Tag Archives: indiedev

Jetboard Joust Devlog #100 – Die and Try Again!

This blog should really have been Configuring Things Out pt. 2 but I thought ‘Die and Try Again’ was more appropriate really.

Now all the enemies and weapons are finally done I’ve been going back over the game worlds, playtesting and (re)adjusting all the various character/weapon stats and levelling rates. The only way of balancing the weapons is to simply play the game a lot, and if I feel I’m either avoiding particular weapon because it’s too weak, or that I’m constantly gravitating towards a particular weapon because it’s too overpowered, I tweak the stats as appropriate. It’s been a very time consuming process and I have to say I’ve been at something of a low ebb whilst doing it.

Unlike fixing a bug, you don’t ever get to the point where you think something is ‘done’, and I know I’m going to have to go through this whole process again at least one more time to refine things further before the game is complete. It’s really getting to me now.

The thing that’s made this phase so much tougher than the first configuration ‘pass’ is that I’ve been through every single boss and mini-boss fight in the first four worlds and attempted to adjust the difficulty for each. There are over fifty of these and, by nature, they are supposed to be tough, so this entails a *lot* of failure both in terms of dying in-game and in terms of setting the difficulty level either too easy or too hard.

Most of these challenges are mini-boss battles featuring the Guardian enemy and a new weapon unlock or upgrade. To maintain a certain amount of narrative ‘flow’ (and to stop me being lazy) I’m having the enemies guarding the unlocks armed with the same weapon they are protecting. The strength of the enemy is heavily dependent on the strength of the weapon, therefore a tweak to the stats of said weapon (because I think it’s too weak or too strong in-game) has a knock-on effect in every single battle that features it. It’s a cyclical process and one that I’m starting to think could go on forever, like painting the Forth Bridge. On a good day though I see it more as a kind of gradual ‘whittling down’ with every pass getting me nearer to the ideal balance.

It also makes a difference what weapons are available to the player during these battles. I was choosing these weapons completely randomly (but based on a consistent seed) though towards the end of the process I realised this wasn’t working and I needed a better balance of weapon choices. Consequently I’ve divided the weapons into four categories – long range, short range, wide range and explosive, and I make sure a balance of weapons from each category is chosen. I think I may ditch the consistent seed as well so each time you enter a level the weapon choice is a lottery, albeit a balanced one.

There’s also been a myriad of bugs and other gameplay tweaks I’ve made along the way though at this stage I’m trying to restrict myself to fixing bugs/tweaks that actually affect the balance of gameplay and noting everything else down on Trello cards for later attention. There’s currently around fifty of the Trello cards (groan) and there’s at least another ten things I haven’t noted down yet!

I’ve also been back through the first four major boss fights and made a proper attempt to balance the difficulty of these with the (rough) stats the player should have achieved by that point in-game. If you’ve been following this blog you’ll remember how much time I’ve spent on these boss fights already, so it’s been doubly demotivating having to go back to them, debug them again, run through the fight procedure again and again AND again whilst discovering yet more bugs and issues that need fixing. On a positive note though, it’s been nice to revisit them in different colour palettes.

Lastly, and I know this is going to sound like archetypal first-world moaning, I’ve been surprised how physically exhausting this process has been. Basically playing (often ludicrously difficult) boss fights for eight hours a day for eight or nine days straight takes its toll. I try to be as careful as I can be about posture but my shoulders ache, my wrists and elbow joints ache, and my back is fucked. Yes, I know it’s not exactly working down a mine, but being physically in pain doesn’t do wonders for one’s motivation. I can’t wait to finish this game and take a break from this shit.

Oh yeah – one thing that’s kept me going through this process is the fact that I can just turn the game sound off and listen to music. I’ve finally succumbed to subscribing to Spotify and have been listening to a lot of Tangerine Dream. Strange coincidence – I finally got round to watching Netflix’s enjoyable Bandersnatch interactive movie at the same time and what does that feature? A ZX Spectrum game developer slowly going insane trying to finish a game whilst listening to lots of Tangerine Dream! Weird…

Right, on to those Trello cards…

Dev Time: 8.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 268 days


The ‘Spinner’ Boss In Colour

The ‘Squirmer’ Boss In Colour

R.P.G. Guardians. Die and Try Again – and Again, and Again…


Jetboard Joust Devlog #98 – Not *That* Kind of Bug!

