I don’t feel like my last post quite showed off exactly what I meant, at least in real terms of helping with scale. First image unrelated, just a chest I fixed. Take my secrets and make my enemies stronger.
For a game I keep saying is my ‘top active project’, I sure don’t talk about
or work on it any. I wind up taking large breaks while Hawk toils away in the salt mines, shifting all the walls. What this game visually is has changed a great deal since the start, and ended up landing at dioramas.
So to start, our tiles are weird, did you notice? They’re isometric from the top on two planes, but also cubes so they have to be drawn a very specific way to line up. It took me a little bit to get accustomed to it, but it gives the game this.. unique feel to it. It’s the same style of maptile that we used in Magical Unicorn Adventure, so my adjustment time really wasn’t unlike riding a bike. MUA being a depthless-sidescroller meant that I built those levels and tiles very differently, and they fit in a lot less for that style of game. I achieved more character and sense of place from the backgrounds in that game than from the tiles or level design. Chaos Eater on the other hand I think of as a series of little dioramas because I get to flesh out Z-axis this time as opposed to just the X and Y. Hawk has made a pretty great little editor that isn’t lacking in features for this cause either. It’s very impressive to me that he even found a way to make editing a map with these unique maptiles simple. I don’t give him the proper praise for his ideas sometimes, but he usually has his finger on the pulse of ‘what I need’ to get work done long before I even realize it. (the worst is when he asks if I’d like X or Y to be added and I say ‘no why would I nee that’ only to realize a few days or weeks later that ‘shit how do I make this look like it was my idea’)
My mind was thinking of building everything as tiles, cube-by-cube, and it worked out fine for a bit when the majority of a scenario was taking place indoors. I ran into some issues trying to make out-doors feel as lively and not like a ‘box floating in space that just ends for no reason’. I can fix this with backgrounds to an extent by adding in objects to block the way such as trees, which is where I started. Initially I began building the trees with them in mind as being tiles that would raise up on the Y-axis a bit before sprawling out on the Z and X-axes. I have tons and tons of sketches (needlessly) of this process on post-it notes and in my sketch book trying to figure out how big I could afford to make the tops of the trees, how they would look on the right side of the cube that we can see, and where cut the blend from the tree bark to the leaves. And I got it working, and it made me feel smart?
Using the tiles in unique ways to fool the player into thinking they are seeing something new when they aren’t, or that they’re seeing something 3d that’s just a tile illusion is a great feeling. It’s things like this tweet by Derek Yu that I’m talking about. I’m not sure if this is a common artist trap, some sort of OCD or practical-perfectionism thing, or if it’s mostly unique to me. Using art in an unexpected, reusable way has always been one of the big appeals to me when it comes to doing art for games. It makes me feel as though I’m giving something less than significant a chance to impress you or take you by surprise.
In this case though it was overkill, unpractical, and the effect was going to be really difficult to maintain after the fact. Even with Hawk’s fancy editor tools, I’d be up a creek if one of those top leaf maptiles was off, and rebuilding it would be a pain. So I was forced to sacrifice “feeling smart”, my drug, to “being practical”, which is actually smarter. Because as with any problem I have, Hawk’s already given me the solution years ago in ‘decorations’, which are full sized sprites that I can animate and change and do whatever with. They tile properly with the rest of the maptiles and their anchor points on the maptile can be adjusted to different faces for say, a clock or painting on the wall or a rug or chair on the ground. He’d mentioned these several times in the past, and would sometimes remind me of them passively in a “did you do that with decorations” kind of way. I’m stubborn and couldn’t at the time think of any benefit I’d have to using a decoration over just using a tile. I mean, if I’m making a rug, it’s just as easy to make it on the maptile itself, right? The answer is sort of, it depends, but it definitely doesn’t make trees easier.
This game has become slightly more relevant recently as it served as base-inspiration for our Dreamhack entry Sins of the Past. Patient 06 was planned to release on 6/6/06 but never saw the light of day.
This game was our third and final-for-a-decade attempt at a light-system game. I knew the light system from Project C made my art look better with assisting me fake depth, and I learned from Train that light made my dithered edges look pretty sweet. Unluckily though I was a terrible terrible pixel artist who just dithered the fuck out of everything, not to hell but beyond stylistically, you know? It got a little overboard with this project. I definitely didn’t do the light any favors by picking this weird, awkward tile style. I remember being really proud of it at the time, but looking back it reminds me of the Nightmare on Elm Street DOS game, except that game had the good sense to have some character and not assume that any shortcomings in the art would be fixed magically with light.
The plot of this game is silly. It’s about a daughter who is going to visit her father in the psych ward of some “crazy person” hospital, and he’s in cell 06, and he’s patient 06. Upon arriving you find his cell empty except for a cryptic note, then the game starts proper. Or something like that, we didn’t completely get around to fleshing out all of the plot (which was mostly my task). It had a bunch of different versions, but the one that was developed the furthest just feels like a rehash of Project C. Frustratingly lost in a maze of darkness solving boring door-key puzzles while attempted to avoid the real meat & potatoes of the game, the enemies.
Each enemy was based around a different sense, so when you ran down the halls you’d make noise and alert the sound monster. To combat that, you could remove your shoes, but potentially cut your foot on broken glass and alert the smell monsters. That sort of thing was core idea of the game. Ideally levels would be built cleverly around those systems (see: Sins of Our Past DX) but I’m really a terrible level designer most of the time, if always eager to try.
In the end, we didn’t meet our deadline and momentum completely died for the project. Young game developers seem to have a better time of just saying ‘fuck it let’s make another game instead’, as opposed to working on something to completion. I was rushing to finish maps with boring puzzles in hallways that were too tight to even effectively experience the enemies, mostly because I didn’t give myself enough time to slow down and listen to the game and what it was actually giving me. I’d be years until I’d learn that was even a thing.
I’ll eventually find the ‘latest version’ of this project and release it here. Our old secrets need to find their ways into the hands of our enemies.
Art dump from Sins of the Past, a 72hr game made for the DreamHack Jam 2017. Instead of deleting all of these (like I normally would), I’ll just leave them here instead.