Saturday, August 4, 2012

First Look at And So I Followed My Ears

Alright, before I start, I think you should all check out this link here, which is my author profile on the Gamedevtuts+ website I told you guys about last time. I've written 2 articles so far and I like them, and I imagine you will too.

And now  down to business. I told you guys last time that I was dropping my game project as it was boring from both a technical and design direction and I couldn't see myself, or anybody else, wanting to play it. Well, again as I promised I have something new for you now. I present my new project tentatively titled (very, very tentatively, as in I only chose this name because it's the name of the project folder on my hard drive) And So I Followed My Ears. Let's start with a screenshot.

BAM! Checkout that art, that level design, everything here is pure craftsmanship! In all seriousness, what's going on here is the lights are off. This started out as an audio experiment, I wanted to figure out if (while using only stereo headphones) it could become easy to locate a sound in a 2D space. Turns out, after some fiddling only using pitch, left/right panning and volume, it's really easy. So here's where the game comes in. And So I Followed My Ears is a game about sound and darkness. Every level is a room or area in a cave (location liable to change) where the player can see absolutely nothing. There is a torch lying unlit somewhere in this level (exactly one screen in size) and using only the sound that the torch makes, the player needs to locate it and pick it up.

When they do, they get a torch which illuminates the area around them. It also (not pictured here) opens a door in the level that shines a little light (think an open doorway with light on the other side). The player then needs to make their way towards the exit.

This sounds easy, but as always there are traps. Now in the interest of trying to make these posts shorter, I won't go listing all the different concepts I have, but I'll tell you the most basic one. Monsters sleep when the lights are out; they don't move and you can hear them snoring. The sound of their snoring (vicious snoring!) gives away their location and you better stay away from it or death awaits you. When you pick up the torch, all the monsters in the level wake up, but they stay still because they don't know where you are. They aren't snoring any more, and even if they were you can barely hear anything over the flame in your hand, let's hope you've memorized where they were. If you didn't and stumble upon one, they'll roar and start chasing you the second you illuminate them with your torchlight. You better get to the exit fast, because there is no way you are hurting those guys. 

As you can see, I'm going for a sort of suspenseful/horror vibe here. And yes, the audio navigation so far works really well, something that surprised me at first. As a side note, I'm contemplating adding a sort of echolocation style scream your character can do to give you a little bit more guidance in the dark.  Also, to complement the tone and to provide audio context (I plan on introducing all new elements during the blind segments), I've also implemented introspective text, where the character has a speech bubble that pops over him whenever he has something to say. As a bonus it's not intrusive at all because you're paying attention to what you hear not what you see.

Unfortunately, most of the work I've done is stuff you can't really see in screenshots, a light system allowing many different lights of many different shapes and colors on screen at once, a dialog system and lots and lots of sound work for example. There are no shadows right now, and there might never be, partly because any kind of raycasting I've done completely destroyed performance, and mostly because I don't think shadows mesh well with the look-through-walls type of lights I have now.

Well, that's what I'm doing now, hopefully I got one of you at least intrigued by this project. I'll be uploading a video when I get an entire level from start to end finished.

Oh yeah, one more thing. All the art you see now is from Dragon Warrior Monsters. Play that game. It's awesome. Really, really, awesome

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Enemies, Vines and Lava! Oh My!

Whoa (apparently that's how it's spelt, I always thought it was woah) guys, I have a massive update for all of you. Here we go. First of all, why haven't there been any posts for a while? Well, that's easy, I've busy working on my game and writing game design stuff. Yup, thanks to my article on 2D cameras and how much you guys liked it, I've been asked to work with the fine folks over at the tutsplus website on their new website GamedevTuts+, which is launching in august. So from now on, you'll be able to find things I've written very much in the same vein as the other articles I've written on game design over at that website (which I'll link too as soon as it goes live). It's been a really awesome experience and it's been really interesting work so far (I mean I just started), so I'm hoping this gig keeps on going for a while. Also, the website looks like it's gonna be awesome.

Now about my game, I've made some pretty sweet progress, I've added enemies, lava and vines. Now the enemies I have were pictured in the last post, and they're pretty much just goombas, running back and forth because that's just how smart they are. The thing is, you can't kill them with your gun, in fact you can't kill anything with your gun, so you have to squish them with blocks to get them out of your way. Also, they kill you instantly if you touch them (right now).

