I Updated My Super Simple Game

I posted yesterday about the first little game I made with Clickteam Fusion, a super simple little top-down piece where a random hazard blob is placed every seven seconds and the player has to survive as long as possible without bumping into them. (Thanks very much to everyone who gave it a little playtest, by the way.) It was a really positive experience making the game as, despite its simplicity, it was a complete little project with a scoring system, a way to lose, a way to track your success etc. The only catch was that it wasn’t that much fun since a pretty good strategy was to just stick around in the same spot for as long as it took for the random number generator to drop a blob on you. Well, the project isn’t over yet, and TinyAdventure 0.2 is here!

The first thing I did was sort out a new character sprite. The first sprite was a little lop-sided. It had the consequence of making the game a little unpredictable, making collisions where the player didn’t expect them. I’ve made the character a little bit bigger which I’m a bit uncertain about right now. It makes the character more prominent and personable, but it makes weaving between the blobs trickier. I might shrink the blobs a bit more to compensate, but we’ll see how it plays out.

The next change was much more important. Now, every 12 seconds the game will spawn a red blob which exhibits basic hostile behaviour, chasing the player instead of staying in place. This changes up the whole game and I think it’s a drastic improvement, staying on the spot is no longer an option. However, the game isn’t necessarily more overwhelming early on, because you can play blob against blob, trapping the red behind blues and so on. It gives an element of strategy to it, despite the basic feel.

Lastly, I balanced out the elements a bit by making blobs destroy once you’ve hit them. It isn’t a method for clearing the board as you’re still limited to three hits, but it stops a tricky spot sinking you on the same blob twice.

I’m learning a lot about game design here. It’s only a few small changed from the first version, but I already feel like this is a much more entertaining game. The principles are still really simple, but the way they play out together is genuinely entertaining.

Once again, if you want to try it for yourself, here’s a download link:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/bxseg0xfwgy5ftr/TinyAdventure0.2.exe?dl=0

 

I Started Making My First Game

As you guys know, I’ve been working with ClickTeam Fusion lately, and after trying to find some good tutorials, I’ve been taking more of a project approach. Making a game from scratch, and research example for the specific techniques of game mechanics I need. I’m already finding the experience more challenging (and liberating) than just following the rote tutorials, but it’s a very satisfying process.

It hasn’t taken long for me to have my first project to a stage where it’s a very basic game in its own right.

At the moment, I’ve given it the almost certainly taken moniker of TinyAdventure, and it’s incredibly basic. The player controls a top down little person with 8 directional movement, score accumulates until you die, and every seven seconds the game spawns an enemy blob at a random location. The blobs don’t currently do anything, but running into one three times means game over. The longer you play, the more the screen fills up. Once you die, you’re taken to a high-score table, where you can restart the game if you choose.

Like I said, basic, but all the elements are there. An open-ended structure, a goal to obtain the highest score, a lose condition, some element of saving one’s progress, and the ability to start again. What I want to do now is iterate gradually, by playing the game and seeing what feels unsatisfying and add things one at a time. Immediately, the biggest problem is obvious. The game is incredibly easy and can last for ages without the player ever moving. I’d like to change this by adding blobs that pursue the player next. That would already be a dramatic change.

If you’d like to try the game, it should run on most versions of Windows and there’s a link here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/rmryqakpl0mddz3/TinyAdventure0.01.exe?dl=0

Let me know what you think!

Lego Worlds Is Kind of A Mess

Lego Worlds seems like a no-brainer. Everyone loves Minecraft, Minecraft is a bit like Lego, make a Lego game a bit like Minecraft and watch the dollars roll in! Except I’ve been playing it for a couple of hours now, and it feels like a directionless sprawl of empty content. I’m going to stick with it and give it time to grow on me, but here are the current concerns I’m having.

Creating your own world is locked behind a HUGE progress wall.

This is the biggest issue. Lego Worlds is, at its core, a procedurally generated construction game. Picking a seed and generating a random world and then setting out to shape it is fundamental to the genre, but for some reason, Lego Worlds places this central feature behind a sort of loose, randomly generated campaign to collect Golden Bricks. You don’t get to just make a game of your choosing from scratch until you get 100 golden bricks. I’ve been playing for a few hours now, and I have 20. Assuming this pace continues, one would need to play Lego Worlds for the length of some games’ entire campaigns just to unlock the ability to make your own worlds.

