Category Archives: Jetboard Joust

Jetboard Joust Devlog #58 – Almost At Alpha!

So for the last couple of days or so I’ve been doing an awful lot of playtesting and making what should be the final round of tweaks, improvements and bugfixes for the playable alpha. A large amount of this has been general tweaks to difficulty levels and the like which would be too numerous to list here but here’s a few specifics as to what’s been included…

Weapon Stashing
In order to prevent the player from overpowering one weapon and simply sticking with that I now switch to the default weapon on losing a life and completing a level. This isn’t such a big deal at the moment as there are only three weapons but there will be a lot more in the final game. In addition to this, weapons are no longer automatically reloaded when ‘swapped out’ meaning it’s possible to stash an empty weapon. As a consequence I’ve also made weapon crates display the amount of ammo in the included weapon. Stashed weapons retain their ammo between levels.

Controls
I’ve tweaked the controls a bit so that they are a bit less ‘binary’ and it’s easier for the player to make smaller movements. There’s a fine line here between being able to make subtle movements and being able to move quickly when necessary. I’ve moved to using lerp-based interpolation for the player’s vertical speed and also added the ability to ‘brake’ (cancel horizontal motion) by pulling directly down on the controller.

Camera
Slight improvements to make the camera track better when running away from enemies (ie not track as if you’re trying to attack an enemy that’s behind you). Again there’s a fine line here as sometimes you are ‘dogfighting’ with an enemy that’s behind you so what I do is make a decision based on how long the player has been moving in the same direction. Rapid changes of movement tend to mean dogfighting, continuous movement tends to mean running away!

Input And UI Labelling
I’ve checked all the dialog buttons in the game for keyboard and controller input and labelled them appropriately depending on the input method being used. If the game receives any controller input I presume the player is playing with a controller, otherwise I assume a keyboard is being used. I’ve also made dialog buttons and a few other UI elements respond to mouse input just for a ‘belt and braces’ approach. the game itself can’t be played with a mouse though.

Instructions
I’ve added some pretty minimal (but hopefully sufficient) instructions and a diagram of controls for both keyboard and controller input.

Enemy Randomizer
I’ve made yet more tweaks to the code that generates the levels so there’s a much better distribution of enemies. I’ve added a ‘Config’ class that contains all the definitions for enemy/weapon intro levels and difficulty settings in one place so it’s much easier to edit.

Baiters/Bastards
These are the enemies that appear when the player is taking too long to complete a level. Originally I had it so they didn’t need to be destroyed in order to complete a level (as in Defender) but I thought it was a bit weird getting the ‘all enemies destroyed’ message when there were enemies still present. Now the baiters have to be destroyed too but no additional baiters will appear once all other enemies have been defeated.

Bugfixes
Fixed a bunch, one of the most amusing ones was where an enemy’s jetboard would continue to fire after the enemy had been killed (if it was armed with an automatic weapon). This was funny but I couldn’t leave it in.

Now I have to decide whether I’m going to create a proper installer for the alpha (and build it if so) or just distribute a zip file – then you should be able to have a go!

Dev Time: 2.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 111.5 days

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Weapon Crates Now Display The Amount Of Ammo Inside

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Alpha Instructions

Jetboard Joust Devlog #58 – Music, Maestro!

Well, the background music’s finally done and it’s taken what seems to be an indeterminable amount of time.

It’s partly because I had to put a proposal together for some contract work in the middle of it – which made the process seem to drag on longer than it should, but also because I decided I had to sort out the ridiculous mess of cabling (of various varieties) that had overtaken my studio and was making it difficult to work. Each of those tasks took at least two days.

I guess 8.5 days total dev time isn’t too bad for the amount of background audio that’s in there but, even accounting for the aforementioned increased in elapsed time, it still seems to have been a rather lengthy and unnecessarily painful process. Here’s how it went down (and sorry for the crackling in some of this audio – seems to be problem with running Windows on a Mac)…

1. Main Theme
I knew from the get go that I was going to utilise the same approach for the background music that I had for the in-game FX, ie all analog synths for the sounds and as few software plug-ins as possible when mixing. I needed to have a rough idea of the style of music I was going for though so started by playing the game alongside a few different tracks to see what worked best. I tried a number of different electronic artists, eventually settling on the ‘Detrimentalist’ album by Venetian Snares as my favourite, with particular reference to the tracks ‘Kyokushin’ and ‘Bebikukorica Nigiri’, the latter featuring a bunch of ‘chiptune’ type sounds which seemed particularly appropriate.

