Gemstone Keeper (for the Switch) for the Public!

Hello everyone! It’s been a while, but my game development focus has been majorly on Gemstone Keeper for the Nintendo Switch! Significant progress has been made to it, plus Ironbell and I (as well as feedback from devs of Naezith) have been continuing our work on SFML-Switch, fixing issues that we find. The submission process is currently in its early stages and with any luck there will be an announcement on its release later this year.

The biggest areas of progress to Gemstone Keeper that have been made is that the Switch release has a local multiplayer mode called “Survival” where up to four players can fight an infinite amount of enemies until the last player dies.

Another big change to Gemstone Keeper is that the graphics have been significantly upgraded to a higher resolution to accomodate with the Switch’s HD displays. While it might seem strange to do this, but the painstaking process of using much larger fonts to generate the textures in the game results in a significantly sharper display overall. To the untrained eye it might not appear noticeable, but when compared side by side or in a split screenview, the differences become crystal clear (pun intended).

Back in June, the Switch port had a public test run at the Retro Revival Festival in Walsall (where I was also selling some games from my private collection). Despite some major technical difficulties, I managed to get some good feedback and players to try out the game, so I’d say it went pretty well!

From the event I also got to speak to Chris O’Regan from the video game podcast group Cane and Rinse, and after he got to have a go at the game and got in touch after the festival, he invited me on the Sausage Factory to talk about the game, as well as my development background and games design! I had a good time talking, although I usually get nervous when speaking in a mindset of having an audience, I like talking about my work and how I feel about games that show a more technical aspect over an artistic or epic approach to them. So if you have under an hour to spare, why not try hearing us talk for a bit?

Gemstone Keeper Episode of Sausage Factory

But that was back in June, what about now or next month? Well I’m happy to confirm that Gamepopper will be returning to the Indie Zone of Insomnia Gaming Festival as part of their i65 lineup (for the first time since i60 back in April 2017). Both myself and the game will be there for all four days of the festival, but do also come down for the rest of what indies have to offer.

There will be one more event in the near future where players can try out Gemstone Keeper, however I’m going to hold back on announcing it until after the final details get sorted.

 

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End of 2018 In Review

It seems that because of how the internet and societies have changed so drastically, years now seem to feel like they’ve multiplied. I doubt anyone could really summarise what happened this year, as there appeared to be a lot of fighting back and forth. Outside of game development, I have had to deal with friends moving further away, my mascot costume being stolen as well as my grandmother needing serious treatment that has put a lot of us in the family on edge, and that’s not including all that’s going on in the UK and the news of some of the great people in the world we lost such as Isao Takahata, Ursula K. Le Guin, Totalbiscuit, Stan Lee, Fred Patten and many others.

But this is about progress and achievements, so let’s send of 2018 right!

Game Jams

My main New Years Resolution this year was to do one game jam per month, as I felt I wasn’t doing enough over a year. For all the challenges, I managed to succeed and get twelve games done this year. Few didn’t go as well as I hoped but most I feel were rather successful!

Global Games Jam 2018 – FORMANTS

HighJam #1 – Berzerkatron

7DRL – RDLL

Ludum Dare 41 – Strategysphere

CFZ GameJam – Foxtrot & Tango

WizardJam – Re(re4ti0n

FloppyJam – PEWBALL

Ludum Dare 42 – Closing in on Pascal

RainbowJam – Fursuit Run

7DFPS – RVB

Desert Bus – Bus on a Desert

Ludum Dare 44 – Tank Gauntlet

Doing this definitely felt worth while, as it lead me to create a whole new engine as well as update my 3D graphics system. In the end however, I do feel a bit burnt out from game jams, which is partially why soon after Ludum Dare 44 I decided not to do much. I might hold off on doing any more because as you’ll find later on in the post I have other reasons too.

The P Word

I think its safe to say that politics has gotten stronger and divisive now more than ever, it might be hard to believe considering my Twitter feed but I would consider myself mostly centre-left but not very openly vocal about political issues. Most of this changed in 2016 with Brexit and the US, and while I will still insist on being centre-left on many principles, I don’t think I should be quiet about issues such as our relationships with other countries, the treatment of people regardless of identity and funding to the public sector.