Prior to this, you have to gradually unlock larger and larger procedurally generated worlds that will usually be conceived around a theme (Junkyard area or Prehistoric, for example.) Each of these worlds will feature quests you need to undertake to get your precious Gold Bricks. Which leads me to my next point…

Gameplay prior to finding 100 Gold Bricks neither requires nor rewards, creative building.

Sure, there’s plenty of game to play before you can create your own worlds, and as you unlock larger maps the variety increases. A play could easily just plant themselves on a map they like and go at it. The problem with this is that free building on one of the maps the game makes for you means getting off the road to progression and delaying unlocking future features. It also goes against what the game itself seems to be pushing you to do; unlock new tools, get new gold bricks, rank up. You can start using your skills immediately, but it means consciously taking yourself out of the gameplay loop established. It’s awkward and the knowledge that you’re prolonging your stay in a limbo between tutorial level and full access to the game’s features is a miserable experience.

Worse still, none of the quests needed to progress really require much building. Occasionally you will be asked and encouraged to build something creative to progress but more often than not most quests for bricks involve leading a bunch of cows to a lonely woodsman or give monkeys fruit until they cough up the bling. You can hunt down chests or more lucrative quests, but progressing faster means hopping from world to world, leaving behind any builds, and reinforcing the idea that each world is essentially transitory and unimportant. You never really feel like you inhabit any of these spaces.

Ultimately you’re left with the worrying question of who would like this setup? People who want to build will feel frustrated and delayed. People who like the early gameplay loop are investing all their early game time into unlocking a game mode that abandons this structure. It feels symptomatic of a game that wanted to be one thing but decided very late in the show that it needed to be something else.

Even if you choose to build, you won’t have a lot of bricks for a while.

You can build brick by brick as soon as you finish the first tutorials. Technically it is possible to let loose and build away, even if you don’t find the game’s progression structure and limited early worlds off-putting. You probably won’t be building too much of interest, however, because the early selection of bricks is incredibly small, and quite an odd arsenal. You are given, for example, a smooth circular tile, but no variety of decent sized rectangular bricks. If you’d like more, you need to find them by hunting down little monsters who appear randomly, or by finding hidden chests. Doing so will allow you to unlock the vast array of Lego bricks available in this game… one at a time.

It’s a baffling choice that seems to conflict with everything the game sells itself on and is totally at odds with the more limited early levels. Restricting space might make sense, restricting bricks might too, restricting both leaves you scratching your head, wondering exactly what fun develop Traveller’s Tales expects anyone to have.

It has Minecraft stuff in it… but in a really half arsed sort of way.

TT shouldn’t need to pretend Minecraft has had an influence here, we’re seeing Mojang’s monster influence all kinds of established franchises lately. (See Dragon Quest Builders, another game that tried to be Minecraft but not enough.) It’s hard to move into the Procedurally Generated Construction genre without addressing the comparison, but Lego Worlds feels like a game that started off a lot more like Minecraft and then got scared at the last minute. I didn’t play it in early access, but the word was it started much more like Minecraft’s creative mode and received complaints that the game was too empty, like it was just a big toy box.

Throughout the game, however, there are design choices I like to call “Like Minecraft, but pointless.” My favourite examples are the Skeletons and Zombies that pop up on certain worlds at night. They’re here, just like Minecraft they spawn in once the sun goes down and attack, and just like Minecraft you can get a variety of equipment to take them down easier. Except there’s no wider goal.

Mobs in Minecraft force you to adapt to the day and night cycle. You’ll need food to heal, shelter to protect yourself from the monsters, a bed to sleep through the night, and armour to keep going. You are in the world, and if you die, you might lose some progress. Monsters might always destroy your home or interrupt a vital build that will make the next day more difficult.