There he is again

Next, the vines are pretty cool, they're essentially a foreground block, that only enemies and the player can pass through, as in they act like solid blocks for  any moving blocks. Their purpose is to act as a sort of safe haven for enemies where they can't be squished by falling blocks. The player can shoot the vines though, and after a couple of hits they break allowing the enemies to then be squished.

It's a little hard to see the enemy behind there,
 but they are very obvious in motion
There's also the lava, which instantly kills any player or enemy it touches and burns vines, rendering them charred, which makes them break with only one shot. Also, any downward-falling block that comes into contact with lava floats on it's surface for a few seconds before melting, the idea is that the player can create temporary bridges to cross the lava. Finally, and this is where I spent the vast majority of my time, the lava flows. It flows in a sort of sticky manner, getting jammed up on the ground and on other pieces of lava, but this was intentional. When it acted too liquidy it often blanketed an entire area and it was impossible for the player to pass. The lava flows using basic cellular automata, mostly because I didn't want to have to bother with the lava tiles having knowledge of anything that wasn't directly beside them. 

Here's the stagnant lava

And here's the flowing lava

The flow algorithm isn't really complicated, but it took a lot of time to iterate to get it to where I wanted it to be, because I really didn't want it to just act like water. In fact, it now acts more like you'd expect sand would in a game (and the algorithm is pretty similar to what you find in those falling sand style games). The biggest thing though, was getting the game to run without, as I still don't know how big levels are going to be, there is the possibility of there being lots and lots of flowing lava tiles in one level. I fixed this mostly by thinning down the comparative checks in the algorithm, but also by putting a system in place to check different bodies of lava and check how far they went off screen. If there was any lava tile that was not part of an active on-screen pool, they would be ignored during checks. I also slowed down the flow of lava and only let the lava check for collisions at specific intervals rather than every tick of the update loop. 

Obviously, any coders out there know that speed wouldn't have been a big problem if I had simply kept some sort of byte array to check whether tiles had lava, because "collision" in this case would have been very simple and extremely efficient. Unfortunately, with the way Flashpunk works, it was just easier for me to do things this way, keeping each lava tile as something Flashpunk call an "entity". It's not efficient at all, but it's what I chose to do and it works perfectly.

Another thing worth noting is that I completely re-coded the level editor, so it's now really easy to add new objects to the palette, all I need to do is write the class name of the new object in a string I have saved in the level editor class and it works perfectly. This definitely saved me a lot of time.

Finally, I'm sure you can all tell the graphics were significantly improved. It's still all placeholder stuff, but I was getting tired of looking at metroid tiles and I needed some sort of graphical cohesion to tie all the elements I was making together.

Unfortunately, here comes the bad news, I'm really not at all interested in this game. I initially started all of this because I had lots of ideas in my head but none of them reached whatever high design standard I was arbitrarily holding myself too. I decided then to start making a simple modular 2D engine in Flashpunk so that I wouldn't waste my time. Well, I sort of hooked on to an idea while making this, but the more I think about it, I'm just not at all excited by it. Technically, this isn't anything very interesting or difficult, and conceptually I see nothing special about what I've started making so far. As someone interested in design it's missing that "hook" or any kind of cohesive vision at all, and as a gamer the small amount of direction I have in my head just looks like it's going to make a boring final product. Basically the game looks lame. It took me a while to notice this because I've been very busy, as I'm moving to Montreal in a month (transferring to McGill) and it's been time consuming trying to find a place and get all my transfer credits approved by the various faculties.

Anyway, what I'm going to do now is start thinking again, what I've coded is absolutely in no way useless, in fact I could do pretty much anything 2D with a grid-based map while barely throwing out any code at all. Hopefully next time I post I'll have something cool for all of you to look forward too.

P.S: I'm going to try and post more frequently to avoid wall-o'-texts like this one.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stay Awhile and Listen

Wow. Reddit rocks. I posted a link to my blog on the gamedev subreddit of and went from 50 to nearly 3000 page hits in one day.  Not only that, they haven't just been reading my posts, they've been commenting too and have spurred some really interesting discussion over on the reddit thread.  I've also been getting around 40 views a day ever since,  and I haven't even written anything new! Well, here is something new, though it's probably not what you were expecting.

