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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsAeon Zenith - Dark Fantasy Bullet Hell Shooter
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Author Topic: Aeon Zenith - Dark Fantasy Bullet Hell Shooter  (Read 1566 times)
Squire Grooktook
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« on: July 31, 2017, 02:35:31 AM »

Hello all. I am an amateur Computer Science student, and this is my first game development project. It's a classic bullet hell shmup, with a fantasy themed setting.

My goals for the game are as follows:


You probably know the drill, dodge and shoot your way through a gauntlet of scrolling stages, fighting for survival and high scores. Aeon Zenith is distinguished from other shmups by its emphasis on speed and aggression. It is designed to reward:

Unlike many modern bullet hell shooters, which require microscopic movements to squeeze through bullet waves, Aeon Zenith's patterns and enemies are designed to reward fast movement and large sweeping dodges. I hope that this game's moving, dodging, and shooting, will feel uniquely hyperactive and thrilling.

I try to forge a balance between static patterns and randomness. Memorizing stages and enemy patterns will increase your chance of survival, but no enemy or attack is entirely predictable. To survive throughout the game, you must use your reflexes and ability to improvise.

Aeon Zenith features a powerful melee attack that rewards you for taking risks and closing the distance with your enemies.
It also features a unique "hyper mode" mechanic called Judgment. Fill the Judgment meter by destroying enemies. When it is full, you may gamble your entire shield meter in order to enter an extremely powerful mode with a suite of unique weapons. Destroy every enemy on screen at the moment of activation to gain a score bonus and unleash a powerful finishing move. But if you fail to do so before the mode wears off, you will lose all your shield meter.

Story, Setting, and Aesthetic

Aeon Zenith is intended as a dark and slightly surreal fantasy. Features:

Players assume the role of "Zona" a holy dragon, tasked with a journey to the moon by your absent divine masters. The lunar surface, once a mystical paradise, has been transformed, along with its populace, into a world of nightmares. Purify them with your flame of judgment, and discover the truth...or at least, what little you can comprehend.

Visual Storytelling
There is no dialogue with enemies to slow the gameplay. I intend to have an opening, and two endings. Beyond these two cutscenes, the story is interpreted purely through gameplay and the environment in which it takes place.

Aeon Zenith features 16-bit style pixel art. I am a fan of hand drawn art, and I love detailed sprite-work. I am hoping to capture the style and feel of 90's arcade titles.


For those well versed in the genre, my influences include:

Cho Ren Sha 68k, Darius, Metal Black, Rayforce, R-Type, Recca, Raiden Fighters, Biometal, Dragon Spirit, Dragon Saber, Strikers 1945, Sengoku Blade, Dragon Blaze, Dodonpachi, Dangun Feveron, Mushihimesama Futari, Battle Garegga, Armed Police Batrider, Soukyugurentai, Dimahoo, Strania, The Tales of Alltynex, Touhou, Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun, eXceed Trilogy, Kaikan, Gundemonium Trilogy, and Mecha Ritz.

Media and Work

Player character "Zona" pixel art

Player character "Zona" human form (Concept Sketch #3, art by Myrdin)

Note, videos contain a lot of flashing effects (this can be toggled on or off, in-game). I do not think they would cause epilepsy, but I figured I'd throw that out, just in case.

Current title screen.
Note: The video leads into an old debug room. Please ignore.

Prototype Stage 1
Note: Extremely out of date. Mechanics and stage design have been heavily altered. Everything but the dragon sprite is a placeholder.

Demo Boss Fight
Note: Contains placeholder music from the Panzer Dragoon series, because I was bored and couldn't resist playing DJ, heh. Everything is a placholder except the dragon sprite. My recording software also lagged out during the boss explosion, unfortunately.


A clip of revised stage 1 level design.
Note: Bullet and enemy sprites are placeholders. Background assets and dragon are not.


Progress and Updates


I am currently working to address feedback from the demo I released last month. I am scaling back the difficulty of the demo stage, rebalancing the Judgment mechanic, and adding a new offensive/defensive ability to help increase depth and reduce difficulty.

On the subject of art, my character designer and I are roughly halfway through the design process for the dragon's human form, which is relevant to the ending cutscene. I will be receiving enemy/monster design concept art soon, as well. In the mean time, I am focusing on environmental art direction with my pixel artist. It's slow going, since the budget comes from my own pocket, but I prefer to proceed slowly and thoughtfully anyway.

« Last Edit: November 01, 2017, 01:17:37 AM by Squire Grooktook » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2017, 07:08:17 AM »

I love that little concept art sketch! A dragon with a human form, sounds like you're taking a point from pen and paper rpgs Smiley

Game looks fun and very fast paced, and I look forward to seeing this project continue!

A fast, yet still rogue-like RPG.

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Squire Grooktook
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« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2017, 02:53:31 AM »

I love that little concept art sketch! A dragon with a human form, sounds like you're taking a point from pen and paper rpgs Smiley

Game looks fun and very fast paced, and I look forward to seeing this project continue!

Thank you for the kind words! I'm very glad to hear that the pace of gameplay is already apparent in the previews I posted.

Table Top RPG's are indeed an influence on the setting and world building. In fact, I met one of my artists in a forum thread about pen and paper role playing.

Progress and Updates


I am now receiving enemy design concepts.
(art by Aruspice)

I am currently attempting to exercise the most effective art direction of which I am capable. As a result, I've been writing a great deal lately, in order to provide feedback and direction for the artists that I am working with.

