We’re ready for Beta testing! Right on time!

Why Now?

Except, extremely not right on time.  Although game development is always subject to delay (especially by indies), I think this large a time gap between when I said I was “just around the corner” for a demo, and today, still warrants some explanation.

A great deal of it is simply perfectionism – the constant feeling that the game isn’t ready for minor reasons that would certainly not disqualify it from play testing.  This is aided by the fact that while I think of my goals in a linear way, I am often not able to accomplish them in that way.  After working on a certain aspect of the game for so long, I begin to shut down and have to work on something else to maintain my sanity.  Generally I’ll make a check-list with my main objectives at the top, but with lots of smaller issues that I’d like to get done at some point on the bottom.  When I need a break, I tackle the smaller goals in whatever order I feel like.  So while a main development goal may not appear so far away, this is a bit deceptive.

I also can’t ignore that my transition to China and my new job has slowed me down.  Even though in the long run I think it will help my discipline and motivation to see the game through, it has in the short term taken a lot of my time and energy to get used to!

What Now?

Back to matters at hand, I will now be taking applications for beta testers.  For the first time, (some) people will be able to play Why Am I Dead At Sea, and I’ll be able to receive vital feedback whilst developing.  If you would like to help me and receive early access to the game, please fill out the following (short!) application and email it to pmcgrath@peltastdesign.com :  Beta tester application

Of course, I know that as a tester you are providing me a valuable service, for free!  Although hopefully early access to the game is some recompense in itself, beta testers will also have the following incentives:

– Free copy of the game when it is released, along with whatever key codes are relevant, based on how it is distributed (this is an obvious one)

– Recognition: All testers who contribute will be shown in the credits (also pretty obvious).  Those who contribute substantially more will get extra recognition.

– I would also like to have monthly best-bug-find competitions, the payoff for which could possibly involve leveraging my art assets/scripting to give the tester a little memento in the form of a screenshot/GIF made with the game engine (the contents of which being up to the tester).

 

At the moment, the version that testers can play will take them through the game’s introduction and first chapter (of which there will be five).  It isn’t a huge amount of content to explore as of yet and mainly serves to introduce the player to the story and the patterns/concepts of the game, but is almost entirely content complete!  And of course, later chapters will follow.

At this point, development will overwhelmingly mean writing dialogue and cinematics, as well as responding to bugs and player feedback.  As a result, updates will probably be sparse in new shiny art or features.  So, I’ll be taking the time to go into greater detail at some features I’ve brought up before, how they are implemented, et cetera.

The Grind

There’s been a grab bag of progress since the last update.

1. Character AI / Behavior

Perhaps the most substantial accomplishment has been what I can only hope is the final slaying of multiple bugs in character AI and behavior — getting characters to move around the ship on their own, handle transitions between areas elegantly, and react to obstacles (including the player).  I definitely anticipated that this feature would cause me some trouble, but I have to say that this has been extraordinarily tedious to implement.  It has become something I dread working on by this point and definitely sucks on my energy to work on the project.

And I’m sure there are still several bugs that will only show themselves after play-testing.  Hooray!

One feature that I lump into “character AI” is something I haven’t shown yet: the ability to have characters follow you around, caterpillar-style!  This will be used at a couple points in the game when the plot demands it.

As with last time, click on the image to see a GIF of this!

Getting the follower to work correctly was quite tricky.  The normal pathfinding for characters moving on their own was too clunky and not responsive enough to follow the player around closely.   So, I had to write a simpler sort of AI that beelines towards the point the player was in about 30 frames ago.  However, this can be exploited by the player as well to get the follower stuck on obstacles, in which case the follower will walk in place for eternity.

Each approach had its faults, so I created a hybrid of these two behaviors.  The follower now uses the simpler behavior until it finds itself stuck on an obstacle, at which point it shifts to the more complicated path-finding behavior in order to get around the obstacle.  As soon as it reaches the player, it then shifts back to the simpler behavior.  You can see this in action in the GIF when I get the follower stuck on a wall-corner, and she moves around it after about a half-second pause.

At some point I think I’d like to make a huge post about all of the small idiosyncrasies, bugs, hangups and annoyances of character behavior.  It would be cathartic.

2. 100% More Kitty!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this on my blog yet.  There is in fact another possessable character, up until now never spoken of!  Who could it be!?

Click to see a catwalk GIF!

