You know the cool thing about making your own game and doing everything yourself (mostly, anyway) is that you get to … well… Do a little bit of everything! The only thing is that you might come to find out that you don’t like doing those other things, which is an interesting thing to realize. In this case, I definitely don’t have time to go make 100% of the art so I made a few key things and started hunting for other art sources. One of the not fun things was getting everything ‘design ready’.

Design Drain

When you’re programming all day it’s pretty great just following code around, writing new features, optimizing things, and slapping all that fun together with some neato-programmer-art-things… but apparently I’m about as useful as a straw in the ocean when it comes to game design. Jen is the creative and crafty half of this relationship – me? Nah. Build a level? Can it be boxes and white? Please? No? oookkkaayyy… It’s a legit struggle! Designers have to have a real smooth touch to create the cool things they do. Everything looks samey and I have no idea what to do. The thing is that I do have ideas, I’ve just never really exercised the part of my brain that makes those ideas cool so it doesn’t execute very well.

I remember reading articles about how to design things, but I suppose I didn’t take much actionable information away from it. I remember stuff like Halo only having like 2 rock prefabs for an entire level or something – which seemed crazy to me because that’s not a lot of diversity to build long levels and avoid people noticing that you’ve only got like two rocks for everything.

I did manage to find a ton of cool free art that I could use for the levels, but it’s was not ready for showtime just yet. It needed prefabs, had scaling issues, needed optimizations, colliders (or not), material batching, shader changes – etc etc… Just getting stuff ready to use has been super time consuming but I suppose that’s not something thats particularly novel to anyone – there’s lots of assets in games and prepping them properly takes time. After I made like 20 fence prefabs, a whole dungeon kit prefab set, tons of vegetation prefabs, fixed all the scaling issues and everything… I was pretty done with prefabs. Little did I know that the struggles had just begun! I now had to start building levels with all this cool stuff.

At this point, I think I realized that I do not want all this cool stuff. Can I just have, like, two rock prefabs please? Now I’ve got this problem of noise in the design system that’s overwhelming my brain’s tiny little design region that’s already running at full steam just to output potato quality ideas. I realize that more is clearly not the answer. I guess I thought I wanted to be a designer and it would be fun to create little worlds, but then I’m starting to realize that even basic stuff takes significant effort to make fun.

Ages ago I bookmarked some pages about design, maybe you guys will find them helpful too: [1] [2] [3]

Speaking of design in general, after having a closer look at doing design work I’ve decided that the lunatics at Nintendo are the pinnacle apex gold standard of level design. Mario’s levels in basically every Mario game are so insanely well done, full of secrets, precise, well tested, suiting people of all interest levels, and just plain amazingly fun, I just can’t help but drop my jaw when I actually stop to process the level design they did. Since Jen is a big Mario fan I spent lots of time watching Mario playthroughs just to digest the design and intent. It’s really just so good. I should probably try to find some resources that talk about level design in Mario games at some point.

Art sources

I ended up using a little bit of art from each Creative Trio, Kay Lousberg and Quaternius. I like Kenney’s art as well, but it doesn’t fit the theme I’m going for with this project. I think it’s really cool that these guys make free art and run Patreon pages with optional payments for extras and such. They’re all great artists and their art feels really fun.

Game stuff

Sometimes when making a game it’s easy for people to get caught up in the nuances of doing the big stuff first and slowly lose traction. If you’ve ever done a 1GAM or a Ludum Dare, or any Jam, you’ll know that games have SO MUCH STUFF that isn’t the meat of the meal. I did some of that stuff, like setting up a way to ‘migrate’ to building interiors. Lots of games do it, but really I figured hey, I’m just moving to another part of the map and blacking out the surroundings, right?

Actually, yeah. It works great. Fade to black and teleport them to a different place. Voila. Hide the surroundings with opaque planes.

It didn’t take much effort and just has a few design requirements that are easy to meet when laying out the level areas. A lot of the work this week was polishing up the way the conversations work, and trying to think of a good way to do Quests so I can have different interactions for the NPCs. This actually is harder to figure out because I don’t want to make this huge robust system – I really just want a simple way to do it without a lot of fuss but also don’t want to waste an insane amount of time actually setting up quests and conversation stuff. In fact, the usefulness of spreadsheets to immediately draw speech text was super apparent because copy-pasting or writing in a graph tool is a horrible experience. I mean, a spreadsheet is awful too, but at least it’s easy to change in one place and easy to add more languages if you want them. I added a spanish toggle to the game so the text would be in spanish if you turned it on but then I had to copy-paste everything and didn’t really enjoy the process.

That’s it for now. Who knows what I’ll run into next!