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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsDarkness Revealed - A 2D pixel art platform thriller
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PixelCows
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« Reply #100 on: March 16, 2017, 12:19:22 PM »

UPDATE 45 - What Darkness Revealed Should Look Like!


Hello, everyone! How's it going?

It's been a while since we last talked!

First of all, sorry for the long silence... Our whole team has been heads down working on our game's super-juicy first 15 minutes of gameplay, with all that it entangles, which is no excuse, but... Hell, yeah, it's actually a pretty good excuse! Anyway, thank you all for sticking with us through this update hiatus. You guys are the best! Anyway, take a deep breath, as we're about to catch you up on all that happened on these past couple months with a full serving of sweet, sweet gifs Smiley

Last time we talked, we announced our game's name: Darkness Revealed! Old time fans: don't worry, it still has everything that made "project Last Dive" special, and much, much more!




Where the hell have you guys been?!

After a short, well-deserved holiday break, we started the year by planning our activities for 2017 - namely, looking at where we were in development and detailing what was left to do. We are not keen on cutting scope, and we would never cut on quality, so we decided to expand our team instead!

Please welcome Carlos Cadori and Cleiton Oliveira, the two newest cows in the farm! Smiley





Cadori will be lending a hand in system / infra development and performance optimization, while Cleiton is tackling a lot of gameplay related stuff. We've been sharing the noisy trenches of game development with these two talented guys for over a month now, and all we can say is that we are very happy!

With our new team formed, we went on to tackle something that was really bothering us: performance. It's pretty standard that, at the beginning of a project, no one cares about optimizing assets, code and whatnot. Speed is the word of order when you are iterating, removing and rebuilding stuff as you determine what the game is about. At some point, though, you'll start stumbling on fps drops and even the eventual out-of-memory crash. So once we got to a point where we had the game pretty much figured out, it was time for a good old cleanup! We recently had an entire sprint focused on compressing assets and improving the game's performance. The gains from this taskforce ended up being huge! We're talking 400% improvements, and the game now runs smooth as butter under the sun! Furthermore, now it's much easier to build new content, which is always great and will revert back into more sweet stuff for you to find and play with. Wink


The Vertical Slice (not a sword fight term, I'm afraid)


Throughout 2016 we worked and experimented on several different parts of Darkness Revealed. At the end of the year, the core of the game was fun and solid, so we decided it was time for building a vertical slice of our game. That is, a small part of the game that would feature everything in final quality, as a sample of what the final game will look and feel like. This was an important decision, as it would show us, for the first time, what our game really felt like. For that, we decided to overhaul the tutorial level of the game, which was really broken up to this point.





The main goal with this level, other than teaching the game's controls, is to set the mood and expectations for the rest of the game. The tutorial acts as a general sample, showing the player a bit of everything he will get to experience, such as characters, mechanics, enemies, cutscenes, environments, and much more. This area also serves as an introduction to Dave's personality. You get to know a bit of how he feels, thinks, acts and most importantly: what he's doing in this place.

The tutorial was also a first real test of our main story conduct: the dialogue box. You might remember when we focused an entire update on the dialogue box. Players will be seeing it a lot, so it was crucial for us to get it just right. For the tutorial's overhaul we once again worked on the box. Besides improving its design, we also worked on the colors for each character and created a custom font for the game!




That's all for today guys! Once again, sorry for the long silence... From now till launch you can expect a lot of content and cool gifs! In the next update, for example, we will show a more from the tutorial. Including our new jump mechanics and some dark and gloomy mood transitions!

Other than that, what did you think of our tutorial's final looks? We'd love to hear you opinion! We are always hanging out on Twitter and Facebook!

Or, if you want to be among the first to receive these updates complete and with exclusive content, sign up for our Golden Chest Newsletter. Just one email per month! Good content, interesting articles about gamedev and no spamming. And if you don't like it, feel free to unsubscribe whenever you want.

Thanks for stopping by! Wink



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« Reply #101 on: March 28, 2017, 11:51:31 AM »

UPDATE 46 - Creating a Working Tutorial


Hello, everyone! How's it going?

In our last post, we updated you guys on what we did during our long silence since our last post back in December. We introduced our two new programmers, Cleiton and Cadori, and told you how they helped us improve the game's fps and performance. To wrap up, we explained how we've been working on giving our tutorial level a final quality look. Today we'll show you a bit more of how the tutorial level is shaping up. Including new jump mechanics and the level's mood changes. Let's get going!


Creating a working tutorial


Let's be honest, bad tutorials are the kind of pain that can make you give up a game before ever getting to know it! We believe the best way to teach players is to make as few interferences as possible, while giving context to those interferences so that they feel like integral parts of the core experience. In Darkness Revealed, controls are only taught when the story and the level design demands those actions. Some handy visual instructions also allow us to keep tutorial texts shorter or skipping them altogether, avoiding unnecessary gameplay interruptions.