Onto the last of the ‘classic videogame’ enemies now, this one draws its inspiration mainly from the wonderful ‘Space Invaders’ style shooter ‘Galaxian‘ and, to a lesser extent, its sequel ‘Galaga’. It’s also heavily inspired by my recent re-watching of Paul Verhoven’s marvellously cheesy Sci-Fi gorefest ‘Starship Troopers’. I’m calling it the ‘Swooper’!

I’d been thinking of doing a Galaxians-style enemy for some time but it was watching the ridiculous (but genius) scene in Starship Troopers where Rico takes out the tanker bug that really cemented the idea in my head. A similar bug would fit perfectly into the Jetboard Joust world and also really suit the ‘Galaxians’ style of attack.

So I started by working on the basic movement style which was really very simple, I use LERPing to rotate the enemy towards the player whilst applying a constant velocity in the direction the enemy is currently facing. This worked fine once I’d tweaked the parameters, resulting on a nice circling motion of the enemy round the player which I felt was quite insect-like.

What was more complex was to get the enemies flying in formation. My standard approach to this kind of problem, and one I also used in this case, is to create a ‘hive mind’ class that manages the positioning of all the enemies. The individual enemies can report back to the ‘hive mind’ with various info regarding their environment but it’s the hive that tells them where to position themselves.

I tested a number of different algorithms for this – the one I ended up with allocates a leader for the hive who operates effectively as a solo entity with the movement pattern I described above. The hive mind calculates the ideal positioning of the other enemies in the swarm and I use LERPing again to move them towards this ideal position as well as to rotate them to align with the leader’s current rotation.

If certain parameters are met some of the swarms member’s will go solo, leaving the pack to chase the player in a more aggressive manner. The hive mind class manages this to make sure the entire swarm doesn’t break up at once.

I was particularly pleased with the way the swarm reorganises itself once one of its members is destroyed or goes solo to chase the player!

The art for this enemy came together very quickly (for a change) – I used the tanker bug from Starship Troopers as my only reference and it just kind of worked! The thing that took longest was getting the rotation of the wings to line up properly when the bugs are in flight. My only slight worry with the art is that I’ve used very dark colours – this makes it look pretty badass most of the time but it might be too hard to see clearly in some palettes.

I was so pleased with the way this enemy came together that I added a smaller version, the Mini-Swooper! This operate in exactly the same way as the larger version only more of them can leave the pack at once and they don’t fire at the player, they just attack them physically. They are also faster.

As a footnote – until looking it up just recently I was always convinced that ‘Galaxian’ was called ‘Galaxians’. It actually freaked me out a bit it was called ‘Galaxian’! Must be one of those collective false memory things like being convinced the Monopoly man wore a monocle!

Dev Time: 2 days
Total Dev Time: approx 255.5 days

previous | next

Badass Bugs – Taking Out A Couple of Swoopers

Mini Swooper Mayhem

Jetboard Joust Devlog #97 – Creepy Crawlies!

No prizes for guessing the classic arcade game that’s the inspiration for this latest enemy – yup, it’s another of Atari’s masterpieces – Centipede! Working title for this enemy is the ‘Scuttler’ (I already have a ‘Crawler‘ and a ‘Squirmer‘)!

The mechanics of this enemy are pretty simple, I thought the hardest thing to get right would be the algorithm that makes the segments ‘follow’ the head (I’ve had to right similar code in the past and got myself into a right mess) but the code I came up with, unbelievably, worked pretty much right of the bat!

