Spider the Fox updated and on Gamejolt!

Hey, all! I’ve got something for you!

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It’s an update! This new release contains tons of improvements and bug fixes. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the game now has:

  • customizable quality settings!
  • dynamic keyboard/controller button prompts
  • tighter jumping
  • sharper movement
  • more (better balanced) sound effects
  • quite a few bug fixes and annoying exploits!

In addition to all of this (!!), I’ve made Spider available on Gamejolt, as well as itch.io. Part of this process was making the game work in the Unity webplayer! You don’t even have to download the files if you don’t want to! Wowzers!

I’m very proud of my game. It’s whimsical, it’s light-hearted, I think parts of it are rather funny, and I honestly believe that it’s a joy to play. I hope you feel the same.

If you’ve played it already, why not try it again? I think you’ll agree that it feels much better now.

Play Now

Yes, you have!
Yes, you have!

“Spider the Fox” Trailer

indie game spider the fox level intro
I also kind copied Sonic the Hedgehog for my level titles!

I’ve spent the last month working on “Spider the Fox,” a colorful 3D platformer for the 2015 Indie Game Making Contest (you can vote for me here, if you want)!

It’s inspired by (but not really all that similar to) games like Spyro the Dragon, Zelda: Wind Waker, and Night in the Woods!
This was my most ambitious game yet, and it’s probably my longest; playtime runs about 60 minutes. I had tons of fun and learned a bunch of new skills. Here are just a few of the things I’ve been doing:

  • getting MagicaVoxel and Blender to play nicely together
  • making some fun chiptune music with BeepBox
  • finally figuring out what some of the settings do in BFXR
  • making and sharing a bunch of gifs with GifCam (and occasionally resizing with EZGif)
  • marveling at Megan Turner‘s awesome pixel art

But, one of the more exciting things is that I finally combined two of my different skillsets: game making and film editing! That’s right, I made my very first video game trailer! Check it out here:

 

GameDev Resource Pick: SPARTAN Procedural Tile Generator

EDIT: It looks like the developer no longer owns to domain to these links. Luckily, you can still access the tool through itch.io: https://pnjeffries.itch.io/spartan-procjam-edition/purchase Yes, it’s still free (just click on “No thanks, take me to the downloads”), but you can also contribute some money if you wish.

If you’ve worked on game jams in the past, you’ve likely run into this rule:

Your game, all your content (i.e. Art, Music, Sound, etc) must be created in [length of jam].

If you’re working solo on your game (and aren’t miraculously skilled at types of art), you may have explored the realm of content generators. If you explored the realm of content generators and haven’t found SPARTAN yet, you’ve been missing out.

I don’t want to overstate its usefulness, so I’ll begin by describing its scope. SPARTAN (Small Pixel ART ANimator) is a free program that allows for creation and animation of small-sized pixel art sprites and textures. It has a pixel art toolset, so you CAN make your art by hand right inside the program and animate it as well.

http://www.vitruality.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/CompositeExamples4Upscaled.pngThat’s not what I find to be the most useful feature of the program, though. What I really like is the procedural art toolset built in. SPARTAN was expanded for the Procedural Generation Jam 2014 to include a versatile functionality set that allows you to quickly create tile-able pixely textures.

Let me stress the key points there – random and tile-able. Randomness can be an indie developer’s best friend, so the textures generated by this tool will save you a whole lot of time and make up for a whole lot of lack-of-skill in the art department. And if you’ve experimented with making any type of game textures before, you’ve probably run into tiling problems. There are many ways to deal with them, of course, but here’s a program that just takes care of that for you.

apathy-bomb-cover-image
Every texture you see here (except for the sky) was made in SPARTAN

You can see from the screenshot the type of textures you might be creating. These would work for 2d platformers, top-down adventures, even 3d games. Without SPARTAN, Her Majesty’s Apathy Bomb would have never come to be.

Like many versatile tools, it takes some learning. Of the first screenshot I showed you, I could probably only make half of those images without really taking some time to figure out what the more complex features of the program do. Luckily, the program’s creator (Paul Jeffries of Vitruality) has some nice tutorials on how to get started with it (number 1 and number 2).

