All the old placeholder art is gone. Behold some of the new placeholder art:
Other than explosions, weapon effects, the starry background, and the current player ship, there are no colors in the game. Colors come later because I have a hard time choosing palettes that don’t rub me the wrong way. I’m still trying to figure out the art style, such as how goofy and/or cartoonish I want to get. Evil Dead 2 levels of goofiness feel just right, but it’s surprisingly easy to step over that line. (Yesterday I created a creature clinging to the side of a missile, Slim Pickens style. I asked my girlfriend, “Too far?” Her answer was an emphatic yes.)
Even though the game looks janky, at least it’s all me. It didn’t feel right showing it to anyone with other people’s sprites in it. This weekend I’ll spend a little more time checking out Spine, but I’m also looking into cel shading since I already know my way around Blender… kind of. (In other words, I’m still not sure what this game is going to look like.)
I opened the trial version of Spine and my eyes glazed over immediately. The second I saw the default marionette, I remembered my first time trying out the software. It’s impressive stuff, but I don’t think it’s what I want at the moment, which sucks because I still want to play around with it.
A few days ago I said I was leaning away from pixel art. Now I’m leaning towards it. One reason is I fucking love Aseprite and how quickly I can go from creating something to seeing it in my game. To be clear, everything I’m creating right now is still placeholder art, but at least it’s my placeholder art, which can be tailored to my enemy behavior. Doing art for the enemies gives me ideas for behavior, and creating behavior gives me ideas for the art, so it’s best to juggle the tasks.
Having a better idea of what the finished product will look like will also help me design levels which compliment the art and vice versa. And, frankly, switching up tasks keeps me from getting bored. I think the player mechanics are as good as they’re going to get (until I get feedback, anyway), so now is the right time to think about art. I’m not sure if now is the right time to think about backgrounds (and what degree of interaction the player will have with them), but that’s a discussion for another time.
At the moment, everything is in four shades of gray because I don’t even want to think about color schemes until I have at least most of the enemies in the game. And you know what? It kind of looks cool, black and white.
I’m exploring art options. I thought it would be a pleasant break from the nuts and bolts. It’s not.
Don’t get me wrong: I love to draw and I think I’m better at it than the average person (only child + socially awkward = lots of practice), but this shit is hard. It’s one thing to slap a sprite together as a placeholder or to let your imagination run wild in a sketch. It’s an entirely different thing to make something with a specific purpose… that you wouldn’t be 100% humiliated to show others.
I love 2D vector graphics when the artist can keep them from looking like a less-than-average mobile game, but they present certain issues if you’re using Gamemaker. I also feel there isn’t enough documentation on the process to feel good about using it. I’m not ruling vector graphics out at this point, but it looks less and less likely. I’m shying away from 8- and 16-bit pixel art, too, and my short-lived idea to make this stuff in Blender felt cheesy. I’m kind of running out of free options, here.
Yesterday I spent hours messing around with programs like Photoshop, Pencil 2D, Aseprite, and Inkscape, trying to find the workflow I like best. I took the easiest sprite to animate and went over it in each of the programs with disappointing results. Today I downloaded the trial for Spine and, even though I’m not thrilled about the price tag, I’m hoping it’ll knock my socks off. The problem is I noticed the “(1)” at the end of the file name, indicating I’ve downloaded this thing before. Hopefully it’s not a time trial.
The power-ups are working. In most shoot-’em-ups you grab a power-up and it gives you a single new ability. In Blood Ship you get a randomized combination of power-ups (up to three at a time), delivered through a kind of gambling mechanism. It doesn’t make much thematic sense, but I think it’s fun as hell and makes the gameplay a lot more addictive.
I also dumbed down the blood laser. The “smart version” had a single pixel width and, when activated, it would replicate several instances of itself across the screen, one pixel at a time. Once the far end of the beam encountered an obstacle it would stop replicating itself and create an animated “impact” sprite wherever it stopped. During gameplay, this looked like a single beam growing across the play field until it hit something or went off the screen. It worked better than I thought it would, but it was too slow to create. When I sped it up, the animations got wonky.
Although it looked like shit it worked. I planned to fix it later, but yesterday I went back to an instantaneous laser beam (press the button and it appears immediately, from the nose of the ship to the far screen edge) which allows enemies to cross its path without breaking it. I thought I wanted a beam that could get broken by obstacles, which was a complicated (for me) effect that should have looked cool, but it was a little jarring in practice. Allowing a nearer enemy to block the beam’s path to farther enemies diluted the feeling of absurd power, thereby killing some of the fun. So the dumb effect works better for now.
Today I’m going to tackle the growing list of minor annoyances and tonight I’m going to work on new enemies and wave events… that’s the plan, anyway.
very early concept art