26 January 2010

Brought to you in Technicolor

Look! It's your room.

This is an almost direct trace of the pen sketches I did previously. The table and computer setup has been replaced with a desk of drawers and some stationary/crumpled paper and I jigged the chair at an angle. Now, there's no perspective whatsoever so judging what's in the foreground and background is a little tricky. I'm going to have to add some subtle clues in-game.

For starters, everything is on it's own layer so it can move back and forth at different speeds, simulating depth (ooh, it's positively philosophic). I'm also gonna fuzz out the foreground and background ever so slightly to give it the whole out of focus look. Because it's popular and all them young 'uns like that sort of fing. And this is all about popularity. In fact I've replaced my main character with a space marine. But really the focus thing does work and I promise not to make it all overblown. I'll possibly darken some of the out of focus stuff in the background. I have mentioned this a bit before but it pays (in theory although I'm getting nothing here) to say it again as a reminder. I haven't worked out where to put the window although probably to the right of the desk. I was thinking of indicating a window on the wall that the camera is looking through but I think that'd be a bit messy.

To explain all the words thrown slapdash across the art, this is the main menu. The game will fade slowly into this as though Mr Whatsit is waking up in bed. That's why the game title (In the Sideline in case it's too much of a stretch to scroll to the top of the page) is at an angle. The game will start at that angle before handing camera control over to the player (see the rotating camera control).

Waking up might look like this

I'm not quite sure if I'll have darkened edges but I'd like to - it just might be a slight performance issue, but I'm sure I can power Flash on through it. The other words are all directions as to what to do. Go turn off the light switch and you quite the game. Have a look at the mounted picture to load up a game. Open the door to start the first chapter (or wherever your current progress is).

I was also thinking of having the room slowly degrade over time during the course of the adventure. Although the character won't actually be coming back to the room, the main menu will persist. It might have the painting taken down (with a brighter patch of wallpaper left behind and you first have to pick up and re-hang the pic), or the wallpaper can peel or the door lock be smashed in and the door swinging open slightly. All of this is to point out the emotional and physical state of the character. It'd start with the bed nicely made for example. I don't know, it might not work or be too much work for me to actually do but it could also be fun. Hey, it worked for Valve.

18 January 2010

Art direction

*** It looks like the file server I was storing all my Flash stuff on (all those online demos) inconveniently crashed. It looks like it's back up but let me know if you have issues viewing the demos in previous and future posts.

I am trying to pin down the art style (visual representation of objects that have lost a dimension). You know. 2D art. I can go that pseudo-3D route and have 3D objects while the gameplay only exists on a 2D surface (i.e. you can't go into the screen). Well, I say I can, but I really don't think I'd be that great at it, at least not for this project. And while I want to have some concept of depth (moving in and out of a scene), I'd like it to remain 2D because I need to be able to keep my time on this down so I can finish the game within a reasonable timeframe.

It's hard to tell what the art style of many 3D games is now-a-days. Mostly they seem to focus on gritty realism. It takes a game to really go over the top in visual direction for the player to notice the difference (like Mirror's Edge). 2D games really shine in art direction - it's certainly faster and easier to do 2D than 3D and this is surely part of the reason, but still, it's surprising how many of the latest games just try stick to the look of "realism". I find that immensely boring.

I've gone off track a bit here, so if the above is boring to you, feel free to skip down to this sentence and go on from here (of course you probably won't notice this sentence until you have already read the above, which probably has a moral in there somewhere. Either way, eat your veggies or your thumbs will fall off).

I'm using a side-on viewing angle and dropping all perspective from objects. This is actually a kind of tricky thing: how do you know which objects are in the foreground if there is no perspective? A quick I-haven't-tested-it idea is fading or dimming of objects so that only the interactive or foreground objects will be highlighted. I'll probably do a bit of that. Non-perspective is normally not too bad but I'm going for semi-realism at the same time which is why it's not so straight forward.

I'm all out of graphics tablet so I've resorted to black pen and paper. Which means I'm also out of an eraser so some of the bits are messy. This is a rough idea for the protagonist's* room.

While perspective is out, angling an object is not. So in the above I could have the computer and table offset so that it's sort of facing the camera like this:

It actually turned out better than I expected. This could really work.

So why aren't I doing some sort of isometric style thing here? Pretty much because I'd have to then rewrite my shadow engine. It deals really well with flat 2D but isometric stuff would require a semi-3D take in shadow calculation. That's really not an option when working in Flash. Besides, embracing limitations is fun.

* I really need a name for this guy. I promise by next post I'll have one. If you have suggestions feel free to chuck 'em in the comments or something. As "cool" as they are, names like Slade Dynamite, Snake Melodramatic, Raven Mistmare, etc. are not quite what I had in mind.

08 January 2010

Dropping in some scenery

"In a world without..." as the line in movie trailers goes. At the start of a game, such as mine, the phrase is completed with "a world". I'm missing stages, levels, whatever you want to call them, it's precisely those things that I do not have.

Levels need to be meticulously designed according to the mechanics of the game. If Mario can jump 2 blocks high, putting all the platforms he needs to get above at 4 blocks above him is really going to lead to a very boring and short game.

White plumbers can't jump, no matter how many times they try.*

I have a pretty good idea as to how the mechanics will work mostly. It's not time to build the actual levels yet, that would be jumping ahead waaaay too far. But a test level or two is a good plan. It allows me to test the mechanics of things a bit as I go along so that I can tweak them along with animations and timing in a way that makes sense, not just by guessing.

So a lot needs to happen here: I need to work out the basic structure of a level, then I have to translate that into an actual file, draw a few things to fit into it (thankfully this can be quite basic) and drop it into my game engine. It doesn't sound too bad but I'm leaving out a bunch of steps, one of which is building a level editor. It's pretty similar to somebody saying, "Oh whoops, I need to draw something, let me just make Photoshop"**. Ok, so it won't be that complex but it won't be something I whip out in a day either. I've done some basic conceptual design so far and I'm trying to keep it as user friendly as possible. I'll show you some of my thoughts on it later.

* My graphics tablet has packed up. No heartbeat. Drawing with my mouse is really tedious.

** I did a really simple picture editor/creator yonks ago in QBasic when I needed to create sprites for some game. Mostly due to QBasic's attrocious memory limits (using bitmaps was a chunky thing to do, and also something I didn't know how to code either).