive Ninja: The Shadowy Thief


I’m a huge fan of randomness in games.  I’d love to play an RPG where the battle scenes choose randomly between 3 – 5 different songs (not just changing the song for boss battles, but for standard repetitive battles).  And I love when characters have a handful of random sound effects…It’s 2011, games are huge compared to the old days, there’s no excuse for having one “HYAHH!!!” shout for your main character for all his attacks.  It takes like 2 seconds to record another sound clip.  Have your game randomly choose from a list of sounds.

There was a game back on the Playstation 1 called Kensei: Sacred Fist.  Check out the blocking system in it…all the player is doing is holding the block button down, the character is automatically dynamically reacting to the moves coming at them:

Gameplay-wise it doesn’t change anything, but man does that look more stylin’ than the standard one or two block animations most games have where they just throw their arms up in the same spot each time and whatever’s coming at them flies through with no damage.

The only thing to be careful of is that people learn to assosciate specific animations/sounds with specific moves.  If you press the Attack button and your guy shouts “HAHH!!!” and swings his sword in a horizontal arc 3 button presses in a row, but on the 4th button press he shouts “HO!!!” and swings his sword in a veritcal arc, even if the arc’s damage points are the exact same spot, the player may have a mental hitch going “wait, what?  Was that a super attack?  Did I do a combo?  Does that attack do more damage?  How do I make that attack come out??”  This can be pretty confusing.

I think a good way around it is to give your variations a reason.  In that horizontal/vertical slash example, the player could do the horizontal slashes when he’s at a far range from the enemy, and the vertical one when he’s in close range.  Or it could depend on what the enemy is doing, so if the enemy is blocking one way, or attacking in a certain direction, the player’s animation is the vertical one.  Ultimately the user will figure it out, but the less time they spend wondering about it, the more time they spend enjoying your visually awesome game.

I was hoping to have some variation in the animations for the ninja in my game, and originally they were going to just be totally random, but as I doodled out some rough stickmen I realized I could base them on the distance the ninja has to travel and how close the ninja is to the throwing star when he dodges it:

I want the closest one to be triggered by moving out of the way at the last possible second.  I think these’ll look pretty cool and give the ninja a lot more personality.  He looks fairly generic in terms of his costume, but if his motions and voice add some personality, that’ll turn him from “a ninja” into “that ninja from that game”, which is good stuff haha  I figure along with the animations I’ll have random voice clips played.  I might have to choose between more character animations and more background images in terms of development time, but I think character animation takes the main priority.  The game is a simple concept, it needs a lot of polish to be worth a gamer’s $0.99.

In other news, my buddies over at Halfbot have been ripped off.  Someone took their Flash game, The Blocks Cometh, and made it for iPhone and are selling it on the App Store.  They’re getting Apple involved to kick some ass, but man, what low-lifes.  It makes me consider that writing about my game as I make it might not be the best plan when there’s jerks like that out there, but I hate to think that people like that could stop the spread of helpful information and sharing our ideas with eachother as game developers.

The App Store truly is the wild wild west right now!

- Quickdraw

So back when I started my business course, I found that Calgary has an International Game Developers Association chapter that meets up once a month. I checked it out and had a fun time, everyone was cool and it was nice to meet other developers. Through that meeting I found out about the Global Game Jam. Back in my hobby dev days I took part in a few 48hr game competitions and they were always a good time. This one sounds cool because you’re working with strangers, so there’ll be lots of meeting and greeting new faces.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a local programmer to work with, haha I’m all registered up and the Jam happens the last weekend of January…now I just gotta’ find a sleeping bag!