So, go on! Get texturing!

GameDev Resource Pick: Spelunky Level Generator

spelunky

(Please note: This tool/visualization is for Chrome only. Which is kinda annoying if you use Firefox like me, but downloading and installing Chrome was worth it to check this out.)

I don’t know how it took me so long to find this. I played the original Spelunky for hours and hours, marveling at its seamless world generation that felt simultaneously familiar and perpetually fresh.

I gleaned quite a lot about procedural generation by simply PLAYING the original game – the randomization felt so elegant and simple, I felt like it was something I could almost do in my own games. Or at least wrap my head around.

I found this Spelunky Level generator the other day (it works in Chrome only!), and spent quite a while discovering that I was right and wrong about my initial conceptions about how the randomization works. On the one hand, it is fairly simple, at least on the surface. And it is very elegant, no doubts about that.

On the other hand, though, I was very wrong about exactly HOW the randomization works. It was pretty clear to me that there were these chunks that fit together seamlessly, and there was a limited amount of them and they could randomize their contents to some degree.

It was the first few steps that I had missed. The simple numbered drunkard’s walk to populate the initial grid from the top-down … brilliant. It ensures that there will always be a direct path to the exit (in case you run out of bombs), but the variety of zero-numbered side rooms makes it just difficult enough for the casual player to not necessarily (or consciously, at least) see the descending pattern and find the exit with no missteps.

But it’s the randomization of the blocks inside the templates that really pushes my buttons. On this page (part two of the simulation), just keep hitting the 3 key and watch the white-highlighted squares – the ‘probabilistic tiles.’ Their quantity in any given chunk makes for near endless variation, yet not so much that you still can’t recognize the chunk type. This is the feature that really clinches the procedural generation for me. I’m used to enemies moving around in games like Mario, so variety of enemy placement is nice but not novel. These probabilistic tiles variation ensures that you’re going to be making new jumps, judging new distances, and accidentally falling to your death in new ways in every single run-through.

How cool is that?

SPOILER: Very cool.

In any case, hopefully it’ll give you some inspiration if you’re thinking about using procgen in your game! Give it a try!

GameDev Resource Pick: GifCam

spaceFoxesGifResized
Gifs like this one (with a static background) end up with TINY filesizes!

I might have been somewhat late in the game to start using GifCam, but this post is for people who still think that it’s easier to, I dunno, record your screen with FRAPS [shudder] or even OpenBroadcaster and then use Premiere or something to export a snippet of that video as a gif.

That’s what I was doing for a while, and gosh if I didn’t wonder how anyone had the patience to gif-ify their gamedev. File sizes were as huge as the quality was bad. How did people embed those 20 second long gifs on Twitter when it has a 3mb image size limit?!

Well, I’ll tell you how. Or at least one way. I started by using good ol’ GfyCat, but even that didn’t play as nicely with Twitter as I would’ve liked. So, after a few false starts, I started using GifCam … And it is awesome.

It’s very easy to get the resolution to exactly what you need, and it’s not too difficult to trim your recording down to size. You then simply save it and see if the file size is what you need. If it’s not, trim it some more and re-save. It’s relatively painless.

INATAGifResized
This gif, having only two colors, is even smaller than the Space Foxes one!

It’s not 100% perfect, though. You might run into issues with transparency – which is one of the ways GifCam keeps the file size down. If you encounter big green swatches in your gifs, you need to change the transparency color. Resolutions can get messed up if you continue recording after changing the window size without clearing all the footage you have so far. It could also be a lot easier to edit the footage you capture – a timeline with frame preview would be amazing.

These are minor foibles, though, and the creator is fairly active and periodically releases new versions with new features.

So, check it out, and you’ll likely like it. You can find it here. The download link is sandwiched between the bottom of the post and the top of the comments, so it can be a little tricky to locate. It’s right above the Wreck-It Ralph gif.

If you have suggestions for other programs that do what GifCam does (but better), please let me know in the comments!

