Keep on Trucking

Laundry List

I’m getting the feeling that this is the point where a lot of my other game projects have died out.  A core game and fancy title graphics.  I have rarely taken the time to go back and add all the bells and whistles, such as sound effects and flashy graphical effects.  Plus, I’m really not a fan of level design.  It really feels arbitrary to me, but it does take expertise to make good levels in a puzzle style game.

Therefore, to keep myself on track I made a laundry list of the next things to complete in the game.  Some will require a little research since this is my first XNA game, such as saving the game status.

  • Hold Confirm button to keep placing wires
  • Zoom in for letters on title screen
  • Game over screen delay / graphics
  • Display level/stage before starting a level
  • Transitions between screens (such as fade out)
  • Show player ranks for stages on level select
  • Don’t allow levels that haven’t been completed to be selected on level select
  • More levels; different array sizes
  • Colored backgrounds for level screens
  • Save levels completed along with ranks
  • Render objects in Blender
  • Add graphics/sound effects on level complete screen
  • Keyboard controls so that others who don’t have XBox can play test

The first task I tackled was the hold confirm button to keep laying pieces.  This is a core gameplay change, so I felt it was most important.  Basically, I just required a new instance variable in the GameLevelScreen class, which tracks if the confirm button is being held down.  On each update, it checks to see if the button is held down, and if it is, then it tries to set a piece at the current cell.  Therefore, it is constantly trying to set a piece at the current cell (but can’t since no more than one piece can be assigned to a cell), so there may be room for optimization here later.  Anyway, the controls feel MUCH better and less jerky now with this in place.  I think I need to put a cooldown on resistor usage, because the player can select a resistor and just spam it all over the board to quickly complete the level.  It’s okay for the wires to not have a cooldown, because spamming wires will likely cause the player to bust an LED and lose.

Continuing to resolve the tasks that required the most programming first, I decided to implement the record display on the level select screen.  To do this, I had to create a PlayerRecords class, which holds the records of each completed level.  This object is populated with the level ranks after each level is completed.  The level select screen uses this to display the ranks for each level.  Currently, if a level is replayed, then the ranks are overwritten each time the level is completed, which should be fixed later.  For now, the level select screen just shows the integer values associated with each rank, but these will be changed to the rank graphics in the near future.  Plus, I will need to implement a way to scroll through the higher levels.

 

In the level select screenshot above, I played through level 1 getting ranks C, S, B.  Then I selected level 5 and got ranks S, C, B.  Noticed an error which caused the game to crash.  After completing the fifth level (level index 4), it would actually go to level index 5 (which didn’t exist but used the layout of level index 0 as default).  When that level was completed, it would go to level index 1 (level 2) next.  So it appeared that it was looping back to level 1 (level index 0), but it really wasn’t.  Therefore, when it tried to save the statistics for level index 5, it reported an error because I only allocated the array in the PlayerRecords class to hold values for five levels (level index 0 through 4).  I went ahead and added the level index to the game level display, but I will probably create a method to convert that index to a stage number.

New Levels

Next I started working on adding new levels.  Before churning out new levels in the Mappy tile editor, I wanted to make sure that new levels can be easily added to the game.  I added two new List variables to the LevelDefinition class, to hold all of the tile maps and object maps.  This will eliminate the if/elseif statement mess that was in the getter methods that return the object arrays, tile arrays, and rank arrays for the currently selected level.  I really need to create a Map object to hold those values for each level, but I don’t want to have too many classes right now, so I don’t think it’s worth the time and effort to rework that code now.  The only benefit is that it would eliminate potential problems of managing five parallel Lists, but instead it would just be one list of Map objects.  I added additional checks in each of the methods that return ranks in the LevelDefinition class, so that it doesn’t try to index a position in one of the rank arrays if the level parameter is greater than the size of one of the rank lists.  This shouldn’t ever happen unless the NUM_LEVELS constant in the LevelDefition class is set to a value higher than the size of the rank Lists.  If this happens in the object or tile array getter methods, then it just returns the array information for level 1 (index 0).  I didn’t add any checks to see if the object and tile arrays were completely empty, because I thought that would be obsessive.  I may have to think about the ability to add an expansion to the game later, which may conflict with the PlayerRecords definition.

I used the Mappy tile editor to create more levels for the game, bringing the total to 20.  I wrote a small Ruby script to loop through all the files in the map export directory, and it does some minor modifications to prepare those arrays to be used in the game, then it writes out the results so that I have all the arrays in one file instead of 40 different files.  Made another minor modification to the rank code, which was preventing it from saving the ranks for the first stage (index 0).