Nothing exciting to talk about on the gameDev side today!.  I’m converting old Flash art to .PNGs the iPhone can use.  Boring grunt-work, zzzzz!  This is gonna’ take me a few days I figure.  For the games I make after this I’ll be making all the art from scratch…more work but more exciting, haha

- Quickdraw

I’m dying to add glowy stuff to my game haha  Back at the place I used to work I was pretty notorious for adding glows to anything I could.  I just love flashy effects…I think that’s why anime appealed to me when I was a teenager.  Bugs Bunny was eating carrots and the schoolgirl in Project A-Ko was jumping off missiles destroying giant robots…sign me up for that, holy crap!  So I was messing around with making a throwing-star that materializes out of a glow as it flies toward the player and has a little curve in it’s motion:

Realistically though, the flash over and over might get annoying pretty fast, and the curving motion makes it pretty hard to predict where the throwing-star is going to hit, which means the gameplay would suffer a bit.  I’m already working with a strange angle as it is…a straight-on view means it’s hard to judge depth and tell exactly when the throwing-star is going to hit the player, so I kind of don’t want to mess with that and make it worse.  So I think glowing throwing-stars will be a no-go, damnit.  But I’ll make SOMETHING glow, haha

I figure there will be Dangerous objects and Helpful objects.  Helpful ones will give you a life back or make you invincible or slow the thrown objects down for a period of time.  Dangerous ones will be explosives and different types of weapons that come at you (each will have a different property, like an explosive might target a spot randomly and explode doing an area of damage you have to be out of, whereas a throwing-star targets you and only does damage the size of itself).

I haven’t decided if I’m going to have multiple backgrounds or not yet.  I could divide it up into levels with little cutscenes between each one, which is cool from an art perspective, but in terms of gameplay imagine if Canabult paused every 10 seconds to show a little cutscene…it would ruin the flow of the game that these “go through a challenge that gets faster and faster until you can’t keep up and lose” games are built on.  So I might stick to just one background…it’s less work on my end too, but that’s secondary to the gameplay concerns.

Another option might be seamless background progression…I’m making this up as I type right now, but what if the action continues but the ninja’s idle animations change slightly to show him doing a transition animation (falling or running sideways or whatever) as the background scrolls to another scene without interrupting the gameplay (if the player slides his finger, that takes priority over showing the transitioning animation).  hmm…don’t know how that would look, but maybe I’ll doodle it out and see sometime.

- Quickdraw

I’m converting old art from the crappy Flash version of my game I made way back in the day, but I was rushing it out super fast back then because I was just messing around so when I look at some of it now I’m like “aghhh, that looks terrible, I want to redo that!”  At the same time, I don’t want to make it look perfect because I think some of the style comes from the sketchy look the main ninja has…if I tightened up his line art and cleaned him up, I think it’d lose some of the flair.  Yet if I have a perfectly painted background, realistic looking weapons, etc., and then a sketchy main character, it’s a clash of styles.  This is the old background:

I don’t mind the foreground roof or the tree, I think I’ll keep those as they are or very similar, but man do I hate that background haha  I just pooped it out in a minute to get something back there.  I’m happy with the color scheme of it all, but I’m going to have to redo the background entirely.  Unfortunately I picked a city-scape to show, and I’m not a fan of doing perspective stuff. So what I’m probably going to do is model a few house types in 3d and arrange them, then render them out as line-art, so the perspective is right.  I have a feeling the perspective I’m currently using is impossible though, haha  So I’ll figure that out later.

I’m also going to retrace the 3d line-art by hand with sloppy lines to match the style of the rest of the stuff so it all looks coherent, and I’m going to stick to cel-shading.  Originally I did this art in Flash where you can pretty much ONLY do cel-shading and I’m tempted to paint up the background stuff in Photoshop instead but again I think that’ll ruin the style the game has so far.  Maybe I’ll do the next game more painterly.

My original plan was to do all my art in Flash because it has great fast tools for doodling game art as vectors (VS placing pen points and messing with bezier curves in Photoshop), and I want to be able to scale my art up and down for porting my games in the future (the iPad 2 is going to come out someday and might have double the screen size of the iPad so I’d need to be able to scale my art up massively).  But doing it that way means I have to export the art from Flash as .PNG files for the actual iPhone and that’s a big chunk of time for a grunt process and I’m running into issues where I scale it up to what I think it’s supposed to be and then when I check it afterward it’s a little bigger or smaller than the math suggested it would work out to…not sure what’s going on with that, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass.  Also, Flash limits me to purely cel-shaded art which is fine for character sprites, but I’m sure down the road I’ll want to have some painted backgrounds.

