.

Blog

Power of Love now available on itch.io

POWER OF LOVE Although Power of Love, our co-op dungeon crawler made for the PGA, is not yet and might never be finished, we uploaded the current prototype on itch.io, because we thought the game is just too much fun to not have it played by other people. You actually get it alongside the soundtrack, which was composed by Ludwig Hanisch and consists of three crazy songs and a bonus track.

Way Of Love
Even as a prototype only the game is fully playable from start to finish! You and your partner can shoot enemies anytime, but when there are too many foes at once you need to carefully time cooperative actions like the Shockwave or the Laser.

Check the game out on itch.io or the official project page - and in order to give you a feeling for the game and also present one full track of the game, we recorded the following video. Have fun!



Comments (0)

Ludum Dare 35: Wood for the Trees – Post Mortem

Wood for the Trees is my entry for the 35th Ludum Dare game jam which took place in April 2016. For now I don't know how the other participants will rate the game, as the voting is still going on. Yet it's maybe time for a small post-mortem, especially as my last few entries were not really worthy for one of those.

ld35_20160418_204744_379

The theme of this Ludum Dare was "Shapeshifting", which was a good theme, or at least I heard far less complaints about it than usual. For my part I didn't have an idea from the beginning - or rather I prepared several in advance, but none of them actually motivated me when the weekend began. For some time I just ignored the theme anyway and did some physics-based experiments, but everything of that was scrapped in the end. Semi-inspired by the theme I then went on with an environmental experiment, which would be about looping and changing level tiles. A bit like our 7DRL Me against the Mutants, but this time in 3D. As usual I did all this in Unity.

My base idea was to have tiles as parts for the level map, and each tile would be 10x10m (conveniently the size of Unity's standard plane), and instead of connecting the tiles in a linear fashion or even in a grid, I would define the connections manually so they can loop or have "impossible" connections. This way, a tile could be connected to itself (this actually happens in the game)! A lot of time went into developing the system of instantiating and destroying the needed game assets on the fly.

ld35_20160416_222626_207

With this representation of the game world it's possible for the player to see things that won't be there when they move. Thus I added smooth scaling to all objects when they get spawned or removed, just to make it more appealing and let people accept this strange environment. This system also imposed some limitations which actually turned out to make the game tighter and more focused:

WoodForTheTrees_MakingOfMovement

1) The player is allowed to move only from a tile's center to the next, in cardinal directions. At first I had free movement, but this imposed problems with the tiles that lie diagonal to the current one. It would just feel alien. Restricting the movement was the only solution, and it also made the gameplay (adventure game) much more clear.

WoodForTheTrees_MakingOfFog

2) With my system it only made sense to display 3x3 tiles at once, thus I had to limit the view distance to 10 meters. This made me a bit depressed in the beginning, because it meant a pretty big, boring wall of fog in front of the player. But then I invented the "fog trees" - trees that would exist only in the fog, vanishing when the player comes near. In the end, they really helped making the distance fog less boring and even gave the game its name.

As usual I experimented only regarding gameplay mechanics, but as soon as I added the fog I naturally began to design the game's appearance. The fog had to have a colour, so I chose one I actually liked. Everything else had to look (more or less) good from now on, which helped tons with not having to do that later. If I remember correctly the pixelation post-effect shader was added at the same time, and I just liked it - I don't really have a justification for it. But it also helps to hide the fact that my 3D models are all very low-poly and have no textures.

WoodForTheTrees_MakingOfModels

By the way, this is the first time that I used Blender for a game jam; I like it more and more. It fits my style quite well I guess. For the trees I utilized a tool called HappyTree by Sol_HSA, which made it easy for me to generate four different trees and reuse them all the time. I only changed the materials.

The narrative structure of the game also developed more or less naturally: due to the fact I played some "walking simulators" beforehand I was okay with incorporating a personal story. So all content grew out of certain relationships that occupy my mind often enough. As a result it didn't become a straight story really, but more like a set of emotions I wanted to share.

WoodForTheTrees_MakingOfAdventure

I didn't plan to do a full puzzle game, but somehow I actually added enough elements like finding typical items and having to combine them, so I can now call it an adventure game without shame. Overall it's a simple game in the sense that I didn't even add a visible inventory (as it wasn't needed), but thanks to the shifting environment and the somewhat allegorical hints the game should be longer than just a few minutes.

