DevBlog March 2017

The March of Progress

I did quite a lot of work in March, though not in the direction I’d originally expected.

 

Thrunt Stalled

For various reasons my motivation to keep working on Thrunt has been on the wane. Late last year I spent a bunch of time working on a prototype 3D version of the game, which looked great and played nice, with some new gameplay features. But I realised that it would take a year to make bespoke art assets to replicate the level designs from the original Thrunt, not to mention adding new levels and game modes. That’s a lot of time to sink into a project that had already eaten a year, and that doesn’t necessarily have any commercial future.

So I decided that a better and less risky approach would be to retro-fit the new gameplay ideas into the old version of Thrunt, and spend some time prettying it up. The aim was to launch a Steam Greenlight campaign fairly quickly and run that while doing the gameplay extension work. It was January, and I had hoped (a wild guess) to pass Greenlight by April. I got as far as adding a cutscene replay mode and making most of a new trailer before Valve announced that the whole Greenlight process was to be axed. Well of course it was.

I didn’t really know what to make of that. It seemed that every day I’d read a different take on it – some of them deliberately hot, but also some wise words from very experienced devs. None of this was helped by the details of Greenlight’s replacement, Steam Direct, being sketchy at best. But of one thing I was certain: I didn’t feel like subjecting myself to that process for the first time during a period of uncertain decline.

A couple of months passed where I either didn’t work on gamedev at all, or I intermittently tinkered with Thrunt, largely directionless, never really improving anything. I’d lost my gamedev mojo. The solution was obvious. If you can’t be bothered to make one game, make three at once.

 

Bounds To Succeed

Bounds is a curved-space infinite-arena shooter with novel score vs. weapon tradeoff mechanics.

As you might gather from my global high-score in NEON Ultra, or my approaching 600 hours playing Geometry Wars Retro Evolved, fast paced twin-stick arena shooters are right up my alley. I figured it’s about time I made one of my own.

Early in March I started putting together the framework for what I want to achieve. My design was anchored around three principles

  • The arena should be endless, but viewed through a ‘lens’ making the whole thing visible at once
  • The difficulty ramp should be long so most players can improve with practice
  • Weapons and score multiplier should form a dynamic resource management system

I’ll talk about those things in more detail in a separate post. For now I’ll just add a video showing the first and last elements from March’s development efforts. It started out as an experiment into curved projections of hexagon backgounds:

And ended up… well…

Things are coming together really nicely. In fact all of the main gameplay mechanics are implemented now and the game is fully playable. That was never going to be the hard part though. Bounds will live or die on its balance. Weapon power, score multiplier, enemy spawn rate and placement, extra life bonuses and more will all need to be finely tuned to ensure that players of all abilities face a fair challenge, one that stretches their abilities, but that also allows progression.

As it stands, Bounds is the game I’m currently most excited to work on. It has a sensible scope, some interesting technical challenges, gameplay that’s well within my abilities to make, and art and audio assets that are manageable for me alone in a sensible amount of time. It also seems to have gathered a bit of attention from other devs, even in its early form, which makes me think it has at least some commercial viability.

 

The Coming Of GOES-Z

GOES-Z is a sci-fi narrative strategy/puzzle game in which you control the destiny of the few survivors of a catastrophic solar event. Rebuild humanity from the brink of extinction, salvage the remnants of our once great civilization, and discover the horrifying truth behind the sun’s instability.

I can’t provide details of this game yet as I haven’t got further than a rough design and plot outline. I can tell you the inspiration behind it though: two games that I played extensively on the Atari ST called Millennium 2.2 and its sequel Deuteros, both by Ian Bird.

These were unusual games in a way. We’d call them 4X strategy games nowadays I suppose, but they had a constrained narrative structure. Certain inevitable events in your gameplay would unlock the next act of the story, which would give you new short-term goals that were often accomplished almost like puzzles. These episodes wouldn’t be explicitly labeled, there were no one-off missions or skirmishes, the entire game played out as one continuous experience. Taken together, these linear but overlapping episodes told a long-arc space opera that just gripped me from start to finish.

Replaying them now, both games have problems in terms of interfaces and pacing. They still look great though (Deuteros has a really interesting bio-tech look to it) and the stories are enjoyable even third or fourth time through. I’d like to do something in that sort of design space, and GOES-Z will be my first foray into this kind of game. Will it work? Maybe not, but it’ll excite me to try, and I don’t feel in any rush to deliver on this. It’s something I can return to at times between projects, or when I need a break from other work.

 

Thrunt XL

And of course I’ve still got the early work I did on the 3D Thrunt prototype, which I still think looks great. I’ll revisit this when my motivation for it returns. Thrunt will fly again! (Albeit temporarily, directly into a wall.)

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