SLIDE – Greenlight and IndieDB

 So, finally, we are on Steam. Well, not on STEAM Steam… We’ve submitted SLIDE on Steam Greenlight, like 20 hours ago.

Now, everyone says that Steam is something different, and it is. Before that, only couple of people have seen our game. In less than 1 day, almost 2000 people has seen our game. Or at least the page of our game. That is a lot, and it’s just the first day. And what’s more important, there are people who like it. Frankly, this is the most excited I’ve been for last several years. On the downside, instead of working on the game I’m constantly refreshing game’s page to see the numbers rise.

Upvotes, as heart-warming as they are, are not the only one thing we got from submitting to greenlight – actual, real players send us their feedback. And it is useful in 2 ways:

1) it is highly motivating. I mean it – just one person saying something like “I kinda like it” means the world to me, and makes me wanna make SLIDE better in every aspect there possibly is.

2) there is stuff I’m blind to, just because I see it every day. New players have fresh eyes, they do not know that “it’s just for now and will be better in such and such ways” – they just see flaws and report them. ANd it is really good! Of course, there is the matter of filtering the feedback, but having it is definitely going to benefit the game.

Of course, not everyone like the game – and I knew that’s the way things are. But still, everything has “the other side”. And the hardcore 2d platformer is not supposed to be universally loved, but on the emotional level I’m a bit sad that some people vote “not interested”. I know that it’s the way it should be, and if I were not bothered by “downvotes” I guess I would by bothered by the fact that I’m not bothered… 

Anyway, we have also submitted SLIDE on IndieDB – those of you who do not know, it’s like the main hub of indie games, linked to a digital game store Desura, which is the platform we hope to have SLIDE on, when it is ready for sales.

Anyway, if you are interested in hardcore 2d platformers – take a look at the playable demo:

If you like the gameplay, here’s our Greenlight page, where you can vote for us (thanks): http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=231718917

Greenlight_button_small  indiedb

First round of playtesting

Today was fun. I put together 5 levels, waited for a lunch break and ambushed several co-workers. I watched them closely as they suffered through the finger-breaking challenges.

The purpose of this test was to determine if my core feature – the controls system – has the right to exist or it should be revised.

The first victim was discouraging. He had lots of problems as he could not see the basic logic behind what defines the jump. And even if he did try to do the right thing he failed miserably. It was a torture, not only for his fingers and ego, but for my eyes and confidence as a game designer. Not really surprising, considering that he’s not into platformers, but still demoralizing.

He said that it was kinda fun, but I know, for him it was not.

finger-knots

The metaphorical effect of my game on people.
Pic source: foundshit.com 

I approached my second victim with bad expectation, but there was still hope – I knew he’s a masochistic Super Meat Boy-and-like fan. Right away he started to experiment muttering “oh, I see” every 2 seconds. In just 15 seconds he got more understanding of the game than my first prey. He was good. Not in a way “he does stuff the way I expect him to do” but rather in a “I have a plan and I will stick to it and I will improve my skill” way. Yes, he chose actions I’d never say are obvious (and they are like 5 times tougher to pull off than the “optimal route” I planned), but he never got discouraged (despite or because of swearing A LOT). He obviously had fun during those 5 levels, and I had fun watching him suffer \ play.

When he was done with what I had to throw at him I showed him “the supposed way to pass some challenges” and we shared a laugh. “I love to come up with absurd solutions and succeed with them”, he said not without pride.

The good news is that as soon as he grasped the principle the controls work, he became pretty excited about it and totally made my day.

The third playtest was not planned, but my colleague saw us playing and got curious (poor fella), so I decided to collect more data. Well, he did weird. He struggled with the most basic moves, but easily completed several rather hard chains of moves. The internal logic of the controls was a mystery for quite some time and by the 3rd level I thought he would quit. But at the level 4 there was some sort of “eureka” moment and I could feel the enjoyment (and understanding) level rise. In terms of positive (for game, not my ego) feedback he was the most helpful one – I spotted several places to improve level design and to better convey the basic controls principle (and yes, I want players to experiment and find stuff “on their own” rather than to feed them info with a tutorial).

Slide 2014-01-21 21-23-21-65 png

This violet thingie says “experiment”, but noone seems to understand / care / try to do so. On a side note – on this picture you can see like 60% of the level and it really takes practice to complete it.