There’s probably a better way of doing it but my basic approach here is to ‘remember’ the direction each segment is travelling and to continue moving in that direction by default each frame. If the total horizontal and vertical distance between one segment and the next is less than the desired segment spacing no movement occurs. If the segment aligns horizontally or vertically with the segment in front we switch orientation (i.e. from horizontal to vertical or vice versa). This seems to work well enough for my purposes but if anyone has any better ways of doing this I’d be interested to hear them as it’s a gamedev problem I seem to run into quite a bit.

Unlike the Atari Centipede I don’t have any mushrooms to run into to initiate a change of direction so I had to improvise a bit here. Changing direction when it hits buildings was an obvious one, but I also have it switch direction when it hits the edge of the screen (i.e. camera area) and, with a certain amount of leeway, when it aligns with the player on the opposing axis. This approach seems to maintain an authentic ‘Centipede’ feel whilst working within the confines of the Jetboard Joust gameplay.

I also added a slight ‘sway’ to the segments as they move as a fixed horizontal or vertical movement just seemed too ‘static’ in context even though it would have been truer to the original game. I want to tip my hat to these classics rather than slavishly replicate them.

Of course I also had to have the centipede splitting into two when it’s health is reduced which means things can get pretty manic (in a good way, though I’ve toned it down a bit since this video as things were getting too out of hand too quickly).

I’ve also been working on a Centipede style retro arcade palette but have been running into a few issues trying to get this to look good across all sprites. The red outline you can see is used on some of the sprites in the original arcade game. I like the way it looks here as I designed the sprite around it but it looks terrible on many of the sprites I’ve already designed so I think I’m going to have to use a more generic approach. If I ever make another game I’m going to make sure I treat my outline colour as a completely separate part of the palette – lesson learned!

Dev Time: 2 days
Total Dev Time: approx 253.5 days


Close Up Of The Scuttler – Centipede Tribute Palette!

Jetboard Joust Devlog #96 – Splitting Up!

Bit fed up with parameter tweaking, so before I finish the final first round of config by going through the treasure chamber guardians and bosses I thought I’d try and get the final non-jetboarding enemies wrapped up.

There’s going to be three of them in all I think, and I’m pretty keen to have each of them be a mini-homage to a classic arcade game, much like of already included one to Space Invaders. First up is Asteroids and an enemy I’m tentatively calling the ‘splitter’.

Originally I had imagined this enemy being a kind of giant jellyfish that split into smaller versions of itself when attacked, but then I happened across the first Starship Troopers movie whilst late-night channel surfing one evening.

It’s a pretty good movie and I haven’t seen it for ages so I ended up sticking with it to the end, and whilst watching it occurred to me that the theme of humans battling off waves of attacks from an insectoid alien race (often with fairly ‘conventional’ weaponry) wasn’t too far removed from Jetboard Joust!

I also thought that the gelatinous ‘brain bug’ at the end of the movie would work very well as an enemy that could split into smaller versions of itself so I used this as the inspiration behind my designs for the ‘splitter’. I drew inspiration partly from the movie and partly from an illustration I found from a 1970s board game version of the book which was simpler and more comic-like.

Rather than try and draw the entire enemy as one piece of art I wanted to build it from smaller components so I could easily make versions at different sizes. First off I created a pulsing body. I tried a number of different versions of this and ended up using a variation of the segments from the ‘squirmer‘ boss. The segments all pulse at the same rate with but start from a randomised offset.

I then added a series of eyes based on the eyes from the ‘spinner‘ boss and a mouth based on the mouth from the mini worms that the ‘squirmer’ gives birth to. It took a while to get the placement of the eyes right, the end result heavily references the movie ‘brain bug’.

Once I was happy with the general placement of the eyes and mouth I needed to make them feel part of the pulsing body as, when simply placed statically they looked far too ‘stuck on’.

I ended up linking each facial feature with a body segment and changing the location of that feature based on the current scale of that segment. This seemed to work pretty well in giving the impression that the features and body were joined rather than overlaid layers.

