Tag Archives: game dev

Top 10 Articles Of 2014

We’re almost a fortnight into 2015 and I hope it’s been going great for everyone. Here at 16-BIT Shock HQ, things are moving along at a brisk pace. Work on game projects resumed early last week, after a short holiday break.

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Before moving on with fresh content for the new year, let’s take this opportunity for a brief recap of top posts on this blog. Several articles proved to be quite popular with readers and it would be great to showcase them again. Particularly for those who discovered this blog, only recently. The following list features a quick rundown of those posts truly, resonating with folks during 2014, and my personal viewpoint of why that is the case.

Just click on the relative heading and you will be taken directly to the article:

  1. Tools Of The Trade – GameMaker : Studio – Certainly the most read article on this site by a large margin, and quite understandably so. With the explosion of indie game development in recent years, everyone is looking around for the best ways to make games. This article gives a brief overview of one of the most popular game engines in existence today.
  2. Project MSG – Early Development – The game project I’ve been working on and has fortunately excited a few people. It’s a 2D retro-style shooting game with a top-down view perspective set within a cyberpunk universe. Many folks loved the logo and the pixel-art style, and in turn generated some interesting conversation between us. I appreciate all the input I’ve received and will be sharing more about this project in the near future.
  3. Developing For Vintage Hardware – It’s a no-brainer why this post struck a nerve, after all the number of retro gaming and computer aficionados keeps growing. Homebrew development is both intriguing and reinvigorating within the game development scene. Vintage consoles and computer systems, with their limited capabilities offer alternative, frankly more interesting roads for creative expression.
  4. Cybermanga – I’m a huge fan of anime & manga, particularly from the 80’s – 90’s. And it seems so are plenty of people visiting this site, even attracting significant traffic from Japan. The influence of these art forms play a big part in my own creative path and this post gives a brief overview.
  5. This Is For Retro Lovers – On the 2nd of June 2014, I wrote this blog’s very first post. Short, sweet and straight to the point – ultimately setting the general tone for future articles. Surprisingly it attracted a far larger audience than I was expecting, considering it was very early days for the blog.
  6. The 16-BIT Shock Design Philosophy – Probably one of the more important articles I’ve written here. The goal was to convey the direction that my game development projects were to take. Worth a read for recent visitors.
  7. Prototyping And Arcade Presentation – A fairly recent article, managing to gain far more traction than I was expecting. I covered an issue in games that I feel should gain more attention, and that’s the matter of how they are presented. Arcade games in particular are a great example of how this could be done.
  8. Anti-Establishment – Another one of those articles that had a significant impact with readers. Further reiterating key points from the 16-BIT Shock Design Philosophy article. Perhaps a tad more cheeky, but still attracting small trickles of traffic several months after it was published.
  9. Tools Of The Trade – GraphicsGale – At one point, pixel art seemed like it was a dying art form. Fortunately it has been rejuvenated recently with all the interest in retro and indie gaming. One of the better, if not the best pixel art editor is GraphicsGale. A personal favourite of mine which I go into more detail in this post.
  10. FM Synthesis & Video Games: Kick Drums & Toms – Last but not least, is this excellent article by Joe Giliver from Ocular Audio. Joe’s vast knowledge in music composition and FM synthesis is a great help in understanding what is substantially niche subject matter. Lately FM synthesis, is enjoying growing interest which is in line with the resurgence of retro gaming, computing and 80’s synthesizer music.

Plenty of reading there, great way to start the new year I would think. Future articles will tread similar ground for the most part. However, there will be a shift in focus around the periods when I’ll be releasing my game projects. Naturally there will be greater emphasis on these as should be expected.

 

 

 

 

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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.