Saturday, July 10, 2010

Migrating to My New Website

I've finally decided to take the plunge: I now have my own website.

Behold! http://jplc.ca/

The main pages are pretty bare bones at the moment (just some text and a picture), so you can basically ignore that for now. What you shouldn't ignore, though, is the blog page I have on the site.

Behold again! http://jplc.ca/blog/

As you can probably guess, having the blog on my own site now means that these freely hosted versions are somewhat useless. I won't be posting in the Blogger, LiveJournal, or Wordpress locations anymore; all future posts will be on the blog on my site (which is powered by Wordpress). I'll still leave the previous versions of the blog open, though, so people who stumble upon them can learn of the new location.

So yeah. Come on over to the new site for my posts from now on. Let us hope that having my own site will kinda give me a lil kick in the ass in terms of posting again.

See you there!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My Second Game: Dodge & Shoot

Low quality resized screenshot of the game. Read the post to find out where to play it! There's also a video embedded below!

When I posted previously about my first game, Capture the Frog, I mentioned that one of my school assignments was to make another game, and as such, I'd be revealing it around April-ish as that's when my school year ended. Well it's May now, so I'm a bit late with this, but here is my second game: Dodge & Shoot. It can be played here on Kongregate or here on Newgrounds.

Dodge & Shoot is a simple side-scrolling 2D space shooter in which you control a ship that dodges and shoots enemies until the time runs out. The assignment itself that this was made for had us students choose between making a 2D space shooter, an escape the room game, or a flip and match card game. Alongside making Dodge & Shoot, I actually also made a simple flip and match game. While the game itself is functional, it still only uses placeholder assets, and as such, I'm not going to post it yet. Maybe one of these days I'll polish it up and put it online.

Now, I realize Dodge & Shoot is pretty crappy. The visual assets are pretty bad, there's no music (unless you can consider the game over or game winning "chimes" to be music), there's only one level, and you can only fire once before you have to wait for a meter to fill up so you can fire again. Most of those things can be chalked up to trying to get this done alongside my other school work, but the firing once mechanic is my bad. In early versions of the game, you could fire as much as you wanted, but I found that it made things way too easy. Rather than trying to balance things by making it so that enemies need more than one hit to go down, I decided to limit the amount the player could shoot. This also went hand in hand with the fact that I learned how to make a little charge meter, and I shoehorned it into the game (I knew how to make loading bars in the past for preloaders, though, so this was really a repurposing of old knowledge). While I think this results in an interesting case of the game being more about dodging than shooting, I realize it is not necessarily that much fun. I've learned the error of my ways. If I end up doing another shooter, I'll remember not to force arbitrary limits on the player unless it seems truly necessary.

Two games are now under my belt. Both are nothing special, but they are steps toward the future. I've learned new things by working on both, and I will apply that knowledge to future endeavours. Wish me luck.

Here's a gameplay video if you wanna look before you touch:

(Direct YouTube link)

(Sidenote: I also made a gameplay video for Capture the Frog. You can find it here or also embedded in the blog post about Capture the Frog.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

TOJam 5: My First TOJam (or why I bailed after Day 2 of 3)

Well, folks, my first year of George Brown College's Game Development program is officially ended. The program head, a certain Jean-Paul "JP" Amore, was not satisfied with just a school year of Game Dev, though. He demanded more, and thus got George Brown to host TOJam 5 at the school. Eager young student lad I am, I signed up for the event and awaited its arrival (which would also be on the final day of classes, oddly enough).

Before I continue, though, let me explain TOJam for those not necessarily in the know. TOJam (TO being the acronym for Toronto, Ontario, and Jam being delicious) is a 3 day video game making event for game developers (whether professional, hobbyist, or student) that happen to be in the city. People can either be in teams or be lone wolves, but the goal is the same: in 3 days, make a game. It's not a competition, but a challenge (although there are awards for certain categories). And when I say 3 days of making games, I mean 3 days; you are allowed to sleep at the event or even work the whole time through if you are so inclined. The first TOJam was held in May of 2006, so this year was/is the 5th anniversary (hence TOJam 5).

