Around the World

It’s been a little bit since my last update, and during that time I’ve been expanding the world of my newest project. Last time I talked in some detail about a maze-themed area called the Warren – this time, I’m going to be describing a bunch of different areas as briefly as I can.

While there are many areas/concepts that I have come up with and would like to add to the game, I’ve reached the minimum number needed to make the game a larger, more interconnected world. At a very basic level, the game’s world is a wheel with spokes on it – the player starts at the hub, and ventures out into different directions from there. However, the spokes are connected to each other in different ways to support lots of different potential paths, so for the wheel to really fit together, there need to be enough spokes.

Through an extremely scientific process, I’ve landed on five spokes. We know about the Warren, so what are the other four?


This one is really awkward to talk about, so I figure I’ll just get it out of the way quickly. The concept is a desert area where the player navigates mostly by way of sound. This ties into the “pick up and move around ghosts” mechanic by way of the ghosts emitting sounds, which differ in volume and stereo based on your position relative to them. So you can use them as audio guides for where you are, and you can move them around to build a path of sounds through the wide desert areas.

The issue with this is, of course, that none of this is visual, so I really don’t have much to show. While the art for the area is still unfinished/nonexistent, even when I have created that, it’s going to seem pretty bare, since the whole idea is to deny the player visual landmarks so that they rely on audio guides. And it’s, y’know, a desert.


Inner Eye

The mechanic behind this area was pretty fun to implement. Basically, the passable terrain is camouflaged as background, and the way to uncover it is to walk across it. I implemented particle effects and physics into the game not too long ago, and one of the first things I wanted to do was add an effect to this mechanic that made it appear as if the player is chipping away at the hidden area!

The particles linger, allowing the player to push them around for a bit

Honestly, it doesn’t get much more complicated than that. The main thing is that as you progress, the hidden areas become less and less easy to discern. In the above example, the hidden bridge is hinted at, and is the only apparent way forward, so it’s easy to find – but later on the cues will become scarcer, until ultimately you’re walking around in complete darkness and cutting the path entirely on your own.

Somewhat absent from this is a real sense of challenge. Unlike the previous two areas, the game isn’t really trying to disorient the player here – in fact, the game is constantly reminding them where they’ve been and what path they’ve taken. However, I think there’s just something inherently satisfying in searching for the different hidden paths and clearing out all of the hidden terrain, and there’s lots of potential for hiding things of interest for the player to uncover. For at least these first few areas, I think the action of exploration/discovery, and an intrinsic appreciation for that, should be the focus.


So far, none of the areas pose any serious threat to the player – they’re completely focused on exploration in their own ways. The player could get lost, but there’s not much to knock them back to a checkpoint, despite hazards/enemies/checkpoints being some of the first things I implemented. That pattern stops with this area, which takes the “hidden terrain” concept and adds onto it in a few ways.

First, the hidden terrain comes in different colors. Some of these colors require the player to be holding a certain kind of spirit in order for the “color” to be cleared away, revealing the terrain underneath. This very quickly becomes important, as the hidden terrain is now placed on a higher layer – meaning it obscures vision of everything underneath it, including the player. And finally, hazards/enemies make their appearance in this area, where they can be found underneath the “colors” to stop any player who is being a bit too careless.

Colors and tiles here are still place-holders, but hopefully it gets the idea across

The obstacles are still fairly rudimentary, so it’s not like this turns the game-play into anything that could be considered “action” – the main point is that it introduces an element of resource-management into the “hidden area” concept, as the player will have to juggle between different spirits to clear the path forward.


This brings us to the last major area. To explain the idea behind this one, I’ll have to go back to the first area – the Warren. In that, you need to carry spirits from area to area, as they will guide you on where to go, and sometimes warn you if you’re heading down the wrong path. Well, I initially thought it would be interesting to have that same concept, but applied to everything, rather than just where to go.

That may sound vague, but contextualized with the theme of Hallucination, it’s application is clear – things are not always what they appear to be, and so you need to use spirits to help you figure out what is real and fake.

