Category Archives: Development

Prototyping And Arcade Presentation

Recently I started working on a brand new prototype in order to test out some left-field ideas I’ve had in mind. Still sticking with a core shooting play mechanic and building upon a framework I’ve developed with Project MSG. However, this time the view point is from the side with completely different enemies and patterns. I wanted to explore a more disruptive science fiction theme than what would have been possible in Project MSG.

The prototype is interesting to say the least but is currently in a state that is comprised predominantly of place holder graphics. I’ll be starting soon on fresh assets and gradually polishing it up into a finished game. People that have been looking forward to Project MSG, will now have something extra to be excited about. There is a common thread and style running through both projects. I’m certain that if someone enjoys the one game, it’s quite likely that they will also enjoy the other.

Another issue that is close to my heart is that of game packaging, and how best to go about it. I’ve always felt that how a game is presented to the consumer is almost as important as the actual game itself. The reason why I believe this, is that we all start playing the game in our heads long before we actually do. It could start with some screenshots, a preview, an advertisement or any marketing materials of a particular game we’re excited about. On a subconscious level they just seem to infiltrate our head space, creating a mental play through and sometimes raising expectations to unrealistic levels.

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Sega’s Quartet is a cool game with a stunning arcade cab, Lee’s mustache makes everything better

If we’re purchasing a game that is available physically, usually the type and quality of the box art will serve a similar purpose. Owning a game with cool cover art helps to elevate it in most game collections, unless it’s a stinker. Of course we’re gradually moving in a direction where optical drives will go the way of the dodo, thus rendering games in physical form redundant. Already sales of physical games are in decline, while digital downloads are ever-increasing. There may be a market for physical games in the distant future, aimed directly at the core enthusiast. It may resemble that of vinyl limited edition runs, popular with music aficionados.

Unless there’s reasonable demand, I won’t be releasing any of my upcoming games in physical form. As a huge game fan, I prefer owning physical copies of my games versus digital. Reality and market trends dictate otherwise and it’s best to flow with the tide rather than against it. This creates a challenge on how best to ‘package’ a digital product that will generate similar emotions within it’s potential audience. For that I had to go back to my arcade gaming roots, where the logo, marquee, controller inserts and side artwork would be the first noticeable elements.

A cornucopia of bright, colourful graphic work, brilliantly combining marketing with play instructions. How arcade cabinets were adorned was a masterstroke to say the least, inevitably they still are in Japan where arcades remain relevant. While I wouldn’t fathom of packaging a digitally downloadable game as an arcade cab, the gist of it is similar. A visually powerful method to communicate what the game is about, and to quickly instruct the gamer how it’s played for their enjoyment.







Tools Of The Trade – GraphicsGale

My initial foray in pixel art was with a nifty little program called OCP Art Studio on the ZX Spectrum. Generally an easy-to-use pixel editor that truly deepened my interest in the art form. In subsequent years as I upgraded to new computer hardware I was always on the look out for similar graphics software.

When I got hold of my first IBM PC compatible I started using another drawing program called Dr. Halo. Essentially a Macpaint wannabe for DOS-based systems of that period. It lacked some of the charm of OCP Art Studio but it was competent enough for pixel pushing. Eventually I switched to Deluxe Paint II, a port of the original Commodore Amiga version. I liked this one quite a lot, an impressive and professional package that I still use on occasion.

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The famous digital illustration of the Pharaoh showcasing the capabilities of Deluxe Paint II

As I moved onto Pentium hardware it was time to make another switch to a more advanced art application. I went with Paint Shop Pro which I thoroughly enjoyed and significantly improved my pixel art capabilities. Somewhat limited when compared to Photoshop but definitely better as a pixel editor. When Gimp came to my attention I used it in tandem with Paint Shop Pro and worked on some HD-quality pixel art. Yes, pixel art at a resolution of 1280 x 720 which was completely nuts but it helped me improve my detailing.

Three years ago I discovered GraphicsGale and quite honestly have never looked back. This is the absolute best pixel editor I’ve ever used and I think I speak with some degree of authority. Incredibly intuitive to use without any unnecessary features that often impede the creation process. GraphicsGale is all about the pixels and nothing but the pixels – just the way I like it!

Sprite animation and onion skinning are also features of GraphicsGale but I seldom use it for those purposes. I prefer to do all that within the game engine where I can change sprite speeds and frames on the fly. Where GraphicsGale truly excels in that the pixel editor is exactly as it should be and does everything to save the user time. I’ve seen Youtube tutorials of people doing pixel art on Photoshop and it’s just such a cumbersome process.

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GraphicsGale is the best contemporary pixel editor

Photoshop is a fantastic tool for illustration and photo editing but not necessarily great for pixel art. I would even recommend MS Paint over Photoshop for pushing those pixels. The other problem with fully-featured packages is that they offer plenty of plug-ins giving lazy artists workarounds. An artist may go about drawing an object conventionally and then simply use a filter to pixelate the image. The result is often a muddy mess that is sadly passed on as pixel art.

