Think it’s finally time I went over the road I’ve traversed thus far. As a young game developer trying to forge my own little games, I’ve had lots of different experiences trying different ideas. Seeing what works and what doesn’t. It’s taken me years to reach where I am. Some games I had fond memories making while others turned out really weird or unfinished.
I first got into programming around 2011-2012. I didn’t make anything until 2012 I’m pretty sure (a lot of stuff here is undocumented, so I’ll do my best to remember the little details). I had purchased Game Maker 8, the last one before Game Maker: Studio, which I’d purchase later that year. But before then I dabbled in programming when I could. I was still in high school so it got in the way.
I managed to make my first game… and it was as simple as simple could be! It was literally a red square you moved around to reach a goal. There were purple square enemies and walls and even a boss that were giant squares that shot squares. I dubbed it, “BloCky”. Yes, very original. There are only another million games called blocky out there! Seriously, look it up. Many other young devs have the same idea!
Don’t get me wrong though. It’s all a part of learning and I think BloCky is what your typical first game should be when you start. Unfortunately, I can’t find my game anywhere any more. Don’t know if it was erased or something else. Can’t even remember what site I put it on! But that’s okay, it was an important first step that would lead to bigger ones. Or in this case, blocky ones.
Say what you want about Minecraft and its popularity or what have you, many years ago I played it quite often. In fact it’s still a pretty good game but I’ve moved on. But I got into map building since I felt it was a good way to learn about 3D level design and an easy way to test out ideas with a large player base.
I was part of a server known as “Surthrival” back in the day. It wasn’t huge but I have so many memories from it and the crew I hung out with. If it weren’t for the folks I met there I wouldn’t be where I was today I think, cause they helped me a lot. Not just in game design but in understanding the internet and broadening my horizons. And some of them even helped test what would perhaps be one of my greatest achievements!
The Tower of Anarchy!
(Oh goodness that poster art is back before I could draw well…yuck)(PS: my MineCraft name is Drain_the_troll)
I started this map in my senior year and it was quite the undertaking. It was an Adventure Map where you had to crawl up a tower. Each level had 3 rooms you had to conquer in any order to progress. It was very…cluttered to be honest. I fit a lot of stuff into a small space. The map isn’t that wide but it’s packed with content. You can of course read over the details yourself in the thread if you wish, and even play it if you change what update you’re on!
But it was my first time experiencing true beta testing. Ah, I remember when I sent my good buddies Rob and Dan to record their series blind. They came back and yelled at me! Hahaha! One of the rooms I made was so brutally difficult they spent who knows how long to get it. There was a lot I had to fix but it was all an interesting experience. It made me feel for actual developers who made games for the first time now that I was getting the backlash.
While a bit rough I think this is one of the happiest projects I’ve made. Not only that but a decently famous YouTuber did a short series on it which helped it gain some attention. And to top it off, as of the last time I checked, the map has had over 12,000 downloads! That’s crazy! Definitely my most successful project.
But now, let’s take a step back to Game Maker. I finally graduated high school. I decide to spend my time to really see how far I can get with making a game. No more squares! An actual REAL game!
Just to warn you, this is an early game and it’s very clunky. So if you actually do want to play it, there is a possibility it’ll crash at certain points! It is beatable, though if you’ll have the patience to… that’s another story.
The next logical step was a shooter. But I decided to make a Gradius style horizontal one. And there’s a flying guy who…moves his arm weirdly? There were a lot of weird decisions in this game. Like all the keyboard controls are odd, you used HJKL to swap weapons, etc.
There are a lot of bad design choices. When you take damage, you can’t shoot! You lose all your upgrades upon death, which you only take around 4 hits and health is limited. If you die there are no checkpoints; you’ve got to redo the stage. And of course, no saving or password! Got to do everything at once.
And it was horrid on a programming level. You know what Drag-N-Drop is? Guess what?! THE WHOLE GAME IS THAT. Essentially that’s Game Makers first-timer kid-friendly simple-as-heck way of “coding”. You put in an action to do another action in place of typing… And it gets cluttered REALLY fast. Especially in GM8 and Studio (Though I hear GMS2 has a good version of it). It’s also really limited cause you can’t type or manipulate the code. So CPU consuming stuff like awful collision programming was present.
And if that weren’t enough – I didn’t know what tiles were! So all the visuals you see?(That aren’t backgrounds) Those are all objects! Each block you see…is an object! AND I didn’t know how to turn objects on or off. I could fix so many of the problems now but I was so inexperienced then.
Yet it amazes me how I was able to make this game. Not just cause of the inexperience but because I made it all in 2 months! And this isn’t that small of a game. There are tons of bosses, and over 16 stages with a wide range of visuals and enemies! There’s even a nice little story… though very cheesy at times. And I got the music from some free music site, but can’t recall the composer. I do know they’re in the credits.
Some times I wonder if I should go back and remake the game, add new stuff with a new engine. I see lots of potential, cause despite the very rough edges, there’s something about it that I enjoy. Not everything but enough that I could do more. Perhaps one day, Rai will make a return…
And now we get into one I’m not certain about. On one hand, I like it. On the other hand… Hmmm. First I should address why this… game was made. It was in response to a video by SomeCallMeJohnny called “End of Sonic 2 Month” where he plays a weird abomination of all the early Sonic games called “Sonic 3CD & Knuckles & Knuckles”. It was an amusing video and an in-joke among Johnny’s fans and his friends. And he always wanted to see a fangame of it.
Well, I answered: https://gamejolt.com/games/sonic-3cd-knuckles-knuckles/18185
Remember my points from RaiGear? Those stand here as well. Though I did learn about tiles and used invisible blocks as walls that were stretched this time. So not as bad… Except it was still awful. But the worse thing was that this was the first time I was trying to learn how to make a platformer and oh man… That was a bad idea. For one, I knew NOTHING about how to make the physics feel good. let alone like Sonic where he could move around slopes and gain momentum.
I did the best I could but it was still very iffy. I threw myself into something I didn’t fully understand. But I ended up making four stages and some funny things I guess? I don’t regret what I made but it certainly showed I needed to reevaluate my ways with programming. I needed MORE experience.
