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During my recent hiatus I polished my art and music skills… and completely forgot how the hell I programmed this damned game. It’s taken me about a month to relearn this plumber’s attempt at code, but I’m back on track again. Last night I added a focus button to slow the ship down during difficult-to-navigate bullet patterns and punched up the music and sound effects.
One of the hardest things to calibrate in a vacuum is difficulty. Shmup fans typically don’t shy away from difficulty, but I’ve found myself playing Jamestown+ a lot more because the older I get the more I appreciate an accessible shooter. It’s satisfying being able to 1CC a stage without memorizing every single pattern, but also having the option of increasing difficulty (I have yet to beat the final Jamestown+ boss despite steamrolling all the others). I would love Blood Ship to ease players into the madness the same way, especially since I hope the planned art style draws in people who have rarely played a shmup before.
The problem? I’ve gotten pretty damn good at playing my own game. I really don’t know how difficult the game is outside the vacuum I’ve created. Which means my next milestone is getting Early Access out there as soon as possible. I was shooting for April, but I haven’t even gotten around to putting up a Steam page yet so that seems unlikely. Check back to keep informed!
Two months… two friggin’ months.
My ToonBoom trial ended and I had to fork over $180 for the yearly subscription, plus I bought some FX assets that may or may not remain in the final game. That brings the total cost of the game up to $310.97. That’s cheap for a game budget, sure, but it’s not cheap for me.
So some of the things that changed this week: the game plays a lot faster (which initially broke a lot of shit), the HUD is closer to its final version, and all the power-up icons have been revamped, complete with a new slot machine. You can see the latest iteration of the HUD above (click to enlarge).
See the new player ship above. I modeled it in Blender to get a reference (I suck at perspective) and animated in ToonBoom. It banks left when the player moves up and it banks right when the player moves down. This works as intended about 95% of the time, but the rest of the time it decides on doing a barrel roll for no apparent reason. I have an idea what’s going on, but I don’t feel like investigating it yet.
Despite my initial love for Spine, I haven’t used it in weeks. Now that I’ve gone with more traditional animations, the predominantly tweened animations I did last month stick out like a sore thumb.
Games I’m currently playing on my MAME machine: the Gradius series, Raiden, and R-Type.
Wait. Not playing. Researching.
About a week ago I broke the bomb ability. The problem was dumb and the solution was even dumber, but it’s surprising I’m over a month in and that’s one of the more serious issues I’ve had. I can only think of two or three other times I wanted to rip my hair out by the fistful. (These kinds of problems seemed to plague my last game attempt on a daily basis.)
I’m kind of shocked I’m 46 days into this. It seems like last week when I started this blog on day 12. I would have hoped to be further along at this point, but I’m not disappointed with the progress, either. This has been more of a learning experience than anything else.
(Sonic Mania isn’t coming out today after all, but that’s probably a good thing for the sake of productivity. My day job is unusually demanding this week.)
Today’s the first time I felt unmotivated to work on the game. I’m tired and I just want to play Slime Rancher, which is probably the biggest threat to my productivity since I started this whole thing. (I imagine next week’s Sonic Mania will be the next big threat.) I managed to get some stuff done, but I’m probably going to bed at a somewhat decent hour tonight.
I’m 99.9% settled on an art style now. I’m 49.9% sure I can pull it off. I still haven’t finalized a workflow from sketch to game. I’m bouncing between a lot of animation programs again, trying to find the one which suits my style the most. This is more frustrating than it sounds.
I’ve been studying a lot of other shoot-’em-ups and paying attention to the little details which contribute to the way the game feels. I want to nail the feeling of what I’ve got before adding any more new stuff. I want to get the artwork a helluva lot closer to the goalpost, too (as you can see above, it ain’t even close). The problem is I have the best ideas for new stuff when I make it a point not to add new stuff.
Here’s my end-of-month budget report:
$18.99 Gamemaker (purchased during last year’s Humble Bundle sale)
$14.99 Aseprite (already owned it, but haven’t used it in earnest until now)
$0.99 A bullet-hell script (which may not make it to the final version)
$69.00 Spine (also may not make it to the final version)
$5.00 Some generic laser sounds (almost definitely won’t make it to the final version)
$108.97. Not bad, I’d say.
Placeholder sound is in and I’ve been tweaking it the last couple of days. I now have generic laser sounds and bullet-impacts, as well as dynamic boss music. I don’t plan on leaving any of these sounds in the final game, but it’s amazing how much more fun it is now.
Endless mode is completely functional at the moment… you can play it forever (if you’re good enough). Although there’s currently one boss, he gets tougher each time you face him. To give you an idea of the difficulty: I’ve beaten the boss twice in a single game, but not three yet.
For the next few days I’ll probably be adjusting what I have rather than adding anything new. I have a little over two pages of notes I want to address, so there might not be a whole lot to report for a while.
I played around a lot with Adobe Flash in my late teens or early twenties (whenever Newgrounds was friggin’ huge), but I never really liked the look of what I could do with it. I think those preconceived notions of tweening software are why I was so reluctant to delve into Spine, but I’m happy to say I’m over it. Spine is fantastic.
The problem is I kind of feel like I’m going to break Gamemaker every time I import a Spine animation into it. Its Spine support leaves a lot to be desired, so much so I’m not sure it’s entirely worth upgrading to the Pro Edition of Spine yet. Maybe I’ll check out the unofficial runtimes and see if that improves things, but I’m being lazy on that front. I just have a feeling if I were to do it all over again, I would do it again with Spine, but not GM. I guess it depends on how well the competitors integrate these types of animations, which I haven’t read up on yet.
Yesterday I played around with backgrounds for a few hours. The test failed spectacularly. I had a generic cityscape going by in the background and there was no middle ground between “too slow” and “so fast I’m going to puke.” (I’m not exaggerating… I’ve never had a game give me motion sickness and crossed eyes the way my own did.) I assumed I could quickly slap some backgrounds together for testing, but it’s clear the backgrounds affect the way the game feels more than I expected.
On the bright side of things, I think I’m zeroing in on an artstyle. The mere thought of it no longer fills me with dread.
Right now the player’s collision is set to the entire ship, but the final version will probably have bullet-grazing collision; only direct hits on the cockpit canopy will register as a hit. Sometimes I turn this feature on when I’m testing, but it makes collecting blood and power-ups difficult. I’m going to have to figure out how to make two hitboxes, one for collecting and one for detecting enemy collisions. The only problem I foresee is animating the ship banking when it changes direction. When it banks away from the camera, the cockpit will be obscured, so I’m not sure how that’s going to work.
So I’m trying out Spine after all. I got the Essential version. I’ll decide later if I want the Pro edition… after a few more paychecks, anyway.
I plan on deciding on an art style by the end of the week. This means I’ll be doing what I’ve been doing the last couple of days: just playing around with different art programs and workflows. Maybe I’ll finally settle on a color scheme, too, but that’s pushing it. So far, I’ve hit every goal I’ve set for myself, but the art is tricky for me. Yesterday, I procrastinated for the first time since I’ve started this project.