From the outset, our aim for Legend of Hand was to create a graphical adventure where exploring and puzzles went hand in hand with martial arts RPG-style battling. This was probably a rather odd and ambitious choice for only our second game but I blindly pressed ahead with it without hesitation. Initially the idea was simply that the game be a graphic adventure spread across four levels where a boss would be waiting at the end whom you would have to beat in a turn-based RPG battle. This was more of a novelty factor than anything else - it wasn’t a great fit. After completing the 1st portion of the game we realised that for the game to work, the two systems would need to fit together in a much more natural way that would immerse players of either genre.
We are currently looking at revamping the fight system of the game completely. Although we have always had it that you would need to defeat certain characters in combat as part of the narrative progressing process, we are now looking at bringing in optional and randomly generated fights. This will add far greater depth to the system, with regards to powering up the main players stats and abilities. The idea is that spending time accepting sparring challenges and fights will allow the player to potentially get a better mastery of moves or grow stronger and maybe even learn entirely new moves, But in doing so, you are delaying the main quest and potentially landing yourself in worse puzzle situations should you lose. So battles must be carefully chosen. We are also going to have other ways to improve the player through purchasing items at shop stalls. The key is to keep all this within the framework of the point and click adventure side of the game - giving the player multiple ways to improve while not allowing them to get too strong for a particular part of the game.
In the final game we plan to have several different fighting styles which can be developed or neglected during the games various adventures.
Although fights are conducted in a turn-based combat manner that is separate to the exploration gameplay, I always wanted scenes in the game where you learn moves and fight opponents could slip into the framework of the main game and function more like puzzles. Island 3 is where we have put these ideas to the test.
The battling element will be the last thing we implement into the game in terms of coding, as we want all the other framework in place first. We want to make it as fun and engaging as we possibly can with the limitations we have!
Thanks for reading,
Making long, story driven games is tough. It’s time consuming and you can go for years without anything finished to show for your efforts. I think that is the main reason I recently started getting back into painting - just for fun and also to create that sense of accomplishment one gets from actually finishing a task and having something to show for it. It’s also a great break from the computer! A friend suggested I film myself painting and then speed the recording up, to show my processes and see where I went wrong or could improve. I find it a bit weird, it's like someone’s watching you once you press the red button!
I like using mostly watercolour as it’s quite an unforgiving medium and also because they are easy to get out and put away (I can't be waiting around waiting for paint to dry!). On the computer you can always correct things, but every stroke counts in watercolour and you can’t cover up mistakes - you've just got to go with it! Recently I’ve imposed time limitations on pictures to force me to not hesitate when applying colours.
I’ve posted some of them up on YouTube. Take a look if you are interested. I will pretty much paint whatever I feel like at the time, be it films, games, people or something that grabs my attention that’s going on in the world...
I’ve not done an update for a while, so if you have a spare few minutes, grab a cup of tea and have a little read about the progress that ‘Legend of Hand’ has made since the start of the year.
Firstly - We were greenlit on Steam! It was a rocky ride and I’ll blog more specifically about my thoughts about how that process went in a future post. In preparation for our campaign, we got out a demo for the game which included the majority of the 1st island. It’s been good to finally see people reacting to the game (via YouTube playthroughs and general feedback). The graphical design choice seems to have been one of the demo’s main talking points and with this in mind, I’ve made graphics the main focus of this particular entry.
Hand uses AGS’s favoured 640 x 400 resolution with black outlines on top of mostly flat colours. Using this graphical style was one of the earliest decisions I made for the game. Well, in truth the game started out as a quick test for a scrolling background (and here we are over two years later…). The block colours with black outlines are certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste but I feel there is a certain charm to them once animated that will land LOH a small place in the hearts of those who delve fully into the world. Most importantly, it was a style that I knew would be just about sustainable for the ambitious scale of this project, considering the tiny team we have. My thinking was that by keeping the colouring as simplistic as possible, I would be able to churn out a huge amount of animations. Whether that gamble will pay off will only reveal itself in the final product I guess. Will people be turned away by the quirk of this style or will they warm to it and what it offers?
As time has gone on, amendments to the style have been made and changes integrated. I definitely made quite a few errors in the beginning. I initially scanned in artwork and scaled it down and then spent ages cleaning it up. All of that is now pretty much streamlined - we are now at a place where we quickly draw direct onto the computer or ink out drawings on paper and scan in at the useable size. Having these two interchangeable methods has kept me fresh and stopped boredom getting the better of me. It’s also allowed my eyes to handle the task better as my eyes suffer greatly from staring too long at a computer. Thinking back, I can see that I really should have taken a bit more time to flesh out this design process right at the beginning - but you live and learn.
