Category Archives: MonoGame

Jetboard Joust Devlog #48 –Game (Not) Over

Since the last post I’ve mainly been tweaking – playing the game over and over again, adjusting the various difficulty parameters and noting down and fixing various bugs that crop up. My aim at this stage is to get to the point where I have an ‘alpha’ version that can exist as a playable demo, albeit with a very limited set of weaponry and enemies. I’m getting there!

So, in no particular order, heres some of the stuff I’ve been working on…

The Dawdle Police
I’ve made the ‘bastard‘ enemies operate similar to the ‘baiters’ in Defender in that they only appear once the player has spent a certain amount of time trying to complete a level and (unlike other enemies) don’t need to be destroyed in order to complete a level. More bastards appear the longer the player hangs around adding even more of a sense of urgency to the proceedings.

The Pyramid
Some of the more observant readers may be wondering why there are two warp gates that appear at the end of each level. Well, in a nod to ZX Spectrum ‘classic’ The Pyramid, the gate you choose affects the level you’ll appear in next, so rather than a linear arrangement of levels we have a pyramid-type structure with each row defining the difficulty level and each column a different combination of enemies, terrain and weaponry. I will probably add special collectables at certain locations to add an exploratory element to the game. I’ve always had this functionality planned from the start but have only just implemented it properly.

Mutant Frenzy
In another nod to Defender, now if you’re careless enough to let all your babies get abducted a ‘mutant frenzy’ is unleashed! Every jetboard-riding enemy mutates and every remaining attack wave is released. Basically it’s total chaos and you probably won’t last long after this happens!

Score Combos
Killing enemies in quick succession now ups a bonus multiplier which multiplies both the score and cash awarded. It’s a good way to earn extra cash and I like the way it adds to the ‘pinball’ feel of racking up large amounts of points.

Extra Lives
Extra life pickups now appear when a certain score threshold is reached. You’re going to need them!

Game Over
I’ve added a fixed number of lives per game and the ‘game over’ message. Spent quite a while tweaking the ‘game over’ effect!

Jetsuit and Jetboard Upgrades
I’ve now fully implemented the code that makes your jetboard and jetsuit upgradeable items. The upgrade state of all equipment is now persistent across games.

Plus a myriad of other small improvements and bugfixes.

I may now add one extra weapon type (machine gun) and possibly a couple of extra enemy types before moving on to add a few elements of missing game audio, background music, and then a first implementation of overall menu UI.

Dev Time: 5.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 80 days

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Kill Enemies In Quick Succession For A Bonus Multiplier

You’re Gonna Need An Extra Life Or Two…

Must… Try… Harder… Next… Time…

Your Jetsuit And Jetboard Are Now Fully Upgradeable

Jetboard Joust Devlog #47 –Having Difficulty With Difficulty

With all the core gameplay elements pretty much in place it’s time to get back to some serious gameplay testing and start thinking in more detail about how I manage the difficulty curve within the game.

I’d already put quite a bit of thought into this as discussed here, but, as is so often the case, Jetboard Joust has grown in complexity fairly significantly since I posted that and my ‘procedural difficulty’ code needed to be reworked in a major way.

I’m still starting from a similar standpoint in that I allocate a difficulty value for each level and then create random waves of enemies that total that difficulty score. Now, however, I have different RPG-style ‘character-levels’ of enemies and weaponry to consider.

Firstly what I do is allocate a series of character-level ‘stats’ to each enemy and weapon type. I set a minimum and maximum value for each stat and the values in between are calculated automatically. Some values (e.g. health, weapon range) are consistent across all enemies and weapons but not all. Every weapon and enemy has a ‘difficulty’ stat.

I then create an EnemyDefinition for each enemy/weapon combo. This is a lot of definitions as I have to have create a separate definition for every combination of each character-level of enemy and weapon.

When a level is created my first approach was to split the total difficulty score into a set of six ‘batches’ of enemies that are released at set time intervals. The enemies that make up each batch were chosen at random from the EnemyDefinition collection. If a batch of enemies is destroyed the next one is released immediately.

This worked pretty well but the combination of enemies was too random and in order to get a more playable selection I needed to implement a few restrictions…

1. Every enemy and weapon type have an ‘intro level’ so that they don’t appear until a certain level of the game has been reached.