You could say the background story and the adventure game mechanics are somewhat contradicting or at least exist in parallel only. But whenever I think of my childhood (which the story is touching), I have certain games in my mind which I played back then, and Wood in the Trees actually recreates them in an abstract way. Furthermore, the seemingly mundane tasks represent the protagonists quest for absolution somehow. The mechanics and plot combined with the fog trees, the game's name, the colors and some of the objects in the game, it all is symbolic and it's okay that only a small percent of players understand them fully.

WoodForTheTrees_MakingOfAllSketches

WoodForTheTrees_MakingOfTiles2

Right next to creating the world system in Unity the hardest part of the game was actually planning it. I'm never big with story (something I really have to train), so I just wrote down a lot of things I'd like to say. Not everything made it into the game. And I laid out the puzzle progress on paper as soon as I decided that I would actually have puzzles. But only by actually implementing them I'd see if an item would make sense or not and from time to time a whole path was changed - thankfully always for the better.

Unfortunately I was not able to follow my initial plan to make the game within 48 hours ("Compo") and had to extend to 72 hours ("Jam"). I never felt that I would actually be able to finish it, which send me to a rollercoaster of emotions during the game jam - either I was relaxed and had a "it's okay, I don't care" attitude, or I was angry at myself that I would fail at Ludum Dare yet again. I'm still surprised I actually finished - and it sure helped that for the Jam I didn't have to create my own music. I suck at this still, and don't stop hoping this will change some day. Instead I used a track by my brothers, which they composed many years ago for a game prototype Jana and I made in university. It fits the game well enough and actually adds to the symbolism of Wood for the Trees.

A monster?

After several days between me and the development I can now think about the game again. In hindsight I would change a few things, especially as players rightfully complained about those. Being able to re-read the notes and texts would be a great addition, and probably easy to do. Not removing the notes in the game would be a good start for that. Moreover, the hit boxes for the clickable objects are sometimes to small, and generally it's not clear enough if you can interact with something or not. I would add a few more descriptions to some elements in the game, and also tweak the controls so they would be easier to understand. And I would take extra-care that players find the solution to the first puzzle easily. Last but not least I'm disappointed I couldn't add any sound effects - not even some step sounds!

If I find time and motivation, I might do these changes and upload a post-jam version.

WoodForTheTrees_MakingOfPress

In any case I'm happy that Wood for the Trees already got some media attention - AlphaBetaGamer made the start (with a title optimized for SEO a bit too much), followed by WarpDoor, PC Gamer and Killscreen. Wow! It shows once more that pixel games - even fake ones - are the way to go I guess. And I visited the A MAZE (a festival for indie games in Berlin) a few days after Ludum Dare, so I even made an Android build of my game. It ran very laggy and the controls weren't working correctly, but it was cool to actually being able to show something when talking about it. Even though I didn't show it around that much I had a lot of fun - the fruits of productivity.

ld35_20160418_144327_513

If you're a participant of Ludum Dare 35, you can rate Wood for the Trees here. In any case, the downloads can be found on itch.io - have fun!

And here's a video - be aware, it's the full walkthrough, so of course it contains spoilers:



Comments Off on Ludum Dare 35: Wood for the Trees – Post Mortem

How to make an AAA game in 2 days

Before the Global Game Jam 2016 started I gave a short talk about how to make an AAA game in 2 days (as the GGJ is 48 hours long). Of course I have no idea how to make an AAA game, but I thought that sounds more interesting than "How to polish your game in a day". So yeah, it was just about giving a jam game that small bit polish so it wouldn't look that much like a jam game.

I started by talking about some experiences I made years ago: how 2K contacted me as they had this new game - Assassin's Creed - and they already worked a day on it. Their prototype consisted of the protagonist Günter (or so) walking around. But they didn't know how to make it any better. That's why they consulted me. And here is what I told them.

First I noticed how the movement wasn't very smooth, and I showed them how to use tweens so the player character would look professionally animated, even though it was a single sprite. It was a bit of a pain, as tweens need careful coding. For example, as long as the player is tweening, don't let the user change the direction, and so on. But all the sweat paid off.

(If you use Unity, don’t use iTween. DOTween and LeanTween are quite okay, though!)

Afterwards, I explained how the same applies to the camera: the more movement is there, the better. We all know how cool AAA games use tracking shots for everything. You can do the same! But using Lerp() to make the camera somewhat smoother can be tricky, as sometimes the player can be too fast and not see where they're going. This is why we add some kind of foresight. This talk from the GDC 2015 can be helpful, even when not doing a sidescroller.

