Live from the Wizard Jam front, episode #1

Hey there dear reader!

The last time I did a live devlog was when I was making 15 Minutes, my 24 parody game. And that was back in 2011! I’ve moved on to Unity since then and made a bunch of games, but I don’t often participate in jams. The last time was ol’ Wizard Jam 1, the Idle Thumbs community game jam. But this time around the planets and stars aligned and I had enough time and a good idea, so I’m participating in Wizard Jam 4.

I got a bit of a late start as I was at a conference on the island of Texel last weekend, but I managed to catch up in the free moments throughout the week.

The concept

A few weeks ago I had a dream. In it -among other things- I biked to a villa in the forest and met the man of the house and his maid. I don’t know why, but when I woke up that image stuck with me. I wanted to go to that place and look around more. So, in keeping with me basing games on dreams, I thought it would be a nice thing to make for this jam.

The groundwork

I wrote out some details about the game and its events in the past week, so I had enough to jump right into Unity. I decided to use my trusty Adventure Creator plugin, and since I’m not very good with 3D modeling I’m going for a 3D world/2D characters style like The Tell-Tale Heart / Californium / Trackless.

The player character will be a pizza delivery guy, so the first thing I wanted to get was a little scooter, and I found the perfect one on the Asset Store. And together with a first-person character I was testing last week I had the basics of the first scene. Next was greyboxing the essential geometry. I used assets from the Stylized Jungle Pack I purchased for Reconquista in combination with just regular grey cubes.

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Then I started looking for forest villa reference photos.

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This gave me the idea to add a driveway and carport around the side of the house – a nice hidden area you’ll only stumble upon if you go snooping around. And of course, a carport isn’t complete without a car. Then I got a little carried away… but hey at least this confirms the interaction system works!

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I fiddled with the camera some more after that. It was really jittery, so I imported the First Person Drifter Controller, a neat little plugin I keep around for prototyping these kinds of games, and pulled the mouse smoothing script out of it to integrate with my player prefab. The result is really smooth!

Next was setting up the interaction system and UI, and I hollowed out the cube I had used to represent the house. I built some rooms and a glass facade, and then I really needed furniture. While browsing the Unity Asset Store I found some really great assets by OneSquareFoot. Their furniture mega pack was perfect to furnish the house with. And a nice opportunity to re-enact the Matrix.

I tried a few interior layouts and eventually settled on something that felt logical and looked good. Then I moved the sun a few degrees so that it would shine on the terrace for a longer period of time each day, justifying the reason the house was built at this angle. Would that I had such powers in real life.

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I was getting antsy to try the character style so I added a quick 2D guy. I should really work on the gameplay a bit at this point, but I wanted to have the house ready so I can turn it into a prefab and use it across all scenes without cutting into my own fingers later. So I spent some time adding collision to the interior, interactive doors, a staircase into the cellar, curtains, outside lights that react to motion and a functional doorbell that summons the man of the house. Just a bit more sprucing up and it should be ready to go.

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Reconquista 2.0 – revising a released game

When you’re making games on your own, finishing a project is already a pretty big milestone. But chances are you had to cut some corners to get it done. There are usually a few features that fall by the wayside depending on time, energy, or technical complexity. But how do you decide to either write off those ideas or keep them stored away for a potential version 2.0?

Since Reconquista was my first 3D game, I had to cut a lot of corners, so when I finished v1.0 I did not feel fulfilled. There wasn’t much to do outside of make a beeline for the temple, and the enemy AI was pretty rudimentary – it didn’t really reward exploration or experimentation. So when I released the game, I knew that I would someday revisit the game design. And I did.

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I came back for three reasons; I wanted to:

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By the numbers

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The demo for Last Voyage of the Orlova has been running for two weeks in a corner of VondelCS, and in that time Unity Analytics has been quietly tracking some key events in the game. Here’s a quick breakdown of those numbers:

It’s hard to say exactly how many people played the game, but I know 107 made it through the first few minutes and fired up the lighthouse.

