Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Daily Grind

You'd think that running a company would be all fun and games. I'm the boss. I get to do fun stuff all the time. Yeah, well no. I get to work all the time. If I happen to find it fun, it's a bonus, but sitting up into the small hours banging your head against a brick wall trying to track down annoying little bugs that turn out to be issues with third-party libraries in no way to go through life, son.

So anyway; making games is fun. It's just that at some point they have to start paying for themselves. Now, I've already discovered that I'm not very good at predicting what game genres will be a success and what will not (Candy Crush? WTF?) so the only option left open to me is to make a game that I will enjoy playing and hope that others will feel the same way; and preferably enough of them to make the time spent writing the game pay for itself... (Yes, yes, it's all very noble to suffer for your art and all that, but meanwhile, in the real world, people have mortgages, kids and a burning desire to eat and pay bills and all that jazz).

So, anyway. Even though the platform game is really a means to an end (the end being a nice set of cross-platform libraries to make future development easier), it still is something I'd like to be proud of at the end of the day. In order to do that, it needs to be a game that I'd want to play.

Now, "back in the day" (and I'm talking early 80s here), one of my most-enjoyed style of game was the platform adventure. Games such as Jet Set Willy, Spellbound, Knight Tyme, and Universal Hero combined platforming action with a light story-based 'collect the objects and use them in the right place' type adventure. Nothing too deep, usually, but fun and engaging enough to while away the odd afternoon.

There have been some successful modern takes on this class of game, including VVVVVV (on the Jet Set Willy end of the scale) through to Knytt Underground and Cave Story on the Spellbound/Universal Hero end of the scale. So, why not add my own effort?

One of the things I enjoyed most about the early games was the exploration and mapping aspect; in Jet Set Willy, for example, each room was named and usually was a good insight into the twisted sense of humour of the programmer (and in the case of Matthew Smith, the author of Jet Set Willy, it was a very twisted place indeed). A bit part of the fun was discovering all of the new rooms and in-jokes. Jet Set Willy was pretty much pure platforming exploration; fun but shallow. Spellbound and Knight Tyme were far more adventure-like, and placed much less of an emphasis on the platforming and much more on the story aspect. So. I got to thinking, why can't a game do both? Well, I'm sure that plenty have and I'm just unaware of them. I'm not going to let that stop me though, which is why I'm ready to announce the title of the new game: Chromatic Aberration II.

Chromatic Aberration II Title Screen
"Wait a minute!" I hear you exclaim with a bored tone, "Why is it a sequel? What's the first game?"
Well, the prequel will be coming out too. We're working on both games simultaneously, but we're starting with the sequel. For those of you familiar with early 80s games, we're aiming for a Manic Miner/Jet Set Willy vibe - only enhanced with up-to-date features from modern game styles such as dynamic lighting. It should be an interesting experiment; lo-fi graphics with modern FX. At worst, it will be a glorious failure.

Technically speaking, the gameplay engine is about 75% complete. Most of that which is remaining are for special cases and (for example) extended features, such as the ability for the player to control in-room features via a computer console (e.g. shut down a force field), and things that I'm sure I'll think of when I come across something cool.

The other stuff that's remaining to be done is to overhaul the graphics (most of them are currently placeholders and/or ripped from elsewhere) and implement the story/adventure aspect of the game and any other special features that are required, as well as design a whole bunch of new rooms (the first map is shown below). I'm trying to keep it all fairly generic so that I can script the majority of it from text files (which lends itself nicely for a future 'adventure editor' feature). 

The starting area for the player. Please excuse the 'placeholder' graphics.

Currently, it's planned to be released for Windows, but I am doing regular simultaneous builds for OsX, iOS and PlayStation Vita, so if all goes as planned I would expect it to be released for those platforms at some point soon after the initial release.

Oh, and lastly, my trainee minion, Josh is still working hard and is coming on leaps and bounds in his programming skills. Here's a screenshot from the prototype I have him working on currently. It may not look much right now, but it's surprisingly fun to play, even at this early stage. I hope to talk more about this next time.
It's a puzzle. With numbers.