Oh, by the way, this last dude is no stranger to platformers, but not as hardcore as Super Meat Boy. So that means I’m pretty much in the place I wanted to be, as I was making a game inspired by Team Meat’s SMB.

Anyway, my worst fear that the core feature would not be understood, to some degree, was confirmed. Good news is that the problem seems to be not in the system itself, but in the fact that I do poor job at giving players right hints. As long as I find the way to better communicate it, I should be fine.

Also, what I’ve found out is that people choose anything but what expected them to. Of course I knew it would be so, but I could not imagine in what ways this phenomenon would translate to an SMB-like platformer. And I did design most of the levels in a way that allow some deviations, I just thought they were smaller.

Another fun observation – even if there is an explicit directive to experiment, people tend to think of one plan and stick with it even if it obviously does not work until it starts to work.

Also, it seems to have little to no use to watch someone else play. That third tester observed the second one for some time, but he made lots of the same mistakes (and lots of his own) regardless. Just a fun observation. =)

This game is supposed to be difficult. I want players to jump right at the edge of the cliff. And I expect them to time their actions. It is not simple and it was usually the reason my testers died. However not all deaths were resulted in their inability to do so – obviously I made several mistakes in level design. It’s a good thing I now know them now and I will fix them ASAP (probably today).

Although the game IS supposed to be challenging and I expect players to die like 10 times on each level, I looks like that ATM I’ve made it a bit too tough.

Slide 2014-01-21 21-16-09-54 png

“WTF am I supposed to do?!?!?!? and HOW did I just do it?!?!?” seems like the most natural reaction in this situation. FYU you can’t just run under those spikes and you cant just jump over that small spike-hill…

So what’s next?

Fix the levels, think of a better way to explain the controls without actual explaining, and test again. Sadly I won’t be able to use the same people (unless I test new levels), so I’ll have to find someone else, like you. But I feel wrong showing only 5 levels, so it might take some time. Also there are some things I am uncomfortable with (like the fact that the game still has no name), so they need to be fixed.

On a side note, if you wonder how big\small  one level is, think of SMB. They are approximately the same.

Anyway, if you like challenging platformers you might consider warming up your fingers and prepping extra keyboard.

 

Tweet, share, comment. You now how it works =)

BG2MVG 10: Changes, Artist and 3D!

Hi! I guess I should report on what’s up with the game =)

First of all, an artist has finally joined our team. Yay! Looking forward to… See (and show) what we’ll be able to achieve together =)

Secondly, currently the game is being dramatically visually changed. The gameplay will not be affected by that, hopefully (the gameplay is kind of hardcore and I have no intentions to change that).

So, for example, this is how the very beginning of the first level looked like previously.

old lvl

And this is what it looks like now (yes, this is exactly the same place).

new

Of course it’s no good for a final game and it will be changed and upgraded. Think of it as of a blueprint for an actual level, which will hopefully look a lot better. As for now, the whole “blueprint” was constructed with Unity standard assets or were very roughly sketched in the 3ds Max.

Third change lies in the game structure. Previously I was thinking to make levels like the ones in the Super Meat Boy. But now I am drawn to a seamless world, like the one in Limbo or Trine. Of course it will require me to alter my level layouts in 2 ways:

  1. I will have to eliminate all the “dead ends”. I had plenty of those initially, because why would I care that it’s a dead end where the player has to go to pass the level? He would immediately start the next one. after all. Now this won’t work.
  2. I will have to include “have a rest” sections. Previously most levels were build to challenge players. And one could catch a breath between those short levels. Now, it would be unwise to chained hardcore challenges into one mega-challenge. Pacing is important =)

And of course 3d gives a lot of freedom to toy with camera and that’s what I am looking forward to do.

So, stay tuned and we’ll see what happens next!

BG2MVG 09: The Value of Playtesting

In this series of posts, I describe the process of me making a brand new 2d platformer from scratch. You can read the intro to this series here.

Also, this series is called a “guide” but it does not mean anyone should do things the way I am, it’s just the description of my action, which can be used as a guideline for someone who has never been developing games. Or you might be better off doing just the opposite of what I say=).

Hello everyone.

