Monday, March 31, 2014

Update #5: GDC and MMF Demo Feedback

Hey guys. I've been doing a lot of traveling lately in order to get some feedback on Quest For Funk. Two weeks ago I showed off the game at GDC and last weekend I had the game on display at the Mini Maker Faire in downtown Cleveland. Quite a few people got their hands on the game during these events, and it was very insightful to be able to get some feedback on everything. Some people seemed to like it a lot, others simply scratched their head in confusion, but overall I think it was a fairly positive experience.

At GDC, I actually entered the game into Pocket Gamer's Big Indie Pitch event, where I got to show off the prototype to a panel of judges, ranging from various game journalists to folks from Rovio. This was my first time really showing off any gameplay to anyone, so as expected it was messy and nerve-wracking. As you'd expect from a prototype, certain things broke and there was a lot of "well in the full game, this will be..." But I'm really happy that I presented the game in the stage that it was in. It opened my eyes to quite a few issues that I might have otherwise overlooked, and I think it will change the final product for the better. Here are some of the biggest takeaways that I learned.

1. The cross-genre gameplay might not work. When I explained the whole twinstick-shooter crossed with a 2D platformer idea, a lot of people nodded their heads but I could tell they were a bit confused. Even regardless of people's reactions, the gameplay sounded a bit ridiculous coming from my own mouth. I think the core flow of the game might be a bit more complicated than it needs to be, and I've been thinking of ways to amend that.

My solution is going to be that I will primarily focus on the 2D platforming stages. The twinstick shooter portions feel too out of place in the flow of the game, and I'm going to do away with the 2-stage setup for each level. The twinstick part won't go to waste, as I will repurpose it as a bonus stage that shows up every so often. But I think keeping it as 50% of the game is just unnecessary, as most players seemed to have a lot less fun with this portion as they did with the platforming stage. Speaking of the platforming...

2. The platforming controls need to be reworked. A lot of folks seemed to have trouble navigating some of the sewer areas, especially the younger crowd that tried out the game. Something about the controls just doesn't feel as smooth as it should, and I think I need to research some good platforming games to get a better feel for how to fix this. In addition to that, the layout of the sewers could probably also use some work. Jumping from pipe to pipe in the current design is too difficult (especially once I throw touch screen controls in), so I might need to change up the layout. Wall jumping or being able to jump through the bottom of platforms are also possible solutions to this problem.

3. The art was fairly well received. Considering I'm an artist first and an everything else second, this one actually made me pretty happy. I got complements on the color palette and most people seemed to dig the character designs. A minor issue, but I need to make doors in the sewer area more obvious, because a lot of people had trouble locating them. Also EVERY SINGLE PERSON initially walked right past the ladder in the first room. There wasn't even ONE person who went up there before heading right. So I might need to make it a bit more obvious that you can climb up there.

4. The game is still pretty buggy in places. On numerous occasions, I encountered the bug where Dyll spawns backwards. This means he ends up running backwards for the entire game, which looks pretty sloppy. I thought I had fixed this issue, but there is clearly still a bug out there somewhere. Also I need to tighten up collisions because people often went in places that they weren't supposed to. Luckily no one made it to the very end of the stage because there is just an endless chasm over there that I was terrified someone would try to go to. This is all pretty minor stuff, but it's things I wish I would have fixed before demoing the game.

All-in-all though, I'm happy with the state of the game. I know what needs to be addressed, and now I'm fired up to make even more progress on the game. As a side note, the images you see throughout this post were last minute cutscene images I drew before leaving for GDC. I wanted to make sure the story was clear rather than just dropping the player in the level, so I threw them in there right before I left. They will all be replaced with proper artwork later, but for now they do a decent job of telling the story. Anyways, that's all I've got for you this time. Hopefully I'll have another update soon talking about how I fixed all of these new issues that I discovered. Until then... Adios!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

GDC Post Mortem - Part 1

Last week I attended my first ever GDC in San Francisco. I had an amazing time and came away with a ton of really great new experiences. I realized my blog has pretty much been filled with Quest For Funk stuff lately, so I figured it would be a nice change of pace to write a post about my general experience at GDC. I do have a lot of Quest For Funk related news regarding GDC as well, but that will come in a separate post tomorrow.

I spent 5 days in San Francisco, and man was it exhausting! I only bought an Expo Pass, but that gave me access to more than enough events to keep busy throughout the week. The first place I went when I got to the conference was the Career Center... and that was so big itself I didn't even realize there was a whole separate Expo Hall! I've been to quite a few conventions before, but the enormity of GDC completely blows the rest of them away! I don't know the exact number of exhibitors there but it's enough to make your head spin.

While most of the major companies that you would expect had booths there, I noticed that there seemed to be a serious lack of Japanese developers in the hall. It's entirely possible that I somehow just missed them, but Square-Enix, Namco-Bandai, Konami, and Capcom all seemed to be lacking a presence in the Expo Hall. On the other hand, Nintendo surprisingly had a really cool booth. They were promoting Unity on the Wii-U with promises that there will be 50 upcoming games for the console developed in Unity! Spent quite a bit of time playing Ittle Dew there, which was a ton of fun.

The Ouya booth was also very interesting. They had 4 couches set up in a square, and constantly swapped out the games being played in the middle. Got to check out a lot of neat indie games in there, but Toto Temple was definitely my favorite! Arena game with four players dashing around trying to capture the goat. Fast paced, competitive, chaotic - seems like the perfect recipe for a party game.

