Friday, January 31, 2014

End of January Progress Report: I Have a Prototype!

At the start of the year, I resolved to focus my efforts on making one game this year and making as best I could. I said that I wanted to spend January on designing the basic concept for my game and picking an engine. So, here's what I've accomplished this month:

Design 1

I've written down some bare bones designs for three games. The first idea is a game that I call "Legally Distinct From Chibi Robo" because that pretty much sums it up. There was recently a new Chibi Robo game on the 3DS which is not quite as charming as its predecessors, and I was musing on how I would make a game of that sort. I sketched out some ideas and wrote a bit about what I thought would work.

Design 2

The next idea is one I've had mulling around in my head for a while and will probably end up trying to make eventually, though it will not be my focus this year. It's a fusion of falling block puzzle games like Tetris or Puyo Puyo and the Visual Novel genre. This idea is pretty dumb and I'm honestly not sure how fun it would be, but also I'm not entirely sure how I'd pull it off, so it's gonna stay on the back burner. I did, however, write down a bit about it for future reference, so I wanted to mention it.

Design 3

Another idea I've had was to make a series of Warioware-esque microgames and string them together with a loose story and themes. Simple one or two button games that could be a fun distraction for an hour or two. I've had this idea in the past with rhythm games, but I lack any sort of musical talent, which makes rhythm games pretty much impossible.

Design 4

The last idea is a fusion of adventure game exploration and 2D platformer arena fighting with RPG elements. Your character is entered in a tournament where every fight is to the death. Winning fights allows you to increase your stats so that you can be more powerful next time as well as affecting the adventure portion of the game. The other big feature of this idea is multiple branching story paths, some of which are only available after you've cleared the game once. Ideally, the game shouldn't take long to play through start to end, but there will be plenty of (sometimes radically) different endings to see and different things to do.

And the winner is...

As you may have guessed by now from the level of description, I'm going with the final idea for my game this year. I really wanted to do "Legally Distinct From Chibi Robo" but 3D art is currently just out of my reach. Even for placeholder stuff. It's a problem I really need to address, but I keep putting it off. The second idea is much simpler than the one I'm ultimately going with, but I'm less confident about it being good or fun in any way. It really needs some prototyping and I think it needs more time on the back burner anyhow. The third idea I think could easily be done inside of a year, even with my hefty art handicap, but I want to try for something a smidge more ambitious. For now, it's relegated to being a fallback plan.
Design 3 inspiration...

...and this is what I made.
The zoom and mouth close are triggered when you push the "A" button.
This is art.


So what about picking a game engine? I'll get right to it: Unity 4.x is the only possible choice for me. I've got a bit of experience with other frameworks and game engines though, so let's quickly run through them to see why they aren't going to be the right choice for this game.

XNA is a very powerful framework based in C#. If I made my game with it, I could easily publish to PC Desktop and Xbox 360. With more effort, I could probably also port to Mac and Unix. However, part of my game's design this year calls for action segments that play sort of like a 2D platformer. And I have a storied history of frustration with making platformers on XNA. XNA would work, but I'd rather develop in an easier environment if possible.

RPG Maker is pretty neat, and is actually flexible enough to include the sort of platformer and adventure gameplay that I want, but like with XNA it's a bit too much work to get it to happen. I really love RPG Maker though, and I feel like people give it a harder time than it deserves, but really it's better for games where RPG elements like stat building and equipment management is a bigger focus. Also, RPG Maker can only really deploy to PC Desktops, which is fine but I'd like to potentially port to more systems.

Construct 2 is a really fun little game engine. It deploys to the web with HTML5 and it's very newbie friendly. This makes it fantastic for prototyping and the editor is really good about visualizing your design process for you. However, it's a bit too newbie friendly right now. Debugging is a nightmare and it's really hard to go in and make major changes to big systems due to the very visual nature of the programming involved here. Recently the engine has been getting better, but I need something that I can easily debug right now.

At this point, my options are rolling my own engine (nix on this because it'd be even more work than all of the above put together), using GameStudio (I'm really not familiar with this and past attempts to familiarize myself had not gone well) or Unity.

I'd actually tried to learn Unity 3.5 before, but gave up because I didn't have any 3D modelling skills and Unity is a very asset driven environment. What has changed now is that Unity 4 has been released which contains a bunch of new features which includes expanded support for 2D games, which just happens to be what I want to do (and what I can make crappy placeholder art for)!