Johnny did stream the game and I even got to talk to someone I respected a lot! That was really cool, but man I was nervous. And the reason I hate that is cause… He’s just a normal dude. But I even joined the call for the Pokemon X and Y stream afterwards and barely said anything I felt so nervous. I guess I just suck at talking. But I think if I were to talk to him or anyone like that now, especially with knowing so much, I’d do just fine.
I did later on donate to a charity event with a comment for John during a stream stating I’d return to 3CD. However, I’ve changed my mind. If some fans wanted to make an actual game some day and asked, I’d be happy to help. But I think instead of making a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game with 3CD I’d rather just make my own game with Sonic-like design and make an actually good game.
Oh, and SmoshGames played it (Not crediting me). They ran into a bug but whatever. Plus they played it a long time after the game came out. Very random. But I guess I made a lot of people happy since it got over 7,000 plays! I wonder if anyone got all the Emeralds and saw the secret boss I put in?
Now the next step in my story is very weird. Cause for one, I never finished this game. Just made a demo and nothing more. That being Rollem the Golem:
(He looks like the awful coconut character from that 2000’s cartoon what was I thinkiiiiiing) (Also the art I make still sucks here… I’m happy Vivid exists)
I still think this is a cool concept that I might return to. You’re a giant asteroid. In fact there are many characters that are planets that you fight and I had so many ideas that ultimately never made it in. Mainly because it was still a very ambitious game. And I was finally learning to actually code!
I programmed it for such a short time that I don’t fully remember it. the only things I remember are the ideas I never incorporated. Not that many people tried it though since not a lot of people cared. I also tried putting it on Steam and again, not a lot of people cared if it actually became a game. So I got tired and decided to quit.
But like Rai, Rollem (Who I’ve changed to Rock’em) may return one day in a much cooler look instead of a stupid big smile.
After feeling down I decided to try map making again in MineCraft. This time it was a CTM (Complete the Monument), where you collected 16+ special items in an open map. This was called “Diamond Destiny”.
Rob and Dan and many others helped again. While not as successful as the Tower (only around 1,000 downloads) this might be the biggest push to becoming a better designer. Cause the focus of the map was to make it very tolerable. See, many people at the time made these maps really hard. And many of the games I had tried to create people had a hard time with. Why not aim for an easier map?
And I think I was very successful at making a relatively beginner friendly map, many of the testers died only a handful of times and had a nice time. It opened my mind to easier level designs and challenges that could be fun. So I’ve since then always tried to balance my levels. Funny thing is, if you aim to be easy, you’ll still often get people who find it difficult, so you have to make it EVEN easier.
The map I don’t believe is truly finished. I mean, it’s definitely possible to complete, but I never finished ironing it out. And not long after, I fell out of MineCraft.
Now on to the last game. This one comes before Vivid and began in Spring of 2014. Before Vivid, it was my longest project. I have so many feelings for it because it was the closest I ever got to being serious about a game I was making. I entered a whole new world with it and was the final step before I’d go on to better things.
Oh look, a pony! Yes, Quad Knight (actually name is Domino) is a horse. Not a pony… but I did watch My Little Pony for a bit back then. Specifically, I was interested in how the creators managed a show for a young audience to see what they could get away with. While not my favorite show, I was pleased with what I learned.
And since there were many artists who loved the show, I thought about contacting some. And holy crap! I got quite a few who actually wanted to help with music. I met PhonicBoom and Oliver Lacota, who’d help a bit with Vivid after the project got canceled. So I was really pleased with the music in the game.
Quad Knight is weird in that fact that it’s sort of the Vivid before Vivid. I was really trying my hardest to get better at art but still not that good. Like I tried using a crayon filter for everything which looked ugly but had a unique style I guess.
There was also a lot to the game… which was its downfall I think. Besides being a platformer, you could actually aim with the Mouse (Or Analog Stick) and shoot different powerups. And there were so many powerups I made and so many ways to get them. Kinda confusing. Cool if you knew, but doubt you’d care enough to reach that point.
Still, there were many clunky things to it that I’d never do. The enemies AI wasn’t the best, though interesting. Art was still a miss. Actually, I think the best way to phrase a lot of these projects is a severe lack of polish. Perhaps if I worked on QK for a few years it would play and look really nice, but that didn’t happen.
I also tried to get it Greenlit and eventually cancelled it since no one really cared. I just didn’t have a following of any kind or a platform to call home. No Blog, didn’t use Twitter often, let alone post gifs or images of the game in other forums much. I was really bad about that.
So it silently went away as I felt the game wasn’t going anywhere.
Will QK return? Well… Not sure. I do like a lot of the ideas, but it might be better off as a different game. A lot of the things I wanted from QK ended up in Vivid. The overall feel, cuteness, and unique game play. So after I ended the development in November, I would eventually start Vivid in late December of 2014.
Vivid would also go through many changes, starting as Vivid Radiance, then Vivid Wolf and now “Vivid!”. But you can read all of that in older posts.
I guess thinking back on it, I don’t really have any game I regret or dislike. I’d just change how I’d go about a lot of the choices and fix many mistakes. Perhaps some of these games will return in some form. BlocKy, Tower of Anarchy, RaiGear, Sonic 3CD, Rollem the Golem, Diamond Destiny, and Quad Knight.
Quite a few projects. Some being more successful than others. Some just not being finished. Don’t think they’re anything resume appliaction worthy but I wouldn’t say I lack experience anymore! Though I do feel like a novice when it comes to programming still. But I hope my future games will be a little better.
Demo 1.5 is out! And this one includes a whole lot of new stuff for the combat in the game. Vivid’s Red Sword, Yellow Bow, and Blue Ax each have a whole lot of new ways to be used depending on how you input the directions when attacking! There are also a few small bug fixes and changes to make the game more beginner friendly. There is still much that needs to be tested and added, but within time, this game will be ready to take on the world!
List of Changes:
- Red Sword has new moves: Hold down while in the air when attacking to Down Stab. Tap the direction you’re facing while attacking on ground to do a Dash Stab. Tap the opposite direction while on the ground and attacking to do a Spin Attack.
- Yellow Bow has new moves: Hold down while in the air when attacking to shoot downwards with Arrow Rain. Hold up or down while attacking to throw an arrow that sparks the ground. Tap the opposite direction you’re facing while attacking to unleash tons of arrows with Arrow Copter.