Last time I’ve published a new gameplay video, with moving platform, deadly spikes and narrow tunnel. This level was planned to be on of the earlier ones. Today I gave it to my brother, who is fully aware of game mechanics, because… well he is the programmer of this game=). I expected him to pass it rather easily, especially given the fact that he saw my video and the way to pass this level.

During this playtest session several interesting things have happened.

  1. This level is MUCH more challenging than I’ve anticipated. Yeah, I know, the “curse of knowing” and it was taken into account, but still, I was really surprised to see poor orange ball die again and again.
  2. As far as I could see, the fact that he saw my walkthrough changed nothing. It didn’t help him much. After all, when one has to do something really quickly he does not think of some video. Reflexes are what matters. Apparently I have miscalculated the learning curve. Well I have no chart of that curve or anything, but I should give more similar but simpler tasks to players to master before this very level may be presented to them. So now I have to tweak sequence of levels a bit.
  3. No matter how constrained the level is, there are always ways to play it “wrong”. Well, not wrong, but differently. For me this part is always fascinating. Somehow, when player does something I never thought anyone would do, there is some strange sort of connection with him. And of course I am to assess those “gameplay variations” – some are perfectly valid and are actually better then my original plan. And some are not and have to be taken care of.

It’s been said billion times – playtesting is essential, feedback is the real treasure, do it as soon as possible. And the initial plan was in accordance with this concept. We planned to prepare a demo version with 20-25 levels, with somewhat good-looking visuals and concentrate on the Steam Greenlight and crowdfunding campaign. But so far we failed to find a reliable artist (predictably enough people hesitate to work for free). So here is a new plan: we are preparing a demo version out of the assets we currently have and give it for you to play. We keep looking for an artist, and we hope this demo will prove that we are not giving up this game.

If you think this series could be interesting and have not yet subscribed to this blog – feel free to do so. Do not forget to share this post and comment on it, we really could use some publicity and feedback. Thanks!

Good bye and we’ll see what happens next!

//————————————————————————————————————–

We are looking for a 2d artist who would help us determine the visual style of the game (our thoughts on this matter will be discussed in the next article) and aid in prepping crowdfunding campaign.

If interested, please, contact me!

Skype: arseny1987

Email: arseniyshved@gmail.com

//————————————————————————————————————–

BG2MVG 04: Two Weeks of Iterations

In this series of posts, I describe the process of me making a brand new video game from scratch. You can read the intro to this series here.

Also, this series is called a “guide” but it does not mean anyone should do things the way I am, it’s just the description of my action, which can be used as a guideline for someone who has never been developing games. Or you might be better off doing just the opposite of what I say=).

Hello everyone!

In the previous article we’ve discussed prototyping: that you do not need (in fact it is impossible) to create everything at once and taught our avatar to run and do some jumps. Now it’s time to stuff our prototype with more stuff – all the motions we’ll have in the game… but, of course, in small steps!

To make those steps we need a plan – the clearer – the better. So let’s stop and think (and that is what I was doing for a couple of days – thinking, planning and writing an exhaustive document, specifying all the jumps, states, and transitions between those states).

Of course I cannot fit a long document into this post, but I can really brieafly summarize it:

  • Player can press [up], [down], [left] and [right] and any combination of those buttons when performing a jump, and this will set the initial movement vector (we call it “type” of jump).
  • Avatar can be either on the floor, at the wall, near the ceiling or in the air (we call it “proximity”). Every “proximity” has its own set of jump “types”.
  • There are 2 “strengths” of any jump – weak and strong, and it depends on the button pressed by the player.
  • At the very top spot of a jump, there is a small zone of “perfect timing” – if double jump is performed at this moment, the jump well be extra-strong.
  • Players have limited control over avatar’s movement in the air.
  • Avatar can be at various states: run, jump, fall, attached to a wall or ceiling, and all transitions between those states.
  • And there are “conditional movements” like a small lunge after avatar hits the wall.

In order not to make my life a living hell, Dan created a “motion map”, which is an awesome asset to plug in other assets. It contains slots for 190 movements and when empty it looks like this.

Motions map

It might seem like a very complex thing that cannot even fit into one screen, but it really is not. Even though I thought every motion would be a pain in the ass, after like 3 or 4, I could clearly see a “guideline” system and all the planets did align without me forcing all those jumps into a system. This is a good thing – every jump is logical. You can easily guess which jump should be stronger, and which one should be faster, and they really are intuitive (at least for me… ah, playtesting will tell).

