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Another update, another slowness thing. I have gotten some things done but again, the game itself feels nowhere closer to completion than it was before.

 

What I have done, though.. that’s interesting, right?

Well, I’ve done some work with the menus and overall style of the game’s interface, for one. Interface tends to be something I waffle about on so it’s good to have something to play around with long before I need to implement it and realize I hate how it looks.

I kind of hate how it looks already.

 

You’ll notice I’m using two different styles here. The characters are cartoony, rather silly and not very realistic, and contrast a bit with the smooth shaded and un-lined ships. I don’t think this story could possibly be told with any less cute a style. And come on… it’s ME we’re talking about.

 

Last time I updated, the game was actually in an unplayable state, where I was working on optimizing and implementing new systems and various things that will make future work on the game much quicker and easier. Well, that’s finished and now the game is back and better than before! Still very minimal, content-wise, but I haven’t gotten to the point where I can just start churning that out.

 

I still have a lot to work with to get the gameplay tuned up. Points and combos/multipliers are not yet implemented, and I’m thinking of ways that I can simplify things down a bit. I feel player health is a bit high where it is now, and that might cause the game to get more to the hectic side of things rather than the fine-tuned precision play I’m looking for, and the movement system… both button movement and how speed upgrades work, needs heavy tweaking. I could always start throwing ships and movement patterns and craziness at it and seeing what sticks but I find it very important to stick the basic mechanics in place before moving on and focusing on content.

 

And now… for the fun of it, a glitch:

Dude... you should fix that.

I posted my last screenshot what… three updates ago? Sadly I don’t have any actual new  ones but here’s one for fun from early November. (yes, the background a lot better now. See the ship select screen thing!) A little slip-up in the repetitive fire code in the drones caused them to, instead of firing a 3-shot burst over about a third of a second, fire a shot every single step. The effect was really cool, but I think it was also cool to note while this crazy wave of doom swept over the screen, destroying all in its path, Game Maker still withstood that immense blow at 720p, not dropping in framerate.

In-game HUD will be my next priority after code tweaks, getting points/combos in , and more gameplay things that will be a big deal. I really hope I can get off my fuzzy butt and just get to it, now. I’ve been faster than ever at churning out art and it’s all lately been for non-Hysteria stuff.

 

Maybe with the new year will come a new, more productive me.

 

*apocalypse*

And everyone died. The end.

Almost a month since my last update! With school in session and work being… work, I’m admittedly not getting a lot done. But I did hammer down some pretty important stuff that I probably should have foreseen being a necessity a while ago.

 

Mainly, story. And character designs. You know, those things I started this game thinking I wouldn’t have to do…. well, the idea of Hysteria Star has grown in my head, and while it’s still silly and open to whatever I want to throw at it, I’d really like to have a narrative for players to follow. I don’t think this is going to add a lot more development time to the game, though, since I’ve been re-imagining how that narrative is delivered, and I think the result will be a more appealing way of delivering more story where I need it to be.

 

Before, the idea was to have some simple drawn cutscenes with slight motion play out a story at the beginning and end of each ship’s Story Mode campaign. Nothing super special, but fairly engaging. The problem with that is timing and animating visual elements in those cutscenes could be a bit of a chore seeing how I’ve set up the engine, and two cutscenes is a fairly time-consuming way of delivering almost no story at all.

 

So, the plans have changed! I have been working for a week or so on character designs and the galaxy that Hysteria Star takes place in. What I have nailed down right now is three races, two of which are warring with themselves and each other, and the third of which is almost completely wiped out but they’re all “chill, bro,” ya know. I’m spoofing some elements of various space games, keeping things lighthearted but still telling a pretty intense story about a galaxy on the brink of self-destruction. The story will be told in mostly talking-head-o-rama, (maybe more than heads) but I’m still working out how I want to do that. I’m still planning on having cutscenes where they’re needed, but these simple chats can fill in a lot of the necessary story in between (and within) levels.

 

I’ve also made some changes to how story is delivered based on what ship you use. Now, each ship has a pilot, and some ships may have the same pilot. You will actually play the game starting out as a human space soldier marine badass cooldudelady of space and meet spacepilots of the other two races to play as in the next two sections of the overarching story. The way I’m planning it, each of the three is a part of the main storyline, and each starts where the last one left off. So, starting out you have two ships to choose from and the human pilots both. The story is tied to the pilot, so you get the same story (just different level layouts) with each one, and once you beat the human’s story, you unlock a ship (one for free, and probably more that you can buy with points) piloted by the guy you met in the first part, then after his story, you get the “final” ship and pilot. So it’s a 3-part story at probably an hour per part. That’s on paper, anyway. In theory, playing through a story mode campaign in Hysteria Star should take about as long as playing through the main game of Starfox 64.