Darkness Revealed is a game that has an uncommon set of controls. There are three different types of jumps, and all three are accessed by the space bar. At first sight, the decision of using only one key for all of them could look like an unnecessary source of confusion, but in fact it's one of the central aspects of our gameplay design - and it gets pretty darn fun after the 15 seconds you take to figure out the different jumps! As designers, it's our job to make this learning curve as pleasant as possible, so we thought the best way to teach our different set of jumps was with the help of visual cues.

So now, when Dave starts charging his jumps, two thresholds are indicated. The first, seen on the left, is triggered first, and allows Dave to perform the Distance Leap if the player releases the button at that moment. The second one, seen on the right, is used to trigger the Height Jump. But how do players know how much they have to charge for each jump? That's where visual cues come in.


   
 


Notice how we added small wind gusts coming from the character's feet? Those are in place to help us explain how the jump is achieved and also, so players can quickly tell which jump they are about to perform. Animation also plays a huge part in helping with player's understanding of what is about to happen. Notice how on both types of jumps, Dave's pose clearly indicates in which direction he is about to propel himself. These changes helped drastically with the understanding of our somewhat unusual movement system. Here are a couple extra gifs, so you can see all these jumps and tweaks in action.
  





Setting the mood


As mentioned earlier, the main goal with this tutorial level was to set the correct mood for the game. We don't want to spoil it too much, but we'd like to show you a couple ways on how we have been handling mood changes and expectations.

From the get go, the corals are a great place to be - so full of colors and beautiful sea life! But that changes quickly as you progress through the area. The background and the water surface play a big part in setting the correct mood. As seen in the gif to the left, the surface becomes darker as Dave moves through the level. This is one the ways we have of subtly telling a story and foreshadowing upcoming events. Another example of these changes is the gif to the right. When Dave encounters old ruins, the sea starts getting agitated and lightnings take over the water surface... Uh oh, I feel some trouble ahead!

  

 


Light changes are all around Darkness Revealed. When it comes to setting the correct feel to a scene, lighting effects are one of our main ways of doing it. Other than the subtle changes to background and surface lighting shown above, we also like tempering with it in more obvious ways. It won't be rare for Dave to find himself in really dark places. In these scenarios, his lantern is most likely his best friend. Throughout the game, you can expect to frequently see scenes like the ones shown below. As it helps us create tension and makes certain story situations more believable.

  



That's all for today guys! Hope you have enjoyed our update and the tutorial's final look. Did you like how we taught our jump mechanics in game? Think it's still hard to understand? We'd love to hear you opinion! We are always hanging out on Twitter and Facebook!

Or, if you want to be among the first to receive these updates complete and with exclusive content, sign up for our Golden Chest Newsletter. Just one email per month! Good content, interesting articles about gamedev and no spamming. And if you don't like it, feel free to unsubscribe whenever you want.

Thanks for stopping by! Wink
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« Reply #102 on: May 04, 2017, 01:36:40 PM »

UPDATE 47 - The Only 5 Enemies You Need to Make Your Game Fun (Part 1)


Hello, everyone! How's it going?

We've been at full speed here at Pixel Cows developing Darkness Revealed, so I'll talk a little about that before jumping into the topic of enemies!

We've been diligently working on a build that is story complete - that is, a version of the game that has all the dialogues, characters, cutscenes and locations that are essential to make our plot work. It is different from content complete, because we will still add more levels, enemies and all sorts of fun stuff afterwards. In other words: our late development will focus on exploring all the possibilities that are allowed by our game mechanics and systems, theme and locations. Our current development focuses on establishing a solid base for all the rest - and that's where enemies come in!

Today's update is a little different from what we usually do. Our goal is to shed some light on what has worked for us, throughout the years, regarding enemy creation and their impact in the game's design. We think you'll enjoy the thought process behind picking the enemies for Darkness Revealed! And hopefully, this article will end up being useful for fellow game dev's in the same journey as our's Smiley



So many ideas, so little time! How to choose which ones will make the cut?


So, what are the 5 enemies that MY game needs?

To answer that, we must quickly take a step back and answer two other questions:

 - What is my game about?
 - What is the purpose that enemies have in my design?

Your whole game works like a machine, and enemies are only a cog meant to complement the other cogs (story, setting, movement mechanics, etc), so that the whole machinery works. In the end, all that matters is that the broader experience makes sense.

Once you understand what your game is about and how enemies contribute to its design, prioritize potential enemy ideas by developing first the ones that enable the largest amount of cool, engrossing, varied gameplay.

