Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Bulletromancer - Building a Scene

"Wow," you say! "Amazing," you say! That's right; I love making progress updates and what better way than posting a video that even happens to contain a (albeit small) portion of gameplay!

So What is This?

In The Bulletromancer, Sir Kugal and the gang visit many strange and interesting places. Early on in development, I needed to make a system to handle dozens of different locations, casually dubbed "Scenes." A Scene is composed of any number of elements that all rush in when a level is started and shake when Absorbs and Kills are scored.

Process and Aim

Part of what I want to do with Bulletromaner is push my skills and abilities to make games to the limit. Everything in the game is "hand pixeled," meaning that I don't rely on too many programmatic effects to animate or arrange different elements. Although Scenes don't generally call for non-hand-pixeled elements, they aren't exempt; some scenes have complex elements, such as Hydraulics and NPCs. DO note, the Hydraulics in that .gif are initially hand pixeled, but then rotated as a procedure asks them to; I do break my rule when it makes sense.

I'm also pushing myself to elevate the amount of detail that is crammed into the game, and this is where Scenes are going to shine. My process in creating pixel art has evolved a great deal over time, and I'm really amazed that I'm still getting better. In the latest Scene in the video, I use (I think) six different colors, and that's about it. Generally, I would go with only four, but I'm finding that I'm skilled enough to require a couple more colors in order to convey soft-edges and some extra lighting. I say "skilled enough" in the sense that when you're a beginner, you tend to use more colors than you really should. (I hope I'm not being wasteful using the extra two ;P)

Visible Progress

Finally, in honor of The Bulletromancer "Vacation" and the original prototype's One Year Birthday, here are some (previously posted, but gathered specially for you!) Scene screenshots with mini-blurbs about them!

The infamous Pub of the Realm! Here, spirits of the Afterlife indulge in the spirits of the Real World, bizarrely causing them to be just as intoxicated as they would be if they were living. Vice is rampant in the Afterlife; why not, right? You can't die, so let's get wasted!

Nobody knows why the Sun sets in the Afterlife, this world is just a plane in space for what they can tell. They can't reach the "Sun," (believe me, they've tried) but for some reason, it's there and it sets.
In any case, Sir Kugal von Pulya and "???" take the opportunity to talk about this world's immortality and the old world's mortality. If we can't die, is there no other plane to ascend to? Why can we remember everything that happened to us in our previous life, but not the names or faces of the people who were a part of it?

Are you intrigued? I certainly am... ;)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Musical Influences

So some of my long time followers may remember some tweets of mine where I explain some of suteF's influences. Probably one of the biggest influences across all of my works is music — specifically Prog Rock.

It should be said that I never really listened to much music when I was growing up. I found more interest in writing my own songs when I was in high school, and I didn't enjoy any top 40 tracks or any other songs that were repeated endlessly on the radio on my bus trips to school every morning.

When I finally made my glorious entry to college, I was quickly introduced to Pandora by other students to drown out the commotion of class. Since I was interested in making my own music and possibly getting into midi keyboard recording stuff, a Jordan Rudess video of a weird keyboard he was trying out made me build a Pandora station devoted to him.

I never was able to fucking learn how to play any kind of keyboard, but I devoured the genre that Rudess (by way of Dream Theater) was involved with: Prog Rock.

Hour long epics? Sweeping, technical musicianship? Sign me UP!

This post isn't so much about all of the different music references in my games but more about sharing what is influencing Bulletromancer and giving you guys some "evidence" to go hunting down the previous references yourselves.

FAIR WARNING! — none of the songs you're going to see here and listen to in this post are less than 10 minutes long... So if you don't want to go insane or lose a lot of time, you may want to skip them. I also understand that the genre probably has some weird-ass kind of "acquired taste" to it, so if you're not a fan, I won't take it personally. :P

Yes

The only hints I'm giving you guys on the Yes influences in suteF lies in my favorite Yes song from their album "Close to the Edge," also called "Close to the Edge."

Close to the Edge by Yes on Grooveshark

This was one of the first songs where I found out that folks actually made songs longer than four minutes. It was a gateway for me to find out the whole genre prided itself on the epics — songs with a really high minute count that tell a story (often abstracted to the point of nonsense).

