One year ago, Bird of Light released on Steam.
During the build-up to release, I was thrilled and nervous. I was curious to know what would happen when the world had the opportunity to play my game. My mind rehearsed several scenarios ranging from complete commercial and critical failure to runaway success.
Examining the results of the closed Beta, which comprised 70-odd individuals from across the world, had given me a semblance of confidence in the game; the largest number of players had given Bird of Light an 8/10.
A year later, I find that the Beta results were remarkably accurate. Bird of Light has twenty one positive and one negative user review at this point in time, and roughly twenty-odd sites have reviewed it with similar results-an average rating between 7 and 8.
We also have a publisher, so one would have imagined that the sales would be good.
Almost a year in, sales have picked up a little due to bundles but all I can say is that it's nowhere near what I had expected...we have sold about a thousand dollars or so
If you had told me a year and a half ago, (when I was working a day job, coming home to help bathe, feed and put my kids to bed and spend the late hours of night polishing Bird of Light) that one year after release the game would have made maybe a thousand dollars, I would have been pretty bummed, and possibly stopped working on the game altogether.
I'm surprised at how less the financial failure of my game has affected me. I've realised that these are extraordinary times for the profession of making games-the competition out there is incredible, and It is possible to make a game that does nine out of ten things well, but fails because of that one thing.
In way of postmortem, I have been forced to take a hard look at the what and why. I just spent thousands of hours over a two-year period on something that made me almost no money. Even though I spent very little to make the game, but I put in many. many hours that could have been spent with my family, or perhaps reading, playing video games or even sleeping.
I regret nothing.
I've figured out why I do it; it's because I have something to say.
I have lived for forty-two years, I want to express my interpretation of my experiences and I choose to do it through video games. This is vital to me; I need it like I need to breathe. I don't know if everyone has the same need for expression, but I do.
To create something that is allowed to fail commercially is a precious luxury. To allow myself to take crazy creative risks, I have painstakingly arranged my life in a way that my bills are paid, I have a day job that I actually like (design head at a studio that makes online casino games), and I also work part time as a game design instructor/mentor at a local game college.
I find the process of conceiving and developing games simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting; as a designer that can't code to save his life, or for that matter create any art, I have to depend on others to create what's in my head. There is tiny thrill even in opening an email with an attachment of a character sketch or even a half-done icon or UI asset, or when my programmer teammate succeeds in adding a new feature that we took many hours of Skype calls agonising over and discussing threadbare.
The feels when something that existed purely in my imagination materialises, and can now be experienced by others, is a drug that has neither rival nor antidote.
I'm back to the board now. Lessons have been learned and internalised, and another game is starting to take shape. It is, as is usual, an ambitious and experimental project that I construct in my mind while going about my life. It has lain in a blazing, tempting haze in a corner of my mind for many years now and I feel the irresistible pull of creative adventure as, quite shamelessly, I plug the idea to those I think may help me to create it; I bounce ideas off all and sundry until the gaps in the design become visible and then I plug them with devices that arise in my mind at the unlikeliest of times, such as walking my dog or showering.
This is a wonderful phase in the making of a game, not unlike the heady days of a new romance-the possibilities are endless and hard reality is still far away in the future.
The truth is that I do not know enough, and that I have much to learn of the art, science and commerce of making video games. I hope that someday soon I will be able to make a living from games that I have created.
I'm willing to work and wait for this day; as and when it does arrive, it will be on my terms.
Bird of Light will be released for PC on Steam soon, through a US-based PC game publisher..
Some of you will have noticed us promoting the game for mobile for the last few months; it turns out that we may have made a game better suited for PC/console.
No disrespect intended towards mobile games, but it's really hard for me to make something that shows all of it's tricks inside of ten minutes of gameplay. We ended up making something of a core game,
I mean, think about it. First you have to alter the game world by solving a puzzle, then run about at breakneck speed taking 90 to 180 degree turns, jumping over and dodging stuff while fighting disorientation and figuring out Where The Hell That Egg Went.
It turns out that it's also really hard to sell a game to mobile publishers that has depth in gameplay and story, no gratuitous violence AND an un-sexualized female main character.