Once I had a general ‘vibe’ in mind I started creating some drum patches and banging out some beats on The DSI Tempest trying to get something that worked, using a combo of the Moog Sub 37 and Mother 32 for bass and lead duties. As often as possible I’d try and listen to what I was creating alongside a recording of the in-game fx so I could try and create sounds that weren’t going to mask and/or fight against each other to much. I found this pretty difficult to be honest.

After about a day I had a simple loop that I was generally happy with and began to work up some variations on it. I probably spent a couple of days playing around with different variations, whilst running into various technical difficulties syncing up all my gear in the process (ah – the joys of MIDI and analog)!

Then I started trying to combine all these variations into a single cohesive piece of music and this is where I started to run into problems. It didn’t work. I think this was partly because my variations were all too different and didn’t ‘flow’ together, and partly because I was trying too hard (and with too little talent) to ape Venetian Snares and the result was too full-on and tuneless.

I was getting pretty frustrated by this point. Four days in and I still didn’t have anything resembling a main theme. Then I remembered a piece of music I’d written ages ago for a J2ME game called ‘Battle Snake’ that I had always been rather fond of. I decided to dust this off and see if it would work for Jetboard Joust – fortunately it seemed like it might!

The (as it stands) final theme is a mash-up of ‘Battle Snake’ (with new sounds) and some of the variations I originally created for ‘Jetboard Joust’. I’m still not entirely happy with all the sounds here, particularly some of the more distorted ‘guitary’ type synth sounds which seem to conflict too much with the in-game fx. I may well replace these with something less harmonically rich.

Thankfully I could also use some of my original variations for the other sections of game audio so that time wasn’t entirely wasted…

2. Baiter Theme
The player has approximately two minutes and twenty seconds to complete each level in Jetboard Joust before the pace is upped and the ‘Bastard’ enemies (equivalent to the Baiters in Defender) start to attack. I thought my original (rather full-on) loop would work better for this section of the game and so created a separate piece of music for this that’s more ‘high-tension’.

3. Lost Life / Level Complete
These are short sections based on the repeated section of ‘Battle Snake’ that now forms the ‘hook’ of the main theme. An ascending progression for ‘level complete’ and a descending progression for ‘lost life’.

4. Planet Ambience
OK so this isn’t a piece of music as such but I wanted some kind of background audio during the ‘quiet’ periods of the game such as at the start of each level before enemies attack and at the end of each level once all enemies are destroyed. I’ve gone for a sort of retro sci-fi spooky ambience here with analog wind effects and vintage ‘sample and hold’ type noises that trigger seemingly randomly. I also added a weird interference loop which was the sound of some of my gear accidentally wired up incorrectly that I kind of liked. I think the planet ambience gives a nice contrast to the more full-on background music.

5. Upgrade Theme
One of the variations on my original theme was a type of minimal ‘spooky’ loop with bell-like synth effects and a lot of vintage delay. In the end this didn’t work as part of the main theme (it was too downbeat) but it seemed to work really well over the upgrade screens. I also added the wind noises from the planet ambience in here too.

6. Title Theme
I quite liked this being underplayed as well so stuck to just using the ‘planet ambience’ here with a bunch of samples of the ‘bell’ sounds from the ‘upgrade theme’ triggered randomly (all part of the same minor scale though so not entirely random). Again this has a kind of ‘vintage sci-fi’ feel which I liked. I also added spot fx for ui actions on the menu.

Now that I’ve written all that up it seems like rather a lot of work so I don’t feel quite so bad about it taking eight days or so to complete – bearing in mind I had to code all these into the game as well and managed to fix a couple of other bugs whilst I was at it. I’m bloody glad to be moving on from it though…

Dev Time: 8.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 109 days

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And This Is After I Sorted Things Out…

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The Original Loop – Way Too Loud For The FX!

