Last weekend I met up with a friend of mine named Filip Lange-Nielsen. We’ve known each other since the first days of our masters program at university, where we went on to write our thesis together. Now he is a game designer at Io Interactive, where he works on Hitman! He kindly agreed to playtest THE MISSION, and particularly the level editor. We had a great time, and I got a lot of valuable feedback.
His general impression of the editor was very positive! He liked it and how visual it was. He quickly felt attached to the level he started making. Being able to test it right away was quite important, to see how it is when actually running through the level. Filip also said that it feels smooth to edit – that’s good! I’m really glad that it was received so well, and it makes me much more confident that players will enjoy this feature!
We also found a bunch some bugs! Since then I’ve fixed those bugs, as well as uncovered others which I’ve mostly fixed now. I’ve also made UX improvements based on that playtest, both in the editor as well as in the controls configuration screen.
I have a couple of design dilemmas though, in regards to the editor. Little bit rambly, but these are the internal discussions I must have while designing!
Dilemma 1: Auto-save?
There was some confusion around saving in the level editor. Filip was initially pretty nervous about pressing ESC – he thought he would be returned to the previous screen and his level would be lost.
So I wondered if the game should auto-save the level as you make it. That would be nice for when adding tiles individually. And it would work better with the top row! The only rule when making levels is that there must be at least 4 non-solid tiles in the very top row, as those will be player spawnpoints. If you try to save when there are less than 4 possible spawnpoints, you get a message prompting you to fix that. If the game were to save each time you add a tile, you would get that information right away.
However, when filling tiles (like the paint bucket tool), how would that work? Ignore the top row when applying the fill? Isn’t that weird? Yes, it is. So that’s not an option.
Anyway, I reassured Filip that his beautiful level would not be lost if he pressed ESC. Then he saw this menu:
The menu is a little Zelda-like (“Save and continue”, “Save and quit” choices), and to be honest, a little heavy on the options. The rule of thumb that I just made up is that 4 menu options is the maximum for ease of decision. I’d like to trim those down. Also, I noticed that the player would open the menu and save, and then open the menu again in order to close the level. So there is some space to save by getting rid of the “Save and close editor” option, and improving the communication of the rest of options.
Anyway, after talking it over with myself, I’ve decided that I will not implement auto-saving, since that opens up a bit of a can of worms. It’s also nice to keep that choice in the hands of the player. If the player tries to close the level with unsaved changes, I’ll put in a prompt asking if they would like to save before closing it. Good UX is good!
Dilemma 2: Edit/play in same screen?
I implemented a test option in the editor menu. It allows the players to try out the level, minus the scoring. So it’s to get a sense of the space and evaluate its design qualities and possible improvements. I love it!
But! But! What might be even more interesting and fun is this: allowing players to edit and test at the same time! For example, player 1 edits the level while players 2 and 3 run around in it. It would be highly interesting because it further shortens the iterative loop process. It would also be more fun because the editing itself is now playful as well! Add ground tiles on your friend to make her respawn. Then she explodes your tiles to mess with the nice corner of the level you were working on!
I’ll let this keep percolating in my head for a while. Maybe it will be for a future version of THE MISSION, after 1.0 :)
And one more screenshot just for fun! Observe the magnificent spawnpoints UI at the top of this Foundry level!
I’m in an unusual-feeling place now where YES, THE MISSION is almost shippable!
But I can’t really ship it yet. I want to get in some last testing rounds for any sneaky bugs. E3 also just happened, so everybody will be wrapped up in all the news pouring out from there.
So I’m waiting a little bit… And in the mean time, I’m of course still working on the game. I started on the stuff I wanted to do for minor releases, as well as other things that came up:
- Added shading to vine tile, because it was flat and looked sad. Compare these before and after screenshots! It took me a year to get around to doing this, wow…
- Modified the title menu so it was less crowded. With the FORUMS item, it got to be too much. So I separated it into two menus, and there’s more room to breathe. I placed the FORUMS on the main menu (and not the options menu) because I hope it’ll be important enough to warrant that position.
- Reload/charge meter for gun. This is as fresh as can be – I just finished it up yesterday. But I’m not sold on putting it in the game. The reason I made it is because there are people who are annoyed at the slowness of the shooting. With this little UI, I was hoping to mitigate that feeling. However, I feel it really doesn’t fit with the aesthetic of the rest of the game. I don’t know how I could dress it up so it fits. So for now, it is not in the final game. Let me know if you feel it should be.
- Panning of sound effects based on the position of their source! Now, when you shoot something on the right side of the screen, your stereo speakers will produce the shot sound from the right speaker only. Experts say this increases immersion. I say it gives a nice feeling of space to the game. I had noticed this effect over a decade back in CHRONO TRIGGER, and loved it. I am happy to now have the same effect in my own game!
- Code cleaning. The kind of stuff that makes programmers happy, but has little effect on the game itself… most of the time.
