Delayed again 20

Hi again!

 

The project has to be delayed because school is still quite intense and also because of Cuphead. However, Yule break is coming soon, so hopefully the game can be released tomorrow.

 

About school. Since last time, I’ve had a course in level design. It was really interesting and I learnt a lot about things which seem so obvious but are important to plan carefully, such as level pacing. In the course, I wrote two analyzes on levels in Rocket Knight Adventure and Contra: Hard Corps. Maybe I’ll post them sometime if I have nothing more to show.

 

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The main part of the level design course was to make a level in the game Skylar and Plux: Adventure on Clover Island. It’s a 3D platformer in the vein of Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie etc. It’s about a mute cat and an obnoxious bird who are to save an island of Moomin trolls from an evil TV (or something like that). Since the protagonist is a cat, this might be something for you if you’ve got the furry thing going on. Prior to the course, I bought the game on Steam and later beat it. It’s actually very enjoyable, with nice graphics and sound, fun and varied gameplay with lots of cool gimmicks and I actually liked the narrative as well. It’s not the longest game around and it could definitely be polished a bit, but it’s well worth the few pennies it demands.

 

Now, onto the level then. We were supposed to make a DLC level for the game, with a set theme, a beginning and an end. The best level of the class would be awarded to be the DLC level. I got only the “approved” grade (you can also get the grades “not approved” and “very approved” – a lame three grade system typical of this socialist swamp I’m living in), so my level definitely won’t be selected to be DLC, but whatever.

 

The level was like the rest of the game made in Unreal Engine. Unfortunately, we had some technical problems due to a bug in it, which happened because the current Unreal Engine can’t handle a game which was made in an older version. But I still managed to make a level, and also made a level design document.

 

Like most times, I decided to underscope, because if I do the opposite I will just fail hard, something I’ve learned from experience. So my idea was to just take the combat of the game and put in a new light, in this case sneaking. The base game had mostly head-on combat situations, so I wanted to explore if they could be approached differently. I made two paths on the level, one where the player could sneak up on the enemies and attack them from positions which increase the chance of defeating them, and another one which is more head-on. The former is a bit longer and slower, while the latter is quicker and more risky.

Below, you can see the sneak path in one of the areas. It uses the set-piece, a protecting watch-spot I built myself with the assets available. It’s intent is to let the player take cover behind the glass while planning out a strategy to use against the many enemies. Excuse the lighting on the photos by the way, I had some technical troubles with it and didn’t build it before grabbing the screens.

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Here is the head-on path on one of the most intense parts. It is actually more interesting when you take the sneak path, because then the missile launcher you see on the left will shoot the four yellow gatling gunners just to the right of the furry. And thus, the player will have the work made for him/her by that enemy.

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Here are the pacing charts I made for the levels. As you can see, it’s a bit higher on the head-on path.

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And here is a map of the level. Made in M$ Paint of course. I’ll never stop using that program. NEVER!

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All in all, level design was a very fun course. Despite the shitty grade, I hope to specialize in this field next year and aim to work on something like it when I finish school.

 

About the project. Since the last blog post, I have made 3 monsters (all with one variation) and 1 tileset (also with a variation, linked to those three monsters, you’ll see). I’ve also taken two big new steps: I registered the trademark of the name of my upcoming company and the game. Lastly, I have spent many hours catching free to use (and some paid for) sound effects. They are samples, mainly for story events of the game, and quite plenty.

One more thing: I started reading the book Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell. It, and quite a few lectures I’ve had in school, has helped me re-design my project a bit to make it even better. Maybe I’ll mention it more in a future blog post. Anyway, I definitely recommend that book if you aim to be or already are a game designer! It gives a great understanding on what games are about.

 

Until next time, take care!

/Zebbe

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Delayed again 19

Hi!

 

Unfortunately, the game has to be delayed until tomorrow because I had a QA course in school which took a lot of time. Sorry about that!

 

About that QA course. It lasted two weeks and was held by Paradox Interactive, which is a Swedish video game publisher. The game we tested was the already released DLC Bastard’s Wound for the RPG called Tyranny by the American company Obsidian. Since the game was released quite recently, the developers might make a patch with fixes of the bugs the class found. But it is not certain.

