Friday, August 30, 2013

Big Stompy One Month Review

At this juncture I think its only right that I take a moment to assess my work from the month that's past since issuing this little challenge to myself. In a word: Poor. In two words: Needs Improvement. In many words: Wait, I just figured you gave up on this whole thing. You're still doing this? Ok whatever.

So yeah.. in this last month I did half of a prototype and presented 3 prototypes total for consideration. Not really good enough when I've only got 12 of them to all up. I've got plenty of excuses, but really that's not even enough. I should be doing better than this. So with that in mind, next month is going to be a post-a-day type thing. I have some big things happening that month so I'm not entirely sure if I'll be able to pull it off, but better to try and fail than not try at all.

Also, as you might have noticed in the pic to the left, I've decided to go with SoundsLike (or whatever the name ends up becoming). In a totally separate conversation with someone, they kind of reminded me that sometimes you've just gotta focus on just getting the easy stuff out there, and SoundsLike definitely requires less to look interesting compared to the other two. I still want to revisit both of them sometime, but it will be after SoundsLike at this stage.

Anyway, so first thing will be ironing out the missing mechanic and screen designs, and then working towards a vertical slice. At that point, I'll reassess again and see if things are working or not so working.

There are still a lot of potential known issues that I've been thinking about, so I'm going to try and address them in the design stage following. Chief concern is copyright issues... I think I should be fine depending on how I present the game, but if the worst happens I can always build the game around the mechanic in such a way that I can switch it out for something else if needed. I am also going to expand the scope of the music quite a bit... Still keep that hipster douche superiority factor but include more mainstream/known music, as well as split things up a little more so people can focus on their genre/era. As much as I want to make it just music I think is good, I can't expect everyone to be able to name the greatest songs of the Australian alternative scene 1995-2005, or assorted British stock funk music of the 1970's.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Prototype 3 - Montage Platformer

Last but not least: Montage Platformer. Catchy name, I know. Check it out here.

What it's all about:
You're a dude (or a chick), and you can run and jump (and more, just not in this prototype). The more you run and jump, the better you get at it, eventually unlocking new features (double jumps, dashs, flying, etc). That's about it in the prototype, but the rest of the game would be standard metroidvania fare: Go all over the place, collect things, and then fight a final boss.

How it came about:
I really liked the way the elder scrolls games handled character progression, i.e. the more you do something the better you get at it. Kind of like real life really. I had also been watching a lot of speed/glitch-running of games, and I kind of want to experiment with intentionally breaking gameplay (or at least, giving the tools to break it).

What works:
Well nothing in there is particularly polished so it's not like any of the mechanics in there are that fun to use at the moment, but I could definitely see them working well together plus offering an endless variety things to try. It's also kind of cool to be playing through the game as "normal" and then get rewarded with another seemingly different gameplay mechanic. Also really good is that it acts a player controlled difficulty slider. Having trouble with a difficult jump? attempt it enough times and you'll unlock double jump and clear it easily.
I really dig the difference in philosophy between this model and the standard metriodvania framework... Typically players have to go collect the items that give them new powers (and hence that becomes the progression), but here the progression can rely on something else, and the players are free to develop their powers at the rate that seems best for them.

What doesn't work:
Done right, there's not a lot that can really go wrong here. Platformers are kind of the darling of indie games, and anything with an RPG style system has immediate hooks. Game feel is super important though, but that's just a case of making the actual game.

It is possible that the open-ended-ness of the progression system could lead to some heavy breaking of the game, but I'm not really too worried about that. I can always introduce certain macguffins that prevent serious sequence breaking, plus if someone just wants to sit at the start location and jump 10,000 times until they get fly mode or whatever, who am I to stop them? They clearly know how to have their own fun.

Lastly, and most importantly, there's a hell of a lot of work to do. I'm pretty sure I can limit it down to however much I can do in a year, but every gameplay mechanic would need to be animated, all the level and background art done, enemy ai, etc. Plus it's way to easy to slide into feature creep with a game like this. Just working on the prototype I kept on thinking and then trying to add all the possibilities the mechanics could lead too. Each mechanic is like an additional week in itself.

Oh also, there is a terrible terrible screen tearing issue with GameMaker... and I'm not sure if it's my fault or not. I didn't notice it so much on the other prototypes, but it's pretty noticeable here.

What's Missing/What can fix it:
Some kind of concrete development map and someone to yell at me every time I deviate from it would be a good.

Obviously all the art needs to be done (as usual). I'd also need to decide on a final set of gameplay mechanics, and also a theme. I don't know if I should just match Elder Scrolls and go medieval... There's too many other indie platformers out there with knights or barbarians at the moment. I was thinking maybe I could base it off of Monkey Magic (hence the little clouds and stuff) since his skill set kind of lends itself to some interesting gameplay mechanics.

