Last week I wrote about 'sketching' details of the game world with primitive shapes. Here's the same planet about one week later, and you can see some details are starting to get filled in.
For now the point isn't that it's beautiful, but that it's playable. The planet is much bigger than I first planned, but I realized the larger scale would add to the feeling of exploration. This is something I could only see by having a playable prototype - no amount of sketching on paper would have given me that piece of insight.
Speaking of working within the game, I had written some sample dialog snippets in a google doc, but they just kind of died on the page. I cut out half the words and still nothing quite worked for me. What I believe now is that I should be composing the dialog in the game itself (we have a custom dialog editor in Unity now, although it's a few features away from being fully usable).
By seeing the characters speak the lines, I'll be able to take into account the context of their surroundings - where they're standing, what objects are around them, and what's already happened in the story. I think that'll give the dialog lines the life and spontaneity they need. Writing those lines will be the next step once the world is fully sketched in.
If you're interested in keeping up with what we're doing, please consider following me on Twitter if you don't already. Whenever anything important happens with the game, I guarantee that'll be the first place I'll post it.
The original title of this post was "modular level construction," but that's not nearly as fun. :)
I'm currently adding all the necessary story beats to the game. This means having all the story locations in the game, even if they're just roughed in. The next round of playtesters should be able to play through the story, and we can see if any changes are necessary.
The game has several large 'story planets' that play like traditional platformers, albeit on a radial world. The character movement - running, jumping, riding moving platforms, etc. - was done a few months ago. All the main characters are in, and the beginnings of a working dialog system.
But how does one build structures on a radial planet? Would the people there compensate for the strange curvature of the world? Or would they build straight up and down and hope for the best? Trying to imagine how such a planet might look, I did a quick digital painting and built a level on it. The platforms are those dark red rectangles.
The big problem with this is that it's inflexible. I could move the individual trees around, but moving the platforms too much from the art made the whole thing look terrible. And the house was stuck where it was.
I tried simplifying the items I put in the game. In this image, things like the garden and the tea table are represented symbolically. And while it was easier to move the pieces around, it didn't convey the scale I was hoping for. If I couldn't figure out how to make a rough draft, how could I jump straight to the final version?
Then, while working on an unrelated system, I had a brainwave. Most systems I prototype start as cubes and cylinders - primitive geometry that's easy to manipulate in Unity and other 3D programs. Why not prototype the locations using cubes as well?
I made this house today. It's not perfect, but it does start to communicate the feeling I want the player to have as they approach and explore the house. And the nice thing is, the floors already work like floors because the platform system was already in place.
One more quick note, for people who care about aesthetics like I do. As I created the cubes, I assigned each one a colorful material. I have a small number of these that I use like paint pots - it's quick and it keeps the color palette consistent.
Building the rest of the locations should go pretty quickly now. Woo!
Happy New Orbit!
This will be the year that I release Gravity Ghost. Not announcing a release date yet, but 2013 for sure. I think there's a turning point in every game project where it goes from being a bunch of pieces to being a cohesive whole, and the next two months in particular will be crucial to that. Let's see if I can give you an overview.
At the moment, we have a bunch of rad physics levels arranged in a linear progression. Aside from some ongoing minor tuning of the player character (Iona), I’m satisfied with how that part of the game works.
Now that the core gameplay is there, we’re working to integrate some of the auxiliary game systems. At the end of February we start playtesting these new systems in earnest, so they've all got to be done.
I introduced the terraforming system in this post (watch the videos, they’re neat).
This is the next progression: rather than spawning static sprites of trees, the plants actually grow and develop in real-time. Here's how they look now:
(best viewed in 1080p HD)
Plants on planets. Turns every dev meeting into an exciting tongue-twister.
The plant editor scene. Did you spot the carrots in the last video?
Our work for the next production phase is allowing the girl character to carry and plant these seeds, and to have that feel intuitive and rewarding.
The terraforming system also includes a host of delightful animals, but that's a post for another day. :)
With this game I set myself a challenge: not to implement any story stuff before the core gameplay was done. My previous games Spooks, Nanobots, and Puzzle Bots all followed the adventure game trope of using the puzzles to advance the story (and vice versa). And I'm still a fan of games in which the narrative and gameplay are inseparable. But this game called for something else.
GG is about motion and flow. I decided there was no way I was going to interrupt what the player was doing to have some character start yapping about backstory.
Instead, the progression of the story is entirely in the player's hands. There is exactly one location where all the story takes place, and where all the important characters live. This place evolves as you make progress - giving you a reason to return, but not an obligation. The exception is the fox, who you can talk to at any time (but again, the player drives this, not the game).
Now, finally, I can start adding my beloved story elements, which up until now had been quarantined in sketchbooks. Draft 1 of all of the dialog will be in the game two months from now. Here are some screenshots of my ongoing dialog system prototype:
Originally we had this scheduled for later in the process, but I realized the map needs just as much refinement as everything else. A map may seem 'non-essential' or 'low-priority' when there's gameplay stuff to be done, but our past playtests have indicated otherwise. Over and over I watched people enjoy the game for 20-30 minutes, and then say something like, "Cool, where is this going?"
I think maps in games are comforting. Especially in a game with a unique mechanic, it's good to give people a sense of the ground they're standing on, and what their progress is building towards. It also lets the player skip around, to go back and clear an earlier level if they get stuck, or to try to unlock new levels.
Our current map prototype, featuring draggable nodes and locked/unlocked levels
On the developer side of things, this map setup will let us rearrange levels in a hurry, for instance if playtesters find one of the early levels too hard.
The scope of the game is now locked, which means no new features between now and shipping. This is always a good milestone to reach. Prior to this point, development felt like diving down rabbit holes. In the pursuit of something that seems promising, it's easy to end up going down a tunnel which doesn't lead anywhere. But now, finally, I know what the final game will look like. I still think it's worth pursuing those overlooked rabbit holes, and that's why indie game development is nice. Because sometimes, hey, baby rabbits!
If you’re interested in supporting the project, please consider buying my previous game Puzzle Bots, which is now on sale for the airport Coca-Cola price of $2.49. And don’t just take my word for it - here’s a lovely review of the game by indiegames.com. It contains such phrases as “sleeper stand-out”, “genuinely hilarious writing”, and “Puzzle Bots places you in control of a five strong team of tiny robots, with the prime directive of going on dope adventures.” Think about it. I’ll wait.
Thanks all, happy 2013. :)