Slowbot

Help Slowbot activate the three lights in each level.
Slowbot’s power will gradually decrease over time.
Slowbot will become slower and headlight will dim as power decreases.
Moving makes Slowbot’s power decrease more rapidly.
Picking up a battery will restore some of Slowbot’s power.
Touching a mine will drastically lower Slowbot’s power.

20 levels total. What is your best time?

 

 

 

Post Mortem

One more Ludum Dare in the books.  Slowbot was my fourteenth consecutive entry in the 48 hour game development competition.

I’ve noticed that my ability to quickly make games in Unity has improved over the years.  What used to take two days to complete, I can now finish on the first day.  That leaves a lot of time left over to polish and add more levels.

The theme this time was Running out of Power.  Early on I had the idea of a robot that would get slower as its battery depleted, and the name Slowbot seemed catchy.

As with my previous entries, I made sure that the core gameplay was working first.  The objective of the game is fairly simplistic.  Collect the three colored lights to proceed to the next level.  Collecting a light originally made the entire room illuminate with the color of light collected, but I thought that gave too much away.  Therefore, I limited the size of the activated light.  The headlight provides some assistance in seeing nearby hazards, while the rest of the level remains dark.

I used a spotlight which projected forward from the player robot.  As the robot’s power declines, the luminosity of the light decreases.  Looking back, I probably would have set a minimum luminosity value greater than zero, because when the power gets below 10% it is too difficult to see anything, which does not seem fun.

The robot’s speed also decreases as the power decreases.  The pitch of the sound effect played as the robot moves is also lowered as it runs out of power.  Along with the headlight fading, it gives a realistic feeling of the robot running out of power.  The game is over when power reaches zero.  The only penalty for losing is having to restart the current level and reactivating the lights again.

There is only one hazard in the game, which are the mines.  The mines explode when you collide with them, which lowers the robot’s power by 25%.  I created an explosion prefab that briefly illuminates the area in orange, which gives the player feedback that they did something wrong.  I should have also added a particle effect to make it look like pieces of the ground were flying upwards, so maybe I will add that in a future release.  As I learned from developing previous games, it’s best to have the explosion as a separate prefab and not a child of the GameObject being destroyed.  That way you can go ahead remove the mine from the game world and not worry about the explosion being removed as well.  It is also important to set a lifetime variable for the explosion, and clean it up after a defined period of time so you don’t overload the game with numerous explosion objects hanging around.

By default, there are a few Unity settings which provide ambient lighting.  The Window > Lighting > Settings, Environmental Lighting value needs to be set to the color black.  Environmental Reflections also need to be set to None and Intensity Multiplier set to 0.  These settings had to be disabled, otherwise it would still be possible to see all of the walls and mines on the screen.  For this game, I really wanted the player to use the headlight like a real flashlight to search for mines and see the walls, which made having complete darkness a necessity.

Power can be restored by picking up batteries.  I used a picture of a standard AA battery as a guide when modeling it in Blender.  One difference I made was that I applied the texture that I created as the emissive material, so that the batteries can be seen in the dark.  I felt that not having the batteries always visible would make finding them too difficult.  It also allows me to use the batteries as a guide to show the player where to go, similar to how coins are sometimes used in Mario games.

One new technique I learned for this game jam was creating a meter for the UI.  For many of my previous games, I would just display health and things like that as a numerical value, which is not visually appealing.  Earlier in the week, I watched a tutorial on making health bars with different shapes using the sprite mask option.  This looked much better than the scaling approach that I had used in my other games.  I wish I had learned how to do the sprite mask technique a long time ago.