Prototype Progress

In order to make sure that Unity was the right choice for this year's game, I decided to try prototyping a bit with it. I goofed around for a while and read tutorials and looked at sample projects before starting, but once I got started, I was surprised at how quickly I was making progress. With that in mind, I want to show you my prototype game.


Part of my game will be very story driven. You'll explore a city of unfortunates, oppressed by those in power. There will be different people to meet and, as the story advances, different choices for you to make. One of the big things I want to do with this game is let the player take the story in a lot of different directions and cause many different outcomes. In the animation below, you can see the map mode, which will let players travel about the city (it's very basic right now and only lets you go to the arena or quit out of the map). Then, you see a city street where the player can interact with people (who will be) on the street. You can also check your character's progression on the stat screen and level up your abilities for the fighting portion of the game.
This will eventually look more like an adventure and less like a first grader's art.


When not exploring the city and being wowed by character drama, you'll be in the arena, fighting to the death against various opponents. This part of the game is tricky to make work right, and will need a lot of attention. It needs to be fun and deep enough for seasoned players of games like Mega Man X and accessible enough for players who maybe don't care as much about the fighting bits. I also want to include mid-battle cutscenes and dialog to spice things up depending on choices you've made in the adventure section. Finally, while I have some great ideas for the different battles players will come across, there won't be too many of them. This is for reasons of scope and ability, after all, I'm only one person and everything cool I add will need art and I am, obviously, not great at art.
This is some of the progress I've made on the placeholder player character.


Speaking of art, one of the things that has always impeded my progress in the past is taking the time to animate all the characters and such in a game I want to make and then putting it in the game and finding out it looks horrible. One of the chief reasons I wanted to pick Unity 4.x over other engines is that it has support for creating 2D animations of a given collection of sprites very easily. I could do things the old fashioned way and draw separate frames for each animation or I could front load a lot of the work and animate each piece of the character individually. As a means of demonstrating what I mean, take a look at this:
Cut my life into pieces
What you see above is all the art for the placeholder character. Each piece of the character was chopped up and loaded into it's own gameObject in Unity which allows me to create animations by dragging parts around and rotating them- rather than drawing key frames and flipping between them at a convincing speed. This placeholder art isn't perfect by far and there are lots of weird areas in the gifs I've posted above that you can see some strange things (like a hand becoming disjointed). But also keep in mind that I was able to create that art and all the animations you see on this page in about three hours.
I gave my game a walking loop.
Games love walking loops.


So, did I achieve my goal for this month? Very much yes. I have a design, I have chosen an engine, and I even have an okay prototype. This month was a resounding success. However, it's all uphill from here. This month will ultimately mean nothing if I don't keep moving forward with this.

So what about next month?

February's goals are going to be for me to flesh out the adventure portion of the game code wise. If I can get a solid foundation there, then I'll be in great shape to tackle the fighting arena portion of the code in March. This means that there may not be a lot of great screenshots for me to post a month from now, since all the juicy bits will be related to things like text processing, but that's just how it goes.


I know this was a long post, so thank you for reading this far. Please feel free to give me some feedback in the comments or directly via my e-mail. I welcome suggestions to make these blog posts better and if you have any comments or suggestions about the content of the article I'd love to hear that, too!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A New Year and New Goals

Last year, I sat down and decided that I was going to release one RPG per month. They didn't have to be complete games and they didn't have to be very good, but they had to be kind of done and I had to release them. Looking back, it uh... well, it went incredibly poorly. I released two games, one of which wasn't even an RPG, and made a lot of progress on another, but mostly I was just feeling frustrated with myself. Eventually I got interested in the MSU-1 and did some stuff with that instead (which I'm still working on, by the way. I just haven't had much progress to report lately).

This year, I'm not doing that stuff. I want to settle on one game design and work steadily towards it over the course of the entire year. I'm not saying I should be done with the game by the end of 2014, but I want to be able to look back and be proud of how much I've done.

I feel like it's a personal flaw that I can't release one game per month for the entire year, but... I just can't. I want to make games for a living, but I just need to focus on what I can do for now. I can focus on trying to live up to my personal expectations later when I have more experience.

My goal for January and February is to create a design document for my game for the year, and also to select an engine. This may take a while because I want to explore game engines that I don't have a lot of experience with, such as Unity. So there might be a lot of learning involved in these two months. Either way, at the end of each month I'm gonna post my progress here and possibly solicit feedback.