About games and gaming thereof!

Game Making

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.


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!