2. Every enemy and weapon type have a’level up rate’ that affects the way their ‘character-level’ progresses throughout the game – so, for instance, an enemy with a ‘level-up rate’ of 2 and an ‘intro level’ of zero could only appear at character-level 1 for the first two levels of the game, then at character-level 1 or 2 for game levels 3 and 4 and so on.

3. Only certain enemies will try and abduct the alien babies(!) – as this is fundamental to the way the game plays I needed to ensure a certain amount of ‘baby-chasing’ enemies per batch. I know that sounds a bit dodgy!

After implementing these restrictions the enemy selection was much better but I realised the process was still flawed. As I was choosing enemies from the set of EnemyDefinitions at random (albeit with the above restrictions) the selection was skewed towards certain types of enemies. There would always be many more valid definitions for lower ‘intro-level’ enemies (especially as we have a definition for every character-level and weapon combo) resulting in far too many of certain enemy types in the game.

To solve this I needed to create a structure to store the valid EnemyDefinitions that was not simply a flat list – so I created the wonderfully-named EnemyDefinitionBucket class.

A EnemyDefinitionBucket contains a horrible-looking data structure that’s defined like this…

SortedDictionary<EnemyTypes, SortedDictionary<WeaponTypes, List>> dictionary; first we have a collection of every valid EnemyType in the bucket, then for each EnemyType a collection of each valid WeaponType, and finally for each EnemyType/WeaponType combination a list of each valid character-level of enemy and weapon that fits that combination.

Now when I choose a random EnemyDefinition I first select a random EnemyType, then a random WeaponType, and finally a valid EnemyDefinition that matches that combination. This ensures that all enemies and weapons appear on equal footing.

Only that wasn’t quite good enough! In practice the enemy/weapon selection needs to be skewed towards those that have an ‘intro level’ nearest the current game level. Hence the reason I have used SortedDictionary rather than a standard Dictionary – this way the enemy and weapon type ‘keys’ can be indexed in order of ‘intro level’ and I can implement a sine-based distribution curve that favours the ‘higher’ items when choosing at random. The EnemyDefinitions are also stored in a sorted List and selected in a similar way.

Finally I think that’s done it, now on to tweaking the various ‘character stats’ which is another rabbit-hole.

And, sorry, this post doesn’t contain much to look at so I’ve just included some random gameplay footage – finally found an app Capto that grabs at 60fps!

Dev Time: 3 days
Total Dev Time: approx 74.5 days


The Current State Of Play

Jetboard Joust Devlog #46 –You Can’t Take It With You

Yeah, I know, been a bit quiet round here. Had a bit of time off!

Been working on some more ‘polish’, implementing stuff I’d been putting off for a while and getting various aspects of the gameplay to work together. Here’s what’s been on my ‘to do’ list these past few days…

Add More Cash
I only had one denomination of coinage which clearly wasn’t going to be enough to cover all the cash rewards in the game, not without spawning a ludicrous amount of pickups anyway, so I’ve designed and added a few more. Now there’s five different types of coin 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100. I may have to add a 500 later on.

One of my favourite mechanics in the ‘Souls’ games is the way that, when you die, you lose all your ‘souls’ (the game’s currency) and can only retrieve them by returning to the place you last died and touching your bloodstain. It can be incredibly annoying losing all the ‘cash’ you’ve earned but it really makes dying something to be avoided (unlike in many modern games where dying is practically meaningless) and adds an extra tension to the next life too. I’ve implemented a similar mechanic whereby you lose all your cash on death and have to return to your abandoned jetsuit in order to retrieve it.

Weapon Unlocks
I’ve now properly implemented the feature whereby picking up an enemy’s jetboard unlocks the weapon they were carrying for your own use. A weapon crate will automatically spawn when this happens giving the user a chance to pick up the weapon they have just unlocked.

Upgrade Equipment
I’ve properly implemented this as part of the gameplay cycle so you are given a chance to upgrade equipment at the end of each level. This took longer than it should! Also added the jetsuit itself as an upgradeable item.

Redo Jetboard Particle FX
I was never that happy with the vertical thrust effect on the jetboard so I’ve redone this giving it a more ‘anti-gravity’ quality. I’ve also tweaked and re-aligned the particle fx for the horizontal thrust.

