Gemstone Keeper is out on the Nintendo Switch!

By the time you read this, Gemstone Keeper will be available for purchase on the Nintendo eShop in most of Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and the United States!

Gemstone Keeper is an action twin-stick roguelike shooter where a brave explorer can traverse a large and mystical cavern to search for rare and precious gemstones. The deeper an explorer goes into the caverns, the more valuable gemstones that can be found, however at the risk of facing more of the dangerous and hostile creatures that live there, including creatures that are larger than life.

Armed only with a gun, explorers must break through rocks to collect minerals and gemstones and fight off the creatures, and find the portal that can help them go back up to sell what they collect or go further down.

Gemstone Keeper uses ASCII art in both a pure and diverse form, as almost every part of the game’s look come directly from text and symbols while very loose in form. The weapon and bullet system is fully interchangeable, over 150 gemstones to collect, several creatures and bosses, different game modes and a soundtrack that echoes through the open spaces in-between the rocky walls. Gemstone Keeper is the shooter that is both fun and eerie.

It is honestly just crazy for me to think that back when I started making games nearly 10 years ago, I wanted to make video games for one of the big consoles, and now I have achieved that goal! Any and all feedback will be great, and I’m just thankful for everyone who has helped in some way, from the SFML team for being helpful for technical issues I had, Vincent Rubinetti for coming on to produce the brilliant soundtrack, to Ironbell for reaching out to me with the idea of working together to bring SFML to the Nintendo Switch.

The EGX Report

It was more than a month ago that Gemstone Keeper was being shown to the public at a games festival. Last weekend it happened again, this time at the ExCel Centre in London. EGX is the largest video games expo in the UK, originally starting as Eurogamer Expo as part of the London Games Festival in 2008, eventually being hosted at Birmingham NEC after the closure of its main venue of Earl’s Court in 2015 until this year where it moved back to London, in a move that excited or angered gamers and game developers depending on what part of the country you were from.

As mentioned in my last post, Gemstone Keeper was part of the Tentacle Zone as one of its 18 games on show. This time they weren’t the only space dedicated to indie games, there was also Rezzed (EGX’s dedicated indie games zone), Tranzfuser (a talent development programme from the UK Games Talent and Finance CIC), the UK Games Fund and the Leftfield Collection (for the unconventional indie games, sponsored this year by Team17), not to mention all the game publishers such as Nintendo, Sony, Bethesda, 505 Games, AAA game devs like Rebellion and retailers, as well as the typical expo showing of cosplayers, dealers, charities. There was also a stage set for the UK Speedrunning community, doing live speedruns of games for Special Effect. All of this was in half of the entire exhibition centre, in the entire south area.

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WizardJam – Re(re4ti0n

So June is almost over, and right now I’m writing as SGDQ is going on, but in the few weeks prior I was working on a game for my game-jam of June.

The game jam for this month is Wizard Jam, the seventh jam organised for the Idle Thumbs website and podcast. This was a jam that was fairly relaxed in comparison to most I take part in, being more than two weeks, with a very open themed convention. Instead of a singular theme, your theme is to choose from one of the many episode titles of the Idle Thumbs podcasts, which did take a while for me to pick, but I decided to choose one based on a little experimental project I was working on.

After being inspired from GDC earlier this year, I started work on a simple facial animation system to be used in the feature of a game. It used SFML’s primitive rendering system with interpolation and managed to get it to speak based on a simple string input. Wizard Jam gave me the opportunity to utilise it in a game with the theme “Read Our Lips” to test how effective it is.

The concept was a game where you were given quotes that are incomplete and corrupted, and your goal is to complete them based on your interpretation. The player had a short amount of time to enter their guess before being shown the next one. I went with giving the game a basic layout of an office, with a futuristic computer screen for the input and a faulty old looking monitor for the broken quotes. Thanks to SFML’s sf::Event::TextEntered, it’s incredibly easy to handle text input. It took less than a day to get the concept done, and an additional two days to get the initial layout done.

While I did take one day out to play around with the sfeMovie library, I spent most of the time polishing the existing game concept, improving the visuals and adding sound. I added camera movement so the text would be easier to see for a short amount of time. I updated the backgrounds so I could give a bit of a parallax effect.

The monitor was updated to use a lot of shaders, the title screen used the same amount of shaders. The main distortion shader was felixturner’s bad-tv-shader, combined with a fish-eye lens and scanline effect. I originally included a noise shader (as you can see in the previous tweet) but I found that darkened the colours so instead replaced it with the bloom shader that I’ve used in Berzerkatron and Gemstone Keeper. Finally, after some feedback, I added a simple chromatic aberration effect by offsetting the colour channels. It appeared to create an old and broken monitor effect that seemed to get some good impressions from people I showed it off on Discord servers.

