Ato Progress Report February 2019

HI all, Brandon here, Ato is pretty close to reaching beta, I just have to play-through the game myself several times just to get rid of any major bugs.

The music is all pretty much exported and coded in, same with the sound effects. It was…tedious to code 250+ sound effects and 50+ music tracks.

There’s a minor feature I wanted to share called “runes” where you can only equip one. Each one has a special effect, which can affect an aspect of your playstyle.

The menus are pretty much done. I still have to code in the different difficulties (The “Experienced” difficulty is targeted to be the demo difficulty).

 

I’m hoping on March I’ll be able to update you guys more regarding beta release. Stay tuned!

TLDR:

-menus done
-file system
-music coded in
-sounds coded in (though some are probably still needed)
-rune system fairly functional
-bug fixes

-Brandon

Creating a Fake Multiplayer Experience in Paper.IO 2

Hey folks, today I just wanted to write up some thoughts of mine regarding the design of paper.io 2.

Paper.io2 (paper mahrio dos) is one of those games that toxic youtubers scream their heads off and overreact to the most minute stuff ever.

Well okay not really, if you’ve never player “io” games before, they’re generally very simple in design and usually involve players versing other players online. I mean you can literally just search for them and boom a whole bunch will show up (agar.io, diep.io (my fav), slither.io).

Paperio is very simple, its really a battle royale esq. game and you spontaneously spawn into a game and you want to take over the entire map.

Your goal is to create lines outside your territory and take over the entire map. If you run into someone else’s line you take them out of the (ol’ ball) game

But my point isn’t to advertise you to play this, the point is to talk specifically about how they simulate the feeling of being in a multiplayer game with other “real” players. Of course when you play the game on your phone or pc, you’ll eventually realize that if you unplug your internet or go into airplane mode, that the opposing players are just bots doing their thing. They’re not real, they’re a lie, a fraud, it’s just bots pretending to be people.

To keep it short, the A.I. in general does not seem to have it’s own “behavior” though I could be totally wrong and that they give them parameters to change how cautious they are or how aggressive they are etc.

Whipping out the ol’ classics

in Counter Strike, you can actually go into a bot config file and each bot name has it’s own parameters for things like “skill”, “cooperation”, “bravery” etc.

The point of having a parameter like this is to make it so you can simulate the uniqueness of each human player in a game. (I don’t think Paperio does this but it certainly is one way to add to the feeling of fake multiplayer.)

Paperio does seem to store up to date player usernames into a database online (and offline they just have a giant file full of offline names to pull from). The advantage of storing the usernames is that you always are up-to-date with the latest meme names and in a way makes the game feel “relevant” as if real people are still playing it.

In this example, the player stared at this bot that was standing still, and then they taunted.

Team Fortress 2 AI does a thing where when they kill you there’s a random chance they’ll taunt. But what really sells it is that there’s a slight delay for the AI to realize they killed you. Actually just like real players if you stare at a friendly bot before the match starts they’ll taunt. (though other behaviors they could also have added might also just be stare back, run back and forth, or sometimes shoot you, duck spam)

I’ve seen some other clever attempts at this too where the “players” will actually text things like “owned” in the chat.

In some ways this sort of thing really takes me back to when I was but a wee lil’ lad playing counter strike and telling the bot teammates to “follow me”.

Really the trick to simulating real players in an offline multiplayer game is to emulate human behavior. These were just a couple of examples of how games pull it off.

What sort of offline multiplayer games have you played that try to emulate real player behaviors?

-Brandon

Thinking about the switch

I’ve played consoles for years but this one, this one is pretty great. The Nintendo Switch I think was pretty gosh darn impressive just from an execution standpoint.

I mean the switch was going to be the NX, a concept that they patended before they arrived to the switch design.

There would have been touch screen buttons, in this NX design concept

It does make me think about the niche that nintendo has had, in some ways people kind of expect nintendo to do “their thing”, which I think gives them a lot of power to attempt some very unique design concepts. Where as Xbox, Playstation and even Steam Machines have a very specific market and goal in mind. That’s not to say that Nintendo has it easy, quite the opposite in fact. Since it can be harder to arrive at a final destination if you are able to freely explore vs have strict guidelines. I’d be super curious to know what kind of iterations they had to go through to arrive at the final switch design.

