Skip to content

Sweating the Small Stuff #2

Today we finish our look into the projects that didn’t quite make it to the finish line. Given that some of them are pretty old and didn’t take especially long to finish, you might wonder what else I’ve been doing.

For one…life.  It’s pretty intense, and this past year most of all.  But I’ve also done some work patching/updating Why Am I Dead At Sea with small features and fixes, and will continue to as much as I am able.  Lastly, among all the craziness I’ve started prototyping an idea that I’m really interested in. I don’t say that lightly, as the last idea I was really “interested” in turned into Why Am I Dead…and we all know how that ended up. So, hopefully, I’ll have some progress to show in the near future, and this can become a real dev blog once again!


#3: Invisible Maniac

Winter 2015 – 24 hours of development

This was another game jam submission for the Philly Game Forge, and this time we had 24 hours to complete a game from scratch! I’d done a couple of Ludum Dares in the past, but this would be my shortest jam ever, so I was pretty excited to enter it. It was 24 hours onsite, so we were able to stay overnight at the Forge and work through those magical hours where your body goes through the seven stages of grief as it slowly realizes that you aren’t going to give it any rest.

I came up with a little 2D stealth game where enemies can’t see you, and can only catch you via direct contact. But there’s a catch – you can’t see yourself either! Using only contextual audio/visual cues, you have to navigate through the game’s levels and past enemies.

IM1

As the levels become more expansive, losing track of where you are becomes more of a threat. To assist the player, there are objects that react to when the player walks over them, and sounds for when you hit a wall. There is also the ever-present sound of your foot-steps, which change based on the surface you’re walking over.

IM2

Thick grass will help you keep track of your location, and you don’t even have to worry about running into wild Pokemon!

IM3.gif

It gets pretty hectic later on, but using water and rock paths to “hear” your location will help!

Truth be told as much fun as I had working on this game, by the time 24 hours was up, I was quite sick of the thing, and had grown bored of the concept. I even considered not submitting it. But it’s good that I did, because people seemed to really like it! In fact they liked it so much they elected it the winner of the jam and gave me a nice wooden plaque for the occasion.

Subway

You can also pick up hoagies and use them to murder people, you’re better off not knowing why.

Despite my misgivings at the eleventh hour, I got a huge charge out of creating this little game. You can play it in-browser or download the whole thing on my site, but note that the download will let you play at a better resolution.


#4: about-face

January 2016: ??? weeks of development

This was a little platformer that I had the idea for way, waaaaay back, over a year ago. I did a tiny amount of coding for it eons ago, which I ultimately re-purposed for the other platformer I talked about in the last post, but finally picked it back up in Jan 2016. Given the haphazard way I worked on it, I really couldn’t say how long it all took me.

It’s a minimalist retro platformer – really genre-breaking, I know. I wanted to make something small and neat, so I did just that. It’s a platformer where every time you jump, the world inverts, and previous…oh, well, a GIF will explain it faster than I can.

aboutfaceintro

So, the world switches between white/black every time you jump. Platforms, spikes, and obstacles will phase in/out based on which color you’re in.

The idea was pretty simple – what is the core mechanic of platformers? Jumping. On platforms. What if I made it so that every mechanic was tied to jumping – every mechanic was tied to your decision on when and how to jump. The result was a game with very few mechanics but many interesting scenarios to design. This was probably the most fun I’ve had designing game environments by far!

doublejump.gif

Twice the jumps = twice the complexity in design!

Sentinels

Chasing enemies were added to turn the game from a slow puzzle-platformer to a faster paced action-platformer.

almostThere

It gets really hard.

I’m pretty happy with this thing, and at this point it’s basically done. The only thing it lacks is an ending (as of now you’ll just run into an incomplete level that can’t be beaten), but once I pop that in there I’d love to upload it to any channels I can. Until then, you may not be surprised to find out that you can play the current version on my website!


Well, that concludes this mini-series. At some point I’d like to redesign my website and include a section for these kinds of things – it doesn’t feel right putting them up side-by-side with something as large as Why Am I Dead At Sea. But I would like for them to have a space of their own.

Advertisements

Sweating the Small Stuff #1

Hello again internet.  Quick life update: I’m in the process of moving (again) and have gotten a full-time position as a software developer, so I’m back to the develop-on-the-side life like I was before.  Which I’ve been enjoying so far.  That whole full-time indie thing was more successful at burning me out than anything else.

I think I could’ve written 5 long-winded blog posts around that, but I like condensing it down into one sentence better.