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Main Theme – Jetboard Joust / Battle Snake Mash Up

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The Baiter Theme – High Tension Using Original Loop

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Upgrade Theme – Minimal And Spooky

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Main Menu And Planet Ambience

Jetboard Joust Devlog #57 – Title Deeds

Another fairly quick entry today – I now have a title screen!

This didn’t take too long to put together once I’d designed the logo – most of the time was spent messing around with different motion types. I knew I wanted the logo to move, and each word to move separately, but it took a while to get something I was happy with.

My first attempt had each word moving parallel to the ‘slant’ of the logo but for some reason I found this a bit disturbing, like the words were scraping against each other or something. There was something almost sexual about it and not in a good way. yes, I know that probably makes me weird. maybe it’s too extreme but I found it the visual equivalent of hearing nails scrape down a blackboard (if any of you are young enough to remember blackboards).

My second attempt had each word moving in a less uniform elliptical motion. I preferred this so have stuck with it for now. I did also have to separate each word on the logo and also separate the actual letters from the background which took some pixel-pushing (there’s actually four sprites here).

Adding the parallax was easy as I could pretty much just use the classes that handle this in-game with a few minor tweaks. I’m pretty pleased with the end result and think it’s certainly presentable enough for the alpha version.

Dev Time: 0.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 100.5 days

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This Is The Motion That I found Weirdly Disturbing

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The Final (for now!) Title Screen

Jetboard Joust Devlog #56 – Pointing Out The Obvious

Whoa – 100 days of development under my belt!

Kind of a brief entry this one – I thought I was done with adding extra gameplay stuff for the alpha but watching my son play the game I realised there were a few things that were a little unclear.

The main one was the location of ammo stashes. It’s really annoying when you run out of ammo (I’m still not 100% sure that I shouldn’t give the base weapon unlimited ammo) and sometimes, in the heat of battle, it’s hard to locate the nearest ammo cache onscreen or on the scanner. This is even more of an issue since I added enemy bones which clutter up the battlefield.

So I’ve added two new features to make it easier to locate ammo, shields and rocket pickups – I call these ‘pickup detectors’ and ‘pickup indicators’.

A ‘pickup indicator’ simply indicates the location of the nearest onscreen stash – they don’t appear if the user’s ammo, rockets or shields are maxxed out. Implementing these was fairly straightforward, though I did have a few issues getting the indicator to move nicely between two different stashes. In the end I settled on having the indicator ‘pop out’ and then ‘pop in’ again when the location of the nearest stash changes. In my libraries I have a method that allows one to set a ‘timed event’ on a particular sprite, this is an event that doesn’t get triggered until a certain amount of frames later. This functionality has proved extremely useful for this type of thing.

A ‘pickup detector’ shows the closest route to the nearest stash if it is not onscreen. I settled on a simple arrow at the edges of the screen for this – not subtle but it works. As these would be annoying if they hung around all the time they only appear when the user’s shields or ammo are critically low. The rocket detector appears whenever a rocket pickup is present as these are pretty rare and you don’t want to miss them when they do appear.

The ‘pickup detector’ was also pretty straightforward to implement – the most fiddly bit was getting the arrows to centre correctly depending on how many of them there are, even that wasn’t that much hassle though.

I think these features make the game considerably more playable – plus I just love the look of that tiny pixel text!

Dev Time: 0.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 100 days(!)

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Pickup Indicators In Action


Showing The Pop In / Pop Out As The Closest Stash Changes

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Please Sir – Where’s The Nearest Ammo Stash?

Jetboard Joust Devlog #55 – The Bubblewrap Effect

Everyone loves popping bubblewrap, yet no-one really knows why. For some reason the combination of the sound and tactile response makes it incredibly satisfying despite being utterly pointless. I had a friend who use to refer to this type of action as being ‘urgey’ – once you’ve done it you have the urge to do it again, and again, and again…

I’ve always thought we should aspire to this ‘bubblewrap effect’ when designing games. Most games, even the supposed AAA ones, comprise a fairly limited set of repetitive actions. If you can make those actions an enjoyable experience in and of themselves, regardless of gameplay, then you are onto a winner because no matter how good the player is at playing your game they will be having fun and come back for more.