- Blue Ax has new moves: Hold up while attacking to launch it upwards. Tap the direction you’re facing while attacking to launch it farther. Hold down while attacking to deploy bouncing hatchets that go across the floor.
- The Speed Boost part of the Tutorial has the wall lowered by a block, after seeing some people not have an easy time with it.
- Super Star Suplex dark screen sometimes off centered – fixed.
- Tux N Torch boss would sometimes stop in center and freeze. Still testing this one out, but should be fixed.
- Texture Pages reorganized for fewer swaps.
Today I’m going to be talking about how I start crafting levels in Vivid. There are many ways to draw out and plan levels, but I’m very straight-forward. I either get a piece of paper or an art program on my computer and throw up ideas. For Vivid, all the levels are divided into rooms. Each room containing an idea.
The levels try to theme around something; whether it’s something physical or decorative (like say a desert theme) or something related to the mechanics (like a particular attack). Using these, I base the levels design around them. But more importantly, I build off them from room to room if I can help it. You want to make sure that if you’re introducing something a little more complex that the player isn’t confused and has a clear idea when confronting new things.
The first rooms in my levels are there to get the player into the mood. The only exception is if a very important mechanic is needed to be introduced, something that could play over multiple levels. Otherwise, start small. Then the next room or so, I either re-explore an older mechanic to be used in tandem with a new one later down, or just introduce a new one altogether.
I try to make sure the player understands what’s happening, how to do it, and what it can lead to. Give them room to experiment. Make the room easy while also making the player confident that they understand the objective before proceeding. That way they’re ready for more difficult variations of the new mechanics in future rooms.
But the areas afterwards are not an ascension of difficulty every single time. I may throw in a room (or a section of a room) that calms things down or get you ready for what’s ahead. Especially if another mechanic is going to be introduced or layered on top of the new mechanics. We then move on to the last few rooms where the game really tries to push your understanding of the new elements… to a certain limit. It varies on how far you are in the game, don’t want an early level to challenge you to the extreme with a mechanic quite yet! In fact if you balance it out right you can reuse harder versions for later levels. Once finished, you face a boss or are rewarded with a victory.
Now this is all fine and dandy, but I actually want to show an early rough version of a level currently being constructed for further analysis. A lot of what I just said is basic stuff and more so has to do with pacing your levels than the actual designs. In that case, let’s take a look at T2-2 (Toadster Level 2 – Room 2).
Use the above link for a better image!
A lot of stuff going on here! To be honest, since I tend to work alone on this, these are normally for my eyes only. But I’m going to try and make sense of it for you folks at home or at work. Even drew a little guide to show what’s what, hopefully the blog doesn’t squeeze it too much. Regardless, I’ll get to talking.
First off, this is Vivid. If you don’t know what it is, go play the demo:
If you just can’t be bothered, I’ll give a brief explanation: Vivid is a game where you play as said character. Besides the normal platforming business, Vivid can change color by holding jump while landing on Colored Blocks or on colored enemies. What color she is affects many things. Platforming, attacking, powers, etc. You may occasionally need a certain color to proceed or be effective at attacking. For instance, the Red Sword may not be effective on a flying enemy. But if you use the Azure Ax, which is an aerial arcing weapon, you’ll have a better time.
But in addition to Vivid, there’s Spirit, her dog. She too is playable, and even has different attacks and advantages/disadvantages to Vivid. This is very important for this particular level design because of the circumstances surrounding the characters and the story.
The Antagonist for this part of the adventure is know as the Toadster. In this story, he curses Vivid and Spirit for a night and are stuck in his tower. This causes Spirit to be trapped inside a Swap Block. When Vivid tries to free her by bopping the block with her head, Spirit is freed!… but now Vivid is stuck. The quest now becomes stopping Toadster and undoing this curse. And you will have to use these Swap Blocks to switch characters from time to time.
So let’s show what’s introduced in this room:
We have some new hazards and a new mechanic. I also have Swap Blocks noted here because the new mechanic is heavily tied to these. That being the Character Blocks. Depending on who you play as, one set will be solid. The other will be transparent and allow you to move through them. Just like Colored Blocks, but character dependent.
Let’s refer back to the Level Design image(may want to put the image in another tab for quick reference!). On the bottom right side of the level is a white square; Vivid… or Spirit if you entered as her. This is where you start, inside a small section with a Swap Block and a Color Balloon (these change color every second, and can be popped to grab a color). Up above you…is the exit. Except you can’t get in there because of the new mechanic, Character Blocks. In fact, you can’t get out of this small area unless you change to Vivid. You also can’t get to the door on top unless you’re Spirit! Looks like your goal will be to find another Swap Block outside with Vivid!
Not too far ahead, a new enemy is introduced in the form of Chef Krustoph, aka the toasters. They’re grumpy, march back in forth in anger, just all around mad. If you touch, jump on, or attack them is when they get really bad. They’ll stop and toss super heated toast all around within a certain range. Getting close may not be the best idea, but it’s up to the players discretion on how to deal with them. The Character Blocks are set up in a way for this first one so that you can jump over it easily.
The next one may not be easy to deal with because of the ceiling above and the fact another obstacle is introduced with Furnaces. Peaceful for one second, then ablaze for another. You have to be quick when going over them. You do have time to think before moving to it and dealing with other Chefs.
You’ll reach the center of the room which has many Vivid Blocks over furnaces which makes them seemingly pointless. Also a Chef on top, marching between the other Character Blocks in the center. There’s also a Heart! The main collectible which is…impossible to reach?! It’s stuck inside a wall! Well don’t worry, Spirit the dog has a teleport ability that can easily reach it… or perhaps not. After all, there’s a furnace underneath the Heart! If you can get Spirit with her yellow teleport ability, you’ll have to go in and teleport out very fast. But it’s a completely optional challenge for the player.
The other half of the room mostly mirrors the first but now, Vivid and Spirit’s Character Blocks are mostly swapped. This makes dealing with the other toasters a bit different. You won’t be able to avoid them quite as well… nor the last hazard! Cauldro! He’s a big flying cauldron who occasionally flies on top of the screen before spilling boiling water from above. He’s a constant hazard throughout most of the room but only appears every so often. So long as you don’t wait in one spot, he’s nothing more than a small nuisance.
