Of Homunculi and Dollarz

Hello again! With Stargazing out there it’s time for… other things! I will start posting about my next major project shortly but in the meantime we had another Ludum Dare to take care of! The theme this time was “You only get one”.

This is the most I’ve ever struggled with a Ludum Dare theme. It sounded okay at first but as I thought into it more and more, I just couldn’t get to an idea that I felt motivated about. I absolutely nearly just gave up on Saturday before I finally came up with something I thought I could work with.

A Day at the Homunculus Races

A Day at the Homunculus Races

The “you only get one” hook in my game is in the sense you are granted one dollar to bet with at the races. From there you can try to amass as much as you are able through shrewd betting. It would have been too simple to make this about any racing that could occur in reality so instead I am transporting the player to some dubious future where a series of homunculi fresh from the labs are being tested in races. If nothing else, I hope the game can raise a chuckle or two as these awkward humanoids sprint across the screen 🙂

Due to my struggles with the theme I didn’t get to any audio but I wouldn’t say it’s essential here – this one is more of an idle browser clicking game.

Play “A Day at the Homunculus Races” here

My compo page at Ludum Dare

The End of October

Happy Halloween! However today is not just Halloween to me, but also the last day in October and thus the end of the Ludum Dare October Challenge! My original ambitions would have had me at least submitting a game to my chosen marketplaces by now, but I have to acknowledge that this was just not quite possible. Instead, my personal October Challenge will extend into November where I hope to get this thing finished in the next week or so. I will submit once I have a little game I can feel is what I wanted it to be, and as yet that is just not quite the case.

Stargazing

Stargazing’s “factual” mode

That being said, the game’s features and content are complete and all that remains is a bit of spit and polish, to make it feel worth that dollar or two I would ask for it. Most recently I have added a sort of “fact” mode that unlocks upon completing the story: here all previous stages become freely accessible and instead of triggering narrative dialogue when a constellation is picked out, instead you will be presented with a couple of little facts about that constellation. This way the game can continue to have value after the story is experienced as a fairly educational little amateur astronomy toy.

The to do list remains reasonably well populated but I am working through it gradually. A lot of what remains is art and UI work. But after nearly two months on this (in total) it’s good to realise the end is very much in sight.

The Final Push

I didn’t write a blog post last week in favour of busying away on Stargazing: now having returned from a long weekend break back to Kendal (my home town) I can take stock of where I’m at. If I’m not very much mistaken, Thursday of next week will be the last day of October, and thus the last day of my October challenge to sell Stargazing. Well… it’s not like this was going to be easy.

Fishing for constellations. Not the final star art.

Fishing for constellations (not final star art)

Coming primarily from the programming side of games, it perhaps isn’t too surprising that what seems to be taking most of my time is everything but that. It’s easy to underestimate the time required to think through the layout of a game, and in this case the narrative. I still very much want to have a submission ready next week, but at the same time I won’t be attempting to throw a broken, unfinished mess onto the App Store.

Lately I’ve worked on the visuals a bit and I do have something of a UI coming through. The “hub” screen where you will select the level to enter needs more art yet. I’m honestly only about halfway through the level data so that remains a big task for this week. And I need to make sure all my textures are square to unbreak the iPhone build’s appearance… I’ve also had a pass at the audio and there is a piece of music in there now.

This week I really need to finish the content so that I might be able to carve out a little testing/fixing time. With thoughts of the next project racing around my head, I just want to get this one out there and see what people think!

The Use of Narrative in Stargazing

There are two sides to what Stargazing is for me: on one hand it is something of an educational toy presenting a genuine layout of stars and constellations to play at identifying; but it has always also carried with it a story. This is something I want to preserve and build on in this extended version.

Stargazing

The first “stage” in Stargazing, introducing the concept and story

The Flash game presented a scene portraying a couple discussing the constellations playfully and I’ve decided to run with this idea but expand it out along a span of time. Now, the player will receive insights into the lives of the two main characters as they live out their lives under the stars. Some stages of the game will present optional outcomes depending on which constellations you may choose at a given moment.

This would be somewhat unfair without giving the player a way of knowing what constellations might be available in this particular part of the sky so I am hoping, if I can fit it in, to include some sort of celestial atlas screen for reference, roughly depicting constellations as they were classically envisaged.

There are only three weeks of work left to complete this challenge and there is undoubtedly a lot still to do here. This week’s focus will be on more content – I have the “stages” planned out there just needs to be a bit of tedious work translating these into the game. I’m absolutely itching to give the game a visual makeover too and hopefully I can get into that quite soon.

A final note of thanks to all the people who’ve played Night Fishing in the last week! My second game to get picked up by FreeIndieGam.es, and consequently the German site Superlevel wrote a little piece on it too. So that was nice!

October Challenge

Good day! Last week I briefly stated what I was up to in terms of working towards the release of a game to market, and now I can be a bit more clear with my plans. After all, tomorrow marks the beginning of October, and so Ludum Dare’s October Challenge!

The October Challenge started a few years ago as a motivation for the Ludum Dare community to take a little game that step further (such as the thousands produced every 4 months in the compo/jam) and sell one copy. That’s it. But getting to that point for the first time gets you through a lot of faffing around that would eventually be required anyway. So it has always been my plan to use this month, and the challenge, to spur me towards a first release. Anyway I should really say something about the game itself, so I hereby welcome back my entry to the 37th mini-Ludum Dare jam of about a year ago: Stargazing!

Stargazing - new and old

Stargazing 2012 in Flash (above) and Stargazing 2013 in Unity

This was one of my little Flash game ideas that actually felt like I’d hit something interesting and different. It’s a very simple concept at heart but that’s ideal for my first project. And I see it as a great fit to touch-screen devices, which will be my market of choice. I intend to attempt submitting to both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play store by the end of the month (*gulp*), with the actual release following thereafter.