So the other option is to do the art in Photoshop, which I love, from the get-go but if I do that I’m going to have to do it HUGE so that there’s no chance I’ll ever have to scale it up since scaling Bitmaps up gets all pixely and gross.  So then I run into problems with having massive .PSD files of the art…my laptop is fast but I don’t know if it’s THAT fast, haha

I figure it’ll take me a couple games to settle into a rhythm with this.  When I hire a programmer for this game, I’m going to be hiring them to make iPhone, iPhone 4 retina, and iPad versions.  By the end of this game I might decide that the Flash process is worth it just because of the scaling potential.  I’d love to put my games on a ton of different platforms down the road if possible so I’m trying to plan long-term from the start!  Capcom is still releasing NES games on new systems, no reason I couldn’t be porting this game to the iPhone 10 down the road haha

- Quickdraw

No work done today! Had to go to class haha The business course I’m taking is down to just one class a week on Wednesdays followed by a coaching session where I update my coach on how the business is going and set some goals and such. I’m pretty beat from lack of sleep lately, so when I got home from class I just crashed and caught up on a jillion hours of sleep.

The nice part about the entrepreneur thing is that I can take a day to recover and recharge my batteries without worrying I’m going to get fired, haha My boss rules.

- Quickdraw

Re-did the throwing star today!  I want to keep things hand-drawn/sketchy but a little nicer than before.  I’m working pretty randomly here…my plan is to finish the art before I hire a programmer to put it all together, so I’m just working on what I feel like working on on any given day.  I should probably be a little more organized, but it’s easier to motivate myself when I get to work on fun stuff in-between the boring stuff haha Here’s a mock-up of the original throwing star and the new one side by side:

I put a hole in the throwing star because I have a feeling I’m going to end up making it glow in SOME way, and holes look cool when you’re making things glow because it breaks up the solid silhouette with little glowy bits.  To make the star I just used the Photoshop star-shape brush, made it spin, shrunk all the frames vertically 50%, then duplicated the frames downward a few times as black silhouettes to get the 3d ridge on the bottom sides.  Bam, throwing star done!

I think the other things I do will be a little more complex because I want them to spin and flail around whereas the throwing star is just supposed to go in a straight purposeful line.  Something like the explosive might pop up and spin around as it’s rising before it explodes.

- Quickdraw

I played an awesome game today called Pro Zombie Soccer by Chillingo.  It’s got some hardcore polish to it, I think visually it’s amazing.  I’d love to put out games of that quality.  A friend and I compared how long we played it for, and both of us moved on after maybe 15 minutes of playing.  It’s not the game’s fault, I think it’s new features and levels and plot are well-distributed…you get to see all 3 of your special attacks really early on, and there’s cutscenes with a really cool story every few levels.

But I swear, playing iPhone games has given me gamer ADD or something.  I never sit and play for an hour+ on my iPhone.  It makes me wonder if this next generation of gamers will have a shorter attention span than the first few generations.  When I was a kid, I’d crash at a friend’s house playing some epic 80 hour RPG all week long.  But all we had were big long games…The Dig-Dug, Pacman, etc. days were short-length games, but I was born just a little too late for those.  My childhood was more Super Mario, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, etc.  If you bought a console game for $30+ and it didn’t have a jillion levels and hours to it, it’d feel like a ripoff.  And you made it an event, sitting down in front of the TV, having snacks nearby, calling friends over to play too or watch…

But now we can buy a game for $1 and play them when we’re taking a poo, or waiting for someone to get ready to go out, or riding the bus.  It’s a quick ADD kind of mentality the game industry is heading toward on some platforms.

If you’re making a game where the gameplay is based on “go as long as you can until the game gets too fast/chaotic for you to survive”, I think the optimal play-time is around 90 seconds.  I’ve played some where you can survive for like 5 minutes before it starts to get difficult.  That’s a lot of time to invest just to get to the point where it’s challenging.  Same time, if the game is so hard you die every 10 seconds, it’s just going to be frustrating.  90 seconds is just long enough that you feel like you got somewhere, but short enough that you’re not bored of the game and if there’s an instant “Retry?” button (as there SHOULD be), you’re likely to tap it and try again, determined to show the game who’s boss.