There is no music for this game, just sound effects and ambient noise. Most of them were sourced from soniss’ GDC audio libraries, with some additional royalty free sounds for TVs and crowds. The name was kind of inspired by l33t speak, as I wanted to summarise the concept of the game (restoration/recreation) with the distortion you deal with.

The gameplay flow of having two minutes to guess as many quotes correctly was actually the last moment idea, originally you had to guess five random quotes with fifteen seconds each, but I felt that made the game too short for anyone finding it easy. One game dev on the Birmingham Indie Dev Discord suggested also making each quote progressively harder to start, but each would slowly become easier over a period of time. That way the game starts easy but gets difficult, but the currently displayed quote will slowly fix itself if you let it wait.

I was hoping to polish up the game a bit more over the weekend, but I went out to a party that unfortunately ended with the theft of one of my bags. While nothing game dev related was stolen, an expensive costume that I wear for public events was taken and it’s been reported to the authorities, although that didn’t stop the moment from dropping my emotional and motivational drive. I did get some last finishing touches done and missed the deadline by a few seconds, however the host was able to add Re(re4ti0n to the jam submission list the following morning.

You can play Re(re4ti0n by clicking the above image or right here.

HighJam #1 – Berzerkatron

UPDATE: The results of HighJam #1 are online. Berzerkatron got Second Place in Theme and Third Place in Graphics! Thank you to all those who have provided feedback. I have since updated a post-jam version of the game and to celebrate the results a new update has been uploaded. You can find out more on Itch.io.

As part of my effort to participate in one game jam a month, the month of February is HighJam. This is the first game jam is organised by HighSight Gaming, a Twitch Streamer who specialised in Indie Games with Indie Insights for a while (a show which Gemstone Keeper appeared twice on), although now it’s been replaced with a new show analysing classic games, In Hindsight.

The theme of this jam was Atari Remakes, specifically to quote the description: “you must reimagine any Atari 2600 game of your choice”. One of my favourite 2600 games made by Atari was Berzerk, originally released at arcades in 1980 and was ported to 2600 in 1982. While the rules stated that I was not limited to the graphics, sounds and mechanics of the original, I felt like doing a “modernized” look wouldn’t do so well. The concept in my mind was to do a reimagining that would be in the style of Jeff Minter. It’s most likely due to the man’s past work, I had an image in my head of a “Berzerk 2000” of sorts, with a psychedelic feel, visually creative backgrounds and random sound samples.

Click here to go straight to the game!


Here is how I developed two of the most interesting concepts of this game:

The Level Rotating Transitions

This was a feature I was really keen to make, and once I found it was possible and implement, I wanted to keep silent about it so people can witness it while playing and see what their first reaction to it was, and when watching HighSight’s Playthrough (Skip to 01:54:30) I think it’s safe to say it worked. The initial version of the cube shader was by gre on gl-transitions.com, a website I’ve used recently for Gemstone Keeper.

The shader itself fakes perspective by skewing both textures so it appears thinner when further away, and moves both so it appears like a cube.

I modified the texture to remove the reflection at the bottom as it seemed unecessary and added a variable and functions so it could not only rotate it clockwise in the Y-Axis for horizontal transitions, but rotate it in the X-Axis for vertical transitions, it was then a case of using a uniform variable for me to define which direction I want the shader to rotate towards. You can check out the modified shader in the Assets folder of the game.

Randomized Levels

Funnily enough, having the levels be randomized wasn’t out to be creative but because I couldn’t think of a quick method of creating a huge array of level designs (the original Berzerk had somewhere in the range of 1024 different level variations!).

When looking through the original Atari version, I figured the levels were all configured into a 3×3 grid (I realised I was incorrect afterwards, as the Atari 2600 had 4×3 grid levels and the Arcade version had 5×3 levels), and then by defining each segment to a binary number I could determine which segment should have walls in either or all four directions.

I’d then construct a path between the player’s starting segment and the segments of each available exit, for the the remaining segments that have no value set, I’d use a random value. This last step had to be constrained as to have as few empty rooms as possible. However, as the above gif shows, not all levels are fully explorable. I also use the grid to determine which areas enemies and civilians should appear in.

Backgrounds

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to plan out or work on the brilliant background effects Jeff Minter develops, but GLSL-Sandbox is an excellent gallery of GLSL shaders that render brilliant visuals without any additional assets. I decided to pick ones that were monochromatic and were visually interesting without pointing too much attention from the game itself. I also used my multipass shader system to apply a shader that added a diamond gradient and another that made it possible to crossfade between different backgrounds.