The level generation code that I wrote was similar to my Free the Frog and Ancient Adventure games, where I define the level layouts in text files, which are stored in the Resources folder and read as TextAsset objects.  Then I used a the Split method to read the lines which became the horizontal rows, and the ToCharArray method was used to get the character value of each cell.  Each type of object is represented by a unique ASCII character.  This made creating the levels really simple in my Notepad++ editor.  Walls are represented by # in the text file, and holes are represented by a period.  The player’s starting position is represented by @R, G, and B represent the three colors of lights.  Mines are represented by x.  A regular floor tile is just the space character.  I created twenty total levels using this format, each stored in its own text file.  The one trick of reading level data out of a text file is that you need to subtract the current row number from the total number of rows if you want the level laid out in the game like it is defined in the text file.  Otherwise, the first row will be closest to the camera and the last row will be furthest away from the camera.

There are drawbacks to using text files for defining a level.  Each cell can only contain one type of object.  For the lights, mines, and player position a floor object gets created as well.  There is no way to add additional information to an object in a cell, such as the initial direction an object is facing.  This could be resolved by using a format such as XML, but writing an XML parser takes up a lot of valuable time in a game jam.

I defined an empty Room GameObject, which holds all of the prefabs instantiated for the level.  This is done by using the SetParent method on the transform of the instantiated prefab.  I live dangerously and find the Room GameObject by using the Find method, but if for some reason the Room GameObject is inadvertently deleted, then the game will throw errors when it tries to set the parent to a null object.  The reason for using a Room is so that I can create method to reset the level, which is called when the player moves to the next level or when the player dies and everything needs to be reset.  The Room lets me loop through all of the child GameObjects and remove them all by calling Destroy on each.  If I didn’t have them setup this way, then I would have to check every object in the scene to see if it something that needs to be deleted when a level needs to be loaded.  For instance, the camera and LevelManager GameObjects are not deleted when a level is loaded.  One thing to look out for though is that you don’t just write a loop that keeps calling Destroy on the first index until the child count is zero, which will result in an infinite loop and crash Unity.  Actually, there’s a hacky way to get Unity out of an infinite loop, but I’m not going into that here.  Destory is actually a request to remove from the game and it isn’t actually gone until the next call of Update.  This has “bit” me in a few of my games, when I had expected a GameObject to be gone after calling Destroy, but something else was still able to reference it later in the code on the same call to Update.

I used a picture of a bomb diffusing robot as a guide when modeling the robot.  I made a freehand side outline in Gimp of the robot, using different colors for the tracks, body and arm.  Then I was able to use that outline in Blender as the background image guide.  I started with a plane and deleted all vertices except for one.  Then I kept extruding that vertex around the outline of the robot parts.  After the outline was complete, I joined all of the vertices to make a face.  Then I extruded that face for the body and tracks.  I duplicated the tracks so that there was one on each side of the body.  I used two cylinders for the arm, which I scaled and rotated until it matched my background image.  I took a picture of the metal on one of my shovels, which I used as the texture for the robot.

For the floor and wall textures, I took pictures around the house of concrete, bricks, fencing, and my hardwood floor.  I duplicated these and made normal maps from grayscale using the Unity texture options, while also modifying the bumpiness option.  By default, the texture looked too grainy in the light.  I did compare the lighting effects with and without the normal maps, I think it is a definite improvement, but I don’t think normal maps make it look that much better.  It would probably make more of a difference if I was using a normal map generated from a high-poly model, instead of just generating it from grayscale.  I’ve used normal maps before, but this is the first time I used them in a Ludum Dare competition.

The music for the game was composed in GarageBand on my MacBook Pro.  I used two electronic style instruments for the main melody.  Then I alternate between the two instruments, making slight modifications in the melody.  I used one of the electronic style drummers to generate the beat.  I really can’t say I did much different in the music composition process for this game, but I am happy with the results.  This time I used an A major scale, instead of the default C major scale.  According to some music sites, the A major scale has a more cheerful tone.  The music that I  composed does remind me of the victory melody of an old RPG.  I sort of feel like my music creation skill has maxed out, so I may need to look into new techniques.  Music seems to be one aspect of game development that has remained the same, at least since after the 16-bit era when real musical recording started being used.  I exported the mp3 and GarageBand project files  to my Windows system using the system connect in the Mac finder.  I’ve learned that it is important to transfer the music project files as well, so that I can check them into my source code repository, in case I need to change or regenerate the music files later.