 

 

The bug report worked like this. The first week we divided into teams and in the teams we selected different tasks to focus on while we play-tested the game. Then we reported bugs to a closed reporting site of Paradox. The issues were divided into types, such as “suggestions”, “bugs”, “balancing” etc. And then divided into severity, such as “blocker”, “critical”, “minor issue” etc. Then we wrote a headline, which shortly described the bug, and then a text which described it in more detail. If possible, a list of steps to reproduce it was then also written. Lastly, we added photos, video and/or a save file which showed the bug. The QA manager would then comment on most bugs reported.

 

The second week, the team wrote a full report, giving a hard fail, soft fail, soft pass or clear pass verdict to the game. Each different part of the game got a verdict, such as quests (scripting, text etc.), areas (graphics) and performance. Our verdict landed on clear pass, because although we found many bugs, most of them belonged to the base game and not the DLC we were supposed to test. We also had a separate document where we wrote our subjective feedback on the game. And here is mine.

 

First off, I need to throw in two saving clauses. I haven’t played many western RPGs of this type. Mostly a few Gauntlet games and Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun on my beloved Mega Drive. I greatly prefer Japanese RPGs. And we really had to jump quite straight into the DLC using old saves, skipping most of the tutorials held in the beginning of the base game. This may have not been the most optimal way to learn testing, but then again it should bring some understanding to how chaotic the game development business may be, and that you may not always work on what you want to do.

Here is what I wrote for the subjective feedback part, though most of it was cut in the end:

 

I was really impressed with the amount of content the writers have provided the game. It felt overwhelming at first and like a steep uphill slope (especially combined with all the gameplay mechanics you have to learn), but once I got into the game more it grew on me. There are so many subplots and NPCs with their own backstories, all combined into a world which actually feels living. I have to admit I don’t like to be the bad guy, but I would also like to give credit for this unique story set-up. I think I would have preferred if one of the factions (Disfavored or Scarlet Chorus) was more “good” and the other one more “evil”. I realize this isn’t what the game intends to do, but to me, as it is now, I don’t feel any real motivation to side with either faction. It felt quite messy to be able to select options all the time which gave or didn’t give benefit to those factions. They all lead to the same endings anyway. Had a distinction been if you killed people left and right (which gives you advantage in battle) versus diplomacy (which gives you advantage in dialogues), the choice between factions would have been more interesting. Then again, I guess that kind of system is probably done to death in this genre I’m not too familiar with already.

  The writing of the game is detailed and rich, perhaps it even goes overboard with this sometimes. I guess the dark setting didn’t leave much room for humour, but the writers still managed to include some without making it feel unfitting. I’m thinking of the harsh insults (often with sexual overtones) shared between the various characters, giving me some good laughs.

 

The graphics

The graphics are a mixed bag. Looking at things individually, most of them look quite good. But when you put everything together in a complete context, the overall impression is far worse. The reason is there seems to be a lack of art direction and consistency in style. Starting to look at the setting, the developers have stated the world of Tyranny is progressing from the bronze age to the iron age. But the architectural technology feels way too advanced to take place at such an age. Just look at Vendrien’s Well – a massive tower with such complex shapes couldn’t possibly exist at a time where mankind was limited to the extraction of iron ore. With that said, I would prefer if a greater variety of weapons and armours existed along such architectural technology, rather than simplifying the buildings of the world to fit an iron age setting.

  Another problem of consistency is the mix of 2D and 3D art. The backgrounds seem to be pre-rendered 3D art converted to 2D tiles (I might be wrong here, if so, bare with me). And the characters look like actual 3D models. They are mostly gritty and dark, which is just fine and how it should be since it fits the setting and story. An exception worthy of mention are the hair colours of the 3D models, which often have manga style colours such as pink – it goes without saying it doesn’t belong here. The 2D art, handpainted portraits and cutscenes, don’t fit with the gritty setting at all. The portraits look like they are directly lifted from another game, being so colourful, soft and detailed. They give a bad contrast to the too simple looking 3D models. And much worse are the cutscene graphics. They are simple looking, but not in the same way as the 3D models, instead they look like cardboard cutouts. The artstyle is again different to the 3D models and the portraits, and so are the colours, which are way too vivid. Overall, the cutscene style makes it feel like they belong in a Disney movie like Mulan, not in a dark, fantasy RPG for adults.

