Behind the Game: Amphibix

Just to get started, here’s the promo video for Amphibix:

Amphibix sort of just came out of nowhere. During the production of Spin Drift, after a particularly long day, I sat down and cruised through the Netflix instant watch to relax and watch something. I somehow came across a film called: Bingo! A Documentary.

It was a pretty well done documentary, and it explained how some people become obsessed with searching for the next number on the bingo play card, which looks like this:

There was also a psychologist explaining the seemingly insignificant actions a bingo player does while playing bingo. They have to listen for the next number, search for it, and then mark it. All while sipping their coffee, smoking a cigarette, and talking with friends or a number of other activities. While watching it, I thought to myself “Something like this would be great for a video game”. Within an hour I had sketched out something that looked like a bingo playfield, where instead of finding random numbers, the player must go from lowest to highest (but it still achieves the same “number searching” aspect of bingo). When I began to code a little prototype, I leaned back on an old game concept of mine; the long tongue. The long tongue concept actually has a story of it’s own about how I came up with that gameplay element, but that’s for another time lol. Here’s a screenshot of where it originally appeared; John’s Chameleon Bug Hunt:

You can play John’s Chameleon Bug Hunt by clicking here.

One might argue that Techno-Drone is a free moving version of this, and they’d be right. Having a normal player object somehow tethered to the mouse has been one of the most consistent thing in all my games, and Amphibix fit within that perfectly. Although I have to admit that the Amphibix movement system owes a lot to SpinDrift (or Donkey Kong Country depending on how you look at it), it is very similar to the bubble movement system in SpinDrift.

I have Capcom vs. SNK 2 to thank for the inspiration to use a diamond shape instead of a square for the number tiles in Ampihibx. It is far more interesting to look at diamond shapes than the all too farmiliar square grid. I even considered “lifting” the same screen swipe transition from Capcom vs. SNK 2, but it was more trouble than it was worth really :P Here’s a little video just so you can get an idea what I’m talking about (just the screen transition):

With the use of diamonds, it seemed obvious to go with a isometric perspective to match the floor tiles. One random note: I have just recently realized that what I was doing isn’t exactly isometric, it’s what I’ve since termed as “Stylized Isometric”. I had no knowledge of this misconception, although luckily it didn’t hinder any artwork within the game… I don’t think lol. One of my favorite isometric games is a very underrated game on the SNES titled: Equinox (the sequel to the NES solstice).

Not only is the isometric artwork great in Equinox, but the soundtrack is something I think is one of the best of all time. The Equinox soundtrack was composed and performed by Tim and Geoff Follin, they have a large body of work spanning many systems, you can visit Tim Follin’s page here. Here’s an interview with Tim on youtube, from there you can access many of his songs through the related videos:

So, at this point I have a isometric bingo-type game using my tongue-tether system with inspirations from Equinox. I knew I wanted to make this a very simple straight forward game, and I also wanted to flex my level-design muscles. So, I formatted Ampihibix after the arguably the king of maximizing the least amount of content: Bubble-Bobble.

The overall game format is simple: 99 levels and a boss, and that’s exactly what I did with Amphibix. One thing I didn’t account for is that it takes far longer to complete in Amphibix than Bubble-Bobble, so Amphibix is by far the biggest game I’ve ever done.

Because of it’s size, it made sense to have some sort of story , if a damsel in distress story is good enough for Bubble-Bobble, it’s good enough for me lol. Although one thing that is usually lacking in the damsel in distress story is any sort of character development. So, I thought having the love interest in Amphibix also serve as the tutorial coach would kill two birds with one stone, and it worked out wonderfully. Having the tutorial wrap up with the suto-role playing question segment worked out very nicely as well. It was born out of necessity more than anything else; explaining the scoring system required much more text than a little dialogue box could handle lol.

Originally Amphibix was going to be sort of an arcade game, with a big emphasis on highscores. As the game progressed, the need for a score diminished, but it just stayed; it doesn’t hurt anything. To justify the score system (rather than go through the trouble of removing it) I implemented a online high score board, which is actually pretty easy to do.

With Amphibix being isometric, I had to have a character that rotated within the confines of isometric perspective. Not being a 3D modeler, I simply got a toy frog and took photos of it at varying angles, and then traced over it in Photoshop, and all the hard work payed off; the frog rotation is very smooth and believable.

Strega, the antagonist of Amphibix, is a large snake. I choose a snake because it is a natural predator of frog, and because I knew I could do some cool stuff animating him. Since I was working with a snake, I choose to name him Strega; a band my brother was in and had a snake as part of the bands symbol (which I did in photoshop).

The biggest mistake I made with Amphibix was underestimating how focued the player can stay on the numbers, players can quickly and easily master the number finding aspect. I deliberately gave Amphibix a calm serene feel because I feared that too much animation and artwork would distract the eye when trying to find the lowest number. In hindsight I don’t think anyone struggled with it as much as I thought they would.

Needless to say I’m eager to do a sequel to Amphibix, and I have big plans for it! More bosses, more background art, a better developed story, more characters, enemies, and I’m going to implement an attack system, so there’s going to be a lot more action in Amphibix 2!

In closing, Amphibix is something I’m very proud of and I think has a lot of potential for future entries in the series. If you haven’t played Amphibix yet, click here!


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