Project MSG – Early Development

This much delayed post was supposed to go up end of last month. Apologies for arriving late to the party but there were some business matters that required my attention. Now that I have more time available, blog updates will gradually normalize.

In this article I will focus exclusively on early development work done on Project MSG.  Anyone following this blog will already be aware that this project is a retro-style shooting game. Consisting of a cyberpunk theme and a 2D pixel art style with a top-down perspective.While this has intrigued some folks, no work in progress screens have been shown publicly – yet.

Today that will change. The very first shots will be revealed here, exclusively!

While I’ve mentioned this before, it bears repeating: Project MSG is a tentative title. The true name of the game will be revealed sometime before the actual release. Nevertheless I like setting the tone for the game, early on. I took the liberty of designing a logo even though it’s unlikely to find it’s way on to the Alpha.

The logo is shiny, futuristic with an obvious manga-esque influence – just how I like it. Expect the final logo to follow suit.

Title screen used for internal development

Next in line is probably one of the most important screens. It’s something that players will not get to see but has been invaluable in developing the game. Making good use of display real estate was always going to be a top priority. Also taking into account the varying display sizes, resolutions and aspect ratios that both PC’s and iOS devices come with – this is a tricky proposition.

To retain an authentic retro/pixel art style it was glaringly obvious that the native resolution we should work with must be low. Ideally the resolution we were initially targeting was 320 x 240 pixels which was pretty much the standard for most 16-bit games. However, due to the prevalence of widescreen displays on the PC front that would cause some issues. As a resolution of 320 x 240 has an aspect ratio of 4:3 and the majority of widescreen displays are 16:9 with a few at 16:10.

In order to counter this problem some experimentation was needed, and an elegant solution to be found. Since the majority, if not all the tiles in the game would be at 16 x 16 pixels I decided that the play area had to conform to this. The integrity of the tiles were to be tested on a variety of display setups from crt monitors through to flat screen monitors and televisions. Last but not least, on iOS devices. 

The following screen was created to quickly and efficiently test this out. Our new ideal resolution was also discovered. Almost identical to Capcom’s CP System arcade boards (384 x 224) we went with a native resolution of 384 x 240 pixels. Through extensive testing we found that it works very well with a large variety of displays and aspect ratios, while still giving us a little extra space to work with. We reserved this area for the hud.


After we had that out of the way, it was time to start putting together our prototype. It wasn’t important to make anything fancy, just something that could be done rapidly but still be fun. An important choice that had to be made was whether to take the bullet hell route or go traditional. While I love bullet hell shmups and own a great deal of them, for a debut release I thought it would be best to go as old skool as possible.

The emphasis was now on enemy formations and less about filling the screen with bullets. It was also vital to ensure that the odds were clearly stacked against the player. While a 2-player option was seriously considered, single player was favoured to capture that more desperate hardcore climate. And also to give the player a strong sense of accomplishment once a stage is cleared.

Prototyping the cyborg shooting action!

Certainly, the prototype is not exactly great looking. It may exude some minimalist style but not even close to the desired art direction. I’ve always been a fan of detailed, crisp and colourful graphics. It would only be natural for me to push my pixels in that direction. Considering that our main character is a cyborg – and in turn the setting would take a techno-fetishistic tone.

It didn’t take too long for those tile maps to start taking form. Soon enough the backgrounds for the first stage were done and put in place. Time to animate our hero sprite and populate the screen with some proper enemies.

Shoot you before you shoot me 😛

As you’re reading this, development continues on this project. There will be more updates in the near future to keep you posted on how things are coming along. Till next time!






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