Yes, you get to possess a cat.  It may not be the most useful for getting other characters to open up about their dark and troubled histories, given that it can only say “meow” or “hiss”.  But, it makes up for that by being the most agile and lithe of your potential hosts.  Observe:

Click for GIF!

The cat has the ability to jump, a feat that no human in the game seems capable of (or at least interested in).  And combined with its small size, this allows the cat to go through crawl spaces and open up new areas that you couldn’t access with your human hosts.

3. The Introduction

One of the final things standing in my way for a complete demo is a proper introduction that pushes the game off.  This was something I could have pushed back; I could have released a demo without it.  However, I’ve heard that feedback is a bit of a finite resource, and I’d really like my first ‘wave’ of feedback to include the introduction to the game.

In the previous “Why Am I Dead”, you are simply thrown into the game.  Instructions are given as black text on the ground, and you are given a short conversation that explains the premise of the game.  This time around, the introduction will still be short and sweet, but much more involved.  This is partially because of a difference in premise — the last time around, you start hovering over your fresh corpse.  Combined with the title, it really spoke for itself.  In this game, things aren’t quite as simple, and it really warrants the extra effort to explain things.

A little peek at the introduction outlining the protagonist’s end.

This meant creating original art for the introduction and scripting things to get the timing just right.  It’s been pretty easy to implement, but surprisingly time-consuming.

I know I’ve taken way longer to get to a closed demo than I had predicted, but I really am getting close now.  I promise!  For real this time!

Really Piling it on Here

Hello from Xi’an, China!  Things have been a bit hectic; I’m just getting over jet-lag now, and I start teaching English classes tomorrow.

Lots of new stuff to adjust to.  New country, new apartment, new school, new students (lots of them).  It might be a while before I get comfortable with all of it!  So, what better a time than now to make clear my goal to submit Why Am I Dead At Sea to IGF 2014?

The deadline is October 19, which gives me about a month and a half to get my current build to competition-readiness.  That really isn’t much time at all!  But more importantly, this gives me a solid deadline and a great reason to get back into full-time development.  To be honest, even though I completely failed to reach my goal of submitting to Indiecade, that was by far the most productive time for me.  I never really was able to match that pace afterwards.  And now that I’m in China and teaching English and all that crazy and awesome stuff, it’s more important than ever that I have a clear goal that I’m working towards.  It would be very easy to lose sight of development in the midst of everything else, and I am determined not to let that happen!

Most of the work left is writing and polishing.  Prioritization is going to be key here — there are lots of side-features that I’d like to implement but which are by all means optional.  If I want to even have a chance at submitting my game I’ll have to be much better at leaving that stuff to finish later.

So….here goes!

One More State-side Update

Sadly this past month hasn’t been as productive as I might have liked.  The main culprit is probably the fact that tomorrow I’ll be flying to the other side of the planet, where I’ll be spending the next year.  Aside from the time I’ve had to spend preparing for the trip, it’s a bit hard for me to focus on development with something like that looming over me!  I guess you could say the move has stolen the game’s thunder for the time being.

For the next week or so I’m guessing I’ll be swamped with getting situated.  After the initial craziness though, I’m hoping that I will actually be more productive overall with Why Am I Dead At Sea than I have been this summer.  Though I’ll have less potential waking hours to contribute to the project, I think that my day job will keep me from burning out and will force me to value my development time more.  When all of my day-to-day structure is self-imposed, it is so much harder to stay on task!

With all that said, there has still been a good deal of progress that I can share, so let’s get into that!  Note:  Every picture is linked to a GIF that shows the same thing but with animation.  If you want to see the animation, just click on the picture!

1. Scenery Layering

One thing I did since my last blog update was rewrite a lot of my collision detection code, mainly because it was legacy code from the first “Why Am I Dead” that was needlessly complicated and honestly just done very badly.  To make my life easier in adding other stuff to the game, I decided to just bite the bullet and tear it all out.

One thing that I then proceeded to do with the help of an improved collision detection system was to include support for layered props.  Previously, only characters could be layered to give an illusion of depth, while props were completely static and could not be moved in front of or behind, but simply around.  Now, they operate in the same way:

So that’s neat.

2.  ‘Spectral’ Effects and Unlocks

I’ve known that I wanted to have a different visual style in the game for the ghostly/supernatural things that happen in the game — something that seems to be separate from the pixel art of the rest of the game.  After flirting with particle effects, I decided on a…motif of sorts, involving relatively simple vector art combined with lots of different animation effects.

The screenshot below, actually, is a pretty bad example of that, but it also demonstrates one of the big applications that this motif will be seen in.