So, to get back to my tale. I signed up, and decided to be all lone wolf. Due to the time constraints of the Jam, it is highly recommended to design your game and develop simple code (like for title menus and such) beforehand. I still had assignments pushed to the last minute to deal with, though, so I didn't have much in the way of planning. What I did have was a quirky joke-idea: the theme of this year's Jam was "Missing", so I thought to make a game that would constantly make reference to certain files not being found as a joke (for example, in conversation, maybe the dialogue box would say something like "cannot find gamedata.wittyRemark"). Being as I was inspired by the "stump joke" of The Secret of Monkey Island (which I have yet to play, but know I should) and the various shenanigans of MS Paint Adventures's Problem Sleuth saga, I decided this would be best done in an adventure game style. To borrow again from Problem Sleuth, I thought it should also be about a private eye. I hadn't done an adventure game before, but I figured what the hell, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Turns out that maybe this wasn't the best idea. Day 1 of TOJam arrived (Friday, April 23, 2010, to be exact), and I got to work (on a Flash game, by the way). It soon dawned upon me that a decent adventure game would require puzzles. Proper puzzles require planning. My lack of planning and adventure game experience did not bode well. So it wasn't long before I hit a wall. The most I had was two characters talking, and examining a desk's 4 drawers to find a pair of keys. It was basically a damn slideshow. And with placeholder graphics (i.e.: rectangles) to boot. Needless to say, I was worried.

I then had another idea: What if I expanded further on the missing data concept and had the game "load" something odd to cover up missing data or something? And what if this loaded thing was a JRPG (Japanese RPG) styled turn-based battle (again, somewhat aping Problem Sleuth)? I had never done a JRPG style battle before, but I had always wanted to, and it seemed like a day for firsts. I got crackin', and slapped out a battle against a goat boss (since a specific goat image is a requirement in TOJam games). The player had 4 options (some of them healed, some attacked, some used magic power), and the boss just attacked the player. Now, a good JRPG battle requires planning as well; balance is a major issue as you don't want the player to win by just choosing one choice repeatedly. My inexperience, though, resulted in just that, and I was unsure how to balance things. Plus, time was marching on, and Day 1 was coming to a close. So at midnight, I let things be and headed home to get some sleep.

On Day 2 (yesterday/Saturday), I got back to the Jam at around 11:00 a.m. I fiddled some more with the JRPG battle (mainly with getting the numbers showing current damage and the like to jump up like in any decent JRPG), and then decided to work on an ending of sorts. It would be that the game reloaded the initial "adventure game" to "cover up missing data", but this time at the end. The ending was dialogue (like in the beginning), and then "data corruption" or whatever would take over and the actual game itself would end. After making that happen, I gave a quick playthrough of my game and realized that it was pretty terrible. Not only that, but I still needed to make final visual assets, animations, and audio. I was stressing out of my mind since I knew that I was low on time and that this was the worst game I had ever made (Capture the Frog is godly compared to it).

Now let me bring up the fact that, bad game/planning aside, I was not really having a good time at the Jam. It felt to me just like constant pressure. Some may find that fun, and maybe it would have been if I had been in a team, but I was NOT digging it. After I hit my "omg my game sucks" phase, I loaded up web Live Messenger to talk to friends and maybe de-stress. After some conversation, I realized that if I wasn't having fun, I shouldn't be doing this. Plus, I would rather abandon my terrible game than polishing it into something that would still be terrible. So I stayed on Day 2 until 10:00 p.m., and then I headed home, never to return.

