Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Editor Changes

-Currently developing new editor via WinForms
-Editor is currently unstable and lacking basic features
-Screen state management in development

Monday, 31 July 2017

Drug Enforcement Astronauts

DEA is a pixel-perfect 2D platformer with tight, responsive controls, fast-paced decision-making and a huge arsenal of gadgets and weapons - all in the realm of couch co-op multiplayer. The game features  a mixture of puzzles, platforming, wits, and high octane face-offs with hundreds of enemies onscreen at once. You have the freedom to choose exactly how you beat each stage - hoarde devastating weapons, strike from the shadows, re-wire electronics, deploy bait and traps, mind-control creatures, mount people and ride them, boss it with your mad free-running skills or mix up your build!

The future is a bleak dystopia. The galaxy as we know it has been populated by beings from far and wide. With the ever increasing stresses and complications of the intergalactic lifestyle, drug dependency  started to soar higher than ever. The people are addicted to drugs. The animals are addicted to drugs. Even the drugs are addicted to drugs. Now, ruthless, iron-fisted drug cartels own over 40% of the galaxy. A group of militant ex-law-enforcers form an underground movement - aptly naming themselves the DEA. They have taken the law into their own hands.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Wiring and Colour Coding

It's been a while since I've updated the blog, so I thought I'd share something that's been a consideration for a very long time. The game now incorporates a wiring system, allowing players and enemies alike to activate and deactivate props throughout the level. This system also gives players using the editor a vast amount of control in level design! Anyone can make complex, logic-driven levels using a simple and elegant design.

Crazy things happening
Essentially, all of the interactive props in the game (bounce pads, doors, traps, spikes, turrets, etc) are colour coded in red, green, blue, yellow or purple. Props can either be activated or deactivated, determining whether they follow their programmed behaviour or not. Hitting any kind of "activator" of the same colour will toggle all props of the same colour - inverting their state. This allows users to create their own puzzles using the editor, and also gives me the capability to create more puzzle-themed levels.

Pressure plate puzzles involve some teamwork

Smash plates act like pressure plates, except they stay active

A few of the elements married together

This concept is still being developed on, and I soon hope to add more combinations of logic, so people with knowledge of programming or electronics can build even more complex systems! :D

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Choice of Arsenal

I want players to feel a sense of complete agency when playing DEA. I don't want the player to feel like they are forced to rely on a particular weapon set. Furthermore, (in my opinion) I feel like by creating a "best" weapon, you are pushing the player to preference certain weapons and gadgets over others. In a game without an RPG-like progression system, this takes emphasis away from all of the other options for the player. DEA will feature a ridiculously large arsenal of weapons and gadgets, each with three abilities which manifest themselves as firing modes, passives, aura effects, utility, and more!

Here's a sneak peek at some of the items the players will have access to throughout the game:

Granizada.This is a light and compact crowd-control weapon which has won over the hearts of human rights activists all over the galaxy for one reason: Granizada uses quark-manipulating technology to freeze and slow large mobs without causing any physical harm or serious permanent brain damage. The thawing just causes mild permanent brain damage - a step up from the alternative treatment doled out by law enforcement, commonly referred to as "death".

 Venorama. Venorama was secretly developed in an underground bunker without view from the public eye by a group of militant ex police agents. When discovered, they were immediately imprisoned, and it was banned on a galactic basis for being deemed ‘too cruel for use’. Venorama is part biological life form and part weapon. It secretes hallucinogenic poisons, and emits incomprehensible wavelengths of sound and light to completely debilitate foes.

 Flow: When Flow was first announced, everybody wanted to get their hands on one. ‘A bracelet that can turn you into a chimp!?’ people would exclaim. Flow allowed the user to morph into different creatures and forms at will. It was a hot piece of tech, and everybody had to have one. However, Flow was gradually discontinued, as the bracelets were linked to serious cell mutations, diseases, and in rare some cases, people could get stuck in their morphed forms forever.

 Newtron: Newtron looks and feels like a magical staff. From its swirling crystal ball to its polished mahogany finish, the whole design is simply a facade to persuade people of magic and is purely aesthetic. Newtron is nothing more than some very powerful technology with an authentic and robust finish. Whoever wields this gadget is able to fling themselves in different directions at will, becoming almost impossible to hit.

“Gatecrasher was custom-made by a team of engineers against their will, under the order of Sorkoth the heroin clown. When the weapon was completed, Sorkoth had them all executed, and grafted to the weapon to his arm, claiming that anybody wanting the weapon would, quite literally, have to pry it from his cold, dead hands. Gatecrasher releases large balloons which can be ridden, or detonated, to release a blast of noxious gas.”