Ultimately I decided that to implement this in the same way as the Warren would be too clunky, so instead I made it so certain spirits have a sort of “aura” around them. Rather than having to constantly talk to these spirits for them to give you hints, the aura passively reveals things as they truly are – all the player has to do is move them around to navigate through the hallucinations.

Anything can be anything.

This may look straight-forward, but as the number of hallucinations increases, it becomes a bit more complicated. There are also a few tricks I can use to trip up the player, even if they’re being careful – and since I’m throwing hazards into the mix, the stakes are a tiny bit higher.

Also worth noting, with the theme of hallucination I came up with a bunch of different ideas while I was working on the previous areas. By the time I got to this one, there were a lot of things that didn’t directly tie into the mechanic I had originally envisioned, but fit into the theme of the area, that I really wanted to add in. So this also became a bit of a “wild-card” area where the most consistent thing is the lack of consistency!

A section where all of the background, enemies and objects are different animations of the player? Why not

There are several moments I’m especially fond of, that I’d prefer to keep to myself for now, at least until I’ve gotten to a point where I think the visuals do them a bit more justice. Let’s just say that I had a lot of fun with this part of the game!

That concludes the synopsis of each major area. Now that I’ve got a rough implementation of the game world, my next task is to go back through all of them and work on their visuals to give them each a unique look (as well as just make things look prettier). After that, I’ll be a hop skip and a jump away from a releasable (if still incomplete) version of the game!

The Warren

So my new HTML5 project has been marching along. Progress was a bit slower over the holidays, but the game has taken on a lot more form and I feel pretty comfortable talking about what it’s going to look like at the end. I even decided on a title, after a bit too much deliberation: Ghost Planet.

Because there are all kinds of ghosts, you see

There are a bunch of different areas throughout the game, each with its own theme and type of challenge to overcome. Some of them are more closely related, and build off of another’s mechanics – some of them stand by themselves. All of them are connected to multiple different areas, so there’s no one path to follow – for the most part, you can choose in which order you find them.

But at the beginning of the game, there are only three areas that can be directly accessed, each one in a different direction, with a different mechanic, and a bit larger than the others. You could say these are the main branches from which the others stem.

Today, we’ll talk briefly about the Warren.


a densely populated or labyrinthine building or district.”a warren of narrow gas-lit streets”

I’m not shy about my influences – in this case, the Warren is inspired by the “Lost Woods” archetype from the original Legend of Zelda. Since then, there have been many variations on the idea, within Zelda and other games. Simply put, it’s a maze composed of lots of similar rooms with four entrances. Though the solution to the mazes vary, the thing that I find interesting is how quickly one gets disoriented because of the lack of reliable landmarks.

While many “Lost Woods”-type mazes require very specific paths, or will actually loop you back around so that you can never reach the edges of the area, the Warren is more “what you see is what you get”. Each maze is composed of a finite number of rooms, and there’s no trickery warping you around. There are many paths that will lead you to the exit…but finding it will still be difficult due to their layout. And while other mazes might happily spit you out at the beginning if you make a wrong turn, the Warren will let you move as far off track, or go in as many circles, as you please – so staying oriented is important.

But you’re not alone. Throughout the Warren are ghosts that will help guide you through specific portions. In this case, a ghost helps the player through an introductory section by giving them pretty straight-forward directions. But as you go deeper in, the mazes become larger, more hazardous, and the hints you get become a lot more contextual and vague, requiring you to do more leg-work to figure your way out. And not all of your guides will be so trustworthy…

Anyway, that’s the gist of things. I don’t think I’ll be able to cover each area in the game – especially when some have themes/mechanics that are probably better experienced first-hand. But hopefully this gives a bit of an idea what the game is trying to achieve. When I can, I’ll probably do a short overview of the other major areas, or something about the narrative in the game, such as it is.

A short detour into the land of the dead

I’m working on another game!

…Okay, so I know I just announced working on another large-ish project a little while ago, and since then I haven’t made any updates for it – so it might seem a bit weird to announce another game right now.