Now to the last part. There isn’t a Swap Block here but there is a two way door. Considering the entire room has been explored at this point, it’s a safe bet the Swap Block is in there. I won’t talk about that room, but it’s a small area with a quick challenge before reaching the Swap Block. To reach the two-way door, you’ll need to go through a few furnaces in an enclosed space. It’ll require some quick platforming in a few spots. Not to mention, Cauldro will cause some problems while waiting for the furnaces, so be weary!
Afterwards you’ll reach the door, do that room, and get Spirit! But now, you’ll have to redo this room. Normally, backtracking isn’t a good design philosophy. Here though, is where Vivid’s level design shines brightest. Depending on the character, color, or circumstance there are practically levels within levels in this game!
Besides playing as a new character (and perhaps choosing a new color from the last room), the room now changes because of the Character Blocks. The center area especially. All those furnaces you passed as Vivid are now an actual threat to Spirit. The right and left sides of the room switch sides in due to the blocks as well; the right now being harder to avoid the Chefs.
You now go through a slightly harder version of the room with a new character while also now getting a chance to collect the Heart from earlier if you took note of it. Make it to the other side and you can finally make it out of this kitchen (which is the theme of this area, if toasters and furnaces didn’t give it away).
…And that’s just one room! An early untested one at that. When this area is made, I’ll likely need to test to see how much the actually room needs to be stretched out, and balance the difficulty of the hazards. A lot of times, it doesn’t quite work out exactly as predicted. It’s entirely possible the Cauldro hazard could be removed if I felt it too much for the players.
Then I have to have others test it to see how well they do. Make sure the mechanic is fully realized before anything about it is made official. There are many, many variables that need to be applied before I finalize it. Even now, the demo for Vivid is just the second stage of the game and I feel many of the elements in it are unfinished (not including art).
But… that’s how I go about making my levels. Try to throw in some mechanics, and if possible, add an extra layer to it so if you chose a different character of color, it plays a bit differently. Leads to a lot of interesting ways you can play the game. In fact, note the lack of Color Blocks in the room? That’s so the player focuses on the new Character Blocks instead. I imagine a future room would use both Color Blocks AND Character Blocks to really shake things up!
After some months of feedback and testing, we now have a new demo ready for more playing! This will hopefully be the last version before the KickStarter officially launches! Said KickStarter we are hoping to do in February.
Let’s go over what’s new:
- New art for Azure Aqueduct!
- BRAND NEW music made by Andrew Nyte! Very awesome work!
- When Vivid is blue, she can climb up water falls! You may find some neat stuff.
- New character “Bub Brosh” has been added. He’s invisible but if you find him, he may give you stars!
- SECRET: When you beat Azure Aqueduct, select it again but go to the weapons. You’ll be able to swap them for some NEW weapons! Whip, Boomerang, and Yoyo. These are unfinished but ready to be tested for your enjoyment!
- SECRET: After beating Azure Aqueduct, anytime you’re on the ground, press the Y-button or Z-key to swap to Vivid’s dog, Spirit! She has unique abilities that are ready to be tested.
- Momentum no longer adds to your jump height. Vivid will always have the same jump strength.
- Big stars only give 4 stars when collected.
- Upgrade glitch where big stars were not completely counted fixed.
- Added an animation to the switches to stick out more.
- Red Sword swing is faster.
- Slug enemies move slower.
- Tux N Torch has waterfalls in boss room, making the fight potentially easier.
- Various level structure changes to make getting around easier.
Please leave any feedback to me either on here, the itch.io page, or on my Twitter: https://twitter.com/LucasMaxBros
Trying to make a precision based platformer can be pretty taxing. It’s one thing to make a typical platforming engine. In fact if you looked up some simple tutorials online or asked a guy like me, making an engine would be a snap! But while it would only take a day to make such simple physics, it takes well over a year to make perfect game feel.
Today I wanted to talk about my approach with Vivid’s platforming. The jumps, movement, stopping, and reacting. All of it started before Vivid was even conceptualized. Back when I began programming my first few small projects. There I began creating different games that never saw the light of day or just stayed as blocks you moved.
Slowly I began understanding how to code a little better and tried basing character actions on how much fun it was to move them. Would they move in the exact same way every time? Or would they have to build up speed? These were questions I had to ask before thinking about how to handle the game. Would the jumps always be the same height? Based on when you let go of jump? Or could you not control them after pressing jump?
Vivid has many roots that it takes from, and it combines a lot of platforming traits. Some more dominant than others. For one, when Vivid runs, her speed influences her jump. No where near as much as Mario himself, who practically needs speed to pass some obstacles. Just enough to make some normal jumps easier if you get a full run. Vivid’s normal jump with no speed just barely gets over 4 blocks. At full speed she’s just shy of 5 blocks. This allows me to make sure the player can always get pass obstacles below 5 blocks, but never above.
Vivid also builds up speed and loses it. It’s something similar to a lot of platformers with physics, or just physics in general. When you stop, you don’t stop immediately. Vivid use to be a lot more slippery, stopping a few blocks after you let go at full speed. That’s how it was over a year ago. As I had more people try it, I saw places where it was unneeded and eventually made one that feels more natural. The same goes for building speed. It use to take her longer. Now she gets up to max in a little less than a second.
This is what I’m really wanting to talk about. Vivid’s speed and friction. Vivid has little to none in the air. So… if you let go in the air, you aren’t stopping soon. Turning may also prove to be a little slower due to no ground to get back to full speed. You do have plenty of control up in the air though, it’s not taken away from you like in Castlevania or other retro games. But you have a lot more control on the ground than you do in the air.
Some of the people who’ve been testing have found Vivid’s platforming to be too slippery or just plain difficult. And I say – Good!
Vivid’s platforming isn’t something you’ll typically get right away. Unless you’re accustomed to a range of different platformers, you might not easily get over every obstacle you see on your first try. Nor will you understand how to dodge enemies accordingly. It will take some getting use to and investment.
This is what I refer to as “Intrigue”. You get the player to see something they need to do and make it juuuuust challenging enough that they aren’t alarmed by it but may not have an easy time doing. In doing this they’ll try again, trying to analyze what they did wrong and counter it with a new solution. And lots of games do this, though doing it correctly can be challenging.
You die to a boss, but come back to it right away to challenge them again. Each time training yourself to properly dodge an attack or perfect a skill against them. Executed properly and the player may learn new aspects to the game. This is how Vivid’s own platforming and combat is handled.