Apparently the original AssCreed had some teleportation mechanic, but it looked bland. I advised Lionhead to add some transition effects. Those can also be useful when the player gets hit - just color the screen completely red!

My game Snakoban has another kind of effect for changing levels. It was a bit of work, but everything is better than just changing screens without any transition.

Snakoban

"Never forget to shake the screen," I told the AssCreed developers. "And of course, use particles everywhere." Every new particle in the game is another step to AAA, as they give instant feedback to the user that something is happening or has happened. And they look nice, too, so even as pure decoration they are useful.

Our very own game prototype Power of Love has trails for the player characters. It looks cool, because it adds the illusion of velocity, speed and fast movement.

Power of Love

Even with all the improvements so far, Blizzard's prototype looked kind of flat. So I introduced them to the concept of layers - giving the player a shadow, even a simple one, already creates the illusion of depth. Having a foreground and a background with different scrolling speed ("parallax scrolling") is awesome too.

Although they already worked on the prototype for a day or so, they still missed the most important thing in a game (or any medium, really): emotions! Always take care your game evokes feeling. This is why we improved the story a bit, worked on the colors and chose a cool music that fits. (I think they changed the story later.) Anyway, humor is also cool, but I don't know much about that. It’s up to you, dear reader!

Of course, music is great, but sound effects are needed, too. Just like particles, sounds add a lot to the feedback and the atmosphere. Foot steps, "ouch" sounds, you name it. Sound can even create things that aren't there! Want a forest full of animals? Just play a sound loop with rustling in the leaves and singing birds, and your graphics department can leave early, because they won't have anything to do.

Obi Wan gives a good lession, in this regard: it's only real if it has a sound!

Obi Wan and the sound of laser

For the final touch Crytek added simple light effects, to focus on the important things in the game (the player), and increase the atmosphere. Nobody could believe this was still the same game, just with a bit of bling created within a few hours. And we all know that Assassin's Creed became a big hit!

(You can download the "game" here. It was made with Monkey-X. The tileset is from Silver IV. The dust is from here. The first music track is by my brothers, the second one by Matt Goles. Of course, Assassin's Creed is a trademark of Ubisoft.)

Comments Off on How to make an AAA game in 2 days

Jana visited Ramallah for a workshop

Ramallah Street

It's always a great experience for me traveling other countries. Not only to visit new places and meet different people, but as a welcoming reset of perspective. Getting to know places like Ramallah in Palestine is such a journey that often helps you experience things differently than you thought they would be. In Germany we mostly hear about Palestine in the news, when terrorists are bombing people or a new election is running. My friends and family were worried for my safety, not only because of Palestine, but moreover my plane landing in Tel Aviv, Israel - also mostly known to Germans for bombings, stabbings and elections.

Only a few people know that students in Ramallah study Computer Science, create games and were going to take part in the Global Game Jam for the first time this year.

Ramallah city

As it turns out, everything is different than expected and my invitation to give a workshop for students became a pleasant trip. Of course, the infamous questioning of Israeli airport authorities every flight is starting with, the twice, thrice check of your bags, is annoying. Whatever, you tell them the story of your life in twenty minutes and be done with it...

As a German traveling this region is somewhat special, as you get reminded of your country's own history and the parallels to the ongoing conflict more than once. It's not only the Holocaust I'm talking of, but also the separation of a country through a wall. A separation that not only cuts off people locally, but also mentally. It's saddening how few everyone knows about each other, despite having free internet access and therefore unfiltered information. But I guess a separation like that sits deeper than the lack of information and I'm not sure my short travel report will give this deep wound any justice. So let's focus on the stuff I understandgames!

Every year on the last weekend of January the Global Game Jam takes place. The whole world jamming to one theme in local hubs together and Ramallah was jamming this year, too. Thanks to the French-German Cultural center, Thorsten 'Storno' and his team from the German Indie festival A Maze, the freshly founded local maker space and the Palestine game developer Pinch Point this was going to happen. Ammar Tazami from Pinch Point and I were giving workshops in advance - about game art and design for game jams from my side, and Ammar about 'Working with Unity'.

The participants where Computer Science students from the whole country, but mostly the Birzeit University near Ramallah. The number of women in my workshop was astonishing. Okay, one participant 'cheated', by bringing his two sisters with him, which was great.

Although, according to an interview with Palestine-based marketing and PR head Katy Hanna 70% of the Birzeit graduates are women. Are there really more women studying computer stuff? I would like to know more about that!