For this game, I decided to play Foley artist again and create all of my own sound effects instead of using a program like BFXR.  The battery pickup sound was made with my power drill.  The moving sound of the robot was made with my electric can opener.  The mine blast was me crumpling paper with the pitch lowered in Audacity.  The light switch sound was actually an old battery powered remote light switch held up to my microphone.

As with my Expand-O-Ray game, I did a voice over to give tips and explanation of the game.  Each tip is about 5 seconds long, and they are played at the start of the game sequentially with a slight delay between tips.  This could be improved by only playing the tips when they are relevant.  For instance, play the tip about mines reducing power after the player actually hits a mine.  This would require an additional boolean for each tip to track if the tips has been played, to prevent the tip being played every time a mine is hit.

I added the level times in the last few hours of the competition.  The times are held in a List of floats, which is sized to match the numbers of levels.  I just kept adding Time.deltaTime to the current array index while the player is active.   This prevents the time from being increased during the “Level Complete” message and “Game Over” message, and much easier than trying to keep track of start and end times.  It also allows me to continue adding time to the current level after the player respawns.  After the player completes all twenty levels, all of the level times and the total time is displayed.  I tried displaying the total time while the game is playing, but looping over an array of twenty floats on every frame to get the sum caused a significant reduction in frame rate.  It probably wouldn’t be too difficult to save level times to a leaderboard, using my Unity/PHP/MySQL leaderboard system.

There are a few improvements I would like to make with the game.  I had originally planned on having a drone type enemy, which would patrol and chase the player when close.  The robot model needs a lot of work, so that the tracks and wheels look more realistic.  I would like to have different types of robots with different properties, along with purchasable upgrades.  I think it would be neat to also have a movable arm on the robot that the player would need to operate to diffuse bombs to pass.

I was happy with how this game plays and feels.  Some people have told me that it’s one of my better games.  If I  release this game on major platforms, I would probably change the name, because Slowbot (while catchy) doesn’t sound like a very exciting game.  There has been evidence of really good games not selling well just because they had a bad name.  I also want to do more research on how real bomb diffusing robots work, which may give me additional ideas for this game.  I think I would be neat if a game like this could be used to train people how to use real bomb diffusing robots.

Dual Eagles

This was a simple proof of concept game that I created in about four hours to test an idea that I’ve had for a while.  It is a game similar to the classic Ikari Warriors, but you can play as both characters.  The game is best played using an XBox controller, but any dual stick controller should work.  The left stick controls the red commando and the right stick controls the blue commando.  The left bumper button makes the red commando shoot and the right bumper button makes the blue commando shoot.  Since the two commandos work as a team, I felt that it fit the theme for the game jam.  The game can also be played with two players with the alternate keyboard controls.

  • Red Move – A,W,S,D
  • Red Shoot – Space.
  • Blue Move – Arrow keys
  • Blue Shoot – Ctrl (Right)

After doing some testing, I found that the controls work really well for one player, until the commandos cross.  Somehow my mind naturally assigns the left stick to the left guy and the right stick to the right guy, even though they are color coded.  I’m thinking this probably wouldn’t be a problem for two separate players each controlling one commando.

One of the features I planned on adding is having a vehicle that you could put both commandos in, so that one would drive and the other would shoot.  I would like to go back and add better graphics and music, as well as making the level scroll upwards as you move forward.  Plus, I could add power-ups which could be assigned to the triggers or thumbstick press.  It would also be nice to have to way to revive one of the commandos after they are hit.

Junk Food Blaster

Junk Food Blaster is a game that I created for the GM48 23rd game jam.

Blast the junk food and keep your heart rate below 200! Walking and jumping will slowly raise your heart rate. Junk food will significantly raise heart rate!

Standing still will drop your heart rate back to normal.