Recently I’ve seen this loosely referred to as ‘juice’ or ‘game feel’ but these terms are rather vague and are often used to refer to all sorts of things. I’m talking about something pretty specific here – make all your repetitive actions as ‘urgey’ as popping bubblewrap. Usually this is a combination of both visuals and audio.

Now I’d already spent a lot of time on this stuff in Jetboard Joust but, whilst surfing GDC talks on YouTube, I came across this excellent talk by Jan Willem Nijman of Vlambeer on adding these types of elements to your game. I’d already implemented many of the techniques he talks about (camera shake, gun recoil, enemy and player knockback etc) but he made me rethink some aspects and put a bit more effort in to areas that were somewhat lacking.

So – here’s what I’ve been working on as the result of @jwaaaap‘s talk.

1. Bigger Bullets
To be honest a) this would never have occurred to me and b)I never would have thought it would work if it did. I was using little pixel squares for bullets as 1) they seemed appropriate for the size of gun and 2) this worked in Defender so why fix what ain’t broke? But I thought – ‘what the hell?’ and gave it a go. I started increasing the size of the bullets a little and was amazed how much better this felt, so I increased them what I would have thought was a ridiculous amount and it felt even better! It makes no visual sense whatsoever but the pistol (and particularly) the gatling gun are so much more satisfying to shoot now. I haven’t tried playing with the accuracy yet but should really do that too…

2. Camera Knockback
I already have some pretty hefty recoil on weapons but @jwaaaap suggests also recoiling the camera a certain amount when a weapon is fired. This didn’t make a massive difference in Jetboard Joust, probably because the camera is generally moving pretty fast anyway, but it is noticeable under some circumstances so I left it in.

3. Explosion Delay
Adding a very slight delay when an enemy is destroyed adds to the ‘jolt’ effect and makes destroying enemies much more satisfying. It’s subtle but it works. I’m using a delay of 32ms. I had to be careful here to not implement the delay until the next frame (ensuring the first frame of the explosion is drawn before the delay occurs) and also to clamp the delay time so that destroying a bunch of enemies at the same time didn’t result in a massive delay. I also improved the first ‘flash’ frame of the explosion by adding a ‘threshold invert’ to my collision shader and making the circles that briefly appear larger, brighter and less pixelated. Enemies really look like they’re getting nuked now!

4. Permanence
I had been wanting to do something to make battles seem more ‘permanent’ for some time and @jwaaaap‘s talk was the kick up the arse I needed. I talk about adding smoke in my previous post but that’s still not really permanent so I also added bones that fall from enemies when they’re destroyed and collect on the ground as a permanent record of the carnage that’s ocurred there.

Adding the bones was easy, the trouble started when I decided that they were too static and should react if the player hit the ground near them or crashed into a building that they were resting on. I didn’t want to run collision checking on every bone (there can be tons of them by the end of a level) so worked out a system whereby the world is divided into a series of overlapping ‘bone zones’. When a bone is static it is added to a zone and an entire zone can easily be discarded from the collision detection process in one go. I’ve used this approach before and it works well but I got myself into a bit of a flap with it here, plus it took a long time tweaking the various parameters so that the bones seemed to get disturbed by the correct amount. It still looks a little odd sometimes but its much better than having them totally static.

I’d really like to add some permanent damage to the buildings but I haven’t yet figured out a way to do this that would be a) be cpu/memory efficient and b) not involve creating a load more pixel art. I will continue to give this some thought – it could be that I’m underestimating the memory available on modern devices as a spent so long developing for J2ME feature phones!

So I hope that was all worth it and makes my game feel a little more like popping bubblewrap. I’d like to say these were the last gameplay tweaks before I release the alpha but watching my son play it has led me to implement just a couple more things…

Dev Time: 2 days
Total Dev Time: approx 99.5 days

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My… What Big Bullets You Have!

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These Bullets Are Ridiculous – But Somehow They Work!

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Explosion Delay (Exaggerated), Smoke, And Improved ‘Flash Frame’

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A Battle Amidst The Bones Of Fallen Enemies

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Bone Bashing – A Stupid Detail That Caused Me Much Grief!