And speaking of indie games, the IGF Pavilion was pretty much the place to be! Tons of super creative games, including Crypt of the Necrodancer - a topdown roguelike played entirely with a DDR pad. At one point a Towerfall Ascension tournament broke out, and I spotted Ashley and Anthony Burch (of HAWP fame) in the midst of the crowd. The atmosphere was just so laid back and fun that it really contrasted with the stuffy businessmen on the outer walls, with their ad software and payment infrastructures. That said, the IGF was probably my most visited part of the convention center. Even managed to score these awesome souvenirs from the Papers Please booth.

In that this was a conference for developers, there was also a lot of cool news about game engines. Unity 5 was announced, and their presence there was huge! It's incredible how big the Unity engine is becoming, and I'm super excited how much easier they are making it for developers. I also got the chance to view a live demo of Unreal 4 in action. As a UDK enthusiast, I was overwhelmed! The new Blueprint system seems extremely powerful, and somehow it looked even easier to use than Kismet. The artist managed to create an entire Flappy Birds clone in-engine without writing a single line of code. Dynamic materials seem to be a big focus as well, which is enough to spark any budding artist's creativity. They set a ball on fire and then cooled it off with ice, going through a number of materials in the process. Words can't do it justice, but the transition was amazing! I can't wait to check it out (which you can do for just 20 bucks a month, btw).

Went to a bunch of parties in addition to the conference itself, and I'll be honest, this was the real reason to go to GDC! Not just because the parties are fun (they are!), but because you never know who'll you run into. Meeting someone sitting behind a booth is cool, but you don't really get to know someone until you share a drink with them inside a night club playing Tetris music. I met so many amazing people this week that I'm already anxious to go back and see them again next year. This is such an amazing industry and I'm so happy to be a part of it!

Also, since this is an art blog, I don't want to rip you guys off with a post just full of text and touristy photos. So here's a digital painting I've been working on this week. This is based on a scene I snapped in China Town on my last day in San Francisco. This was originally just going to be a quickie, but I decided to go all out with the detail so... Work in Progress! I'll show you the finished results next time! Until then... Adios!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Update #4: GDC Prototype

Hey guys! As I kinda mentioned last time, I'm going to GDC next week! It's my first time attending, and I'm super excited about all of the cool people I will hopefully meet there. I've been very hard at work trying to get Quest For Funk ready for the conference, and I'm happy to say that I will indeed have a playable prototype with me. I'll be wandering around the expo hall all week, so if you're attending, make sure to come say hello and give the game a try!

Quite a bit has been done since the last update. The bulk of the time has been spent laying the groundwork for Stage 1 levels (the Twinstick Shooter portion of the game). As you may recall, Quest For Funk has 2 stages in each level: a Twinstick Shooter where you get points for every enemy you destroy, and a 2D Platformer where you must find all of the hidden NPCs before time runs out. The length of the timer in Stage 2 is determined by your score in Stage 1, so it's a continuing process. Everything I've shown off so far has been from Stage 2, so it's time I posted some Stage 1 images.

Now this doesn't have any of the actual artwork in yet, because I've mostly been focusing on functionality. Twinstick control setups in Unity aren't as widely documented as a lot of other features (especially involving touch screens, but more on that later). So getting this part up and running was fairly time consuming, but it's pretty solid at this point. You move your character with the left stick (or WASD) and aim with the right stick (or the mouse). Firing happens automatically when the right stick is in a non-neutral position (or when the left mouse button is clicked). Right now you just shoot falling objects, but eventually you will face AI that shoots back and moves in more complex patterns. My goal for this prototype was simply to get the controls working correctly, and I'm happy to say that they are fully functional (with 3 different input methods, in fact!).


Another big chunk of my time has been dedicated to implementing touch screen controls. This has been a very challenging task, but thanks to the amazing YouTuber Devin Curry, I've managed to get things working fairly decently. I created an omni-directional touchscreen joystick that behaves similarly to a physical one. Some actions are still a bit buggy using touchscreen commands however, so I plan to have a PS3 controller on-hand at GDC to ensure players can try the game with optimal controls.

Aside from those two major tasks, the rest of my time has been spent adding polish and replacing anything that was still whiteboxed. There are now pipes all over the sewers so that every area is accessible. And the game now has fully functioning ladders!

There are also crates to climb on! Because what kind of game would be complete without the good ol' wooden box?

I've added in a few secret areas as well that give the player a reason to go off the beaten path. I'm a huge fan of hidden rooms and secret powerups, so I plan to include a lot of things like that in Quest For Funk. Now that the base of the prototype is solidifying, I should have some time to start adding in the fun stuff!

Speaking of fun stuff, here's a bouncy collectible! These music notes serve a similar purpose to bananas in DKC or rings in Sonic. The more you collect, the higher your score is, but it's completely optional. I think it really adds something to the game when the player has an extra challenge to work towards. And since levels are timed in Quest For Funk, collecting all of the notes before time runs out could prove fairly difficult!

And that's all I've got for ya this time! There are still a handful of items on my "To Do Before GDC" checklist, but I'm very happy with the state that the game is in right now. If you're going to the conference, get in touch. I'd love to meet you there! For everyone else, stay tuned. Some time in the near future I plan on releasing a playable prototype online. Until next time... Adios!