retrospective


Jam Week 2019: Golem Jox 3

Golem Jox 3 (GJ3) is a prototype demo I developed during Schell Game’s Jam Week. Here’s quick preview:

Essentially, once a year the studio “closes” and allows its employees to work on whatever they want – within reason. Usually I work on something fighting game related by myself. Last year, for example, I worked on developing something that utilized my own rollback netcode solution in Unity. This year I decided to experiment with what I was calling a “Single Player Fighter” or “Fighting Game RPG.” Someone suggested a fighting adventure game; someone else, a turn-based fighter. I’m still not 100% sure what to call it, or if it’s even that unique as apparently there are a few games that have attempted similar approaches.
The game flow is rather simple.

  1. Player explores rather simple environments
  2. Player encounters an enemy
  3. Short dialog introduction
  4. The player’s turn begins where they attack the enemy, trying to perform the most damage in an allotted amount of time
  5. The enemy takes their turn
  6. Repeat 4 to 5 until someone wins
  7. If the player wins, return to 1; otherwise, end the game

Questions

So many, many questions…

I find one of the primary goals behind prototypes is to answer questions. Here are some of the questions I was trying to answer a lot of questions with GJ3’s prototype:

How should the player explore the environment?

I decided to just have the player explore the environment like they would if they were in a 2D fighting game.  I feel if I – especially within the 4 day jam period – tried to implement a top-down RPG exploration map or 4-way movement system, I wouldn’t have gotten to answer a lot of the other questions I was trying to answer. This also allows players to practice various moves, and I can “teach” how to perform different attacks in the environment.

I know it’s not the “right” input for that attack style…

Do character move sets evolve overtime? If so, how?

The Golem Jox theme sort of comes in for this. Golem Jox is a silly IP that I used for Jam Weeks in the past in which players control a “golem” or just an entity made of random things. You start off as “Juhnk,” a golem made of white cubes. As you progress, you swap and equip different “limbs.” Some of the limbs are more powerful than what you previously had, either granting new moves, having more attack power, or granting other changes such as increased max health. I sort of “force” limb switching by locking off sections without wearing different limbs. Most people during playthroughs didn’t switch back after going through a “door” and then realized the new limb or move set was better.

For this prototype the idea was:

  • Your base or body, torso and head, determined things like your walk speed, jump weight, max health, etc. Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far with these.
  • Left arm was for weak or light punch
  • Right arm was for strong or heavy punch
  • Left leg was for weak or light kick
  • Right leg was for strong or heavy kick

Players were then supposed to have a forward and/or back special move for each non-torso limb and a super attack, but this sadly didn’t happen due to time. In the prototype, they got unique limbs and some had unique special moves, but supers were never implemented.

How do you prevent players from sticking to one set?

Sadly this question is still unanswered. What I wanted to do is that the player does not level up based on how many matches they win, but by how often they use a limb. So, for example, if I’m level 1, and I use my left arm 5 times in one fight, and it levels up to level 2, then I level up to level 2 as well. However, if the same limb is level 4 and maxed out, then I will no longer gain EXP for using it. As a player, I’d have to make the choice, “Do I keep using a limb I’m really good with or do I equip a newer, maybe weaker one, so I can continue to level up overall.”

Again, unfortunately, due to time, I didn’t get this far, but is probably the first question I would try to answer next if I were to continue to polish this prototype.

I think the other, final question, that I’m not 100% sure is answered, is will a player enjoy this gameplay loop.  That’s difficult to tell without more work, but based on the playtest I had, I think, with a lot of polish to the combat itself, I think they could.

Learning New Tools:  Playables

Not my playable graph, but a sample one provided by Unity.

Learning is an important part of Jam Week.  Besides learning the answers to prototyping questions, I often decide to try something new.  This Jam Week in particular, I decided to work with Unity’s Playable System. One challenge with this game is that characters would need to be able to choose from a wide variety of animations; however, having all of these animations loaded at runtime would probably not be very efficient.

Take remedy this, I utilized the Playable System.  Unlike a Unity’s runtime animator controller, you can dynamic build a Playable System at runtime.  So, for example, if a character is equipped with a cubic right leg, I can utilize an animation, let’s call it, “cubic right kick.”  If I then equip a spherical right leg though, I can replace it with “spherical right kick.” All I have to do is rebuild the playable graph and apply it.  There is still a lot of finesse needed, such as how to make the animations blend cleanly, but the playable’s system ability to load animations dynamically definitely make them seem like a great.  The system also has some strict rules such as you MUST destroy a playable graph once you’re done with it.

