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Developer updates with some insights into game details and the inner workings of the studio

Guest Blog: The Music of LightWalk

Today’s blog is courtesy of LightWalk’s composer, Earvin.

Hey there! Work is coming along in LightWalk slowly but surely, and everyone on the team is anxious to put out our first product as developers. It’s a first, brave step into a new world! One of the best things we get as a team is the feedback from the play testers, and in that feedback is positive reviews on the soundtrack. Why don’t we take a small walk through the soundtrack to give a preview of the background music that plays in game?

My name is Earvin, I go by the alias ☆みっつ☆, read as Mittsu, and I am the composer working on Lightwalk at Timeless Games. As you would probably expect of such a sci-fi inspired game, the music and soundtrack I’m making is heavily electronic. I came to be a part of the Timeless team at Cal Poly, where I was a music major at around the same time that Timothey was a student as well. Through a mutual friend of ours, I was recommended to craft music for the game as a small project. As development paused while we finished our degrees and moved on, I ended up graduating and amassing more and more experience creating music. Now that development has resumed and we’re getting ready to finish the project, I’m happy to be back on board to finish the game.

But enough about me, let’s talk about music! The inspiration for the soundtrack pulls from my experiences playing video games my entire life. I hope these influences come through as you listen to the soundtrack! Overall, half of the draw is supposed to be inspired by a mix of 8-bit era synths and 16-bit era synths. Specifically, the Ricoh chip built into the NES/Famicom and the Yamaha chip built into the Genesis/MegaDrive were the playgrounds I worked with. The other half is modern electronic synthesis and design that is currently influencing the taste of music globally. By taking harder hitting and popular styles and mixing them with the synths that drove the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming, I was hoping to create a soundtrack that feels modern and sleek, but also familiar and nostalgia-driven. With that in mind, I have prepared 5 preview clips so that people interested in the game can get a quick feel for what’s to come in LightWalk!

Oh, also keep in mind these assets are still a work in progress and are subject to change.

 

Glitched Ray

The first track to show is one we debuted with. We originally submitted a build of LightWalk, then called Hour1, to the Independent Games Festival. Taking the feedback we got and storing it for later, I looked back fondly on the release of our trailer. I thought of the most attention-grabbing style to write in order to get the attention of those watching would be just this: a post-dubstep take on what was popular at the time. With Skrillex dominating electronic music at the time and the world taking a cue from his style, I decided to make something that followed suit as a commentary on the scene. My aim was to blend my trance based background with post-dubstyle influence, wobbles and all. The song suddenly moves back and forth between the styles without reason or warning. I hope you enjoy chorus melody in both the dubstep and trance style! It’s like two sides of the same coin…

 

Frayed Wires

Our second track is another example of its time. Another song in the Hour1 build was “Frayed Wires,” a title I thought fit fairly well. The title comes from the synths themselves; in one of the background synths is a channel of bandpassed white noise that I always thought sounded like arc electricity or the static of a coming thunderstorm. The melody driving the track were synths that ended up sounding a bit like simplistic guitars from Genesis-era consoles. I hope this high energy track communicates the electricity that inspired it. Also, another fun behind-the-curtain fact, the oscillator that controls the passing of the arcing electricity synth is completely random, so no two renderings of the song are completely alike! It’s like getting a new song each time I render it…

 

Derived from the Quadratic

This third track is called Derived from the Quadratic. This was the second track written during LightWalk’s first development window, and featured in this snippet is the change from high energy to low energy by a large lowpass over a large selection of elements, which bring down the distorted and harder elements of the track to a quieter and introspective level, with a quiet melody line that feels like the eye of a storm. I think it’s the natural progression of Frayed Wires, keeping up its moment while suddenly hushing it as the eye of the storm passes through.

 

Linear Pressure

This fourth track is called Linear Pressure. While I had barely starting crafting the soundtrack for LightWalk, I had decided that adding punny titles for song would be a fun gag. So, in effect, this is a sister song to Derived from the Quadratic. Linear Pressure was made first, and references a line. Derived was made second, and the derivative of a quadratic function is a line. As a music major that hasn’t taken math in five years, I quickly ran out of steam and decided to lullaby and put this gag to sleep. However, I am still taking suggestions on more punny names. Hm… Oh, a fact about the music? Ah, I was wrapped up in my puns. Oh no, gotta think of something…Well, this was supposed to be the definitive “puzzle” theme for the song, taking all the factors and elements of a puzzle game’s writing style and producing an electronic song that followed the same rules. It has a plain, melody, plenty of repetitive themes that play over and over each other, and allow you to concentrate on the game itself but still adds value to the gameplay. I personally love that I wrote an entire section of music that fits over both chord progressions, as they shine different lights on the melody and changes the mood you interpret. I am a huge fan of the Professor Layton game series, and have finished all of the core series, so the inspiration of this game comes directly from that. We don’t have any hint coins in this game, so you’re just going to have sit and think…

 

Retroactive

Our last track of this blog post is simply titled Retroactive. I think it really rounds out the blog post and the soundtrack as calm, trance song. With the other parts of the soundtrack being high energy, speedy track, this quiet introspective song is a deep breath of air. When I was a kid in middle school is when I got into emulation and retro-gaming. My brother in law had a Dreamcast with a CD set of Nester and a huge ROM selection, so I would spend hours just flipping through the ROMs on the CD set. One small gem I found was Taboo, an old Rare game that was basically a poorly crafted tarot card reader. In general I like niche-y occult-y stuff, so it influenced me in a weird way. I would play it all the time, and it would have jingles and songs for the cards stuck in my head. When I made this song, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it sounded like or why it felt so personal and nostalgic to me. Then I realized it was largely influenced by the music in that game, and was really just a trance interpretation of an old, obscure NES game. Bonus points if you listen to the game’s songs and figure out which card influenced this track.

 

And that’s it! This is only a part of the soundtrack, we have a lot more tracks up our sleeve. However, one doesn’t really show their entire hand instantly, right? I feel this is a good assortment and sampling of tracks that I hope will get you interested in both playing the game and seeing what else we have in store for the soundtrack. We at Timeless have a couple of things planned for this, so far we’re confident that the game and the soundtrack will be available at the same time. We will be working out the details of soundtrack distribution and may bring in some help to spread the soundtrack. If you like what I have so far, drop me a line on Twitter at @ttrlovesmittens!

Playtesting Again!

This week, for the first time since the game was re-branded, we had a large scale playtest of LightWalk. I visited my alma mater (Cal Poly) where I told my story to three classes, and had students playtest different parts of the game while I did Q&A. Big shout-out to Dr. Michael Haungs and Dr. Foaad Khosmood for letting me use their students :)

playtest

What definitely helped while demoing to a large group of people, where new persons would swap in mid-game, is having a few different campaigns. Thanks to Nick, Timeless Games’ designer, I was able to show off three different sets of levels: one for using only the block tool, one using only the color swap tool, and one using only anchors (shown below). Each set of levels was tuned for players who’ve never played LightWalk before. This way new players could get a hang of the game while the others in the class could still see new mechanics. Added bonus: it tests those other mechanics (color swap and anchors hadn’t seen a lot of play until now).

Anchors in LightWalk

Anchors in LightWalk

A few bugs came up, as is to be expected, and they’ll be fixed soon. A few balance issues came up, but those can be worked through. Other than that, I reckon I’ll be able to stay on track with polishing the editor, level selector and menu system. With the momentum we’ve got going, we should be in beta by January.

Though the game isn’t finished, the gameplay is and it was extremely well received. A few people even offered to buy the build of the game I brought in, which excellent validation for my working on LightWalk full-time 😀

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.