After a number of rejections from mobile publishers (some of whom tried pretty hard to get us to change the gender of the main character) we, in a moment of inspiration, decided to look at PC and console. It was one of those head-slapping moments when you want to kick yourself for not thinking about it sooner.
As soon I thought of it, I started looking for a suitable publisher. The difference in responses from Mobile and PC publishers was pretty stark. Nearly every publisher in the PC space we wrote to, wrote back. Some said no, some said maybe, some said yes; but they all wrote back. It was as if we had passed through a portal and entered a parallel universe where people actually understood and looked, really looked, at video games .
This may seem like a Sour Grapes tirade towards the mobile game space, but I cannot reiterate how unbelievably cynical and commercial it seems to have become of late. The love for the medium of video games and associated risk-taking has, it seems, all but vanished from the larger companies that occupy the mobile game space.
Bird of Light is, despite what the friendly visuals suggest, a pretty hard game to beat. We have struggled with exactly how difficult to make it, and had watered it down quite a bit to cater to a casual gaming audience. We are now reclaiming the core character and complexity of the game for PC and console.
We realized that we had at least six hours of solid gameplay in there; game mechanics are revealed slowly. The Leap is unlocked after playing the game for around an half an hour or more (level seven).
Teleportation Bridges are unlocked in the fourteenth level, and that's at least three to four hours in.
Moving Pickups are introduced around level sixteen or so; it gets diabolical at this point.
The story panels have to be unlocked by collecting medals, that only come from completing missions. Collecting medals is hard. You'll see.
Also, most importantly, the game plays great with a controller. A twitchy action game without snappy and intuitive controls is going nowhere, but Bird of Light actually plays better with a controller than swipe/tilt controls for mobile.
For PC, It will be a straight-up paid game without any DLCs or funny stuff.
When it finally comes to the mobile market, we're pretty sure that there are many core players out there who would enjoy playing Bird of Light; it's just that it's incredibly hard (and expensive) to get them to know about the game. Hopefully, some exposure on Steam will make that somewhat easier, as and when we decide to release on mobile.
We're just happy that we can go back to what we originally wanted to make-a unique and challenging game that has made us as much as we have made it.
"We love the little girl. However, she is not a perfect fit for a casual or kids' game. In case the girl is mandatory we can't have a deal."
This is an excerpt from an email exchange with a publisher, one of many very similar interactions that I've been part of the last few months.
Tara, the protagonist of Bird of Light, is a character with whom I (and the rest of my team) have a strong emotional connect. The primary point of 'casting' a girl shorn of any hypersexualization, was to demonstrate that a girl can kick it as well as any boy. I spoke of it at length in this article.
The core of the issue, like it or not, is deep-rooted gender stereotype. A male character is perceived as superior to a female and therefore the preferred choice. While it is probably true that males are, on an average, physically stronger, there is no reason a little girl couldn't do what Tara does.
The fear of emasculation is very real; as an eight-year old, I remember hiding from my male friends that I had a bunch of girls as neighbours with whom I enjoyed playing Cowboys and Indians; I also remember diving into a bush when I spotted my squad cycling by during one of these play sessions.
Marketing Bird of Light game has made me realize that same fear permeates the boardrooms of the Game Industry. One question is: how justified is this fear?
To support my game-making habit, I teach Creative Software at schools; my students double up as willing and happy game testers. I've had a chance to closely observe their reaction to Bird of Light. The boys in my class showed a flicker of apprehension when shown the game character for the first time that evaporated as the gameplay started; in a short while, the gender of the protagonist was forgotten as they immersed themselves in solving puzzles and running around the game world.
Given the current state of content over-saturation in the game industry and Mobile in particular, developers and publishes alike have become extremely cautious with theme and characters that they perceive as risky. While it is true that the absolute number of female lead characters is on the rise, males are still the overwhelming majority of protagonists on mobile games that aren't specifically targeted at females. Got a big old chunk o' change to throw at marketing? Sure, take a risk and make your lead character a girl. If you're a small outfit with limited (or no) resources, you're asking for trouble casting a female lead in your action/puzzle adventure game.
Another school of thought sees this as a harmless indulgence-"You've gotta give the players what they want." I argue that males are really not that averse to playing games with female characters; that fear of the unknown, rather than fact, drives developers, publishers (and players) into this spiral of fear, gender bias and misogyny.