I think my favorite thing about the switch though actually has to be just how detailed and efficient the hardware is. In the video below, this guy tears down his switch (oof) for youtube fame points.

But if you get past the cringe, you’ll see a really impressive use of space and unique computer parts in order to accomplish the portability and “power” necessary. They really had some goals to hit, and…I mean they hit them all pretty well:

  • Portability
  • Power (obviously not as powerful as other home consoles, but powerful enough for better graphics (though honestly most of the switch games seem to revolve around cartoony graphics vs realism)
  • Battery life (probably the most fickle one because some games drain the battery pretty fast)
  • Durability (nothing worse than dropping the switch down a flight of stairs or spilling coffee on it)
  • Audio quality
  • Controls (iffy for some if you have big hands)
  • Wifi and other networking functionality
  • “Everyone can play” motto, if you’re one of those perfect individuals in the sterile world of nintendo commercials, you’ll see people playing their switch, then some one walks in randomly and they both can play.
  • supah mario bros and call of duty

Yeah I don’t have much else to say, I’m pretty glad to have gotten it, though I feel that back when I bought it there was the problem of not having enough 1st party Nintendo games. (Though frankly Zelda breath of the wild and Mario odyssey had plenty of content to go around for me to care less)

Anyways, enjoy some random clips I captured since I got the console.

enjoy,

-Brandon

You don’t need a lot of animation frames (UNIST sprite animation study)

Hey gang, this is a post regarding my observations of the HD pixel sprite work from the game Undernight Inbirth.

For those who don’t know what UNIST is (which will eventually be UNICLR), it’s an anime fighting game.

yeah that’s it…

what?…

I don’t have much else to say…

I actually suck at fighting games and am not really into playing them (and prefer watching)…

Oh right, so anyways, I was going to share some of my observations and theory on their HD pixel sprite animation process and talk about how they animate their attack animations.

Games like BlazBlue (another animu fighting game) create 3d models of the character to then have the pixel artists draw over them to help with consistency.

Concept drawing, 3d model, special shader lighting onto 3d model, linearted by pixels, colors and details.

I don’t know if UNIST does this, but I do know that regardless of whatever process you choose, there are very few shortcuts for this kind of grueling pixel work. I know for certain that the clean-up process that is involved for these kinds of games can be super intense due to scale. Hyde, the main guy in UNIST has ~650 sprites.

(This is only based on my assumption on how I would design the process to  animate a UNIST sprite.)

  1. Rough silhouette, and animation (likely these placeholders would be given early to the coders for testing). (It’s possible the sprites could be using a 3d model as a pose reference but also feasible if they didn’t)
  2. Pass on to another artist to Clean-up the silhouette.
  3. Pass on to another artist to add base shading
  4. Pass on to another artist for “anti-aliasing”, which is done in a very peculiar way where they actually just use a solid line without cleanup at times.
  5. Pass on to detail artist to add things like creases, highlights and so on. (it’s possible step 4 and 5 are done by 1 person)
  6. Cry and Repeat.

(of course, some steps could have been combined or the concept one was also roughly shaded, then cleaned up and detailed)

how an undernight inbirth sprite might have been pixelated and producted behind the scenes development frenchbread

Rough, cleanup, shading, “anti-aliasing” details, cry and repeat (yes I literally messed around with the sprite just to make this example haha)

Of course this is all purely speculation since I don’t work at French Bread (yes the team that made this game is called that). But if you were involved in the process of creating these sprites for hours on end everyday for months, eventually you would go insane and would want to find any shortcuts to save time and sanity. One of the things I wanted to point out is how they handle the motion of the character attack animations.

One major aspect when they animate an attack is that they don’t really animate an in-between when a character is in the middle of their attack swing motion. As a result they mostly just focus on the wind-up and recovery animations. But…won’t players notice how harsh and sudden this is? well yes, but if this is an anime fighting game, surely there must be an easier way to convey motion without more grueling frame in-betweening…

The goal here is to have the key poses at the start-up and recovery to be a clear as possible.

Notice the extreme jump from the start-up keypose and the recovery keypose.

