Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Art Overhaul

The past few weeks I’ve been focusing on redoing the art for LightWalk. We’re aiming for a simpler, more stylized style that doesn’t pretend to have a story. We got a decent amount of feedback amounting to “I don’t understand the story”, “I don’t see how the art is related to the story” and “the art looks like it was made by different people”. All of those are true, and thus, I’ve been redoing every texture in game. Though there’s a few rough edges, I feel comfortable showing progress to the world at this point.

chars

The hero character is a great example of what’s changed. The original character was designed at 48×48 pixels, and then rendered at 48×48, thus creating something that looked simple, but not overtly pixel art. The new hero was designed at 24×24, and then rendered at 48×48, 72×72 or 96×96 (depending on screen resolution). This gives a distinct pixely look- the hard edges are intentional now.

The story behind the new hero is pretty great too, if I do say so myself. We’d gotten a lot of feedback that the hero looked like a Minion from Despicable Me. The majority of the population is fed up with those now (at least in the circles I travel), so a more in-depth redesign was needed. I was on a Skype call with Nick, the game’s designer, and I’d just removed the hat, buttons and glasses and replaced them with solid blocks of color. As I sat pondering what to do with those solid blocks of color, I carved the hair into a rocker-style haircut. “Would you be okay with Elvis Presley as our player character.” I asked aloud. And this is how the new hero came to be.

So getting back to the work I’ve been doing, most of the in-game textures I’ve redone have been a process of simplifying the design and then scaling up. The benefit of the upscaled textures is that we can elegantly target display resolutions of up to 2560×1440 now! That’s a feature that I’d wanted for a while, along with fullscreen capability, but the amount of effort required had always been too high. However now that we needed to adjust the style of the game, it presented an opportunity to take down two birds with one stone.

1080p

There are a handful of other benefits too. For one, Hour1 used deferred shading for its lighting effects, meaning that the GPU would be used to color pixels. As a direct result, computers without a GPU would slow to a crawl on intense Hour1 levels. With Lightwalk, all the lighting is done with partially transparent textures overlaid over the game world. While this is slightly harder on the CPU, at least laptops can run the game with full effects now!

One last benefit I want to call out is that this whole art redo has presented the opportunity to redo animations. While I’ve not quite finished all the animations, the difference can be striking at times. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling every time I run the game full-screen and get to see the gorgeous lighting and smooth new laser animations. This GIF doesn’t quite do it justice, but you should get the idea.

That’s it for now. I hope be able to bring a trailer for the game soon now that this art overhaul is nearly behind me. Stay tuned!

The Road To LightWalk

I’m going to try to get into the habit of blogging more often, so I figured I’d start it off with talking about how I got into developing LightWalk full-time.

Back in 2013, Nick Alereza (a college friend of mine from Cal Poly) made a prototype of a game, with the intention of using it to get independent study credit for making a level editor. Unsure what to name this game, he called it Hour1 because it was the first hour of his working on this independent study class project. The game was simple: a puzzle platformer where every platform is a laser that you can stand on, bounce on or will kill you. Objective: get to the goal portal. Here’s the rub though, lasers block one another when they intersect, thus creating a maze-like structure. The player is given the ability to block lasers – but given the physics, blocking one laser can cause the entire level to reconfigure.

I liked that concept a lot. Simple, with a lot of opportunity for depth and emergent mechanics. So me being me, I jumped on board to do all peripheral coding and asset work. Make it look and sound good, and provide things like menus and option settings. We would eventually get an artist and composer on board, as well as a voice actor, a marketeer and a few level designers. We really thought this was gonna be the one – our first published game, and the team was doing well.

But as time went on, we added more features and more polish and it became harder and harder to motivate ourselves. We set ourselves a goal of submitting to IndieCade and IGF, which we did, but alas we didn’t get accepted into either competition. We got a cool trailer because of it though:

Not making it into the competitions killed the project for the remaining members. The code seemed unmanageable and the changes recommended by the judges seemed a stretch. A lot of feedback we got was related to the art looking like it was done by different people (which it was) and the story not making sense (which it didn’t, not unless you shotgunned all 4 hours of the game and managed to remember all 3 cutscenes by heart). We had a good set of mechanics and good sense of humor though, so not all bad news.

Real life hit and I got a job working for a big software corp. Motivation to work on Hour1 dwindled even farther. Nick Alereza decided to use the game for his Master’s thesis, which has proven to be something of a curse for his motivation. And thus Hour1 development halted.

I got massively depressed at my day job after about half a year. I yearned to be passionate about something again. I yearned for game development. But as I went around interviewing, I would always hit the question of “What have you published?” Suffice it to say, answering “Nothing, but we got close with this one game called Hour1” led to pretty awkward conversations. So no job offers came through from game dev companies I wanted to work for. Eventually my blood boiled hot enough that I planned to quit my day job and go indie, with the focus being to publish something ASAP, allowing me to use that game for interview credibility. And what better game to attempt to release quickly than Hour1?

Nick and I talked it through. We chose a simpler, more abstract art style that would be possible for me to create on my own (so we sidestep the issue of multiple artists producing inconsistent work). We wanted to feature our composer (Earvin Ramos)’s work more prominently, so we’re planning to theme the game around electronic music concepts. We decided on a set of features that would be needed to polish the game. We picked a story that made more sense: no story at all – per John Romero’s suggestion (he played Hour1 for 20 minutes). The point of Hour1 was never to convey a story, but rather to provide mind bending puzzles – that’s what we’re good at and that’s what we’ll capitalize on. And finally, we agreed on a name that makes way more sense than ‘Hour1’: LightWalk.

So then the day came. I quit my job, took a few weeks to rest, sleep off the nightmares and write to-do lists. The first week or two of my working full-time on Lightwalk were dedicated to converting the project from XNA to MonoGame. My laptop is running Windows 10, on which one cannot develop XNA games. I must say, the conversion process to Monogame was painless with a very low learning curve. All the functionality I wanted was there and working. I guess the open-source community has a little less head-up-ass than big corps do ;P

And here I am now. I’m working on redoing all the art assets, which has been quite the undertaking, and the visual style is very different from Hour1. But seeing the game in full-screen and 1080p feels good. It’s good to be passionate again. Here’s hoping it pushes me/us to finally publish this sucker.