Female foeticide is very real where I come from. Boys are seen as assets and girls as liabilities; millions of female foetuses are destroyed every year without a chance at life, for no reason other than their gender.
As I read another publisher email that issued an ultimatum to change the character's gender, I suddenly empathized with the woman pressurized to abort her unborn girl perceived as a liability by her society.
"Not this time, Tara. You're a girl and this is your game."
We already knew around 50% of the stuff that came in the form of feedback from our beta testers; we just wanted to confirm it.
Top of that list:
It really sucked to pick up ALL the eggs and then die two meters from the castle gates. In short, a mistake meant that all your hard-earned progress in the level was lost. This was sure grounds for a Rage Quit.
To be fair, there are a lot of players that don't mind that sort of thing. Like me. I have no problem with dying horribly dozens of times during the course of a game level, as long it is my fault.
Unfortunately, I have realized that I'm making a game on a casual platform for a largely casual audience.
Almost every free runner out there gives players the 'Save Me' option on game over. Problem is, Bird of Light isn't a free runner. The Ways Are Many, if you haven't heard that yet.
So I put my brain to the sword and came up with a simple solution: Check points.
I place them strategically all over the levels; players who run over them save their status (timer, eggs, key, feather tokens) and are given the option of restarting from the last checkpoint (for a small fee, of course mwahahahaha). That might even help the monetization.
Players can watch a video ad or buy unlimited restarts to resume running from a checkpoint.
Implementing this broke a few other things, as can be imagined, but at this point I think we have fixed those.
Apart from this, I have made a bunch of other tweaks to the levels, mostly to reduce the difficulty and bring the game closer to a mass-marketable casual level.
Did it work? Keep watching!!
A while ago, something terrible happened in India, my home country. A young girl, a student, was brutally raped and mutilated by five men in a moving bus and died of her injuries shortly thereafter. As a nation, it shook us to the core. Many of us realized that there was something fundamentally wrong in the relationship between males and females in our country. Every year, millions of female foetuses are aborted in India because males are preferred; it has led to the odd situation that if you’re going to have a baby, it’s illegal to find out if its a boy or girl.
This world, composed of individuals such as myself, seems to be a cynical, brutal and self-destructive place. When I find myself assigning responsibility for this mess to other individuals, I cannot help but see slivers of the same darkness within. This leads me to examine my life, and further, my work.
I’m a husband and father of three (two human and one canine) and a game designer/developer. Apart from providing for my family, I see my work as a responsibility. I make video games; I also lecture and mentor students at a game dev college. Among the subjects I teach is “Influence of Video Games”. I've had to research this subject in some depth, and it has been a revelation. I worry about the effects of violence in video games and while there are lots of studies and opinions out there, common sense tells me that a human cannot be exposed to simulated violence for prolonged periods without adverse effects.
A disclaimer: I play skill-based games; shooters are my favourite kind of game and I'm a fan of the Halo and Gears of War franchises among others. I also strongly believe in the adage ‘To each, his own’ and think that people (and companies) should be free to create the kind of content they like, as long as it’s rated correctly.
About a year and a half ago, I started working in earnest on a new game concept. In the beginning, I worked on the gameplay and mechanics and once we were a ways into creating it, I started to think about the fiction of the game (the game world, characters, theme).
At this point, my daughter Sitara (means the Morning Star) was born and Shit Got Very Real. She had been born into a misogynist, violent world and it struck me that I couldn't just sit there sharing articles on Facebook.
The most effective tool I possess is my work creating video games. I decided to make a game that would strive to be fun without using violence, battle gender stereotypes and be engaging without deliberately creating addiction through Skinner Box tactics.
I was lucky to be part of a team that supported this direction for our game. We were aware of the consequences of these decisions; we were going against the market. Gratifying violence sells, and a female protagonist in an action game is considered out of place; but then this is exactly what we’re trying to fix.
Bird of Light has taken a year and half to make; for most of this time, we've managed to support ourselves through our part-time teaching jobs, client projects and loans from family. It’s been interesting, to say the least. At one point, you realize that a project born of purpose stops being work and becomes a central part of life; personal and professional challenges start to become indistinguishable. Survival starts to feel like victory and once you've lived like this for a while, the Fear leaves.