Enemy movement, as in Asteroids, is very straightforward as – a simple linear motion with a reflective bounce when an obstruction is hit. What was slightly tricky was deciding what to do when the enemy left the camera area. Originally I had it wrapping immediately to the other side of the camera (true to Asteroids). This was kind of cool, and I really liked the fact it was true to its roots, but unfortunately it made the gameplay way too intense – particularly when other enemies were encountered at the same time. I didn’t like the way it made the scanner look broken either.

So I tried simply having them wrap when they reach the edge of the game ‘world’ but this wasn’t intense enough and kind of dull. Eventually I settled on a halfway house between the two, if the enemies are offscreen or nearing the edge of the screen a decision is made as to whether the quickest route to the player is to travel in the same direction or to reverse direction (I take world wrapping and the current player velocity into account). The enemy switches direction (or not) based on this. This keeps the gameplay intense as things tend to cluster round the player but it still makes sense within the overall gameplay paradigm – and it doesn’t make the scanner look like it’s broken.

Something else I’ve been doing which has taken up at least a day of this dev time is working on a ZX Spectrum themed palette and improving some of my palette code. I can now have three different palettes for enemies as opposed to just one. Whilst doing this I discovered some bugs in my palette shaders which were particularly apparent when dealing with 100% RGB values as are used in some of these retro palettes, these are now fixed.

Dev Time: 4 days
Total Dev Time: approx 251.5 days

previous | next

The Brain Bug from the 1970s Starship Troopers Board Game

The Final ‘Splitter’ Design

Asteroids-Style Wrap Logic – Too Much Mayhem / Broken Scanner!

The Final ‘Splitter’ Alongside Other Enemies – ZX Spectrum Palette

Jetboard Joust Devlog #95 – Configuring Things Out pt. 1

This is one of those devlog entries that seems kind of dull because there’s been a lot of ‘under the hood’ type goings on and not a lot of eye-candy to show for it.

But, it’s taken time and it’s really important to the game’s development so I’m going to blog it anyway, boring or not!

What I’ve been focussing on is the overall structure of the game world and how difficulty progresses throughout the game. At this stage it has been very much a first pass at this, as much about providing the tools to allow me to tweak gameplay efficiently as it has been about balancing the gameplay itself.

I’ve broken down what I’ve been doing into three key tasks:

1. Code Refactoring
As with any game of significant scope, there are multiple interconnected parameters that affect gameplay difficulty in Jetboard Joust and it’s a hell of a lot easier to tweak things if the code that manages these parameters is in one place rather than split across a myriad of individual class files. Consequently I’ve set up a static ‘Config’ class that contains all the algorithms and configuration parameters for pretty much anything to do with rewards and difficulty throughout the game. This has involved a lot of tedious cut and paste but I know it’ll be worth the effort in the long run (it already has really). I’ve set up generic parameters here for the amount things like enemy health and weapon damage/difficulty scale throughout the game so at least I have a baseline to work with and can tweak individual scaling from there if necessary.

2. Mapping
I’ve created a template in InDesign for mapping out levels in each of the game worlds and have been through this with a first pass attempt at placing weapon unlocks and new enemy ‘reveals’ in each. There seems to be enough content to fill four level ‘pyramids’ of around twenty rows each with a reveal rate of a new enemy or weapon every couple of rows. I need a couple of different ‘non-jetboarding’ enemy types but was expecting that anyway, I added an additional jetboarding enemy to span the difficulty gap between the ‘minion’ and ‘master minion’ which was fairly simple to do. I may make the fifth and final world smaller, probably ten rows, with the final boss right at the end.

3. Auto-Levelling
In order to be able to arbitrarily test game difficulty I need to be able to jump to a particular level and have an idea how the player might have ‘levelled up’ at that point. What weapons will they have unlocked and how powerful will they be? What will their base health be? It’s not straightforward to figure this stuff out so I ended up writing an algorithm that takes a destination point within the game pyramid, figures out the location of each treasure chamber before that point, then does a mock play though of the game to unlock each treasure item. On the way I collect the cash that would be awarded for defeating enemies, rescuing babies, and completing ‘sectors’ (rows of the pyramid). Once cash is earned it is spent on the most expensive upgrade available.