In Anime fighters, it’s all about the visual flare and effects. Most people won’t notice the motion of the characters at times because of how intense the visual effects can get.

I assume creating a sword slash visual effect would be much faster to produce than making a character sprite animation. So a big part of how they create the illusion of motion is RIGHT when the first recovery attack keyframe starts, we create a visual effect over them. Notice how the character animation has less frames to work with, but the visual effect is smoother and has more frames occuring.

Slowed down the 2nd repeat to show how they create the swipe effect layer over the sprite animation to make the attack look “smooth”

So by doing this, as long as the effect looks good and implies movement that matches the sprite, you can avoid spending time with animating more sprites of your character. It also makes the attack have a distinct tight and crisp feeling to it.

But again, my point isn’t to convince you that this is the best way to animate (though honestly if I was one of the pixel artists I’d use any shortcut possible). My point is that this is just one of many ways that games animate their character attack animations to fulfill the most basic goal…

…of well….making an attack animation!

What matters is having your art style and animations achieve the proper feeling that fits your game. (i.e. just because squash and stretch looks and feels good doesn’t mean it is appropriate to have for extremely realistic simulation games) It’s all about fitting the style and genre of your product.

I can’t believe how much work they put into this sort of thing.

That’s all folks!

If you enjoyed what you read, you can follow this blog by selecting the menu (top left) and fill out the email section.

-Brandon

Check this out: So ya wanna make games?

This will be a pretty chill post, but I would highly recommend checking out this video series on some of the inside work that goes into game development.

Probably my favorite thing about this is the talk about some alot of in-house developer terminology that you don’t really hear when it comes to game dev. (“Camera facing cards”, “IK, FK”, “Let’s crank that up”)

enjoy!

-Brandon

-Brandon

Why didn’t I like Perfect Dark (as much as goldeneye)

Hi gang, I think it’s time to do a write up that continues from an older article I wrote regarding why I love goldeneye. But now I think it’s time to talk about it’s spiritual successor for the n64, Perfect Dark.

so edgy, so mysterious

So I played through Perfect Dark on Perfect Agent at the same glorious 60fps with mouse and keyboard and it worked great. the shooting works well, the controls were fine, the music overall is good…but why do I not like it that much? Why isn’t it clicking for me? Surely if it’s made by the same developers who made the previous shooter and it pretty much uses goldeneye as it’s base, I’d at least like it just as much? Below I went ahead and really tried to break down my thoughts as to why it didn’t really “click” for me like Golden guy.

The reality is that I’m pretty biased to like goldeneye. Because it was the first one I played, I got used to a lot of it’s quirks, enemies sometimes being hilariously dumb and taking longer to shoot, “simpler” objectives, less vertical layout in levels, more close quarters level design. I really do wonder how my opinion would be if I grew up with perfect dark first, then played goldeneye? would I have liked perfect more? Well, it’s kind of a waste of time to speculate on what my alternate universe self would have thought, but hey let’s break down what I like and didn’t like from playing perfect dark.

Features

We’ll start off with an objectively obvious one, perfect dark has more features like co-op, target shooting and bot ai, it wins in this department, the end. next.

The Story

This is a tricky one for me, the cutscenes and the way in which they presented them felt kind of sudden. The overall pace of the game in terms of how levels are connected sometimes felt like too much of a jump. First we’d be in a crashed airplane area then abruptly at a sea base where every corridor looks the same (more on that), suddenly we’re in an alien ship. I feel that the designers made a bunch of levels that looked impressive visually (at the time), but then the writers had to awkwardly try and connect them somehow.

But here’s the thing, I decided to do the unthinkable, I wandered around in the game at Carrington Institute (the hub world of the game) and read lore and info about the characters, vehicles, even the whole story. Oddly enough, what I read was pretty good, like, if someone presented to me a write-up of what I saw, as a director I actually probably would have approved (mostly, though the alien stuff maybe not?).

I did the unthinkable, I actually read the in-game logs.

When I look back on when I played the game for the first time, I got weirded out by how there were aliens and spaceships and so on, I mostly just expected a futuristic goldeneye with just humans. But instead got a sudden mishmash of aliens and area 51 and so on. I felt this conglomeration of ideas made the game lose its seriousness and felt like a bizarre cartoon. (It also probably didn’t help that “Elvis” the “Maian” Alien talked like Yoda from Star Wars.)

