Finish It!

“Who here has actually made a finished game?” asked the presenter at a conference I attended a few years ago where people who were wondering how to get into the games industry sat in the audience. Less than a quarter of the audience raised their hands.

Here I am trying to finish off my first game Not Without My Kittens. I was talking last night to Chris who’s programming it, and we both agreed that we’re at the point now where we just want to finish it. Finishing something is a huge milestone in itself that many people who talk about wanting to make games don’t accomplish, so that’s what we need to do. We were finding that feature creep was occurring. We kept adding new ideas and at the rate we were going, we would never finish.

So the plan is to make a demo containing about four or five levels to release in a few months from now and have people play it and give us feedback to see where we can go from there to finish it entirely and move onto making a new game.

I don’t want to sound like I’m about to talk down the quality of our game, but it is our first game only. To put years and years of effort into one game and make it our magnum opus would be silly when we could spend that time instead making multiple games and better improve our skills in the process. It’s just like the pots theory of education that I wrote about in this previous post On Teaching Yourself. The students who made multiple pots improved their skills faster than the students who focused on trying to make that one perfect pot.

While trying to finish Not Without My Kittens, maybe I should use this blog more as a dev blog to show how we’re progressing or maybe it’s better to not talk about what we’re doing until it’s done? I don’t know.

At any rate, there is something I’ve learnt that I’ll discuss now.

Not Without My Kittens is a platform game and we wanted to include slopes. The trouble is, our player character Holly is a cat. Cats are long. How does she walk up the slope?

holly_hanging_slope

In a game where your character is a taller biped this wouldn’t be a problem. For example Mario in Super Mario Bros 3:

mario_slope

I tried making diagonal versions for all of Holly’s animations which was quite time consuming, but ultimately it proved too difficult to seamlessly move between flat and diagonal animations and we found our solution in 16-bit platform games on the Super Nintendo such as Donkey Kong Country and The Lion King. I think the perspective in these games is what’s now called 2.5D. The camera isn’t looking directly straight at the player (as in Super Mario Bros 3) from the surface level, instead it’s raised slightly and tilted.

This is useful in Donkey Kong Country to avoid the non-bipedal characters hanging off the slope in an unrealistic manner such as Holly above.

donkeykongcountry-1

The same technique was used in The Lion King to have Simba walk on slopes.

lion_king_simba_slope

These games are not using an actual 3D camera that you would find in some more modern platform games with a 2.5D perspective such as Little Big Planet. Instead the level is painted as one background and then invisible objects define the collision boundary for the player. The effect is a clever way of creating a 3D scene (without actually creating 3D models and using a 3D camera) so that when playing you’re not likely to notice in Donkey Kong Country that Rambi the Rhinoceros’ back leg is hanging in the air in much the same way that Holly’s back legs were hanging. The raised camera and painted background creates the illusion of depth.

Rambi

So that’s exactly what I’ve done:

holly_slope_depth

With that in mind, I’m now making some levels using that perspective. I don’t know if the perspective angle is technically correct, but I don’t think it was in many commercial 16-bit games either, so I suppose I’m not too concerned.

holly_sewer

holly_smokey_intro

I’ve also been looking recently for inspiration at 90s PC platform games such as Commander Keen, Jill of the Jungle, and Hocus Pocus. They frequently reused art assets within the games but it never felt too repetitive or had “Art Fatigue”, a concept described in this GDC 2013 talk about Skyrim’s modular level design.

Anyway, I’m off to hospital tomorrow to have surgery – septoplasty, to fix my deviated septum at the back of my nose which has been causing me chronic health problems, so I may not be very enthusiastic for the next week or two at least to work on Not Without My Kittens, but as soon as I’ve recovered I’ll jump straight back into it. The goal is to have a few levels done that we can have as a demo that people can play and give us feedback to determine where we need to go next to actually finish the game.

And then on to the next game. And then the next game. And then the next game. And then the next game. Repeat and repeat and improve in the process. That’s the plan.

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