Since I have readers now, or at the very least people who stumble into to this blog on their way to greener internet pastures, I figured I'd let you guys and girls know how I'm planning on updating this blog. What I mean rather, is when I'm going to update this blog. I find blogs typically update on a weekly basis, but I don't think that's for me. I wan't this blog to be interesting and stimulating, and let's face it, interesting thoughts, or gamedev milestones worth talking about, don't happen like clockwork every week. Sometimes updates will come more frequently, and other times less frequently. What I'm saying is, I don't want to write something unless it's something of substance, something I believe is of some kind of value to people. I like making and talking about video games, that's not unique, but hopefully my perspective and thoughts can be, and that is what this blog is about, not a weekly view into my gamedev life (unless that's what you want it to be, in which case, let me know).

So, it's worth mentioning that this post is breaking that golden rule, but I have a good reason for that, I promise. I just got a lot of people to look at my blog in one burst, and looking at the page visit statistics Blogger is giving me, people are either coming back to see if there is something new, or people really like reading the seventh page of r/gamedev. This post is just to let the people from that first scenario know that this blog isn't dead and I will be posting on a frequent, yet irregular, basis. The easiest thing to do is probably to follow me by e-mail using the widget to the right of this post. Don't worry, I don't get to see what your e-mail is so I couldn't send you creepy unwanted love letters even if I wanted to.

I was initially going to post about what I got done this week, but I have now (clearly) decided against it for all of the reasons I mentioned above. Well, that's a lie, I will show you the most incredibly awesome thing you have ever seen. Seriously.

Okay, maybe it's not that awesome. Maybe it looks a lot like that red Angry Bird (does it have a name?). But the important thing is that I drew it and it doesn't look like something that came from the bowels of hell designed to torment people who actually know how to draw. I think it looks decent, and the little jumping animation looks nice in action. Even though it's just a pretty placeholder for now, I like it.

Well, that's it for this post, hopefully I cleared up some things for people wondering why there was nothing new to read. Thanks for reading, and keep coming back it's going to be awesome. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

My View on 2D Platformer Cameras

Everybody knows games live and die by their camera. It doesn't matter what the nature of the game is, if the camera isn't able to properly frame the action, the player will undoubtedly get frustrated and the game ceases to be enjoyable (obviously this is more common in certain types of games, for example I've never played a Tetris game where I was upset by the camera). This being said, talk of cameras is usually reserved for 3D games, and very rarely do you hear talk of how the camera is handled in a 2D game. Maybe this is because 3D camera work is inherently more complicated, or maybe even that relatively bad 2D cameras are usually not the end of the world and the games are still playable. Regardless, Internet, prepare to be enriched as I am going to post my dissection of camera work in 2D platformers as well as how all this applies to the game I am making.

Why is the Camera so Important?

As I said earlier, the camera is important because it frames the game. The camera, which is just a word for the visible area rendered to the screen, is the player's only gateway into the world you have them playing in. Skew their view too much in one direction, or make their character difficult to follow with a constantly adjusting camera and the play experience is seriously hurt. It's very simple: a player can't react to what they can't see, and a game is no fun when you aren't given the tools or time necessary to react to a situation, and is even less fun when you don't even know what that situation is in the first place. Nobody likes being killed by off-screen enemies or falling into pits that were hidden below their field of view.

How is it Usually Done?

First of all, we have to realize that there are two popular types of platformers each with their own typical camera system. There is the sidescrolling platformer, which usually uses what I like to call a floor-locked camera system, meaning there is little to no movement on the vertical axis and the floor is visible at all times. This type of camera system also usually strives to keep the player in the center of the screen on the horizontal axis (with some games allowing the camera to lead the player somewhat). This works very well in most cases, as the typical primary ability of a platformer character is jumping, which requires vertical visibility. This system is also elegant in it's treatment of the staple sidescroller danger known as bottomless pits as the player knows that any fall going past the bottom of the screen will result in death, avoiding the common annoyance a player faces of deliberately falling down a bottomless pit thinking they will survive (spoiler: they usually don't).  Obviously, as sidescrollers have grown in complexity over the years, the rigidity of this system has loosened significantly and minimal vertical scrolling has been introduced. However, the essence of the system, always keeping what the player is standing on in clear view, has not disappeared.

