Multiplicity

Posted in GBS Games on April 29, 2010 by goldenbeaststudios

After getting back into town and finishing transferring the site to WordPress, it seems like a good time to do an update of what titles are actually getting worked on. In total, I am working on 5 games. Both Spin Drift and Amphibix 2 were cancelled at one point, but now they are back in production alongside some of my more recent game works in progress (Endgame, Techno-Drone 3, and Shadow Mask).

I guess I just got sick of throwing 70% of my work away, but also I think this is going to prove to be a great way to let all of my ideas find a home in one of these 5 games in production.  If I have a great idea for a puzzle, it can go into Amphibix or Spin Drift. If I have a great action level idea, it can go into Endgame or Techno-Drone 3. Previously I’ve only developed one game at a time, but this new way of doing things is already proving to be far more interesting, and I’m sure the games will be far better because of it.

Here’s just a quick breakdown of each game:

Endgame:

I’m still on the fence regarding the age range for this one, it will be at least teen though. Endgame is a more linear, action and boss oriented type of game. Inspirations from Contra, MegaMan, and Street Fighter 2010 (the NES game, not the arcade fighter game) are abundant. Awesome boss battles, crazy enemies, and a far more developed future dystopia type story with allusions to some of the topics Alex Jones covered in his documentary of the same name, which you can watch here. Check out the some of the concept art here and a music sample here. This is by far the most intense and serious type of game I’ve ever done.

 

Spin Drift:

This game was kind of all over the place at one point, which is why it was cancelled. There’s so much good stuff in this game though. This is certainly the nicest looking and heavily researched game I’ve ever done. Spin Drift is more focused on exploration and discovery mixed with puzzles and some good quick action and timing. I ramble endlessly about this game on a earlier blog post which you can read here.

 

Amphibix 2:

Yes, Amphibix 2 is back! The screen shot here is not very accurate, as the attacking element of this game is going to be removed (and perhaps put into Spin Drift, as it would be more fitting). I’m going to do what I originally set out to do with Amphibix 2, and simply not mess with a good thing and just augment and enhance the gameplay and story from the original. Working on different games at one time help each game maintain its identity, which is the opposite of what I originally expected.

 

Techno-Drone 3:

This one is still just on paper, but it’s the third installment in the series, so I have a very good idea what it’s going to be like. TD3 will be done in the “American Modernism” style. Depicted below is a classic example of American Modernism titled “Glass” illustrated by Hugh Terris in his book “The Metropolis of To-morrow”. I’m having a lot of fun researching this style, and much like Ampihbix 2, Techno-Drone can maintain its identity without all my new ideas turning it into something it’s not. This one is going to be awesome.

 

Shadow Mask:

This has something of a prototype, but nothing worth looking at just yet. This is a combination of a much earlier idea which was actually a combination of two games I love: Shadow Man and Majora’s Mask. This is my first RPG, with one major twist; the whole game is going to run on multiple fabricated web browser pages. It’s tough to describe, but I think I really hit gold with this one. Plus exploring voodoo lore while assuming different identities with various magical masks is going to prove to be a very new and interesting experience for the player.

The goal is to build up all of these games somewhat in tandem, instead of throwing away 4 and only keeping 1. While this might seem overly ambitous, I’ve been doing this all along, so there isn’t much of a change in workload for me :P  So GBS should be rapid-firing a ton of great games in the near future! So many games… so little time…

Thanks for reading!

-Johnny B.

Behind the Game: Amphibix

Posted in GBS on November 22, 2009 by goldenbeaststudios

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!

Spin Drift

Posted in GBS Games on September 1, 2009 by goldenbeaststudios

SD_title

As the production of Spin Drift comes ever closer to an end, I’m going to do a kind of  self “pre-mortem” view at how most of the development went with Spin Drift. This one’s a bit long, but hey, I’m really into this stuff!!! While I do go into a lot of detail about Spin Drift, I’m writing about it from a design perspective, and I am concealing a few details so that it’s not much of a spoiler.

