Monthly Archives: April 2006


There has been a trend in the development of this game:

1. I encounter a problem.

2. It becomes obvious that there are two ways of solving the problem: quickly and messily, or cleanly and with more effort.

3. I solve the problem the easy way.

4. Time passes.

5. It becomes clear that I am going to need to re-implement the whole thing the hard way after all. I do, and the game becomes much better.

This happened with the screen-drawing system, the graphics-loading, particles, scrolling, parallax, and pretty much every other system the game has.

One thing that has loomed over me since the beginning was the likelihood that we would need a level editor. Now that most of our systems are in place, and it’s time to use them to create a demo level, this problem came scowling to the fore. Until now we’ve been building levels by typing some values in a text file, but one can only estimate and manually adjust numerical values so many times. We need a level editor, but to create one worth using, with drag-and-drop objects, asset libraries, layers, alignment, and all of that, would take about as long to create as the game itself. But wait: there is already a program that does all of those things, and quite a bit more: [OmniGraffle]( Not only that, but OmniGraffle’s file format is a standard property list, which can be parsed facilely in Python and manipulated just like any other data in the game. That means creating a Graffle-to-Soft-Landing converter was hilariously easy. Now we have a world-class level editor, almost for free. This is the true value of good software: it’s designed to do stuff its creators never even imagined.

Note that I’d be praising OmniGraffle even if I didn’t work for the company that makes it. :D


So, for a while I guess I was kind of worried about our game. I mean, I think a lot of people will have reason to be interested in it, but for different reasons. I suppose part of me has tended towards exhibiting the shmup-side of this game for a long time for.. I suppose three reasons.

Firstly, it is what I am most comfortable with. I suppose that is that desire in me – that for the longest time one of my dreams was to design a shmup. I love shmups so much for their diversity, creativity, mesmerising nature, beauty, technical excellence, style – and the infinite play between complexitiy and simplicity that defines them. I play them at least once a day. I’ve played so many now, I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of them. So yes, a comfort zone.

I don’t think I’ve ever really played what could be strictly termed a visual novel, but I feel somehow some understanding of the genre. Perhaps this is because I’ve played a lot of Japanese RPGs and watched and read a lot of stories that exude the feeling that these games seem to give off. Well, regardless, I think the important thing is that I can understand the appeal of the genré, and am curious about it. I love stories, and though my writing isn’t really any good these days, I feel oddly confident.

Secondly, it is an easy thing to represent the progress of. This side of the game is easily the more complicated from a purely technical standpoint. There are more graphics, animations, sounds, effects, code and all manner of mechanical components that must fit together for them to work. We have done the most work on this, we have the most to show for it. I think that if people see this side of our game they can see a lot more of what we have done.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I am scared. I’m kind of scared of showing off the ADV side of this game because I’ve never really been that confident about my artworks, in particular my character drawing. This is obviously a central, critical part of this entire side of the game being worthwhile, and being enjoyable. I don’t really know if I am up to the task, and whilst part of me already says “no, you aren’t” another part of me feels that I have done some of my best work on this project, and knows that if someone doesn’t like it I’ll be even less self-confident in this regard. So, I wonder.

Recently, this has all become less of a problem for me, and I have realised that the main reason I love making this game is because it is the greatest thing I have ever done. I’ve never on any level embarked upon a project – personally or professionally – of this level before. It represents an incredible self-sacrifice, but more importantly a profund self-expression. There are times when I catch myself grinning as I play our little game, and for a moment I realise that I’m having fun. It is these moments, be they ephemeral or lingering, that make me the happiest.

Grop – A WIP.

How about something a little bit different? Well, I recently realised I’d saved quite a few WIPs for an enemy as I was discussing it with various people. I thought I’d arrange them here and tell you a little bit about part of my creative process with this whole dealeo. It’s fun, trust me. Now, all of you, become pixel artists!

Draw outline of enemy. This is usually a vivid, random process of random scrawlings with an idea in mind. Sometimes I even just close my eyes and go nuts on the canvas to draw inspiration from random shapes. This is the one for the new enemy. I was kind of thinking of grasshoppers.

I then make the lines I drew faint, and trace the whole affair with a 1×1 pixel brush. This can take quite a long time since a lot of lines do not translate well into pixel form, for example: curves. This can be really, really challenging!

Basic colouring. This is almost never the final colour arrangement of the craft, though in this case it was kind of close. This normally surfaces all of the problems with the design and allows me to add in a few little details.

Detailing and colour. Most of the rest of the development of a sprite is this kind of thing. There is no easy way to explain my process because.. well.. every time I sit down to do a new enemy, my first thought is “where the heck do I begin!?”. Regardless, I am always undeterred. In this case I started with the main body of the craft and detailed in some mechanical sections using a standard (for Jules) selection of 4 colours. Or was that five? Also, at this stage I seem to have accidentally moved the whole sprite to the left so it looks like he is hitting the wall. Oof! Look out, badguy!