I’ve moved the old Flash game into Unity, which wasn’t actually that painful a process at all. Everything from the Flash version is in place here (except audio for now). I think a big challenge now is making the game a worthwhile enough experience for someone to throw a bit of loose change at. For certain there needs to be more content (the Flash version can be finished in no time at all). I will be adding more areas of sky, and in fact there is already a second “stage” implemented with a bunch more constellations. I’m happy to say I have moved to data-driven definitions of stars and constellations as opposed to the many hard-coded lines in the original Flash game…

I’ll update my progress here as well as at the Ludum Dare site. Here’s hoping this time next month I have a mobile game in submission!

10 Seconds

I should start with a word on the lack of a “July” post for One Game A Month… So yes, I have failed in my mission to release a new game each and every month. With moving home (AGAIN) and other upcoming life stuff (TBA) to deal with I had to sacrifice July. Bit of a shame. However! Here in August we had the latest Ludum Dare last weekend, so I have a game for the month!

Back to Flash and Flixel, I took on the task of making a game on the theme “10 seconds”. I couldn’t believe how popular this theme was, dominating the vote. I didn’t hate it, but it feels like one of the more mechanical themes. I tend to prefer taking inspiration from something… well, that is actually a theme. But anyway, I’ll work with what I get.

Barrage Trigger

Barrage Trigger

I settled on something of an endless runner in the sort of spirit of Canabalt. The 10 seconds come in as an interval between which a series of missile attacks are launched at you. I spent quite a bit of time getting visuals I was happy with here: particularly with the colour palette and the character animation. Visual quality is something I often let slide with such limited time so it felt good to arrive at something I was quite happy with here. It has been suggested the game is a bit slow to get going for a runner, which is probably fair. I was trying something a bit more tactical and cautious. Overall I felt pretty happy with my weekend’s work.

Play “Barrage Trigger” here

(The competition entry page with a little more info and the option for follow entrants to vote – for the time being – is over here!)

Minimalism

…Was the theme for the 26th and latest Ludum Dare, which came and went last weekend and which once again I participated in. Minimalism is certainly a very useful theme for a game jam in that it encourages you to drop the baggage of detailed artwork or superfluous features, but I could see it being dangerous in enabling excuses too…

PyramidI’ve threatened to make a roguelike a couple of times before. In fact one previous effort got quite far before I abandoned it. So what better time to finally get one out of my system than a game jam about minimalism? Roguelikes have always gone for a minimalist graphical approach anyway, right?

PyramidMy fourth game of the year, then, is Pyramid: a minimalistic roguelike. Things went quite well on balance: I actually went with my first idea, which is often a bad move but it allowed me to get good and focused early on. The pyramid motif comes from the level progression: level 1 is merely 2×2 squares, and indeed looks very minimalistic! Each subsequent level expands the size of the layout by 1 in both directions. Gradually a vision fog comes into play more and wandering spirits (the coloured blocks) appear and will attack you without a second thought.

I’m quite pleased with the clean visual style. It certainly helped having the simple graphics (although getting that highlight on the top and right edges of the squares took far more investigating than it ever should have… there’s always something).

So now we’re into May already! Four games in four months achieved, but my day job is going into overdrive this month leaving me with concerns over what I can do. I have this fishing thing in the works, hopefully I can find enough time to make it a game. We shall see.

Play “Pyramid” here

And I almost forgot – I’ll stick a timelapse of development up soon but I just haven’t got around to compiling it yet. Busy busy…

Harold won the mood category!

ld25mood

I’m a few days late mentioning this here but look at that!! My previous best category rating, I believe, was about 49th in humour for Jack. So imagine my shock upon seeing this result on Tuesday! It was enough to get Harold is an Executioner a spot on Indie Statik’s round-up too! As a long time would-be contender (see: this entire blog) I am absolutely delighted to break into the top end of the voting. The game also placed 8th for my use of the theme “You are the villain” (and optionally, goats).

The weird thing is I don’t even feel like this is the best thing I’ve done, but I suppose as an experience it is more focused in its intent and delivery. It actually gets a message across to people (even if it is pretty straight-forward). I have upset people greatly with my miserable interactive tale, and have reaped my reward.

It feels like the perfect start to 2013: a year that I am promising myself will be a very important year for me and my work. So without pause for breath the next thing to note is my participation in the surprisingly popular One Game A Month movement, which I fully intend to keep up with. I’m off to India for a little jolly shortly, so my January game will be simple and finished right at the end of the month. In which case, I better go get some work done!

Role Reversal

Not long ago I was quite determined I would not be able to make a game this past weekend but somehow I worked around two pub visits and a meal outing to finish up something I’ve descriptively called Harold is an Executioner.

The theme this time around was “You Are the Villain”, which pretty much sealed the deal on me entering. I am sometimes guilty of whinging about uninspired Ludum Dare themes but this is a great one! So I crafted this game telling the tale of an unlikely executioner doing his job to put food on the table as the horror of what he does every day washes over him.

It’s got to be the darkest thing I’ve ever produced and was almost at times a little uncomfortable to put together. But none of this is supposed to be gratuitous and I’m hopeful that shows. Sometimes life sucks. Harold’s life sucks. This game is not “fun”. Here’s hoping the “mood” category helps me in the voting!

Play Harold is an Executioner here

And as per tradition, a time-lapse appears!

And if I’ve not spoiled your mood too much, do have a good Christmas and New Year! I will return soon, possibly with something relating to this phrase: “One Game A Month”…