Monday, May 29, 2017

TransFuse Post Mortem


This is the story of TransFuse, a game made in 48 hours for the Butterscotch ShenaniJam.

The Idea


At the start of the Jam, I rolled the theme: "Electric Leech." At first, we were at a loss about what to do - as while the theme brought a vivid picture to mind, it didn't really inspire any particular gameplay for us. All of our ideas were just games with electric leeches (and a few of the ideas were just leeches... the gameplay was pretty questionable). However, eventually I came up with the idea for a tower defense game where the enemies were leeches, and they both sucked your blood (leech) but also gave you power which you needed to build towers (electric). This double-edged enemy type was a very interesting twist to the tower defense gameplay - and changed the game from trying to have an impenetrable defense (letting as few enemies through as possible), to balancing how many enemies got through and how quickly.

About two hours into the jam, we had finalized the idea and came up with a quick design document for it.

The First Day


After we came up with our idea and design document, we had about four hours left in the first day to make something. Aaron sent me quick placeholder art and I got to work setting up the grid and pathfinding for the ground leeches. I also looked through old code of mine and reused a bunch of stuff - mostly utility classes and the tower placement (and also a lot of the animation/display stuff). By the end of the day, there was no UI, but you could place towers that did nothing (except block leeches), and watch the leeches pathfind through your towers to reach your ship. Not really a game yet, but a good milestone.

The Second Day


The only full day of the jam, this was where the majority of the work happened. By the end of this day, the game was very playable (and very fun, which is always a good sign). There was no title page, game over or victory screens, and you couldn't power/unpower or sell towers, but you could place towers which would automatically fire at leeches (including aiming for targets closer to your ship and leading - firing at where the leech will be instead of where it is), and you could fire the cannon and the majority of the UI was in place.

The Third Day


Ideally, the third day of a jam is left for polishing, tweaking, and submitting. That was most of what we did (plus the title, game over and victory screens and the tower menu where you could power/unpower and sell towers). I also added the notifications so you could see how much blood/energy leeches took when they reached your ship, and did some balancing. Obviously the game isn't perfectly balanced and there are no tooltips, but for only 48 hours I am quite pleased with where it ended up. I also had to create the video for the game, which I didn't realize I needed until 2 hours before the deadline so it was a little bit of a crazy rush making that and adding the last of the art/music to the game, but we did it (with a whopping 5 minutes to spare).

Final Thoughts


Overall I think the jam went very well, and I feel like we accomplished a lot in only 48 hours. While it's not perfectly polished and there's a ton of features that would be nice to add (like more towers, tower upgrades, more enemy types, ship upgrades, and a level or wave based progression), I feel that it is pretty complete and fun.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Year In Review 2016

I haven't been very active on my blog, but I wanted to at least keep up with the year in review posts, where I look back on what happened in the past year and discuss my thoughts/plans for the future. The previous end of year reviews are here:
As you can see, Fancy Fish Games has been a constant roller coaster of highs and lows, of built up expectations and crashing dreams. It's already been over 4 years, and I Can't Escape: Darkness is the closest thing we've had to success. We've actually gotten a lot more sales since then thanks to the Steam Discovery Updates and the Halloween Sale, but we still haven't been able to realize our dreams of becoming a full time dev studio. Despite our uneven footing and uncertain future, we have been getting a lot better at designing and developing games, so we're definitely improving - if not as fast as we had once hoped.

So What Happened in 2016?


For those of you who have been following us, you probably noticed we had no major releases in 2016. In fact, our only release was Quotidian, our 2016 Global Game Jam entry (if you haven't yet, you should try it - it's very short, and very good for having been made in only 48 hours).


The rest of the year was largely brainstorming, prototyping, and freelance work until around July, when we started working on </reality> (more on that later).

The only playable prototype I'll share with you today is Medieval Tactics. It's a neat TBS with some city building aspects inspired partly by the board game Settlers of Catan, but it's kind of lackluster and doesn't really add anything new to the genre, so I haven't made any plans to go further with it.