But I think the biggest reason I felt this way was because of the execution on the cut-scenes wasn’t too great from a story/character development standpoint. The way they presented the characters felt kind of thrown in suddenly and it resulted in making them feel a bit bare. I will say though that I’m definitely not jealous of whoever had to do the cinematography for those moments because you have so little time to work with in order to try and explain the story.

I don’t have much else to say. It’s a bit unfortunate (for me), because there’s some interesting character lore in the carrington institute computers

(and clearly I’m not the kind of person that was able to appreciate the story execution (unlike the reviewers who gave the game 95% scores)).

(of course goldeneye’s story is not too great either if you don’t know the movie it’s based on, call of duty)

Gameplay

I like goldeneye better, haha.

But let’s be real, it controls pretty much the same, they even added some secondary fire for some weapons which sometimes can be pretty cool (though honestly several have pointless primary/secondary options that hardly have any use and you just end up only using one or the other).

Other than my subjective taste with liking the slower and dumber enemies from goldeneye, or how they had simpler gadgets (or that there’s no aliens). I think really what this all boils down to for me is the level design.

Level Design

There weren’t many levels that really sung to me when I had recently played through perfect dark. A big problem I had was how they’d overly emphasize how vertical the game was. The first level has you fiddling with elevators that move and stop at multiple floors. Some levels like Pelagic II are just…terrible, because of how the corridors look the same and their excuse to try and make it easy to navigate is by changing just the color, yikes.

My problem with this level is that it’s basically a giant maze with the majority of the level being made up of these corridor assets…

Their excuse to try and make this navigable is by changing only the color.

Can you imagine being colorblind and playing this level? Yikes…

I don’t think this really is entirely my own bias anymore with me liking goldeneye’s level design better than perfect dark:

  • Most of the levels in goldeneye avoid having too many elevators to use mid level (In fact there are none! as they’re only at the beginning and end of levels), as a result there is far less waiting time with having to traverse around waiting for an elevator to get you someplace.
  • Goldeneye likely had to work with size limitations so the levels are mostly smaller and focus on close quarters design (which I actually think was to its benefit because there’s more deliberate placement to rooms)
  • The visual design of most levels generally avoids being distracting so you can just notice important things like doors, switches, computers etc.
  • In my opinion, big opens maps from both games are the least enjoyable levels. (unless we’re talking surface 1, with that glorious stealth sniping (though really I do remember getting lost when I played that one as a kid)
  • Generally most of the levels in goldeneye are simply more intuitive to navigate, the layouts have easier to remember shapes that make it easier to landmark where you were. (Basically if you are designing a level, you don’t need to put statues, crazy pillars or props in a room to make it memorable navigation-wise, you can change it’s shape to have a L,T,X,+,O,etc. shape and people can recognize that spatially)

If I HAD to pick missions that I did like from Perfect dark, they’d probably be Villa, Science Lab (mission 2) and uh…hmm….

Mission Objectives

If you read my previous article, you’d know that I didn’t really enjoy the objectives aspect from goldeneye, and the same goes for perfect dark.

I’d probably say Perfect Dark at least handles the intuitiveness a bit better because it at least explains how to do the objective…

At least they provided us with this.

Plus Goldeneye is guilty for the terrible gameplay extending egypt level, where you just had to keep trying to guess the correct path until you memorized it. I’m not kidding, there are no visual queues, no audio queues, nothing, if you guessed a tile wrong, you had to keep redoing it.

Yeah I’m not really a fan of the objectives from either game.

(Also you have to keep in mind that I have an IQ of -400 and am only capable of doing things like hold ‘e’ to plant a bomb, kill certain enemy, find some pickups or destroy computers.)

Enemy AI

I prefer Goldeneye’s slower and dumber AI. At times perfect dark’s enemies would shoot too fast for you to take cover.

