Juha and myself have both been traveling recently so this update is a bit later than usual – like always, I spend the holidays back in the winter darkness of Sweden hacking away at the thornier parts of the Backworlds codebase. Recently this has been less about making fancy new features and more about cleaning up the codebase and making the game more portable.
We are at Halloween again, so in the spirit of the season I will resurrect another corpse of a failed design and put it on display to scare the children!
As we are working more and more on production-quality art the work we do on tools tends to get more pragmatic – it is mostly fixing bugs and any new features are carefully considered in terms of how much they will improve our workflows and/or visual quality. Not that we didn’t do that before, but as we are finalizing the visuals in spaces it gets easier to tell what could be an improvement and what would be cool, but ultimately unused.
One thing I wanted to touch on was our effects – we had some pretty good particle systems supported as I mentioned in the post about curves, but they were tied to specific game objects and required a good amount of setup to add and edit. This made them somewhat useful for environment animation, but not as useful for situational events – things that you want to use effects for. With that in mind, it felt like a good idea to revisit the system before we started to ramp up on effects and I’m going to briefly go over the process and goals here.
We got a booth at Dublin Comic Con this year as part of Pulse College Indie Game showcase, so I went over with my girlfriend to get some people to try Backworlds. We brought the same part of the game as for State of Play, which was the tutorial and the first world but this time we had some art on the levels (we will do another post about that later)! It was a great weekend as we had people playing almost constantly and they were generally positive about the game.
The past months we have been working away on production-level art and during that process have tried to figure out different aspects of our workflow and rules to help the art compliment, not get in the way, of game-play. The first area where we felt happy with the level design is the inverted gravity backworld, so we decided to start there.
“Parallax” is, quite simply, the name for the visual effects where objects seem to move differently depending on the viewpoint – in media we typically refer to parallax scrolling as a way to add depth to a flat scene by having several layers of background that we move at different speeds. It has been used in animated movies more or less since the beginning and in videogames since the early 1980s. While 3D rendering removes the need to take specific steps to create parallax effects it is still used heavily in most 2D side-scrolling games.
Parallax scrolling existed in the Backworlds engine even before we started working on the original prototype, but I’ve recently had to change the workflow a bit to make production more streamlined so I thought I’d talk a bit about how it works today.
Free cookies for players! Thanks Melody!
I went to State of Play in Dublin last week, bringing Backworlds with me to have some people give it a go. I brought one of the builds we recently sent out to some testers, which only has debug-graphics, because that’s what we had prepared. Then I showed off some prettier content to anyone that was interested. A major new feature we have in this build is that the world is persistent, meaning that any objects that have been moved around or any drawing done on a level will be saved.
As we have previously observed, the game again proved to be somewhat polarizing where about half of players did not enjoy or understand it while the other half seemed to get immersed. Which I think we are still fine with, we simply need to target ourselves towards fans of puzzle games. As mentioned in previous blog posts we have deliberately removed any twitch-based platforming to let players focus on finding solutions.
I made some good observations about issues we needed to fix like tweaking the order of levels, various design bugs that could cause the player to get stuck, and improving the visible difference between phys-boxes that block the player in both world versus one world. Another thing I found interesting was that the youngest player I had come around was really awkward using the WASD-keys to play, perhaps being part of a generation more used to touch screens than keyboards.
All-in-all it was a good experience and I feel like we are still going in the right direction with the puzzles and the open-world progression system. Unfortunately I did not have time to check out any of the other games at the expo.
Today is Shrove Tuesday! Or, if you’re from the UK or Australia, pancake day. In Sweden – though neither Juha nor myself live there at the moment – we eat semla . But I digress.
Rather than talk about a specific piece of tech today, I wanted to briefly talk about a random selection of things we have worked on during the last couple of months. Because I want to keep it real and definitely not because I don’t want to paint more pictures.
Happy holidays from me and Anders!
The second half of this year has been good for us progress wise, despite our decrease in blog posts. I feel like I can finally see us completing this game! More recently we have been gearing up to start producing the final art for the game, while we do have some design work left we feel sure enough about the overall structure to begin that process in tandem. It will likely be an iterative process just like our level design but we have some fairly clear ideas of what we want to do.
I haven’t really written anything since I decided to take a break a year ago (big thanks to Anders for keeping on going), but I have been back on the project since about summer. In 2017 I will also start working half-time at my day job and dedicate the rest to Backworlds. Hopefully this will mean good things for our progress!
We wish you a good rest of the year and an even better 2017!
Happy Halloween! In the spirit of the season, I will take this opportunity to talk about the dead. Or, to be less melodramatic (and less seasonally relevant), another one of the world designs we decided to abandon along the way. Continue reading