And that brings us here. If TOJam tweets and my clock are correct, there's roughly 10 minutes of Jam game making left. I am at home (and have been all morning), and I am presently typing out this post. Don't get me wrong, I love TOJam as an idea and what it represents, and I really appreciate JP's hard work in getting George Brown to host TOJam, but I wasn't having a good time personally. And if I wasn't having fun, then what was the point? Maybe I'll attend next year with an actual game-plan and with a team, but we'll have to wait and see. From where I stand now, I don't regret leaving the Jam. I hope that those who remain, though, are having a hell of a time and making awesome games. Jam on.

(By the way, if you want to witness my descent into madness at TOJam, I was tweeting sporadically at the event, and I think it paints a clear picture. Just look for my tweets from between April 23 to today. I can't seem to link directly to them, but I don't tweet much, so it shouldn't be too hard to find).

Monday, March 29, 2010

2D Digital Art II - Game Design Project: Art

This post contains concept art for the game. All of the pieces are rough; I was trying to get out ideas first and foremost.

Rough concept sketches for Zephyr "Zeph" Selkis and her camera

Rough design for Zeph

Rough possible designs for Zeph's ship, Cirrus (ignore the dark/red band; scanning issue)

Rough design for Oswald "Oz" Samuel Smythe

Quick drawing of the Coast (shown in a previous post, but larger here)


And thus ends the final post of the 2D Digital Art II - Game Design Project. I hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

2D Digital Art II - Game Design Project: Gameplay

This post is going to further discuss what exactly the player does in the game, but something must be dealt with first. My description of the story and world in the previous post was, upon later inspection, a tad long. Personally, I don't mind the length, but I realize that if this were to be presented, it would be quite a mouthful. As such, I've attempted a summarized version:

***

The year is 2232, and humanity has formed the "Inter-Planetary Union" (usually called "the Union") and begun to colonize other solar systems in the Milky Way. On the edge of humanity's expansion into the stars lies "the Coast", a solar system consisting of one planet and one moon, Tristan (the "Mainland") and Isolde (the "Island"). Between them floats a string of space stations and ships (called the "Jetsam" or the "Flotsam" depending on who you ask) belonging to squatters who can't afford to live on the colonies. The entire region is owned by Oswald "Oz" Samuel Smythe, a planetary real estate mogul who's set up shop here to avoid the law in the Union and the hefty bounty on his head. The settlers all, in one way or another, are under his employ. Not much is known about the Coast to the rest of the Union, but that's about to change. The player is Zephyr "Zeph" Selkis, a reporter and jack of all trades who has come to investigate the Coast for personal and financial reasons. Will she play it safe and stick to odd-jobs, or will she uncover what life is really like on the Coast? Maybe she will even join Oz's ranks? Or, will she risk everything and try to claim Oz's bounty? The choice is the player's to make.

***

Hopefully that was easier to swallow. Now, I shall try to discuss gameplay, which I touched upon briefly last post. I assume this will be somewhat long.

In The Coast, the player controls Zeph. Travelling between the planet, moon, and Jetsam would be done via Zeph's personal ship, Cirrus, in which players would be able to have manual control over or be able to enter a destination and automatically fly there. On foot, however, control would be similar to a 3rd person open world game. Zeph would be able to talk to the Coast's inhabitants and to explore in general. By talking to people, she can learn of the various things going on in the Coast, eventually leading her to quests. Unlike in most open world games, most quests are to be handled as if they are important and not diversions as, since Zeph's main goal is to report on the Coast, there is no set plot path. These quests, then, are to be mainly self-contained, but still interesting, similar in concept to a television show (Cowboy Bebop, once again, being the prime example for the most part).

