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Archive for August, 2012

Look, you can jump!

Alright, here’s the progress I’ve made.

The blue block is the player character. If you look closely, you can see tiny tally marks on the top left corner of it; that shows the animation frame. I made five blue blocks, each with its own number of tallies, and set it to animate automatically. The green block is the platform, and the blue block can jump on it and move around.

So I’ve learned:

  • How to animate sprites
  • How to set platforms
  • How to make a platformer player character

The reason this took so long isn’t because “game design is hard.” What I’ve done here is incredibly simple, and it seriously took me less than an hour to figure it out and implement it. It took so long because lately depression has been hitting with full force and I haven’t felt the drive to do anything except lay in bed or play some of that new Counter-Strike. But I promised updates, and I’m pretty long overdue, so there’s what I’ve got.

Also, since I want to feel like I’m presenting anything of actual value, I’m going to briefly explain the basic concept behind the game I want to make. It might not be the first game I make, since I’m pretty sure my first game is inevitably going to suck, but it’s the one I really want to make, the one I feel might actually be meaningful.

Generally speaking, any artistic project that has any sort of soul behind it starts out with some sort of creative spark; an idea that manifests itself in the artist’s imagination. With games, it’s often the idea of a game mechanic, or an art style, or a new piece of technology that needs to be advertised. For me the idea was a premise, a topic that I feel needs to be explored in a video game.

I want to make a game about suicide.

I’ve only played two games about suicide, and both of them are twisted, offensive mockeries of the subject matter. The first is Adult Swim’s Five Minutes To Kill Yourself, and the other is Karoshi Suicide Salaryman. These are lighthearted games where the objective is to kill yourself. I get the intent; it’s supposed to be a twist on the fact that your objective in most games is specifically to not die. But the way these games present themselves is just so silly and warped that they end up perpetuating the idea that suicide is a joke, and I don’t like that.

My goal is to make a somber, poignant game about struggling with suicidal thoughts; one that may help people understand the perspective of suicidal people, and give depressed people something they can relate to, something that might give them hope.

I really don’t want to explain too much of what I have in mind yet, especially since much of it will probably change by the time it’s finished. But there you have it. I want to make a game about suicide, and I want it to actually mean something.

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Okay, so I haven’t made the jumpy game yet

Turns out the platformer tutorial isn’t nearly as useful as the top-down shooter tutorial.

Oh, I’m sure it is if you have that image pack I mentioned before — the one that has all the sprites and the background, the one that comes with the paid version of Construct. But I don’t, because I’m not exactly rich right now.

I’m terribly frustrated by the tutorial. It looks otherwise very useful, but it doesn’t give any help to people who don’t have the pre-made images. It says you can “substitute your own graphics,” but it doesn’t say how many images you need, what proportions those images need to be, etc.

I would just use a few stand-ins, but it turns out that unlike the top-down shooter tutorial, this one uses animations. This means each sprite actually uses several images — one for each animation frame. I have no idea how many frames I should make for each sprite and what each frame should look like, and I’m really bothered by the fact that the tutorial doesn’t give me any hint about this. It pretty much just leaves you in the dark if you didn’t buy the paid version.

If this was their way of pressuring me to get my wallet out, that seems downright silly — would anyone with any concept of money really spend $80 to get some images for a platforming tutorial game that nobody is going to play?

So yeah, I’ve kind of slacked off. A more self-loathing me would say I’ve been lazy, but I think it’s really two things: Frustration and anxiety. I’m frustrated because I’m obviously not going to actually learn what I need to know about how to make a platformer from this tutorial, and I’m anxious because this whole animation frames thing has just reminded me of how much of a workload making a game is going to be. I suck at making any respectable artwork, and I just realized I’m going to need to make dozens of images and animate them together to make one visually appealing character in a platform game.

To be honest, I’m not sure if every two days is a good schedule for updates. Especially considering I work five days a week, something tells me some of these updates are going to be very unsatisfying for both me and you. I might change it to once a week. I’m not sure.