That’s it. I am getting there, slowly. The next task is to revisit the ‘difficulty’ algorithms for level creation to make them take account of different weapon and enemy levels.

Dev Time: 4.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 71.5 days


New Denominations Of Coinage

The Infamous ‘Bloodstain’ Mechanic

Capturing An Enemy’s Weapon

Picking Up An Unlocked Weapon

Jetboard Joust Devlog #44 – Shotgun Logic

Time to leave enemies for the time being and move on to weaponry – really the last missing piece of the puzzle. If I’m going to make any new enemies they need to be tougher and it’s impossible to gameplay test them effectively with the underpowered pistol which is all I had implemented up to this point.

The first weapon I wanted to build was a shotgun, but before I got into designing the weapon itself I needed to think a little harder about how weapon swapping and ammo supply works in the game.

Up to this point if you run out of ammo you basically have no useable weapon available. This makes logical sense but seems kind of harsh. It becomes impossible to defend oneself so, unless there is an obvious ammo cache onscreen, death is pretty much inevitable. I needed to find a balance between keeping the necessity to drop down and pick up ammo caches (I like this part of the gameplay), not leaving the player totally ‘high and dry’ and not leaving them overpowered either.

My current solution to this is to use the pistol as a default weapon. If your current weapon runs out of ammo you will switch to the pistol automatically – if your pistol runs out of ammo then an ammo cache will automatically drop onscreen making it easy to reload but still, hopefully, enough of a pain to make the player try and avoid this situation if possible. Your ‘old’ weapon is placed in a weapon crate somewhere in the world meaning it can be retrieved and is not lost for good. These aspects of the game design may well need tweaking but at the moment this seems to provide a decent balance between the various parameters.

So, once the above was implemented, shotgun time! I thought the shotgun would be a pretty easy weapon to create but as it turned out I was wrong, no surprise there then.

First thing I did was work on the visuals. I ended up adding three different particle effects – one to represent the ‘pellets’, one for smoke from the barrel, and one as a kind of abstract explosion effect to give some idea of the effective range of the blast. I also added a very short sprite-based ‘muzzle flash’ animation. My weapon superclass already handles barrel recoil and recoil for the player so I put a nice bit of knockback in there to make the blast seem pretty weighty.

Lastly – collision detection. This is the part that I thought would be easy (as the shotgun blast is a one frame ‘hit check’) but turned out to be more complicated. You can’t get away with simple rectangle-based collisions (as I use in the rest of the game) as the blast range is really an arc, like a slice of pie. Fortunately some time ago I spent a while implementing some SAT-based collision detection routines in my game libraries so I could call on them now – luckily they worked (which is a good job as I remember SAT-based collision checking was pretty complex and I had no desire to go back rooting around that code)! What I do is approximate the blast ‘arc’ with a simple polygon and check whether that intersects the enemy’s collision rectangle. This seems to work fine (though I ended up widening the ‘hit range’ around the muzzle of the shotgun more than you see in the GIFs). I calculate the damage done to each enemy based on the distance from the muzzle both horizontally and vertically – a maximum 50% reduction in damage each way.

The next issue to raise it’s head was that I had to stop the shotgun blast being effective through buildings. This seemed like it was going to be complicated, I’d have to trace a line between the blast and the point it hit the enemy and see if any buildings intersected it, but I managed to implement a much cheaper solution which seems to work fine. All I do is see if there’s a side of a building between the shotgun muzzle and the enemy. If there is and the muzzle is below the level of the top of the building I assume the blast is blocked (as it would be the vast majority of the time). If the muzzle is above the top of the building and the top of the enemy is below the top of the building I also assume the blast is blocked. These two simple checks seem to cover off most scenarios realistically enough.

Once the shotgun was working as a weapon for the player I then needed to try arming the enemies! Because of the way I have structured my classes this was pretty simple but unfortunately it uncovered limitations in the enemy AI.

Up to this point I had been assuming an ideal place to shoot at the player is with the barrel of the weapon level with the centre of the player. This is still true with the shotgun but it won’t be true for all weapons (for example a grenade launcher) and there also needs to be additional logic for when an enemy decides whether to fire or not which takes into account the blast range of the shotgun.

