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

An Update List on Why Am I Dead 2

I was hoping to have an update sooner than this, but programming goes at its own pace and no one else’s.  This should be the first, and last, major WAID2 update that lacks any visual or audible component, as I’m wrapping up the nuts-and-bolts development and moving into art and writing.

I’ve been on the fence regarding how early I actually start uploading material from the game.  I’ve decided recently that I’d rather hold off until I’ve moved past art/writing/assets that are “work in progress” (or worse, place-holders!) before I do so — any benefits of a greater sense of progress for me are outbalanced by the risk of making a poor first impression.

So, sadly, you’ll just have to take my word that all of the following have been done:

  • Completely rebuilt how dialogue is handled, which means…
    • Writing dialogue is way easier for me to write, and for others to read (hopefully)
    • Looping dialogue; before, all dialogue options inevitably led to an end.  Now some options can loop back around to previous parts of the conversation; convenient for menus or for revisiting information.
    • In-dialogue variables (eg. <player> tag in script will be replaced with whichever character the player is controlling)
  • Save / Load Function!  This would have been useful in the first game, but is a necessity for the second!
  • Game “props” (such as doors, tables, beds, etc)  have some extra attributes…
    • They can initiate dialogue when you try to talk to them, as sort of an “examine” function
    • They store information about which character can “use” them.  For example, some doors will be locked for certain characters, and open for other characters (who presumably have a key).
    • Some props will have different dialogue results for different characters.  One character might be bored by an object, and one might find it of great personal significance.
  • New possession ability mentioned earlier: some characters can be “fully possessed”, which allows you to talk as the Ghost through their body, opening up different sets of dialogues and effects!
  • Completely rebuilt how collision detection is handled, which allows for both smoother and more efficient movement.
  • Finished character AI, adding safeguards that should drastically reduce unwanted emergent behavior.

I think that’s all the major stuff, though there were some minor background changes that are much more boring.  Sorry this update is so colorless, but I wanted to get it out anyway.

We are now entering the runway

I’ve decided I’m going to try and submit Why Am I Dead 2 to Indiecade 2013.  The cut-off for submissions is May 31, so I’ve got just under two months to turn the haphazard progress I’ve made into an actual game.

By my original estimates, two months (plus the work I’ve already put in) should be plenty of time to get the game to a stage where I feel comfortable submitting it.  It shouldn’t be too much of a shock, however, that my estimates often turn out to be wrong.  I’d say there are equal chances that I finish everything I have in mind smoothly and slide into a snug landing a week or two before the cutoff, or that I pull all my hair out and put off sleep only in order to manage a late submission.  But hey, I’m okay with either, and the competition allows for submissions to be incomplete and/or updated after they have been submitted.

And at the very least this will be a great way to put a definitive deadline in front of myself where there really wasn’t any before.  Anyone who’s worked on any major project will know that this can make all the difference in the world.

So, expect to see a lot more activity around here over the next couple of months!

WAID2 Design Peek #2: Possession and Narrative Voice

One of the biggest questions I had for WAID’s sequel was how I would handle the game’s possession mechanic.  That mechanic was really the whole point behind the first game, and remains so for the second.  I have to revisit it, address any issues that came up, and try to put a new spin on it as I move forward.  Aside from production value, it’s the one area that has the most potential for improvement, because everything else in the game will pivot around it.

Normally in video-games there is a subtle conflict between the narrative voice of the protagonist and the player.  That is to say, who is actually talking or acting — the protagonist of the story, or the person controlling them?  They are often mutually exclusive; the more dialogue that a protagonist is given, the less voice the player feels they have.  This is why so many video game heros are so infamously silent: any dialogue from the protagonist runs the risk of alienating the player and separating him or her from the game.

Case in point.
An extreme example.

This conflict reaches some degree of synthesis in many western RPGs, where the player actively creates their own protagonist and chooses his or her actions and dialogue throughout the game.  It still remains a concern, however, when the restrictions of the overall plot must curtail the player’s freedom to define their own protagonist.

In Why Am I Dead 1&2, you are not a person controlling a character, however.  You are a person controlling a character who is in turn controlling another character.  Therefore there are actually three voices in potential conflict, and in my case none of them should be pushed to the side completely:

  • The player’s voice —  What is the actual player’s goal?  What do they want to do?
  • The ghost’s voice — The dead person’s ghost (ie the real protagonist) is implied to have some remaining autonomy.
  • The possessee’s voice — That the possessee’s motivations are heard is not necessary in ghost folklore, but it is imperative for design.

In the case of the first game I leaned hard onto the side of the possessee’s voice.  It was simpler, and showed off what I felt made the game unique.  The player could choose what lines of dialogue to pursue, and the ghost could possess and move people around, but the actual words and actions that carried the story through were those of the characters who were ‘possessed’.  As a result, some people expressed disappointment or confusion that although the ghost was such a huge part of the story, it didn’t exert any influence on the course of events.  Likewise, some people were unsatisfied that they had to help the ghost, who turned out to have been an unpleasant person when he was alive.