  I would have had CG rendered cutscenes using the same type of 3D models as used in game for cutscenes (I realize that is probably not a feasible option though, as it would have been way more expensive than simple 2D images with barely any animations). For portraits, the same 3D models could have been used as well, or hand-drawn portraits more similar in style to the in-game models.

  Some thoughts on each part of the graphics (judging them individually for quality, out of context):

  • Backgrounds: These are great for the most part. Lots of detail and variation. The high resolution gives a clean look. One thing I didn’t like was a bridge, which looks really out of place. Low on detail, too bright to be in this dark area. It looks like a 2D artist drew it and slapped it in at the last minute. 
  • Animations: They are good. I really like that many NPCs are doing something and don’t just stand still. Sometimes, text describes actions NPCs are doing, but they don’t happen with animation on the 3D model. I guess I can oversee that, though it breaks the rule “play, don’t tell”. In battle, everything feels fluid and moves nicely.
  • Effects: I like the effects. Well drawn, animated and fitting their descriptions. There was an area support spell which was very clear by having an outline which showed where it gave effect. I like when graphics guide the player like that and not just show off from an aesthetic standpoint.
  • UI and icons: I had some issues in locating characters on screen when the battles were paused in the middle of spell effects. I think stronger visibility and clearer animations of icons when you hover over characters could have solved this issue.
  • Characters (in-game): They look too generic. It often feels as if there is a base model, which all others are edits of. A tattoo, a beard and the haircut is all that differs for the head, the actual face often looks the same. In dialogues, you often see the characters in full body next to the dialogue box, doing body language gestures. I would much have preferred a close-up of the face with face expressions, as face expressions tell me much more than, say, a finger pointed at me.
  • Portraits: I really like these, as they are detailed, varied, plenty and well drawn. Nice shading and lighting, great use of colour. Too bad this style doesn’t fit with the rest of the game, but that’s another issue mentioned elsewhere.
  • Cutscenes: These didn’t appeal to me at all, looking very simple, low budget and, to be frank, ugly. The use of scaling, lighting and wave effects to “simulate” animation is a cheap trick seen far too often.

 

Sound

Music

I’m sorry, but I really didn’t like the music at all. Being some mishmash of classical and ambient styles in a slow tempo with a dark and depressive feel to it, I cannot deny it suits the game, but I still got a feeling it was outsourced and just slapped onto it. I was really bored with the slow tempo and lack of melodies. The amount of themes aren’t that many either, which makes it too repetitive. I would really have liked a few more battle themes, and something more uptempo to bring a more intensive feel to the battles.

 

Voice overs

The voice actors do a decent job, all things considered. It often felt like they were overacting, but that’s OK (much better than underacting). The voice actors most often speak in a very relaxed, story telling type manner, which may not fit the plot, but I can overlook this since it can help the game feel a bit more balanced in its feel, i.e. not completely dark. The one-liners in battle are quite cheesy, but that’s OK and probably unavoidable. One thing which really annoyed me was that the voice overs get interrupted by auto-pauses in battle. 

 

Effects

I didn’t think much about them, but I think they sound fitting and “realistic” (where they can be).

 

Gameplay

This one is hard to judge because of two main reasons. First, I haven’t played more than a handful western RPGs, so knowing what to expect and not in this genre isn’t my thing. Second, since we were supposed to focus on the Bastard’s Wound DLC, we had to skip most of the base game tutorials and move ahead ASAP. This meant it took a bit of time to learn the game mechanics by experiencing them yourself and not by the game showing them to you in a set order. With these saving clauses in mind, I’ll share my thoughts on the most critical part of the game.

 

What struck me at first was the complexity of the gameplay system. There are so many features, so many things you can customize and choices you can make throughout the game. Again, it’s overwhelming. It often felt like it was overdone, as if the complexity was there for just for the sake of it. For example, I picked up countless weapons and armours during my testrun of the game. I checked the inventory and carefully compared each item with what I had equipped. But no item gave any significant benefit for being equipped instead of those I already had.

  One feature was illogical and that is reputations giving you skills in battle. For example, why would you learn how to frighten your enemies when Critically Hitting them just because you did some favors for the Unbroken? Is someone in the Unbroken teaching you this skill? I salute the effort of tying in the gameplay with the story, but things just don’t work this way. A similar issue, was a character gaining a point in Dodge after a quest dialogue was finished. It would be more logical if that happened after a battle, and that you gain Subterfuge after dialogue instead.