Beyond the Stars




The prototype we spent the most time on was Beyond the Stars, which I have shared a few screenshots of on my blog and twitter. It's gone through many revisions, but the basic idea was an FTL-like game where you control a fleet of ships (instead of just one), and your score is based on how many civilians survive. However, this turned out to be very difficult to manage (as a player), and there weren't enough options for defending civilians besides ordering ships to defend other ships. We started planning a simplified, but multiplayer version where each player commands one ship in the fleet (and the rest of the ships are AI controlled). However, this became overwhelming very quickly, and we still couldn't find where the "fun" in the game was, beyond complex management that only die-hard fans of strategy/simulation games would enjoy.

Our conclusion with Beyond the Stars was that the basic gameplay needed more thought, and adding bells and whistles would only hide, not remove, those issues. For now, on HOLD.


Voxel Engine


After I Can't Escape: Darkness, I was inspired to make a Voxel Engine for future block-based 3D games. It mostly started out as a hobby/side project (and I coded the voxel mesher in OpenCL, which was interesting), but now we are planning to use it for I Can't Escape 3 (not yet announced). I also wrote a layer-based voxel editor for designing rooms and worlds.

Early screenshot of a room in I Can't Escape 3

The engine supports ramps and 3D models (including bone animations), and should be useful for many games in the future. And yes, I am crazy for writing my own voxel engine from scratch, but that could be the topic of a whole separate blog post.

</reality>


After experimenting with many game prototypes, none of which stuck for long (besides Beyond the Stars which I explained above), we were unsure what to make next. We really liked the basic story behind one of the prototypes, but the RPG-ish gameplay wasn't that interesting. Natalie started expanding the story and moving away from the original game, and eventually we realized if we scrapped the gameplay, it would make a very interesting Visual Novel. That was how </reality> was born - the only remnant of the original gameplay being a short nod to it where Jacob explains that Vitalia will eventually be a creature-taming game based on a loyalty system.


Thus started our next big project. We decided to use Ren'Py, as it had basically all the features we wanted out of the box (and I'm not afraid of a little Python coding). I kind of consider </reality> Natalie's project, as she is doing all the art and wrote the first draft of the story. I wrote the original outline, and did a little coding, and a lot of formatting the story into the Ren'Py format, but most of my work on this game has been script editing (and there seems to be endless editing to do on a story this large).


</reality> was successfully funded on Kickstarter and we recently released the Steam Coming Soon page! Development is going pretty smoothly, and we still hope to release by the end of March (coming up really fast) or mid April at the latest. We also made an offical </reality> website with pre-order/late backing options available.

Global Game Jam



Last month we attended the Global Game Jam again and created Wavebreakers in 48 hours. It was my first time using Unity (at the request of the two other programmers on the team), and we were perhaps a little too ambitious for such a short period of time, but the game idea is definitely interesting and we might eventually polish it to the point where we feel comfortable releasing it to the public. But, even if we don't, it was a good experience, and I got a handle on Unity pretty fast if I ever need to use it again (for work or my own games).

The Future


Obviously, between now and the end of March we're going to be pretty busy finishing up </reality>. However, I have been brainstorming ideas for our next game(s) and even made another new prototype (codename "Witch Academy") while waiting for </reality> art from Natalie.

2017 Goals:
  • Release </reality>!
  • I Can't Escape 3 - Matt, the artist for I Can't Escape: Darkness has already written a design document and started designing rooms in the Voxel Editor. We probably won't be able to release this year, but definitely next year. The only thing I'll tell you about this game until we announce it formally is that it's a direct sequel to I Can't Escape: Darkness, taking place after escaping the tomb (and killing the heart, with all the consequences of doing so).
  • Witch Academy - After </reality> is released, this will be the next project I work on with Natalie. I should be able to work on both this and ICE3, and I already have the game design document and a prototype of it working. This also probably won't be released until early 2018.
  • We might try to release one other game this year, but if we do, it will be a smaller one. I did work on a few small prototypes with Aaron, an artist I met last year, and two of them could end up being pretty interesting.


So, we should have a lot of interesting releases between now and early 2018! After that, we still want to make Beyond the Stars (if we can make the gameplay fun), and I also have a few ideas that I want to experiment with in the Voxel Editor (you can see one world I made above using Kenny's voxel textures).

So, we may have slowed down, but we definitely aren't giving up, and we have some pretty ambitious games planned!

P.S. My game ideas spreadsheet (which I created to organize all my ideas, design documents and prototypes) now has 38 entries! We won't make all of them, and not all of them are good, but that's still pretty wild.