 

There is one other thing I should mention, though this isn’t related to the story. I’ve been having some technical problems with Game Maker Studio and changing resolutions. By all means the scripts I was using should have worked but it simply wouldn’t change properly. (or at all. Like, literally mathematically impossible stuff was happening. If I let it detect my monitor’s native 1080p and change the game to that it worked, but if I entered any other number to change to, INCLUDING 1080p, it failed. Despite the fact that after checking a billion times, it was literally the same numbers going through the same way) I hate to let this game be anything but my best quality, but between working with high resolutions on low-tech hardware and the functions for screen resolution zonking out on me, I’ve decided the best bet is to stick to 720p. It eliminates a LOT of headache and having to test everything and create two versions of every asset in the game, and it will also help lessen the footprint of the game on your phone’s memory card (or massive computer hard drive) a lot. It also means it’s running a lot smoother. I have the opportunity to get it running on lower-tech devices and make it flashier overall here, and it still looks great running fullscreen on my monitor.

 

So I guess you could say I’m not just lazy for laziness’ sake, but I was FORCED to be lazy.

In any case, it means a more stable game. Downscaling also helped me realize the game actually plays fairly well with ships being much larger on the screen. I’ll have to play with ship size and a lot of things to get it tuned right, but it’s looking and playing fairly good right now. The addition of story is also helping to inform some of the level designs, too. I had the mechanics figured out before, but I’m really starting to “get” the whole thing now. It’s really too bad things are going so slow lately. Earning a living, learning and making a game is never easy. I hope next time I can have more than just a wall of text to share.

 

 

PS. I mentioned in the last update a little thing called “play points”. I realize that’s complicating things too much. So, here’s how it works: you play through levels, earn your points, etc. You get bonuses for various accomplishments and you can earn achievements which will unlock ships, collectibles, cheats, etc that can be purchased in the shop. But you don’t earn a separate, arbitrary currency to purchase things you’ve unlocked. Nope, when you finish a story mode campaign (or anything that earns you points, really), your point total at the end is added to your overall point total tied to your profile. It’s those points that you can spend to use your unlockables. So, beyond leaderboard trolling, getting high scores is great for unlocking content faster. Not only do you get more achievements, opening up more items to buy, the points you earn also let you buy those faster.

Game development is a tricky business. When you start out, the goal is to plan out as much as possible before you really dive into a major effort, because the losses can be great when you really dig into asset building and coding something that turns out to be not what you eventually wanted anyway. As the game starts to form and you can actually play it, and as you get ideas from other places, you can start to question older visions of mechanics and design, so much that you reinvent how the game is going to play.

In a sense it’s inevitable. No vision is perfect on paper AND in practice. It’s important to keep sight of a more general, overall goal such as the feelings you want to drive home, the experience you want the player to have. Any time you are thinking of adding or changing the mechanics, first consider what  you’re trying to accomplish with them, and what kind of gameplay and feel you’re likely to create with that addition. With a cohesive goal backing up every decision throughout the process, you’re much more likely to end up with a game that feels solid and well-planned, even though it’s changed greatly from what you had in mind from the beginning.

Uh, don’t let that scare you, because Hysteria Star is still a shoot-em-up. It’s still tough. And it’s coming along great. Lately I’ve had some inspiring thoughts about how to handle special attacks, money collecting for powerups, how the player earns points and what upgrades can and can’t be.

It’s gonna be a great game.

First off, the flow of the game as a whole is very important to me. There are currently 4 playable ships and I plan to have many more, most of them unlockables that you get by beating the game with other ships and on higher difficulty levels. I’ve chosen to make not only multiple separate level designs for higher and lower difficulty levels, but also entire unique campaigns for every playable ship. There will be some 10 or so level types (various backgrounds and walls, enemy types, obstacles, mechanics, etc) to make use of, and each campaign may go through them in a different order, with different layouts. Enemy and obstacle placement should be designed with that ship’s capabilities in mind. Higher difficulties could specifically target a ship’s deficiencies and force the player to adapt to new play styles. There are a lot of possibilities, and the fact that each ship has its own level set made specifically for it means that balancing all the ships against each other shouldn’t be such a big concern. (in single player, anyway. Multiplayer may run under a different set of rules.)

So, the ships themselves are very different, and that’s possibly going to change in a bigger way. The core mechanics are still the same – ships auto-fire their main weapon (in touch mode only: controller/keyboard controls have a normal shoot button) and you only control movement and the ship’s special attack. I’m opening up the possibilities for specials a bit, by making them recharge over time and making it possible to have single upgrades rather than multiple levels of upgrades for two separate factors. I still plan on having a ship or two which use specials as their main form of attack, with their main weapon being… less useful, for various reasons. Another fun factor I’m adding in is combos. I love a good combo system, and I think with the right design, I can make that fun here. You rack up combos by destroying enemy ships without letting too much time pass between kills. Getting hit or waiting too long naturally resets the combo, which as you can probably guess, multiplies the points you earn and gives you a few other benefits. You may have to let enemies stay on the screen longer to keep holding out on a combo, or even use a special to grab a quick kill when you know you won’t make it in time.