The Universe has helped; I’ll give it that. Strangers from across the world appeared, willing to collaborate with us for little or no money. A Romanian composer agreed to do the music. A schoolboy from the Czech Republic who happened to be a video editing wizard, made the trailer. There is a stunning nobility to the community of independent video game developers across the world, connected intimately via social media, cooperatively creating fantastic content.
It seems, however, that the Universe may also want us to market and publish the game by ourselves. Publishers are wary of the theme of the game, particularly the female lead. One asked us outright if we would be willing to change the protagonist to a male; another asked to let players choose between a male and female character. We said No, Tara is a girl, and this is her game.
And there’s something else in there that we don’t talk too much about- Animals.
The game has a deeper theme that explores our relationship with animals. I have a Labrador Retriever, Flor de Lis , whom I love her with all my heart; she is no lesser a child than my human children. Her presence in my life has brought about tumult in my food habits; this is an ongoing struggle that finds expression in the story of the game.
Bird of Light has turned out well; it is truly a game that we are thrilled to have made. It is unapologetically feminine; the gameplay is multi-layered and reveals itself slowly. I’d be lying if I said that we didn't care about how well the game did in the market. We want lots of people to play it, and to this end we've designed the game to be free-to-play.
Bird of Light is in Beta now; that is, a few people are playing it and giving us feedback as I write this.
Making a living doing what we love is a rare and awesome super power and one that we have fought hard for; we shall use it wisely.
So we FINALLY managed to get the Beta builds out of the door on the 30th of November 2015, a full year after I had originally expected. That's scoping for you, ladies and gentlemen.
The purpose of a Beta test is to expose the game to a select, small audience consisting of volunteers; they will (hopefully) play the game and provide some feedback about the technical performance and gameplay among others.
So as we were approaching the point where the game was kind of feature complete and polished up, we started the process of recruiting volunteers on Facebook and forums like Touch Arcade. We got about 70-odd volunteers, and since I wanted specific and pointed feedback I created a google form that asked specific questions about many aspects of the game.
Many of these questions were based on what we knew were possible issues; for example, we were a little unsure about how effective the tutorials were. This caused us to ask a few detailed questions about how well the player understood the tutorial, and if they were too long. We were also unsure about the difficulty curve so we asked pointed questions about it.
The builds were distributed through TestFlight (for iOS) and Google Play (for Android). Strangely, many of the iOS testers seem not to have received the invite, and had to be added again using an alternate email ID. It's possible to see on iTuned exactly when each email ID was notified, and if/when the game was installed.
Feedback started trickling in within a day or so, and oddly enough it was almost all on Facebook messenger in the form of a conversation. Till date, only five (5) people have actually bothered to fill up the form. In hindsight, it would seem to be a chore to actually go back to your Gmail inbox, find that email and then the link to the form.
We have received approximately 15 or so responses in all forms (Facebook messages and the form) so far. Some of the responses were brief and not very useful, others were quite detailed and a few were very useful.
Primarily, we were worried about our retention as a function of the difficulty curve. I have a difficulty spike in Level 6 that I'm not too sure about, and a few of the users confirmed what I suspected; that spike was too sharp for a primarily casual audience. A few testers confirmed that they had stopped playing after that level.
Another feature that we were planning and were looking for validation from the Beta was the 'Save Me!' feature that allows players to save their level progress in a particular session. If they 'die' after collecting half the eggs and pickups. This was a bit tricky to design due to the non-linear nature of the levels, but we think we may have found a way to make it work.
We also got a great preview from AsidCast here, so that really buoyed our spirits quite a bit.
All this notwithstanding, the real test will be when we soft launch Bird of Light. That's planned for January 2016, so fingers crossed. Watch this space!
So it's time we get word out about the game! Not really my favourite part of being a game developer, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
Before starting to market the game, we need to decide what the game really is. This may seem a bit silly, because we're the ones who made the game. Why wouldn't we know what the game is? Let me explain.
Coming up with a description of the game is much, much harder than it seems.
"Bird of Light is a action/puzzle runner that combines 2D top-down puzzles with 3D runner action. "
"A game that combines classic top-down tile-based puzzles with 3D turn-and jump action."
