Category Archives: Game Design

Project MSG – The Retro-Punk Experience

Last month I was able to reveal a little about the game project that I’ve been working on. Shares, retweets, favourites, +1’s and feedback via messages and email from many of you has been both positive and very encouraging – thank you!

It seems that the ‘Project MSG’ logo made a strong impact. The response that I received, while not entirely unexpected, was rather more enthusiastic than anticipated. While I do concur that it’s a cool looking logo. And as the creator of this logo I would like to add that I do so in a humble and non-boisterous manner. What matters is that you love it!

I should consider taking t-shirt orders 🙂

The logo has managed to convey and stir up strong nostalgic feelings of 8-bit & 16-bit gaming memories for you lot. As if the mid-80’s or even early 90’s were no longer some forgotten bygone era. I have no intention in ruining those feelings and you can all rest assured that the official logo will still retain this flavour.

Fortunately, you didn’t just like the logo. There was a single screenshot of ‘stage 1-1’ of the game which managed to attain significant attention. Plus a fair amount in the twittersphere. Detailed pixel art graphics are gladly still welcome among retro game fans. This singular shot only gives a small glimpse of the game, but it’s enough to give a basic idea of the styling and gameplay.

Defining this project becomes easier as work progresses. While the initial brief described it as 2D shooting game with a cyberpunk theme. This is still true for the project today. However, newer aspects start to surface that were faintly observed in the initial stages of development.  Comparatively to, an alter ego of some kind, quietly hiding within the shadows of the dominant personality. Only to make itself known at a later date.

Perhaps it all boils down to the aesthetic choices. The clashing of pixel art and FM-synth generated music, while a natural fit gives out a far more raw electronic feel. Due to modern development techniques and increased processing power, we have become accustomed to games that are incredibly slick and shiny. Nothing wrong with this intrinsically. After all, I’m all for high production values and polish in the creation of video games. It’s just that this added fidelity often constitutes in a loss of a raw edge.

This rawness is ultimately part of the charm. It’s not just a retro-centric attribute that I’m pointing out here. It’s inherently punk in nature. Sticking out like a sore thumb, provoking the player that it’s nothing like those big-budget, overproduced but somehow sterile games. Project MSG wants to get dirty!



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!





Introducing Project MSG

It’s finally time to start revealing a little more about the project I’ve been working on. This is a game I’m co-developing with Hadokoa  – an iOS app development specialist. 16-BIT Shock focuses on conceptualizing, prototyping and developing the game for PC. Hadokoa on the other hand, tests and fine tunes my builds and ports to the iOS devices. Both 16-BIT Shock and Hadokoa will make a combined effort in promoting and marketing the game for maximum reach.

The working title for the game is – ‘Project MSG’. This is a tentative title and subject to change before release, whereby the real title will be revealed.

As mentioned in my Cybermanga post, this is a retro-style 2D shooting game based in a cyberpunk universe. To elaborate further, it’s a single player experience with a strong focus on the main hero character. Unfortunately I cannot reveal the name of the hero, as that would give the actual game title away. Suffice to say the hero is a cyborg who is tasked with the unenviable job of dealing with some pretty nasty terrorists.

This brings us to the game’s difficulty. Given the backdrop of a singular man-machine against a legion of mechanical and bio-mechanical enemies. Our hero is hugely outnumbered and outgunned. It should come as no surprise that the prognosis for survival is far from high. Project MSG is destined to provide the ultimate balls to the wall shooting escapade and white knuckle ride.

Restrictions have also intentionally been applied to further aggravate eventualities. Limitations are set on movement, creating a somewhat claustrophobic play style. Avoiding enemy fire will be the preserve of the dedicated, skilled player. All enemy patterns and stages are carefully handcrafted and absolutely nothing is procedurally generated, as seems to be the trend with the current crop of indie games.

End of level bosses will also be present. What would any good arcade shooter be without a tough as nails boss at the end of each stage? Nothing seals the deal of accomplishment once the end level guardian has been brought to it’s knees. Bosses will also play an integral part in the story while sporting some wickedly cool antagonism.

The general direction of the story is headed toward transhumanist territory. This too, should not surprise, given the cyberpunk leanings of the project. The hero of the game will be dealing with his posthuman reality as the story unfolds. Likewise, his enemies face a similar predicament as they too are cyborgs. But that’s as far as I’m going to go on about the story for now. In fact, story updates will be kept to an absolute minimum right through to release of the game. This is done to avoid spoilers.

16-BIT Shock Blows My Fucking Mind
Screenshots in 2 weeks time?! My mind is blown!!

Now to conclude with the most important bit of information in this post. The first screenshots of Project MSG will be released on the 30th of July 2014. These will consist of 4 screen grabs initially but more will be added to the upcoming gallery as the game nears completion. In two weeks from now – prepare for the first barrage of cyborg shooting madness!!