To help illustrate this point, let's think of a scenario where you are only allowed to develop one single enemy for the game. If you can only have one, which one would be it?


What is the one single enemy that will contribute the most to my design?

Some examples:

 - Resident Evil: the basic, walking zombie. If follows you slowly, withstands a lot of bullets and try to eat your brain, like a good zombie should. Resident Evil is all about mood and the fear of being cornered by slow moving corpses and / or running out of bullets. If Capcom needed to develop just one enemy to make Resident Evil work, the basic zombie would still allow the game's core objective to work.

 - The original Super Mario: Goomba. In a game that is basically about jumping, you need to jump over it to avoid being killed, and jump on it to kill it. The existence of Goomba gives purpose to that game's main mechanic, and most other enemies are variations.

 - Darkness Revealed: the Electric Eel. It's a timing-based platformer about exploring the levels and mastering the pace of Dave's movements. The Electric Eel shows clear menace to those who don't learn the timing, they allow for many different challenges regarding timing and jumping, and they are stuck to specific parts of the level, so that the player feels safe when they're not crossing those parts.




Think of the first enemy not as an entity in itself, but as a complementary part of your game's core idea and mechanics.

Maybe you need more than one enemy to make your basic gameplay work - specially if your gameplay is about more than one thing. If your game is about mastering a bow, a sword and a shield, maybe you'll need one enemy that emphasizes and rewards the use of each.

The main point is: Prioritize. Focus your early efforts on the enemies that will make the bread and butter of your gameplay.

Now, that's not to say that your game should have few enemies. You can make a thousand different enemies if you want! So, how would you choose what your second enemy should be? I think you will find me repetitive here: Considering that your first enemy is in place, what is the next enemy that, if added, would allow for an experience that is the closest to what you envision for the complete game?




For Darkness Revealed, it's the seahorse. What does it do? Absolutely nothing! It literally just stands still! But why?

Besides learning the timing to move in your diving suit, you must also learn the jumps' trajectories. The Seahorse is not about running for your life. It's not about timing. It's just about figuring out where you must be so that you don't touch it as you try to jump past it.

The Seahorse also looks at you. This is purely an aesthetic choice, with no bearings on mechanic. Still, notice how you can use details to affect player's perception. Thinking about hitboxes, this seahorse is exactly equivalent to a "dead" thing like a floating ball of coral covered in spikes. In terms of mechanic and difficulty, it would be the exact same thing. However, it wouldn't feel the same, would it? More on that in a sec! Smiley


Enemies as a way to make you feel tense

Remember when I said that enemies are just another cog in your game's broader design? Oftentimes, that will have nothing at all to do with mechanics (even if it does have a mechanic tied to it). An enemy can be designed just to make the player feel a certain way, either through mechanic, graphics, audio, level placement or all of them. Take a look at the ugly moray, for exemple:





We usually hide it at some points through the levels, partially hidden by some algae or rocks. Once you spot it, it's not particularly difficult to avoid, but you take one hell of a scare if you don't see it before! Its purpose is twofold: it makes you pay attention to the level (finding hidden stuff / "revealing the darkness" is a common theme in our game), and despite not being a difficult enemy, it's looks and moves are somewhat oppressive, making you 'respect' the levels instead of just carelessly hopping your way through the game. Without words, it tells you: you're a deep diver stranded on an utterly alien environment. Pay attention or get punished!


That's all for now guys! In "Part 2" of this update, we'll talk about enemy tiers and thematic variances and how they fit into the game's core design. And if you haven't figured out yet, we'll dig deeper into understanding the only 5 enemies you need to make your game fun Wink

Did you like this update? Want to read Part 2 right away? Just sign up to our special Golden Chest fan club and be among the first to receive our updates complete and with exclusive content! We are also always hanging out on Twitter and Facebook, so feel free to say hello, and we'll make sure to let you know when the next update is out!

Thanks for stopping by!

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« Reply #103 on: May 17, 2017, 02:23:19 PM »

UPDATE 48 - The Only 5 Enemies You Need to Make Your Game Fun (Part 2)


Hello, everyone! How's it going?

In the last update we started talking about enemies, and their major roles in games. As we discussed before, enemies are often there to exalt a very specific design goal. But what are those goals? Well, that changes from game to game! It's important for a game designer to observe his game's core mechanics and try to understand what enemy can extract the most from them.

Today, we're gonna delve a bit further into this subject and explore how thematic variations help with keeping enemies and mechanics looking fresh. If you haven't read our last update yet, we highly recommend you read it before this one.

Let's get going!


Enemy Tiers and Thematic Variations

Because it's so important, later on I'll return to the topic of considering your mechanics to prioritize which enemies to develop. For now, though, let's just say this out loud: there are plenty other arguments to create more varied enemies.