Once my initial excitement had passed (after about 30 seconds) of seeing a character move around in the landscape for the first time (before this project, I’d only worked with photos for ‘Mudlarks’) it started to become clear that the flat colour palette made the game seem very still and soulless. Just having the odd bit of movement here and there such as characters blinking was not enough. So after the first part of the game was constructed I gave characters huge makeovers in terms of idle animations. Still motionless sprites have now been replaced by the moping of brows, yawns, head scratches and even nosey turns as you walk past them, which I feel has certainly brought things up a notch. The playable character has many different idle animations and I really want the player to enjoy the world and take moments just to sip away at a cup of tea while watching characters go about their business. This is where the art style is showing its benefits- these changes and additions can be made fairly quickly and the only real limit is where we want to draw the line with it, as we have so many characters and animals. That and of course, the limitation on sprites that AGS allows- it’s huge, but we actually might begin to reach the upper thresholds (30,000) the way we are going and we don’t want the game to start to chug.
Various characters will watch you with interest as you walk past, while stall owners will try to wave and yell out to tempt you over to purchase goods
At the time of writing we are working on the games 3rd island. This beachy tropical island is where the amount of fights on offer really jumps up and the RPG elements and levelling up start to come into their own. Animating sets of fight moves for characters is one of the most time consuming aspects of the project and I’ve had to try to streamline this process as much as possible. After months of Shaun’s constant nagging, I’ve finally started using Aseprite and I kick myself for waiting so long (yes Shaun, I should have listened…) before using this little gem to generate, test and flesh out animations for characters. It means I can refine animations and send them directly to Shaun for quick implementation whereas before I was giving him large sprite sheets created using paint software, not knowing how the actual animations would even look! All of the graphics of island one were done in this way and the difference in quality between these early animations and newer ones is clear. We will probably have to revisit the games early animations at some point.
I hope I can keep churning out numerous little animations for this project without running out of steam. Even with this method it’s been a real grind and my mind constantly wonders to new ideas and the desire to work on anything but this. But then I look at some of the great indie games out there and effort that’s gone into them- and realise I need to get my head down and keep going. Luckily Shaun is always on hand to crack the whip!
Growing up around the arcade fighters of old, the art styles and characters of those games were like my bibles. In recent years the artwork of CAPCOM (who created many of these games including Street Fighter) has been collected and published in lavish art books by the company UDON (who started out as a bunch of fans themselves.) Among these books, my favourites are always the fan art tributes to specific games- where fans and artists from across the world attempt to get their work seen alongside that of the original artists and Udon’s own dedicated art teams. So, when the latest Capcom fighting tribute art competition came around I decided to give it a go. I didn’t think about it too much, I just dived in with a vague idea of the image I wanted.
Here is the rough of the final image before I added any colour (the final image is on my deviant art page)
It was done on A4 which meant I struggled somewhat with the details on the small characters but I like how that forced me to keep it simple and get a good sense of the composition. The flightless dragon ‘Hauzer’ was always going to be the focal point and I just added random characters that I had fond memories of from the Capcom universe. I can’t believe it got into the final book and it will be an honour to be up alongside some of the great artists and who have fuelled this universe over the years- I can’t wait to see all the varied art styles from around the world when the book is released.
As the deadline was fast approaching when I actually knuckled down to do this, I concentrated on the lines and finished it off with block colours- leading to an end product that is quite different from anything I’ve done before. I have a suspicion that the imminent release of Jurassic World may have helped sneak my image in, but who knows.
I think it would be great if a tribute fan art book were created for all the adventure games made over the years.
- Capcom Fighting Tribute will premiere with a limited-run convention edition hardcover at San Diego Comic-Con, July 9-12! ttp://www.udonentertainment.com/blog/news/round-1-of-udons-san-diego-comic-con-exclusives
- The standard edition of Capcom Fighting Tribute will be released September 2015. Links to pre-order the book at a variety of online retailers can be found here: http://www.udonentertainment.com/blog/product/capcom-fighting-tribute
Agreeing to help Shaun make Mudlarks was certainly an eye opener for me. I perhaps foolishly said I could find a way to knock out graphics quickly and effectively to bring his vision of a mysteriously subdued and quaint London jaunt to life. Prior to Mudlarks, Shaun had created a one room game for an art show using AGS, so essentially this was our first game.
If memory serves, the original aim was to bring a short ten screen game to life. A month later I was facing 30 screens and 60 characters as Shaun’s story had blossomed. The instant challenge was how to create so many sprites in as short a time possible. There were only a handful of hours I could devote to the project each week and so some early decisions were taken to use photos as the basis for the games look.