Reporting quests would be the main way to earn money in the Coast. One quest, for example, may be a somewhat lighthearted affair in which Zeph helps to find a missing child, and this would ultimately result in a report to be sent to Union News (in this case, it would be a human-interest story). Another quest may be to probe into some shady dealings on the Coast and get concrete photographic evidence, and this would result in yet another report (a crime story, for this situation). Each report would get money for Zeph, and the amount would depend on the difficulty of the quest. Some reporting quests, though, could earn Zeph additional money from the Coast's inhabitants directly. To use the child-finding example above, if a reward was also offered by the parents for finding the child, then Zeph would also be able to accept the reward. Essentially, Zeph would be able to report on nearly every quest, and this would be the main source of income for the player. Once most quests are finished, they cannot be redone, but for those that can, they can only be reported on once. Although Union News is starved for information on the Coast, they don't want multiple stories on what it's like to be a courier there, for example; once is enough.

The player can use the money earned in quests to do various things, but some things are "mandatory". Firstly, the player is required to spend money on food for at least one meal a day or else Zeph will not control as well as she should. Players can choose to eat at restaurants and such on the Coast to fulfill the need for food, but for the sake of the player, the game won't directly force her to sit down and eat. For example, if the player chooses to go throughout a day without eating and goes to sleep (another act which is required for optimal control of Zeph), money for food can be deducted, thus making the assumption that Zeph at least ate before bed. Also, money must be spent on the upkeep of Zeph's ship, primarily in the aspect of fuel. These "mandatory" expenses are to ensure that the player goes on quests and that she can't hoard extreme amounts of wealth.

The optional things players can do with money are to buy upgrades for Zeph's reporting equipment (cameras and such), her weapons, and her ship, and to bribe people. An example of an upgrade of Zeph's reporting equipment would be increasing the zoom on her camera. In terms of weapons, although combat is not a primary focus of the game, Zeph can attract unwanted attention at times and be forced into a fight. As such, weapon upgrades can help not only in fighting off attackers, but also in discouraging would-be attackers (some people, for example, will not try to mug the player if she has a gun on her hip). In terms of Zeph's ship, upgrades could be not only for making travel faster/easier, but also for evading/attacking hostile ships if she attracts unwanted attention in space transit. And lastly, in terms of bribing people, sometimes the player will have to "grease some wheels" if she wants to get information about certain things from certain people.

The overall arc of the game, then, would be hunting down quests (aka "possible news stories") until there are no new ones to be found. The player can then choose to leave the Coast and consider her job done. However, as mentioned last post, the player can also ultimately choose to either go after Oz to get the bounty on his head, or to work for him. This can be accomplished by taking certain quest opportunities found while reporting. For some reports, players can choose to become familiar with Oz's men or those who oppose Oz to get information. The bonds created here can lead to meeting people higher in the ranks on either side. The player can report about these people as usual, but she can also use them to try to get access to Oz. To get that access, though, she may have to do additional things for them to prove her loyalties. For example, she can become an "agent" of sorts for Oz's people and relay information about opposing factions. If she does a good job and earns enough trust, Oz can eventually be met in person. If the player comes to like Oz and his work, they can choose to work for him until there are no more quests to be had. Alternatively, if she comes to dislike Oz, she can try to take him into custody and escape the Coast. This final option would be the hardest one to acheive since the Coast is in Oz's control, but once she is out of the system, Union law enforcement would be able to protect her.

I realize that, aside from turning in Oz, there does not seem to be concrete "endings" to the game. This was done deliberately to enforce the idea that the individual quests are important. Rather than feeling like small parts of a grand tale, each quest (for the most part) is to be a story that says something about the lives of the people on the Coast. As such, the number of quests that cannot be repeated is not going to be as big as the number of quests in other open world games, but the idea is to make up for lack of quantity with quality. Some quests will of course have more substance than others, but even those should be at least interesting instead of merely a way to earn money.

So that's basically my ideas for the gameplay so far. Upon reflection, I realize that the PlayStation 3 game Yakuza 3 has been influencing me as well. I only played a demo for it, but its explorable city has been in the back of my mind ever since, and its "random" battles were interesting. Also, I have always admired the Harvest Moon games (mostly from afar, but I have played some), and the whole sleeping and eating thing probably came from there (although it is also present in the PlayStation 2 game Steambot Chronicles, which was mentioned last post).