 

GameDev Resource Pick: Xelu’s UI Pack

PreviewAppealing-looking controller prompts add a lot to a game. They make you just WANT to press the buttons, you know?

A while back, I stumbled upon this UI asset pack by Xelu. Since then, I’ve basically sworn off using UI prompts that I’ve made – no more sloppy, almost-square W keys or not-quite-the-right-green XBOX controller A buttons for me, no sir!

This pack has got quite a bit of variety, too. I usually don’t stray far from the XBOX and keyboard/mouse sets in this collection, but if you’re supporting PS controllers or designing for WII U or A touchscreen, you’re covered as well.

And, to top it off, it’s free-to-use – however you like. You don’t even have to credit Xelu, but I feel a healthy amount of gratitude. And I think you might, too. Be aware, however, that the actual IMAGES of the controllers in the preview of the pack depict trademarks, so steer clear of using the full controller images – just the buttons!

Here are a few times I’ve used these prompts!

xeluExample1

xeluExample2

GameDev Resource Pick: Low-poly Human Models

low polyThese male/female low-poly human models are excellent and have criminally few downloads. Improvements upon these originals, these new and improved Blender models have basically everything you need:

  • fully rigged, and the rig will play perfectly with Unity when you import it
  • the two models are on separate layers, so it’s very easy to grab the one you need
  • built-in animations (which I haven’t personally used yet)
  • easily expansible and editable – make them taller/fatter/children (maybe all three?!)

They’re not textured right now, but if you’ve used Blender before, some quick UV mapping will fix that. I personally recommend setting the edges to sharp and throwing an ambient occlusion map on ’em. With a little vertex tweaking, you could end up with some awesome low-poly models like those used in Aer (check the screenshot below for inspiration).

If you need a Blender primer, check out this tutorial on KatsBits.
If you need some help with ambient occlusion and sharp edges, check out this tutorial on tuts+.

Going, going, (poly)gon.

Aer, by Forgotten Key Studios, is still in development, but GOSH does it make polygons look pretty.
Aer, by Forgotten Key Studios, is still in development, but GOSH does it make polygons look pretty.

GameDev Resource Pick: bfxr

bfxrGame sound effects are hard. As someone who’s tried recording sound effects with a crappy microphone (including making laser blast noises with my mouth), there came a time when I sat down at my computer and just started at, puzzling over how I could convince it to make the sounds I wanted for my game.

It wasn’t until several years later that I found bfxr. This is a marvelous little free tool made by increpare, based on an older program made for a Ludum Dare called SFXR.

It has a dozen or so preset sound buttons, like jump, coin pickup, and explosion. Every time you click one of these, it randomizes innumerable confusing settings to bring you a slightly different clip each time. You can then, with the click of a button, export the generated sound to a .wav file. Easy-peasy, as they say.

You can, of course, tweak that aforementioned plethora of settings to get the sounds you be exactly what you want. I’ve been using bfxr on and off for several years, and most of them are still a mystery to me, but that’s okay. You’ll want to try out the mutate button a good amount, and watch how the sliders change. Then, slide a slider at a time and see what happens. Be aware, though: the sliders are very sensitive and it’s easy to get your sound irretrievably unrecognizable. Make sure to save sounds you like before messing with them.

The end result of all this, of course, is some pretty nifty lo-fi ‘bleep-bloop’ sound effects to use in your game. I don’t necessarily recommend using this if you’re making a fully 3D RPG or realistic FPS, but you still night be able to wrangle some button click sounds out of it even if you are.

However you use it, the takeaway here is that bfxr empowers you to make sounds yourself. They’re entirely unique, and an excellent starting place for budding sound designers or game developers who don’t know their way around a microphone (like me) or who can’t find the exact clips they need on a site like freesound.org or freesfx.co.uk.

So, without further ado, check it out now: BFXR!

My First Demo Night: a story of abandonment

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The curse’d Idea Fairy (click the image for the original comic by TheMeatly)

I’ve abandoned another project. That is to say, the Idea Fairy has won this round: I’ve shelved the game I’ve been working on for the last few months and begun something new.