In any case, I think what I might do is make some extremely basic images, perhaps just rectangles, and use them as stand-ins for the platforming tutorial. If they have to have animations, maybe I’ll have the boxes wobble around creepily. How could that go wrong?


Construct Tutorial: I’m Gonna Make A Shooty Game

Hey, look! I’m actually following through on my promise! Isn’t it exciting?

Construct includes two tutorials: how to make a top-down shooter, and how to make a platform game. They’re very rigid tutorials, going so far as to tell you exactly which textures to use. The big difference is that while tutorial #1 gives you the images to use, #2 tells you to use images that come with the premium version. It says:

“If you’re using the free edition, you can substitute your own graphics, or try the alternative beginner’s guide which provides all the sprites you need.”

Now, the very first tip Richard Perrin gave in his video was, “Don’t waste money,” meaning you can find everything you need to make a game at absolutely no cost on the Internet. The premium version of Construct 2 is eighty dollars. To put this in perspective, virtually everyone on the ‘net has informed me that Spec Ops: The Line is a glorious work of art, and I haven’t bought it yet because it costs $50. There’s no way I’m going to spend more than that in order to get some pretty pictures so I can make a game nobody is going to play because there’s already a thorough step-by-step tutorial for how to make it online anyway. There may one day be a justifiable reason for me to buy the premium version of Construct 2, but this is definitely not that reason.

Anyway…

Platforming is definitely the genre I’m interested in. I have three games in my head right now, and all three of them are platformers. (In order, there’s a puzzle platformer, a stealth platformer, and an action platformer that may or may not involve RPG elements.) But making my own placeholder art sounds like a time-consuming pain for a tutorial game. I might just make basic stick figures or even just use colored boxes when I get around to it.

But I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself into one genre, and besides, each tutorial suggests that you go through both of them before you wander off to make your own games, so today I’m going to make a top-down shooter.

The final product is to look like this:

That’s… nyeh. I don’t like the aesthetic. But hey, who am I to judge, right? And besides, this isn’t about making an appealing game — this is about learning how Construct works.

So the tutorial begins by telling me to click the New Project button. I’m not kidding; that’s what it says. Let that stand as an example of just how thorough this tutorial is — it gives you every bit of detail you might need to know, and it even has a few warnings like “If a popup says X, that means you accidentally did Y, so go back and do Z to fix it!” It doesn’t just tell you what to do; it explains what you’re doing every step of the way so that you’re actually learning to use the program instead of how to follow instructions.

Whoever made this tutorial is a good teacher as well as a good game designer.

I’m not going to go through each individual step, but here’s the rundown: It first teaches you to apply a tiled background, then how to place individual sprites. Both are extremely simple, essentially just boiling down to opening the image file. After that it explains Events, which feel reminiscent to the triggers in the StarCraft map editor that I remember fiddling with over a decade ago.

Each event has one or more Conditions and one or more corresponding Actions. Once the Conditions are met, the Actions take place. Conditions can be anything from clicking, to one sprite colliding into another, to a set amount of time passing, to a new level starting, etc. Basically anything. And actions cover all sorts of ground from creating new instances of sprites to increasing your score to starting a new level to getting a game over.

Events seem like the glue holding Construct games together; they’re what cause everything to happen in-game.

Construct also comes with some Behaviors, which are basically just pre-packaged assortments of events. There’s one called 8 Directions, for example, which you can apply to a sprite to make it move in sync with the arrow keys. (For some unfathomable reason there isn’t also a WASD behavior.) There’s a Bullet behavior, which makes the sprite move in a constant straight direction. There’s a Fade behavior, which makes the sprite fade out and disappear overtime. There’s also a whole bunch more.

Anyway, that’s about what I learned through this tutorial. Here’s my finished game:

Yeah, looks about right.

Bear in mind, my game isn’t exactly the same as the one provided on the website. There are a few features added that weren’t mentioned in the tutorial, like the Game Over screen or the frames-per-second display. But conveniently, the end of the tutorial provides a link to the Construct file for the demo game, so I can look at the events to see how to do those things myself.