The next post in this series will contain concept artwork for the game. Until then.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2D Digital Art II - Game Design Project: The Concept

(Note: Before I begin, I should mention all this stuff is copyright by me, Joseph Cassano. Then again, all stuff on this blog is (or should be, anyway). So yeah.)

I have finally settled on a concept for the project. A concept for a game I shall call (tentatively): The Coast.

It's a science fiction title, and a hardcore, open-world, third-person RPG. In terms of the world and the overall feel, it would be similar to Cowboy Bebop. Gameplay-wise, it would be similar to Steambot Chronicles and Beyond Good & Evil in the aspects of exploration, populated worlds, and plentiful sidequests.


Quick concept work for the setting. Explained below.

The setting is the year 2232 and humanity has, in this universe, colonized quite a few solar systems in the Milky Way. No intelligent lifeforms have been found as of yet that could compete with man – the most intelligent lifeforms found have been as smart as dolphins – so humanity is the only colonizing force.

Specifically, the game is set in a solar system known colloquially as the Coast, called such because it’s the last solar system at the edge of man’s “empire” – the Inter-Planetary Union (IPU or the Union) – and thus the last stop before the uncolonized ocean of space. The Coast consists of a sun much like our own and a sole planet that is located roughly the same distance away from the sun as Earth is from its own. The planet is Tristan and its moon is Isolde – the names coming from the legend of Tristan and Isolde*. These names, along with “the Coast” further establish a nautical theme that pervades the game.

Before Tristan and Isolde can be discussed further, though, a certain man must be introduced as he greatly influenced the history of the Coast. That man is Oswald Samuel Smythe, colloquially known as “Oz”. He is a planetary real-estate mogul that took control of the Coast many years ago and set it up for colonization. In this time, colonization is a legal private enterprise within the Union, but Oz himself is a bit of a crook; his colonization of the edge of humanity’s reach was done, in part, to avoid Union law. Those who came to inhabit his planet and moon all, in one way or another, work for him. Most inhabitants can go throughout their daily lives undisturbed by Oz and his men, but those who “cause trouble” are not so easily ignored. As such, although Oz may not be dictating how everyone lives their lives, his presence is definitely felt – the relationship is somewhat akin to a mob family and the neighbourhood they “control”.

Despite Oz’s control, the Coast has attracted quite a few settlers. The poorer of these settlers tend to inhabit Isolde (although poor communities do exist on the planet) while the rich tend to be on Tristan. Oz’s “keep” – a mansion/fortress where he “rules” from – is on the planet, and as such, people have come to call the planet “the Mainland” and the moon “the Island”.

Not all settlers live on the planetary bodies themselves, though. Some live in a string of various space stations and ships brought by settlers in geostationary orbit around Tristan. Oz’s rule in the space stations is less pervasive due to their chaotic nature (many people are squatters) and the fact that he does not actually own the ships and stations, but he still considers them his property. As such, the region is known as the Jetsam (jetsam being pieces of a nautical wreck that belong to the finder). However, those who disagree with Oz’s ownership – or those who merely wish to defy him – call the region the Flotsam (flotsam being like jetsam, but instead they belong to the original owners).

The entire community of the Coast has existed for 50 years (Oz was not a young man when he established the Coast, but in this time, the rich can live much longer lives). Despite its age, technologies on the coast are generally quite primitive by the time period’s standards (for the sake of visualization, it would mainly be technology of the present time’s “near future”, similar to Cowboy Bebop). Even the ships that comprise the Jetsam are considered “old”, and Oz’s tech is usually not cutting-edge as such things would attract suspicion from the Union.