Spock's Beard

People often separate Spock's Beard into three "eras," Neal, D'Virgilio, and Post-D'Virgilio. Neal Morse was the original singer and did keyboards on their first album, then Ryo Okumoto joined as keyboardist. Neal left to pursue Christian Rock, not feeling that the things he wished to write would mesh well with Spock's Beard. Nick D'Virgilio, the drummer, took over as lead singer for several albums. Spock's Beard as it is today is without D'Virgilio, but are still performing.

The Light by Spock's Beard on Grooveshark Long Time Suffering by Spock's Beard on Grooveshark

Now, I personally really liked all of the albums Neal Morse did with Spock's Beard (DAMN that man can sing). I was pretty upset to realize that he pursued religious music and how a lot of "religious undertones" are sort of inserted into (and become really obvious once you know) a lot of Spock's Beard's lyrics.

HOWEVER, I don't think any of the music's meaning is tightly wrapped into religion. Some of the wording indicates it to be so, but the broader concepts are much more abstract than that. Spock's Beard feels like a VERY guilty pleasure in that sense... because I'm definitely not a fan of religion.

But, if you don't want to even bother with that snafu, you can listen to my favorite D'Virglio era songs:

She Is Everything by Spock's Beard on Grooveshark The Bottom Line by Spock's Beard on Grooveshark

The Flower Kings

Not so much to explain here, but I just love The Flower Kings, too. They output a lot of albums very quickly, they're usually really good albums, and they almost ALWAYS have an epic... most 30+ minutes long.

Stardust We Are by The Flower Kings on Grooveshark Love Supreme by The Flower Kings on Grooveshark

Echolyn

The Cheese Stands Alone by echolyn on Grooveshark Mei by echolyn on Grooveshark

Also love these guys. They are active on twitter, and are still striving to continue making hyper-original music. Not too many bands out there trying to do that, right?

Transatlantic

Last, and most certainly not least, Transatlantic. Let's imagine taking all of the Prog Rock giants and, I don't know, PUT THEM TOGETHER INTO A FREAKING SUPER GROUP It's composed of Neal Morse from Spock's Beard, Roine Stolt, a guitarist from The Flower Kings, Mike Portnoy, ex-drummer of Dream Theater, and Pete Trewavas from Marillion.

Transatlantic is by far my favorite band and has been one of my biggest influences to continue working on The Bulletromancer and keep moving forward through rough times in life. My selection for this band is "Stranger in Your Soul" — arguably the greatest song they've done.

Stranger in Your Soul: I. Sleeping Wide Awake/II. Hanging in the ... by Transatlantic on Grooveshark

Wrap-Up

Here's an (embedded) playlist of all of the songs I mentioned/showed here, and a bunch of other tracks that "didn't make the cut" for the post, but are just as influential to me. If you want to see the playlist on Grooveshark, check it out here.

Music Influences by Ted Lauterbach on Grooveshark

I hope you guys enjoyed seeing a little bit more of what influences me, and who know, maybe you've discovered music you haven't heard or seen before? Constructive sharing if that's the case! What influences you? Cacth me on Twitter!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Game Universes

Introduction

Hello. I am T. Lauterbach, also known as rotten_tater, one of those so-called "independent game developers." You may remember me from such titles as: suteF, Sutef, and another called "sute F." But before I was a surrealistic Fetus enthusiast, I made tons of games. Besides having a beefy library of work and some sort of code of ethics to my development, there has also been a massive world of lore and background to all of my games.

DISCLAIMER — I will NOT reveal the core messages/meanings to my games. I've talked about this idea of mine in the past, where the true meaning of any game should be decided by the players — for what we as players perceive through our gameplay experience is more powerful and meaningful than any artist, writer, or critic could ever inform you through a written explanation. My hope is that by explaining some of the background to the universes I've created that you may find a new appreciation for very subtle references between my works.

Universe Introductions

So, I have a brief confession to make: I love having all of my works mesh into a single, tightly interwoven universe (much like what Kevin Smith does with his movies — recurring characters/actors, locations, companies, and themes). A majority of my completed games derive from a base set of three overlapping universes: Reality, The Abyss, The Afterlife.

As you can see, there are more than just the main three, but that the primary universes can often cross into eachother.