Shaun would take most of the settings pictures while out and around London. Where no picture was possible, backgrounds were constructed from components. Most of the character sprites involved us taking pictures of friends in hilarious poses- few had any clue what on earth was going on. Again, when no one was available characters were constructed in makeshift poses, creating hilarious monstrosities and some very questionable limb proportions!
I’ve enjoyed the fuss that the graphics have caused. This cheap digitised look hit heights with Mortal Kombat and then became known as no go area for graphics. It’s not a style I’ve seen used much in modern gaming at any level. No other technique would have got Mudlarks done in that time frame. I grew up around Mortal Kombat arcade cabinets and magazine articles explaining the techniques- I’d always remembered the development team emphasising the time saving factor of graphical digitisation and the concept stuck with me- wow this worldwide hit was created by a handful of people! Does that mean anyone can make a game? Enjoy the silly graphics or hate them, they are definitely part of the satisfyingly unsettling Mudlarks experience. I also feel that somehow the quirky look and feel of game (though audio as much as anything) was able to capture the mood of London’s rare quiet hubs in quite a unique way- which I have not seen before. My Grandmother stuck with it and that’s a triumph!
To say Mudlarks encountered a few graphical hiccups is an understatement. Let’s take resolution- the first sprites I cut out were large full size images- big mistake, shrink them down to 200 pixels and it’s game over! It took me a while to get used to working in with images under 300 pixels tall. The early sprites of Winnie and Vincent had facial characteristic changes, such as bigger eyes and contrast variants. But as the game grew and grew, we began to lose focus with this look as we bunged more and more stuff in. We were saving to the wrong format (leading to further clean up), I was using a dodgy monitor and creating sprites ranging from amusing to truly awful. None of that seemed to matter though, a world was created and it was all great fun. The main sprite of Winnie was a test animation that made it all the way into the final game- absolutely shocking!
What I’ve really been impressed by is during this whole experience and it’s something I would never have predicted- is the communities passion and support to these sorts of games. I’ve grown to despise social networks, I think it’s dumbed down our society, yet I put my hands up and say Twitter allowed us to get a game out and for people to play it. The follow up release of the short 'A Date in the Park' no doubt cemented this digitised style as one of choice for our team- Cloak and Dagger games, the company who bring out disturbing photo manipulated graphics. Hopefully some of our future games will shake off this image- but don’t worry, we might address this style again someday.
I guess the point of this post is to emphasise the importance of getting something out there and not be afraid of its shortcomings. Sure, we could have tried to labour for hours and make the game look as pretty as possible- but would we have ever completed it? Would we still be designing the Thames shoreline? Who knows… It was our stepping stone into the bold world of game making and it was done from start to finish within a year. The feedback has given us confidence and desire to make new even more ambitious projects. So if you are reading this, whilst labouring over your own project, keep going until you get it done and get it out there for the world to judge.
Well, what a busy few weeks it’s been. We’ve moved on from the Game jams and are now back concentrating on 'The Legend of Hand’ project. Due to this games faint colour palette, we’ve come to the realisation that the text was too hard to read as things stood- the result is that Shaun is now doing a complete overhaul of the text system which is a mammoth job so far into the project . But I haven’t got off scott free- the new method will involve portraits for every character and there are quite a few. So, it’s just as well I’ve been doodling lots of faces at present to get me in the mood! More sleepless nights ahead.
“What is it?” I mused, blowing the dust off the mysterious slender slab with some sort of rainbow effect, nestling in my hands. “A computer”, my dad answered “someone at work was chucking it out, it’s yours.” I’d always had a unique fascination with game systems and computers born out of a sense of longing for that which I did not have and now here it was- my very own computer! I’d spent hours looking through the glass windows to arcade casinos to get a glimpse of the giant colour sprites battling it out, which I try to visualise and draw as soon as I got home. Visiting friends’ houses and getting to play their systems had left me with a buzz for days after. The Spectrum 48k plugged into an old black and white TV. The next day a new treat arrived- a cassette case boasting a most impressive cover to a small child- a martial artist kicking an Egyptian mummy, with a robot and beast creature also involved in proceedings- heaven! “Renegade 3: THE FINAL CHAPTER!”- well this was the opening chapter for me, my very 1st game and it looked like it would be fantastic! I still remember my excitement upon loading this game- the sound that played as lines frantically flickered across the TV before giving way to the games title image.
I wasn't to know then that the game was actually rather flawed. It’s two predecessors ‘Renegade’ and 'Target Renegade’ (acquired later) were actually far better and became the backbone to my childhood love affair with the scrolling beat-em up. Renegade 3 was my first game, and it will always have a special place in my heart!