So what I’ve done is implement two different methods as part of my Weapon superclass. One returns the ideal height at which to fire at the player and the other returns ‘true’ if the weapon is likely to hit the player if fired. These can both be overridden in the subclass to provide more weapon-specific logic. This architecture works great – enemies with shotguns are pretty deadly now and I’ll easily be able to extend to different weapon types to make enemies automatically change their behaviour based on which weapon they are carrying.

Last touch was to design some audio for the shotgun blast. I was going to leave any additional audio and do it all in one batch but seeing that shotgun fired and not make a sound was disturbing me!

Dev Time: 2.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 62 days

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Almost There With The Particle FX

Working On Collision Detection

Damn – Shotgun Blasts Shouldn’t Work Through Buildings

Jetboard Joust Devlog #43 – You Bastard!

The next enemy is the last from Defender I need to (loosely) implement. The Defender version is called the ‘baiter’, a small UFO that appears if you take too long to complete a level and gives you all kinds of grief. My version is similarly evil so I’m calling it simply ‘The Bastard’ – because it’s a bit of a bastard.

I thought I’d keep a ‘flying saucer’ aspect to the character design so we have a little alien dude piloting a UFO. It didn’t take me too long to get the basic design sorted but the animation was a bit of a pain. The little spinning antennae at the bottom of the UFO needed to animate at a different rate to the rotation of the UFO itself which meant I needed to split the enemy into two different sprites. Then I thought the pilot looked a bit static and I should try and animate him simply so it looked like he was flipping various controls to steer the craft – this looked rubbish on a loop so I split this out into yet another separate sprite and chose the animation frame randomly rather running on a sequence. It also animates a lot slower than the craft itself. Final touch was to add some particles for an ‘anti-gravity’ type effect.

I could base the motion heavily on the motion for the ‘mother‘ which is one of the reasons this enemy was fairly quick to implement. Every 10 frames the ‘bastard’ samples the player’s location and moves towards it. It’s much faster than the ‘mother‘ and the sampling rate is more frequent which makes it a lot more dangerous! To add a slightly more erratic feel I skip the sampling of the player’s location every three iterations or so.

This straightforward AI worked pretty well but I wasn’t happy with the way the enemy sometimes hovered over the player. I improved this by making the enemy ‘retreat’ when it collided with the player or fired a bullet. It alternates the retreat by flying to the top right, top left or directly above the player. This attack/retreat motion, whilst still pretty ‘dumb’, looked considerably more ‘intelligent’ than simply ramming the player the whole time.

The ‘bastard’ is pretty dangerous – maybe too dangerous. Now I’ve got a few different enemy types in place I think I’m going to have to start working on different weapons and the weapon upgrade system so I can see how these enemies play out against a more powerful opponent. The ‘pistol’ I’ve implemented so far is to be the most underpowered weapon in the game after all.

Dev Time: 1 day
Total Dev Time: approx 59.5 days

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The Main Character Design – Actually Three Separate Sprites!

First Draft Of Enemy Motion – A Bit Clumsy

Adding Attack/Retreat Behaviour. Much Nicer!

Jetboard Joust Devlog #42 – Evil Mothers

Another new enemy in the bag – this one’s called the ‘mother’! At least that’s what I’m referring to it as now anyway.

As with the previous enemy it’s heavily inspired by one of the enemies from the original Defender, in this case the ‘pod’. The main ‘selling point’ of the pod is that when it’s destroyed it releases a bunch of smaller, faster enemies called ‘swarmers’ that use kamikaze tactics to attack the player.

The ‘mother’ works in pretty much the same way. As I’m going for a more ‘character’ based approach to most of my enemies I thought it would be nice to have the original enemy split in to smaller ‘mini me’ versions of itself when destroyed – a kind of mother/child thing.

For the design of the enemy I went for a kind of insectoid ‘space invader’ type approach. It’s consistent with the design of the ‘mutant’ enemy and also I knew I could get this to work at a very small size for the ‘children’. Strangely the hardest thing to get right here was the eyes which I wanted to look like a cross between real eyes and some kind of electronic ‘scanner’ – as though the eyes are on an LED screen or something with a lot of interference.