As I gradually started filling in those slots, I was creating a level, to test the motions and make sure they felt good both individually and together with other jumps. I tried to find the limits of every jump and find some unexpected ways to use them (sometimes I did, sometimes – not).

test level

What I did find out is that our “run” motion is no good, despite the fact it felt OK before. The thing is, our running speed was not really slow and it felt good. But it was close to impossible to travel small distances. So we had to make avatar accelerate, in order to allow small precise steps. Which led to a small problem – when avatar lands from a jump, and has some speed, it should have kept its speed and keep on running. But since “run” is a different state from ‘fall”, avatar would stop and that speed up. Of course it was easily fixed, but the point is, chain reactions happen all the time.

Now, coders use debugging tools all the time. To properly evaluate my jumps I had to construct my own debugging tool (which is really easy to do). A simple trail can be done in like 40 seconds, and is EXTREMELY useful. It makes it extremely easy to see the path of the avatar, and compare jumps or create levels.

trail

It took me 2 days to create initial jumps. And another week (6 hours a day, after daily job) I was tweaking their parameters but as a result I am really happy with the better part of the motions available to the avatar. And that was our first main goal – to have a good responsive controls.

Let’s recap:

  • Before diving into iterations you need to have a clear vision (on paper) of at least relevant features, or better off whole game. Iterating without a plan is like walking in a mine-field.
  • Iterations are your friend. You cannot do 10 days of tweaking in just one go.
  • Even a good plan does not mean you will not have to alter something you thought was ready and working. Do not be afraid to change stuff that does not work. But be cautions – the more features you have, the harder it will be to re-do stuff.
  • Not really the “iteration” –related but still important – play with your mechanics. Try to break them. Try unexpected things. You might stumble upon gold this way.

This is it for today. In the next article we will talk about level design.

If you think this series could be interesting and have not yet subscribed to this blog – feel free to do so. Do not forget to share this post to your peers and comment on it.

And we’ll see what happens next!

BG2MVG 02: Setting the Scope of the Game

In this series of posts, I describe the process of me making a brand new video game from scratch. You can read the intro to this series here.

Also, this series is called a “guide” but it does not mean anyone should do things the way they are described here. It could potentially be used as a guideline by someone who has never been developing games. Or you might be better off doing just the opposite of what I say=).

Hello everyone!

I have a confession to make – I promised there will be no hindsight, but there will be just a little bit of it. Truth be told, I came up with the initial idea for the game on 9th of July, 3 weeks ago (as of this writing). And the decision to publicly develop a game was made several hours ago.

So several first articles will be published every day and will cover first 3 weeks of development, and after that – no more hindsight, I promise.

OK, first things first – we need something to start with, right?

I can only guess how other people start developing games. Having read forums I am sure lots of designers tend to heavily rely on the story or setting and allow it to dictate mechanics (or just synonymize game and story, which is most usually wrong).

I know for sure, that one particular company prefers to pick a genre (in the most broad possible sense, like let’s make a game, where you have to kill enemies) and design an interface first. I kid you not – one of my first games was actually incepted like this: bosses told me “we need a brawler and we already have an interface ready, now make us a game to fit it”. As I am writing this article they are doing it again. Needless to say I strongly believe it’s as crazy as painting bricks and then building a house with them, so that a nice unicorn would emerge in the kids’ room.

And of course there is an option to start with the mechanics and allow them to be the basis of the game. I like this approach, because… you know…  games… gameplay=). Luckily I have something in mind.

Not that long ago (not until the day of this writing, actually) I was working on a clone of famous Transformice. I was bothered by the lack of mechanics it had (the clone), and having just read an awesome article “Designing An Awesome Video Game” by James Marsden (which is now my Bible), I decided to come up with a “toy”. It seemed to me that double jumps would fit nicely into a game about well… jumping and would complement existing set of mechanics and add to the gameplay, but my bosses did not agree. That happened on the 9th of July.