As such it’s great to see and contribute in any small ways to organisations such as Game Workers Unite and Games4EU. I first spotted leaflets for GWU at GDC, around the time when crunch and unions were hot button topics within games development. I tried to keep up to date with their progress and shared what they did, and imagine the response we had when GWU UK became an official union! I hope to keep supporting them and I look forward to seeing how they will progress.

Games4EU was set up to act as a voice for game developers who wish to remain in the EU, and largely support a people’s vote. I actually got to join them for the first ever protest march I participated in my life, walking alongside 700,000 people. It was a great experience and the support was overwhelming. I wish I could be hopeful and think that all this political mess would be sorted in the new year, but I’m not gonna stop.

Console Development

I didn’t realise this until I checked my New Years post from last year, but I had a second new years resolution: to get into console games development. I also mentioned how I tried to get in touch with Nintendo but was not successful, so imagine my surprise in October when a representitive from Nintendo of Europe got in touch with me. I think it’s safe for me to confirm that I’m now a registered Nintendo Switch developer, and so now in 2019 I want to focus most of my game development efforts on getting SFML (and by extension, Vigilante) working on the Switch. Currently I’ve had to upgrade my workstation to get ready for it, and at some point I’ll get a proper dev kit to work with. It’s an aspiration to any game developer to work on a game for a major platform, and so while I imagine my tasks will be tough, I’ll get through!

Ludum Dare 44 – Tank Gauntlet

The year of 2018 is drawing to a close, and so for December what other game jam I should take part in but the 44th Ludum Dare. I decided to take part in the compo as once again I managed to have a free weekend to work on it.

Before the compo commenced, I used my previous experience with game jams including the 11 previous ones I took part in this year to write a set of rules I think other aspiring game devs should follow when they work. Other devs seem to like them so I figured I’d use these rules to go over how I made my Ludum Dare 44 entry, Tank Gauntlet.

These won’t be in the order I originally set them for the sake of describing the progress.

LD43-00010.gif

Know your Tools

I already had my tools in mind before the theme was announced, I used my SFML-based C++ engine “Vigilante, Piskell for animated sprites, Photoshop for any bigger assets, BFXR for SFX and cgMusic with LMMS for music. A lot of which I have used before, but for audio, I feel as though I need to find more other ways to create the SFX I need without the use of a sound library, and maybe diversify my music creativity (I used Megadrive Emulation Soundfonts so there was a bit of a 16 bit vibe to the music).

Small Scope and Stick Mostly with What You Know

I’ve usually been pessimistic the themes for Ludum Dare, as you are given the opportunity to vote on them in multiple rounds but the themes I like the most do not tend to get chosen. Therefore, when the theme was announced to be “Sacrifices must be made”, it wasn’t one that I was entirely keen on, and the only idea I had jotted down was “diet simulator”. While that idea was doable, it wasn’t really that original and a simulator might have been a more laborious task. I slept on it and figured I’d do a tank combat game. To fit the theme and my “1 unique/main, 2 optional mechanics” approach, the unique mechanic would be sacrificing gameplay input for power/speed, with the two optional mechanics being shooting and melee attacks.

Gameplay First

The first thing I did Saturday morning was work on the main game, by setting up a simple tilemap and a rectangle sprite for the player. Then I made sure the player could move, jump and collide with the tilemap, and the player could wrap in all directions.

Oh, a basic tip on how to handle platform jumps: Do math. Don’t bother guessing the right values for acceleration and jump velocity until you get it right, set up some variables and apply some vector maths, the below code will be enough to work out how high and how fast you want to jump, as well as how fast you want the player to move horizontally:

float Height = -85.0f; //Maximum Height of the Jump in Pixels
float Distance = 80.0f; //Distance travelled in Pixels
float Time = 0.5f; //Total Time of Jump
float MoveSpeed = Distance / Time; //Speed in order to travel the set distance in the set time
Player->MaxVelocity = sf::Vector2f(MoveSpeed, -2 * ((2 * Height) / Time));
Player->Acceleration.y = (-2 * Height) / (Time * Time);
Player->Drag.x = Player->MaxVelocity.x * 10;

If you want to extend it further, I’d recommend watching this GDC Talk on Game Maths Programming:

After using the code I have written previously for bullets, tweaking it to my liking, and adding enemy rectangles that can spawn periodically and move at different speed and be of different sides. I had most of what I needed.

LD43-00000.gif

I also added knife melee attacks and enemy damage before I worked on the menu that would handle input sacrifice.