I’ve made the ‘mother’ probably a bit more dangerous in its original incarnation than the Defender ‘pod’. The AI tracks the player in ‘bursts’ similar to the ‘bomber’ enemy but not restricted to either purely horizontal or vertical movement. It uses a similar simple technique to avoid getting stuck in between buildings as well, ie when it collides with a building it will move upwards until above the level of the building. It also fires slow-moving bullets.

The ‘children’ were basically an extension of the ‘mother’ class with different motion parameters so, thankfully, it didn’t take long to get these up and running at all. I added particle effects to both, a kind of anti-gravity field or something. Note how these get disturbed when the enemy collides with a building or takes damage!

I spent quite a while tweaking the motion parameters of both mother and children, both to get them to feel right in relation to each other and also to get the children to feel like they were moving in a ‘swarm’ without working too obviously in unison. The actual ‘birth’ sequence to a while to get right as well, it needs to be slow enough to see what’s going on yet fast enough to feel like the children are being propelled out as speed. I also added some particles to the birth sequence to give is some more ‘pazazz’. Needs audio too..

Dev Time: 2 days
Total Dev Time: approx 58.5 days

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Original Enemy Design – Mother & Children

Adding Motion And Particles To The Mother

The ‘Birth’ Sequence

Jetboard Joust Devlog #41 – Bombs Away

Really glad to be working on some new enemy types after wading through what seemed like an endless sludge of audio design and bugfixes! Feels like I’m finally making proper progress again.

I’m calling this enemy the ‘bomber’ – very much inspired by its namesake in Defender of course. I started by designing an enemy that was visually similar to the Defender bomber, a kind of robotic cube thing, but just couldn’t get anywhere with this. It seemed too devoid of personality compared to the other enemies in the game. I then tried designing a more humanoid robot with a jetpack but couldn’t get this to work within the restricted colour palette and resolution either. A fairly frustrating start.

Eventually I thought I’d try something with wings, I was originally thinking of a cross between a robot and a WW2 bomber, kind of like the planes in 1942, but as I started drawing it morphed into this sort of robotic angel which I liked – it reminds me of Antony Gormley’s ‘Angel Of The North‘. Added some particles too of course!

I wanted to keep the AI as simple as possible so settled on a simple algorithm that moves in alternate horizontal and vertical bursts towards the player. If contact is made with a building the sprite moves upwards until it is above the level of the building, thus freeing it to move left and right.

Surprisingly this straightforward algorithm worked OK, I was afraid the enemy would get stuck in endless loops against buildings if the player remained stationary and it did – but this was easily resolved by adding some randomness to the amount of movement in each ‘burst’.

The bomber drops bombs in its stationary phase between each burst of movement. The bombs are actually more like mines in that they float in the same place rather than fall to the floor – I added a small amount of oscillation to make the floating more interesting and a ‘warning’ vibration before the bomb detonates.

And that was pretty much it – there’s a few more subtle things going on like the damage inflicted by a bomb being proportional to how far the player is away from it but I won’t bore you with too many details. Now on to the next enemy…

Dev Time: 2 days
Total Dev Time: approx 56.5 days

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Probably The Final Bomber Animation

Planting Bombs – Still Looking A Bit Static

Making The Bombs Interact With The Player

Jetboard Joust Devlog #40 – Bits and Bugs

Tidying up some loose ends that were annoying me before I can (finally!) start work on some new enemy types!

1. Fixed ‘Invisible JetBoard’ Bug
If the player destroyed an enemy whilst it was teleporting in the enemy’s jetboard would remain static and invisible in the world. Fixed this so that a teleporting enemy’s jetboard drops down properly.

2. Cropped Jetboard Bug
This one had been ‘bugging’ (groan) me for some time, it appeared that enemy jetboards were getting randomly cropped on occasion for no apparent reason. Turned out that it was a crop at all but the board wasn’t always orientating correctly when the enemy changed direction.

3. Particles Going Weird On Level Exit
You can see this issue at the end of the video here. To get the level transform effect I render the entire world to a back buffer and then apply a custom shader when rendering to screen – turns out that optimisations I made to my particle system meant I was rendering direct to screen all the time and ignoring the back buffer (oops).

4. Various ‘End Of Life’ Bugs
There were various problems to do with a player getting killed when already dead and controls still operating the jetboard when the player was dead – these were largely to do with the fact that enemies continue shooting at the player even when he’s already dead ‘just to make sure’. I like this though, it’s funny, so I kept it and fixed the bugs.