This is still really rough, but gets the idea across.  So…what are we looking at here?

Currently the ghost is using an ability to sense what things it can interact with.  As you might guess, green means that it can, and red that it can’t.

In most cases, both characters and new areas must be unlocked before the ghost can successfully enter them.  In the case of possessing characters, you generally have to be able to understand the motives of that character before you can steer them.  And in the case of different areas, you need to have explored the place behind a door before you can ghost-magic your way through it.  This means that you have to possess someone who has access to that area before you have the ability to visit it as a ghost.

This may strike some as rather un-ghostly; generally ghosts can pass through anything, without question!  However, you will very quickly be able to unlock most areas and will spend the majority of the game floating through everything.  This is simply a way to give some more structure to the early parts of the games, and allow for a few surprises.

3. Mind-reading

You have yet another ability in your ghostly arsenal: mind-reading!  This can be done on anyone at any time, and satisfies two functions:

– Additional, optional background and development for those who are interested in seeking it out

– Hints and cues for those who are stuck

It’s as simple as going next to a character while in ghost form and hitting a button.  You will then be brought to a screen that generally has an animated pattern in the style that I outlined before.  On top of that, the thoughts of the character fade in and out.

Each character will obviously have different text that corresponds to what’s going on in their heads at that time in the story (and it will change over the course of the game).  But more importantly, each character’s mind-reading-screen will have radically different animations and visual effects that correspond to their personality and emotional state.

Given how eccentric some of the characters are, I’m going to have a lot of fun with it.

 

Well, that’s it for now.  The next update that I make will be from the city of Xi’an!

Anchors Aweigh

Quite a bit to cover this time.

New title.  I’ve decided to change the name of “Why Am I Dead 2” to “Why Am I Dead At Sea”.  It’s not a huge change, but a lot of thought was put into it.  I came to this decision primarily because this project really isn’t a direct sequel in many ways, and I wanted the title to reflect this.  In addition my hope is that this game will be able to reach a much wider audience than its predecessor did, and I don’t want anyone to think they will need to play another game to understand it.  It really is a project that I hope will stand on its own…so tacking on a number at the end didn’t seem to fit!

Though I feel it’s a bit on the wordy side, I went through innumerable potential titles and could find nothing else that more accurately described the spirit of this project than “Why Am I Dead At Sea”.

Screen3

Beta testing.  Though development time has exceeded even my wider estimates, I can happily say that I will soon be ready for closed beta testing / play-testing.

Given that the weakest area of my last project was the amount of bugs it had on launch, this is something I’m taking very seriously.  The last time, the only play-testing that my game had was from fellow developers on FGL.com, a website for other free browser-based games.  This was a big mistake!  While I’m eternally grateful to everyone there who helped me out, I should have really used it in conjunction with other sources, as I didn’t get enough feedback on the game to smooth everything out.

For instance, the reason there were game-breaking bugs at the end of the game is very simple: out of all the people who played my game before it was released, I think only one person who gave me feedback actually reached the end!  And then when the game was launched and I was scrambling to push out new fixed versions, I didn’t have anyone but myself test those, either…so they sometimes ended up creating new bugs.  It was a mess!

This time I’m going to be much more proactive in getting feedback, gathering a wider pool of testers, and putting the game through play-testing longer.  My plan is currently to find volunteers who would be interested in the type of game I’m making, and offering incentives for their help (obviously a place in the credits being one of them, but ideally other things as well).

Screen6

Marketing.  Around the same time that I start beta-testing, I will have enough assets to feel comfortable in making a serious effort to publicize my game.  This will mean a teaser trailer, a website launch, a Greenlight page, and loads of other stuff.

My plan for publicizing the game is a two-parter, since I feel the game is in a bit of a grey area.  It has a lot of elements that I think would appeal to a smaller, but more dedicated audience — which means that the sooner I start talking about my game, the more likely I am to reach that audience.  But my game will also be very cheap and on the smaller side — which says to me that most people will only give it their attention once, and if it isn’t available then, they won’t pursue it later.

So my compromise is to release everything I can to publicize the game as early as I feel comfortable, with the sole exception of a free demo, which I will reserve for the day that the completed game launches.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m definitely reaching an exciting stage now where the game is taking shape.  Hopefully by my next post I’ll be able to show a teaser and the game’s dedicated website.

Menus and Screenshots for WAID2

Happy Fourth of July for any state-side readers!