(But at least they don’t instantly shoot at you and you pray to the RNG gods like in call of duty 4 veteran difficulty *shudders*)

Final Verdict

Frankly…I’m biased as all hell, I just like goldeneye for the simplicity and (to me) better level design. The fact of the matter is that the game features much more intuitive level layouts and I felt that was the biggest deciding factor for me. You just can’t beat the wonderfully designed layouts of levels like Facility, Bunker 1 & 2, Depot, Caverns, etc.. (though frigate starts to veer close to that Perfect Dark esq. layout with too many doors and too many floors to choose from (I still like Frigate don’t get me wrong)).

They’re both great games, but the golden boy takes it home for me.

(unless you ask me to play with you to do some co-op or go against some bots then oof, yeah see ya golden guy.)

Thanks for reading,

-Brandon

Nameless 1st Anniversary quick post

I’m kind of ashamed to even talk about Nameless. I don’t want to delve too much into my thoughts on it because honestly there’s not really much to say that’s positive. Please understand that I rushed development because it wasn’t worth investing more time into it because people were not interested at all in it. I know it’s disappointing to anyone who was eager to play an incredible game, as was I. But I just lost all morale when it became clear that people were not interested when I tried to crowdfund it in the past (it didn’t reach it’s goal).

I will still try and put it on sale when appropriate and just hope that people understand that it is inherently risky for them to play a game like it as I don’t think many will really enjoy it. You might think that I should just “fix” the game and all of the problems will go away. But to “fix” the game would basically involve throwing out 2 years of work and redoing everything.

I feel that in today’s day and age of highly polished, high expectation software development, a lot of those highly awarded games start to become a bit “artificial” and “factory made”. I say this in how you can compare a real painting to a digital painting. One is very real and tangible and has mistakes, while the other is robotic and cleaned up. I say this because, Nameless is like a real painting, it was not made to be perfect and is a very “human” game.

I just want to say I’m sorry to the people that were eager to play this game, hoping that it would have been the next best crowdfunded game but were disappointed by the final result. I feel that development was extremely mentally draining and morale was pretty low (albeit similar though a bit worse than Frog Hop’s development).

I feel that Nameless truly suffered from comparing itself too much and didn’t really have a clear identity (which is funny because the main character kind of represents this). It simply tried too hard to be like Earthbound, Undertale, Hotline Miami, but in actuality achieved a result that did not represent any of those. In some ways, Nameless resulted in a reflection of myself (More so by the feelings that are felt in the game were what I was experiencing). I wish I didn’t try to outshine those games. Undertale was obsessed with itself to the point where it knew it had a huge following coming and would hide secrets knowing people would find them. In Nameless I worked hard to try and implement easter eggs and all sorts of endings to try and match it. But frankly it ended up being pointless because there wasn’t really anyone there to play it and explore it all. But, uh…I’m not gonna talk much more about that.

A sequel would be incredibly unlikely, so unlikely that it will never happen ever. But because it’s fun to come up with game ideas, if it ever did make a sequel, I probably would make it:

  • Drastically more focused on being consistently light hearted and funny, no more edgy, weird sensitive topics.
  • Removal of moral decisions (because frankly killing and sparing was not interesting at all, period).
  • Just make a shooter with deeper mechanics and abilities, maybe upgrades.
  • Remove gimmicks like the mini-games, money system and store.
  • No more 4th wall breaking gimmick nonsense, that stuff gets old fast and wasn’t at all interesting.
  • Would probably be shorter, arcadier, bite sized fun game without all the pointless dialogue (but would keep the funny dialogue).
  • Much less story focused, but still have some kind of simplified narrative.

Thank you for reading through this, I know it was a bit heavy and depressing. I sometimes feel anxious with my current game Ato , but at the same time I feel I’ve learned a lot from the past to make my current project Ato at least a little bit better than last time.

I know I’m not one of those people in the web articles where I’m a legendary 5 year old game developer who makes his 1st game that looks like ori and the blind forest that sells millions of copies and gets all sorts of awards. Nameless is not perfect, please understand that it is very much like a real painting, presented as it is in its flawed and real state by a human being who is still learning to get better at creating games…

…Just know that Ato would never have existed if Nameless never got fully completed.

I am not going to promise anything with Ato, I can’t even guarantee anything until it’s done. Just know that when it reaches beta, I will need all the help I can get.

Thanks for reading,

-Brandon