Then Sushil went to GDC and someone described the game as a "Sandbox Runner". It was an Eureka moment for us. We liked the name, and come to think of it, it was actually a kind of open-world runner. The definition on Wikipedia is:
"An open world is a level or game designed as a nonlinear, open areas with many ways to reach an objective. Some games are designed with both traditional and open world levels. An open world facilitates greater exploration than a series of smaller levels, or a level with more linear challenges. Reviewers have judged the quality of an open world based on whether there are interesting ways for the player to interact with the broader level when they ignore their main objective."
I guess that pretty much settles it.
"Bird of Light is an Open World Adventure Runner."
There may be some flak for using the term "Open World", as it brings to mind games like GTA, but I guess we're going to have to deal with it.
So we are planning a three-phased launch. Beta test, followed by Soft launch and then full release.
Marketing-wise, we have created a thread on the good old Touch Arcade forum, but things seem to be lukewarm for Bird of Light there. A fair number of views, but very few comments or Beta signups.
What floated our boat was Reddit. One good post and our trailer videos got 1500 views in a single day, not to mention some really good feedback on the game (by looking at the trailer!!)
A couple of points that stood out from the peole who commented on Reddit:
a) The sound effects were generally below par. The "Wheeeeeeeeee" sound was immensely irritating.
B) The 180 degree turn was very disorientating due to the sudden-ness of the change of camera angle.
We are currently in huddle mode to solve these issues, watch this space!
So close. It’s been a while since I’ve updated the diary, and a LOT has happened.
We have Music!! We have Art!!
Those things are kinda important, right? Right.
Well, what happened was that we were kinda unhappy with our art, since it was pretty rustic and basic at best. I had botched some really high poly models together in Blender that would make a pro cringe (it did). The music was unconvincing and the SFX consisted of whatever we found for free on the Internet. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good either.
I put together a trailer that was basically an Alpha trailer, and we showed it around. Just when we had lost hope, we found a musician/composer from Romania who was willing to make us custom music for next to nothing. We also managed to hook up with an awesome art team that agreed to partner with us on the project and replace ALL the art. 2D, 3D, character, the works.
We thought we were at Beta, but it turns out it was Alpha. Oh well.
I suddenly found that I had an art TEAM! Someone who could put my mental visualizations into real art. The first thing was to change the ‘cells’, which were basically boxes with grooves for the running track.
We decided to make the new ‘cells’ more organic and uneven, and rather than a simple cube floating in water as we had done before, make them floating islands.
OLD CELL NEW CELL
Some more updates:
OLD EXPLORER BADGE NEW EXPLORER BADGE
Above, you can see some of our old badges alongside the new ones.
Here are some old vs new screenshots:
As you can see, we’ve changed the character model as well. In keeping with the target of an older audience of close to core gamers, we’ve made Tara a bit older and much less cartoony. Below, you can see the difference in the new and old level setup screens.
The game has been in production for one year and one month now, and we’re (kind of) at Beta. It turns out that my estimation of the scope of the game was out by 50%, which is not too bad.
Without further ado, here’s the latest trailer:
There’s way too much to write about since the last post, so I’m going to try and summarize it in not too many words. Time spent typing this is time I could be making levels.
The major changes to the game are:
a) The game Name:
First: “PumP”, short for Puzzle Jump
Second: “Jump Like A Girl”
Fourth: “Super Veg Girl”.
Fifth: "Bird of Light"
NOPE. Don't even ask.
b) Implementation of the Map system:
This has been among the most challenging features to design and implement. The game world, due to the frequent 90 degree turns and the uniform of the tiles, is easy to get lost and disoriented in. We needed to implement a way for the player to figure out where she/he is in the level and where to go next.
It would be impractical to try and use a mini-map in a corner like many RPGs / FPSs because of how small it would be on a mobile screen, so we decided to use the level setup screen as the map. The player would, by tapping the ‘Map button’ while running, be able to bring up the map as a 30-40% opaque overlay, showing the current position as well as the positions of all the eggs and other pickups (see the picture below)
The problem with this was that the player was running AND trying to look at the map at the same time; it was difficult to change the focus of one’s eyes so rapidly and ended up in the player dying most of the time.
We changed this so that now, the game pauses while the map overlay shows up, like this screenshot below. Whenever the player is ready, she/he can press the ‘resume’ button and start running again after a three-second countdown.