Jetboard Joust Devlog #54 – Smoke & Mirrors

For the past few days I’ve been working on adding some more ‘juice’ to Jetboard Joust – the sort of small details that don’t really add anything to gameplay per se but, when combined, add an awful lot to game feel (hopefully).

I’ll go over most of these in a separate post but one element seemed to deserve a post of it’s own – smoke.

I wanted to add smoke as a way of increasing a sense of ‘permanence’ to the combat. Explosions are over and done in less than a second but smoke could hang around for ten seconds or so and build up depending on how much destruction is going on.

I wasn’t after a ‘realistic’ smoke effect but something more stylised to fit in with the rest of the game art. It seemed logical to use circles as the base for the effect but I felt pretty sure I’d want these circles to increase in size over time, maybe quite dramatically, so I didn’t want to rely on scaling sprites for this. I decided to use custom shaders instead as this should give me much more control.

So the first step was to use a custom shader to draw a simple filled circle. Initially I thought the geometry behind this would be quite complex but, in fact, it’s just simple pythagoras. Here’s the approach in pseudo code…

// get coordinates relative to centre of circle
float x = 0.5-coords.x;
float y = 0.5-coords.y;

// fill the entire space
float radius = 0.5;

if ( x*x + y*y <= radius*radius )
{
// return a color
}
else
{
// discard
}

…I’d be lying if I said I got to this stage quickly though! Though it didn’t take me long to figure out the maths, I spent far too long passing the shader a region of a texture to draw rather than the entire texture and getting confused as to why my results were all off (forgetting that coords.x and coords.y are relative to the entire texture to be drawn, not the region). When I started passing a simple 2×2 image to the texture everything clicked into place.

Once I’d successfully drawn a filled circle it was pretty easy to expand that technique to draw concentric rings and the like, and to animate these by basing their radii on parameters that are passed to the shader and change each frame.

Next step was to find a way of applying motion to these circles that looked suitably smoke-like. I started by simple applying a uniform velocity to several circles distributed across a certain range, e.g. -60d to +60d, as well as increasing the circles size over time.

When I finally got this to work the way I intended it didn’t look too bad as a starting point so I added a couple more parameters to make things more interesting – a ‘deceleration’ parameter (so that the velocity of the circles decayed over time), and a ‘buoyancy’ parameter (so that the circles gradually floated upwards over time). I also decreased the opacity of the circles over time so that they gradually faded out.

This looked much better but the results were still far too uniform, forming very obvious geometric patterns as the circles intersected. To stop this I added a certain amount of randomisation to both the circles initial velocity and their ‘buoyancy’ – this produced a much more smoke-like effect – still stylised but not overly ‘geometric’.

I was almost there now but felt that the smoke cloud was dissipating too quickly and lacked some kind of ‘weight’ to it’s centre. I fixed this by adding additional batches of circles with a decreasing initial spread and velocity with the final one staying pretty much in the same place. This looked a lot better.

Lastly I experimented with adding pixelation to the shader so that the circles were drawn at the ‘game’ pixel resolution rather than the ‘screen’ pixel resolution. Unfortunately I felt this looked pretty crappy – one of those things that ‘should’ have worked but didn’t! So I left things as they were but I did add a gradually increasing amount of pixelation over time so that when the circles have pretty much faded out they kind of ‘dissolve’ out rather than just disappearing.

Actually I couldn’t stop there – I thought the centre of the smoke cloud looked too ‘solid’ to start with so added a small particle effect to imitate ash or something. It’s subtle but it just breaks things up a little.

I’m pretty happy with the final result – watch this space for a mini-tutorial on using shaders to draw geometric shapes. I think I might end up using that technique again in this game…

Dev Time: 1.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 97.5 days

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Successfully Drawing Circles With HLSL

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First Attempt At Multiple Circles – An Interesting Fail!

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Starting To Look More Smoke-Like But Still Too Geometric

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Adding Some Randomisation For A More Natural Effect

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The Final Shader With Pixel Dissolve

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The Final Smoke Effect In Game

Jetboard Joust Devlog #52 – Go Logo!!