Next Steps

Getting something playable — not pun intended — felt nice, but there is still a lot that can be done.

Getting as far as I did felt like a minor victory.

This is just a prototype, but also something I’d like to continue at a future time in some capacity.  I think the following are things I would like to answer in the future:

  • Should there be guard functionality?  If so, what does that look like?
  • Can this work with an original IP that does NOT involve swapping limbs?  
    • Would swapping “styles” like in Final Fantasy Tactics work better?
    • How many moves does a character need to make them feel “complete?”
  • Can you have multiple characters on a team?  
    • If you have multiple enemies on a team, can you change position and try to line up a “shot”?

And this is just a few questions.  Overall, there is a lot that would need to be done to make this a full game; however, I think Jam Week gave me a good head start to understand the idea a lot better.  For now though, I’m most likely going to continue with MerFight and give this a break for a few weeks before returning to it with fresh eyes. I’d like to eventually release this prototype to the public to try, but I think it needs a bit more polish before that.


It’s 2018!

It’s officially 2018!  With a new year comes new hopes and dreams and ambitions — 5% of which will probably get accomplished or worked towards.  Despite this, I think it’s still important to establish these goals.  Anyway, this post will go over how 2017’s game development went and things I’d like to shoot for in this new calendar year.

Battle High 2 A+

I started 2017 by showing Battle High 2 A+ at MagFest.  It was an exciting trip, although a little stressful.  I really enjoyed showing the game off to potential new players; in fact, I did again at the Pittsburgh Retro Gaming Convention in March followed by a small tournament at ReplayFX in the summer.

Besides showing the game off, I also wanted to try and get a new character in the game; however, I got distracted by TrueSync, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts and will discuss later in this one.  The big issue is that adding new character isn’t cheap, especially this one as all of the sprites aren’t finished.  I could try and release the character as paid DLC to make up for some of the cost; however, that involves extra work — integration, VO, new music, etc.  I’m not going to say that the new character won’t come in 2018; however, it’s definitely lower on my list of priorities.

In 2017, however, Stream Greenlight was replaced by Steam Direct, allowing indies to publish their game onto Steam for a small fee, so I spent a small part of November and December releasing the game on Steam, so though I didn’t get a new character into the game, I did get it released on a new platform to hopefully expose the game to more players.

I’m not sure what my goals for Battle High 2 A+ will be in 2018.  I’d love to get the new character done, update the 3D backgrounds, or get netplay working; however, these are all currently low priority to me.  I’m super grateful for the fans of the game, and I know I could do a lot more to make the community grow; however, I want to move onto new ideas, a lot of why the TrueSync stuff was such a distraction though a very good one.  I’m not going to say the game is dead and that I’m never going to work on it, but I’m not going to promise tons of new content or changes either.  I think the most I will do is work to make sure all versions — itch.io, Game Jolt, Steam, and Xbox One and all consistent and up to date.

Project MerFight

Project MerFight was a rough part of 2017.  For awhile, I wanted to work on a tactics RPG with fighting game elements.  I learned a lot about art, pathfinding, and more; however, as I worked on the project, I just felt overwhelmed, that it was too big for me to take on by myself, that I was focusing on areas that just don’t really interest me that much.

With that, I made the difficult decisions, despite months of work, to put the game on hold indefinitely.  I think what this helped me realize is that I should really only focus on games and aspects of them I’m really passionate about, until I’m able to — if ever — build a team to help me in these others areas.  As much as I enjoyed Namco X Capcom, which was serving as a lot of my inspiration, there were features I just wasn’t excited to implement or felt overwhelmed trying to.

Though it feels like a failure, I think what I learned will ultimately help me and future ideas improve.  This if, of course, if the information is well documented, something I also want to improve in 2018.

TrueSync

In a previous post, I mentioned TrueSync, a online rollback framework for Unity3D by Exit Games, the company behind Photon.  Although not perfect — it’s still in beta — I think it has great potential to democratize deterministic online gameplay for a lot of developers that, like myself, find it rather difficult to approach or are unsure where to start.

I spent a lot of time working and experimenting with it.  I made a prototype fighting game using it called ProtoFighter; however, I also want to learn and improve my art and animation skills instead of a majority of my assets being from the asset store.  I’d really love to get my own fighting game framework fleshed out so that I can create new games using TrueSync more quickly.  This will take some time; for example, I refactored a lot of ProtoFighter so I could make it more extensible with other types of games, and there is still a lot of refactoring work to do.