But I was thinking… what use are points, aside from something to gloat about in the leaderboards? That’s when a little inspiration struck: rather than collecting item drops from enemy ships to get money to spend on upgrades between levels… points ARE money. By racking up higher points, you give yourself more to work with in buying upgrades. You can become more powerful and perhaps earn more points because of it. This also adds an extra factor to high score-seekers, though. Since you directly spend your points on upgrades, and any upgrades you have at the end of the game are refunded for 1/2 their value, AND since you get point bonuses for certain accomplishments during a level (like 100% kills or not getting hit), anyone looking to get a good score may have some tough decisions to make. More spending might get you more points from bonuses, but if you are stingy with your spending, you could earn more in the long run for your trouble. Bonuses are also given at the very end, meaning you could get rewarded for a no upgrade run.

High scores are great and the added challenge and replay value if you’re trying to top the leaderboards is potentially through the roof… but there’s still more. As you play, you unlock stuff. New ships, crazier difficulty levels, cheats, etc. Pretty basic, right? But the unlockables need to be purchased with play points after they’re unlocked, so you can use them. And you earn play points for your achievements and how well you do overall. No, this is not a real money scheme thing, but here’s how I plan to monetize this game, if I can: The game itself is free. You can do everything that’s initially unlocked, meaning 3 or 4 ships and the standard difficulty levels, and multiplayer if available. There’s nothing stopping you from grabbing high scores and earning play points and unlockables. But, you can only use those play points when you pay to unlock the “full” game. (something like $5, I imagine) So, there is literally no difference between playing the full game and the free one, with the sole exception that unlockables are for the full game only.

Best money-making scheme ever? No, probably not. But I’m not here to make money. I’m here to make games, and the best thing I can ask for is to have people enjoy them. So if free means it gets in the hands of more people, I’m all over that. Maybe if it comes to it, I can have ads pop up in the menus and when you pause the game. But if I EVER even consider letting ads stick their noses into your gameplay like Angry Birds or something, I deserve all the hate mail I get…

So, I promised screenshots last entry, and I plan on sticking to that. A word of warning: the game really isn’t in a state I want to show. This is going to look pretty No Me Gusta. Lots of mechanics are still not added and it’s very much still in a prototype phase. It looks alright, but I’m still using a lot of prototype-y stuff, placeholder sprites and such. Lots of effects still aren’t fine-tuned to what I want them to be, and plenty more simply aren’t even there yet. But here’s Hysteria Star upscaled to 1080p:

(click for full res)

Probably the most obvious thing here (aside from the placeholder tiles that are nothing like what I plan to have in my maps) is the lighting system. For whatever reason, I decided to make all the wall objects here emit their own halo of light. You can easily see the red lighting on the player ship from the enemy fire. There isn’t much light emission from player shots with the Gatling Star here, but others shoot brighter. Explosions especially have a large effect, and tend to light up everything around them. One thing I plan on changing is the size of the light halos. It’s nothing advanced like a 2D bump/normal map sort of thing, so the key to making it more believable will be in how I handle the size and emission levels from each light source.

The background is still little more than just an upscale from my 480×800 version. It looked better at that size, but not so much at 1080p. I have plans for backgrounds and tiles, though.

(image is just a mockup, not screenshots)

Before, I planned to use more of a tileset system, just making tileable sprites and having the level generator look at which ones are on corners, top, bottom, sides, etc and place the right tiles. But tiles can get very boring and repetitive, especially considering how many 32×32 sprites would fit on a 480×800 screen. I tried doing a mixture of 32×32 and 64×64 tileable sprites, but coding that to work right would get messy in a hurry. What I chose to do instead was to go with a more “painterly” look for backgrounds and sprites. No more aliasing, no more pixel details, but a lot more depth and variety. I’m still kind of learning as I go and figuring out what works and what doesn’t, but I’m pretty happy with how it looks so far, and when I factor in lighting, I think it’s going to look great in motion.

Ship sprites have made a massive transformation with this new style, too. Shading and color depth as well as overall detail (of course) have been improved vastly. The “floating” effect on the shield was initially an accident, but I’m a big fan of how it outlines the ship better while still being disconnected from the sprite itself. It also doubles as your “health %” indicator, so it ups visibility and makes for a good, quick reference on how badly you’re dying. Color is an important factor in the overall design, but that’s something I’ll go into more later on.

Also, as a follow-up to my last update, LMMS turned out to suck also, crashing more and more often as I went until I couldn’t do anything with it. After re-remaking the Hysteria theme in some 4 separate programs, I finally finished it in an awesome program called MuLab. Unlike everything before it, MuLab has actually survived through two tunes and two WIP pieces without any glitches or problems. When I have the money to throw I’ll be getting the ultimate version of that, and I can continue with more music-making. I’ll be making a Bandcamp page for music hosting, so when I have some more solid stuff I might start putting things up there.

It’s been a short summer for me, but a lot has happened. I’m moving a lot slower than I want to in getting this from prototype to something more resembling the final game. I’ll still do my best to get more work done alongside school and work now that classes have started, so hopefully my next update WON’T be coming around in November or something.

Whatever does (or doesn’t) happen, I’ll keep you all posted! :>

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