Knoxville Devs and LD featured in Local Paper

Our Knoxville Game Design group is featured in the cover story of our local Knoxville entertainment paper, Metro Pulse. The seven page article gives our thoughts on the current Indie Game community, and describes our participation in the recent Ludum Dare 28 competition. The article features interviews with Knoxville Ludum Dare participants ViNull, DylanWolf, Insane66, and myself (GaTechGrad) along with Chaosoft Games.


This paper is available for free at numerous newsstands in East Tennessee.

PDF version (identical to the print version)

ANSI_GFX_ADVNTR – It’s a Small World

For this mini-LD, I decided to create a game in the style of the BBS door games that I played when I was a teenager in the mid-90’s. We had a 64 line BBS in Atlanta called INDEX (Information, News, and Data Exchange), which was huge at the time, since most BBSes only had one or two lines. This meant that when all of the telephone lines were tied, you had to wait for someone to hang-up before you could dial-in with your modem to play any games. However, these were the first games that I had ever played online, which had a persistent world and where you could interact and compete against other players online. These online DOOR games were really the precursor to current day MMOs.

Two of my favorites were L.O.R.D. (Legend of the Red Dragon) and Trade Wars 2002. I did a few web searches on these old games for inspiration, and I came across the Wikipedia page for Seth Able, the original creator of L.O.R.D. and in-game bard character. I looked through the list of his projects, and noticed a recent game called Growtopia. I knew I had heard about that game before somewhere. Then I realized that it was on the Ludum Dare website, and Seth Able (now Seth Robinson) is actually a Ludum Dare administrator. I guess the game development community is really a small world after all.

I wanted to use ANSI style graphics, but I knew I didn’t have time to implement a full networked game running through a VT100 terminal, so I decided to go with C and SDL and export my ANSI graphics into PNG images. To get the BBS DOOR game aesthetics, I created all of the artwork in AcidDraw using DOSBox running under Ubuntu Linux. Then I took a screenshot of that image using Gimp, cropped, resized, and then exported to PNG. It was much simpler to do it this way, rather than trying to write a complete VT100 terminal emulator in a weekend. However, I do have all of the original .ANS art files, so those could be used to port my game into a real BBS DOOR game.

Creating ANSI graphics using AcidDraw.
Creating ANSI graphics using AcidDraw.

I started out by making the title screen and then the village, which is the hub for the game world. From the village, you can access the Inn, Blacksmith, explore regions, or view stats. I tried structuring my code like my other games, with a game loop that calls an Update event handler and Draw method for each screen. However, since C is not object oriented, I had to make sure that the names for the Draw and Update methods on each screen were unique, so I prepended the screen name before each method. Then in my main game file, I keep a state variable which determines which screen is active, and then calls the appropriate Draw and Update method based on a switch statement using the state variable.

I had two files that contained data structures, which are the Player and Enemy. To keep things simple, I avoided pointers and just had one instance for each. The characteristics for the enemy is loaded when the battle event is activated. It is important to declare the data structure variables as “extern” in any other files which use them, which is something that I had forgotten over the years. All of the structure definitions and function prototypes are defined in corresponding .h header files, which makes includes much simpler when everything is laid out correctly. The only headache is keeping the method prototypes in the header files and the method definitions in the game code in sync. If you add a method parameter or change the method name, you’ve got to change it in both places. I’m thankful that we no longer have to do that in languages like Java and C Sharp.

The game plays much like classic BBS DOOR games. You can rest at the Inn to regain your health, for a small price. The blacksmith will “upgrade your weapon”, but for now it just raises your attack power. I would like to add unique weapons and armor in a future release. On the stats screen you can view your health, gold, level, experience, and points required to level up.

The player starts out with two areas to explore, the meadows and forest. As the player progresses through the game, they will open up new areas to explore with more difficult monsters to defeat. Aside from the monster battle, there are three unique events while exploring: 1) The player can find money. 2) The player can encounter the old woman, who will either heal you or steal some of your money. 3) The player can interact with the merchant. Buying items from the merchant will open up new areas to explore from the village. Some merchants may refuse to talk to you unless you have a special item to show them. I had much bigger plans for the items acquired from the merchant, but I had to scrap those ideas for the sake of time.

I did learn (or re-learn) a few lessons while making this game, which is my first SDL game since I wrote Legend of Tux back in 2009. First of all I met my old friend the Core Dump, after trying to use an attribute that was set to NULL. Then after I thought I was done with the game, I noticed that the menu would sometimes go blank. After viewing the system processes, I noticed that I had a memory leak. Obviously, a simple game like this one shouldn’t take 2 Gigabytes of memory. I determined that the probable culprit is the method call which creates a texture from a character string, TTF_RenderText_Solid. I’m assuming that the menu went blank because the program ran out of memory to allocate new SDL_Surfaces for the menu text, so it wasn’t able to blit the text surface to the screen. This problem was fixed by calling SDL_FreeSurface on the SDL_Surface containing the text, after it has been blitted to the screen.

Finding memory leaks in Linux and Windows.
Finding memory leaks in Linux and Windows.