LD43-00001.gif

Make Your Content Easy and Noticeable

For the last Ludum Dare, I made a racoon sprite that had a full running animation and was heavily detailed to the best of my ability, along with a tilemap and background to resemble a temple, and it took five hours. In the end, the environment didn’t look all that great and the racoon sprite was so small that you couldn’t see the detail.

This time around, I decided I wanted something simpler and easy to resemble, a tank. I loosely based the design on the StarFox Landmaster. With it being a tank, there didn’t need to be many frames.

LD43-00004.gif

I decided to keep the sprites and tilemap monochrome, using shading and tones with around 20 shades of grey in total so I could randomize the tint to add some variety to it. The enemies were kept red, as it’s an easy way to convey them as dangerous.

LD43-00007.gif

I found using fonts a bit more frustrating than normal, SFML doesn’t use the nearest neighbour for fonts so on a game with a low resolution (Tank Gauntlet uses 320×180), it’s difficult to use a font that isn’t too big and wouldn’t get blurry if the font size wasn’t set to a specific factor, if I found a way to implement bitmap fonts I might not have this much of an issue.

LD43-00011.gif

621 and Take a Walk

On both Saturday and Sunday, I walked into the town centre to get food and other things to relax my mind and not stress over the game too much. I also tried to get some good sleep, so I didn’t stay up too late and got up at around 8-9am on each day, oh and I took showers.

Find a Friend

One of the comments I got from this rule is that it doesn’t have to apply to team-based projects, having a friend to look over the game or provide feedback is beneficial to a solo project. As such, I’d like to thank my friend Kris for putting up with me sending him screenshots and asking about ways to make the game feel better and if I’m making the game too cruel or not.

I hope you find this simple process interesting, after doing 12 game jams this year I’m kind of happy this one felt mostly streamlined. There were some issues like with audio, not to mention technical issues post-submission, but I hope people find the final product enjoyable.

https://ldjam.com/events/ludum-dare/43/tank-gauntlet-control-vs-power

I was going to include a final statement for 2018 as a year in review here, but with the length of this one I’m going to have to add it as an additional post. Happy New Year everyone!

7DFPS and Desert Bus

Don’t worry to anyone who has been following what I’ve been doing this year, I haven’t missed October or November. I’m so close to finishing this goal of mine for 2018 and my next post will include not only that month’s jam entry but a summary of what I have done over the year. But for now, more jam games.

In October, I took part in 7DFPS, as the name implies the jam is focused around games in the first person shooter genre. The jam itself is probably best known for being the source of the wildly successful indie title SUPERHOT, where the prototype was created for the jam back in 2014. I decided to take part in this jam to see if I can add to the 3D game system I developed in September’s game jam.

7DFPS-00001

One issue I had when working on this system was that I didn’t have a fully working software frustum culling system, this would allow me to avoid draw calls on 3D objects that were not in view of the camera. What you see above was the issue I had before. It took a number of trial and errors and reading on how to properly set up and transform the plans before I had it properly culling the right objects. I also added some other mechanics I need to make this a classic FPS, jumping while taking into consideration multiple floors and shooting projectiles.

As you can see from the projectiles, some of them were clipping unusally. This is a side effect of rendering textured objects in OpenGL with alpha transparency, any objects that are drawn after transparent objects will have the scene’s pixel data overwritten. The solution to this is to sort your 3D objects, first by making sure he fully opaque objects are in front, and transparent objects by their distance from the camera (aka depth/transparency sorting).

7DFPS-00007.gif

Then came the big additions, I used most of the same code from Fursuit Run for the enemies so they had the same 2.5D effect, but changed around the movement code and added the ability for them to shoot as well.

For the game’s hook, I wanted to have a mechanic based on Ikaruga, where only opposing colours hurt you and the enemy. As such I had to give the player and each enemy two batch renderers, one for each colour, to share one bullet group, as well as a flag for their current colour. Then I made sure the game checked what the colour of the bullets, players and enemies were during each collision to make sure that only opposing colours set damage.

7DFPS-00006.gif

Then it came round to the presentation, I decided to make the level much bigger (no easy task considering the original protoype used hard coded map sizes), changed the textures and added bloom so the game’s visuals had a neon aesthetic.

In the last few hours, I struggled to find how to give the game a proper goal for single players. As I was getting tired, I decided just to have an orb that the player must find to collect. The gun in the middle was the last touch, which also helped made distinguishing the player’s colours easier.

