Changes to the Background

One thing that’s been bugging me for a while is the overpoweringly plain background, which so far has been a challenge to improve. Because Game Maker doesn’t support large images, the background must be repeated in some way and can’t consist of one specially designed image. So far I’ve created one repeating image that repeats itself across the X axis at the top of the screen, but the image cannot be repeated vertically, so for the majority of the space I’ve ended up with a solid block colour filling most of the screen.


I’ve tried taking inspiration from existing games, although a lot of the most successful backgrounds (in my opinion) are either made of large complex images specially created to fit the foreground, or they’re smaller images that can have a “proper edge” because there is no moving camera change the background view. Above is an example from Braid, which consists of a huge background which pans the extent of the room.


A Boy and his Blob has some really great foresty parallax scrolling backgrounds, and to some extent some vertical camera movement. Here the trees have been scaled to create a sense of depth throughout the background, and brighter colours have been used closer towards the foreground to reduce the emphasis of distant background features. This is something that I could really consider incorporating. A while ago I posted about some trees that I designed to be part of background imagery, but I have since removed these because I felt the design was too inconsistent with the foreground. I felt inspired to redesign these recently after watching Tekken: Blood Vengeance (of all things :S) and seeing a similar style tree in the Japanese landscapes of the film.



I realised that in order to make believable, aesthetically successful trees I would have to pad my old design out slightly, and try to represent the trees textures much better, especially leaf formations. I mocked up this new design to check how well it fit into the level design, judging by its size and shape:


Here is the finished design, with all details added:


The colours have also been dimmed slightly, because I noticed that the old design cluttered the foreground a lot more than it should have done. I only have one tree made up with this new design, but it doesn’t seem to get too repetitive when placed throughout the game. I’ve placed the design into level one for now, although I’m considering only using Cherry trees in this level and saving the Bonsai style trees for level three.


I haven’t got round to adding any “depth” to the background imagery yet, but you can see here that I’ve been playing around with difference colour combinations etc. I’ve finally got round to brightening the ambient colour overlay which activates the lights, so the level feels a lot less dark now! The new colour is “grey38” from this list of hex code colours. The colour of the sky here may or may not stay, but this is intended to be level specific, so in level two the sky will be an orangey colour.

I’ve also been working on an alternative to trees in level two to add a little more variation to the level. Instead of a thick layer of trees, I’ve been trying out a thin layer of bamboo in a similar colour scheme to the new tree designs.


These seem to look much better spaced out than bunched together, as you can see from these screenshots:




In this last image, you can see that I’ve added the same silhouette background, ambient overlay and sky colour to create a much more finished looking background, which is consistent with other levels.

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Natural Hazards…


This week I’m thinking about all the features I want to have in the game before handing it to others for feedback! I think in my original time-plan I wanted to base the product of this week on feedback from participants, but I’ve gone into some of the graphics in a lot more detail than I was expecting to and as a result have a few other things that need rounding off/actually making… So my goal for this week is to create a working prototype ready for testing either at the end of this week or the beginning of the next.

One of the major things which I have omitted until now is, to summarise, how to loose whilst playing Hanami. I’ve implemented a really basic health system so far, which can currently only go down, and instigate an immediate game-over is it reaches 0 (which it can’t, because I haven’t put enough hazards in yet!) This is one of the things that needs a lot of improvement this week- it especially needs something to build it back up.

I’ve mentioned possible “hazards” or “enemies” before, and I’ve sketched out a few ideas in some of my level designs. The main feature of all enemies/hazards is that they cannot be “defeated” because there is no combat in the game. They are a part of the environment, and will not actively attack but will stand as a hindrance to players. As the collectable items are based on flowers, I’ve also based my enemies on plants, creating a good/evil balance throughout the natural world! Each enemy is also based on a unique movement type, to keep them varied and keep the player actively working out how to evade them.


The first enemy type is one that I’ve been using as a health system test, and is based on the Sakura blossom object. The idea is that it lurks in shadows and looks similar enough to the real Sakura object to lure players towards it, only to hurt them if they make contact. I’ve called this one the deceitful blossom, which is currently a working title name but may stick! Its movement type is nothing, it’s the easiest enemy to avoid as it simply sits in once place.

This enemy type has a few influences from existing games, not so much in terms of visual qualities but in attack style! I’ve looked at items and enemies that disguise themselves and attack at the last second. I thought of Vileplume from Pokemon which disguises itself as a flower, and the mimic from Braid which hides under the soil with a flower under its back. In a way it reminded me of the Mario “know you mushrooms” design seen on bags & T-shirts etc. Many Mario mushrooms look similar, but have very different effects, good and bad if acquired…

The second enemy happens to be a mushroom, but nothing like a Mario mushroom unfortunately. Unlike the other enemy types, a name didn’t pop into my head straight away with this one, so it is currently called Hello Mushroom…for a number of irrelevant reasons… This enemy doesn’t move itself, but it sprays a vertical line of deadly fumes into the air at random times through one of its many sphincters, which will deduct health points if touched. Most of my house mates have a serious aversion to mushrooms and try hard to stop themselves from vomiting when I cook them, so I’ve made this one super gross to fit their opinion of them. I think mushrooms are really yummy personally.