Hot dogs move in a straight direction. Hamburgers float in the air.

Entry – https://gm48.net/game/645/junk-food-blaster

Time Lapse Video

Post Mortem

Junk Food Blaster is the first game that I’ve created using GameMaker Studio 2.  I bought this version of GameMaker from Steam during the summer sale.  I was disappointed to discover that I am not able to make HTML5 web builds, however I can make builds for Windows, MacOS, and Ubuntu (Linux).

The theme for this GameMaker game jam was “Sacrifice”.  After I had heart problems four years ago which required as stent placement, one of the things I’ve had to sacrifice is fast food.  I know some of us in the Knoxville Game Design group joked about me making a heart attack game before, so this seemed like a good opportunity to make that game.

I used to eat fast food regularly, but I’ve scaled it back dramatically to avoid having heart problems again.  Going to the emergency room in the middle of the night with chest pains is not an enjoyable experience.  I was planning on having many of the types of foods that I have given up (or scaled back).  Time ran short for me on this game jam, so I only included hotdogs and hamburgers.  I was also planning on having pizza as an enemy in the game which would throw pepperonis at you.

As with other game jams, all of the assets have to be created in 48 hours, ending at 8pm Eastern Time on Sunday.  This includes art, sound effects, and music.

As with my Miner Madness game, I decided to use vector based SVG art created in Inkscape, which I animate in Spriter.  However, this time I learned how to use bones in Spriter to animate various parts.  This was necessary to keep the right arm and the gun together.

Some parts of GameMaker 2 proved to be very frustrating to me.   I liked the ability to switch between DnD (drag and drop) mode and GML code.  However, sometimes the action toolbox would not display in DnD mode.  Plus, the camera and viewport system has been completely redone, so most of the information on the Internet on moving a camera in viewport is out of date.

I didn’t like the method for navigating in GameMaker 2 either.  Too many instances of windows in windows in windows.  Moving around in the workspace felt like a chore.  There are no scrollbars, so you have to press the middle mouse button down to move around.  The zoom-in feature on the code windows was annoying, because it made some really distracting anti-aliasing effects which are fine for graphics, but makes text difficult to read in an editor.  I did finally find the magnifying glass with equal sign which makes everything in its original size.

The panning around in the workspace when selecting different objects also got annoying after awhile.  I would rather just have one window with tabs like every other IDE.

One the complaints I have about Spriter Pro is not being able to set the dimensions of the generated sprite sheet for an animation in pixels.  You have to specify the size in percentages, which means you have to figure out the size in Gimp first and use a calculator to get the percentage.  I also had issues with the animation playing too fast in the Spriter Pro editor, and it has an annoying step of pressing the set length button after setting the maximum number of frames.  It’s like my gripe with Inkscape with having to press Export to generate a png image after pressing Export As and pressing the Save button.  You would think that Save means that it is going to write the png file, but it doesn’t.

I had problems with the jump animation, because there is no straight forward way to make an animation not loop.  I had to keep track of the last frame, and then set the animation speed to zero until the player touches the ground.  The gun shooting animation had a similar issue, but I just made sure that the animation frames (15) were the same number as the shooting delay.  Since the game runs at 30 frames a second, it takes half of a second for the shooting delay.

Another issue that I had was the game looping back to the level screen after the game over screen, when it was supposed to go to the title screen.  After some thinking, I realized it was because it was registering the space key down on the frame after it was pressed to leave the game over screen.  To fix this, I put a 60 frame (2 second delay) on the title screen.  One important thing that I added was an offset to the title text based on the delay value, which makes the text rise upward.  When the title text stops, then the user can press space to load the game.  Otherwise, it will make it feel laggy because the user has no visual cue of why they weren’t able to continue by pressing space before.

I would like to add more types of food to the game as enemies.  As I mentioned earlier, pizza which would shoot projectiles.  I’m thinking about adding fries as well.  My cardiologist says that keeping my sodium intake low is one of the most important things to keeping my blood pressure low and avoiding another heart attack.  Salty foods like fries contain a lot of sodium.