The NES classic Super Mario Bros. is a prime example
 of the floor-locked camera system

The other most popular type of platformer is the open-world platformer, where levels are non-linear and players are free to explore in every direction. The vast majority of these games use a camera which directly follows the player, attempting to keep him in the center of the screen (or near the center) whenever possible, I call this system player-locked. Often these games also have certain areas like boss fights or smaller rooms where the camera behaves in a more traditional sidescroler manner. In my humble opinion, this system is functional yet flawed. It is functional in the capacity that it allows the player to see equally in every direction, something that is important as the player can be expected to move in any direction at any given point. As a side note, this is much better than a heuristic camera (where the camera tries to predict where the player will be, based on his position and velocity) because it is predictable, something that is very important as an unpredictable camera feels chaotic and annoying. The system is flawed however, in that it very rarely frames the action in the most appropriate way. Typically platformer characters can jump very high and it is not uncommon for the camera to track them in such a way that at the peak of their jump the player can not see where they were standing. This makes any kind of horizontal jumping (jumping across a gap for example) needlessly frustrating as the player needs to remember where platforms are so that he does not overshoot or undershoot them. It is much more enjoyable for the player to be able to see his desired landing point for the entire duration of a jump. The other big problem with a player-locked camera is that it moves around a great deal and feels especially jerky during the typical rapid upwards acceleration of a character's jump.

Super Metroid for the SNES uses a mixture of the floor-locked and player-locked camera 
systems based on the type of room the player finds themselves in

What Happens When it Goes Wrong?

Though I've gone over why the camera is important and the problems a bad camera can cause for the player, I just wanted to use this section to present a concrete example of what a broken platformer camera looks like. Here is a video of Frogger Advance: The Great Quest, for the Game Boy Advance. The game is a sidescroller but uses the player-locked camera system and it seriously hampers gameplay. You will see in the video that it is extremely difficult to judge jump distances as when the player is in the air they cannot see the platforms beneath them. I would wager a guess that without the floating mechanic (where Frogger slowly floats downwards) the game would be unplayable due to the large amount of player deaths caused by the platforms being off-screen. It is worth noting that the camera is not the sole cause of this issue, the enormous character sprites on the small Game Boy Advance screen also add to the difficulty in seeing what is around the player. Earthworm Jim for the Game Boy Advance is another example of large sprites on a small screen with a player-locked camera seriously hurting a game.

There are very few videos of this game on YouTube, but this one
perfectly sums up the issued with the game's camera

So What Did I Do?

As I said yesterday, my game is a platformer with semi-large open levels in which the player can move in any direction. I did not, however, use the player-locked camera system because of the flaws I presented earlier. Instead, I opted for my own system (and this being 2012 I'm sure it's been used before, and has a name, and a wiki about it) that I call a platform-locked camera system. What I initially did was created a rectangle around the player (a window if you will) that could be moved by the player pushing against it's edges both vertically and horizontally. The camera was tied to the position of the window, not the player. This allowed the player some leeway in vertical and horizontal movement without affecting the camera, which I thought was important in making the camera feel stable rather than chaotic. I noticed, however, that this brought up an important issue regarding the rectangle's size. If the rectangle was too short, the camera would still scroll vertically when the player jumped  (again I don't want the camera moving that much). The obvious solution was to make the rectangle taller, but this caused the player to have too much vertical movement when falling before reaching the bottom edge of the rectangle, not offering the player enough downwards visibility. 

So what I have implemented currently is a mix between the floor-locked system and the window system. This system keeps the same functionality as the window system on the horizontal axis, but works differently on the vertical axis. Vertically, the camera keeps itself locked to the height of whichever platform the character was last standing on provided the player stays at that altitude or higher. If the player drops below the platform, the camera will follow him until he lands on a new platform. This allows the player to jump without the camera moving to follow his accelerated upwards momentum and gives a very smooth result (in my humble opinion). 

There was one last question, however, and this was where the player should be located on the screen (for example, the center of the screen as seen in the player-locked camera system). I decided to keep the player on the bottom portion of the screen (centered horizontally) and allow him to look downwards when standing on a platform (with the down arrow key). I chose this position for the simple reason that the player has more control when going upwards (as jumping is the primary means of movement) and should therefore be able to see more of what lies ahead. Given that the camera is locked to always allow the player to see any platform he is trying to jump to laterally (and downwards to a certain degree), the only time the player must move long distances downwards is if they are deciding to fall off a platform. If they chose to do this they can simply look down before committing to their descent.