5. Disallow Enemy Abductions/Mutations When Player Dead
Not really a ‘bug’ per se but I didn’t like the fact that enemies could carry on abducting babies and mutating when the player couldn’t do anything about it – it didn’t seem ‘fair’ somehow. Now they just hover when the player is in the ‘lost life’ state which, though it doesn’t make logical sense, seem to work from a gameplay perspective.

6. Add Floating Scores
I just like these and nearly always put them in my games – something very old school arcade’ about them.

7. Improve AI In Small Gaps
Enemies were doing some pretty stupid things when the player took cover in a gap between two buildings. This was the result of an algorithm I wrote to calculate the closest building to the player which didn’t work properly, and part of the AI which tries to move away from the player if overlapping (ie avoid ‘kamikaze’ style behaviour). Now, when in a small gap, the enemy should move to the edge of the building that’s furthest from the player, turn around and start firing. It’s tricky to get this stuff right and fixing this took a while!

8. Improve Message Font
This was probably the bulk of the work. Previous in-game messages appeared on the scanner – I didn’t like this for two reasons; it got in the way of the action on the scanner and it necessitated the use of a very small font which made the messages unclear. Double fail. I have moved messages to the main game area which seems to work OK, designed a custom bitmap font for them based on the font I’m using for the HUD (but smaller), and also added ‘impact shader’ effects. Still a bit worried about them getting in the way of the action but actually it seems to work OK (I tried placing them over the ‘ground’ at the bottom of the screen as well but this didn’t seem to work so well).

Dev Time: 2.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 54.5 days


Enemies Now Act More Sensibly In Small Gaps

Added Floating Scores When Enemies Are Destroyed

Designing A Custom Bitmap Font For In-Game Messages

Adding Impact Effects To In-Game Messages

Jetboard Joust Devlog #37 – Shake, Rattle & Roll!

I’d been thinking for a while that I needed a slightly more visceral feel to the collisions in Jetboard Joust, particularly when the main character crashes into the terrain but also when he’s taking damage from enemies.

So I’ve spent the last couple of days working on this by applying three different effects, the amount of each effect applied depends on the strength of impact (ie the speed the player is travelling or amount of damage taken) and is tweened back to zero over a short period of time, roughly 0.25 seconds. The three effects are as follows…

1. Scanner Distortion
It didn’t make sense to me that the scanner display should remain pristine when you’re taking a pummeling. Though the scanner is part of the HUD I imagine it as being embedded in the player’s helmet or something so it should appear to suffer as the player does whilst still maintaining enough legibility to make the game playable. I’ve achieved this by applying a ‘pixelator’ type shader that is based on my ‘teleport’ shader with a few changes. As well as changing the amount of pixelation based on the strength of impact I also add a small amount of brightness and noise which gives the impression of old-school CRT interference.

2. Camera Shake
This effect has become so much a staple of indie games that it’s almost a cliché by now but, what the hell – it looks good! Applying the effect was a bit more complex than I thought as it needs the appearance of randomness without being genuinely random (because a genuinely random shake can appear to stick at times). My final approach was to take a {1,0} vector, rotate pseudo-randomly, and then multiply the camera offset by the strength of impact on the x and y axis. For the pseudo-random rotation I always rotate by at least 90deg from the last ‘shake’ and then add another random amount between 0 and 180deg, this gives the appearance of randomness but always ensures there’s a ‘whole lot of shaking going on’. I also keep track of the ‘static’ camera position so that the ‘shaken’ position is always offset from the ‘static’ position and you don’t get a ‘brownian motion’ type effect with the camera movement which would upset the standard camera taking of the player.

3. Impact Shader
This was the effect that took the longest to get right. In my head I wanted an effect applied to the terrain that was kind of a cross between ‘double vision’ and the ‘vibration lines’ you might see on static illustrations to give the impression of movement. I also wanted the effect to look a bit glitchy.

First step was, whilst the effect was in progress, render the entire terrain to an offscreen image rather than rendering directly to screen. The shader could then be applied to the entire terrain rather than each individual component of it which would be both inefficient and cause visual issues.

I then started by applying a shader that simply rendered the whole terrain in a flat colour with some scaling distortion applied, the scaling varying according to strength of impact. I found I had to apply this shader three times in order to get the ‘double vision’ effect on the top, left and right of each building.

