Backworlds

Development Blog by Anders Ekermo and Juha Kangas

Gravity Art – First Pass

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.

Gravity Cargo

The settings for this particular world are inspired by airships and renaissance design in the frontworld and sci-fi space stations in the backworld. We have tried to make each room distinct in some way and in this case it was a fairly easy choice to simply do that by giving them a functional purpose in the airship/station.

Gravity Library

We also tried to map these areas to each other as much as possible between frontworld and backworld. In the screenshots you can see that a library is mapped to a server room and a cargo area is common between both. Similarly we also mapped objects between them, for example the foreground clouds are all satellites in the backworld. The reason for mapping them is to create another connection between the worlds which helps when drawing since it makes the differences in structures that are important to gameplay easier to identify.

Other than that we had to work a lot on the colors in general. For the background sky we had many iterations to figure out what would not be distracting while also interesting when giving attention to it. For the backworld, coloring mostly comes down to having contrast between what is solid and is only background and making sure you are not confused about which world you have drawn to at a any given area.

Gravity Observation

We will probably do a first pass on art for all our worlds before we continue to add animation, particle effects and some more detail work to all of them. We have started the first pass on one other area and will get started on yet another soon.

A few notes on Parallax Scrolling

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“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.

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State of Play

Cookies

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.

Playtesting Playtesting Playtesting Playtesting

Hardly working

semla

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.

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Happy Holidays!

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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!

A Spooky Update

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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

Greetings from Seattle!

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Apologies for being late! Juha and I had both wanted to check out PAX at some point, so this year we decided to meet up in Seattle for PAX West. Hopefully we can be a part of the exhibit at some point in the future but for now we were more than happy to go to some panels and check out the games.

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A few thoughts on physics

As I’m finishing this up, the Summer Games Done Quick event of 2016 has just started – you should watch it.

I’ve dealt with some physics simulation issues lately that I wanted to talk about – this is probably going to be less coherent than usual since it is essentially a multitude of solutions to a problem that good system design would have prevented in the first place, but it has been a big enough deal for Backworlds development that it feels worth discussing.

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Smart Things Other People Said

01_gravity_headerThe last couple of months have been pretty productive – I have worked on bringing the narrative concepts and art styles of different worlds and backworlds to a good place, in part so we could see what worked and did not but also because it helped us determine the amount of work needed to make a full art pass on the entire game. This meant both the time needed to create the art and figuring out the technology we needed to develop to make it look pretty and be quick to work with.

I had planned to build some new effects technology for this and discuss it today, but in the end I decided against it for a couple of reasons. First, while new and isolated tech is fun and frequently useful, without seeing heavy use out of it we can’t really say for sure how well it works and if it’ll even end up in the game – I’ve been a bit dishonest promoting prototypes in the past and I’d like to be better than that. Second and maybe more importantly, there are less interesting tasks that are going to improve workflows and save us time. The more time the sooner we add them, in fact. I am making an attempt to be smart about development so we don’t add time to a development cycle that’s already too long, and this was inspired by Tom Francis’ GDC talk Efficiency for Game Designers – we have recommended some free GDC talks in the past, but today I thought I’d pick out some of my favorites over the years.

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Some notes on content optimization

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There are plenty of ways in which content – specifically textures in this case – can be optimized for memory and performance. While on a small team every developer should have a good idea of what kind of impact their craft has on others and be able to account for that in their work, it is also important that preemptively optimizing content does not take up time that could be better spent working on its quality.

On Backworlds, we accept any kind of format textures and when memory or performance is a concern we optimize them in a build step – normally I would save this kind of work until late in the project but since we have already released a prototype, a demo and run playtest builds the build system has grown to be pretty big. Read on for some of the things we do to automatically optimize textures.

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