 

Despite the huge learning curve and these issues, I find the game impressively complete and enjoyable to play once you get the hang of it. One commendable thing is how informative the game is, and never tries to make it hard for the player to find information. A few examples are the right clickable names in dialogues and moves in battle.

  The game has great replayability thanks to the many customization options and branching plot paths (as well as the many dialogue options) available.

  After trying a few auto-pause options, I finally figured out what fit my playstyle best and started to enjoy the battles. I just wished there were more quick battles instead of just a few long ones. But I guess that would be more to the style of Japanese RPGs I play a lot.

 

The DLC succeeds in what it sets out to do. It gives the overall experience of the base game more meat on the bones, explaining what happens to people when they become refugees, bringing more back story to PCs and manages to integrate itself into the main game without feeling like an afterthought.

 

I had a lot of negative feedback to give in all areas, but a lot of it probably comes from this game not being my type of genre. Still, I really think the game is impressive for how much content and many options it gives the player. Tyranny: Bastard’s Wound has a lot of quality in all areas as well, so my subjective verdict is that it’s a good game worthy of a purchase for fans of the genre, but not newcomers to it.

 

There you have it! It was a fun course. Having had some QA done on Pier Solar prior to this, using a similar reporting system, I got into it quite fast (though not the game itself, as stated before). Perhaps I’ll end up as a QA tester when my education is done, but hopefully not, as I hope to do something more creative. Such as level design. The level design course begins on Monday!

 

About the project. Since the last update, I have made 2/3 of a boss sprite, started on a tileset, 1 enemy, 3 other sprites, updates to old sprites and tilesets which needed them and started work on the last enemies of the game. I should be done tomorrow!

 

Until then, take care!

 

/Zebbe

Delayed again 18

Hi!

Another month has passed, and the game still isn’t out. It’s because I worked on the first game project in school, and we actually finished it in two weeks! Wow! The mission was to make a multiplayer sports game which combined two sports. Me, three other designers and five graphic artists decided to mix golf with dodgeball.

I worked mostly on the UI and did some other things, like the random spawning of the powerup.

Here is the trailer:

 

The seven other teams of my and the 3D class made games based on sumo wrestling combined with archery, racing combined with spear throwing and many other crazy concepts.

 

About my project. It has to be delayed until tomorrow, because I haven’t eaten any dinner yet and it’s over 10 PM. But since the last update, I have made 7 sprites, 2 tileset variations (just a few tiles removed and some new added), 1 portrait and a pixel art version of the logo for my upcoming company. Right now, I’m working on another sprite, actually the final boss!

 

Until next time!

 

Take care!

 

/Zebbe

Delayed again 16

Hi!

Due to me marathon watching the first six seasons of Game of Thrones (and those episodes which have been released of the seventh), the game has to be delayed until tomorrow. Sorry about that! By the way, Game of Thrones is awesome, you should watch it if you don’t.

But on the plus side, I have completed three enemies and the graphics pack I was talking about. Graphic packs are a PITA to work on sometimes, but when I’m done with one of them, it feels like this:

 

Since it’s been so long since the last blog, I’ll be extra generous today and post not one, but TWO tiles from the last graphics pack (tileset). Enjoy!

 

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Yes, it’s a wooden stick. You can find plenty of those in forests, such as those in the game. It’s made of two 16×16 pixel tiles.

 

In a few weeks, school starts. Wish me luck. But first, the game release tomorrow! Stay tuned!

 

Winter is coming!

 

Take care,

/Zebbe

Delayed again 15

Hi!

 

Due to me slacking off at vacation, the game has to be delayed until tomorrow. Sorry about that! At least the vacation ends in two days, so I have even less time to work on the game.

 

Wait – scratch that! I haven’t been slacking off. In fact, I’ve worked on the title screen for several weeks. And it is finally finished. It will be something special. Maybe not as technically impressive as the title screen of Vectorman, or as timely animated as Chuck Rock, but it will really present the game in the most uniting way possible. I’ll show you when the game is done.

Other than that, I have also worked a bit on weapon animations while riding the bus or subway train.