Lego Worlds has no continuous presence. If a world has too many skeletons at night, I can hop to the next one. Or I can just run around in a circle faster than them and do all my quests at that speed. Who cares, I’ll never need to stop and eat or work. Worlds isn’t a survival game, and I’m not suggesting it should be, but it seems to think it should be. As if “be a bit like Minecraft” was such a brilliant guiding philosophy that pinching the night-spawning mobs works even with the rest of the survival mechanics. I guess that brings me to my final point…

It’s a good core game but feels very insecure about itself.

I like the game… a bit. I know I just rambled on about everything frustrating, but it’s hard to put it down and hate the game. It’s well polished, it feels like a big budget title even if it’s lacking on content, but for every positive, there’s a great big negative that seems to have come from a publisher anxiety.

Lego Worlds wants to be the next big Sandbox game, it wants to take the Lego name and make it as associated with creativity in video games as it is in toys, and it had an engine that is almost good enough to do that. Then, step by step, feature by feature, layer by layer, it works to lead you away from this vision. Tries to squeeze over a tight and agonisingly dull structure that seems more like Little Big Planet than Lego. It wants you to hop from little one self-contained bubble to another, sharing little builds and swapping bricks. Not necessarily a bad structure, but a poorly executed one, that comes at the expense of everything Worlds does right.

But Little Big Planet was never very successful, and never really very much fun.

 

What 2016’s Doom and Batman: Arkham Asylum Have In Common

The latest entry in the Doom franchise was a critical and commercial success last year, bringing the series back to its roots for a lot of the die-hard fans who weren’t as sold on Doom 3. It’s easy to see why, with its focus on pressing forward, and fluid gameplay that felt almost like an arcade game at times, Doom took the best of modern design and augmented it with a core of solid, mechanics driven play. It’s a violent, exhilarating experience, where you’re likely to be attacked repeatedly by rooms crammed full of demons ready to tear you apart. It should be overwhelming, frustrating, hard to stay on top of, but it never is. And I suspect Batman: Arkham Asylum is the reason why.

The Arkham series is about as far from Doom as you can get, the games are very story driven, thematic experiences, that deal more with psychology, character, and set pieces. Arkham Asylum is probably one of the strongest video game narratives in the modern era. But I want to talk about the Free Flow Combat System.

Free flow Combat System

Free Flow was introduced in Asylum and while it has been copied elsewhere, it’s only the Arkham games that seem to have a good feel for it.

Oh, and it’s sort of amazing.

See, the crux of combat in these games is that Batman needs to feel like a martial arts master capable of taking on five, maybe even ten guys, at once and without breaking a sweat. The problem with that is how to give the character this proficiency without expecting the same proficiency from the player. You could just make the goons go down really easily, but that wouldn’t be satisfying. Enter, Free Flow.

At its core, Free Flow is insultingly simple. One button to attack, one button to counter. Hit the attack button and Batman will trigger an move, wait until the game signals an incoming punch and hit counter. Follow these simple rules and, until pretty late into the game, most encounters will be solvable. Even the weakest players can master two buttons. But embrace the combat system and you find a world of flexibility that encourages you to think about fight differently. The goal is not to pull off the most intricate individual moves, but to plan how you’re going to string those moves together, and win the fight in the most incredible ways.

As you progress, Batman’s gadgets will get added to your combat arsenal, with each accessible from a simple quick-fire button; as your variety increases, the elaborate possibilities of the fight do too. What starts as a game of punch and counter soon becomes a rush to plot out a string of devastating moves. Punch, counter, stun, plant explosives, punch, dodge, detonate explosives, grapple enemy, throw batarang, finishing move. The game encourages you to approach each fight like a routine, winning isn’t up for debate, you’re Batman! What matters is how quickly, or cleverly can you do it. The more variety you throw in, the more XP you’ll claim at the end.

So what has this to do with Doom?