Progress on Why Am I Dead II could be fairly characterized as slow but steady.  After giving up the ghost (ha) on the Indiecade deadline, I have to find something else to latch onto so that I can push myself harder.

But that’s not to say that I’ve slacked off!  I decided to take a break from art and return to programming.  Much like how pulling a thread can unravel an entire garment, a small change to how I displayed things on screen turned into a pretty thorough upheaval of the whole game engine.  It was a long time coming, since a lot of the original code was 1) written a year ago and 2) written with a much smaller project in mind.

The benefit of all that work is invisible, but present.  The code is just overall a lot better and less stupid.  It’s still pretty stupid in some places, but a lot less so.  And that’s always good.

I then returned to the initial reason I made the change that started all of that, which was menus!  I wanted overlapping flexible menus, and now I have them.  This will be used for the starting menu and the pause menu, and will be responsible for loading your game and changing your game options.

A rough version of the screen housing your Save files.

The biggest challenge for this was mostly getting the controls to work for both the mouse and keyboard smoothly and intuitively.

I was then able to return to working on the game art feeling a bit refreshed.  I’ve now expanded the scenery assets to a point where I’d rather not even list them, as it’d take up too much space!  I’ve also filled in the majority of the game maps, to the point where the end is in sight.  You can probably infer this, but there is a lot more space, and a lot more scenery, and a lot more everything in this game than the last.  A big reason this is taking longer than I estimated is what I guess could be called art creep, wherein I compulsively add this or that art asset on the fly to fill things in more.

So, for the first time, I’d like to share completed mockups of the game in action.  But as tradition goes, let’s start by revisiting screenshots of the original game:

And now the new — keeping in mind of course that this is a tiny fraction of the completed environment/scenery from the game!

The Pixels Never End

As usual, the work on WAID continues.  Just to get this out of the way, I’m finally pronouncing dead my goal of submitting late to Indiecade.   As much as it pains me to sit on my work as time goes by, I still just don’t feel comfortable sending out what I have.  Mainly, I wasn’t able to get as far in development as I was hoping.  I guess it didn’t help that I now know I won’t be in the country when Indiecade is going on, so any benefits that submitting a game confers for conference attenders are void.  And considering the scale of the game and my development schedule, by the time I actually get feedback from the jury I’ll probably be in the final stages of development, if not finished.  But I’m glad I at least set that goal, as it definitely helped push me along and sped things up!

I’ve got the characters and the tilesets — now I just have to fill out all the scenery/props for the game.  After animating all of the characters, I can’t adequately express how pleasing it is to create a sprite and be able to just move on, without having to create 25+ slightly different copies of it.  If it looks good, that’s it.   Next one.

It’s also a bit nice to return to some objects that I had done for the first game and put a slightly different spin on it.  With the simplistic style I’m using, it can only improve so much, but I’ll take any sign of progress!

I’ll stick to the pattern of showing my assets from the previous game and this upcoming one, side by side.  But I haven’t actually finished the scenery for WAID2 yet; what I have here is still less than half of what I plan to make.  However, it’s already more than the crap that I scribbled out last time around.

WAID1:

ClassicProps

WAID2:

PropsI’ve been working on some other art assets, but this is the only stuff fit for posting at the moment.

The Gang’s All Here

Here’s the art post that I had promised.  I’m overdue, which means that this is going to be relatively long, and I’m going to indulge myself and ramble a bit!

I am right on the brink of finishing my character art, which is a huge milestone.  The character art, while taking up a small amount of visual space in the game, is the focal point (it’s where you’ll always be looking) — and it is where I have allotted the most amount of development time out of all the visuals.  And I think it really shows, and is a substantial improvement from my previous work.

To get a good idea of that, let’s first bring out the mugshots of the cast from the original “Why Am I Dead”:

OldCast

Brings back memories!  At the time, I was pretty happy with this work as a total beginner to pixel art.  And now the full cast for “Why Am I Dead 2”, in all its glory:

Cast

Okay, well, with just a quick glance they do seem rather similar.  After all, I haven’t changed the basic style or resolution of the sprites.  HOWEVER!  I think that even without taking the (much smoother) animations into account, the extra time that I’ve put into these new sprites can be seen when looked at closer.  There is less wasted space in the new sprites, and far less jagged outlines and edges.  Everything about the new characters is more varied — the posture, the frames, the hair, even the structures of their heads.  I’ve also become more sparing of outlines, which helps me free up space, and ultimately add more details.