Ramallah market

Ramallah was founded by Christians and still has a lot of churches. And therefore also bars that serve booze. Although well known, Ramallah only is one part of two cities growing into each other. The bigger part (ca. 120.000 inhabitants) is Al-Bireh, it's Muslim sister.
What confused
me and a lot of people I met is that Ramallah (together with Al-Bireh) seems to be a city like any other. Sure, oriental with hundreds of one-man street shops and carts, loud, vivid, crowded and no car movement without reflexive honking. The streets often miss some kind of pavement, which is either non-existent or used by palms and olive trees, therefore people walk between cars. If they would have the ability to honk, they probably would.

Ramallah crowded

But between women wearing colourful head scarfs (or not) and men sometimes clothed in thawbs, you may spot hipsters and always well-dressed young people. They have Macs, iPhones and probably visited or even studied outside of Palestine. The only difference (well, I was there for three days) is the ubiquitous sense of being locked up. Even though Palestines can travel, it's not an easy process and has to be allowed by Israeli authorities, while flights can only happen from Jordan. You might easily forget all this while sitting in one of the many cozy cafés or bars, drinking delicious Arabic coffee with cardamom or the new Palestine Shepherds beer.

workshop

Therefore it was a pleasure to meet some of the local developers, although for a much too short time. My talk mainly focused on simple tools to restrict yourself. I feel that beginners often try to add too much to a picture or game in order too make it more interesting. But the better approach would be to focus on a few elements only and flesh them out. In the end I gave the students a small game Friedrich and I created together shortly before I went to Ramallah. Students had the task to exchange the games graphics and come up with new graphic assets, remembering all they have learned in the last three hours. One of the students, Ahmad Nairat, sent me his graphics (the one on the bottom):

LongTongue_Mod

Two weeks after me, Thorsten and Matthias Löwe came to Ramallah to prepare the Global Game Jam. Look at what the guys in Palestine created!

See my workshop pdf here.
Load our game Long Tongue here.
See more of my fotos from Ramallah here.

Comments Off on Jana visited Ramallah for a workshop

Happy Holidays!

See you next year!

 

The Rat King wishes all His friends and followers a Great Christmas and an Awesome Year 2016! May all your wishes come true, and all your projects meet their deadlines!

Greetings from Jana and Friedrich

Comments Off on Happy Holidays!

New project – The Power of Love

The Power of Love - screenshot

Hey everyone!

Our last game TRI is browsing the green meadows of the First Highly Overambitious-but-finished Games for one year now and since then it has been a bit calm around our blog. It is not really easy to dive into the next project right after the game you have been working on for two and a half years is finished and got quite richly awarded with prizes. We just couldn't create a new game right after such a project. Not after a month. Or half a year.

Every project we started seemed not to be sufficient enough to be THE next project that would make us happy, keep us motivated and conquer this damn indie market. At least on some point in this depression quest we decided to f*ck the pressure and just make the game we wanted to create for so long while developing TRI: A multiplayer game that people will be able to pick up at exhibitions and have fun with together. A game where players really have to work together and talk to each other while playing.

When playing many crawlers that also allow multiple players we realized that players often don't need to care for each other. Everyone just shoots around until the stage is cleared. There is no need for interaction or sticking together. It's more of a competition instead of real coop.

In the Power of Love we have strong attacks that only work if you time your movement. And this leads to quite some energetic play-throughs, because you happen to depend on each other.

Last week we showcased the current prototype at the Poznan Game Arena in Poland (which we used as a personal deadline for the project). The PGA is the computer games event that we attended a year ago already; we came back because we enjoyed the country, people, beer, atmosphere and - moreover - visitors play-testing our game through the acid test.

poznan_03 poznan_02 poznan_04

poznan_01

(The last photo was made by Frank Groh. Danke!)

This is only the first announcement. Further information, pictures and videos will follow. If you like to stay updated, follow this blog or subscribe to our newsletter!

Comments Off on New project – The Power of Love

Making-of video 5, Artbook, Honorable Mention

Yes, updates seem to become rarer and rarer. The main reason for this is that we still do not have a new project. Yes, we do have plans, but as usual nothing is set in stone yet, and nothing drove us into a development frenzy. Since the release of TRI we created a few internal prototypes and game jam games, some of them I wrote about on my personal blog. We also update our Facebook page more often than this blog, as some news are tiny.