THE BEGINNING

What I started with was the concept of “Plankton Pinball”. I thought it would be cool to have  something that instilled some of  the fun of pinball, and also had the “micro-world” feel that Pikmin has. Being sort of a zoology buff, I thought doing something about Plankton would be cool for people to learn a little about (via the wiki) and visually it would capture some of the fun of looking at plankton through a microscope (without all the hassle I went through :P). It’s a pretty original idea, so I thought I would go with it. This was SUPPOSED to be a “quick little game” to dip my toe in the water and get everything established for Bio-Drone, but it became a full original title, and in the long run it’s a good thing I didn’t “power” through it.

EVOLUTION

So, starting with a underwater plankton themed pinball, I started to see what was fun and what was possible with this new concept. Here’s the first video to get an idea of what I was up to.

And here’s the most recent:

There’s a whole slew of videos in between which can be watched here. I’m basically going to break down how and why the game transformed in the direction it did.

THE MAIN MOVEMENT SYSTEM

The movement system is something that has completely transformed through out the production of SpinDrift. I originally started with what’s seen in the video;  sort of water blast “flippers” that influence the way the pinball moves. I decided against conventional pinball flippers simply because the physics programming would be brutal, and more importantly, the type of gameplay that a regular flipper can provide has been pretty well explored by pinball designers already.

pinball

 There were a number of different iterations of the “blast flipper” concept (again, check out the videos) all of them where decent, but just wouldn’t let me push the player to do more difficult actions, they where only so precise. So, after much tinkering, I developed the “auto-charge” movement system. This was sort of taken from Mega Man 4 (and all MM titles thereafter). I always loved charging up Mega Man’s buster and the timing involved with that. So, I thought a direct movement system (in conjunction with the already existing blast flippers)  where the player “charged up” and then got a chance to move the pinball any direction they wanted (towards the mouse) would make for better strategy and timing on the part of the player.

megaman

After implementing it, I quickly discovered that holding down the left mouse button was nothing like holding down a NES controller button, particularly for long periods of time. So, I had to abandon the button holding part of it, and just had it “auto-charge” so that the player’s hand wouldn’t get cramped trying to use the right mouse button as well.

As the game further grew, the need for the blast flippers diminished, and they proved to be too wonky and unwieldy for the player to really skill build with, so they had to go. So now I have a very uniquely developed movement system where the player can implement strategy and timing without it being too brutal for beginners, but certainly takes time and skill to master.

THE MOUSE/ANGLER LIGHT

 The role of the “angler light” or mouse controlled object evolved far less than the movement system. Having already developed Techno-Drone, I didn’t really want another game where all  the gameplay hinges on the mouse. The mouse or “angler light”, is basically the Wii remote cursor from Mario Galaxy, wand over certain objects, and they fly over to you for points. But it also is where the pinball heads in the auto-charge movement system. It’s  biggest role is in the “Bubble Blast” segments, where it’s the main mode of transportation.

mario_galaxy

THE MINI GAMES

Originally, Spin Drift was an arcade style game, as in, endless gameplay. I designed a number of different mini-games that have completely different gameplay than the “main game”. Some of the videos contain the now defunct mini-games that didn’t make the final cut. I enjoyed making the mini-games, there’s far less pressure to make sure that it has a whole lot of depth, just a cool concept that breaks up the gameplay and keeps things a little unpredictable. The most recent major Spin Drift design change is that I have shifted the game from arcade to a finite “adventure” style game. This allowed me to give the stronger mini-games a bigger role (mainly the “Bubble Blast” game) and I re-tooled the others to fit into other parts of the game. The end of a level is now punctuated by a boss fight that comes in the form of a previously played mini-game. Because there’s so many mini-games, and now there’s a need to fit them together in some logical way, the use of visual themes to give the player a sense of purpose and space came into use.