You play through the demo currently released at this point in time for Vivid. You play it all the way through once. Likely you didn’t collect everything in the stage and probably had a hard time over coming some parts such as the room with the Timer Switch or the end of the giant cave where you had to jump over Color Blocks to get a Heart Collectible. Maybe it took you several tries to beat Tux.
But if you were to play just this same stage again (as opposed to a different stage that hands out different scenarios), you’d likely discover little new things you never realized. For instance, you stop when you attack. You probably found this very annoying in some areas. But if you jumped, because you have practically no friction in the air, you’d keep your speed while attacking. If you trained yourself to do this, you could attack while still having some control over Vivid when fighting!
These are all very small details in my game, but it’ll take an entire play through of the full game before you can master them. It’s the same when it comes to perfecting patterns or reactions in any game you play. In Vivid I’m trying to work with it and balance it so the player always feels a sense of accomplishment every time they beat a new stage. It also makes replaying that much sweeter.
While Intrigue is a huge part of a game, I feel most developers underestimate it as a tool. Or it’s just used unwisely. Learning a slow pattern or something that takes a while to get back to is awful. I could think of several bad examples of teaching patterns or bad habits to players. Battletoads racing section, Zelda’s formula of items used outside of dungeons, and heck, the internet itself for teaching you how to do a trick that was unintended!(Mach Ball trick from Super Metroid….which isn’t bad, but unintentional. Folk who use it commonly have forgotten how to complete Super Metroid naturally!)
Speaking of which, Super Metroid also has a good example of Intrigue with platforming. It has multiple sections in the beginning that require to jump up tall vertical shafts. One is shorter but on a time limit and the other has enemies to deal with. While you’re probably going to have a rough time doing these, that’s the point! It’s there to give you some practice before trying more dangerous jumps later on. When you replay the game (Or beat it in the escape sequence) you’ll see you’ve gotten a lot better at getting through it! And if the game Intrigued you enough, you might be walljumping like crazy up the walls!
That’s my aim with Vivid. While Color and Synergy are a huge focus, you always need to remember the main roots of your game. Vivid’s is platforming, so having it be one of the most fun elements is key. When you’re learning more about the game and just having fun hopping around, you KNOW something’s right!
Got a demo for a beta version of Vivid! now out to try! This is a slightly updated version due to some fixes needed in the menus. It features an optional Tutorial, one full Level with a boss, and a ranking system. See if you can get a Gold or the elusive Platinum Rank!
Report any bugs, leave feedback, etc. Thank you!
(Vivid – LucasMaxBros)
When making a game you have to go off from what you know and what your prefer. My history with games is a bit odd in that I didn’t play that many games during my childhood, though I did witness several being played. But perhaps it’s just my perspective since it feels like I know more about games I’ve never physically played.
Now I won’t go on about every game I ever had or every console I had access to. Just talking about some fond memories (that perhaps you’ll share similar feelings with) about games. That and what would lead to Vivid and what I want Vivid to become.
This first one is very deep. I was only born in 1994, but the earliest possible memory I can fathom… is in fact a game! I was over at my cousins with my sister. I want to say I was 3 but there’s no way of knowing. They had the SNES and played Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest and Zelda: a Link to the Past. They were pretty bad with Zelda, didn’t even know how to get pass the entrance blocked by the bush!
(Donkey Kong Country 2 Diddy’s Kong Quest – Rare)
As for DKC2, they must have been playing a used file cause World 5 was accessible. Don’t know how well they did but I only remember them playing the bee hive levels in World 4 and the ghost roller coaster in World 5. What’s really unique about this memory, besides being the first, is that I wouldn’t see this game with my eyes for well over a decade. It was stunning to see it again and play it when I finally could.
My Grandparents had a NES at their home with Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros III. Never could beat them but it was fun! Could never get pass the sun though… Then around 2000 or 2001 our uncle gave us his Super Nintendo! It was amazing and would shape my gaming experience forever.
The notable games: Super Mario World, Star Fox, Zelda: a Link to the Past, Super Empire Strikes Back, and Super Star Wars. What’s interesting about this is that I’m a kid who had a childhood in the 2000s but was raised with games like it was the 90s. We’d eventually get a PlayStation 2 with some cool games, then a Wii.
(Super Mario World – Nintendo)
I eventually got a GBA, NDS, cousin and I share a 3DS. I bought a Wii U and have a friend with a N64 (It was cool watching him and his dad beat Ocarina of Time)and XBox games. So there was a lot of stuff to play, but I never got serious with gaming until high school when I decided I wanted to make Indie Games. So some of my favorite franchises that I have fond memories of are very recent. Surprisingly so.
Which brings us to Inspiration numbero uno: Kirby!
Born in 1994, I played my first Kirby game…in 2011! That game was Kirby 64: the Crystal Shards. Besides the fun ability combinations I really liked the tone and nature of the game. The most prominent thing about it though was the music. Never in my life was I so invested in music. There were some songs I liked but could never find anything that I could say I was a fan in. Tried listening to a bunch of 80s music during high school since out of everything it had the most appeal besides some random songs.
(Kirby 64: the Crystal Shards – HAL)
I mention this because after completing Kirby 64 I found myself thinking about the music for a full week. And not just a couple songs; EVERY song. Even some of the random menu music. To this day I have an entire album of music from Kirby games because it never fails to make me happy. It opened me up to video game music in general and I’m always listening to OST’s on YouTube.
I’d go on to play other Kirby titles and have nearly played every Kirby game to date. The most interesting one was Kirby’s Dreamland 3. I say this because it was a very complicated experience. It was 2012, purchased it on the Eshop before Spring Break. We were planning to go on vacation to a beach house for the week. Managed to beat the first world right before we go. Mind you I was playing most of these games for the first time, so finding some of the hidden stuff was rough.
(Kirby’s Dreamland 3 – HAL)
I brought the game with me to play while staying at the beach. After all I live in Oregon and it can get stormy, which it did. The game was frustrating. Wasn’t a huge fan how some of the levels were done and ultimately disliked the game.
…6 months later, I suddenly have music stuck in my head. What is it? Dreamland 3. After thinking about it I decided to play the game again over the weekend. Now that I had already uncovered all the secrets and knew where they were, the game was much faster to complete. Only taking two sessions. Not only that, but it was so much more enjoyable the second time through. This game that I felt negatively towards suddenly had this unique charm to it no other game on the SNES has for me.
