Friday, January 30, 2015

Whoa, It's 2015 Already? Global Game Jam Writeup and This Year's Plans

So as you may have noticed, this blog has been pretty barren for the past 6 months. I've been keeping busy with a number of freelance jobs, so I haven't really had the time to post. But there's a whole bunch of new artwork which I haven't shared yet, so I plan to roll all of that out soon. I know we're already about a month into 2015, but my resolution for this year is to make at least one blog post every month! It's not overly ambitious and (as long as this goes live in the next 24 hours), I think it's completely attainable.

First things first, this is an illustration that I've been working on for fun. It was intended to be my "first drawing of the New Year," but I've kind of been dragging my feet on finishing it.
The shading and background still need some work, but I've been experimenting with some new brushes that I think give the coloring a nice feel.

This one was a spur of the moment drawing I created the other night in about an hour or so. I can't really explain it, it just sort of "felt right." It's inspired by the kind of art you'd see in indie games like Hyper Light Drifter or Superbrothers.

I've got a lot more random pieces like that, but what I'd really like to focus on in this post is the Global Game Jam. I wasn't able to attend the on-site location this year, but I did manage to put together a small game in the free time that I had. This year's theme was "What do we do now?" which I interpreted as some sort of disaster scenario.

And so I came up with an odd little puzzle game called All Aboard the Soul Express. In the limited time frame, I didn't get to jump into the story as much as I wanted to, but the concept is that you are a ghost riding on a train full of other ghosts. It travels between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead. On today's trip however, the train gets hijacked by an evil spirit and the conductor is thrown overboard. All of the passengers are in a panic, and they look to you (the eldest ghost) to lead them to safety.

I created the game in Unreal 4, using Blueprint for functionality. I've been using the engine since last summer, but this is the first real "functioning game" that I've created in it, so it was definitely a learning experience. Jumping from Kismet to Blueprint wasn't quite as easy as I imagined, but the amount of freedom you have now is incredible.

The game has a traditional 3rd person camera, and you navigate your character through mazes as you attempt to get to the front of the train. A key element of the gameplay is having the other passengers follow you, since certain doors can only be opened if the correct NPC is placed on the corresponding switch. From my experience, programming AI is not fun, so I thought for sure this would be my biggest technical hurdle. But to my surprise, getting other characters to follow me in Blueprint was relatively easy! My game required a fairly intimidating graph network, but considering I didn't have to write a single line of code, I'd say the engine is super artist-friendly.

Overall, I'm really happy with how this game turned out. I only spent about 16 hours on it in total. In that short amount of time I was able to: come up with the concept, draw out some maps, whitebox the first 2 levels, model, rig, animate, and texture a full character (with about 6 skin variations), model a few pieces of the environment, and set up all of the follower / door opening mechanics. That's a lot to get done in such a short time, so I'd say it was a success. I'm pretty proud of how fast I've gotten while under a deadline.

I'd still like to polish this up for a full release in the near future. Replace all of the stock materials, pretty up the environment, add 2 more mazes, and improve the presentation of the story. But that's a story for another day. In the meantime, if you'd like to play the version I submitted to the Jam, head on over to the official page. I've got 2 versions on there, so it should work regardless of whether you have the engine installed or not.

And thus ends my first blog post of 2015. I apologize for neglecting you for so long, and I appreciate that you're taking the time to read all of my ramblings. I've got big plans for revamping my website and demo reel, and considering February starts next week already, I should have another substantial post very soon. Until next time... Adios!

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