2018 Goals

So 2017 doesn’t sound too exciting.  I focused on showing off Battle High 2 A+ and learning TrueSync and chose to “pause” a game idea; however, I did a lot of other things too, but they are all small prototypes, difficult to organize in any meaningful way.  Battle High, Project Merfight, and TrueSync are probably the most important when it came to my independent game development.

Anyway, here are some goals I’d like to aim for (not necessarily hit) for 2018:

  • Develop my fighting game framework and create a prototype with TrueSync
  • Show off a new game, prototype, or Battle High at another show, maybe one not based in Pittsburgh
  • Submit a new game idea (not a finished game) to Xbox One for the ID@Xbox program
  • Better self-care — sleep & exercise more, eat healthier, etc. (really, these are life goals but a new year always reminds me that I should be doing them as I get older)
  • Better my visual art skills — shaders, Substance, animation, etc.
  • Write more posts and/or tutorials as well as try dev streams.
  • Submit a talk to a conference — and do it NOT on the last day for submissions

This isn’t the most exciting list, and I know I won’t hit all of these.  Every new year, however, reminds me to step back and really observe and update and pivot on what I’m focusing on.  Since one of my goals is to write more posts here, hopefully I’ll write about my progress soon!


Starting “Over” & 2017 Thus Far

So I decided to “start over” with my blog. Blogger or Blogspot or whatever was becoming irritating to use and felt dated. The biggest issue is that writing code samples like this —

public class MyClass
{
    void Awake()
    {
        Debug.Log("Hello wor-, I mean planet.");
    }
}

— was a real pain.
Anyway, since this is the first blog that’ll appear on the official Mattrified Games website, I decided to do a quick retrospective of 2017 thus far.

MAGFest & Battle High 2 A+

In January, I went to my first MAGFest.  I went to show off Battle High 2 A+ as part of their independent games areas.  It was a great learning and motivating — to a degree — experience.  It was fun seeing people play the game and enjoying it.  There was even a Battle High 2 A+ tournament, which was awesome as well!  I could have definitely done a few things better; for example, not having an attract screen was probably not the best idea.  Also, I was at the booth so much, that it was hard to enjoy the festival itself; fortunately, it was 24 hour, so it wasn’t like it was impossible, but fatigue did set in a bit.

I did start a mailing list for Battle High 2 A+ and took it to another smaller and local Retro Games Festival.  There was also another tournament at ReplayFX.  Like I said, however, showing the game off was only motivating to a degree.  As much as I love the Battle High series, I’ve been working on it for a long time.  I’m not going to stop working on it entirely, but at this time, I’m pursuing different games and ideas.  There is still at least one Battle High 2 A+ character I would like to release, and there is still plenty of time to release said character before 2018, but I’m not going to promise it at this time.

The Aquatic Tactics Fighter

One game I’ve been developing off and on for awhile is a merfolk-themed tactics fighting game.  After MAGFest, I took a break from Battle High to work on this idea.  I really enjoy developing fighting games, but I wanted to develop something with more emphasis on story and single-player interactions.  So, for a bit, I was working on this a game that combined elements of a tactics RPG with those of a fighting game.  The problem, however, was that frakensteining the two genres together made me come to a few revelations.  One, it’s WAY too monumental of a task for a solo developer such as myself to take on.  Though hard, I don’t believe solo development is impossible, but for this game, trying to combine two large genres into one solid idea was intimidating.  At the same time, I was discovering that there are parts of tactics games I just don’t enjoy trying to develop or at least don’t feel inspired by.  So, due to these two issues, I decided to pause the idea indefinitely.

A New and True Fighting Game

I think one of my biggest regrets with Battle High is that I never took the time to try and develop a online multiplayer solution.  I felt very conflicted about the idea, ultimately deciding that the amount of time it would take to implement would be too much.  I’d probably would have never released.  So around the time I began losing passion for the Tactics Fighter, I discovered TrueSync by Exit Games.  This rollback netcode solution was made for Unity and though it’s still in beta, it’s giving me rather promising results.

Now, I’ve yet to really develop anything solid with it, but I’m confident that I can get something sooner than the Tactics Fighter.  In fact, I even signed up to give a talk at Unite 2017.  I really feel that TrueSync does a great job democratizing one of the more challenging aspects of online multiplayer for action games in a clear, easy-to-understand approach.

Anyway, my year so far started with Battle High, continued with the Tactics Fighter, and will probably end with a TrueSync fighter.  I’m hoping to release an alpha of some kind before 2018, before the fall actually.  I also plan to write more blogs here in the future; again, I hadn’t been keeping up to date with it because writing code samples, managing images, headings, and more was just a pain.  Hopefully in this new format, keeping my game work in one official place will be more manageable — again, hopefully.