The only difference being I don't even pretend you have this level of freedom.  From popmatters.com
I don’t even pretend you have this level of freedom.  Edited screen from KotOR from popmatters.com

To be clear, I’m very happy with how the format of the original WAID worked out — the possessed characters being able to speak was really powerful, and allowed for over 70 unique dialogues in the game.  Without their voices, it would have been around 10.  You are given the space to explore the characters in much greater detail than if they were overshadowed by the ghost’s voice, and I don’t have any plans of tearing that apart.  What I will be doing, rather, is adding different elements to the game around that base, which either portray the thoughts of the ghost, or allow the ghost and/or the player to influence the way the story goes.

This all means:

  1. There will be two ‘stages’ to possessing someone.  The first is when the ghost does not fully understand a character’s motivations or feeling, and thus cannot completely take control of their body — this results in the same mechanics as the original game, where the possessed character is really the one talking/doing things, and the ghost is just a silent nudging force.  The second stage allows the ghost to fully take over the person, meaning that the ghost itself will be deciding what to say and do.  It must still act within the limitations of its host, however (if you possess an animal, you cannot speak English!).
  2. A more detailed back-story to the dead person.  Of course, in a longer game everyone will have longer back-stories, but the dead person will have a greater share of the story’s overall focus.
  3. Points in the game where you can influence the relationships of the characters and the story itself.  This means more multiple endings!  I’m not going crazy with this, it isn’t going to be a Choose Your Own Adventure game–it will still play out mostly linear.  However, suffice it to say that you will have more control over how everything plays out.

I believe that about covers it.  The implications of these design calls will be explored as development proceeds.  Otherwise, development is going rather smoothly, and I hope to get some art up soon.  Maybe a quick demo video as well.

Announcing Why Am I Dead….2!

Well, so much for expanding the content of my blog and frequency of posts–it’s been nearly a month since my last update!

Oi.  I blame it on holidays.

For anyone sticking around, I figure it’s about time I put in concrete my next major project.  I’ve alluded to it pretty strongly before, and you’ve probably figured it out from the title, but just for clarity’s sake: Why Am I Dead 2!

I wouldn’t normally jump at the opportunity to do a sequel to something; I’ve got enough ideas for new content that I’m itching to make.  So when I say that I’m making a sequel, that comes with the implicit statement that I believe the original left room for either improvement or further exploration, or, in this case, both.  And, of course, that comes with the implicit statement that I’ll be aiming to make a sequel that substantially improves or expands the original, or, in this case, both.

So with Why Am I Dead 2, I’m raising the stakes.  The game will be considerably longer and have higher production value: better graphics, better writing, better audio.  A mostly new cast with lots of characters that I think you’ll love (and/or hate).  Instead of approaching it as a side-project, as I did with my last game, I’ll be approaching the development of this game as its own full-time job.

How I imagine myself about a month from now

As a result of this, the game will not be free.  This is mainly just to support the time I spend developing the game–the original Why Am I Dead, although I enjoyed making the ever-loving crap out of it, earned a laughably small amount of money.  Which is fine, of course.  And that doesn’t mean I’ll be charging a lot–I don’t have a particular price worked out yet, but you can be assured that it will be very very cheap by anyone’s standards.  I’ll definitely be releasing a long-ish free demo as well, so you can try the game out and get a good idea what it’s all about first.

(Note, this doesn’t mean I’m done releasing free flash games forever!  I just think that for this project, that model doesn’t really make sense.)

I know what you’re probably thinking now.  When on Earth is this coming out?  I want to give you all my money!!!  Okay, I may have embellished your thoughts a little bit, sue me.  Still, the basic time-line that I have for development is about 2 months of full-time core development, and another 2 months of full-time buffer, which means taking into account things not going as planned (because they never ever do), beta-testing, and polishing.  So that puts me at 4 months of full-time work.

But regardless of the exact timeline, when I release the game it will be polished and tested to death; I have no plans to repeat the stormy release of the original.

During this time, I’ll be hoping to market my game, which is something totally new to me.  I may even do little teasers and release info about the cast, story, and gameplay in episodes.  Who knows.

So, yeah.  This is a big step for me — going from releasing a free Flash game as a side project, to making a not-free game as my main thing.  But it’s really exciting, and it’s gonna be fun as hell.

Cue painfully blunt symbolism.

A Quick Retrospective on Whatever Just Happened

I think I’m far away enough, now, and have gotten most of the changes to the game done, that I can talk just a bit about Why Am I Dead in a post-mortem kind of way.