This will all make more sense when you get to try the system, which incidentally happens to be right now. Keep in mind all art and sound and level design and everything else is place holder. (NOTE: There is a noticeable frame rate drop when uploaded for some reason, I will find the cause later and eradicate it)

Arrow Keys or WASD to move (Down Arrow or S to look down)
X and C for the two bullet types (explanation of this mechanic is in yesterday's post)
T to toggle visibility of the camera rectangle

EXTRA CONTROLS (you don't need these, but they are there)
Press Escape to toggle in and out of editor mode
Hold down F to enable fast scrolling
Use the mouse the place blocks
Hold control and click to remove blocks
Press E to clear the screen
Use Space-S and Space-O to save and open a level

And that's what I think of platformer cameras, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments (found below the post's title).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Long Textual Explanation of the Game I'm Making

Hello lonely reader of my blog (I refer to myself when I say this) here is an update about what I'm doing. I've thought long and hard trying to find the perfect design for my game this summer (all the while working on a basic 2d engine as I said before) and I was struggling. Like I said earlier, I believe in video games as a medium perfect for emotional expression as well as artistry and I really wanted to try doing something in that vein this summer. In the end I've decided against it. Though I really want to create something which a player can feel emotionally invested in, I also believe that the gameplay absolutely can't suck (I'm looking at you hordes of retro flash games with touching storylines, haunting music and boring gameplay). However, this is a big task, finding a tale, a feeling that you want to convey and then creating meaningful gameplay that brings those things to the forefront. I am confident in my ability to do this and have narrowed out some basic ideas, but with such a limited time span and a workforce consisting of only me (have I mentioned I am unbelievably god-awfully bad at drawing anything even remotely more complicated than a scribble) I don't think I could make something that would not fall in the trap of just being not at all fun to play.

This is why I have decided to take another route, I'm focusing solely on the gameplay, building an experience that is just purely fun and challenging, letting everything else come second (hey, maybe I am good enough to do everything, only time will tell). The game I'm making is a platformer (yes, the indie dev FPS) that is a cross between a room based puzzle game (think Angry Birds or The Company of Myself ) and a more expansive platformer style like Metroid or Castlevania or Cave Story or Knytt or etc... The idea is to have semi-large explorable worlds as self contained levels that need to be completed one after the other. I have quite nailed this part down yet, but the game the way to beat each level is likely going to be to find all of the collectibles hidden within it (they would be sparse, easy to see, but hard to reach).

The primary tool given to the player is (apart from jumping) the ability to shoot two different colored shots out of his gun. These shots do not affect enemies, however they affect the environment. One color raises any block that is shot and the other lowers it. It's like gravity suddenly turns on for that block in the direction corresponding to the type of shot the block was hit with (note that I haven't decided any kind of setting for this game yet as I am focusing on gameplay, meaning the player may not have a "gun" and gravity almost certainly won't be the explanation given behind his level manipulation powers). Every part of every level in the game can be manipulated in this way, however given that the player can only shoot either left or right I have found it easy to make it so that the player can't fundamentally break the level (by removing the floor for example). Enemies must be squished to be killed and platforms must be rode to success. This is meant to be both a puzzle and action game.

Reading that last paragraph I realize it makes just about zero sense, or at the very least is hard to follow without some visual aid. I would embed the basic prototype here, which would make this post make a hell of a lot more sense, but I'm planning on making an awesome post about the camera system tomorrow, and I don't want two posts with the exact same embedded prototype. Since I don't have any readers, nobody will be here to witness the one day this explanation is without the prototype to aid in clarification.

More to come tomorrow on camera's in open-world 2d platformer games.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What I'm Working On

So, here it is, the game I'm working on this summer. I'm proud to announce: nothing. What I mean is I'm not quite sure yet what it is I'm going to make. I've toyed with a few design ideas, but so far nothing is completely set in stone yet, and thus not something I'm going to talk about.

See, here's what happened, I did a bunch of research right before the summer trying to decide what platform/development environment I wanted to use for creating this game I had in mind. I chose Unity for it's ease of use, built in multiplatform support and because I wanted to try out a more visual editor for a change. I also used the 2DToolkit add-on in order to support sprites (it's awesome by the way). After quite a bit of learning, and some quick prototyping of an idea I had, I came to the conclusion that for what I was aiming to make (a simplistic 2d game), Unity was just too good. That is, it had many built in features that I would never use, and I just felt like I was wrestling with the program trying to make it abandon all it's built in physics and collisions so I could just write everything myself. Sure it is doable, and I definitely want to use Unity in the future, but for this simple 2d project it simply wasn't the right fit.