This feature took a big bite off the difficulty of the game, and that’s a good thing. By tapping the Pause button, players can take a breather and assess the situation without losing out on time (Where am I/where do I need to go/where are those eggs-key-feather)?
c) This map system also happens to be our primary mode of monetization.
Information is provided to the player about the location of the various pickups with labels that can be activated by the map panel.
There are maps that indicate the location of the Key, Eggs, Feather and also the solutions to the SpeedRun and BossRun.
To unlock, the player must spend tokens; the blue and white ones. There are tokens to be collected in every level, and the player can also get tokens by watching videos, sharing achievements and rating the game/liking the FB page.
d) Removal of the timer during the puzzle phase: Initially, the timer started as soon as the puzzle/level setup screen showed up. The idea was to start putting pressure on the player to solve the puzzle as soon as possible. We removed this based on feedback from early user testing. The game was hard enough as it was, and we decided to allow the player to take their time over the puzzle.
e) Controls: This is the big one. This is a twitch action game, after all- and we need to get the controls right. We’ve iterated and iterated and brainstormed and tried lots of control schemes before coming up with the final one.
Initially, the jump was performed by a (Tap) on the screen and the leap was a (Swipe Up). After user tests, we changed the jump to (Swipe Up), as this was the most intuitive jump, established by conventional runners on mobile devices such as Temple Run and Subway Surfers. The leap was much more tricky to map. Here are the options we tried out:
We have finally settled upon the double (rapid) tap for activating the leap. While it’s not as intuitive as the long swipe, the error rate is way lesser. There’s nothing more irritating than error-prone controls in an action game, so this is a very important decision. After stage 2, the leap is all-important and the player has to activate it very frequently.
I’m off to the NASSCOM GDC (Game Developers Conference) in Pune this month, and I’m hoping to have a few people play my game and give me feedback. I know it looks pretty rough (it's somewhere between a prototype and alpha) but I'm still looking forward to getting it out there.
Here’s some gameplay footage:
So we have a month left to go for Beta. Are we gonna make it?????
No, not really.
But it’s not too bad. The Grid view is ready; that’s a very important 30% of the gameplay done. Sushil made a pretty smooth and intuitive mechanic to place the “Bridges”. I’m calling it that in place of “Placeable Tiles” because of, well, obvious reasons. Tap on the screen to place the tile and it flies into place from the stack at the bottom, and tap it again to remove it. I’ve gone through two iterations of the art for the tiles, and the new one looks pretty OK for a Beta build.
This is the first level; the shape of a question mark was not intentional, in case anyone was wondering.
The awesome news is that we have a new team member; S is a programmer whom I worked with briefly while he was doing the Diploma program at Backstage Pass.
He’s got a full time job but takes out a few hours after work every day to work on PumP. It’s awesome as he has three years of experience with Unity and is a great guy to work with.
I’ve been creating the game world and putting together levels, besides lots else. I realize with some trepidation that this is quite an ambitious project; because of the fact that the budget for the game production is $0, I will have to make pretty much all the art. To this end, I have started making and integrating quite a few environment assets.
The idea is to figure out how it looks in-game; it’s going to be a circular process for making and integrating the art. Make it, put it in, see how it looks, and change the gameplay to suit the art and make art that suits the gameplay.
Here are a few assets:
Also, I have here a mockup of the puzzle phase of the game; I call it the “Grid View”. I had put it together in Photoshop to kinda get an idea of what the view would look like.
Initially, the idea was to just have one lane per block/cell, that was placed like a cross in the middle. That does not show here, but there’s only one egg per cell and it’s in the middle. I was pretty proud of this mockup; took me a day or more of hand-painting. I’m not much of an artist, but I really love to paint assets digitally.
At some point, this changed at A’s advice to a cell with a “Hash” pattern of paths, like this later mockup of a level:
THE PRIME COLLECTIBLE, A.K.A THE KEY!!
It’s at this point that I have now introduced a new element into the gameplay; the ‘Prime collectible’. It’s an object that needs to be picked up before the player can complete the level. The eggs are optional; the player would get a reward for picking them all up, but she could progress to the next level even if she missed one. I’m aiming to introduce some serious replay ability into the game; this device is geared towards that.