The Spectrum 48k supported me loyally for a couple of years. But the world outside was changing.
Through visiting the house of the friend who I use to create the card games and booklets with, I had become aware of a fascinating home computer and spent several years trying to convince my Dad (money was no doubt very tight and value had to be proved) that I needed one. The friend helped me, by creating a booklet selling the benefits of owning an AMIGA, which no doubt bemused the adult it pandered to- ha, such endeavour! Still I guess it worked- eventually I got one.
Scorned by 1200 owners, I didn’t care- the Amiga 600 (with 2MB I might add!) was my own, my precious. For the first time the playing field had narrowed. There was such a wealth of varied games on this machine, collections became vast. The magazines of those days are also remembered fondly. On occasion they served up real gems on their cover disks- demos of games I would not normally play and also public domain games. ‘The One Amiga’ and ‘CU Amiga’ were my favourites (I must apologise to Amiga magazine enthusiast James Tate here who might strongly disagree with my choices- sorry old friend but ‘Amiga Power’s’ rating system was too brutal for me!)
One day a demo disk came out that blew my mind. It didn’t matter that each screen took five minutes to load and that I dies within 20 seconds of playing, Beneath a Steel Sky was a passage into another world (yes, I loved that game too!), it was the best art work I’d ever seen in a game and ignited my interest in the click and point genre.
What also made this machine so wonderful was a piece of software I’d initially completely disregarded in favour of playing games. I was not to know that the grinning goon juggling balls on the cover of the Deluxe paint 3 manual was attempting to entice me into the most wonderful piece of art kit. My love of film and animation grew from here. Another lesser known program, movie setter championed by Eric Swartz (which was also my first insight into the world of cartoon soft porn) would further ignite my passion as it allowed me to add sound to my animations which I’d nicked off Team 17’s Worms game.
Here it is- my first animation with sound! 1993! The duck was an asset supplied with the movie setter software and the sound effects are from Worms!
Just when I thought things could get no better, my friend and his brother introduced me to the wonderful world of game making. They were clever, streaks ahead of most people at School and were already dabbling in programming in AMOS. Now, they wanted me involved in creating a game because I had learned to draw with the mouse. I have fond memories of those times. Our first game was a football management sim with animations. You could pick your team and play other sides but every game finished in a 2-2 draw! We then half-finished a general knowledge quiz game where if you got a question wrong you would be treated to ever more grotesque horrific death animations- I think Mortal Kombat had just hit the arcades and I was influenced by the fatalities. The ‘Shoot em construction kit’ had also just been released as a magazine cover disk and this allowed us to create some tile based shoot-em ups. I enjoyed that software immensely due to it’s of use but you couldn't add power ups to your weapons which was my only gripe. So we certainly weren't tied down to any genre- we just loved making stuff (and not finishing it)
My friends then got hold of the Amiga Graphic Adventure Creator (GRAC) and suddenly everything changed, because this software was the real deal- you could create click and point adventures limited only by your own ability. Playing games fully made way for game creation for a whole month... We worked day and night, they programmed and I built all the graphics in deluxe paint. “Beneath a Blue Sky” was our masterpiece; it had laser guns, mad scientists, football hooligans, fights, prison escape puzzles and a bar (so original!) The world would worship us as child genius’ and we were going to be stars and sell millions of copies- that was until we ran out of disk space after four rooms and the game started crashing. The floppy disk was left to rot on the floor and we went outside to play football. The Amiga market soon followed our fall from grace, making way for a PC take over. At the time PC’s were not built in the same way, I felt they were way behind the Amiga’s user friendly qualities and so I moved away from dreaming of making games and started secondary School. Here I met many more Amiga users but the market was dying and mid-way through School I pretty much lost interest in computers altogether for a long time aside from playing games occasionally on consoles. Looking back, I can only wonder what would have happened if we had continued to pursue those dreams that started on GRAC. I did not think that almost twenty years later, a return to game making would come from the most unlikely of sources…
I feel that most of London is in a state of shock at the moment. Started this picture of Boris Johnson after seeing his delighted mop splashed across the Evening Standard following on from the UK election results. Make what you will of the slight alteration I have made to the tongue.
