I’ve done a lot of new work on the game! Going to GDC for Unity was very inspiring. I saw a lot of great projects and met a lot of great people and came back with a fresh energy to work on the game, and to make big improvements. I went to a party at GameNest, a great game focused coworking space and met Daniel Cook, one of the game designers at Spry Fox. We had a great conversation about design, prototyping and iteration and I had a few minutes to show him Monarch Black. He gave me some great critical feedback (mainly that my steering was kinda sucky) and that gave me a nice kick in the pants to come back and tear out a bunch of old work and improve things. Once I got a new steering and aiming system in I was feeling like the overall moment to moment gameplay was a little linear and stale. This lead to me doing a total overhaul on the enemy unit’s AI. I actually used a model that I taught in a live training session for Unity, which you can find here. Funnily enough I had designed and taught this system (with the help of my programmer co-worker James, who is a much better coder than me) but hadn’t integrated it into MB. In the process of trying to add some new behavior to my enemies I was running into the limitations of the terrible old code that was driving their behavior so I decided to rip it all out and re-do it using the state pattern / interface model from that training. I’m pleased to say that it works really well!
At GDC I went to the book release party for Derek Yu’s ‘Spelunky’. He read from the book and the section he read is actually one of my favorite parts of the book. He is talking about Legend of Zelda, and about how at times the game can feel indifferent to you, and how this feeling of indifference can allow the world to feel more alive, since it’s not all centered on and focused around the player. This is in contrast to the more theme park style approach of later Zelda games in which every moment feels carefully designed to guide and entertain the player.
Part of the feeling I want to create in Monarch Black is of being in these alien, sublime environments. I don’t want the player to feel like the sole, god-like entity in this environment, but instead one of many actors. Another thing which Yu mentions in his book is the idea that in roguelike games, the player and the enemies should live by the same rules and be able to interact with things in the same or similar ways. This concept really rung true for me and lead to a lot of my thinking about refactoring the AI in Monarch Black. Now, when a sphere plant explodes and the pollen grains fly out, the player and the enemies have to scramble to collect them all, and if the enemies get there first, they’ll take them from the player! This adds an amazing, dynamic moment to the game where suddenly the player has to respond to changes in the game that they may not have instigated.
Getting to this moment of the player and the enemies following similar rules and behaving required massive refactoring of the existing systems and I had to throw out a lot of old code. Happily, the new code is much cleaner and has opened up whole new sets of creative possibilities in the game that have given me a fresh burst of motivation for working on it.
I recorded a video of me playing the latest version of the game, which is full of bugs. I said I recorded the video to avoid writing a long blog post about my recent work but now apparently I’ve done both. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It’s been a busy month! I’ve added a bunch of new features to the game, some of which I’ve made animated gifs for (see below). I’ve got a decent workflow for making GIFs now and that’s sped up the process. Sharing GIFs on Twitter has been helpful in helping more people to know the game exists and so I’ve tried to be more consistent with that. Working a job, taking care of my kids and working nights on the game means that I have to prioritize key activities and lately that’s been development work on the game. The past week I’ve had a few days off work and so been able to really dig into development and fix and add a bunch of stuff I’ve wanted to for a while.
New Beam Weapons
The shooting in Monarch Black has always used physics based projectiles. This means that it’s not instantaneous. You shoot, an object flies from you to the enemy and hits them, or not. I like the feeling this gives to combat although I think it makes shooting a bit more difficult. Sometimes you have to lead your enemies a bit (shoot where they are going to be) if they are far away. This also allows me to do things like homing bullets, bouncing bullets and a few other fun features that I really like. But I’ve been curious what the game would feel like with raycast based weapons. Raycast shooting means that you click and an invisible ray is fired from your gun into the scene, it checks if it’s hit anything and if that thing is an enemy it applies damage. The feeling this gives is that shooting is instantaneous. You click and the enemy takes damage right away. As of now, I’ve added a new category of weapons, beam weapons, to allow for ray cast based shooting in addition to the existing physics based system.
Here are two GIFs of one of the beam weapons, the Arc Lightning weapon. What makes it unique is that it bounces off things that it hits and can ricochet and hit other things.
I’ve also been working on adding more mutations to the game, powerups which you can choose from between levels. A few of these include:
Death Rockets: these give a chance to spawn a volley of rockets in random directions when you kill an enemy, here’s a GIF.
Blood Lust: This gives a chance to create a shell of spikes around you when killing an enemy which damage nearby enemies. In this case it’s combo-ing with Death Rockets and going a little crazy. Not sure if you’ll be able to combine these in the final.
Thanks to some feedback I got at the NYU Game Center play tests on Thursday nights I decided to try implementing a system to show you where nearby enemies are that you can’t see. I’m pretty happy with how it came out. It makes the game a little more video game-y but I think it looks nice and allows me to make the game more challenging without feeling unfair. The action games I love most are hard and I’d like to get there with MB. This helps so I think it’s here to stay. In the GIF below you can see the red triangle icons appear when an enemy is in range and point towards their location, growing brighter as the enemy gets closer.
That’s it for now! My next goals are to keep working on the game, do a few more dev streams on Twitch which have been pretty fun so far and to try to post more regular updates.
I took some time off from programming and designing on Pollen and focused on the music a bit. I’ve got three new tracks done for the new desert level, a new track for drowned city and a track for the last level. I feel like I’m getting closer on the vibe of the music that I want and things are sounding pretty good.
Before showing it last time at Playcrafting I spent some time doing color correction and image processing on each level and I think the look is getting a lot closer to where I want it to be. I got a few nice color and image post effects from the Unity asset store and that’s helped things quite a bit. I highly recommend the Colorful and Chromatica packages from Thomas Hourdel. I also got a very nice bloom called Ultimate Bloom by Paroxe which is really making the lasers pop and helping the look overall. So far this is probably my favorite Unity bloom effect I’ve used.
I’m showing again this weekend at the Bushwick Film Festival in Brooklyn so I’m doing a push this week to get everything updated and ready. I’m also getting closer to figuring out a launch plan. I think I’m going to go through Steam Greenlight. We’ll see how that goes.
In this video devblog I show five minutes of game play including procedural level generation, randomized powerups, some new sound effects, new lighting and the current state of game play. I’m getting a decent feel for the major systems in the game. Some of the roguelike elements are getting more fully realized including level geometry randomization and randomized powerup progression. Still a ton of content, weapons, items, powerups to add but most of the core mechanics are more or less in place. Having added in a few more sound effects, some better lighting and music I’m also much more happy with the way things look and feel at the moment. Slowly but surely making progress.