It took quite a while to test this code and get it working but it’s going to be invaluable for testing as I can now start the game at any point and have the player ‘levelled up’ as appropriate. Using this code I can also monitor things like how long it will take to level up a particular weapon, how much a player might earn for completing a level at the point weapons are unlocked (hence what a sensible starting price for updates might be) and all sorts of other stuff I haven’t even thought of yet!

4. Basic Gameplay Testing
Using the code above I began going through the game to check and tweak parameter scaling at key points (i.e. the ‘reveal’ level for each weapon and enemy) to make sure things seemed sensibly balanced. Unsurprisingly they were way off to start with but after much fiddling I’ve reached the point where relationships at least seem workable, haven’t done the treasure chamber guardians and bosses at all yet though.

One thing that became apparent was that weapons that are unlocked earlier in the game need to have a greater number of upgrade levels than ones that come later on, otherwise they either ‘max out’ too quickly and end up becoming useless on high level enemies or they cost far to much to upgrade in the early stages. This was particularly apparent with the default weapon (the pistol) so I ended up adding a new default weapon (the .45 magnum, essentially a pistol on steroids) which is unlocked about halfway through the game and has enough grunt to take the player through to the end of the game.

I also ran into a shedload of bugs, it’s been ages since I looked at many of these enemies/weapons so there’s a ton of small issues created by various changes I’ve made. Fixed a bunch of them as I went along (partly why this phase took so long) but I’ve still got a very long TODO list in Trello!

Dev Time: 6 days
Total Dev Time: approx 247.5 days


Mapping Out The Levels

Debug Output From The Auto-Levelling Code

A New Type Of Minion Enemy

Jetboard Joust Devlog #1 – Overall Art Style

Looking back at my (frankly rather awful) ZX Spectrum title ‘Skateboard Joust‘ reminded me that there was always something pretty decent in the core gameplay concept of using your flying skateboard as a weapon when mid-jump.

As I need something else to work on whilst development on ‘Attack of Giant Jumping Man‘ slows down (hopefully temporarily) I thought about revisiting ‘Skateboard Joust‘ – almost as a penance for my sins in bringing such a dreadful game into the world into the first place! Maybe I can make a half-decent sequel and bring my gaming karma into alignment somehow?

I think I could get this mechanic to work as a simple two-button ‘endless scroller’ which might be nice for mobile and possibly even PC so I’ve been working on some visuals for the game with a view to making a prototype at least.

I’ve been going for a retro look in keeping with the game’s heritage, but rather than going for a full-on Spectrum emulation I’ve decided to keep to simple, restricted Gameboy-ish colour palette which I may change as the game progresses. The result is somewhere between Gameboy and Spectrum.

Game art is not my strongest suit and always takes me ages. I’d much rather be working with @PVBroadz but it this instance I need something I can crank out on my own. Pretty pleased with the result so far though – feel free to tell me what you think.

Dev Time: 2.5 days.



Have I Got Any Better At Pixel Art In The Last 30 yrs?


Test Animation For The Main Character


Retro Revenge – Click For A Closer Look

Enter The Junkyard

Yeah, it’s been quiet around here lately. Ooh look – there’s some tumbleweed.

Funny old game this #indiedev business. The bottom’s (finally) falling out of the mobile Java market and, let’s face it, it’s practically impossible to make any worthwhile cash from the AppStore or Google Play due to the woeful lack of curation and avalanche of sub-prime content therein. It’s all about the marketing these days. Fine if you have the budget or are a marketeer. I’m not – I just want to make cool games.

So myself and @PVBroadz have changed tack a little and have formed Joystick Junkyard. We’re not ditching mobile but are developing quirky, high-quality ‘future retro’ titles with a focus on more traditional gaming platforms such as PCs and consoles as much as phones and tablets. We’ve just completed a playable alpha-demo of our first title – ‘Attack Of Giant Jumping Man‘.

Check out the Joystick Junkyard blog here – or follow us on Twitter here.


Tomorrow’s Retro Games Today