To condense it all down to one sentence, I think my main takeaway from Why Am I Dead is that changing a game’s scope and time-line in mid-development can have some negative drawbacks in the long-term.

The importance of having a good plan.

What do I mean by that?  Well, let me start by saying this: Why Am I Dead was an idea that I came up with in order to motivate myself to get my feet wet in Actionscript 3.  To repeat myself, and just to be really clear: this was a game that I meant to make as practice.  I took a couple days to think up the idea, I figured I’d code an engine very quickly that demonstrated the idea, I’d put it online and then move on to my first ‘real’ Flash game.

Obviously it didn’t turn out that way.  The game’s timeline went from one week to roughly three months.  During that span I repeatedly made off-the-cuff decisions to spend more time on this thing or that thing, and then to try and actually market my game, and so on.  Of course, had I not made those decisions, the game would be virtually unplayable in its final state; but it also created the sense in my mind that I was taking far too long with the game.  I had not mentally prepared myself to be working on the project for that long, and so I started to feel serious burn-out, and as if my game would never be finished…even though over all I still didn’t end up taking that long developing it.

Last 10% is actually 90%, etc etc

I know, I know.  Burn out, on a three-month long project?  What kind of sissy am I?  But, again, because I started out thinking the game would take a week or, at worst, two weeks, it was hard to convince myself to keep going and see the project through to the end.

Here’s one particular manifestation of why this was a bad thing.  Since I had intended mainly to make a game engine that demonstrated a neat idea I had, I considered things “finished” when I, well, completed the game engine.  But then there were numerous times, usually due to scripted events for the story, that I had to add some functionality that I hadn’t anticipated.  Since in my mind I was ‘done’, rather than take the time to implement it in a general/safe way, I threw on some duct-tape.  With my limited play-testing, there was no way this wasn’t going to blow up in my face.

The result of this half-hearted approach was very apparent when it hit the major flash portals.  I had raised the bar for the game in all aspects except for polish and QA, and so the release was quite rough, and unfortunately not the best display of my programming chops.

This wasn’t really a case of being unrealistic in regards to how long it would take to finish my game. This was a case of changing what game I wanted to make, halfway through making it.  So, for my next project, I will have a particular goal for my game in regards to its functionality and overall polish, and I will do the best I can to stick to that goal.

Of course, overall, I’m ecstatic regarding the reception of Why Am I Dead, even though there’s plenty of room for progress.  I never ever ever ever ever expected a Flash game that was this text-heavy to get so much attention, and I definitely did not anticipate people to interact with the story as much as they did.

So, what’s next?  The idea of a sequel is extremely tempting, especially given how many people commented that the game mechanic would work better as a longer and deeper experience (which is exactly what I’d love to make!).  So, while it’s still a bit too soon to say for sure, a “Why Am I Dead 2” is very plausible.

Guys, you don’t understand, it wasn’t supposed to be that good of a game!

So, GDC China just ended.  I had a great time, met some great people, and listened to some fantastic talks.

But that’s enough of that (at least, for now).  Because, you see, the first morning of the conference was the day MochiAds accepted my game Why Am I Dead.  It was also the day I was allowed to put my game on the bigger flash portals.  I just sort of did this without any real expectations for anything, except for maybe a transient increase in ad impressions.  Mentally, I had already finished the game and made it public.  This was just a little footnote.

I was so, so, so stupidly wrong.

With such a promising mechanic, I hope WAID ends up being more of a proof of concept for a bigger project… As a standalone game, Why Am I Dead? has flaws, but it’s still plenty fun enough to justify sinking 30 minutes to an hour into it…

Gamecola.net

Clearly at the moment, the developer has a greater amount of skill at constructing an effective mystery than depicting it in Flash. However, it is an ambitious, atmospheric work reminiscent of Hotel Dusk or Colonel’s Bequest, and it has quite the killer ending. This marks Peltast Games as a designer to watch out for in the future.

JayIsGames.com

It’s certainly not perfect, but Why Am I Dead? is brilliant enough to be worth a few confused hours this late Sunday evening.

Indiegames.com

  • It got the daily first spot on Newgrounds on 11/17/12 with about 9,500 views
  • …and is continuing quite healthily on the “Popular Games” section with, as of now, over a 4 star rating
  • Also got included on FreeIndieGam.es, a web-blog that I am a big fan of

I don’t know how all of the above looks to people who are not me.  After all, a lot of the praise is qualified with good criticism, and there are Daily winners on Newgrounds every, well, every day.  So, perhaps none of this shocks or awes you, the audience.

As for myself, however, well.  I.  It’s just.  Ahem.  Forgive me as I pretend that I’m on Tumblr for a moment.

There’s a lot more to say on the game as a whole and I may write up a post-mortem in the near future.  As for now, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the game regarding bugs and APIs and whatnot and I should be doing all that and not posting on my blog!