If your game has 3 logos, a title screen, tutorial, continue screen, choose your save slot screen, configure some options, etc. that’s like a minute just to get to the gameplay.  When you’re sitting down at a console, that’s not a big deal, you munch on some Doritos or shoot someone a text on your phone.  But when you’re hoping to get some quick playtime in, you want the game to start up as quick as possible.

My first game is one of those “go as long as you can” games, so I’m going to try to balance it so that the average person lasts somewhere between 70 and 100 seconds, and have an instant “Retry?” button…I’ll probably even let the player skip the logos and stuff.  I want them to be able to get into the gameplay quick as possible.

On a semi-related note, if your gameplay is a simple concept, don’t put up a 5 minute trailer.  Just show some brief clips, keep it to like 30 seconds max.  I can’t count the number of games I’ve looked up the trailer for, only to watch some guy playing the game for like 8 minutes straight, and it’s like well shit, I don’t need to download your game now, I know everything about it!

hmm, maybe I’ll do a whole post on trailer-making tips sometime haha I’ve got a lot of ideas ’cause I love watching them.

- Quickdraw

Here’s a rough of the ninja doing a wider dodge.  I don’t know if this’ll actually make it in, I just needed a break from re-sizing art and looking at numbers and filling out forms all day so I doodled this quick haha  I’ve got Camtasia and I tested it out and it doesn’t slow my laptop down so I should be able to record some actual drawing when I get to making new art for this game down the road.  Looking forward to putting some of that up because I always like watching those videos and seeing how other artists draw!

Today I got the major workload of the old animations all set up.  This has been kind of a pain for me because I’m not just doing it, but I’m trying to come up with an efficient repeatable process I can use for the future.  You can ALWAYS slog your way through grunt-work, but if you can come up with Macros or use a certain order of steps, etc. to speed it up, it’ll pay off in the future even if it means the first time you do it takes longer while you figure that out.

I’ve got a bit of a process going now…I’m planning to put my game on iPad, iPhone 4, and iPhone/Touch, so I’ve got 3 different screen resolutions to worry about.  In my old days of doing mobile game dev for old crappy phones where we’d have to port a game to like 8 different screen sizes, and I learned the hard way that it’s always fastest to do your art on the biggest screen first and scale it down.

So even though I think the iPhone 4 version will be my favorite and is the one I want to focus on the most because it’s the system I play games on the most myself, I’m exporting the art to iPad size first.  That way I can just copy all the art and use a Batch process to shrink it down :

iPad to iPhone 4 = 93.8%

iPad to iPhone = 46.9%

Bam, done.  I think HUD/UI elements will have to be re-arranged a bit for each screen size, but at least the core game elements can be easily converted from screen to screen.  I’m going to do the HUD/UI with that portability in mind, so they’ll probably be floating elements.  I actually haven’t given much thought to that stuff yet, haha  I’m going to have to pick fonts and a general UI “theme” at some point.  I think it’ll be something bamboo/tree-ish…wood and leaves and all that jazz.  I’d like to have seamless transitions where the UI pulls away and reveals the game screen and such…not sure if that’s possible with load times and all.  I’ll come up with something!

- Quickdraw

This is going to be a fun week!  I’m almost at the point where I get to start drawing/re-drawing new art.  Because I started with a game that I already had some art done for, and I had to find a good workflow for converting it all to various screen-sizes I haven’t been able to do the FUN stuff like making new art…which will also be the more interesting stuff to anyone reading this blog regularly haha  But the video below signifies my passing into the next stage of making actual progress:

Sure, this LOOKS like it’s just the same video from a few updates back.  But no!  It’s actually much awesomer because the guy on the left is for the iPad and the guy on the right was generated from the iPad guy’s art/animations and everything the guy on the right does should be in exact proportion for his size to the guy on the left.  The timing should be dead on too, so in theory all versions of my game will play exactly the same down to the frame timing.  I was REALLY worried I’d have to re-animate everything by hand for different screen sizes, so this makes me happy!