BUBBLE BLAST

SD_bubble_blast

This one was a slam dunk right from the beginning. This segment of the game helped get the difficulty up to where it needed to be, and allowed me to make the main area more about exploration and learning than making sure you don’t die. It’s super simple and fun to play. While most of the gameplay I thought of on my own, near the end of developing it, I had to admit it bore some resemblance to the Donkey Kong Country 2 “Bramble Blast” level, and redesigned those segments to be in the diagonal arrangement as sort of an homage. This is the only mini-game that doesn’t have a boss fight though, the Panic blast mini-game is better suited for that, and since Bubble Blast has a far bigger role in the game, it’s almost an extension of the regular game.

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PANIC/RACE

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This was made right after the Bubble Blast concept, and uses the same basic gameplay, the added element was that everything is moving, so the player must keep up. This one is pretty straight forward and offers some real challenges for the player. The only influence in making this was the missile boss battle in Contra 3. I’m going to hold off on writing much more about this in fear of spoiling it ;)

The missile battle starts at 3:11 in this video, although the whole game is awesome. I like Contra 3 so much that I wrote another article on Nintendo Guy’s site, which you can read here.

BIG BUBBLE

SD_big_bubble 

The movement system on this one is actually a variation on a game I never went through with that I was calling “Trip Noid”. The left and right mouse button rotate the player around a large circle in the middle of the screen. Here’s an old video of the original Trip Noid (back when I was under the pen name Super_Drunk).

It’s a weird one, but it’s easy to control and offers a lot of ways to make it “visually interesting”. This one is better suited for more scripted specific type of challenges. I haven’t really coded much for  it yet though.

BUBBLE SHOOTER

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This one is also totally original, it is where the gameplay cools off a bit and gets the player to stop and think about their next move. The crosshairs circle the player (who’s stationary) and the player must time the shots that line up with the crosshairs to get keys to the next area. This kind of activity is always good for a game, it can’t all be heart pumping action all the time.

DUNGEONS

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This is the newest addition to the gameplay, I don’t really consider this a mini-game, it’s an extension of the main game. This is where the player gets to solve  some puzzles and explore a more gameplay detailed area. The camera is focused on the environment, not the player, to facilitate more puzzles and movement “challenges”. I’m still working on destructible objects and jam packing it with interesting gameplay. The dungeons kind of tie everything together and give the player a better sense of traveling somewhere. Lots of possibilities with the dungeons. These areas are closely based on the NES Zelda dungeons (at least there layout is) but there’s so many other original aspects to Spin Drift that players might welcome something a little more traditional.

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THE MAIN AREA

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The main area is the place that needs the most attention (aside from the bosses) there’s just so much that has changed. The main area has changed almost as dramatically as the main movement system, so it hasn’t really caught up with the rest of the game yet. The core function of the main area is to give the player someplace to explore completely uninhibited by danger and participate in some fun free form timed challenges. It is also the main launching pad for the player to go off and explore other areas, similar to the castle’s role in Mario 64.

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A TON OF OTHER STUFF

If you actually read all of this, you deserve a medal lol! There’s all sorts of other topics to touch on, the wiki, story, bosses, timed modes, themes, and of course the plankton themselves, the list goes on and on. If for no other reason, I wrote all this to convey that a lot of time and care goes into our games at GBS.  I also wrote this just so I don’t forget lol. Thanks for reading!

Thoughts on Zelda

Posted in Console games on August 24, 2009 by goldenbeaststudios

I’ve just finished playing The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, Master Quest for the Wii Virtual console.

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I’m a huge fan of the regular OoT so I thought that doing the master quest would be a great way to revisit a classic game from my past. Before I get into Master Quest, I’ll just ramble a bit about the regular OoT.