 

Now I need to continue doing tilesets. There aren’t very many left, just a few more than half actually, and some are variations with mostly the same tiles as others. I start all tilesets by planning what I need to have in them. Then I make the palettes. And after that I start drawing, usually editing the palettes and adding stuff needed in the tileset, as work goes on. Here are the palettes of the tileset I am about to start drawing:

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Each row is for one of the two background layers. As you can see, the most left colour is the same pink on both rows. This is the colour for transparency, which is necessary if you want to draw tiles which aren’t 16×16 pixels of full colour. Another thing to note is that there are no greyscale or blue tones in these palettes. But that’s OK, as those colours can be found in the main sprite palette, and the Mega Drive is so great it can use any palette for either sprites or background tiles.

 

On another note, I have slowly started to plan another project. Crazy, I know, as I already have this project and am about to start school. But I couldn’t help it, as the ideas ran into my head, so I needed to type them down. For this project, I want to create a dungeon crawler set in a high fantasy world, with epic story telling and its mythology based on the Nordic one. My love for Shining in the Darkness has spurred me into this, but I assure you this project will have enough differences to stand on its own. Perhaps I’ll tell more about this in a future post. I probably will, come to think of it, after tomorrow’s release.

 

See you and take care!

/Zebbe

Delayed again 14

Hi!

 

It all began with a gigantic explosion. Fast forward a few billion years and the project is delayed yet again. The main reason this time is I had to celebrate my birthday. So the release date is pushed back to tomorrow. Sorry about that.

 

But at least a lot of things have happened since the last blog post. First and foremost, I got accepted to the Future Games video game design program. Woot! I will begin in September. Until then, I will practice using the Unreal Engine.

 

On the project, I have completed a few sprites, began working on the title screen and also made a logo for the company I’m going to start-up for the sake of the project. The name will be revealed later. I don’t know what else to add. To make up for it, I’ll show you an item icon. I haven’t shown one before, so this should be nice. I just hope it doesn’t spoil too much. It’s a pack of Fries, a healing item of the game, much like in ToeJam & Earl. Behold!

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I’d like to welcome two new followers of my blog. The first one is BlookUp, which seems to have a service to make your blog or Facebook posts into a book. The second one is Sega Dude, which has a video game collection blog. I have been lurking the latter for quite some time, but now I am also a follower. He has written quite a bit about Pier Solar and other WaterMelon stuff, which is much appreciated! I suggest you check it out: the blog is stylish, well-written and has tons of content for you to enjoy.

 

Since I had not one but TWO new followers, I decided to be extra nice today and show another item icon. Wow!

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It’s a beer, a drink you can drink in the game. I personally hate beer, but the characters in the game love it.
That’s all for now!
Take care,

 

/Zebbe

Delayed again 13

Hi!

 

Due to heavy work, which puts my energy on minimum level, there is not much left for working on the project when I come home from my job. So the game cannot be released this week, I’ll have to delay it until Monday. Sorry about that! But at least I’ve finished a few sprites since the last post.

To make up for it, I decided to dedicate this post to a part of my video game collection – my complete European 32X set.

 

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A few of the games cost smaller fortunes – Darxide, Primal Rage and T-Mek all cost over a thousand Murican dorrals each. They are ultr@ r@re and fewer than 50 copies of each are known in the world, I think. Lately, scammers have started to make “repros” of Darxide, so if you are out to get the game, beware! I’m pretty sure my copies are legit though, as I got them way before repros were made of them,

 

A few other games are also quite expensive – Kolibri, Stellar Assault and Knuckles’ Chaotix all go for over 100 US dollars, probably over 200 these days. The rest of the games are a bit cheaper and also easier to get.

 

When it comes to playing the games, the 32X is a mixed bag. Sega’s arcade classics Virtua Racing Deluxe, After Burner and Virtua Fighter are great, but my fave is definitely the fantasy railshooter Space Harrier. It’s my favourite 32X game – simple gameplay, amazing synthrock soundtrack and the scenery will make you feel like you are in another world.

Kolibri, the best hummingbird based shooter on the ‘Shroom, is a blast to play with a friend, and it looks fantastic too.

You can’t go wrong with Stellar Assault either, another 2 player shmup, but in 3D.

Metal Head hasn’t aged too well, but is fun to play and one of the more technically advanced 32X games. It’s a mech FPS.