It occurs to me that I’ve worked on a bunch of stuff since At Sea that I haven’t published or really talked about (at all).  This is either because they were jam submissions, or because I simply didn’t complete them.  In gamedev, we place a premium on full, finished games, and for good reason – it’s kinda important to be able to finish completed games (and really hard!), so it’s a skill everyone wants to cultivate.

However, the small experiments, the unfinished prototypes…these are valuable too. So I thought I’d take some time to talk about the smaller stuff that hasn’t been shown to the masses.


#1: Bzzz Out

Spring 2015 : 1 week of development

This was a small project that I worked on almost immediately after releasing Why Am I Dead At Sea – about a week after its release, I believe.  It was for a game jam that I was (lovingly) pressured into participating.  It was part of the Philly Game Forge‘s Dev Night – basically, a game-development-oriented shared space that runs lots of jams, and has a weekly meet up.

This jam in particular was called the “Juice Jam”, and the idea was simple and interesting – give everyone a template for Breakout in Unity, and make them create the “juiciest” version of it that they can.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of “juice” in a gamedev context, I would highly encourage you to watch the Juice it or Lose it talk.

Bzzzout

I teamed up with local artist Carley for the jam, and we had a week to create something with this Breakout template.  It was an interesting challenge, since I had never done anything in Unity prior to this.  From a development standpoint, I got to tinker with a lot of things I hadn’t previously used, such as tweening and particle effects, and I was able to laser-focus on a really interesting design challenge – juice it!

Although I could critique my work on this jam submission for several pages, ultimately I’m happy with what we came up with (especially the art!) and had a ton of fun working on it.  You can see or play our jam submission on either Carley’s site or my site.


#2: Dandan Man’s Super Dream Place

Autumn 2015 : 3-4 weeks of development

It’s a bit hard to evaluate exactly how much time I put into this project, as it was scattered over a longer period of time, but I was most productive, and did most of the work, in a period of about a week.

InDevCapture2

This game was meant to be an experiment in fourth wall breaking.  The idea goes like this: there’s a super cute and colorful platformer reminiscent of SNES games (especially Kirby) – but it’s not quite finished.  The writing has typos, there are little bugs in the game…and even one of the main levels is missing.  Then you get to the end and see a “warp zone” feature which can take you to that missing level you saw earlier but couldn’t access – huh, I wonder what’ll happen?

Well, now you’ve gone and done it…the game takes a darker turn and you have to navigate through an increasingly broken/glitchy/horror game to get to the bottom of the implied narrative.

Or that’s the idea anyway.  I mostly implemented the actual platformer, felt that nice sense of accomplishment, and called it a day.  The game as-is does already exhibit a bunch of different action/platforming mechanics with lots of different levels: you have a stomping attack that can be used to steal certain enemy’s abilities, and use those to get through various predicaments (like I said, reminiscent of Kirby).

InDev Cap Dash Level.gif

Although I didn’t finish the game, I found the work to be really fun.  This was the first platformer I worked on, and the most level-design-intensive project for me.  And while the art style is still not really very unique to me (it still wears its influences on its sleeve), doing the pixel art was fun and I like how it turned out.

InDev Cap Projectile

So why didn’t I finish it?  Well, to be honest, I still find the idea fun – but “fun” doesn’t cut it for me.  There was a particular feeling I was trying to express with the game when I originally came up with it, but without getting into specifics…I don’t really have that feeling anymore.  Maybe if that feeling returns I’ll happily return to this and finish it in one swoop!

You can try out the prototype here!

I know that in order to finish projects, you can’t depend on silly things like feelings – trust me, I very often didn’t “feel” Why Am I Dead At Sea when I was working on it.  But as this was a side-project that I just wanted to do for fun, I think it’s okay to recognize that my motivations for starting it are no longer present and move on.

Taking a Breather

Hi internet!  It’s been a while – let’s catch up again.

Let’s see.  A while ago I launched my first commercial game on Steam.  The game was in development for far longer than originally intended, and its release was much overdue.

Unfortunately, though I say I “launched” it, I don’t know if that’s really the fitting word, as most of the traffic the game received (maybe 90%?) is purely due to its place on the Steam storefront, meaning I did not succeed at publicizing the game or getting it the exposure I think it deserves.  And overall, it has garnered a small fraction of the views that its much smaller and cruder prequel had (not talking about sales here, just hits), which is pretty discouraging.  After all, the main reason I decided to work on this sequel was because of the apparent interest that was shown in the original.

But now the game is out there, and I can say that I finished and shipped a product with a pretty substantial play-length, considering the game consists 100% of scripted content.  There has been a lot of positive response from the people who have played it, and some really glowing user reviews that have just been a joy to read through.

