This week I was very lucky to find myself in possession of a few good hours of creation time. So, I thought I’d share with you one of the many products of my efforts.
As you may have noticed, project moon has been ticking along for some time. From time to time I’ve even posted a screen shot or two relating to it; each one looking quite different to the last. Much as it may not be obvious, the fundamental design idea behind it has always been the same, only the presentation has changed.
So here to accompany some nice new screen shots I’ll give you a few reasons for all this change instead of giving away any actual juicy details about any of the game itself, because that’s the sort of thing indie developers do.
In short there are two main reasons why I’ve changed from 3d down to 2d; time and Fez.
As a professional game developer (and now a farther too) I have a very limited amount of free time to spend on my own code projects. That sparse development time is usually used to achieve two things: make progress on one of my two personal game projects (iO and Moon) or investigating the sort of subjects and problems many programmer are easily distracted by, (graphics, compression, audio processing, etc.).
For a very long time I laboured under the illusion that I could find the time to make Moon in 3d. I made a simple level editor and quick mesh building tool, I even got a basic level up and running. It took an age. In the end it was pretty clear that I was never going to find the time to make all the models and levels. I eventually accepted that making a 2d puzzle platformer instead was not giving in and taking the cheap over trodden path but the only real way Moon was going to see anything like completion.
Something else that help push this decision was the release of Fez. I was all the things that I’d hoped to do with Moon, but better, more polished and more complete in absolutely every way. So, Moon became a purely 2d game and I went looking for ways to separate it from Fez while keeping the original intention of the game intact.
So why does it have the low-res, saturated, pixel look that every other indie game seems to have these days? well it turns out that when you’ve got very little time it’s quicker and easier to make everything out of small images. and once you’ve made everything out of small images, they look better if you make them look like sharp pixels
Anyway, enough ramble, on with the screen shots
I guess the trite phase about third time being lucky may be appropriate here
For the Tortuga event in 2009 I wanted to make sure the puzzle was accessible and fun. I wanted as many people as possible to have a go but it be difficult enough to make the real puzzle enthusiasts still enjoy it. I opted for a hunt for buried treasure (of sorts).
The puzzle was given out early as usual but only two weeks before the event. It came in two parts. A reference map of the Caribbean and a letter. The map was painted on a large board so it could be available for people too peruse on the day (It was also little clearer in the flesh too which helped)
This is probably one of my favourite Tortuga puzzles. It had a excellent balance of fun and challenge. Plus, having lots of pirates looking at the map in the middle of a tavern table, tracing out ideas while trying not to give away what they’re doing or thinking made for some great moments.
More pirate themed puzzles. this time the puzzle from Tortuga 2008
This time the aim of the puzzle was to extract the order of 7 words that formed the instructions for the next part of the puzzle. Those seven words have now been lost, but this part of the puzzle still works just fine
The puzzle from the previous years had been given out a month before the event, to get people excited and give them a bit of time to mull over various possible answers. In previous years, the puzzle had often fallen in a few days or weeks. So I made this one a little bit harder. turns out I may have made it a little too hard. It was solved, but not by many
Who doesn’t love pirates? I imagine the number has dropped a little since they now seem to be everywhere. I liked them before they were cool *put on hipster glasses*
For many years I provided the games and puzzles (and a lot of nonsense) for a pirate themed gathering amongst 40-50 of my friends. I recently rediscovered the lost image files for most of the puzzles that featured in each one and thought it would be fun to share them with the wider world (not that my website readership is all that wide).
First off is thise one from 2007. The aim was to work out the numeric combinations of three tumbler locks that were all attached to a single chest.
This is a reasonably tricky puzzle. Sadly I fell a bit flat when one of the (far too cheap) locks seized up on the day and the hinges of the chest had to be removed for the treasure to finally be won
I still have the chest; and it still has a broken lock attached to it.
Sometime is good to realize that a project idea is so intractable and unwieldy that it’s best to just stop before you even really get started. Luckily this was the case with an internet based isometric game I nearly started
It was to be a sort of turn based, fantasy, strategy game. Whether or not it’s game play would have worked was heavily reliant on whether I could find the best (and most fun) way of implementing the magic system which was to work very much more like chemistry, and less like dice
Well, it was just too massive a piece of work, so it was dropped. All I have now is a odd tile based board game (a little bit like dominoes) and this image I made of some example world land tiles.
As ever, updating my website ends up at the bottom of my to-do list for months on end. Well, I’ve got a pile or stuff sorted and ready to be uploaded, so expect light flurries of random artwork and other nonsense over the next few days and weeks.
The long term forecast is still of significant dry patches, but we’ll see I guess. It helps that I know that at least a few people actually look at this rubbish. Here’s a sneak peek
As a break from the trend of things taking longer and longer. This one came about reasonably quickly. If it’s not obvious from the name it’s a bit Blade Runner themed, complete with cheesy film samples
I’m sure it’ll be less than a week before I decide it’s terrible and start wanting to mess with (or delete) bits of it.
Even if I pick up my ‘iO’ project again, these character concepts will probably never be used. So, rather than let them be forgotten I thought I’d upload them on here.
Some are obviously better than others and I do have favourites (depending on the day). It’s been pointed out a few times that they’ve got a little bit of a pokemon feel to them. It wasn’t intentional but I wanted fun accessible characters which all look colourful and different. With those criteria pokemon pretty much draw themselves
It would be easy to think that work on my current personal project ‘Moon’ has ground to a halt. I can tell you for sure that isn’t the case. Though to the casual observer a few hours a month probably looks very much like halted.