Being able to draw a bit had always been a benefit at Primary school. Doodles of Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles could be created in exchange for protection, food and coinage for the arcades. The best fighters at school were susceptible to such gifts and thus, I was able to stay on the right side of popularity. It’s amusing to remember these days - I think I had a better head for business than I do now. Me and a friend would make Top Trumps cards for classmates to battle with. If someone was willing to pay 10p we might create a card for them that could not be beat, until someone paid more for their own card. Loyalty to customers was fleeting - we adapted to who had power. We’d create little book stories and comics which teachers would continually have to confiscate only to later show to the whole class as examples of good presentation. These tiny books (we loved making books the size of a big match box for some strange reason) were continually stolen or robbed - the ultimate compliment really! I remember getting in trouble because two kids had fought in the playground and the teacher had traced the cause back to card game we had created - with great power comes great responsibility (see Spiderman.)
One guy at Primary school was actually a better natural drawer than me. Man he was good - could draw without source material, I still can’t do that! With this level of rival I had to think outside the box and create products and pictures with stories rather than drawings alone and work in multitude of styles to gain as many fans as possible. The classroom lessons themselves provided a few rare opportunities to refine skills- the ancient Greeks and Romans were ample chances to create battle scenes (I often opted out of ‘the draw a clay pot’ option. My skills and sales would level up when things like street fighter arrived on the gaming scene- now drawing was not confined to the classroom. Precious magazines and sticker albums (thanks Mum!) would be my bibles as I desperately tried to recreate something that vaguely resembled ‘Chun Li’ or ‘Ryu’. I’d change the names of course - I was well ahead of the game when it came to copyright :) In those days few people could afford the Super Nintendo (which had just pulled off a spectacular conversion of Street Fighter II) and so a culture was formed around something which was unobtainable to many - a bit like how people view houses now I guess.
Remnants of my early card sets. Worryingly, I think some of these drawings are better than my attempts now :/
Some people have asked us why we took a month working on our bigger projects to make a game within a month, thus adding yet more work to our schedule. The answer is simple - to see something conclude. Creating games can be a bit despairing at times. If the project is big it is inevitable that at points creators will tire. It felt like we were going to have nothing to show for our efforts for a large period of time and that was a demoralizing feeling. Adapting Lovecrafts “The Terrible Old Man” allowed us to suddenly pour our efforts into something completely fresh and jump right in. It was a real challenge against the clock, but that made it exciting. Also knowing that within a month, the game would be out there for people to play was a huge motivation. For me, the most exciting part of the process is seeing how people react to your game and I wanted that feeling again. As the game only had only a handful of characters and backdrops, it was also a real chance to get to grips with a more polished graphics style. Here’s a bit about how we made our decisions. I think Shaun was a bit pleasantly surprised at how committed I was to trying to make this game look decent.
With ‘The Terrible Old Man’ being such a short game I wanted it to have a high impact ending. Other than Lovecraft’s description of yellow eyes and white beard I felt the character was pretty much open to interpretation. To me it seemed that he still held some small connection to the community - we are informed that he scolds the boy who threw stones at his window but no harm comes to him. I therefore felt that the old man should not be overtly portrayed as a monster all the time and instead had the ability to transform to some degree when roused or under threat. I felt this worked quite well in the end and made his appearance all the more unsettling. He almost looks like he could be friendly but something isn’t quite right. There’s a deperate madness there - something tormenting has a grip over him and years of sea voyages have eaten away at his soul. I quickly roughed up a couple of designs but felt that only one conveyed that haunting vacant look that I was seeking. It’s always enjoyable seeing and hearing the reactions of people to the old man’s sudden close up in the game. With more time, I’d have probably done more with the hair but I’m happy with the result.
The same day that we decided to take part in the MAGS competition, these roughs were drawn up. I was watching “First Dates” at the time, which might have resulted in the rather overly happy faces for the old man himself.
There were two features I wanted to explore with this project to try and enhance the atmosphere. The first was the use of video files to convey the more dramatic moments and the other feature that I wanted to trial was the use of subtle moving portraits for when characters spoke - it’s a gripe I have with many click and points, images that don’t move seem a bit lifeless to me. This portrait use I think adds to the mood of the game and makes the whole experience a bit more unsettling. It’s a feature I’d like to use again and build on.
Shaun confined me to the 640 x 400 resolution which I find very tricky to work in (he wanted to go smaller!) There was no time to waste, so I quickly worked up sketches that would form the basis of the moving portraits. Goodness me, the eyes on the bottom middle character look a bit misaligned don’t they - they stayed that way. I’ll put it down as homage to Francis Bacon’s work :)
Most challenging for me were the backdrops. I seemed to spend ages trying to get these to look decent. The perspective is a bit off but I felt it helped with the claustrophobic feel that we wanted and so just went with it. Backgrounds are something I’ll need to work on getting better at!
Well, that’s it for now from me. Perhaps one day I’ll go into a bit more detail as to how we made the portraits move as I know one or two people have been asking.