“Kronos is the ultimate tactical weapon for stake-outs. It’s also hilarious for pranking people. The bullets, when released, stay dormant in the air, waiting for a signal from the host Kronos. The user can then rewind or play the stored trajectories of the bullets, giving the agent an heir of unpredictable stealth, like a deadly spider waiting in its web, except the web can be manipulated outside of time.”

“It’s standard practice for a security guard to carry Excalibridge. Used to protect the galaxy’s celebrities and VIPs, Excalibridge may look like a large sword, but the inside is packed full of priceless hardware. This allows it to function as a mighty blade for fending off the paparazzi, a mighty bridge to shelter the fragile celebrity, and a mighty distress beacon when things get too hectic.”

“Vegas is feared and worshipped for its ability to control what the layman would call ‘luck’. Vegas has the ability to spray out flurries of energy which can distort the natural order of the universe – unstable energies can burn through hordes of enemies, destroying all their loot with them, while other (less damaging) wavelengths can extract maximum loot at the cost of pitiful damage.”

“Capitalism’s name is derived from the very ethos of modern consumer-capitalism. When powered, it sucks the money from the very pockets of all around it. However, Capitalism is very pricey and hard to obtain, so therefore this act is completely justified, and anyone else is more than welcome to buy Capitalism and do it themselves, guilt-free.”

“Even Zeus would be all, like, totally stoked, and stuff, to be able to get his mitts on this state-of-the-art piece of technology. Nimbus grants the owner the immense power to traverse over clouds – clouds which can emit devastating bolts of lightning at the user’s command.”

“Revered and admired by mathematicians and murderers alike, Vinculum is your ultimate solution those impenetrable brutes of flesh and armour. The projectiles are fraction shurikens which alter the physical composition of the target, rather than directly damaging it. The Vinculum refers to the division line you would see in a fraction.”

Progress Update

Over the course of the past few months, I have found it difficult so balance my social, physical and mental well being. In fact, it's my belief that by improving one aspect of your life, you can damage other aspects. As a developer, it's safe to say that physical health is at the bottom of my priority list, and because of the copious amounts of coffee and sugar going into my body on a daily basis, I save valuable time that I can pour into social and mental aspects of my life. 

I would argue that these aspects of our lives then branch out into more complex systems. We need financial security, hobbies, dreams, aspirations and more! If you then factor in the fact that you need money to stay alive, it can be very difficult to pour all of your attention into your aspirations, and these can end up taking a back seat. WELL, NO LONGER, I SAY!!

I've left my job, saved up some money, made some tough choices, and I'm now ready to pursue game development full-time. This means that I'll be able to keep the blog updated much more frequently and also receive more help on my project than ever before, receiving consultation about the topological design of my game from a more abstracted level, getting the groundwork right, and lastly, starting the whole project from scratch... again.

Due to life's responsibilities, Steve and I will not be able to work on this project together, and we cannot both afford to work the same hours, so instead, I shall be consulting him now and again about my design to get his input. The idea was originally to do a 50/50 split, but to do this would require him leaving his job, turning his life upside down and setting up shop where I live, which is quite a big ask!

This means that I shall be taking on 100% of the development responsibility. I'll be doing the coding, soundtrack, sound design, animation, writing and art work - a hefty workload for one person! However, this leaves me with total creative freedom to create something that I personally feel happy with!

Let's get Schwifty! :D

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Super loading / resolution independence

Recently at the DEA headquarters, Steve implemented a fantastic level-switching mechanic which allows all potential levels to be loaded into RAM (basically how normal developers do it), except because of a few technical thingies that we pulled, we're able to have absolutely loads of maps, blistering with enemies, traps, props, and more, all instantly loaded into RAM and ready to switch. This will allow instant map switching and results in virtually zero load time at the moment (There are lots of empty maps here too (hence the blackness)):

Apart from that, I've started re-hashing the backgrounds within the levels. I've been able to deploy parallax backgrounds for a long time now, but now these need to be made resolution-independent, meaning that they will always originate and shape correctly regardless of whether the player is using an old monitor, or a brand-spanking new 40" HD TV. As of now, I've just chucked in some abstract floating shapes, which will be the basis for full backgrounds, such as forests, citites, planets, etc:

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

What can we learn from Mario Maker?