Darxide is a fantastic but brutally difficult spaceship shooter with texture mapped polygons and beautiful music. One day I will beat it!

Mortal Kombat II is quite a good port but could have been a lot better. Same for Doom.

Cosmic Carnage is too laggy, but has great music.

FIFA 96 is awful, and so is Knuckles’ Chaotix as well, believe it or not. Messy and unstructured level design and weird, wonky controls cannot make up for the colourful graphics, catchy music or fun bonus stages.

The rest of the games I haven’t played much actually, maybe I will some day.

 

There are a few 32X games only released in USA – Tempo and Pitfall for example. I may get them and maybe also the only Japanese exclusive: Sangokushi IV. We’ll see.

 

Have a nice Midsummer!

 

Take care,

 

/Zebbe

Delayed again 12

Hello there!

 

After a long and serious talk with my good friend and colleague Tulio, he taught me the virtue of setting realistic deadlines and completing projects within them. So this time, instead of delaying the game until tomorrow, I’ll have to postpone it to next week. Sorry! To make up for it, I’ll just mention I’ve completed a few more sprites for the project and will talk here about my relation to Tulio.

 

Tulio is great. He was the creator and founder of WaterMelon, the company we worked on when developing Pier Solar. Like most people who worked on the game, he is a multi-talented genius. His fields are music and programming, but he also does other things like story writing, organizing etc. My tasks rarely crisscrossed his, but we did some scripting together for NPCs, and when it came to testing my reports were sent to him.

 

A few years after the Mega Drive version was completed, I visited Tulio in Muscatine, Iowa.  I also met Phyu, Tulio’s wife and story writer of Pier Solar, and Fonzie too. We worked on the HD version of Pier Solar then, and some other stuff. Here are a couple of photos taken at the WaterMelon office:

 

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Even later, Tulio left WaterMelon to start a new video game company, 2Dream.

 

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2Dream has a few interesting projects going on, and I’m involved in at least one of them. But that’s a matter for another blog post.

 

Take care,

 

/Zebbe

Delayed again 11

Hi!

 

The summer is coming, but the game is not. It has to be delayed until tomorrow. Sorry about that. Since the last post, I’ve finished a few more sprites and refined the game document a bit.

 

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To make up for it, I’d like to talk a bit about Sega-16. It is a great site dedicated to the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, and more recently also the Master System and the Game Gear. The site has hundreds of reviews and features about the console(s). They are mostly highly informative, especially the many interviews with developers from back in the day.

But perhaps the best part of the site is the forum, where I’ve been a regular for over 10 years. The members have a lot of knowledge which they gladly share in the discussions. There are some heated debates every now and then as well, and I find it quite amusing to read some insults. Nobody is perfect anyway – some people are dumb, some people insult dumb people and then there is me who laughs at jnsults.

Actually, it was thanks to Sega-16 I became a video game developer. Because I was a writer on the site for a few years. Some of these texts probably need to be revised or removed entirely as my writing skills were quite limited back then, but that’s a matter for another day.

Sometime in the last decade, a guy called Fonzie Voltnov showed up on the forum and talked about his then upcoming Mega Cart, a cartridge which makes the Mega-CD region free. I thought it was a Nigeria letter, but later Fonzie proved to be more than a Nigerian prince.  I bought the Mega Cart and still use it to this day whenever I need to play an import game on my Mega-CD. Fonzie came back to the forum disappointed with having no reviews of the thing seen. That made me write one, and I also made an interview with him. In this interview, Fonzie mentioned Tavern RPG, the project which would later become Pier Solar and the Great Architects. A member of the forum, 108 Stars (also known as Daniel), saw this and contacted Fonzie. He became a graphics artist of the team. The team struggled with the project, and needed more members. As he knew me, he suggested I should interview the team like I had interviewed Fonzie. So I did. And not much later, the team still needed more members (they always needed), so Daniel approached me and asked me to join the team too.
So I did that too, and I stayed with it until the game was released. I’ve since also worked on several other projects for WaterMelon, as the team later got named into. Maybe I’ll talk about them in another post, another day.

I haven’t written anything for Sega-16 since last year, maybe I should do that too. But that would delay the game project even more!

 

Take care,

 

/Zebbe