A great deal of my time has been spent making bits of engine code that do specific but ultimately non-game things like generate voxel based collision meshes so the character doesn’t float about in space, load file from the internet so I can support updates or just a renderer that doesn’t crash at random times so I don’t get angry emails from players.
Well, finally after a very productive weekend I now have actual visual results to show for my efforts. These are simply tests of the first parts of the level and block editor so don’t expect Moon to actually look like this. Though I do quite like the stark grey against dark dusty purple.
This is a pretty much complete Voxel based block and animation editor. Blocks can be constructed out of any number of carved voxel elements in here and then animated as needed. These finished blocks are stored as part of a block set that can be loaded and used in the level editor. Easy.
So, you might now ask when you can expect to play something. My best answer, eventually.
I’m sure every track I make takes twice as long as the one that preceeded it. In this case my decision to do all the music score from scratch instead of relying as much on samples probably had something to do with it.
I’m sure I’ll look back on it at some point in the future and hate it for it’s simplicity but for now I’m pretty happy with the result.
Unless you’ve actually ever made a computer game you may not be aware of how complex the process really is. This isn’t a boast with which I intend to inflate my ego, or some excuse for the time such endevours take. It’s just a stamement of fact about the way things are.
Computer games are not alone in the set of all activities that are challenging, nor are they sole occupant of the set of things that when done well appear to the end user (or target audience) as usable and approachable. However, they also occupy the set of things who’s creation feels like it should be simpler than it really is. Who’s creation is filled with little things that on the surface seem simple but turn out to be filled with layers of complexity. I think in that, they may well be alone.
As an excercise next time you play a computer game, consider what complexity might hide behind simply making your character move, jump or attack as you’d expect when you press a button (obviously assuming you’ve chosen game that has a character in it). You may be suprised, and unless you’ve ever written the code for it, I’d put money on being able to show you something your character does that you didn’t realise to give you that feeling of responsiveness, fairness and enjoyment.
Now, to show I’ve not been squandering my time I thought I’d share a little bit of progress from my Moon project. As you can see from the screenshot above it’s at a very (very) early stage. However, The aim and mechanics are pretty settled now. Basically, you control a character (the little white blob in the image) in a blocky world solving block pushing puzzles and jumping around platforms looking for the broken pieces of the moon. Simple as that. Obviously the charm is in the details.
If your the sort to be interested in such things I’ve moved back to C++ for now rather than XNA, partly for reasons of familiarity and partly because I already have so much code already written in C++. The game engine itself is a new one. It’s not huge (and no engine should be) but it’s designed to be multithreaded from the start so the streaming file handling and command buffer driven rendering were pretty simple to implement. it’s all shader driven and additional visual features are easy to add and tweak. So far it’s just reflection, shadows, blur, bloom, lighting and colour balancing.
Also, to save me from a whole ton of asset creating all the geometry is procedurally generated. This means that every part of the game world can look unique without me having to spend years modelling trees, rocks, grass and so on. This makes level editing really easy too; just delete (or add) a piece of ground and click ‘regenerate’ and everything just works. the tree roots follow the new contours, plants and decorations adjusts and everything looks just like it was always supposed to be that way.
Obviously, all of this only looks simple.
This happened In a fit of creativity one sunday afternoon. I had a need to do something with lots of bold broad colours and heavy duty composition. In all it took about 6 hours.
Its acrylic on canvas and about 3 feet from top to bottom.
I also created a desktop version of it for those that might be interested
At the start of 2009 I created a simple puzzle game called Efficiency. Despite being a simple project that I put together in a few weeks it turned out to be much more popular than I ever expected.
Over time I got lots of people asking me to fix It’s biggest failing. A total lack of functionality on Windows 7.
So here by popular demand, is a new and marginally improved version of Efficiency (which to celebrate I’ve added a ‘ + ‘ to). It should work fine on windows 7, it’s got much nicer procedurally generated music and it’s even got a few added bits and little fixes.
For the quiet sections of iO I needed a calm track. Something ambient that didn’t get annoying after the fourth or fifth time round. This turned out to be a pretty tricky task.
This track is basically as close as I got to what I needed. It’s ambient, it doesn’t really go anywhere and it’s almost impossible to spot when it’s looped. It’s alright but it’s not as good as the Hectic track I made for. So, if I get a chance (and I go back to iO) I might yet replace it.
There are two main reasons I could never be a proper musical artist.
First of all I’m too fickle and whimsical to stick to a single style. Someone listening to one track might decide it’s something they like only to find every other track I’ve produced to be nothing like it.
Second, and more importantly, there’s no way I could argue that what I do now for my own amusment is anything like actual music creation. I can’t play a real instrument (aside from a bit of drumming and I’m not really sure that counts) I can’t read or write music and I have no knowledge of music theory
but hey, it never stopped punk rock
Supercar Challenge was basically all the bits that never made it into Ferrari, plus lots of new stuff. Lots more cars, more tracks, better multiplayer, better renderer, more game modes, more downloadable content and crucially (for me) better visual effects
As a bit of a departure from the high saturation colour schemes and arcade physics of the game we’d been working on upto this point, Ferrari Challenge was a real racing simulation. All licenced cars and tracks, with the added bonus of the vehicles being smashable and damagable (a first from a car manufacturer I think).
By now I’d really settled into my role as lead visual effects programmer. I had lots of code and systems written and the trust of production management to get on with stuff and do what ever I could to make everything look better. I think visually the game is definitly the best looking I’d worked on to date.