To give an idea of the progression I, as well as these characters went through, I’ve dug up the older versions of some of the sprites and put them side by side.

First up is Alton, the blonde guy.  As the first character I worked on, he went through the wildest progression.

AltonProgressionversion 1 : OH GOD MY EYES!  Everything about this was terrible, though admittedly it was just to get the idea down.  The hair is too noisy, the arms are nonsensical and hunched over, and the legs are short and stubby.

version 2: Thankfully I changed the arms and legs to look, well, human.  I also simplified the hair, and added color.  His headphones still looked nothing like headphones, as I was struggling with how to depict them.  I was trying, and failing, to draw them as if they were poking straight out at the viewer.

version 3: Subtle changes here.  I tried another kind of headphones, and it also was not working.  I also changed the logo on his shirt from one meaningless shape to another meaningless shape.

version 4: I simplified.  A lot.  Took the t-shirt logo out, and used the new space to draw the headphones as if they were lying flat on his chest.  Toned down the shading on his hair, took out the shading on his pants, and changed the shape of his feet so they weren’t webbed-looking.

XuProgressionversion 1: Hadn’t decided on colors yet, and was struggling with all of the information I was trying to get in.  Rolled up sleeves, collar, undershirt, skirt design — the heavy outlines just looked really busy.

version 2: I changed how the sleeves looked, and added color in a way to make things less busy.  Some details kept their hard outlines, while others lost them.

version 3: Changed the color and shape of her hair, which was cone-like and weird before.  Removed some more outlines, and went back to white shoes.

MarcurioProgressionversion 1: Yuck!  I was trying to experiment with different face-types, and knew that I wanted to give him a distinctive nose.  I wasn’t able to use my limited space to do both without making him freakishly huge.

version 2: Downsized his head, arms, and legs.  Also played with the shirt and sleeves to change his posture and make him look less macho and stiff.

DonovanProgressionversion 1: I had NO idea what I was doing with this guy at first, and was just throwing stuff at the wall.  His hair, face, and clothes are all a mess, and I did this stupid thing where I outline a black shape with a different black.

version 2: Simplified a whole lot.  The hair, arms, and legs all got smaller, and I alternated colors a bit so I didn’t have black on black with everything.  At the same time, I felt I strayed a little too much from my original concept and lost the effect I was trying to get with him.

version 3: A good compromise, I think.  Added detail rather than removed it, for a change!  The posture is more what I had in mind originally without looking stiff, and the different pieces of clothing are actually distinguishable from each other.

Once all of the art is done, I’ll be a hop skip and a jump away from a fully presentable demo.  The hope is to get there by the end of this month.  Time to break out the coffee!

A Very Short Summary of May

Well, May has come and gone, which is sadly to say that I missed the regular deadline for Indiecade.  In my young naive eyes however, hope springs eternal; the late entry deadline extends to the end of June, so I’m not out for the count.  Plans haven’t really changed, they’ve just gotten a bit…bumpy.

There is, I have to admit, still quite a lot of work left to be done, and I fell quite short of my optimistic estimates.    But the deadline did keep me honest, and I managed to accomplish a lot.  The character art is coming around the home stretch, the tilesets for mapping the game environment are done, I’ve cut into the writing, the AI pathfinding/movement has been smoothed out…and I’ve finished implementing another important aspect to the game that I haven’t really talked about yet.  It’s a bit hard to describe in short, but it was a major goal that I’m happy to have behind me.

There’s a lot more to say and quite a bit to show, but for now I’ll end by just laying out some tile art, which is used to generate the rooms in the game.  It’s not the flashiest kind of art asset to show off by itself, so I’m just dumping a lot of it at once to make up for that.  The image isn’t exhaustive, that is to say there are a couple tilesets not shown that will be in the game, but this is more than enough to get the idea across!

Tilesets

Some more art for WAID2

I feel I’m a bit overdue for an art update, so here’s a twofer; two new characters in one post!

I’m not sure I want to go into great detail about each character whose art I finish, since I think a big part of the game will be figuring out about them as you play.  And a lot of times they won’t be at all what they first seem, so it’s a bit hard to come up with non-spoiler descriptions.

First up is Xu:

Second is Marcurio:

I’ve already tried to mix up the pace/mood of the characters’ walk-cycles, so hopefully the animations are still clear.  It definitely makes things more interesting, and I generally walk away from each character having learned something new about animating.

Also, here’s the typical spritesheets for both games, old and new, side by side.

Cricket     RevisedAltonanim