- Maybe a seahorse is not menacing enough for the apocalyptic ending of the game
- Players won't stand a game where, after 2 hours, they are still jumping seahorses
- Genre expectations: if it's a game about the ocean, there better be a damn shark somewhere!





These are all examples of enemy designs that have a strong impact on mood, aesthetics and storytelling - most of these won't make the cut, but are rather studies on how to use enemies to affect these areas of design. Sharks invoke an urgent sense of danger (specially if their behaviour is less passive than other enemies'); the glowing sea worm is there for it's cool looks, and the two weird things on the right tell a lot about the nature of the place you are exploring, contributing to the game's story and setting without requiring a single line of dialogue.


Matching Mechanics with Looks

There are at least two ways to start thinking enemies:

1. You can start thinking about the desired mechanics and then find a "skin" that will fit that mechanic
2. You can start thinking about the desired looks, and then find mechanic that fits it

There's no universally better way. Returning to an example from the last update: Resident Evil's case is the latter. It's a game about zombies, so I bet they started up with a very clear notion that zombies would be their main creep. Therefore, it was up to the gameplay designers to find a matching set of player movements versus basic zombie mechanics.

Darkness Revealed is the former, since the game is mostly about exploring very deliberate level design and mastering Dave's heavy movements. In 90% of the time, enemies are carefully positioned in very specific ways to create different flavours of interesting level design. We have a very clear notion of how each creep must behave, so for all enemies that fit this category, it's our job to find an appropriate skin.





The shellfish is pretty standard. You only take damage if you don't get out of its way or if you jump on it (notice the sharp shell)! It doesn't really care about Dave, so it makes sense for it to look like a peaceful animal.






The crab is pretty much the same - except that it follows Dave to the best of his abilities! Since this is a more aggressive behaviour, it makes sense that he is themed accordingly - ergo, a menacing looking spider like crab.




A Thing About Variety

On to my last set of examples. Please meet the blowfish. All it does is swim back and forth through a predefined trajectory. Originally, we had blowfishes doing all sorts of trajectories besides this one. We called the different varieties "Linear Blowfish", "Circular Blowfish", "Angry Blowfish", etc. Even the seahorse that you already met used to be called a "Static Blowfish"!



However, looking from the player's perspective, the movement above is very different from this one. Yes, this used to be the Circular Blowfish! It's still a collision box flying over a predefined trajectory, but it's different enough to justify completely different aesthetics, don't you think? Not only does this contribute to clarity (which is often an advantage), but it also increases the player's perception of variety. If they were all blowfishes, players would be tired very quickly.



Time to exercise your mind: can you think of games that use up to dozens of different visual representations to what is technically the same enemy (exactly the same mechanic)? Does it necessarily feel cheap, or they have some good reasons to do that?


Ok, so... What are the 5 damn enemies I need to make my game fun?

All right, all right, we'll spell it out! I hope it's pretty obvious by now that no list will work for every game, but there's a way to think about this question that will allow you to come up with a list that makes sense for your game. And that is:

Develop first the enemy that will fix the aspect of your game that is more broken.
When you have zero enemies and your game requires some, you probably want to start out with the bread and butter enemy (or enemies). The one that will allow the player to exercise the game's main mechanics.

Once you feel that your mechanic is already viable (if it's a game about swordfighting, there's already one or two enemies for you to bash and slice to death), then you can start prioritizing. Always start with the ideas that will make the largest contribution to pushing your making game towards your grand vision for it.

Is your game purely about stat progression? Then maybe you can clone the same exact enemy and just increase its stats! If it's about dodging and hammering creeps and you already made heavy enemies that charge onto you and force you to dodge, maybe the next in line is a lightweight enemy that flies meters away when you hit it, just so that it's pleasant to fight with a hammer! Is it a Resident Evilesque zombie game and you already got the basic zombie? Maybe it's the fat zombie that just appears every once in a while to make players think: oh no, I'm screwed! Think about what your game is about and develop the next enemy that will contribute the most to the experience. Play the game and see how it changed with the new enemy. With this new knowledge in mind, rinse and repeat.

Don't feel overwhelmed. Work one at a time. You will get there. Just be smart about prioritizing work. Ultimately, your game will never be about the one billion ideas that you never developed, but about the ones that did make the cut. Prioritization is everything.

To wrap things up, here's a shark. I told you there needed to be one.

Time to help Pixel Cows!


So, what did you think of how we pick our enemies? Did you find this update informative? What would you like us to write about? Please let us know on Twitter and Facebook, or send us an email at [email protected] and tell us what YOU would like to read about!

And remember, if you want to receive these updates complete and before everyone else, sign up for our Golden Chest Newsletter.

Thanks for stopping by! Wink

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