77 hopefuls then entered the derelict ship floating through the mist.

41 of them figured out how to open the engineering deck and end the lockdown.

35 then made it to the front deck and found the axe.

They swung that axe 708 times, altogether. Wowzers.

And finally, 23 hardcore problem-solvers made it to the end of the demo.

These numbers are pretty impressive considering it’s running on an unattended fully-functional windows machine in some cafe hallway, away from any kind of gaming expo context, and without any strong tutorial content. It also shows that I could do some stronger foreshadowing in certain areas, but it might as well be that people had to move on or weren’t invested enough to explore further.

All in all, I’m glad I added the analytics in last-minute.

5 simple tips for demoing games at events

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As I’m getting ready to demo Last Voyage Of The Orlova at the Opium Torenkamer Festival, I’m adding some extra features to the game to make my life easier during the two weeks it will be there. Demoing a game at an event may seem like a simple errand: put the executable on a computer and let people go wild. But there are a few things you can do to make everything go smoothly:

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Trilinear thinking

As I get closer to releasing a beta for Last Voyage Of The Orlova, I’m doing lots of little polish things. Making the ship rock back and forth on the waves, adding a subtle blur behind the UI elements, better-looking fog, random little interactions, analytics, but also adding mipmaps to all the sprites.

Mipmapping means that instead of using just one sprite for, say, a chair, it makes progressively smaller versions of the same sprite to display when the camera moves further away. This avoids the image quality becoming crunched and blocky, like in the screenshot below. It’s like antialiasing for your sprites.

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It’s a built-in feature of Unity, literally as simple as checking one box on the sprite importer, but I never used it because I generally want my sprites as sharp as possible. But I decided to try it recently, and it looks way better! You can see there is better definition on the arm, and it smooths out the straw in the glass. It just looks more polished in general. Gotta remember that setting.

Scratching that itch

Hey there blog denizens!

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of itch.io, thé online marketplace for interesting indie games these days, but I never added ALL of my projects before. And it would have been weird to upload unfinished games to a webstore, but itch has evolved tremendously lately, offering support for limited betas and early access games. So now you can find all of my personal projects of note at hedgefield.itch.io.

But wait, there’s one more thing.

Last year I stopped blogging weekly about my indie escapades and created a once-in-a-while newsletter, but I noticed that I then also shared less little gamedev insights, something which the blog was perfect for. So I’m bringing that back. As I wrap up work on the first Orlova beta for an upcoming event, expect more work-in-progress posts. It’s time to turn this place back into a proper devblog.

Starting with the new title screen for Last Voyage of the Orlova.

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2016 look-ahead

We looked back at 2015 earlier this month, now it’s time to look ahead at all the things coming for Hedgefield in 2016.

Finish developing Last Voyage Of The Orlova

I started this project last summer with the intention to finish it up in a month or two, but then I got caught up in other things eventually leading me to my current job at Yoast, so the development timetable for this project has been stretched out somewhat. But this year I’m definitely finishing it and putting it out in itch.io.

Work with some cool people on 7 Days Of Klement

I can’t tell you what it is yet, but this year I’m working on a game spearheaded by Sytze Schalk, though I’m keeping my role in it limited to some design and prototyping work, leaving the heavy lifting to contractors. But that’s a great opportunity to involve some people I’ve wanted to work with.

Write a new draft for Black Feather Forest

This again? Yes. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this game since I completed the vertical slice in 2014. It was way too ambitious, while still missing some crucial mechanics. So I’m slowly writing a new draft, and so far it’s looking pretty solid. 2017 here I come.

Draw more

It sounds weird considering my day job IS drawing, but I want to make more quick little drawings in my free time and learn new techniques. Just get better at it, basically.

I’ll be talking more in-depth about these things in my newsletter, so sign up for that.

 

2D water reflections in Unity 5

Some people asked me how I’m doing the water reflections in Last Voyage Of The Orlova, so here’s a quick look at the shader. Download at the bottom of the post.