So now I'm using FlashDevelop and Flashpunk, coding everything in ActionScript 3. So far it's been really awesome, allowing me more easily accessed low-level freedom and due to my familiarity with this sort of framework it's really sped up my workflow.

Now, as to what I am actually making, I can't quite tell you, as I'm not entirely sure myself. Thematically, I know where I'm going, and I have a few basic gameplay interactions floating around in my head, but I don't have anything absolutely concrete yet. Now, I'm not just twiddling my thumbs, in fact, the reason I don't have a clear design right now is because I spent so much time prototyping another idea in Unity that failed miserably (it was thematically identical to what I'm doing now, so I won't talk about that part of it). Let's just say I could not get the underwater-based movement to feel anything but absolutely floaty and arbitrary (you controlled the player character based on increasing/decreasing his weight). As a firm believer that in most cases, moving the player around the world needs to be a fun action, I abandoned the idea for now (maybe one day I can try to understand fluid physics better).

Just to clarify, I'm a big proponent for games as a medium perfect for emotional expression, and that's what I'm trying to do here (but sadly I'm going to have to try with bad art). That's why when I say that thematically I know what I'm doing, I mean I know the style and emotion I'm trying to bring across, but it's integrating it into some sort of meaningful gameplay that is actually fun that is slowing me down. Oh well, I love this process.

So for now, I'm making a 2d tile based engine in flash so that I get something done while I keep refining my ideas. As of now I've completed the level-editor, which is way more comprehensive than any editor I've made before. It's really cool in that it allows levels to be made on the fly during gameplay (pausing time in order to do it) as well as dynamic saving and loading during run-time. This will allow me to quickly test different level design ideas very rapidly and is also just super cool. Right now the editor only supports placing static "blocks", but adding different entities as they get made is trivial as the whole thing is modular and easy to build upon. Also, the levels are saved as xml's because, well, I like xml's.

So here are some screenshots, and yes, that is the sprite from Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (awesome game) and the blocks are from Metroid (both are obviously placeholder).

So here it is in "play" mode

And this is "edit" mode, toggled with escape

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Maps in Games Suck (Especially Minimaps)

Hey, another update here, I'm not going to go into talking about my game yet (which may or may not be the main focus of this blog) as it's not quite ready yet, but I do have something else to talk about: minimaps.

So, this might sound absolutely completely random, and to be fair it is, but it's something I was thinking about recently. You see, I was playing Rage the other day (yeah, I know it came out a while ago, but I found it for 15$ at Walmart) and I noticed something irritating about how you navigate around the world. The game has 3 fundamental level types if you want to call them that (and I do), open-world wasteland, cities and linear gameplay segments (either racing or shooting). The navigation issue I noticed was with the first two levels types.

You see, the gameplay in the wasteland pretty much exclusively consists of commute, that is, going from the city or linear area to another linear area. The issue is this, the wasteland is huge and, while very pretty, everything looks the same. This makes it very hard to situate yourself in the world and makes it impossible for the average gamer to have any idea where the Wasted Garage or an other particular area they are being told to visit actually is in relation to where they are. This problem isn't specific to Rage, having plagued open-world games since their very beginnings, and neither is it's way of addressing it : the minimap.

The minimap in Rage is immensely useful as it has this little dotted line GPS-style thing that tells you where to go. Many games have this. It sucks. This type of system means that you are playing with your eyes on the minimap, following the little dot that is you make his way along the dotted line until you either meet enemies, or get where you wanted to go. Again, this sucks. Nobody wants to play GPS the Interactive Experience, it's just no fun. Not to mention it represents a colossal waste of manpower making the world you travel around so pretty. I've beaten Rage, but for the life of me, I can only vaguely remember what the wasteland looked like. I can, however, make you a detailed drawing of the minimap if you wanted me too. Now, Rage didn't take the worst possible solution, there are significantly worse ways of doing this, Burnout Paradise for example worked exactly the same way, except there was no minimap, only a full scale map in the pause screen. It was tons of fun to just idly drive around, but the race from point A to point B segments might as well have been called pause screen segments, as you had to check the map on said screen at almost every intersection.