Been really ill over Christmas with a very heavy cold/flu and it hasn’t got any better this year as it appears to have developed into sinusitis. Now at least I know why I can barely walk up the stairs without feeling like my head’s going to split open.

So it’s been tough trying to work this week – but I’ve managed to get some done! It was quite a relief not to have to dive right into coding but to start with a fairly significant art task instead – the design of the game logo.

I had an idea of the type of thing I wanted but, as with all art projects, I started by gathering reference material and trying to whittle down ‘stuff I like’ into ‘stuff I like but might have a vague hope of achieving with my limited skills in a reasonable amount of time’.

I eventually settled on four key reference logos…

1. National Petrol
The ‘National’ brand is long-since defunct but I have fond memories of it from my childhood as National petrol stations were the only place in the UK that you could buy Smurfs! I really the the dynamism and simplicity of the main pictogram which has an almost Soviet constructivist feel.

2. Go Jetters – CBeebies
I’d never heard of this TV show (my kids are too old) but I was looking after my niece and nephew over the holiday and they had an activity book from the series. The ‘jet’ reference is obviously relevant and again I like the simplicity. The oblique effect on the type is subtle but adds a lot of dynamics.

3. Trans Am – Ultimate Play The Game
OK so this one’s kind of horrible but cool at the same time. As a kid the ‘Ultimate’ games were like the holy grail of Spectrum gaming. I originally looked at the ‘Jet Pac’ logo for obvious reasons but thought it too heavy and overworked. There’s more of a sense of motion to the ‘Trans Am’ logo and I like the ‘silver dream machine’ feel to it – even if that 70s airbrushed effect is something I’d normally avoid like the plague. It works in context.

4. Asteroids – Atari
I’m a massive fan of the Atari arcade service manual art but the trouble with it as reference is that it’s very intricate and would take more time and skill than I have at my disposal to pull off effectively. The nice thing about the ‘Asteroids’ logo is that it uses a very straightforward typeface in a pretty straightforward manner yet still works extremely well.

I decided to start working in Illustrator rather than Photoshop and to restrict myself to pure black and white. Restrictions are good – and I knew that if I had something that looked good in a single colour it would be easy to add colour later whereas trying to retrofit a colour logo into black and white can be a nightmare. It’s a similar approach to the one I’m taking with the actual game art.

Once I had my reference in place I began experimenting with different typefaces*. Initially I thought I needed something that looked a bit ‘sci-fi’ but, despite finding some nice fonts, everything I tried looked either incorrectly proportioned or too gimmicky. The only typeface that seemed to hit the spot was Helvetica Neue Black Oblique which is very similar to the font used in the Asteroids logo. I rotated the letters anti-clockwise so that the uprights sat directly vertical, spaced the letters very tightly (so much so that some of them joined together) and finally felt like I had something I could work with. I also sheared the logo slightly so that it sat at an exact 25% gradient in order to make it easier to convert to pixel art.

Next step was to add something to make the logo seem more unique and give it more of a feeling of motion. I started by add some ‘wings’ to the tops of the ‘J’ characters based on the ‘winged helmet’ of the National logo. This worked right away! I tried some more curvaceous and illustrative alternatives as well but these all seemed too flouncy so the hard-edged brutalist approach won out ( a good job really as it would be a whole lot easier to realise as low-res pixel art). I also added similar ‘wings’ to the right side of the logo which seemed to balance better.

I then tried to increase the motion effect by adding Dyno-Rod style arrow-type shapes at the top-left of letters where there was a lot of negative space. As well as making the lettering seem more dynamic this also had the benefit of filling in the negative space, thus making the letters seems as if they were spaced more evenly.

Lastly I felt the logo needed something to kind of tie it all together a bit more so I experimented with various ‘underline’ effects and illustrative elements, eventually settling for a simple ‘double underline’ consistent with the National-style ‘wings’ on the letters. It doesn’t look like it but the little angled section on the right of the underline took a long time to get right!

Once this was in place I noticed that the ‘wings’ gave the type an almost 3D effect – I liked this (for some reason it reminded me a bit of the 20th Century Fox logo) so I tweaked the angles and lengths to exaggerate the effect.