I personally think Dreamland 3 has some of the best atmosphere of any game with how it portrays its art and music. It just feels right and like I’m a kid experiencing things for the first time. It also reminded me of my stay at the beach, the thunder storm that happened over one of the nights, and my time with folks. While I don’t think the game itself is great design wise it has left an overall positive impression on me.
(Vivid’s walk cycle is based on Paper Mario’s)
This is the key inspiration to Vivid above all other games. The current art style uses a mixture of Dreamland 3 and Paper Mario; another game I blindly picked up and really enjoyed. You can see that even when Vivid stands still her outlines are slightly redrawn in a crayon pastel. The characters also have a paper border around them both to distinguish them and add to the fact this game is arts n craft themed.
Most of the Kirby series has an influence on Vivid. Besides what was just mentioned, the other two big games are Kirby Super Star and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland. If you were to look at a screenshot of KSS next to Vivid, I don’t think anything else would need to be said. Except that I do plan on using a similar progression system for Vivid. Instead of worlds, there would be several “game modes”. In Vivid’s case these would be individual stories. More details will come at a later date!
(Kirby Super Star – HAL)
KRtD is, dare I say, one of my favorite games. Played it several times, played it only a few months ago and not only does it hold up but there’s practically no blemishes to it. Even with a few deaths here or there (on Extra Mode) it was a smooth sailing ride the whole way. It is a perfect platformer. The challenge stages influenced Vivid’s level design and ranking system. I’d note Super Meat Boy but I’ve never played it myself.
However there is one game in particular that shares a huge amount of inspiration despite never playing “them”. Castlevania! In particular the classic games. I’ve beaten Aria several times over though.
(Castlevania – Konami)
I should note Egoraptor’s Castlevania vs Simon’s Quest video. You can easily look it up on YouTube(Warning: Language) but it did make me think a bit more on the first few games…though I disagree with his last part. The first game made you think and had enemy placement you had to figure out. In addition there were weapon drops that could appear from a random candle so you had to take what you could as you figured out the stage.
This mentality is present in Vivid. Sometimes you need to be a certain color but don’t have access to it or it’s difficult to get to. You need to figure out the stage and take what you can with you as you potentially gain or lose upgrades. Vivid is like a more precision based Castlevania with elements of Kirby (and Mario of course, I don’t think that ever needs to be explained). Even some of her weapons, such as the Ax, are a direct reference to the series. I have plans for one of the stories in Vivid to be a parody of the first Castlevania with Halloween themes.
Donkey Kong Country series, especially 2 and Tropical Freeze gave me great ideas for how to go about mechanics. Though I’d say not as huge inspiration as the others but you can see it throughout my games roots. There was one point where you had animal buddies! Tropical Freeze gave me the idea for the “Color Bounce” mechanic and has made me want to raise the bar when it comes to level design.
The list of influences goes on and on. Should mention Okami, though I never played that game. If anything this game has more influences from Japanese mythology than Okami itself. I can confirm Vivid is half-Japanese, half-British. You can also see some similarities between herself and various characters from other franchises. (Ado/Adeline, Ribon, Chuchu, and Kirby – Kirby series, Rosalina/Paper Mario – Mario series)
(Super Metroid – Nintendo)
There is one last game of significance to Vivid, that being Super Metroid. Actually you could list most 2D Metroid’s on here but most people are familiar with it. While it hasn’t been stated directly yet I do have plans to make some parts of Vivid work in a similar way to Metroid. The mechanics of Vivid lend well to it but I won’t spoil how it’ll work. Just know that it’s very interesting.
Well that wraps things up. Those are the notable games that have influenced Vivid. There are several games that have influenced me that I didn’t mention, like EarthBound, but they don’t really have anything that directly pushed Vivid. In the end I hope to provide a product that has the same qualities as most that were previously mentioned. A fast paced classic Castlevania with Kirby’s charm and polish and Mario’s varied level designs.
Today I will be discussing the core design of my current game making project, Vivid! First, please take a moment to analyze this image.
Keep it in mind, I’ll talk about it in a second. First we need to state what Vivid is actually about. Vivid is a 2D side-scrolling platformer. You move and you jump. But the biggest thing to it is the ability to change Color. Red, yellow, or blue.
What color Vivid currently has control over dictates what she can or can’t interact with. If she’s red, she can touch red objects but can’t touch blue ones. She cannot freely change color either. Instead you must find a way via Colored Blocks and stomping on them while holding jump to turn to that color. Or jumping off Enemies of a particular color.
Now let’s go back to the image knowing all of this. Suddenly the meaning of it changes based on what color she is! If she were red, jumping over the pit of spikes would be a breeze. However if she were to hop on that blue block, there would be very little space to land on. Of course, you could just land on the red blocks to avoid this. Now what about those blue enemies above?
That’s where the next key element of Vivid comes into play; combat. Color not only affects your interactions but your own Weapons. Which one you pull out when you hit attack depends on your color and follow certain patterns.
These weapons are a Red Sword, Yellow Bow, and Blue Ax. Each carries with it a different roll. The bow is long range but horizontal. The ax is good for targets above or below and not much else. The sword is easy to maneuver but short ranged. All of them have specific uses, advantages, and weaknesses. To make things more interesting there’s also SCAB (Same Color Attack Bonus) which inflicts double the damage to enemies with matching colors.
Yet again, looking at the image changes knowing this. Those enemies above you aren’t the best targets for a Red Sword let alone the strictly horizontal Yellow Bow. But that Blue Ax can hit vertically before those enemies try to become a threat, taking them out faster with SCAB. But be careful – SCAB also applies to Vivid!
You have choices to make: will you make platforming easier by being red but have a tougher time taking out the enemies? Or will you make platforming trickier while making the enemies easier to get rid of? There’s also another choice; skip the enemies entirely. There’s no penalty to avoiding confrontation. However you do miss out on another element.
Stars. A collectible you can find floating around. You can also find them hiding inside most Colored Blocks. More importantly you can knock them out of enemies… if you hit them with a weapon that matches or shares a color with them. Even if you did manage to hit those enemies with the sword, you’d gain little in return. That Ax on the other hand would knock out some stars for you to collect.