Follow the dotted brick road

Now, what is the obvious solution? No minimap, that way people will have to learn the way of the land and end up feeling like they know where they are. Problem is, as Rage's map-less city sections proves, unless your world is expertly designed to be easy to navigate (and typically this means it needs to be relatively small), you just get lost all time and end up endlessly  running in circles.

These navigation issues might sound like a minor inconveniences (ok maybe not that last one), but they seriously hurt the experience in just about any game plagued by these issues. You always either feel completely, hopelessly lost, or mindless, blindly following the minimap-road to success.

Now, some games do this type of thing much better, though none of them do it perfectly. The open world Bethesda games have an awesome compass system that points you in the direction of things, allowing you to wander with a vague idea of where you are going (you can pull up the map if you are really lost though). This type of system promotes exploration and slight path deviation and, more importantly, actually looking at the screen. The problem with this system is that it works best in very open environments with very few things that can block you from making a straight line to to your destination, but not so well in other environments. This is very evident in Skyrim, with it's huge mountain ranges. I can not count the amount of times I trekked for a very long time towards the little indicator on my compass only to realize I had made a wrong turn 20 minutes away that now had me slowly circling the foot of a mountain to get to my objective which was exactly on the other side.

This thing is seriously awesome

Other games take a different approach, Red Faction: Guerrilla had a really cool system where the aforementioned GPS minimap trail would show up holographically over the roads as soon as you sat in a car. This is awesome, because your get to actually have fun looking at the world and driving the car rather than staring at a minimap. Unfortunately, even though the GPS adjusts when you go off course, the system still seriously hurts exploration, as you know the fastest and most correct way to get where you are going and have little reason to deviate from it. I never played the third or first one, but I know Fable 2 had this kind of system as well.

I couldn't find a picture of the Red Faction Guerrilla GPS trail, but here is the one in Fable 2

So what is the ideal solution? I don't know. Maybe it's creating smaller tighter worlds with more memorable landmarks which allow the player to know where they are at all time simply by recognizing the locale. That's cool, but lets face it, Skyrim was awesome because it was a whole country, Skyrim: Whiterun Edition, wouldn't of been that great.

Well, who knows what the answer is, but at the very least it's something interesting to think about, a game design puzzle, I know I'll be thinking about it. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hello World

Welcome to the inaugural post of my game dev blog, here I'll talk about what I've done so far in game development and what I plan to do in the future. My name is Paul Suddaby and I'm a Computer Science major entering second year. I'm spending the summer making an as of yet unnamed game and this blog is where I'll talk about that game and my creation process, mostly for myself, but for those reading, you can enjoy it too.

But first I'm just going to show you guys the projects I've previously done (at least the ones that aren't on my dead hard drive).

So, first off, I took part in the 21st Ludum Dare (my first and only Ludum Dare so far) and made a game called Followed, which you can find the competition entry page for here and I blogged about it on my Ludum Dare page. I was pretty happy with the results, as I got 8th in fun and tied for 15th overall. Here's a screenshot.

Next I did my part in a team during the 2011 Great Canadian Appathon where we made a cute little fishing game that next us a beautiful 1000$ in prize money for winning Best Application Concept and placed us in the top 10 in canada. I have a screenshot for you (P.S, it's also a part of the blog background), but the rest of this project got destroyed along with my old laptop (which a friend of mine jumped on). Also, it's on Windows Phone 7, and statistically speaking, it's safe to assume you don't have one.

Last but not least, there's my Global Game Jam entry for this year, also with a team, that ended up becoming Solstice (again, it's a competition page). We tied for first place in the competition, so I was definitely happy. One of the artists, Wilson Yeung and I turned it into this. It's a flash game, but it was never fully prepared for publishing as it doesn't have an ending so the files are still scattered. All you need to do is open the zip file you'll download and then drag the swf into any browser. 

There are also some XNA projects I worked pretty hard on, including my Metroidvania engine with a player levelling system and the element-shifting-phase-walking puzzle game that I personally really liked, but those are unfortunately lost in the abyss of my destroyed hard drive.

So, that's pretty much me, keep on reading in the coming weeks to hear about my next badass project. I promise the posts won't be this long. This blog is sort of centred around being a forum for design discussion, as that's where my true passion lies. If you have any comments on this or any future posts, do not hesitate to reply below or send me an e-mail at Blogs are only as good as the readers, so guys and girls, it's on you.