It is to this community that the protagonist, Zephyr “Zeph” Selkis enters. She’s a strong, independent young woman who travels from place to place in her solo ship, Cirrus, in search of money and something to do; a freelancer of sorts. Her only “real” job is that she occasionally writes articles for Union News outlets, but it is never consistent work. One day, she’s contacted by Union News informing her that, if she needs the work, they need articles about the Coast (the region is much-rumoured in the Union, but no one’s ever really covered it before; Oz makes sure of that). Not having any solid plans and up for a challenge, she decides to take on the job. She’s also aware of the large bounty on Oz’s head put in place by Union Police since they have never been able to successfully capture him. Zeph knows that getting to Oz would be nigh impossible, but she keeps it in the back of her mind while she reports. She also looks for various odd-jobs in the Coast that might pay better than her reporting; there’s no real deadline on the thing. As such, her main objective can be considered to report on matters in the Coast via missions, but she can also participate in many sidequests, and if bold enough, try to apprehend Oz or help in his apprehending. She may even be persuaded to work for Oz himself.


Well, that’s much longer than I initially thought it would be. Regardless, that’s the premise I’ve come up with. Future posts will probably be elaboration, concept art, and what you actually do in the game.

*In the legend, the Cornish knight Tristan is transporting the Irish princess Isolde across the sea to marry his uncle, King Mark, but along the way they ingest a love potion and fall madly in love. The nautical link seems to end there as they eventually reach shore, but I chose this legend because it has two main figures (for the planet and moon), a nautical link of some kind, and I couldn’t find a planetary body designated as Tristan or Isolde.

EDIT:

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Above I mention Cowboy Bebop, Steambot Chronicles, and Beyond Good & Evil. I realize, however, that some may be unfamiliar with these works, and the Wikipedia links may not be too helpful. Sadly, I have been unable to find decent gameplay videos of Steambot Chronicles or Beyond Good & Evil of the parts I find relevant, but I did manage to find a video that captures the style of Cowboy Bebop. It is embedded below. I have the video set to play at the beginning of the part I think is the most relevant, but feel free to watch from the beginning if you are so inclined (you may want to mute the music if it's not your style, but I happen to like it):


(Direct YouTube link)

Monday, March 15, 2010

2D Digital Art II - Game Design Project: An Introduction

I realize I haven't talked much about my current schooling on this blog, but that's going to change. No, this isn't some big "tell-all" or anything. This is about an assignment. Specifically, an assignment for my 2D Digital Art II class in my Game Development program -- of which I am in second term -- at George Brown College.

Up until now, the class has been mainly about using programs like Photoshop and Illustrator to make concept art pieces for our future portfolios. I've made some pieces I'm proud of and some I'm not (which I suppose I will post one of these days), but that's beside the point. This particular assignment is to make a basic game design outline for a game of our own creation, and to make concept work for it (the outline is the focus, though). The prof told us that, if we wished, we could post our assignment in pieces on a blog, and that's what I have chosen to do here.

The most intriguing part of all this, though, is that our design is to spawn from randomness. What I mean is that, in class, he had students choose ten words from the dictionary at random. These words are to be interpreted and incorporated into our games in some form or another (all students are using the same list).

The random words are these:
cockpit
lusty
coast
ill-mannered
punk (formerly punkster)
mogul
keep
rip (or R.I.P.)
legend
mark

I still haven't come up with something solid that uses all of these words, but I'm working on it. When I have made a final decision, another post will follow and my game design will begin in earnest.

So, in short, any posts with "2D Digital Art II - Game Design Project" in the title will be for this assignment. For those who actually read my blog, feel free to follow along in this new experience; maybe we'll both learn something. The assignment's due Tuesday, March 30, 2010, so these particular posts will end there.

To be honest, I'm excited, but I'm worried that juggling my other assignments will make this somewhat slipshod. Let us hope that that doesn't happen.

(P.S.: For anyone interested, the prof mentioned that some good (and free) beginning resources for game design are Wikipedia's Game Design page and Sloperama's Game Design FAQs. I'll most likely be using them in this venture.)