What are these little things for? They actually have multiple uses that build up over time as you grab them. First they add to your Score which is used to rank you at the end of a level. That leads to better prizes earned if you’re effective at hunting for stars. They also build up a meter on your weapon that quickly Upgrades them. That weapon will do greater damage and have greater effectiveness, such as the Bow being able to shoot multiple arrows in a spread out effect. But like SCAB there is a risk; using an upgraded weapon when damaged will degrade it by a level.
Then there’s Color Boost. It is an energy meter that is fueled by these stars that in turn fuels Power Pins. Like the weapons before, they are restricted to a specific color. Unlike the weapons you have more freedom to them and can equip them to a different color before starting a level.
Perhaps this level is tough, so you’ll make all slots hold a Heal pin. Or you’re trying to get a good time so you’ll use a Speed Pin. Maybe you need multiple pins for different uses or to get you out of a particular section a little easier. Weapons have a specific utility in mind while the Power Pins give the player a way to plan ahead.
Everything that I wrote, every last mechanic that was described here shares a common element. It’s all tied together and relates to one another in that first image. Color. Any action you do in this game is affected by a color you choose to use. You are constantly seeking out other methods to change color to take advantage of the situations presented to you.
I’m low on health, how can I heal? If a Heal Pin is equipped, find a way to change to the color for it to use it. Don’t have enough energy? You could find enemies with the same color to nab some stars. Need more? Go looking around by changing to a blocks color to reach areas you haven’t been to for stars. Trying not to risk damage? Change to a different color from nearby enemies to take less. Can’t? Use that weapon to take out the enemies faster using SCAB.
Whether it be combat, platforming, exploring, surviving, speed running, or puzzles, this game ties it all with color. Synergy is the key to Vivid’s design for you are at all times considering your color. You’ll be tasked with switching between multiple ones to solve puzzles or perhaps limited to only one to access another path.
For the final time, we gaze at the first image introduced. Despite its simple structure there are already several possibilities that could happen in it. The choice for how it plays out being up to the player. They could change red, or change blue. And if the player begins to learn and master the game, they can create whole new solutions. They could turn blue and attack with the ax before landing and changing red!
This is the philosophy my game lives by. The synergy of red, yellow, and blue.
(4th art change, a smaller Vivid was born)
Vivid has gone under so many changes that it makes me dizzy. Around February of 2016 was when both the art and game play would change for the better. At least a little. For the first couple of months Vivid was very tiny, and it was off-putting. I don’t recall why I didn’t make the changes immediately but I would end up making Vivid’s sprite bigger over time.
The art direction was becoming a mix of Kirby’s Dreamland 3 and Paper Mario. What to draw and make levels based on was more challenging. I had no plans on making a complex story, just wanted a simple game where you went from point A to point B. So the worlds were going to be your standard Grass World, Water World, etc.
As I continued renewing the physics and experimenting with mechanics I began thinking about how to approach art. At one point it was going to all be paper. There would be levels that were literally taped or stapled together. I tried color crayons scribbled on paper, colored construction paper, paints. It was very messy and remade over and over again.
The most interesting take happened at the end of 2016 where I did an entirely new approach. Instead of using tiles that were placed accordingly, I’d make entire backgrounds that were made specifically for a level. It was very exciting to do and made the game stand out.
(Levels were a single background instead of tiles)
However there came many problems, some of which had I been more knowledgeable at the time and risky I could have approached differently. For one, all these backgrounds made for just a few levels weighed down on memory, causing the game to take longer and longer to load when I had to process it. I assumed it was because my laptop wasn’t powerful but later on I’d learn Game Maker: Studio naturally did this.
I was also cautious when it came to optimization, and still am. Many programmers say not to worry too much and put in what you want. Optimize later. It’s not so much I worry as it’s that I want to consider those with lower spec computers. I want my games to be available to as many people as possible. That’s why when I began understanding how graphics were done I was very nervous about doing this art method for an entire game.
But the absolute biggest reason was because it was exhausting to make them. It took weeks of dedication to make just a few. Each one progressively wore me out and I felt they got lower in quality as it went on. I imagine if I had a more solid plan it wouldn’t have tired me as much. It was a good lesson.
The final reason was simply due to the fact I limited the levels so they all had certain dimensions. Some levels were a single screen. Others were two screen lengths. Some were two wide and three tall. I was trying to space them to fit on Texture Pages, which for the non-programmers is where all the images are stored and drawn from. Sometimes you need multiple pages to draw stuff and using multiple ones is expensive. So having a game with entire levels made of multiple backgrounds gets a little frantic.
Ultimately I went away from this method and back to tiles. But if I were able to do a better job at managing in the future perhaps this style could be tried again. I am hoping to utilize it to some degree in the final product.
(New tile designs with tilted view to give depth)
Instead I went with a more Kirby Super Star Style design. Now instead of looking flat, everything was made to look like it was drawn from a tilted angle. The floor could be seen giving a 3D effect while 2D. It is this look that Vivid has stayed with thus far.
Mechanically the game evolved to be faster. The previous design was large levels to explore and collect. This new one had shorter levels with a speed running mentality. You were on a very generous time limit to quickly go through a linear level. Collecting stars, defeating enemies, finding the fastest route for the best rank. The game took huge cues from Super Meat Boy and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Challenge Rooms.
(Super Meat Boy – Team Meat)
This design overall felt right. I had various friends try it out and it worked extremely well. Vivid has retained many of these ideas.
However the big problem was theme and story. Levels could be anything and for all you knew you’d end up in a clock tower after leaving a canyon. And the story didn’t have room to grow or develop in short stages which made it less interesting. It definitely could have worked fine as it was. After all I wanted a simple story with point A to point B design. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought about the previous open level design.
Thinking heavily about how to approach story and design, I found a solution. A mix of both. Levels would be made of rooms, which could be straight forward or open or lead to other rooms. This is the mentality the game now uses to shape its levels. Allows for flexibility in design and room for story segments if needed without disturbing the flow of the game.
I’d end up redoing enemies and Vivid in a completely fresh coat of paint several times due to all these changes. That’s something that happens to most people; you have something for a while and feel the need to change it or refurbish.
Besides all the art changes and design alterations the physics didn’t change too much. Only compensating for Vivid’s size. More mechanics would be introduced and tested before becoming core elements of the game. Like the weapon upgrade system.