I haven’t been as productive after release as I thought I would be.  I had all sorts of ideas for projects that were crowding my head, which I thought I would just speed through after being caught up on such a large undertaking.  Nope, turns out I was completely burned out from development and all of the stress leading up to release.  I have been working on several projects and have participated in local game jams, but so far haven’t been as possessed to publish something else with my name on it as I had been with At Sea.

get it?  possessed?

Partially I feel like I’ve proven to myself that I can see a project through to its end, so I don’t feel the pressure or need to finish every little idea that I come up with if it turns out that it isn’t really as interesting as it seemed at first.  Which is usually the case.  The fickle developer who can’t complete anything is a cliche, but in truth I think it’s important to also know when to leave a project.  Yes, you can learn a lot by completing a project, and it is an important skill to be able to “finish” something.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned” – some dude

There are definitely diminishing returns however.  The skill of “finishing” is only one of many, many skills that are required in game development, and it may not even be the most important one in this era of early access and open betas and development live-streaming and twitter GIFs and oh man, things change really fast don’t they?

But one thing I have definitely noticed is that my productivity and general ability to make stuff is so much greater than before I had originally set out to ship a premium game.

When working on other things, it kinda feels like the training weights have come off.  I’ve just spent some time catching my breath.

Launch Day

Just a quick little piece of news: Why Am I Dead At Sea is going to launch on May 11!  Woooo!

Yep, that’s all for now.

You Defeated the Boss!

Some pretty good news this time around!

Never change, Ferdinand.

This is Art with a capital A, folks.

Where should I start?  Hmm, oh yeah – maybe with the fact that my game Why Am I Dead At Sea is basically done.

It’s kinda insane.  I almost don’t believe it.  After working on it for so long, and continuously pushing the finish line further and further back, you kind of forget that finishing is even possible.  I’ve gotten so used to adding things to Why Am I Dead At Sea, that the thought of not adding another thing to it just seems crazy.  There’s something I’m missing, right?

Well…Not really.  All the alternate endings are finished.  The epilogues too.  The dialogue in the game has been rewritten three times over.  I must’ve redone the menus half a dozen times.  There’s even controller support!

This realization comes with two feelings – relief, but also anxiety.  When I admit that the game is finished, I start to panic because a part of me still wants it to be better.  Surely there’s other things I can do to improve it even more, just that little bit extra that will put it over the top, right?  Imagine how much better the game could be, if I’d only add ______ .

The bottom line is, I will be moving forward with distribution/marketing on the basis that the game is in fact complete.  Yeah, at the same time I will also be making small tweaks here and there, if only to satiate a compulsion to tweak.  But don’t worry, I can stop whenever I want to.

…Moving on.


 

SteamworksIsAGo

woah

I’ve gotten all incorporated and everything, and now I can work on putting my game on Steam!  Well, technically it’s already on Steam, but there several extra things I need to do.  Namely, I want to implement Steam cloud saves, achievements, and trading cards, and make sure everything is working smoothly with both Windows and Mac downloads.  It’s a bit hard to say how long this will take, but progress has been very smooth so far.

Speaking of all that, this post is doubling as a bit of a recruiting call.  You see, I want a final wave of testing with a larger group before the game goes public, and I also need to test and make sure the game is actually working with all these Steam features.  That means I need some new testers!

If you want to get the game a bit earlier than everyone else, you want to get it for free, but most importantly if you want to help a solo developer in their hour of need, please email me at “pmcgrath@peltastdesign.com”.  Things to include in your email (for fun, but also so I know you’re serious about testing):

1 ) The operating system you run / will play the game on

2 ) Where you originally heard about Why Am I Dead At Sea

3 ) If you played the original Why Am I Dead – who do you think was the serial killer?

The last time I made a call for volunteer testers I was really impressed by how many people responded, and how dedicated many of them have been.  If you volunteered before and I didn’t get back to you, I apologize – but also know that this test phase will require much more people, so feel free to volunteer again!


 

Thanks in advance to any volunteers!  Next blog update I may be releaseing a date of some import.

Hello Steam!

Sorry everyone, no long blog post this time – just a short update for a bit of news.

But oh, what news it is.

AMiracle2

Why Am I Dead At Sea is going to launch on Steam!!!  Talk about a boost!

Thank you everybody for your votes, support, and kind words.  Now, I have a game to finish!

GreenlitButton

Influences

When people hear what Why Am I Dead At Sea is about and how you play it, they generally have a similar reaction: that’s like Ghost Trick!  Or some people will less frequently say, oh, it’s similar to Murdered!