I managed to fix a few bugs later on, although I think I’ve done most that I can with this. Although one change that I don’t think will get finished but was cool was I managed to get multiple cameras working for one scene, which makes split-screen gameplay possible! So for making a number of improvements to my engine’s 3D capabilities, I call this a win. You can play RvB here on itch.io.

7DFPS-00010.gif

For November, I took part in the Desert Bus Game Jam, which started last Friday (9th November) and I managed to finish on Thursday (14th November). This jam is done in conjunction with Desert Bus For Hope, a charity video game stream to raise money for Child’s Play. The theme for each DB jam is around the desert bus, which itself is based on a notorious unreleased game of the same name.

I decided after two 3D games to make it slightly easy on myself while being experimental, so for my Desert Bus Game, you would see two perspectives, one to dodge stuff on the road and the other to keep your bus balanced.

DesertBus-00002.gif

Unfortunately, as of writing I do not have a proper physics system in Vigilante, so I made do with the standard collision system. The rear-view had a bus that leaned in the direction by changing the origin of rotation to the bottom corners. One low-level thing I did do for this game was to update the VSprite from using SFML’s sprite object to VertexArrays. This would allow me to adjust each vertex on the fly, instead of being restricted to a single square. It also allowed me to freely change the texture coordinates so I could do the endlessly scrolling roads, as well as skewing them. I hoped I would be able to get proper perspective to work, but even vertex arrays have their limits when it comes to skewed sprites.

You can play Bus on the Desert here.

One month to go!

Ludum Dare 42 – Closing in on Pascal

The game jam for August was Ludum Dare 42, so with it coming to a close, I thought it’d be good to talk about how the submission [Closing in on Pascal](https://ldjam.com/events/ludum-dare/42/closing-in-on-pascal) came about and what I learned from it.

Ludum Dare 42 was particularly exciting for me, as it was the first LD in a long time that I had a completely free weekend. As such, I decided to plan the first day entirely for gameplay, with graphics and audio on the second day. That way I get a solid game and then plenty of time to work on making it look and sound nice, you’ll find out why that plan isn’t flawless as it sounds.

When it came to the theme, I was already very pessimistic that it would be a theme I’d be happy with, it’s been a common trend for people to vote on the theme that no one wants. I even voted against the theme “Running Out of Space” but when it turns out to be the chosen one, I thought it was pretty good.

The concept of running out of space I had was inspired by the cartoon trap of the walls closing in on someone in a temple. I figured a game where the player has to reach an exit before the room crushes them to death.

Fortunately, I have a bit of experience with platformers in my game engine from a previous jam, so the tilemap, jump physics and mechanics such as wall jumping I have previously implemented.

LD42-00000.gif

The jump animations itself was done because I remembered the indie platformer INK having good squash & stretch. To achieve it I modify the scale so that it squashes inwards when going up and stretches outward. If I had more abilities to adjust the individual vertices I could do more fun aspects of moving like skewing.

LD42-00001.gif

Since my idea was inspired by a temple film/TV trope, I already had the visual theme in my mind. I also thought it would be good if I had a little cartoon character who’d look like Indiana Jones. It was fun working with pixel art and animation once again, but if I was to do this again I would have done a much simpler approach. The player character is way too small for the game screen, meaning that its animations are pretty much useless. I also had a bit of issue with making the colours stand out so it doesn’t feel all yellow and brown.

LD42-00002.gif

In the end, it took around 3 – 4 hours to work on the background environments and 5 hours to work on the player sprite and all the obstacles. If I went with a much simpler design or scrapped the temple theming and used the simple colours and shapes it would have been much clearer and easier to look at.

LD42-00009.gif

The sound and music was achieved with LMMS and BFXR. I like making NES-like chiptune in there but I do notice it’s restrictive in areas like tones and tempo, so I couldn’t get the sounds I want. It also didn’t help that thanks to the graphics, I had much less time to work on sound and music so it ended up rushed.

The post-jam has most of what I would have added or done better if I had time. Particle effects, using directional keys as well as the WASD buttons, and a better title logo. I would have also worked on more levels but seeing how many levels players are willing to go through, then maybe the existing levels should have been improved slightly.