The absolute biggest and latest change to Vivid’s design was how the Color Block mechanic worked. For over two years you had two buttons that allowed Vivid to swap colors at almost any time. It allowed for a lot of freedom and you could take control of a situation at any moment. Which is why I took it away!
To get into the mechanics of Vivid is something for another Blog. So next time, I’ll begin talking about the design philosophy of Vivid as a whole. It took years to fully realize it and I’m excited to write about it in detail!
(At least 4 iterations of Vivid thus far)
It’s so interesting to see the evolution this game has gone under. In truth I feel a lot of the ideas and even prototypes of Vivid could work as separate games just fine had I continued in that direction. But I wanted to make the game as clean and polished as possible. Some of the original ideas were also very…miss.
The original art direction was so terrible. In truth I wanted to do a marker style to support the color theme and for the colorless areas there would be a minimalist theme. As you explored, the color and art would return. The problem with mixing styles is that they clash. That and sometimes I honestly don’t have a clue what I’m doing with art. It was around this time I was still grasping at straws to understand what my style was.(Yes, I was that moron who used the bavel feature incorrectly)
(Top- Colorless Level, Bottom- Level Restored)
My nature for creating a lot of things is sporadic I feel. I just throw whatever I can muster and see what works. Now that sounds bad and isn’t very organized but to me I’d rather have some failures and a rough time than having a clean time without mistake. There’s a more genuine feel to what you have. I suppose that’s similar to the whole idea that artists who suffer make great art, but I don’t suffer. I just have a complex relationship with it is the best explanation. Which is perhaps why I feel so happy with the current design.
So I just sat with the art for a while and see if I could make up something better in the future. In the meantime I tried thinking up more mechanics. The most interesting one during the first months was “Wolf Mode”. Vivid could transform into a wolf when she had enough color. With it came interesting advantages. Like climbing up walls, shooting energy beams, and being able to touch all the colored blocks.
(Vivid running up the wall in Wolf Mode)
I tried designing around this feature where you’d start a level with no color collected. Collecting more filled a meter that fueled the Wolf Mode. To activate it you’d need to have the meter fill up to a certain threshold which got lower and lower as you restored more of the level. The meter would slowly fill up naturally too. So the game was dependent on you exploring and collecting all the color to proceed, gaining you better abilities as you went on. A lot of these elements are still present.
However the transformation felt limiting in one way. Constantly designing levels around having to find a certain amount of color before doing this or that. So it always felt the same in a sense. It just felt repetitive to me. Plus if you ran out on Wolf Mode during a bad time, it meant waiting. I’d eventually get rid of Wolf Mode completely and add a new character named Spirit, who’ll I’ll talk about in another Blog.
I think out of all the ideas though my favorite was the colorless world being transformed back. When making Vivid I didn’t know how big it was going to be. I thought it would be a couple of levels with a bare minimum plot, point A to point B. So the idea of having the terrain change as you explored felt overly ambitious at the time. Instead it was all cosmetic and very simple. But what I loved about it the most was how it all changed based on a percentage of what you collected. Then certain powers and elements would be granted to you as you made progress. If more work was done with this, it could easily be a game of its own. However that didn’t happen to Vivid. Perhaps another time another game.
(2nd art change, along with varied weapons)
The absolutely biggest difference between Vivid now and then is the combat. Originally all she had was a simple short range magic attack. It would hit anything directly in front and was very limited. While transformed into a wolf she’d launch the spell, turning it into a projectile. It eventually became a sword to signify what it was better.
I’d end up redoing the art style which I stuck with for a couple of months. It was very, rough. I think out of all her designs this one was my least favorite that I did. It was made to help signify what color she was, and I gave her a sword animation to somewhat shake up the combat. It was still very much the same game but with a new coat of paint…though wolf mode changed. Mechanically the same but she kept her normal form while emitting energy. The wolf she originally became ended up becoming a separate character who’d eventually be playable… and also, my attempts to make a new wolf form looked ugly to say the least.
One day, a friend pointed out to me why doesn’t she have different attacks or effects based on her color. I hadn’t really considered it since I was trying to make the game relatively simple. But I began thinking about the possibilities. It was too good to turn down, and it was the stepping stone between the initial design and the Vivid we’d get later on.
I forget exactly what all the concepts for the weapons were or how I came to a decision for which one was which. But I ended up having a Sword, Bow & Arrow, and Pick-Ax. In doing this I also realized the wolf character, Spirit, if she were to be playable would need to follow suit. That was very, VERY interesting to design. Again, I’ll talk about her in a later blog because there is so much to talk about with those decisions.
So now with that in mind, the game changed a third time. Now having a better understanding of art, I tried the Yoshi’s Island style. I was relatively pleased with it and kept experimenting. Getting rid of the colorless world idea was ultimately for the best since now I didn’t have to worry about clashing styles and the player was always gazing at colorful graphics.
(3rd art change, Vivid loses color due to story reasons)
So many different details that were removed or changed as the game evolved, it’s hard to count. Originally there were checkpoints you could break like in Shovel Knight to get items. There was a weird grab mechanic that let Vivid telepathically lift and throw objects. There were “Animal Friends” you could find that gave special abilities like double jump that would be needed in certain areas. I had a colored butterfly that switch colors as the reason Vivid could do all this. I’d given up for two months. List goes on.
A lot of those ideas weren’t bad in particular but the game evolved and didn’t need some of them. The game overall for the first year had the mentality of needing to collect color or explore to progress. The reasoning for it when the third change happened didn’t make much sense since the colorless world idea went away. Not to mention, I began feeling the freedom of the levels was not very intuitive nor particularly the best use for her abilities. She wasn’t particularly fast unless you swapped characters making backtracking a hassle at times.
I reevaluated my design to be more straight forward. I decided to make shorter and more linear levels with a higher focus on the mechanics. Now the game felt more focused which allowed me to think of new ideas within the restrictions. The need for a art change happened as a result since the character would need more room to roam around. That’s how Vivid ended up becoming a short child.
(Younger Vivid design originated around 2nd art change)
Most of what’s been summed up is how Vivid got to where she is. That was all of 2015 in a nutshell. Next Blog I’ll talk about 2016 and how Vivid took on a more Super Meat Boy style of game play along with many other elements being introduced.