While I’m excited about my new game (and why wouldn’t I be? I’ve only been working on it for three days), I figured it’s worth taking some time to figure out what happened to Strange Gravity, and why it’s back on the shelf again.

A large part of this is due to a demo night here in Boston that I took my working build to. And that’s not to say that the evening even went badly. Here’s what happened.

I’d taken things I’d learned from watching people play the original 7DFPS build and revamped many features, including the logic behind how spores are generated, transferred, and destroyed (which is quite a lot of the gameplay). My improved logic was considerably faster and more efficient.

Also improved was the tutorial, which I saw many people just skip in the original game. I made out much shorter, which was a good thing. I still counted on people walking up and reading placards I’d set up, which was not a good thing. Also not a great idea: setting the tutorial on a flying disc above the ocean with no invisible walls or logic to handle falling INTO the ocean. In my tests, of course, I’d never fallen off the platform once. This didn’t stop a good 40% of players at the demo night tumbling helplessly into a low-poly abyss just moments after the game began.

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My modest table setup at Playcrafting Boston Winter Expo. Note the tiny screen and even tinier split screen! (not pictured – the 8-foot tall banners and 50-inch TVs other devs brought in)

Aside from that, though, I learned that I hadn’t actually improved the tutorial at all. People had just as much trouble following the 5 simple instructions I’d put on the sign as they’d had meandering through my museum tutorial from the original version. Now, I’m assuming that I didn’t randomly get a sampling of players incapable of playing through any given tutorial, so the fault was clearly on my end. I’m currently chalking it up to confusing layout, overly-small instructional text that wasn’t drawn directly on the screen, not incorporating learning better into the actual gameplay, and the fact that I was doing a multiplayer-only demo (tutorials work better for single players, I guess).

That being said, I still don’t know how to make a tutorial WELL, especially for a game that has some relatively complex mechanics. I guess I should go back and play some old favorite games, and NOT skip the tutorials because I already know how to play them. If you know any games that have excellent multiplayer tutorials, particularly first-person games, please let me know on Twitter.

So, the tutorial was a major stumbling block for first-time players, which was especially frustrating because I felt like it was so much better. But, beyond that, a note about design: the structure of the game is that of a top-down RTS, like Galcon or Phage Wars, but in the first person perspective. I knew from the single-player prototype that the format COULD WORK in first-person, but I learned this at the demo night:

It doesn’t work SUPER well.

Especially in multiplayer. The battles quickly became very hectic, with swirling cameras and little player awareness of what was going on. I can think of a few reasons why this might be, including poorly-thought-out level design and the very small screen that I was testing on, but it was discouraging nonetheless.

Now, I got a good amount of feedback, and a lot of people said that it had ‘potential’, which was very nice of them. But the one piece of feedback that I got which really hit home for was this:

“When are you going to start making story-driven games again?”

It's Not About the Aliens screenshot.
It’s Not About the Aliens screenshot.

This came from the awesome David Cherepov, who played, enjoyed, and gave me tons of great feedback for my favorite game that I’ve developed, It’s Not About the Aliens.

This comment, as well as my other experiences at the demo night, brought me to an important conclusion: I’m not making the type of game that I really want to play.

I mean, sure, if Strange Gravity were a completed game, with a fully fleshed-out story mode and a multiplayer mode, I would play it and enjoy it. I would not, however, play the multiplayer mode. I don’t really like multiplayer. I was mostly working on implementing this feature because I felt like it would fit for the game style, not because I thought it sounded fun. Thus, a large chunk of my recent developer energy went into a part of the game that I wasn’t super interested in.

One of my main goals was still accomplished, though, which was learning how to do more stuff. I learned tons of stuff I didn’t know, and that’s half of why I do what I do. The other half, of course, is ending up with a finished product, which was not the case here.

I still think that there’s a lot of ‘potential’ in the game concept, and I think that I have a solid enough code base that I could go back to it and begin developing the single player campaign. (Someday … maybe …)

At present, though, I’ve begun work on something that I actually DO want to play (a story-driven, 2D platformer), and I think that’s serving me well for the time being.

Have you ever lost a battle with the Idea Fairy? What happened to that old project?