Well, Doom kinda does the same thing. Things are tweaked a little differently, of course, this isn’t a martial arts, super-hero game; the game wants to give the player a feeling of pure brutality. A lone super-soldier prepared to mow through these demons. And mow he does. While Doom is a shooter, melee executions play a huge part of the game. The marine will be surrounded by enemies in little arenas throughout the campaign, he will then be encouraged to hot swap weapons, take them out phase by phase, and stay alive. Health is scarce. It should be difficult, but play up to the mechanics and a familiar flow starts to emerge.

doom 2016 screenshots

Every time you weaken an enemy enough to stagger them, they become susceptible to an execution, performing the execution makes them drop health, you’ll need this health to survive the trickier waves. You’re surrounded by enemies, some tough, some weak, but focusing on the toughest enemy is rarely the best strategy. Often better results can be found by planning a route through demons, take out some mid-strength foes with a half decent gun, execute a tiny imp or two for health and ammo, aim your big guns at the biggest demon and if it damages you, harvest a few more imps. Like the Free Flow combat system, rarely is a battle in Doom about thinking about taking down one enemy, or firing the best gun until something dies. It’s about planning a path from one foe to the next, using mechanics intended to preserve the flow of the fight.

The two games doesn’t have much else in common, but this approach to combat is something I’d like to see more games try.

If you know any other games with similar systems I could add to this, leave me a comment. I’d love to know about them!

Finding Good Tutorials for Clickteam Fusion 2.5

I posted here a few days ago about my first impressions of Clickteam Fusion (spoilers: they were fairly positive) but I was a bit thrown after that because the rest of the tutorials in the package aren’t that great. One covers how to apply basic physics to objects which is fair enough, but the next appears to be written for an old version of the software, and I hit a roadblock pretty fast.

Part of the problem seems to be that the software has been using the same tutorial format since it was called “The Games Factory”, and a lot of the resources on Clickteam’s site date back to this time. And the tutorials aren’t just PDFs, they’re project files that include premade assets and animations you’ll often need. Often these aren’t easy to load into CTF 2.5 or the Steam version.

Oh and the software’s pretty popular in France too, so sometimes they’re in French. More to learn, zut alors!

I’ve been scouring the web to gather them together, and these are the best sources I have found, together with the strongest individual tutorials. In my experience, the better lessons to go for use general instructions combined with assets already included in CTF, no fiddly loading involved. After a few tutorials, sample files are pretty useful. These are often projects that just illustrate how to create a single effect like bullet-time or flashing after you take damage, and are often ingenious.

The only other advice I can give you is to still try Tutorials from older versions like The Games Factory or Multimedia Fusion. The software hasn’t changed so much, and while you might hit an obstacle, many of them can be completed in CTF 2.5. If you do get stuck, you can always move on to another.

If you’re really in a rut, just try a few things. I’ve found you can often pick something new up just by applying a few conditions here or there and seeing what the result it. You can’t do any damage just playing around.

On to the list!

Clickteam’s Own List –

This is a repository of Clickteam’s own in-house tutorials, and they vary a LOT. Take a look at the PDFs included with the lessons and see if you can find the Objects it uses in the preinstalled libraries, if you have them installed already then it’s just a case of hunting them down when you need them.

I can really recommend “Catch the Fruit” for total beginners. It’s very simple and makes a good follow on from the first ChocoBreak lesson. There’s a lot of overlap; controlling characters, assigning score, but a few differences here and there that add to your knowledge. Better yet, the assets are all found in CTF 2.5 so you can start immediately.

Nivram’s Examples – 

Castles of Britain CTFNivram’s Examples is a huge list of sample files, hidden away behind a site all about British Castles. It’s a really fantastic list of different projects that demonstrate different effects you can produce in the software, ranging from little animation flairs, to clones of entire games and software. Not all the samples will be useful to total beginners, you need to be able to decipher exactly how the result has been achieved once you get it open, but picking something simple and studying it can be hugely education.

I can really recommend Homing Missile Example, and, Satellites Example, for simple but applicable effects you can pick up from the project file.

The Daily Click – 

The Daily Click is one of the more fun entries on this list, acting as a showcase for really great CTF and MMF games, as well as a repository for tutorial. The site has an active community for feedback and peer review, as well as a rating system for any articles or project files submitted. There’s a lot of different stuff here, but the presence of real human beings exploring it along with you means that the cream rises to the top pretty often. It’s a good place to sign up and ask a few questions, then share your results.

Often the best stuff can be found here by sorting Articles or Projects so highest rated appear at the top. However I can really recommend the articles Handling Duplicates, Pixel Art for Total Noobies, and, Active Objects, Active or Passive?.

