Last time, we talked a bit how we rebuilt our text handling system and mentioned that this was mostly used for the menus – the biggest reason we did that when we did was that we recently also finalized our menu system. There’s a bit more to be said about that, so join us today and we’ll tell you all about it!
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.
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.
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.
We have been thinking about and working on themes and art styles for our different worlds recently. I made a mockup in Photoshop for our inverse gravity world and thought I’d record the process of beginning to implement it into an actual level. The inspiration for this theme is, vaguely, Leonardo Da Vinci machines and Treasure Planet (which in my mind is easily the coolest Disney movie thematically). This obviously needs a lot of more work, it’s only the beginning stages, but should give you and idea of the direction. Some of the art assets I made before I started recording.
Music: Final Fantasy X – That’s Besaid The Point OC Remix by Anticitizen
The kind of work we do can be very sporadic in that we wear many different hats as developers and without any strong deadlines we are free to experiment with things we may want to add further down the line. While being detrimental to progress (and, to be honest, maybe the biggest reason why we’ve spent so long on this), it does mean we are free to work on what we like. Enthusiasm is important too.
One of the things that we have been experimenting with is player customization – I personally have been torn on what to do with that, as we did not want to give the impression that your loadout somehow affected your ability to solve puzzles, and I did not want to make vanity items that could be confused with free-to-play moneysinks. In the end though, personal expression is meaningful and with the simplicity of our art customization is a pretty quick thing to do. One of the things we’ve created for customization is the ability for the player to change the avatar color with this hue wheel.
We have mentioned and shown a couple of times that our basic level art is mainly made out of small chunks corresponding to pieces of geometry – flats and corners with different sizes and decorations. With colored outlines and world-mapped patterns this makes it relatively quick to add basic art to a level, but depending on the complexity of the geometry it can still take the better part of an hour.
Since we are only two people with limited time, a while back we added functionality to automate the placement of these pieces – removing the mundane tasks of giving the level shape and readability to allow us to focus on the creative side of making each level look distinct.
The brush is one of the central pieces of input in Backworlds – we have gone over a few iterations on how it works and we will probably go over some more, but these are some of the steps we have taken to get us where we are. Continue reading
We strive to bring an element of procedural generation to a lot of the art of Backworlds – this gives us the opportunity to create large amounts of content without spending too much time, but more importantly it gives us the opportunity to animate the art from the way it is generated. As an example, this is an in-development effect regarding a smoke particle.