Still, I could not stop thinking about a game, built around this mechanic. My thoughts were approximately as follows:

  • Double jumps are fun!
  • But still, on their own they do not seem to have lots of variety…
  • What if avatar has 2 types of jumps? First one is easy to perform, but not very strong. Second is harder to perform, but is stronger. And players are free to chain them as they like. This should give some variety.
  • If avatars can jump off the air (aka double jump), they can jump off the walls or ceiling.
  • It seems logical, that jumping off the air is weaker, that jumping off the floor. Or wall. Or whatever.
  • And if avatars can jump off the air, players should have control over the initial vector of avatar’s movement, otherwise players will not have lots of control.
  • And if, let’s say, player presses DOWN+LEFT+JUMP in the air it totally makes sense to make some sort of a downward diagonal jump, but what should happen, if the avatar is near the wall? Or is standing on the floor?
  • What if that initial input contextually defines the “type” of the jump? As long as it makes sense to the players, it should be OK.

So here’s what I’m going to explore with this game – contextual jumps of various strength. No big surprise, it’s going to be a 2d platformer!

Now, the mobile market seems hot, but I have no idea what tablet games look like, let alone how they work (can you imagine – my phone still has buttons and I have had iPad in my hands no more than 5 times). And it does not seem very suitable for our mechanics (well we could define movement vector by performing swiping motions, and stuff, but the timings of said jumps would be REALLY different from what I imagine. And of course there is running and there are 2 types of jumps and screen != keyboard…)

I’ve played PC games for the better part of my life. I know keyboard and mouse. So I shall design for that. Of course, I’ll do my best to adapt the game to gamepads or even touchscreens, but they are not what I focus on.

Now, about difficulty of the game and its audience. Well… lots of people say “you are not making a game for yourself” and I agree. Others advise just the opposite, and I agree as well. So I will be making a game I’d like to play (like most indies, right?) but constantly aware that it should be attractive for adult male experienced gamers. Just like SMB (which is a huge inspiration, BTW).

And I’ve been playing with Unity for a long time, and it’s free  and friendly and has all the necessary stuff under the hood  and UDK is a complete overkill so that’s what will be used to make this game =)

Let’s recap:

  • We (I mean all of you and I) are making a 2d platformer
  • There will be no killing enemies
  • There will be lots of jumping
  • We target PC, Mac and Linux. Because of the keyboard=)
  • It will not be a casual game. It will involve dying and learning not to.
  • It will be powered by Unity
  • I have no idea what the setting will be. I hope that mechanics will tell me the story. They usually do.

In the next article you will meet this game’s programmer, who happens to be my brother (so far only 2 of us are actually involved in making this game… besides you of course) and we will create first prototype of the game!

If you think this series could be interesting and have not yet subscribed to this blog – feel free to do so. Do not forget to share this post to your peers and comment on it.

And we’ll see what happens next!

BG2MVG 01: A New Start

Hello everyone.

It’s been only couple of hours since I quit my game-designer job in a successful company which develops games for social networks.

So, I’m here to make an announcement – I’m going to make a game. My guess is that you are not excited, are you? Well if I were Cliffy B or Phil Fish or someone remotely famous you might care, but since nobody knows me, why would you, right? Here’s the catch – I will walk you through the whole development process, from start to finish (regardless of what kind of finish it is going to be).

Together we will discuss everything (yay, transparency) – idea, core mechanics, prototyping, iterating; we’ll settle on the “feel” of the game, it’s story, visual presentation; I’m going to submit it on Steam and create an IndieGoGo campaign and share this experience with you; I will try to talk to you, to press, or maybe even to Team Meat (if I have the stones to do so) in an attempt to build a community, and you will be watching and participating, if you wish to do so. And the best part – no hindsight (maybe just a little bit, but not for long).

I will be doing lots of things I’ve never done before. Like all of the stuff after the “visual presentation” part. So there will be mistakes – and therefore lessons.  It’s like a reality show, but about games. Of course I do not want to tell everything – some things are boring, and some will spoil the fun of playing the game. So I will try to be transparent, but avoid spoilers.

Interested now? Subscribe to this blog to be the first to know about new posts.

In the next post we will come up with an idea, choose a suitable genre for it, define the target platform and audience and pick the engine (spoiler – it’s going to be Unity). If you have not yet subscribed to my blog, now would be a good time. Also, feel free to comment on this post, and do not forget to share it to your peers=)

Stay tuned and we’ll see what happens next!