Mario Maker for the Wii U has been getting a lot of attention recently - and for good reason! It has a thriving community, threads dedicated to legendary levels, and an interface that is just absolutely stunning. It may even be appropriate to say that for something so simple in design, this may be the best level editor I've ever stumbled across.

(You should check out this guy's channel by the way. He puts up some awesome videos and he's a ninja at Mario)

So what exactly can we learn from it? Well, for a start, this is just so much more than an editor. Nintendo have created nothing short of absolute genius software here. Tiny little details are littered all over the place. Grabbing icons makes them rhythmically dance and play little sounds, giving some great feedback, and the whole thing looks so friendly and easy to grasp. There's nothing bland going on here. Perhaps one of the coolest things about this is how Nintendo will have had to inevitably re-code almost everything about Mario. The sheer scope of what is possible in Mario Maker creates situations that were never possible in any of the previous Mario titles. It's no coincidence that every object on the screen interacts seamlessly and perfectly - it's all been thoroughly thought out and devised and re-hashed over a huge period of development.

One thing here that I have massive respect for is Nintendo's processing allocation. Over the years, we see developers trying to create games with the best graphics, but with all this processing power available in new consoles, it's nice to see Nintendo use this processing power to create something much more interesting - a huge sandbox that can support hundreds upon hundreds of of complex objects which can interact in ways that Nintendo (probably) did not even foresee. The result gives players the ability to create Mario courses that don't just par with old Mario titles, but actually exceed them in most ways. Check out this example below:

As this video gracefully demonstrates, pretty much any object can be paired with any other object to create some incredible combinations. The interface of the editor is absolutely brilliant. Its simple drag-and-drop interface almost knows what the user wants to do before they do it and cuts out so much work for the creator. As you see the video above, it may seem like a Rube Goldberg Machine of this calibre would be an absolute nightmare to test. However, Nintendo have got you covered. The editor provides instant and seamless switching between the game and the editor:

Have you noticed how you can also drag something into something else to change its contents? You can also stack enemies on top of each other, or attach things together to create things never possible in previous Mario titles. For example, I've seen somebody place a Goomba, then drag a mushroom onto the Goomba to increase its size, then attach wings to the Goomba, and it just works right off the bat.

It is also worth mentioning the smart move played by Nintendo. Levels that people create in Mario Maker can easily be shared, so players are always trying other people's levels whilst sharing their own. This results in a thriving community and keeps the game constantly fresh and evolving. This could, however, lead to people spamming impossible levels. Nintendo aren't silly though, and they designed the editor so that in order to publish a level, you must first complete it yourself to prove its validity. Genius I say!!!!

After keeping a watchful eye on this title for the past few months, we've decided that we need to strive to make our editor better. After all, an editor is essentially a piece of software that takes a very long time to build, but works as an investment, as every level you create afterwards will be created in a fraction of the time! In this day and age as a developer, there really is nothing better than keeping in close contact with your community and allowing your community to express their individuality and talent. We want to create a similar experience where users can share their levels with jet fast speed, teensy file sizes and total ease of access through hopefully integrating with Steam Workshop in the foreseeable future!

In our previous game prototype, we would simply press debug and the game would run for us to test. This created all kinds of problems, such as having to stop debugging, breakpoint, find the error, run it again, then rinse and repeat. After meeting a few long-term developers, they generally say that if your project seems tangible enough to need a debugging system and/or editor, it probably does need one. Because of this, we have created this new solution which runs the game by 3 separate states:

1.) Player Mode
2.) Debug Mode
3.) Editor Mode

Now, as we develop, we can switch between different control states and get fast and responsive information about the game world. This takes us away from the constant cycle of jumping from code to run-time and back again, keeping us in our creative flow without pauses. So, as the game is running in Player Mode, it essentially simulates how the game would look to a player, not allowing for any cheats or hacks, and displaying the full level of graphics.

In Debug Mode, it is very different. Debug Mode shows all of the collision rectangles, displays information everywhere about the game, allows us to tweak and toggle stats and inventories of entities, move them around, change the game rules, etc. At any point, we can switch back to Player Mode, and the game will continue to run with these new changes in place:

Switching between debug and real-time game-play
Just in the same way as Mario Maker, using this system, we can really let our creativity flow. You could, for example, take a huge running leap, then just as you're about to fall, pause the game, switch to the editor, and add some floor under the player, then carry on your run and see if you get a good sense of undisturbed flow. We aim to have this 3-pronged system fully functional in the upcoming month!

Thanks for reading, and check out Mario Maker if you haven't already!

Adding hundreds of Squiddies mid-game - because why not?