Civilians

Interestingly, the idea of civilians to rescue (idea taken from Robotron and Llamatron) was kind of a last minute idea. I added this part of the game to encourage players to explore the level and add pressure to spend more time in the level while involving Evil Otto.

I did run out of time to implement some things I wanted like particle effects, but I’m happy I managed to get a playable version done. I did take one or two days off to have some leisure (and charity work) but I feel this is worthwhile. Hopefully enough people will vote and leave a good rating on this game.

New Years Resolutions

Good evening everyone! It’s no doubt that 2017 has been a hell of a year following what happened in 2016, but we fought through and we are still here fighting! This year has also been huge in terms of game development for me. I managed to finish SEVEN games this year, six from game jams such as #RemakeJam, PROCJam, Jamchester and Three Ludum Dares!

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The seventh game was the nearly two year project Gemstone Keeper, which made an initial release on March 31st earlier this year and has since had numerous updates, although grouped together as four updates. The most recent of which was 1.0.4 that was announced on 21st of December. The game is currently on part of the Steam Winter Sale, and is currently 50% off!

Gemstone Keeper also had a second smaller release as it was ported to Linux, the build being available on Steam in June. I documented the progress to port the game in three blog posts (part 1, part 2 and part 3), and got a small amount of coverage from dedicated linux gaming websites as a result.

There was also an accomplishment in travel as well, 2017 was the year I went to both GDC in San Francisco and Develop in Brighton for the first time! Both events were great opportunities to meet up and socialise with fellow game developers and listen to talks from great minds such as Ken Perlin, John and Brenda Romero, Jordan Mechnar and Tim Sweeny.

As for 2018, I want to set some goals. As with many New Years Resolutions, chances are they will be forgotten and unaccomplished, but considering I managed to lose weight this year, I might pull through with a bit of committment.

First one is that I want to take part in at least one game jam a month, meaning I’d be finishing 12 games next year. I like the challenge and creativity from game jams, but this year I feel like six isn’t enough. At least spacing out the game jams to one a month will give me time to find a weekend or so to get my head down and finish something.

Second one is to get a game on console. It’s not like I haven’t bothered trying before (I’ve reached out to Nintendo about developing Gemstone Keeper for the Switch to no avail), but it would be nice to expand my work beyond desktop PCs and web development. Porting my own game to Linux should show how when I put my mind to it, building a game to another platform by hand is possible, and it would be great to show I can do that on one of the three main systems.

Thanks for reading and have a happy new year everyone!

Gemstone Keeper – Quest to Linux Part 3 – Gemstone Keeper

Finally, after beginning soon after the game’s Windows release on Steam, and well over a month after I initially wrote my first post about this topic, I’m finally done with porting Gemstone Keeper to Linux (for the most part) and ready to write about what I’ve learned from porting it over. Since both the Framework and Level Generator have been ported, getting the whole game to compile and run wasn’t as confusing as the last two, but that didn’t stop it being tedious.

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Gemstone Keeper on Steam Right Now

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Check out the Steam Store, and you’ll see that Gemstone Keeper has a page where you can add to your wishlist, purchase the game and write a review for it. I greatly appreciate seeing people buying the game and giving it a good review, it really means a lot after realising that this game has been in development for nearly two years (May 2015 – April 2017). Reviews in particular are important because I’d like to collect a list of issues and make fixes, and hopefully add a bit more to the game over the course of a year. Gemstone Keeper will also be shown at Insomnia 60 at the Birmingham NEC and maybe a few more events if people find an interest.

In particular I want to thank Vincent Rubinetti for his contributions for the game. While he was the person I had in mind to do the soundtrack from the point I listened to his music in INK, I was a bit nervous about approaching him with the demo I had. However after a few emails back and forth, we made an agreement and we were underway for producing a great accompanyment to the game’s visual art style and atmosphere.

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In addition, I’d like to apologise for leaving this two days late; I couldn’t plan ahead because I spent the last few days sending out emails and twitter DMs in the hopes to get the game looked at by people; I fixed bugs and adding some last minute features such as damage numbers appearing whenever you hit something with your bullets and being able to type the seed you want to use in Score Mode.

On the launch day, I was at Rezzed, where I did talk to a few people about my game, but mainly walked around and tried out a selection of great titles. By the time 6pm rolled around, I hung out at an after party and chatted to a few developers.

Then the day after was my birthday, so I figured I would post on social media, but spend most of the time away from the game and more with friends and family to celebrate and relax.

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As for my future plans, aside from this game’s maintenance, I’m hoping to return to smaller games for a while. In particular I want to try a few more game jams and experiment a bit more, I have a few ideas I want to try out, and now I have a little less pressure on me to work a bit on them.