At this point I was pretty happy with the vector version so I moved on to converting it to low-res pixel art. I began working at a resolution of 256 pixels wide as this seemed to scale nicely for the title screen.

The most time-consuming stage of creating the pixel art version was tidying up the original, rasterized, black and white version so that it looked as good as possible. I realigned all the angled lines so that any that run parallel ‘step up’ at the same time and also changed the angle at the end of the ‘wings’ so that this ran at 45 degrees which looked a lot tidier and didn’t really seem to affect the overall feel.

After this it was a matter of playing around with outlines, drop-shadows and highlights in Photoshop until I found something I liked then tidying it up manually. The final stage was to add some ‘shine’ to the letters (a bit like the ‘Trans Am’ logo) and a final bit of texture by manually dithering the edges of the ‘shine’ and adding some rivets.

I’m pretty pleased with the end result – it looks clear, dynamic, and has a kind of accidental retro/art-deco sci-fi quality that I like. Reminds me of ‘Flash Gordon’ or some of the work by French comic artist Moebius, neither of which are reference points to be ashamed of. The pixel art version could still do with more texture (possibly) but it was hard to do this with the limited palette I’d set myself, and these things can always be better so maybe I’ll revisit at some stage – for now though it’s time to get it integrated into the game!

* Whilst doing this I came across this really useful tool – it’s like Shazam for fonts and actually works (did for me anyway)!

Dev Time: 2 days
Total Dev Time: approx 93.5 days

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Gathering Reference Material

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Unsuccessfully Experimenting With Typefaces

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The Final Flat Vector Version

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The Final Pixel Art Version (Click To See 2:1)


Two Day’s Work In Ten Seconds

Jetboard Joust Devlog #51 – Under Instructions

This has been another one of those tasks I’d been putting off for a long time. The main app framework, options menu, instructions, etc etc.

I already had a set of classes that handled all this stuff, including a menu, instructions, highscores, about pages and a bunch of other functionality but it was incredibly bloated and old. In fact, looking back at the original file I see I created the first version in 2003 so that’s 13 years ago! It’s been ported from JavaME and had all sorts of cruft in there to deal with the idiosyncrasies of ancient mobile phones plus maintaining backwards compatibility with titles that will (thankfully) never see the light of day again. It’s served me well but it was time to start again (more or less) from scratch – even though I knew that was to be a fairly painful process.

So I kept some classes that were written comparatively recently and were relatively bloat-free (the actual menu itself and the highscore management stuff) and got rid of everything else, adding the necessary code back in a piece at a time, refactoring it, and going through every line to trim all the bloat. It took me over a day just to get the thing to compile!

A part of the process I also streamlined all the graphics scaling to work with pixel-art games (where everything is drawn from one set of graphics rather than loading in a separate set for different screen-sizes) and improved some of the visual UI feedback, animations and tweening. There may be a bit too much ‘bounce’ in some of the tweens, I’m using an ‘exponentially decaying parabolic bounce’ tweening algorithm that is all over the web but I can’t find anything to specify the ‘amount’ of the bounce and the maths is a bit over my head. I will try and get my head around it at a later date.

And now I have a streamlined, bloat-free ‘main app’ class that manages the main menu, highscores and instructions. There is still some functionality I need to add (and some that has moved to new classes) but I have ditched almost 4000 lines of confusing and redundant code which is a good feeling.

One aspect that I spent a fair bit of time on was the formatting of the instructions pages. I wanted a system that would be very easy to edit, reuse, and apply to other elements of the app (such as about screens etc) so created generic InAppDoc and InAppDocViewer classes. An InAppDoc is created from an XML document which defines various elements such as pages and paragraphs of text but can also have custom elements that can be rendered by a specific game (such as individual sprites or sprite groups). It should be straightforward to extend this system to cope with localisations or even to add custom tags for more complex page layouts etc. An example of the XML used to create the series of test pages on the right is here. I need to fix those flashing arrows!

Dev Time: 7 days
Total Dev Time: approx 91.5 days

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The Tweaked Main Menu With Added ‘Bounce’

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Some Placeholder Instructions Pages To Test The InAppDoc classes

Jetboard Joust Devlog #50 – Sound Thinking!

Woohoo – it’s my 50th DevLog!! Sadly no-one is throwing me a party (or any money).