GraphicsGale will therefore not help a weak pixel artist, no such filters come available and I couldn’t be happier. The artist has no choice but to master working within limited resolution and colour parameters. With OCP Art Studio that was exactly the case, one had to make the most of the ZX Spectrum’s resolution of 256 x 192 pixels and 8 colours. Such limitations are not present with GraphicsGale but the option is given to work within various limits, some handy presets are also included.

Let me stress that I don’t use GraphicsGale for any illustration work though. It’s simply not suitable for this job and there are other better options. Manga Studio is the package I use to sketch character & mechanical design and subsequent line and colouring work. The brushes in particular are the best in the business and truly aid in the creation of manga / comic book art. It’s ideal for my needs as I’ve adopted an art-style reminiscent of old school anime shows. The work of anime studios such as AIC, Madhouse, Sunrise and Tatsunoko Pro are a huge influence on me.

I should briefly cover Manga Studio in a future article, even though it’s not very popular within game development circles. Mainly used by aspiring and professional manga artists who have opted to go digital. Understandably it won’t be suitable to the majority of game creators but could be of interest to those treading similar ground to me. Funnily enough I haven’t given Photoshop much love, don’t worry I’m not anti-Adobe or anti-Photoshop. Photoshop is great at what it does, I’ve just shown that there are alternatives and developers should exercise their options.

Tools Of The Trade – GameMaker : Studio

indie,Indie,INDIE,game,Game,GAME,gamedev,Gamedev,GameDev,development,Development,tool,tools,80s,80's,90s,90's,animo,Animo,GameMaker,gamemaker,game-maker,game maker,maker,Maker,studio,Studio,STUDIO,2d,2D,platformers,shooters,shmups,shmup,SHMUP,SHMUPS,retro,RETRO,Retro,8bit,8-bit,8 bit,16bit,16-bit,16 bit,16-BIT,16 BIT,16BIT,16-Bit,16 Bit,16Bit,compu,computers,micro,computer,Microcomputer,easy,easier,easiest,old,school,skool,old-skool,cool,cooler,coolness,Cool,COOL,arcade,Arcade,arcades,Arcades,ARCADE,ARCADES,mame,MAME,Mame,snk,Snk,SNK,Sega,SEGA,sega,capcom,Capcom,CAPCOM,Nintendo,NINTENDO,nintendo,jaleco,Jaleco,JALECO,taito,TAITO,Taito,tech,techno,TECH,TECHNO,technology,Technology,technologies,TechnologiesGameMaker first came to my attention around 2006 as a creation tool and engine for 2D games. While I had my doubts of it’s abilities, I was intrigued enough to try it out. I remember first spending a weekend with it, gradually figuring out the basics. While there were some quirks (and still are) of how GameMaker handles a few things, first impressions were rather good.

It didn’t take long to ascertain that GameMaker does exactly what it’s meant to do. Developing games through it’s point and click interface was indeed a reality. Creating something more involved is also possible through it’s scripting language – GML. The long and short of it is that GameMaker is a competent and easy-to-use framework, primarily for 2D game development. However, users proficient in GML have been able to put together some impressive 3D games as well.

Unfortunately there is a degree of prejudice towards using tools such as GameMaker, primarily emanating from quarters of the development community. Various perceptions exist that are not entirely grounded. There’s a tendency to believe that a professional product cannot be crafted with such engines – a false assessment considering the quality of games already delivered using GameMaker.

Personally I do veer on the side that it would be better for developers to create their own custom engines. The reality is that this is just not a cost-effective solution in the long run. Months or even years developing an in-house engine could be better spent working on the actual game. No point in reinventing the wheel when off-the-shelf  engines are capable of tangible results.

Retro-style games are generally not very involved and therefore don’t overwhelm system resources. In fact, adding too many elements will effectively diminish a desirable retro-feel. Keeping a minimalist mindset is thus essential when creating such games. I’m using the latest iteration of GameMaker: Studio and have found that it’s capable of handling a great variety of complex, in-game systems and mechanics. It’s certainly not a package that is limited to crafting the type of indie retro experience that has become popular as of late.

Another area that a tool like GameMaker: Studio comes in handy is for rapid prototyping purposes. Simple ideas may be implemented and tested in a matter of minutes. My hard drive is flooded with a bunch of prototypes and mini-games I’ve put together over the years. A few of those are fun and interesting enough to be turned into commercially viable games. Just requiring a bit more development time and polish to come into their own.

As anyone reading this article can tell by now, my general experiences with GameMaker have been positive. I’ve enjoyed using this package as a hobbyist for several years now. While I’ve always wanted to release games in marketable form, other business and personal commitments made this difficult. A few relevant changes have occurred recently which affords me the opportunity to finally have a go at it.

The games that I will be releasing under the 16-BIT Shock banner will be small in scale, bite-size experiences. Short development cycles will be scheduled for the majority of projects. Longer, ambitious titles are also on the radar but will be determined on how feasible these are. Either way I will strive to ensure that all titles are stylish and gloriously retro.

A Winner Is You!