Looking at those games, the parallels are obvious.  The funny thing is, I wasn’t even aware of Ghost Trick when I started on the original Why Am I Dead in 2012.  And Murdered came out two whole years after Why Am I Dead, so that clearly wasn’t an influence.  In truth, the real sources of inspiration that led me to make this game came from entirely different places.

What are those places?  Well no one really asked, but I’m about to tell you anyway, so get ready!

Free Flash Games

You were murdered, and you’re a ghost trying to solve their own death.  Hmm.  That must be from Ghost Trick, right?  Or Murdered: Soul Suspect!  What about that Ghost movie with Patrick Swayze?  Or is it The Crow?

Nah.

About two-ish years ago I wanted to practice programming in Flash and put something small online, so I was thinking up a little project to motivate myself.  The idea was to make something in a week that would teach me the basics.  Something really simple, but still interesting and unique.

So you know what I looked at for inspiration?  Other simple, interesting and unique free flash games!  These were the games that taught me you can create a truly memorable experience with hardly any visuals or assets – that you can leave an impression on people even if the playtime for your game is as short as 5-10 minutes.  And there are a couple such games in particular that gave me the little idea that led to today.

 

I Wish I Were The Moon

This is a small experimental game made by Daniel Benmergui in 2010, more well known for his games Today I Die and his upcoming Storyteller.  In it, you have a camera of sorts that allows you to take snapshots of certain objects in the game and move them around.  Depending on what you move and where, you can change the little story the game has.

You can play it here.

So in this case, there’s a girl on a boat looking up at a boy on a moon.  The girl likes the boy; the boy likes the moon.  This strange love triangle can be played out in all sorts of ways, and the game will respond to pretty much all interactions you give it.  For example, you can immediately dump both the girl and the boy in the ocean.  You monster.  Or you can swap their places, so the boy is on the boat and the girl is on the moon, so she is now also the object of his affection!  Yay!  (don’t think about it too hard)

If you’re quick, it takes maybe five minutes to discover all the possible permutations in the game.  So why am I still talking about it four years after it was made?  Because it was a completely different system than anything I had ever seen before.  I was able to manipulate pieces in the story and directly change it in a way no other game let me, and as short-lived as that experience was, it was very impressionable.

Oiche Mhaith

This is actually some of the more tame writing in the game.

Another experimental flash game made by Increpare and Terry Cavanagh, the latter of which is well known for VVVVVV and Super Hexagon.  You control a small girl who, well…I’ll link to the actual game before I really get into it.

You can play it here, but be warned that it contains adult language and themes and is very very dark.

Simply put, you control a small girl who is charged with the task of putting the minds (souls?) of her mother, father, doll, and dog back into their respective bodies.  The game doesn’t really make it clear which is which, and you have to figure things out by trial and error.  The cool thing is that the game has an outcome for every permutation – put the mind of the dog into your father’s body, and one thing will happen.   Put the doll’s mind into your father’s body, something else will happen.

Similar to I Wish I Were the Moon, this game allows you to manipulate things in the game in a strange new way.  In the former, you could actually move them around – in the latter, it’s much more abstract.  And both games allow for experimentation – you are encouraged to move things around in certain ways just to see what the result will be, even if it isn’t the “correct” interaction.

The defining thing in these cases is that you feel like you are creating meaning in the game.  You aren’t simply picking up and moving blocks – you are manipulating actors in a story, and creating what feel like emergent scenarios.

Creating Meaning

So I thought, giving the player the ability to manipulate story objects was cool…what if I allowed the player to do so by directly assuming control of things in the game?  Like in I Wish I Were the Moon, you could move them around to do different stuff.  And like in Oiche Mhaith, different combinations of characters could lead to different results.

Except in this case, it wouldn’t be a combination of mind/body pairs – it would be a combination between the character the player is currently controlling, and the character they choose to interact with.

This was the core that I started with, and at this point there was still no ghost stuff going on.  Instead, I was thinking of just arbitrarily giving the player this power to control people, without having a narrative explanation for it.  I also wasn’t entirely sure that you would interact with people by really talking to them – the interactions might be more abstract or exaggerated than that.

I believe it was my sister who came up with the narrative idea first.  I had voiced an incredibly vague and ethereal concept to her, and she thought it would make sense if the player was a ghost.  And since they have to solve some sort of puzzle, they could be a ghost detective, charged with solving a mystery.  I then made what now seems a somewhat inevitable last step – how about you’re a ghost solving the mystery of your death?

And the rest is history.

The first playable build.

The first playable build.