My first game launch, as it were

I got off extremely lucky compared to many other North-easterners regarding Hurricane Sandy.  In my area there were power outages and the occasional tree falling on some poor sod’s car, but no floodings or fires or what have you.  I wasn’t even one of the people who lost power, I just lost internet for several days, and I’m pretty grateful of that.

And not long after my internet returned, my first game is now online!

YOU CAN PLAY IT HERE

As my first game’s launch, this is kinda how I feel right now:

yeah

The image is taken from this article written by Derek Yu, which mirrors my thoughts and feelings on finishing a game in a myriad of ways.  I mean, I had kinda already finished Why Am I Dead a long long time ago, but only sort of finished it.  This time, I finished finished it.  And it feels good.  Oh, here’s another image from the same article that seems appropriate:

feels good man

Anyway.  With all this excitement, it’s pretty much impossible for my standards of success not to be met.

“This game is too short!”  == My game left people wanting more.  Success!

“This game confused me.”  == My game got people thinking.  Success!

“This game was impossible to beat.”  == My game was ambitious.  Success!

“I absolutely hate this game and I want to injure you.”  ==  My game, uh…created an emotional response.  SUCCESS!

…On a more serious note, I’m looking forward to getting feedback and growing as a developer/designer from the responses I get.  And of course, other projects are in the works, one of which I’m very overdue on talking about!

Website work, and a new project

For the past two weeks I’ve been doing a mix of website work and programming.  My site at peltastdesign.com was quite rough looking, so it was about time that I put more effort into it.  This involved more seriously learning HTML/CSS than just the previous dabbling, which turned out to be extremely straight-forward.  The result is a cleaner and snazzier, if still minimalist, layout.  If you check the site out and have some feedback on it, feel free to shoot me a message.

As is though, the website feels a bit bare under the “Projects” section.  That’s because I’ve spent my time working on only a few very time-consuming projects; Mandate was/is a hugely ambitious project, and I spent more time polishing Why Am I Dead than I did programming it.  And I can see the strategy game that I’d mentioned beforehand becoming just such a huge, time-consuming project, so I’m putting it on the back-burner.  I may still work on it here and there for fun, but it won’t be the focus of my attention.

Instead, I’d like to shift tracks and work on smaller projects which take less time, are inevitably less polished, but still demonstrate a game concept successfully.  Not only will this make it easier to keep momentum, but it will be far better practice for me; while there is something to be said for really polishing and smoothing out a game, it doesn’t teach me as much about the artful design of game mechanics.  When an artist is starting out learning the human anatomy, do they spend their time inking and coloring their studies, or do they just sketch it out and then move on?

So, since last Wednesday I’ve been working on a smaller idea.  It’s a bit of a blend between lots of different things, but could be summed up as a turn-based action game, I guess?

Terrible placeholder graphics, ho!

As you can see, it centers around two people duking (or stabbing) it out by selecting different actions during their turn.  It draws influences from games that in my opinion make turn-based combat work, such as the Persona series, a Flash game called Sands of the Coliseum, and Pokemon.  My brainstorming also involved some very non-intuitive sources, such as Dark Souls, the fighting game genre in general, and Poker.  I find that this format (which is usually seen in RPGs) is satisfying because it’s good at abstracting action and making it purely an exercise of decision-making; but usually it ends up hiding behind number-crunching rather than making actually interesting decisions.  So my goal was to make a game somewhat reminiscent of back/forth RPGs, but with underlying mechanics more akin to fighting games, which can stand on their own.

The core mechanic is something of a rock-paper-scissors; attacking beats dashing, parrying beats attacking, and dashing beats parrying.  Unlike a lot of turn-based games, the results happen simultaneously, so there’s no situations where the first person to move wins.  You also submit two actions per ‘turn’, so you have to guess what your opponent’s two actions will be.  For instance if I feel pretty confident that my opponent is going to attack me the very next turn, I would submit a “Parry” action to counter his attack, and then submit an “Attack” action to take advantage of my parry.  But there’s also the possibility that he waits for his first action and attacks on the second!

You’ll notice the graphics of a body at the top left of my prototype screen; there are five different parts of the body that are separate targets: the head, torso, left arm, right arm, and legs.  When you take damage, rather than simply losing “health”, one of these parts of your body is damaged.  And if one part of your body gets damaged too much, you lose.  Likewise with the opponent.  And depending on which part of your body is damaged, certain actions will be restricted.  For instance, take too much damage to the legs and you can’t move.

You also have to keep track of stamina, which automatically regenerates and is used for physically taxing actions.  You can put down as much stamina as you want on an attack, for instance, and in the case that you and the opponent attack similar targets, the attack with the higher stamina investment wins out.

There are more details about the exact rules of the game, but you get the idea.  I expect some of the mechanics to change as I finish the prototype and see which ideas work and which don’t.