To get the motion of spore-release, I’ve been playing around with the particle functions in Game Maker today. I found a great guideline to all the available functions in a downloadable PDF here, which literally misses nothing! But so far I really have only been messing, so I’ll write up about my proper particle experiments later!
This guy’s kind of inspired by the many monster mushrooms in video games, like Funguar from Final Fantasy VIII, the Fume Shroom from Plants vs Zombies, and of course the deadly mist emitting Black Fungus from Kingdom Hearts.

The final enemy is one that moves horizontally by swinging from ledges and cave roofs etc. I’ve called this the Hanging Adversary, mainly because it was the first enemy I came up with and I wanted to differentiate it from any other potential creations! The hazard here is really sharp leaf-type structures- I said I didn’t want to feature any cliched spike-pits, so this is my original equivalent. I’ve fashioned it after a venus fly-trap to some extent, simply because the venus fly-trap has those naturally evil-looking teeth which make for a great game enemy. I’m sure they’ve inspired many monster creators to make plants that bite.


I had to be careful that this guy didn’t end up looking too much like anything else from the gaming world, although influences can natural be seen to the Mario Piranha Plant, and similarly the Venus Flytrap from Braid which was probably based on the Mario enemy! My favourite of the carnivorous plant monsters from games has to be the Deku Baba from the Legend of Zelda series, which looks so spiky and evil even with the lowest of poly-counts!


I’ll hopefully get all of this into the game tomorrow, and adapt the health system accordingly!

What Makes A Platformer?

From David Perry on Game Cliches:

The platform action game is one of the oldest game genres, and there have been multitudes of variants on the theme. Naturally, there have been some tried-and-true design decisions over the years, and many of them have become clichés of the genre.

Do Re Mi Fantasy for SNES


1. Millions of items to collect
Usually, the item being collected is does nothing on its own, but can grant the player something special if enough are collected.

Megaman 2 for NES


Special power-up and pick-up items
Some items instantly grant the player the ability to do something extra, or will restore previously lost stats like health, ammo or lives.

Super Mario Bros for NES


Plenty of low-level NPC enemies to fight
Enemies are usually defeated by simply jumping on them, throwing something at them or using a special character skill.

Prince of Persia for SNES


Your character is very acrobatic
The playable character of a platformer must be able to reach hard to get areas by running, climbing and jumping about and being very flexible!

Sonic The Hedgehog for Sega Megadrive


There are many animals as main characters
Here the protagonist is a speedy hedgehog. Interesting.

Tombi for Playstation


Oddball storylines
In Tombi! the world is taken over by evil Pigs who have stolen an ancient amulet, and must be captured in magical purses to restore order. It’s undoubtedly a good game setting.

Abe's Oddysee for Playstation


Jumping
Obviously, platformers consist of an arrangement of platforms which in many cases are reached by jumping.

Limbo for XBLA


Climbing
Although in traditional side-scrolling platformers to objective is to travel from left to right, in order to reach you destination the path will often take you up and down.

Rayman for Atari Jaguar


Moving platforms
In Platformer games, some platforms scroll left and right or up and down for no apparent reason other than to add an extra challenge to the player. Miscalculating a move on a moving platform can result in an unwanted casualty!

Super Meat Boy for PC


A game world in a Platformer consist of levels, usually increasing in difficulty. Each level differs slightly, although the game mechanics are usually very similar.

Earthworm Jim for Sega Megadrive


Bosses
A “Boss” in a platformer is a tougher enemy, which usually makes an appearance at the end of a level. Losing to a Boss will halt progress until the Boss is defeated. The final Boss is usually the game’s main villain.

Kirby Superstar for SNES


Keeping Score
By collecting items, defeating enemies or simply reaching a destination in a certain time, the player gains points which will either grant the player a bonus or get saved on a list of high scores, which the player can later try to beat.

Braid for XBLA


Minimal Story
An example of a classic Platformer story is a Mario scenario where a damsel in distress is kidnapped and must be rescued by the protagonist. The game represents the journey the hero must face in order to save his love. Interestingly, this reference in Braid does not fully represent this scenario, as Braid has a reputation for its especially convoluted back-story!

So yes, we do have game clichés. Like all entertainment media, games have developed some clichés — situations and actions that are recognizable or that lead to predictable results and other predictable stereotypes.
Although clichés are useful because they allow players to operate within a familiar environment and they allow game designers to assume certain elements of a game and predict some of the responses of the players, they can also be an opportunity to throw some surprises into the mix…