After I had the game completed, I wanted to make a Windows version so more people could play it. The most straightforward way of doing this would be to install Cygwin on Windows, and then compiling with SDL on Windows. That’s the way I’ve created Windows exectuables in the past, but it is a hassle to have to switch operating systems to do a secondary build. Therefore, I thought I would try my hand at using a cross-compiler to create the Windows binary under Linux. I found a good tutorial on Ryan “icculus” Gordon’s website, which explains how to build an SDL cross-compiler on Linux. First, I installed mingw32 for Linux from the Ubuntu Software Center. Then I used the install script from the tutorial. It was helpful since it automatically installs almost everything you need, however it does mess up some of the directory structures. For instance, the “i586-mingw32msvc-sdl-config –cflags” command puts “SDL” in the -I (include) parameter. In my code files, I include “SDL/SDL.h”, so having “SDL” in the include parameter will generate numerous compiler errors because it will be looking for the headers in “include/SDL/SDL”. I could have fixed this by changing the includes in my code files to just “SDL.h”, but that would have broken the compile for the Linux build. Therefore, I just explicitly put the output of “i586-mingw32msvc-sdl-config –cflags” as the compiler parameter, removing the extra “SDL”. The other problem with the installer script is that it put all of the optional SDL library headers (like SDL_ttf.h and SDL_image.h) in the “include” directory, so I had to move all of those up to “include/SDL”. See the Makefile included with the source code if you want to see the final compile command for Windows.

I really enjoyed this project, since it brought back memories of the games that I played back in high school. It also made me thankful that programming technologies have evolved over the years.

Play ANSI_GFX_ADVNTR now or watch the gameplay video with my commentary below.


Bomb Squad Day One

With the first day of Ludum Dare 27 almost complete, I have made a good start on my entry Bomb Squad. The objective is to disable as many bombs as possible before they explode. When a bomb appears, you have 10 seconds to disable it.


I originally planned to have the player enter a sequence of wires to cut to disable the bomb. Implementing this wouldn’t be too difficult, but the problem would be displaying the wires to cut to the player. I would rather not have to display a sequence of buttons over the bomb, but trying to display small wires on a bomb would make it too hard for the player to see the sequence. I thought about having a popup view display whenever the player gets close to the bomb, which would show the sequence. However, I decided for now just to color the entire bomb with just one color that needs to be disabled. I think this is a good design decision, since 10 seconds is not a lot of time to run over to the bomb and disable it, especially with multiple bombs active at the same time.

The controls are simple, with the control stick and arrow keys moving the player. Once the player gets close to a bomb, the countdown number will turn green, indicating that it is the bomb that the player is trying to diffuse. If the player enters the correct color, then the bomb is diffused. The mapping between colors and the game pad buttons and keyboard keys are displayed in the upper right corner of the screen. If the player selects the wrong color, then the bomb will explode and the player’s suit will take damage. If the countdown reaches zero, the player will also take damage if they are near the bomb.


The amount of damage the player will take is dependent upon how close they are to the exploding bomb. If the player is directly on top of the bomb, then their suit will take 20% damage. The player takes 2% less damage for each world unit they are away from the explosion. The player will also be thrown backwards from the explosion, using Unity’s create explosion force method.

Last night, I created three tracks using Garage Band on my Mac system. In my opinion, it’s a little more difficult to use than Pxtone Collage, but it has better instrument samples. However, most of the instruments sound like John Tesh new age music. I also recorded some voice samples, which announces the title, game over, and level complete. Using Bxfr, I created sounds for the bomb exploding and a beep for disabling the bomb. I’ve always had problems getting 3D sound working, but I was able to get it to sound right by changing the volume rolloff in Unity from logarithmic to linear. Now explosions on the left will come out of the left speaker, explosions on the right will come out of the right speaker, and the volume will correspond to how far away the player is from the explosion.

So what’s left? The terrain textures are really blurry, so I really need to fix those. I haven’t had this problem in the past, so I think it must be due to using as 1024×1024 texture size. I will try recreating it will a 256×256 texture. I tried changing the tiling options for the texture, but it didn’t help. I would also like the touch up the player model, since I think the arms are too long and the hands are too big. There also needs to be more contrast in the suit, since it’s hard to tell the difference between the dark blue and gray. Also, the model needs to be scaled down in Blender to about half the size, since I have to scale it down in Unity. However, I learned that any mesh or scaling changes in Blender can really mess up the model, especially if it has already been rigged, animated, and texture mapped.

I would also like to add various “junk” around the play area (like cars, signs, and trees), which can also be damaged by the bombs when they explode. There will be a dollar value attached to each item, and after each level the player will get a total property damage value. The objective will be to keep the property damage value low. However, the physics engine started acting strange when I added a few test objects, by throwing the player up in the air when the player collided with an item. Overall, the player model seems to be stiff as well when it is affected by an explosion, probably because I’m just using a simple box collider for the player. Finally, I need to update the explosions, since I am just using a default Unity particle system right now. I would also like smoke to appear after the bomb has exploded, which could make it harder for the player to see the game area, which would give extra incentive to not let bombs explode.

One other problem is still passing data between scenes in Unity. This is a problem that I’ve always had with Unity, and have solved it before by passing the persistent data to the DontDestroyOnLoad method. However, it is not possible to associate that object with the newly created objects when a level is loaded. I’ve heard that it is possible to pass data between scenes using a player preferences object, so that may be the route that I take to solve the problem. This will be essential to pass the game score data to the level complete scene, as well as incrementing the level number after a level is complete.