Ocarina of Time

This game hugely impacted me as a designer on top of just being an awesome game all around. Plenty to do, perfect pacing, a great balance between action and puzzles, and well thought out dungeons and challenges. In a way, this game is part of the reason I haven’t delved into 3D games. I want to have a firm mastery of what makes a 2D game fun (Link to the Past was another near perfect game) and only then start exploring what 3D can do. OoT is the best proof that game design has little to do with technical expertise or making eye-popping graphics, strong game design is something that transcends genres or the number of dimensions. “Is this game fun?” is the only question any real gamer should ever ask, the rest is just fluff. The lack of any real academic study of 2D games and how they work is sadly not surprising, if your game isn’t 3D, I just can’t be a “AAA” title. If I can achieve a level of innovation and quality that is present in some of the older Nintendo titles, I’d love to do a 3D game (I have plenty of ideas that would only work with 3D). Until then, I’m still honing my skills as a 2D designer.

Ocarina of Time, Master Quest

As for Master Quest… I’m just not sure what happened there. It seems to suffer from a similar problem as the Japanese Mario 2 for NES (or Lost Levels on the Mario All Stars for SNES). Someone simply told the programmers to “do some other stuff” and they just programmed in some harder, unfun aspects into the game. No new artwork, just relocating objects or placing a few new ones in a room. In retrospect, I should of just replayed the normal OoT I just didn’t know any better! An uninspired rehash at best :(

Majora’s Mask

I’m one of the few people that thinks that the direct sequel to OoT Majora’s Mask, is pure genius.

Admittedly the game is dense and obviously had a shorter production time, smaller budget, and re-used a lot of assets from OoT. It’s an acquired taste for sure, getting involved in the 3 day time management system definitely could of been better explained in the game. But, once it’s understood, it opens up a lot of possibilities and most of the opportunities that the 3 day system can offer aren’t missed by the designers. This is a great game if you are a designer and like to pull apart game design ideas and figure out what makes them interesting. This game certainly changed my view on time travel. The usage of the masks and the general feel of the game is something very hard to put my finger on, but it’s something that can’t be ignored. Someday I’d love to do a game involving masks and the different gameplay and role playing aspects that they can provide.

Wind Waker & Twilight Princess

As for Wind Waker, I liked the game, but the story and artwork repelled me so much that I just can’t see past it. The “re-imagining” of the Zelda universe was something no one was really asking for, it just sort of happened for no reason. I think they tried to “correct” those issues in Twilight Princess, but unfortunately they overcompensated and lost the fun feeling of the series and didn’t focus on making things dynamic and fresh. I have high hopes that Nintendo gets their balance back for the newest installation of the series (I haven’t really read up on it though).

In closing, if you haven’t played Ocarina of Time, you’re missing out. If you’re a little more hard core, you’ll probably have an interesting experience with Majora’s Mask. Next post I’ll fully discuss the GBS games!

GBS on WordPress!

Posted in GBS on August 3, 2009 by goldenbeaststudios

The main thrust of this blog is to discuss GBS (Golden Beast Studios) games, other artists, and sites of interest. This blog is generally casual in nature, and is writtin by just me, John Bell. I’m just getting warmed up, so I’m just going  to briefly discuss SpinDrift (our upcoming game) and one cool site I stumbled upon recently…

 

SPINDRIFT

SpinDrift is chugging along quite nicely, if you haven’t seen them already, check out the production videos on our YouTube channel to get an idea of what the game is like by clicking here. SpinDrift is definitely a very unique title (at least I’ve never seen anything quite like it) but it certainly borrows aspects from other games such as Metroid, Mario, E.V.O. WarioWare, DKC, Arkanoid, and Techno-Drone. Just recently we radically altered the gameplay of SpinDrift (it’s far easier to control now) so things are a little behind schedule to accommodate the new control scheme (but well worth the delays ;). When I have a little more time, I’ll write a more detailed post regarding SpinDrift (and it’s many mini-games).

NESMAPS.COM

One cool site I ran into quite by accident is a site called NESmaps.com. It’s a pretty cool site that contains fully displayed game area maps from the NES and SNES era. It gave me a different perspective on old style level design, and may prove useful for other game designers as a level design resource.

 

Plenty more to come next time ;)

 

John D. Bell, President, Golden Beast Studios