"Reality"— (Thunder Gun, Super Space Rogues, Mind Shock) is where much of the serious, often Science Fiction and technology oriented stories occur. Essentially, there are three "ages" to the Reality Timeline: the near-future, energy-science fueled Cold Fusion Revolution, deep space colonization and exploration as a result of the Galatrite Space Initiative, and the fall of human existence emerging from disasters on Earth and The Orion Settlement.

The "Abyss Series"— (suteF, Fetus, Descent) games all take place in the bizarre, hell-like land it is named for: The Abyss. The stories center around Aramas, a short, blue character who awakes in The Abyss with no knowledge of how he's arrived there as well as Fetus, the dark, omnipotent, and omnipresent overlord of this land lost in time in space.

Finally, the newest addition to my conspiracy wall is "The Afterlife." This universe (again) sounds much like it is a — place where people have gone when they have died. Not heaven, not purgatory, not hell — it is simply a place where souls gather with concrete memories of a life they had prior, but without being able to identify people in their new forms. Currently, The Bulletromancer is the only game that exists in this universe, and I hope to release it to the world soon so everyone can enjoy an even bigger set of legends to experience.

There are also two less fleshed out sets of games that could be considered to have their own canon:

The "Visit Universe"— (Visit, Visit II) revolves around the adventurous and extremely cute Peepan archaeologists and their escapades on the planet Mee-mah. Both Visit I and II are puzzle-oriented platformmer games that I learned a lot about usablility, playability, and world design and then took the block pushing mechanics to the next level in suteF. One could very justly describe suteF as the culmination of all of the work I had put into the Visit games in the years before its release.

So what is The Prototype Arcade?— (Jack Action, Morbid Grid, Vatn Squid) I've always envisioned my prototype and concept games to be part of some goofy arcade machine that knew it was an arcade machine. It's a bit of a stretch, I know, to try to say your prototypes are all part of the same idea — but they are. Make something quickly that shows off the core of an idea.

Timelines and "Future Works"

As you can see, by far the most complex universe (albiet, no real spoilers as it would be if I actually showed suteF's ;P) is Reality, complete with an entire timeline of events that show humanity slowly reaching its pinnacle and eventual demise. However, the interesting part is what's in between.

Several of these projects are in their infancy, incomplete, or on hiatus (essentially, anything marked with a "*" ), but all of them do factor into how the universe works. It would be my greatest pleasure to at some point finish all of these projects, but for now at least, The Bulletromancer is my primary project. Part of me telling everyone about the lore is to generate interest in what future projects I try next... (let me know, blog pals!)

Reality: Age of the Cold Fusion Revolution

Galatrite's Discovery — (2051 A.D.)
Polar Expedition*
Genres: Exploration, Roguelike

Deep in the Antarctic ice, the miracle energy source of the millennium awaited a team of climate scientists simply harvesting ice cores and monitoring ozone-levels. Even though they didn't know it at the time, the blue, dirt-like deposits they started finding and calling "Galatrite" would provide one-thousand times more energy per ounce per second than a nuclear explosion.
However, contact was simultaneously lost with all of the research outposts in Antarctica, and a rescue team was formed to locate anyone who was still alive and determine the cause. Not known at the time, and for several centuries later, what remained in the ice would cause the destruction and subsequent abandonment of Earth...

Cold Fusion Revolution — (2080–2428 A.D.)
Wave Shock, Mind Shock, Mind Jolt (a fan game by Matt Scorah), yimaga Shock*
Genres: Arena Shooter

After the internet's invention, the world's knowledge base grew exponentially. Marcus Howitz and a team of scientists were working on a solution to Cold Fusion when their lead scientist, who had recently found the answer, was injured in an accident and placed into a coma. A new comatose mind scanning device known as the "Shock Device" was being developed by another research group and began showing promise. These two research were developed and would eventually spawn two brand new technologies. (play Mind Shock or Mind Jolt for the outcome...)

Reality: Age of the Galatrite Space Initiative

Galatrite Space Initiative — (2428–2458 A.D.)
Terminal Meltdown*, Super Space Rogues,Super Space Rogues 2
Genres: RPG, Exploration, Roguelike

As Galatrite's potential energy was discovered and exposed, a new age of space travel was made possibly by its capabilities. The "Galatrite Space Initiative" was created to foster a vast commercialization of space flight and colonization. Several corporations like the Tyrus Space Labratory headed by Admiral Straton Dolsair Sr. (Terminal Meltdown*) and independent entrepreneurs like Clyde and Duke (Super Space Rogues) who journeyed outward to the farthest reaches of space, only to find the newest wild west — mob bosses, pirates, and creatures of unknown origins — and a whole new age of exploration and freedom.

