Week of Awesome IV: Initial thoughts

About a week ago I got the regular GameDev.net newsletter email. One of the items was an annual weeklong jam called Week of Awesome. My girlfriend’s away this week which means I can put in a good amount of dev time, so I’m entering.

Slightly ironically, I couldn’t access the account which the GameDev email was sent to so I had to create a new one for the forums.

The themes this year are Shadows, Evolution, Undead and Ruins. I’ve been working a lot of ray cast soft shadows recently (for my oblique project – see Twitter), so I think that’s a good starting point. Confusingly, or perhaps cleverly, Shadows is supposed to be a gameplay rather than graphical theme, but I think my shadows will give rise to unique gameplay, not just be a graphical feature. The scope of the Evolution theme is very broad, but nothing springs to mind so I’ll leave that for now. So I have to pick one of Undead and Ruins. A top down zombie shooter should work nicely I reckon.

Nothing clever with the themes this time, unlike with past jams. On Saturday I tried to take part in the One Hour Game Jam and learn Pico-8 at the same time. Unfortunately the theme was Mouse Only and Pico-8 doesn’t support mouse input, so my game was actually just a mouse on its own. The learning curve was a bit too steep to do anything interesting so I didn’t submit it in the end.

I will be using Monogame for the development, for reasons I’ve discussed in several previous blog posts. GameMaker would be ideal for this sort of rapid development, but I don’t think I could do the shadows as easily. I will be using a voxel map for the world, so I’m going to have to write a voxel renderer which I’ve never done before. That should be fun.

I’ll need to organise my code carefully, because working on it for even a week has the potential to get very messy and I can’t afford to keep refactoring and rewriting code.

Stay tuned for screenshots etc., on my Twitter and here.

Hue and Cry: LD33 post-mortem

It’s been a week since Ludum Dare and Hue and Cry has been rated 23 times: I don’t know what the ratings are like yet but there are plenty of comments to mull over.

Firstly, here is a timelapse of me making the game:

Let me examine each aspect of the game in detail:

Theme

After reading the theme of LD33 (“You are the Monster”) I went straight to bed (it was 2AM BST). I didn’t sleep much of course, but I at least wanted the cold light of morning before I started on anything.

I assumed most people would take this theme as meaning the player controls what would be the enemy in a normal game. I couldn’t think of any original or interesting ways of doing this, so I instead interpreted “monster” in the way it is used for people.

I was, of course, not the only one to do this,

The direction I took was quite a dark one, and I don’t think I handled it well enough for the serious topic. I originally wanted the player to feel she was accidentally causing the deaths of well-meaning innocent bystanders, but that’s not quite how it came out.

Mood and Setting

The mood of the game followed immediately from the concept. Everything was grey as soon as I started drawing, and the rain effect occurred to me pretty quickly.

The setting in England happened fairly naturally as I started drawing, as that is what I know. I think it worked well, but it meant several references were probably lost on foreigners (e.g. ‘ASCO’ and signs pointing to ‘The North’).

Art

I was pretty pleased with how the graphics came out. This is the first time I’ve drawn a significant amount of pixel art, and most of it looked alright to me. Several tips I’d picked up recently helped, especially the recommendation that everything should be slightly desaturated.

I used GIMP, which I hadn’t thought was good for pixel art in the past, but I pretty quickly set it up for quick workflow.

When I started I thought the introduction and conclusion would be told with a series of still digital paintings, but when it came to it I realised I didn’t have the skill or time to do that. The epistolary approach was very fast and I think effective too, though of course people are prone to skipping long chunks of text.

The human figures still need work. Animation was a pain to start with too.

Audio

The audio was one thing I think that could have gone better. The sounds I had in my mind were not what I managed to get out of bfxr and no amount of processing in Audacity seemed to fix that. I think experience will help in future, but live foley is an option too if I can get my old recording things set up properly.

Music

Bosca Ceoil was a very pleasant discovery last week, and using it was a breeze. The songs I made were very simple and repetitive, but I think that was the correct thing to do given the limited time. The one thing I wish BC had is a simple level mixer but equilization in Audacity managed to get the sound I wanted.

Development

When researching before LD started, I practiced with GameMaker: Studio a little. About 10 years ago I used GameMaker but had thought it was pretty restrictive in terms of deployment especially, and moved onto Flash – which was what everyone was playing at the time. Now most of my peers get games off Steam, and GameMaker is much more appealing. It was very quick to develop with, even given the steep learning curve. I was pleasantly surprised at how efficiently the games seem to run, as someone who usually develops in compiled C++.

Gameplay

I’ll be the first to admit that the gameplay isn’t great. it feels very unnatural that just touching an enemy kills you instantly, and it was necessary for some of the levels that this happened quickly, which together didn’t feel good at all.

It wasn’t obvious which blocks were solid and which were merely decorative, either.

The difficulty curve wasn’t great either, and at times the puzzles probably seemed very difficult. Several reviewers got all the way to the end though, which is reassuring.

I was pleased with the character controller, which I wrote in about an hour. That’s the first time I’ve written a tile-based platformer from scratch, and it seems pretty robust. I am indebted to Zack Bell for is excellent blog, which I read the preceeding week and whose ideas it was largely based on.

Conclusion

The game wasn’t perfect by a long way, but for my first game jam I think it went pretty well, especially the mood and graphics.

I’m doing Ludum Dare 33

I’m going to try my first Ludum Dare this weekend. I’m not sure how it will go.

I’m toying with the idea of using GameMaker Studio. It’s been 10 years since I last tried GameMaker and it seems to have really come on since then. Several games that I really like (e.g. Nidhogg, Super Crate Box) were developed with it, and it seems to be very well suited for things quickly.

The other options would be Unity or XNA. Writing in raw Direct3D just isn’t practical when I only have 48 hours for the whole game.

On the audio side, I’ve been playing with sfxr, which I think is really cool, and Bosca Ceoil (which is made by the guy who did Super Hexagon, Terry Cavanagh). If there’s time I’ll master these in Audacity.

I’m not really sure about graphics yet. I have GIMP and Pro Motion ready, but depending on the theme I’m quite likely to use geometric shapes. I don’t think my pixel art is up to scratch and my digital painting is probably too slow.

I plan to record a timelapse, so I’ll post that here when I’m done (or more likely, a week later, as I am going on holiday).