And while we planned and created ideas and abandoned them every month, we were also giving interviews for local radio and TV broadcasts and local newspapers - so it's all in German. Press came when they heard that we won "Best Youth Game" at the German Computer Game Award 2015, so this is a nice side effect. Jana also created a booklet for German indies, which you can grab at the upcoming Gamescom 2015, or just read it online thanks to Martin Nerurkar. (Yes, we will be at the Gamescom, but mostly as visitors only.)

Another thing we did was filming my brother Ludwig Hanisch in his basement, where he created the music for TRI. It's an interview of around 15 minutes about family, inspirations and instruments. Watch it now - it even has English subtitles!

In order to create a more extensive, more interesting post-mortem of TRI, we made a digital artbook. Even though I already wrote a short retrospective about TRI's development, I felt it was necessary to close this chapter in a much cooler way. Thus there is the artbook now, which exists in two versions:

  • The full edition (94 pages) contains it all, background information, WIP screenshots, concept art, scribbles, etc. - everybody who bought the deluxe edition of TRI has it.
  • The lite edition is free to download for everybody - it contains the first 51 pages of the full edition and is only missing the transcript of the developers' commentary; the very same commentary you can also unlock in the game.
tri artbook cover tri artbook example page

Oh, and one last thing: to our surprise TRI got an Honorable Mention at the 2015 Geekie Awards, which is pretty crazy if you consider the high-quality competitors. Thanks to the judges for the mention!

geekie awards

That's it for today. Hopefully we have more news sooner next time!

Comments Off on Making-of video 5, Artbook, Honorable Mention

TRI – Award and Update

Exciting news AND great news ahead!

I still can't believe it myself, but our game TRI won an award just yesterday. So it's now officially the Best Youth Game according to the German Computer Game Award 2015! The award in this category comes with a prize money of around 50,000 Euros - which hopefully helps us to finance our next project.

\o/ CELEBRATION \o/

Dear judges of the Computerspielpreis: thank you very much for this honor. And also a big thanks to all the congratulators!

11164675_844608145606684_5004680219762691028_n

11039090_844608215606677_921058098139499398_n

Onwards to the other news. We took the time to update TRI. The latest release "PythagoreanBeauty" mainly contains a few minor bug-fixes and changes to the game which hopefully improve the overall experience. Some of the levels improvements and additions are:

  • Added an object force field in "Glimpse of Light" to prevent players getting stuck (minor fix)
  • Added some stepping stones to "A Temple on the Mountain"
  • Added a force field wall to "Overcoming Limitations" to prevent players from getting stuck without the wall-walk TRI (minor fix)
  • Replaced a few of the deadly light rays with less deadly light rays (orange color) to make them easier
  • Added a lever for a gate in front of an idol in "Out of the Box"
  • Added minor visual hints in "The Foxes' Playground", "Glimpse of Light" and "Red Means Dangerous"
  • Changed bottom puzzle in "Glimpse of Light" a bit to prevent glitches

A partial list of bugs removed:

  • Fixed a rare, scale related bug with the elevator in "Wings in the Void"
  • Fixed Monk not talking anymore after collecting the first TRI when moving away from him (minor fix)
  • Fixed subtitles not being shown anymore after pressing Escape
  • Fixed end statistics (played chapters and such)
  • Fixed a bug which caused resetting the statistics when restarting a level
  • Fixed a minor bug in "Out of Space and Time" by replacing an invisible triangle-destroying box with a visible one
  • Fixed an idol in "Wings in the Void" (regression from v1.0.1), should count now for the bonus content when collected again

Other changes include:

  • Improved black border and skip button for cutscenes
  • Added option to deactivate the voice of the Monk
  • Added a text in pause menu screen indicating how many chapters were played in the current playthrough
  • Changed auto-statify (of current triangle) slightly - moving the current corner beneath the player won't make the triangle immediately static anymore (min distance is 1m)

A complete list can be found in the Steam announcement. We tried to listen to what players said in the forums and via mail as much as we could, and especially the less deadly light rays might be very welcome to some of our players! Sadly, some things reported we didn't fix because we just could not reproduce the behaviour. So, in case you found a bug, it would be great if you could send a relevant save game and the last log to us, together with a description of the bug. (The Steam announcements also contains the folders where to find the save games and the log file.)

Last but not least, if you happen to attend the Lange Nacht der Computerspiele in Leipzig this Saturday - Friedrich will be there from 3:00pm, interviewed by the famous René Meyer for 20 minutes.

Comments Off on TRI – Award and Update