Time Travel Discovered — (2436 A.D.)
Terminal Meltdown*
Genres: RPG

The age old question of "can we change our past or see the future" has always been the subject of great controversy and scientific imposibility. Yet, aboard the Tyrus Space Labratory, a lone scientist by the name of Dr. Callus has been working on a way to bend space to change time. With the funds provided by Admiral Dolsair, the answer was within reach.
In a cruel twist of fate, a major catastrophe occurs aboard the civilization scaled space station, and the residents and visitors of this marvel of human existence like Tark and Colonel Oran are forced to salvage their friends and families while trying to avoid the horrors of the monsters that have made their appearance.

Reality: Age of Planet Orion

Abandon Earth — (2595 A.D.)
Thunder Gun, Thunder Gun 2*
Genres: Platform Arena Shooter

While explorers were flooding the galaxy, the non-suspecting residents of Earth were on the eve of humanity's final fight to survive. Long preserved and grown in the last remaining marshes of Northern Siberia, a force of genetically and technologically superior mutants have emerged with thousands of bodies and a nearly infinite drone based military robot forces. Earth was abandoned and betrayed by all of the colonies, and the human home world was quickly swept of resistance.
However, the last pocket of Earth-men took refuge in the quiet seclusion of Sosnovy Bor. Here, the proud Russians took the remaining tools they had left, and built the Mutants' strongest adversary — The Thunder Gun.

The Frozen Wars (Galatrite Famine) — (2660 A.D.)
Enigma?*, New Game?*
Genres: Metroidvainia, Trench Warfare

As human correspondence was finally lost with the homeworld, Planet Orion began a "human procreation" program that put a stranglehold on all of the natural and market resources. With the intention to perpetuate mankind's influence, Planet Orion ironically caused the longest civil war and greatest loss of men, women, and children in our history — fighting would continue more than forty years across the planet and in the ice caps in a conquest for the last remaining Galatrite.
Even some of the hardiest and most loyal warriors, such as the Planetary Federation's Sir Isaac Dawless, began to lose faith in the human race and the future of his own family while fighting for dirt in the frozen trenches. All feared that no one would be left alive to use the Galatrite that lied beneath their fallen comrades' bodies...

Discovery of "The Island" — (2701 A.D.)
Enigma*
Genres: Metroidvainia

With Planet Orion approaching its own elimination from history, a last ditch military offensive was launched by the Planetary Federation to overtake an island that was known only as a Red Legion stronghold, but was said to contain answers to phenomenon that remained unexplained since their discovery in conjunction with Galatrite on Earth more than 600 years prior.
A lone, elite unit of Planetary Federation marines begin to overtake the unsuspecting hostile forces and investigate the rumors surrounding the bizarre "Enigma" that lie in the volcanic caves of the island's interior.

Reality: After Civilization

I.C.E. Project — (18,400 A.D.)
I.C.E.
Genres: Bullet Hell Shmup

If it were any apocalyptic cult that decided to take the future of humanity into their own hands, it was the International Cryogenic Engineers (aka, the I.C.E. project). As society prepared to crumble, the I.C.E. built a beacon of hope set to open in the deep future to repopulate a likely desolate planet.
When the DNA began to form stronger humans, the ones that were rigid enough to survive and rebuild the technology in an attempt to escape the earth. But what they didn't count on was there being someone else around waiting for them to wake up...

Parting Notes

HOLY HELL, that is a lot of text to read! I hope it's riveting enough for some of you to try some of the games you may not have seen yet. But my hope is that one of these "informative segments" will inspire you to create a cohesive world to all of your projects — and an even greater one would be that you tweet me some of the ideas you liked, disliked, don't buy, fell in love with, or just plain TL:DR'd (it's okay – that's a shit load of text. No one blames you :P)

At the very least, I will have put a lot of the backstories and ideas of games and projects I've had in the past into one place for myself and the entire world to see!

Do you guys maintain a deep universe or world of events? I've always enjoyed games, movies, or stories that have tried to build something massive out of the multitude of small encounters, situations, themes, and locations.