I figure I should be able to get the already made art all finished converting today, and then I get to start drawing new stuff, oboy!

- Quickdraw

I’m actually changing up my workflow a bit.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m planning to out-source the programming to a freelance programmer or group of programmers from freelance sites.  Originally I was going to try to work in-sync with them, so I’m making the art as they program, because that’s the traditional method, working hand-in-hand and bouncing ideas off eachother.  But I’ve got this game planned out down to the pixel in my head and in the Game Design Document, so I know what art I’m going to need and how it’s all going to link together…as long as I provide the resources to the programmer, they should be able to construct the game without me doing more than checking in on their builds and sending lists of tweaks to make.

My first few games will be super simple, so it’s not difficult to visualize them all in my head.  I predict that when I DO hire a programmer for this first game, at least 95% of the art will be done and final and they may need a little tweak here and there from me but for the most part it should be a simple process.

This frees me up to design the gameplay and draw up the art for my NEXT game.  So my original schedule looked something like:

Since I’m wearing so many hats, I have to cover Design, Art, Music/SFX/etc., Testing, and Marketing myself.  Down the road I can out-source some of that but for now I’m the one juggling all of that solo.  With the traditional in-sync method I’d bring on a programmer when I had some of the basic art done and work alongside him.  Unfortunately that creates this massive block of two weeks where I’m juggling a ton of work all at once.  I’d love to say I have the work ethic and amazing unstoppable drive to push through that but realistically after running into that once or twice I would probably burn out.  The whole point of starting my own studio was so that I could avoid the ridiculous overtime burnout the game industry is notorious for.  I believe that if you schedule things properly, you should be able to create a game stress-free, working normal hours, and if that game sells decent you should be able to take a week off after a project and de-stress before starting the next one…that’s idealistic, I know, but it’s my goal.  Except I want a month off between projects.  Paid.  For everyone in-house.  haha

So now as I work on the art and realize just how much of this game is already planned out and just needs to be drawn up, I’m going to be going with something like:

With this setup I’m creating all the resources in advance, and then hiring a programmer once they’re all complete.  When the programmer is working on the first game, I’ll have them send me builds daily to test to make sure the game is on track and I can send them a list of stuff to fix/tweak, which should take maybe an hour or two of my day…the rest of the day will be used to design and start the art for the second game.  So I’ve staggered my development instead of lumping it all together.  I’ll be designing and drawing the next game while the programmer is piecing together the previous game.  This results in less “clumping” of my tasks…it also means I’ll have more time to handle any issues the programmer brings up.  Like if I convert a bunch of PNGs wrong or have to redraw something, I’ll have the free time to do it, VS the first schedule where I’d be busy juggling finding music and testing the game while I have to suddenly re-convert all those PNGs.

I believe this is the optimal method for my situation.  It gives me a week of design/concepts, 3 weeks of art, a week as I finish up the art to get the Music/SFX going, and then I just causally test the game while the programmer develops it and the testing overlaps casually designing the next game and just starting the art.  Whereas in the original schedule, I’d have the difficult chunk of doing the art (the middle to end of it which will be the most work) overlapping the testing, overlapping finding Music/SFX…too much work at once for me!

The interesting part is that I still end up releasing a game a month.  I still have a programmer hired for 3 weeks a month so if in theory when the programmer is done I can release the game, then down the road my release frequency is the same as before, and I’m still hiring a programmer for the same amount of time/money (if anything I’ll end up hiring them for less time/money because they won’t have to wait on any art assets or anything, it’ll be a quick piecing together of the elements I hand them instead of them having to make or request temporary art and such).  By staggering the games, I’ve changed nothing except eased up my workload into something less stressful.

I still love working in sync with an in-house programmer, I think it encourages cool creative ideas to be bouncing back and forth with someone else on a project as you go.  But is trying to force that workflow a smart business decision when you’re a solo guy with a limited amount of money to risk, making tiny simple games?  Down the road I’ll switch to that model, I’m sure (I plan to write up a post about my plans for studio expansion), but for now I’m interested to see if this works out and I feel like it makes logical sense.

- Quickdraw

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