When I made the hamburger enemy, I joined two circles together and took the difference with a rectangle to make the bun.  Then I duplicated that piece and flipped it vertically to make the bottom piece of bun.  I cut a rotated square in half to make a piece of cheese.  Originally, I just had one piece of cheese, but then I added a second and it looked like fangs!  I definitely didn’t plan it that way, but it looked so good I had to keep the two pieces of cheese.

I would like to add powerups to make the gun shoot farther and maybe add other abilities.  The game needs additional levels as well, since this is probably one of my shortest games.  The problem I have with gamemaker is that the collision detection is done by specifying the name of the object, which means I would have to update the code to add a new type of wall objects.  There is probably a better way to do this that I don’t know about yet.  I know there is a tile layer, which I should probably be using instead of instantiating individual wall squares.

I used BFXR for generating the sound effects.  The enemy death sound effect reminds me of Bill Cosby’s marker sound on Picture Pages.

I felt like I could have done better with the music.  I made a slower more relaxing theme this time.  It has one background pattern then a slow moving theme.  I cut the theme a slowed the tempo for the title music.  I did have some background ambience tones, but those came out way too loud after I exported the mp3 from my MacBook Pro to my PC desktop, so I ended up removing that track.

I knew I wanted to have a representation of the hearts health as the player’s life value.  I thought about using blood pressure, but heart rate seemed more appropriate.  On my last GM48 game jam, one of the categories that I was graded lowly in was originality.  So for this game I made it so that running and jumping added to your heart rate.  If your heart rate reaches 200, then it’s cardiac arrest and game over.  I originally wanted to have a graphical heart rate monitor that would speed up and possibly change color as you approach the maximum heart rate value.  If you stand still, your heart rate gradually lowers back to a minimum of 100.  Colliding with a hot dog or hamburger will significantly increase your heart rate, by 20 and 40 respectively.  Walking increases your heart rate by 0.2 for every frame.  By default, your heart rate lowers by 0.1 per frame, so I had to make walking  more than default to see an increase.  Jumping raises heart rate by 5.  Looking back, I would probably make it so that the player can’t die from walking or jumping, so that the player would actually have to collide with the enemy for the game to be over.  Otherwise it just feels strange by dying from walking or jumping.  An audio cue or speed up in game music would also let the player know they are reaching a dangerous level, although I didn’t see any way to increase the tempo or speed of the music in GameMaker like is possible in Unity.

One problem is that sometime the player can rapidly jump in the wall when holding down the jump button.  I think this is because the collision boxes on each sprite animation (standing, jumping, walking, shooting) are different sizes and there is no easy way to make them the same.  It would be nice to have just one collision box for an object, and just change the animation.  I did see an option to use a different collision box for a sprite, so I will need to learn more about that option.

The background was also made in Inkscape.  One of the difficulties was making it wrap around.  I figured out how to make the background tile across the entire viewport.  I used the number of horizontal blocks in Super Mario Bros level 1-1 as the size of my level.  I had to adjust the horizontal size of my viewport to take account of the larger size of my times.

I figured out how to get the camera to follow the player by enabling the viewport and setting the appropriate camera size and setting the player object as the thing to follow.  The difficult part was getting the status text with the heart rate value to anchor at one spot on the screen, since it wanted to scroll with everything else.  After much trial and error, I finally found the correct values to use camera_get_view_x(camera_get_active()).  If you want the text to follow the player, you can just use the player object’s x value.

Controls

  • A,D or arrow keys – move
  • Space – jump
  • Left mouse button, F, or Ctrl – shoot

Tools used

  • Engine – GameMaker Studio 2 Desktop
  • Graphics – Inkscape 0.91
  • Graphics – Spriter Pro 11
  • Graphics – Gimp 2.8.18
  • Sound Effects – Bfxr 1.4.1
  • Music – GarageBand 10.1.1