And Finally

Salvage’s FNAF Series –

FNAF CoverNo conversation about Clickteam Fusion would be complete without a reminder that this is the software that made Five Nights at Freddy’s possible. If you’d like to give Scott Cawthon a run for his money and make your own FNAF (Because Steam doesn’t have enough of those yet, right?) then this tutorial series is actually very enlightening and shows how you can achieve the same results.

Recommended? All of it.

And that’s it, the whole list. These are the best resources I’ve found for Clickteam Fusion 2.5 and MMF 2 tutorials. For the most part the ones I’ve listed work, though it can be a bit tricky to get all the assets. If you know any better ones, please leave a comment!

Dishonored 2’s Concept Art Looks Like Masterpieces From An Alternate-Timeline

Concept Artists are the backstage set designers of videogame design, playing a huge role in shaping the overall look and feel of a game, despite their work serving only as a guide for the final assets, frequently not featuring in the final product itself. They are often the members of the development team with the closest ties to the classical arts, creating incredibly detailed and time consuming works of art that might could never be seen directly by the public. Comparing a game’s concept art to the final release can be a go way of examining how projects change over time, or how a guiding visions takes shape. Sometimes they’re just cool to look at!

Last year’s Artbook, The Art of Dishonored 2, shows off some of the pieces made for that title’s development  and world building. It’s amazing work. The pieces seem to capture the art styles of 18th Century Romanticists like J. M. W. Turner or Constable. (Particularly Piotr Jabłoński’s astonishing Old Sea Beast) This is helped by Dishonored 2’s setting, a blend of Victorian social values and sweeping sci-fi landscapes. Many of the pieces are actually unlockable in the game as collectible paintings, adding to the idea that these are the product of a real living culture.

It helps show how Video Game design is often a collaboration between experts of different art forms coming together. Take a look!

Images sourced from The Art of Dishonored 2. (It’s a really great book.)

Concept Art

 

Art of Dishonored 2

 

Dishonored Sea Scene

 

 

Dishonored 2 Old Sea Beast
The Old Sea Beast – Piotr Jabłoński

 

Dishonored 2 Artbook

Doing my first Clickteam Fusion tutorials!

I’ve been playing with Clickteam Fusion… I’d heard mixed things about the software but so far I love it!

For the uninitiated, Fusion is a drag and drop software development tool with an emphasis on easy game development. You’re probably familiar with its most famous offspring, Five Nights At Freddy’s. It’s pitched as a more accessible alternative to Game Maker Studio and it’s pretty flexible, but doesn’t feature a scripting language or similar direct coding options. Because of the this the software has a reputation for being too clumsy or simplistic for professional work, but at this stage I’m not a professional and it’s a good learning opportunity.

I picked it up in a Humble Bundle some time ago, but I hadn’t had chance to dive in yet because there’s no mac version in the package, and I’d been having issue with my bootcamp installation. Now I’ve had chance to take a look, I think it’s going to make a great complement to my Python studies. Learning to code is really valuable, but this has let me start learning practical game design without being limited by my coding experience.

Chocobreak CTF
I’m pleased to say my version of the first tutorial “Chocobreak” looked as close to this at it should have.

I’m still pretty new to it all now, I’ve run a few tutorials that involve making a version of Breakout and one very rough little game where you catch fruit that falls from above, but I wouldn’t be overselling it to say that I could probably take the principles and go away and make a sample game from scratch already. I’m going to do a few more tutorials and then see if I can apply what I’ve learn to a few of my old Python projects or ideas I’ve been saving for when my experience got up. Fortunately the software includes a lot of animated sprites and sound effects you can use out of the box too, so getting straight to the gameplay is pretty easy.

Probably the biggest strength so far is the conditions system, which is effective at laying out the various interactions each object has while in play, while staying readable. It’s remarkably easy to make, for example, a bouncing ball that can drop from wherever you click on the screen and bounces about the frame without disappearing off the edges. There’s a playground vibe to just setting elements differently and seeing how they interact.

Right now I’m not sure how flexible the engine would be at dealing with something like a dialogue heavy RPG or a fast, responsive platformer, but it’s robust enough that I can hit the ground running. Hopefully in future it’ll let me get something with a few more ideas through.

More updates soon!