I then tried applying some raster lines to the effect and found this looked best if I applied horizontal raster lines when the shader was distorting vertically and vice versa. This gave a ‘vibration line’ effect around the buildings.

Next I tried randomizing the amount of scaling every x pixels – so there would be more distortion at certain, regular, points. This gave a ‘spiky’ effect to the shader that I thought looked pretty cool.

Lastly I varied the amount of scaling distortion on each axis based on the direction of the player’s travel and also added a certain amount of pixelation, again dependent on the direction of travel. I’m pretty pleased with the effect now though it has taken a hell of a lot of tweaking to get this far. No doubt I won’t be able to resist tweaking it some more either!

Dev Time: 1.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 44 days

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One Of The First Impact Shader Attempts

Something A Little More Subtle

Adding Raster Lines For A ‘Shake’ Effect

Adding Scaling Spikes

Final (No Chance!) Impact Shader, Scanner Distortion & Camera Shake

Jetboard Joust Devlog #36 – What A Performance!

It’s been a while since the last devlog but I haven’t been idle, I decided that before I could start tweaking gameplay again (now that we have abductions and mutations) I should make sure that everything was running as fast and as smooth as possible.

The main performance tweaks involved a bunch of changes to the particle engine which pretty much necessitated a complete refactoring of this part of the game code. This took several days and, whilst I know I have further optimisations to do, the result is an architecture that’s much more flexible and seems to run very well to boot. It could still be improved though. As this was kind of a generic topic I wrote a separate post on it here.

Other performance tweaks involved various memory optimisations, particularly implementing object pooling for commonly used objects. Again, as this was a pretty generic topic I wrote a separate post on it here.

The last thing to be optimised was collision detection and for the record I’ll list the main optimisations I made below. Though these are pretty specific to the way the gameplay and game physics work in Jetboard Joust they could be applied to a bunch of 2D games.

1. Ignore The Real World
Jetboard Joust implements a pretty simple physics model but it is still a physics model – therefore anything that exists in the game world is treated as being constantly under the influence of gravity (ie always falling) unless ‘pushed’ up by another object. This means that a collision check has to be run each frame for each object against any other object that might get in its way. Even though I use a segmented approach for the terrain this can still prove expensive.

When I ran my first diagnostic tests I was shocked to see that around 8.5% of the CPU time in my update loop was taken up by collision detection on the ‘pickup’ items (there are a lot of these created in the game and they can hang around a long time). As these pickup items are stationary most of the time this was clearly a complete waste of cycles!

So what I did was effectively disable the physics on the pickup items once they have come to rest. I can get away with this because I know that once they have come to rest the object on which they rest won’t be removed at any point – all that can happen to them is that they get picked up by the player or disappear if they hang around too long.

This simple optimisation took the CPU useage for this section of the code down to around 0.23% – a pretty hefty saving!

2. Apply Basic Logic, Stupid!
The next chunk of cycles were eaten up by collision detection on the enemies against the terrain. There were a couple of simple optimisations I could make here. Firstly I now keep a record of the highest point the terrain reaches when the level is constructed, if an enemy is higher than this point (as they often are) I know I don’t need to bother checking against the terrain at all. Similarly, if an enemy is travelling right I know I don’t need to bother checking against the right side of terrain objects and the same for the other directions.

3. Cache Me If You Can
I have my own Rectangle class that I use in my code and there were quite a few key places where I was using Rectangle.Width/2, Rectangle.Height/2. I replaced these with a HalfWidth and HalfHeight property that is cached and only updated when the Width or Height of the Rectangle is set – this has potentially saved me many thousands of division calculations per frame.

The game seems to be maintaining close to a 60fps framerate now in most situations though the fact I’m testing on a virtual PC running on a seven-year-old Mac Pro makes it kind of hard to tell for sure. I get occasional juddering but I think this is due to running on an emulated OS.

Oh yeah, I also decided that having the enemy mutations happen offscreen was kind of a cop out (as well as being annoying gameplay-wise) so we now have onscreen mutations!

Dev Time: 5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 42.5 days

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Enemy Mutations Now Happen Onscreen

Badly Filmed – But Gives And Idea Of How Smooth Things Feel