On the whole, I have to say I’m really impressed so far, both with the tutorial and with Construct itself. I now feel like I actually have a rudimentary grasp of how to use this program. It must be a major pain to make game-development software this user-friendly.

Next time I make crappy placeholder art and learn how to make a platformer. Hopefully. Stay tuned!


I Can Too Make Games

Okay, this has been garnering a lot of attention in the indie scene lately, but assuming you’re not a shut-in like me, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it yet, so…

Richard Perrin, indie game designer, made this video to convince more people who would love to start making games but are terrified of the alleged workload and learning curve behind it (people like me) to start trying. As well as giving tips and telling us that it isn’t as hard to start as we think it is, he lists various free game design tools that can be found on the Web. It’s an extremely useful video, and I’m glad I watched it.

However, the reason I saw it in the first place is because of a Gamasutra article written by Aleksander Adamkiewicz called “No, You Can’t Make Video Games.” It’s a strange article written by someone who seems to be very cynical about the creative process. Here’s one quote that perplexed me:

“The medium doesn’t need the noise of more 8bit platformers and sprite-based nostalgia-driven RPGs without other merit than ‘HEY GUYS, REMEMBER FINAL FANTASY!?’ Be honest Richard, you wouldn’t want to play these games, nobody would, even the creator wouldn’t.”

Have you ever read anything more snobby?

His stance seems to be that if there’s a chance you might not succeed at first, then you’re definitely not cut out for it and you shouldn’t try. He clarifies at one point that he doesn’t want to stop people from trying, but that statement is contradicted by other things he says in his article.

This guy would make the worst teacher ever.

Another quote:

“Richard, I’m really not averse towards the “hands on” approach to learning, but fucking around in Unity will not make a game, and won’t make you a game designer. The same way fucking around in Photoshop will not make art, fucking around in iMovie will not make a movie, and fucking around with Word will not make a novel.”

I think there’s a clear misunderstanding here. Adamkiewicz thinks Perrin is telling everyone how they’re going to make the next Bioshock or Mass Effect, when Perrin’s really only explaining how people can get started. It’s like criticizing an artist for telling people to start painting by saying “fucking around with a brush isn’t going to make the Mona Lisa.”

Adamkiewicz mentions at one point that he “tried” making games awhile ago using RPG maker, and that his creations were allegedly bad. I’m sorry to hear that, but you make mistakes so that you can learn from them. Something tells me this guy is upset about his own failed attempts at game-making, and so he’s taking out his frustrations on this Perrin guy, who thinks people have the potential to make games.

And once people started calling him out, he had to backpedal, hence the update he posted saying “Guys, I’m not saying don’t try, and I’m not saying this, and I’m not saying that…”
Even though he basically did.

The article itself is rather unpleasant, but it’s refreshing to see the backlash to it. Various indie game designers on Twitter have called the Gamasutra article out on its bullshit, and Perrin has written his own response post on his blog.

In particular, I really like some of the things Sophie Houlden has said on her Twitter:

that “you can’t make games” article is such bullshit. the author should feel ashamed, especially if they care about games.

who the hell is he to say people can’t make games? everyone that makes awesome games started out shit. it’s called determination, fuckbrain.

saying not everyone can make games is a massive insult to those of us who have spent YEARS developing our skills. talent is a myth.

You know what? This is the exact kind of motivation I’ve needed for awhile now. I mean, yes, becoming a good game developer is going to take a long time, but nothing worth doing can be done easily.

I’m going to start making games.

After looking over the tools Perrin suggested, I’ve downloaded Construct, Ren’Py, and sfxr. I’m going to start by making a simple platformer on Construct. I honestly do not have a thorough idea of what I’m going to make, but I’m going to delve right in, open up a tutorial or two, and start learning.

I know how bad I am about sticking with things if I don’t make a schedule for myself, so I’m gonna make a deal. Starting tomorrow I will work on game-making stuff for at least one hour each day, and I will post an update about it here every two days. If I fail to deliver on this, please yell at me on my Twitter or something.

I’m going to start making games.