Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Prototypes - Jack Action and The Duck Assault

This is part two of a three part series on my recent prototypes, also including Morbid Grid and a yet unfinished game currently called Proto2. (View Part One)


Seriously? A game about punching and DROP-KNEEING mallards? Hahahaha. Damn. Jack Action is a exactly that: a game about Jack Action's noble sacrifice* toward defeating the evil hoard of Dr. Science's robotic, maniacal waterfowl.

The story of this prototype goes back many many years. Around the time that YoYoGames.com was doing their Save the Planet Competition, I had a small idea that failed to come to fruition.

This game was about an elite force of toxic waste fighters who jumped from airplanes to eliminate the pollutant threat of our terrorist foes. They did not use parachutes.*

Toxic Troopers by Ted Lauterbach

Toxic Troopers (Jack Action Remix) by Ted Lauterbach

"Toxic Troopers" was the original track that played in that small experiment. Jack Action's music is a much more modern version of the song that I actually wrote several months before starting work on Jack Action. I liked the 5/4 time of the piece.

In the summer of 2011, I also had another idea for a game. This time, you were using a jetpack, grappling hook, and a heavy laser blaster pistol.* Your name? Jack Action. The game was meant to be a ridiculous over the top action extravaganza where you took out airplanes and nuclear missiles.

Now, I started my campaign for a game a week. While working on another weird cube game (that at one time actually featured Jack Action himself), I had the urge to listen to some tunes from Time Splitters 2, and that is when I read this Youtube comment:

"Big Tony's been having some discrete hair transplant work done down at the Hospital. But in an anesthetic-induced daze he thinks that some giant ducks are after his new thatch to feather their nests! Help him out by whacking 'dem malicious mallards."

It single-handedly flooded my mind with the great power of nostalgia. The comment was referring to a challenge mission you could play in TS2; ALL I could imagine was Jack Action beating the crap out of ducks.


But, how would all of the pieces fit together? How could this fury of action-gaming, brewing since the foul winters of 2008 to the frightful fall of 2012, form what we now know as the best bird-punching simulator human-kind has ever known?

A dream about jetpack explosion backflips.*

Dreams have not failed me in the past. It was a sign. I can't explain it. At that point, it finally became really clear what I wanted to create for my prototype.

The rest of my weekend was spent perfecting the duck-punching formula; I would pull from the greats of combat: Battletoads, River City Ransom, Street Fighter. I would channel the hatred of those that fly: Duck Hunt, Ocarina of Time, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts.


This was a game that really raised my spirits; I gushed with happiness when I dumped a copy in front of my brother-in-law and we both laughed until Jack Action splatted to his death.* I couldn't stop giggling to myself about this game. Could not. I honestly don't know if I've made such a satirical game before. I'm sure I've joked about it, but it's never materialized.

I hope other game developers who take their work seriously (much like I do) know that even if the subject matter is beyond reason, it can still be important work; it's really only something I came to realize after making Jack Action. I'm really surprised I hadn't done something like this sooner.


Ha? Are you kidding me? What could possibly go wrong?

This was Part 2 of 3. Next post is going to be about the yet unnamed Proto2.
Thanks for reading, guys. It means a lot!

*Parachutes are for wusses.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Prototypes - Morbid Grid

This is the first in a series of 3 game prototype posts; other games I'll be touching on are Jack Action and the Duck Assault, and an incomplete game temporarily known as Proto2.


Morbid Grid is a game that I developed for Game Jolt's Competition Eight, with the very awesome music created by Ashely Gwinnell. The theme of the competition was "Fear," and the basic idea behind Morbid Grid's gameplay revolved around the idea of not ever truly knowing where your enemies are, creating a very manic, stressful, and foreboding play environment.


Morbid Grid was the first personal game that I had completed (and have been somewhat proud of) since releasing suteF almost 2 years(!) ago. Emotionally and mentally, that was a really big deal for me. Struggling through several projects in the last two years had been exhausting and unbelievably discouraging; making something as glorious as suteF and losing so much steam afterward led me to doubt my abilities as a developer. Morbid Grid rekindled the fire.

There are also several technical issues I overcame in the process. The most important was when I questioned my fear of using surfaces in Game Maker; ever since completing Descent and Fetus, I started rigorously avoiding use of Game Maker's surfaces code, because it created LOTS of strange, unintentional graphical artifacts. The lighting effects in Morbid Grid use surfaces, an they are invaluable for conjuring the atmosphere. So far, I haven't received any notice of the effects causing issues, so in this case, experimenting with surfaces gave me a game I might not have ever known I could make.


Budgeting my time was horrible. The competition provided a single week to create our games, but I only spent the weekend actually working on the game. The first 5 days were wasted with creating pixel art and thinking about poorly-scoped mega projects. One idea was a nightmare shmup where you needed to fight evil dream entities using rhythm inputs (I still want to revisit it some day). Another was pretty much a narrative exploration game where you needed to figure out the story of a recurrent ghost lady.
Granted, they were mostly ideas and not full work, but a lot of time was wasted just sitting around brainstorming ideas instead of just streaming gameplay from my brain into the coding window. This time-sink also only gave my musician one day to work (and from a game file that was hardly fleshed out). Ash, if you're reading this, I can't thank you enough for kicking so much ass!

Morbid Grid was also supposed to have highscores, but again, I didn't budget my time well and the feature needed to be removed. Morbid Grid really suffers from a gameplay standpoint because of this; it is very reliant upon the combo-chaining and scoring system.


Overall, I've been really happy with the work I did on Morbid Grid; developing it inspired me to do a two-week prototype fest that produced the second game in this series, Jack Action and the Duck Assault.