The reason for introducing the prime collectible is that I realized the player would happily go straight to the end block/objective without picking up a single egg and achieve the time objective. I had to introduce an element that she would HAVE to run around the grid to collect; now I had to place it wisely in a position with some separation from the end block.
It has been one month now-one month of development. I have Shanghaiied a programmer, A, and he has now created the core of the game PumP.
I have tied him up to the window grille, allowing thirty minutes a day of exercise and a single bathroom break. I am not heartless.
The core of the game is the character controller. It is a very specific kind of movement, one that is completely limited to a world created solely from these.
The ‘Cell’ is the building block of the PumP game universe.
I’m creating the environment myself; the last time I used 3D software for production was three years ago so I had a bit of catching up to do. I’m pretty comfortable creating environment meshes now, and texturing them- as long as no professional 3D artist EVER sees my unwrapped UVs.
This is version 1; no doubt, I shall be making several iterations.
The prototype, as one may call it, was ready a while ago- The character simply ran and turned at the junctions.
Yes, that is Old faithful Unity Builder guy with spanner. He’s awesome.
I was a bit worried about how disorienting it would be to rapidly turn 90 degrees rapidly; would the player be completely lost, direction-wise? Whaaa, whatwherehow?? It turns out that it was not the case. Temple Run, for example, has 90 degree turns, but they aren’t that frequent. It is going to be a challenge to create a rich, varied game universe from these simple blocks-but I have some ideas about that.
I just have the green spaces (see the 3D model f the cell?) to place stuff. The game world is going to be very geometric and organized by virtue of its building blocks, and I will need to create some chaos and disorder within that world. I can see houses, trees, barrels, cows(??). Windmills. I heard at VFS that windmills in games bring luck.
I should have put a windmill in StarTrail.
So it begins again.
StarTrail released in Nov 2012; It is now May 2014. I haven’t been idle, though it may seem like it; even to me. Design wise, I mean. A while ago, I became fixated on a Rubik’s cube as a Muse for my next game. I wanted to create a game that allowed players to manipulate the game universe to create/clear a path; allow some degree of creativity or at least offer real choice of movement in the physical environment.
The platform would be mobile.
I planned, drew, sketched, thought. Walking Flor was when I had the opportunity to be out and about, and I chewed it over for months of walks and falling-asleep times. The game idea iterated, still in my mind, from 3D to 2D, and back to 3D.
The environment manipulation would have to be in two dimensions; I didn’t think that mobiles or their average users could handle the disorientation issues in three dimensions.
These childhood games came to mind.
One had to slide the interlocked tiles around to arrange numbers and solve the puzzle. Kinda like a 2D Rubik’s cube.
That lead to the conclusion that the game would have to be grid-based. Now I needed to decide what the size of the grid would be, and the orientation. This decision had far-reaching design consequences, so I had to think about it for a while. A mobile puzzle game is more convenient to play in portrait; you can play it using one hand and your thumb. Portrait it was, and the grid would be 6×8. A fair compromise between usability by fat fingers like mine, and space for good level design.
So the grid would be the top-town view of the game world, and a player character would have to navigate this game world. Now I set about designing the elements. There would be fixed blocks that the PC would be able to traverse on, and empty blocks that she would not (the protagonist would be female). The player would need to place ‘Place-able’ blocks in the empty spaces to make the grid traverse-able, so to speak.
A few of my initial sketches to try to flesh out the concept:
Now I needed to figure out the camera and controls; the game would have to be played in two different phases. It was a 2D puzzle that morphed into a 3D action game; there would be two game modes- the Puzzle mode and the action mode. The camera needed to be third person, because the field of view had to let the player survey the environment while running. Looking at the environment and taking decisions would be an important part of gameplay.
So the player would need to decide a path to follow during the puzzle mode, and then run that path in the action mode-but how would she/he remember when to turn right or left?? Potentially, during the later part of the game, the grid would have lots of fixed and place-able blocks. I initially planned to let the player place some indication of turning during the puzzle phase, and later dropped the idea as it would the make the puzzle phase too complex and clunky. In addition to logic and skill, the game would test the player’s memory as well.
This was another tricky choice. How big was the game world? How many steps would the PC need to take to traverse one block? I left this to be answered during prototyping. Here’s a mockup of the scale and the HUD