I'm happy to start having a discussion on our game universes! Tweet @rotten_tater or #GameUniverses to continue the fun!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Announcing: The Bulletromancer

For those of you who have been following me on Twitter, you may already know a little about my newest game project,
The Bulletromancer!


(Prototype Images, these do not represent "end-product")

Visit The Bulletromancer webpage!


The Bulletromancer is a Bullet Hell Shmup that chronicles the romantic lives of spirits living in a lost corner of the afterlife. Developed by Ted Lauterbach, the creator of suteF, Vatn Squid, and the Visit series, The Bulletromancer is coming to PC and Mac in 2013.

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The Bulletromancer also marks my first commercial work and will be "done-when-it's-done." It will also feature a full soundtrack created by Mike LeRoy who has written music for Andrew Brophy's Jump Jump Harvey and the upcoming Takishawa2.

The story centers around a mysterious character, who is only known as "???," and a pompous "Sir Kugal von Pulya," both of whom are highly skilled, up-and-coming "Bulletromancers." A Bulletromancer has the ability to create and control ballistic projectiles.

Development of the game started in early December of 2012 after building a prototype version for a Game Jolt Game Jam (in collaboration with Ashley Gwinnell of Force Of Habit who was plucking the musical strings).

What Should You Expect?
There are several really exciting things that The Bulletromancer is going to take on:

A NEW TAKE ON BULLET HELLS

If you don't know me, I have a love of Bullet Hell Shmups. After creating Vatn Squid and playing many, many more shmups since then, I've found a lot to gripe about.

In The Bulletromancer, one of my biggest goals is to allow room for ALL skill-levels, from beginner to seasoned pro, and in doing so, I've decided to eliminate the traditional lives system.

Blasphemy! Well, when you take a close look at lives, what purpose do they serve in a shmup? Early on, they force you to learn and acutely memorize stages by REPEATEDLY having to start over from the beginning when you fail; progress is generally made as you memorize more and more. There are plenty of other ways to have tension or skill checks these days.

I have three problems with lives in general; one, you don't necessarily LEARN how to be a better player. All you NEED to do is survive, and things like chains, scores, and other systems just become irrelevant. Two, most games with lives were originally designed to "eat your quarters," and now most allow you to CONTINUE anyway. This also makes no sense; if you have an infinite amount of continues, what's the point of even HAVING lives? And three: anything in the realm of narrative just gets thrown straight out the window. Forcing restarts guarantees that any cut-scenes, dialogue, or mood will instantly become obnoxious. Who wants to see the same text hundreds of times?
Which is a perfect segue into my next point:

AN INTERESTING NARRATIVE AND WORLD

Be honest with me. Have you ACTUALLY played a Bullet Hell that has a story you came back to, that kept you up, or made you play just another round to see what happens? I mean a story, too: not a convoluted mash-of-things-weird-characters-do-like Touhou. Something written with intention, meaning, and could possibly even touch or inspire.

I want you to feel the emotions that these characters are going through. I know this kind of thing is a tall order, and frankly, a lot of peoples' attempts fall flat, let alone even try at all. But, if it was anything I learned from suteF, mood and atmosphere are extremely powerful story telling tools. And much like suteF, The Bulletromancer is a game pulled from the fiber of my being (albeit a little more transparent).

MY FIRST COMMERCIAL TITLE

I fully intend to sell digital copies of The Bulletromancer! I've never done it before with any of my personal projects, but I finally feel like it's time for me to start developing with my future games in mind.

I've always wanted to be able to do my personal independent games full-time, and unfortunately, the only way to do that is by making money (believe me, if I felt I could make money by giving them away, I would). If The Bulletromancer "performs" well, it may mean that I can do more independent work!

But, because I'm building the game aside from day-to-day work, I have not set a solid release date; it's done-when-it's-done. However, I will finish The Bulletromancer. I made sure I was far enough along in development before I'd go so far to let everyone know it exists! :D

FURTHER INFORMATION AND INQUIRIES

The Bulletromancer has its own web page, and you should refer interested people to it:

http://www.rottentater.com/bulletromancer/

If you want to get in touch with me about The Bulletromancer, email me at:

theBulletromancer at gmail dot com
or at
ted dot lauterbach at gmail dot com!

I'd love to answer questions, have discussions, and provide anything you need to let your followers know about the project!