The solution consists of two components: a shader for the groundwork, and a script to render it on a quad.

The shader has a texture slot and a color picker. The texture is optional, you can just change the water color using the color picker.

The script has settings for the reflection resolution, offset, and which layers should be reflected. I keep the resolution intentionally low (256) because otherwise the reflection is too perfect and it doesn’t look like water anymore. And I like the way it shimmers when you walk.

I’ve packaged the files up so you can try this in your own project right now:
Click here to download.

To get started, add these files to your project’s Assets folder, and drag the reflection prefab into your scene. You can adjust the size and position of the prefab to your needs.

Let me know here or on twitter if you use it, I’d love to see it in action in other places.

If you’re looking to add waves (with physics!) to the water surface, the Zippy Water 2D asset is pretty good. I applied this shader to their water prefab and it works.

 

Announcing The Last Voyage Of The Orlova

Today I’d like you to meet my next game, The Last Voyage Of The Orlova.

Orlova, for short, is a 2D sidescrolling exploration game about an Irish lighthouse keeper that comes across the ghost ship Lyubov Orlova. The MV Lyubov Orlova is a real (decommissioned) cruiseship that was lost in a storm in 2013, when it was being towed to a scrap yard. Since then, nobody has succesfully rediscovered the ship. In 2014 its radio blipped off the coast of the UK/Ireland, and later disappeared again. This game is an exploration of what could have happened if someone on the coast encountered the ship during that time.

In the game you control the lighthouse keeper as he discovers the ship off the coast of his island, and goes to explore it. Ultimately, he wants to get the ship away from the coast and from the shipping lanes he oversees with his lighthouse. Armed with a map and an axe, you can walk up and down all the decks of the ship in search of clues about the history of this ship. On the way you will encounter obstacles that need to be overcome, such as barricades to be chopped down, flooded compartments, and droves of rats blocking your progress.

The game will come out for PC/Mac/Linux somewhere this year. More info coming soon.

Week 66

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

Last week was a bit disappointing. I did get the BlaFF storyline plotted out fully in Twine, which was great because it gave me an instant visual overview of which parts were too linear and which had too much going on at once. I added one location and everything feels better balanced now. The added bonus is that I now have an accurate count of all the clues you can collect during the game and where they are referenced. I was afraid I had planned for too many, but the total number came up short of the space I had reserved for it, so that’s good, I can pad some things out and add more info to find.

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But then, bad news. Indie Fund reviewed my submission and decided that it didn’t quite fit with what they were looking for in their portfolio. I hadn’t expected much but it was still disappointing. The next day I heard back from Double Fine too – they really liked the game, but with two guys manning their publishing department part-time and three projects on their hands already they didn’t have space on their docket, but it was still nice to hear. I’ve got a few more emails out, so we’ll see how that goes in the coming weeks.

Mostly it shook me awake to the fact that the core game needs work. I’ve been caught up in polishing what I essentially made in one month, but it needs new features. I’ve just been afraid to break the whole thing open again. But it has to be done. I got some good tips from people that played the demo, some of which I had already thought of myself, so it’s time to put stuff like that in and make the game match up with the promise.

The only problem is I don’t have much leeway to spend time on it right now. I’d love to, but life costs money, and making games is not exactly a quick return-of-investment. So I decided to pivot back to illustration for a while. I could do a Kickstarter for BlaFF, but setting that up would take me another month, and there’s no guarantee that it will work out, especially in the current sour climate in the games industry. I needed to step away from all that anxiety and get back to what I know I can do well: drawing. (I have more thoughts on this that I’ll put in a seperate blogpost.)

But for now I’m good doing illustration. I got two emails recently for interesting and substantial projects. They’re both international, so it’s also a new challenge in figuring out how to process that in my administration. And if you’re reading this and have a nice assignment for me: I’m available for hire!

next week: drawing drawing drawing.