Further down the track, and I’m starting to regret having removed the “horn” at the front from the original sketch. Will I add it back in at the last moment? Stay tuned to find out! Most of my pixel enemies end up being two-tone or monochromatic – something simple to work with and easily distinguishable from surroundings. Usually at this stage while I am detailing I spend about half of the time choosing better colours and making sure the contrast looks nicer too. It’s very easy to make a sprite with too little contrast that will not look nice in the game. Additionally, it’s easy to make something with too much of one colour – or with too much contrast. This will make it stand out too much against the other game elements. Finding a balance is pretty tough work.

Add some more shading and little lights and effects and stuff. Lessened the height of the tail-section. Oh, and I did add the horn in the end. He is a happy little enemy and ready to be in game-san!

Presented in Cave

Here are some screen shots from the demo level we have been working on. Two scenes outside in the desert, then a shot entering the cave, and a scene inside the cave. A nice effect that turned out to be a lot cheaper than I expected was tinting the whole screen blue when inside the cave. By “cheaper” I mean less processor-intensive. Somewhere along the line Jules and I started using “cheap” and “expensive” to refer to the processor usage our relatively heavy Python code was going to demand.






Weird Worlds.

I’ve been playing.. a fair bit of this recently. It’s an indie game in all the right ways. Like many other indie games that have become successful enough to become sold this game has many wonderful qualities. It’s not a big game, the longest a single play of this game can possibly take you is maybe 30 minutes.. which is just perfect. It’s something like a cross between a board game, Master of Orion and Star Control. It incoporates many of the wonderful features of large, complicated space exploration games and dilutes them down into fun item-collecting, world exploring action. It still has the diversity of a lot of space exploration games (be peaceful and diplomatic, be an explorer — or just destroy everyone and rule the galaxy), as well as that quirky charm that is so often present in indie games that would just seem out of place in a larger, commercial production. If you have a PC and are looking for a great game that you don’t really need to invest a lot of time in to have a heck of a lot of fun, I think you should really try this. Very polished, excellent art and presentation, very big fun.

Demo is available on the site!


Work has been mad. Mad, I tell you. Nevertheless it’s all not too bad. M-D have gone away to the UK at the drop of a hat due to Simon’s sudden illnesses. I have a four day weekend approaching, and I’m hoping to get some work done in that time of course, although we’re currently having some trouble with SubVersion so I don’t actually have a working copy of the game.

I’m feeling really good about where we actually are at the moment, though. I’ve been spending a little time each day exploring other doujingamery out there and I think ours is looking nice and spiffy at the moment. I feel like drawing enemies though.. maybe I’ll do one tonight.

Isserteaux beckons.


Another font is over. So far I’ve created 4 fonts for this game, which doesn’t include an 8×8-ish bitmap score font and various other one-off text sprites. It’s one of the best things about this project – I’m being thrown headlong into territory never before explored. I’ve thought of making fonts before, but you can never imagine the little challenges that will beset you without having actually got your hands dirty whilst making one. It’s a lot of these challenges I find the best. Looking back at some of my original pixel art I can already see how far I have come and how much I have learnt.

My next big challenge is to finally sort out what we are going to do about explosions. Interestingly, from the outset this has been one of the most troublesome things to implement from an artistic perspective. The challenge lies in making something that is fairly attractive and stylish, and yet also very flexible so that it may be applied to many different situations, and also to make sure that the effect won’t be too CPU-intensive, as we are indeed making a game where there will be many, many explosions.

I’ve done some research recently, and somewhat counterintuitively one of the best sources for inspiration and ideas hasn’t just been other shmups, but fighting games, particularly Japanese doujin projects. They are faced with similar problems and contraints (both technolgical and practical), and despite this manage to create excellent energy and explosion effects that look really bold, yet at a fairly minimal cost to processing time. Melty Blood is the best example that I can think of as almost all of the effects use no animation, and rather make use of clever use of alpha, blending, scaling, rotation, and colour. Guilty Gear XX also has a similar approach in many aspects, yet is much more animation intensive (and uses far less colour – usually a max of 3 or 4 colours per effect animation).


Following through

So, I’ve been working a lot more steadily recently. Ever since we made a big effort to try to release that demo I have been able to work a lot more solidly and consistently. Even though we didn’t make it, I feel that we made so much progress that I want to keep it up. At the moment I’m mainly working on STG stuff, level graphics interface bits and bobs. I made the final touches to my Italic font for ingame today, and it’s amazing to see just how far I have come in skill with respect to it. When I look at my first font versus this one.. the difference is staggering. I have learnt so much from this project.

Unfortunatley, of late Will seems rather busy – or maybe just not quite as inspired as I currently am. I still really want to release a demo soon, and I really think that we can. There are only a handful of assets that are really essential for this, and of course the right amount of polish.. but it will be fantastic to just be able to show people what we are doing – get some good feedback and maybe even a few fans!

As for my gaming news, I have to report I haven’t really played anything much recently apart from the usual dabbles I have into the english-speaking or japanese doujin shmup scene. Nothing really good to report aside from the winner of the Shmup-dev competition we were intending to enter.. probably not really a good place to discuss how good it is, though. I’m sure you understand. I’ve been playing a bit of Ibara too, which is easily the most difficult CAVE shmup ever, in my opinion, and that really IS saying something.

More later..