What am I up to from here on out? I’m starting work on more music for the game. There are only two tracks right now: the title, and the surface battle. I had planned on finishing more tracks for future minor releases, but I have some time now! I had planted the seeds for each of the 3 remaining tracks about 6-12 months ago, so we will see what has germinated in my mind.
Just a screenshot, check it out! And whichever way your purist tendencies fall, you can turn the CRT effect on or off :)
So I had my playtest in week 30, and that was quite good. I unveiled the Foundry to my playtesters, and they gave me valuable feedback on it, from the visual side to the actual gameplay of the 4 candidate levels I had made for it. Above is the first of the Foundry levels!
I’ve now selected 3 levels for inclusion in the game, and have been refining them to hopefully fix the design issues in them.
I’ve also worked on the graphics so that they are better and easier to read. This also means reworking my palette of reds, because currently they are too saturated.
I added some default controls for players 1 and 2, on my friend and artist Rezan’s suggestion. When I approached him with my proposal to make some art for THE MISSION, I also sent him a demo link. And of course this revealed one of those “I’m making this game so I’m blind to it” issues – you are forced to set up controls before you can play the game. Well, no longer! Default controls are now set up the first time you run the game.
Some bugs have also been squished, such as shots being able to pass through the very top of tiles.
For next week, I’m continuing to work on these:
- Mechanical stamp animation
- Implement feedback from playtest
Wow, it’s been 2 months since I last posted! Time has flown by. But I’ve done a sizable amount of work, and I’m pretty happy with it!
Yes! I put together a quick one for my own use in early May, and then decided to refine it for inclusion in the actual release of the game! I think that everybody likes making things, so it should be fun for players to make their own levels and get to battle in them. Here’s a screenshot of the editor:
The above screenshot is also of the third and final Terrarium level (I’ve started using the level editor to design the levels, of course). The hazard of the Terrarium areas are these small flowers which you can see in the bottom half of the level. These periodically release little spores which float around to the ground gently. Unfortunately for the players, they are highly sensitive – if a player hits a spore, it explodes and kills the player. I think that should be fun!
I’m now starting to work on the last area for the game. It’s a foundry/industrial type area, with red as the main color. This will be really completely new stuff, since most of the game up to now has been porting from the old Processing version of the game. I’ve created a lot of systems to help me develop the game, so I’m looking forward to see how they help my process from here on.
It’s also come up that end of June is impossible for an actual release, given the amount of work left to do. I will instead be aiming for an alpha at the beginning of week 29 (mid-July). Then I’ll proceed to testing the game thoroughly in order to find and fix bugs. I’ll also be improving graphics and composing music for the Terrarium, Foundry, and Editor. So in the end, I’m aiming for release in end of July.
Wish me luck and good work!
So I finished up the demo and made it available for all to play and enjoy :) The links again, in case you missed them:
I’ve definitely seen more traffic to the browser demo than the downloadable ones, so I’m very glad I did that. All for getting THE MISSION in front of more players!
Besides that, I’ve been sending out lots of emails trying to make noise for THE MISSION. It takes quite a lot of time and work, especially because I’m new at it! But I’m learning little by little, so I hope to get better at it over time.
In terms of developing the game itself, I’ve made just a couple of changes:
- Full screen setting, which switches between windowed and full screen modes!
- Redesign of the layout of the victory screen. A friend noted that it would be clearer to list the players by their score, from top to bottom. So I’ve made the change, and I think it’s certainly an improvement. You can see this in the screenshot at the top!
Please keep spreading the word if you enjoy the game! I can’t get it out there all by myself :)
Go ahead and grab it from the Download demo page, or directly below:
And feel free to leave me a comment/suggestion/bug find/etc at the Contact page!
I’ve also created a few new screenshots for your viewing pleasure. They’re in that new “color” stuff that just came out, it’s all the rage:
Physics: I was trying to implement a minor change to physics such that your horizontal velocity wasn’t canceled when you bumped your head against the ceiling (this is so that you can actually jump over shots and saws in 2-tile high corridors – if you’re good). But then I came across some deeper physics issues, bad math, that sort of thing. So I fixed all that and the physics work much better.
Terrarium: I had a really productive Friday evening and Saturday, and got very far on implementing the Terrarium area. It was really nice to refactor tiles and the level manager of the Planet Surface, so that setting up the Terrarium was almost just setting up the tile pieces in the proper structure. Another nice thing is the grass, which moves as you move through it.
Now I’ve been talking with a colorblind friend, who’s remarked that the monochromatic palettes make it hard to see what’s going on. It’s worse on the green (and eventually the red) palette, so I showed him a screenshot from the forest test level, back when THE MISSION was going to be a single-player adventure. He said it’s much easier to look at, and I agree that it’s far less aggressive on the eyes. So I’ve adjusted the color palette to be less saturated, which I think is much better. It also looks a bit more yellow, which gives it a nice Game Boy hint, I think. You can see the difference for yourself!
Here’s a screenshot! It’s still quite work-in-progress, but I’m trying to be more open about the development process :)