Just been finishing off the final pieces of missing audio for the alpha version. As before I’ve done everything using the DSI Tempest and a couple of fx processors – namely an ancient Boss RV-1000 reverb and, this time, a Pigtronix Echolution 2 on delay duties.

The only one that caused an issues was the ‘combo’ effect – I wanted an arpeggio-style sequence that played for longer depending on how much of a combo was awarded. Pretty easy to build the audio from a series of separate notes and step forward each time another enemy is destroyed in the combo ‘chain’, harder to stop several notes from all playing at once if several enemies are destroyed simultaneously (ie with a single shotgun blast).

So I built a ‘SequenceAudioPlayer’ class that steps forward in the sequence each time Play() is called but that queues notes to be played after a set interval if Play() is called too quickly. This way I get a nice ascending arp even if multiple enemies are dispatched at once.

You can hear a bunch of the new sounds (as well as some of the old ones) in these short gameplay vids.

Dev Time: 1.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 84.5 days

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Jetboard Joust Devlog #49 – Gun Control

This week I’ve added a couple of extra jetboarding enemies and a new weapon – and I think I have enough content now for a playable demo! Just need to to sort the main menu out (groan) add a few more sound fx and (probably) background music. Here’s a bit more about the new stuff that’s been added…

The Gatling Gun
In operation this is really like a rapid-fire pistol, therefore it was pretty easy to subclass the existing ‘pistol’ weapon and change a few parameters to get it working. The hardest thing was getting the recoil to feel right – I wanted enough recoil for it to feel slightly ‘out of control’ and unwieldy but (obviously) not enough to be unplayable. I’ve given it a slightly lower damage-per-bullet than the pistol but this is more than made up for by the rapid firing.

Improved Shotgun Blast
One thing I realised whilst playtesting was that the existing shotgun blast was just nuking everything within its range rather than taking account of the fact that some enemies would shield others from the blast. Fixing this accurately seemed like it would be a mathematical nightmare (I’m not too strong on geometry) but I managed to implement a slightly ‘fuzzy’ solution which I think will be good enough. What I do is order all the enemies that intersect the blast region by their distance from the gun barrel. I then iterate through them in order creating a vertical ‘blocked zone’ for each one based on the combined height of the previous enemies in the list. If more than 50% of the current enemy intersects this ‘blocked zone’ I assume it has been shielded from the blast.

The Assassin
This type of enemy is pretty similar to the omnipresent ‘minion’ only they don’t try and abduct babies, they just go all out for attacking the player. This enemy uses the ‘skullhead’ sprite that I’d already designed and required no additional AI work (just adjusting existing parameters) so it was really easy to get up and running, unlike the next one…

The Bodyguard
Bodyguards have a pretty specific AI in that their main aim in life is to protect other enemies that are in the process of baby-snatching. I thought this would be pretty simple to get working but it was a lot harder than I thought to get something that looked decent. This is the basic framework of rules I ended up with…

– Bodyguards seek out the closest baby-snatcher to protect
– Once a bodyguard gets close enough to protect someone they’ll never desert them
– Only two bodyguards can protect a baby-snatcher at one time
– If there’s more than one bodyguard protecting a baby-snatcher they’ll stand guard on opposite sides
– Bodyguards never stray to far horizontally from the baby-snatcher they;re protecting but they will move vertically to attack the player

…there’s a bit more to it than that but these are the key AI decisions that are made. Bodyguards have a lot of health but move relatively slowly and I’ve tried to design the sprite to reflect this, hence they look rather ‘chunky’ compared to the other jetboarding enemies.

I haven’t fully playtested all this yet but will be doing so over the next few days as I add the outstanding audio fx.

Dev Time: 3 days
Total Dev Time: approx 83 days

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Whoops – Too Much Recoil On The Gatling Gun

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The Final Gatling Gun In Action

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The Magic Shotgun – Enemies Should Shield Each Other!

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Fixing The Magic Shotgun

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Trying To get The Bodyguard Looking A Bit More ‘Hench’!

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Bodyguards Doing What They’re Paid To Do

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Assassin Enemies Wielding Gatling Guns – Beware!