Because of my naturally indecisive nature, some of the more difficult choices and suggestions tend to make my nerves feel frayed. But, I am happy with the progress I am seeing.

Beyond art direction, I am making an effort to continue stage development and mechanical re-balancing, even with the shadow of Summer Finals looming.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2017, 01:18:01 AM by Squire Grooktook » Logged

Squire Grooktook
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« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2017, 01:32:35 AM »

Progress and Updates


Currently, I am drawing closer to completing and releasing the second demo. I expect that it will be finished within 1-3 weeks.

Based on the feedback I received from the previous demo, I have worked to address the majority of complaints aimed at the base mechanics of the game. A few examples:

>Tech Roll

A unique mechanic in this game is the "Tech Roll", which is inspired by a mechanic found in many modern fighting games. When you are stunned and knocked back by an enemy hit, the Tech Roll allows you to quickly recover and return to action with a dashing maneuver. Originally, the Tech Roll was initiated by pressing any button after being damaged. As a result, it was too easy to roll by accident while attacking. The roll was also very fast, far reaching, and difficult to aim. Players would often overshoot or go in the wrong direction, rendering the mechanic more annoying than helpful.

To address these complaints, I've made the Tech Roll more timing intensive, and made it easier to control.

The Tech Roll now acts more like a timing minigame. When you are damaged, a blue ring will begin to materialize around the player, will turn white when it is finished, and then vanish. To initiate the tech roll, you must press the button the moment it turns white. If you press it any sooner or later, it will not work.

I have also made the actual roll or dash "heavier". It's slower, shorter, and has greater "steering" capability, and thus it is now much easier to maneuver into position.

I am hopeful that these changes will turn it into a satisfying and fun mechanic, that allows you to mitigate some of the disadvantage brought on by failure.

>No indication for when charge attack was ready

Another complaint I received was the lack of any visible indicator to show that your melee attack was fully charged. I intended for charge attacks to function as a kind of rhythm/timing element within battle. I did not originally include an indicator, because the charge time is nearly instantaneous (exactly 20 frames), and I figured that it would therefore be unnecessary. Since it was brought up as a negative, I have listened to the feedback, and added an indicator. For the time being, I have used a small glowing outline around the player.

I personally believe the effect is unappealing, but I will leave it in the demo as a placeholder to see if it will addresses the complaint.

>Judgment mechanic: balance, difficulty, and complexity

This was one of the first issues I fixed, a month or two ago. I worked hard to address it first, as it is one of the core mechanics.

For a variety of reasons, I was personally unhappy with the state of the Judgment mechanic even before I released the demo. I was so unhappy with it that I added a toggle to disable the mechanic in the demo, and set it to "off" by default.

I considered removing it altogether, but after listening to feedback from players, and spending time brainstorming, I managed to address the complaints that players — and I myself — had with the mechanic. I won't go into all the tweaks made, as it's a long and wordy story, but suffice to say: it's much easier and much simpler now.

I am still prepared to hear and address feedback and criticism, but now I am very hopeful that the mechanic will ultimately fulfill its purpose and that it will grant the gameplay a unique and visceral flow that is not found elsewhere.

>Game Over sequence could not be skipped

I intended to allow players to skip the game over sequence, but due to a glitch that slipped by my notice, input was disabled for nearly half the sequence's length. The glitch has been fixed, and the game over sequence can now be skipped at any time. I have also reduced the overall length of the sequence.

In addition to the above, I have made numerous bugfixes and tweaks that are not worth mentioning here. I am happy with the progress I have made, but I am only halfway through the process of addressing the most important, consistent, and widespread complaint:

>The difficulty

The demo was far too difficult for a first stage, and none of my testers actually completed it. This is quite a statement, considering that many of them were veterans of the genre. In general, it does not seem that anyone had a problem with my telegraphing of enemy attacks, but that the attacks themselves were simply too stressful for an early stage. To address this, I have been tirelessly redesigning almost every enemy wave in the stage from the ground up. I have taken the opportunity to polish the stage, and add a significant amount of extra depth to the "speedkill" based scoring system. But my primary concern is ensuring that people are actually capable of completing it now.

I have also added a new defensive mechanic, the flamethrower, that allows you to defend yourself against incoming bullets at the cost of halting your offense. I am currently planning on adding a power up that grants you a one-time shield against damage. Hopefully, these elements will add an extra layer of risk/reward depth, and mercy to the game.

I'd say that I have about 70% of the stage itself "fixed". But I have not touched the miniboss, or the boss yet, so I still have a lot of work to do. Level design is the most difficult part of this game's development. I've frequently driven myself to near insanity over it. However, with what I've learned, I'm confident that the next demo will be much more balanced and fun.

Aside from gameplay, I am still working with my concept artists on character and monster design.

Aruspice and I are currently trying to find an elegant middle-ground between the graceful beauty of the first concept sheet, and the unsettling visceral designs of the latest sheet, above.

Once the second demo is finished, I will probably be more aggressive in spreading it around. I will probably post it here, and consider feedback anyone wishes to give.
« Last Edit: September 02, 2017, 02:23:05 AM by Squire Grooktook » Logged

Pixel Noise
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« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2017, 07:11:37 AM »

This is looking nice for a first project! Keep refining it - I think you've got some good ideas.  Beer!

Pixel Noise - professional composition/sound design studio.

Recently completed the ReallyGoodBattle OST!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=vgf-4DjU5q
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