But there are reasons! First of all, I’ve been meaning to write more about Familiar, but I just haven’t quite been able to figure out how. In the earlier stages I don’t have as much that I feel comfortable showing, and I can’t seem to touch the subject of Familiar‘s design or narrative without beginning a full-length novel about it. As the game’s visuals slowly climb out of programmer-art territory I’ll be able to show more, and hopefully I’ll be able to formulate my thoughts on what makes the game interesting before then as well!

Secondly, I kinda need a small break from Familiar. It has been slower progress than I had hoped (what else is new), and the amounts of writing/scripting for a narrative game kind of wear down on one. Of course, any big project will have times that you just have to power through, but I also don’t want to burn myself out if I can help it. I had originally planned to always have one small, small project on the side to keep some variety in my gamedev – I just shelved that idea and had been focusing on Familiar until now.

So, what’s this new game? Well, er, it’s a 2D game where you…walk around and talk to ghosts. So, no, it’s not really fresh new territory for me. It has been pointed out to me how ghosts tend to be a heavily recurring theme in my games, and the fact that it looks and controls similarly to previous games is not lost on me. (I will say that this was not originally going to have any ghosts in it at all and would feature a totally different setting, but there’s a longer story behind that…)

But it’s much more of a puzzle-y, exploration focused game than anything else. The dialogue will be very sparse in this case, and you aren’t going to be doing nearly as much talking with ghosts as you will moving them around. As you can see in the above GIF, the player can pick up and drop any of the spirits in the game, and it’s that basic function that the game will revolve around. While some of the spirits you encounter will be there to feed little crumbs of information on the story, or give you vague hints, many of them will have crucial abilities you’ll need to progress.

The two major ones that I can talk about are checkpoints and waypoints.

In this case we can see a giant eye that the player can activate to set a check-point, which will determine where the player respawns when they run into a hazard (as I do several times in this case). These aren’t by any means a new thing for games – the only noteworthy point is that they adhere to all of the same rules as the other spirits you’ll run across. They can have dialogue, although in this case they don’t, and they can be picked up and moved around. This means that if you’re able to pick them up, you’ll be able to freely decide your respawn point!

And here’s a demonstration of waypoints – these come in pairs, and let you warp between the two spirits by interacting with them. In this case, I’m just using them to solve a simple puzzle by grabbing other spirits from an otherwise unreachable area to block the path of some enemies – but they’re really far more important to the game than just puzzle solving.

As I mentioned, a big part of the game is going to be exploration – wandering around, learning about the game’s areas, gathering clues from spirits, and figuring out where you are and what’s really going on. All of that means navigating over a large area, and a lot of potential walking. Unless, of course, you have a network of waypoints that can teleport you to the farther corners of the game’s world!

What I want to do with this game, and part of why I’ve gone out of my way to implement these two objects first, is because I want to make an exploration game where the player is given more control over how exactly they explore. Rather than carefully design the map with puzzles that have just one solution, carefully setting checkpoints where I think they’ll be needed, giving the player handy short-cuts and fast-travel options…all of that will be on the player.

The player will have to decide if they want to leave a checkpoint at a difficult area if they need to traverse it again and want a spawnpoint nearby, or if they want to carry that checkpoint with them to use for wherever they’re going next. They’ll have to decide what would be the most useful locations to leave their waypoints, based on their understanding of the game’s layout and where they think they’ll have to go. And while these are probably the most fundamental abilities, there are many others that will be used in the game.

I’ve been enjoying the diversion working on this game, and progress has been pretty smooth so far – by now I’ve only been working on it for about a week. Although it’s actually a totally separate code-base from literally anything else I’ve shown in this blog, as it’s an HTML5 game written entirely in Javascript, it has benefited from a project I worked on a while ago (and may or may not return to and write about here?).

It may not be the most visually or conceptually groundbreaking thing for me, but I think it has some promise, and I’m really looking forward to sharing my progress. I might be jinxing things, but it looks geared to become the shortest dev-cycle I’ve had thus far (excluding game jams), which is pretty neat in itself!