I’m a little worried about what the rankings will be for this one, I’m definitely glad I could take part but I feel as though I wasted too much time on the graphics when a simpler approach would have been effective. You can go check out [Closing in on Pascal](https://ldjam.com/events/ludum-dare/42/closing-in-on-pascal).

SFML 2.5.0 Update (Or how I learned to hate RenderTextures)

 

 

On May 6th, the C++ Simple and Fast Media Library (or SFML for short) was updated to stable version 2.5.0, adding various updates including more optimial iOS support, bug fixes, added functionality for Text and Audio and various optimizations. For such a big release, it made sense to upgrade and get my Vigilante Game Framework updated, and why not update Gemstone Keeper while I’m at it?

Well it took nearly a month, but I did manage it in the end. Gemstone Keeper 1.0.5 has been uploaded to Steam, both for Windows and Linux!

As the title suggest, a lot of the work had to do with the updates to the sf::RenderTexture object. However, I don’t absolutely hate them, they are extremely useful for rendering a scene to an area of the screen, or to apply post-processing effects to. However the problem lied in how I was using them, and how the fixes done in the latest update effectively broke my engine’s rendering system.

The initial update showed promise, as my most recent game worked fine, but moving onto the framework’s examples and Gemstone Keeper showed that a lot of things weren’t rendering at all.

Vigilante Framework currently renders 3D models using Modern OpenGL, and while it was working fine with SFML 2.4.2, it rendered nothing with SFML 2.5.0. The solution was embarrassingly simple despite the amount of effort put into fixing it, including implementing my own version of SFML’s glCheck function and re-writing SFML’s own OpenGL example to run with modern OpenGL. When rendering the 3D scene, I modified some of the OpenGL states, which wouldn’t be an issue before but now those OpenGL states carry over into other contexts. The solution was to simply make sure that the GL states were reset BEFORE rendering the scene using a sprite object.

 ///Render 3D scene and apply to a sprite.
 RenderTarget.resetGLStates(); //Reset the GL states to the default for SFML
 Sprite->Draw(RenderTarget); //Render the sprite.

Gemstone Keeper however uses legacy OpenGL, and while I could have updated the VFrame source code but that could take more time to fix. Regardless, I was able to get it working by rearranging other objects that define sf::RenderTexture, including the bloom post processing effect and the help popup terminal.

Gemstone Keeper’s other graphics were another story. The approached I had been using up to this point was to render text objects onto a single rendertexture, and then store the generated texture to be used as a sprite, particle or tilemap. While this was okay for the time, but it is rather inefficient and bad for graphical memory.

I wanted to do a single-texture approach, where all the graphics are rendered onto a single texture, and a rectangle area is specified when creating renderable objects, for a while but I kept putting it off. SFML’s update, causing any newly created render textures to dereference generated textures, it was time to take this approach on. The best part is that most of the work was already done by myself with the additional code of Jukka Jylänki’s MaxRectBinPacker algorithm, all that needed doing was to change how I defined renderables from setting the texture to whatever the name of the genrated texture is to the name of one texture sheet, and to get the correct rectangle from a map/dictionary, searching by string ID.

CaptureCaptureCapture

Now this doesn’t mean the entire game’s visuals are rendered from one texture. Including the 3D gemstones, any assets that use a repeated texture grabs a subsection of the main texture as a copy, same applies to the VBackdrop as well. Getting the icon was a more painful looking process of converting the entire texture sheet to an sf::Image, so I can load in a subsection to a new sf::Texture object, and then convert the new texture object to an sf::Image in order to set it to be the application icon.

sf::IntRect iconArea = TextureData::p()->GetTextureRect(TextureData::p()->GetPortalTextureName(true));
 sf::Image image = VGlobal::p()->Content->LoadTexture("TextureSheet").copyToImage();
 sf::Texture tex;
 tex.loadFromImage(image, iconArea);
 VGlobal::p()->App->setIcon(iconArea.width, iconArea.height, tex.copyToImage().getPixelsPtr());

Like I said, not pretty.

So enjoy Gemstone Keeper, the number of you who own it. Now back to doing more stuff in C++…

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!

https://img.itch.zone/aW1hZ2UvMTYzMjc3Lzc1MjE2Ni5naWY=/315x250%23c/L0i8g2.gif  https://img.itch.zone/aW1hZ2UvMjAxMDM1LzkzOTE3OC5naWY=/315x250%23c/q5QpUK.gif

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!