I was also thinking about the possibilities of him then going off and fighting other legends and myths and then stealing their powers (i.e. Fighting Thor and stealing Mjolnir, fighting a three against one fight against Arthur, Robin Hood and Nessie the Loch Ness monster for Excalibur, Final boss being  the granddaddy of all tales, Gilgamesh). Or alternatively I could do something a whole lot more manageable.

I would like to make this game a lot. It's the most gamey of all the prototypes, plus it gets me away from the mobile game mentality I've been stuck in. I think it's got potential to be interesting to a wide cross section of players, as well as stand out at AVCON. However, it'd take sooo much time, I'm not sure if I could do the level of quality I want  in a year (or in GameMaker).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Prototype 2 - SoundsLike

Second up: SoundsLike. Play it here.

What it's all about:
You get presented with a sound effect, some letters and the length of the answer. It's up to you to determine what that sound effect is.

How it came about:
It is actually an idea my cousin's son had after playing a lot of 4 Pics 1 Word (the influence is pretty obvious). I kind of knew it wouldn't really work, but the idea didn't seem too horrible and I wanted to show my extended family that I could actually make something. So, mission accomplished.

What works:
Not a great deal, but the central mechanic works as it's supposed to, plus there's a few minor improvements compared to 4 pics 1 word (not that it's really saying much). I also a learnt how to do menus and stuff, so that's pretty rad.

What doesn't:
This was designed as a mobile game, so there's some key central concepts that don't really work for that platform. Simple quiz games like this work because they're something you can pick up and play a quick couple of rounds while you're doing something else (like waiting in line, or "working"). People can get away with it because looking and touching a screen doesn't really draw that much attention. Having to listen to a sound effect though, that's a whole different kettle of fish. Plus, if you're out on the bus or whatever, you're either going to have trouble hearing the sound effects or you'll end up being the asshole making all the weird noises. There are games on mobile based around sound that work, but they need to have stronger and consistent gameplay, i.e. have some kind of skill element that makes you want to put aside time to play it, as opposed to a timewaster that you play in short bursts for a break.

That also leads on to the next problem: It's very boring. But even worse than that: It's not very me. If I were to finish it to spec (i.e. make it close to 4 pics 1 word as possible) and even add some extra bells and whistles, it still wouldn't be a game I'd play, or a game I'd try and convince someone else to play. The quiz mechanic might work for some people, but the theme is non-existent and the reason to play is solely to get to the next sound. While that can be enough for some groups of players, I don't think there's enough there to get the ball rolling.

Plus, so much of 4 pics 1 word's success was due to being able to post to Facebook and ask for help. I don't think a sound effect type scenario would work with that. It's just too easy to gloss over an embedded sound effect/video.

What's missing/What can fix it:
This is actually the most complete of all the prototypes I've currently worked on. It has the menu structure in place, plus I've designed the code behind the sound effects/answers to be easily extendable, so adding additional questions is pretty simple. Obviously, it needs all the artwork, but everything here is pretty static so that shouldn't take too long. I've got some options as far as monetization goes as well that should be fairly simple to implement (I think I've started the code for some of that already, but it was a while ago).

However, while the mechanics are there, nothing else is. The entire concept and theme needs to change significantly, as well as possibly the intended platform. After thinking about it a little, I see myself as having two options here:

-I could easily turn this into a simple edutainment type thing for kindergarten aged kids, with animal noises and such... Obviously any kind of monetization aspect would go out the window, but I could lock content until paid for, or do multiple versions for different things (Animal noises, City Noises, etc) and only make one free as a taster. However, without a licensed property to base this on, it's really hard to break into that kind of market. Also, it's likely to impress anyone at AVCON. Unless I do a version with Anime and Videogame character noises. Which I could do. Probably. 
- If I was going to do a quiz type game thing that I myself would play, and it involved sound, what would I do? Naturally, it would have to be something involving me proving I have better indie hipster cred when it comes to music than everyone else. Fitting in with the frame work of the game, obviously it would play a segment of a song, and you'd have to guess the song name and artist. Only picking super obscure songs wont lead to any big downloads, so I'd also have to include a lot of popular music as well. And there would need to be some kind of world wide ranking of course, so I can confirm my greatness. 
The biggest problems here are copyright issues, and unfortunately my designated lawyer is terrible at telling me what I can and can't do. I probably can't use actual soundbites, or lyrics, but I guess I could use "interpretations" provided it was different enough from the actual songs. So what if instead of the soundbite it was some dude or chick that comes up to you and says they love this song, but cant remember the name of it, and then starts to sing the melody back to you? Might be sung well, could be sung intentionally bad. Obviously to keep that AVCON audience in mind, the NPCs would obviously be cartoony/anime like... Maybe they're also inspired by specific genres? Maybe it becomes like Pokemon, and you have to "out hipster" the other trainers before you can take on the genre boss? Maybe?
So for either of those, I'd need to source (or create) sound effects plus do all the art. It's all fairly static, so even if I go overboard this probably has the least amount of work I'd have to do to complete... It's just kind of annoying that it's not very gamey, and I still can't tell if I could make it interesting (or indeed, AVCON-y) or not.