  

 

More Title Screen Updates

Got side tracked and spent about an hour getting the letters on the title screen to zoom in.  After all letters are displayed, then there is a 5 second pause, then the letters zoom in again.   I’m not sure how much more time I will want to spend on the title screen.  Gameplay is most important, but the title screen is the first thing that people see.  I definitely wanted to display the title screen as soon as possible.  I am so sick of seeing idiotic Game Studio Logos on startup that just waste my time.

So now I think I just need to re-do the font for the menu items to match the title font, and then have a new menu item selected image (the default tile has been there for a while).  I’m thinking of just using another portion of the computer card images that I already have, and maybe apply a brighter white color and a drop shadow.

Tax Tag and Title

New Title Logo

After wasting about an hour trying to follow a Gimp tutorial to make a 3D text logo, I ended up using Gimp’s default  bevel logo creator.  The results are just as good as the 20 step tutorial I was using, and it was done in about 2 minutes.  I went ahead and made separate layers for each letter in the title.  I exported each layer as a separate PNG image, that way I can apply special effects with each individual letter.  I also kept each letter image at the full size of the title text.  It is a little wasteful, but eliminates the need to do calculations in the code to place each letter.  I just put each image at the location where the title needs to go, and it should look fine since everything but the letter is transparent.  Hopefully, this won’t have an impact on performance, and it’s just a title screen so high frame rate isn’t essential.

 

New Title Background

Used the image of one of my old computer boards, and shrunk it down to a 256×256 pixel square.  Then I used the Make Seamless filter in Gimp, which is found under the Map menu.  Then, I made the image grayscale and lighter by using the Colorize option and setting the saturation to zero.

  


The new graphics were then imported into the project.  I added a variable to track which letters should be displayed on the screen, and a constant to track the amount of frames between displaying letters.  Currently, the letters just pop-in, but I would like to add a zoom in or other method of displaying the letters later.  I added a variable to track the offset of the scrolling background image.  I simply created two loops to display the background image, setting it off vertically by the number of pixels in the offset, which makes it scroll.  Finally, I created a gradient that is filled with light green at the bottom, and gradually transitions to a transparent color.  I overlap this on top of the scrolling background image, to make it appear as if the background is fading away.  Well, it doesn’t appear that way to me because I know how it’s implemented, but I think it should appear as fading away to the untrained eye.

One problem now is that the title screen looks considerably different than the rest of the game.  The title screen has realistic images and rendered text, while the rest of the game looks like it could have been created in Microsoft Paint.  This is really apparent on the level select screen which still has the old title logo.  I may have to use Blender to render some of the components to make those look more realistic as well.

So until I create another update video, I won’t be able to show off the scrolling effects.   This picture will have to do for now.

The Game Biz

Began reading up on what needs to be done to publish the game, if I want to make money off of it.  One question I also have is if I need to create an LLC or other form of company to sell the game.  I read on one site that a company is not required until over $3,000 is made.  A company also helps protect the individual from being sued directly, if that unfortunately happens.  Taxes would also be paid through the company instead of my personal income, which may help in the long run if the company does not make much money.

Week 3 Wrap-Up

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYLZ8Hvxjf4

(The capture format was set to FLV in XSplit (instead of MP4) with the highest recording quality (20), but there is still some initial distortion in the video after it was loaded to YouTube)

Touch Up Work in Audacity

Touched up the sound effects in Audacity, to give them the appropriate lengths to be used in the game.  For the buzzer, I trimmed down the hair clipper sound effect to 0.25 seconds.  Not sure why, but I wasn’t able to find a crop function in Audacity.  Therefore, I just had to select the portion of the clip I want to use, copy, then paste it in a new Audacity window.  Next I started looking for a sound to use for the main menu.  The buzzers and rings were too harsh of a sound, so I loaded up my shaken Pepto Bismol sound effect.  After cropping out everything except for one shake of the bottle, I realized that this makes a great menu selection sound.  It actually sounds like muddy boots on a wooden walkway.  For the wire filling sound, I slimmed down the running water clip.  The original sound is a little harsh, so I raised the pitch by 265.  The ice sounds were a little flat, so I increased the speed by 200.  It now sounded like an old fashioned money changer.  With this new sound, I added 2 seconds of silence at the end, and then applied the echo effect (delay 0.5 seconds, decay 0.5).  The spoons sounded good without any modification except for cropping out the rest of the noise.  I’ll use this as either a menu sound or a rank display sound.  The spoon hitting the glass made a good sound, but there was a lot of background static noise in the sound capture.  I used Audacity’s noise removal tool to fix it, but it seems to have raised the pitch of the sound as well.  It still sounded okay, so I’ll probably use that as the sound when an LED is lit.  The CO meter made a nice beeping sound, but it was really loud so I used the normalize effect.  I’m not sure where I will use this sound, but I’ll go ahead and import it into the project for now.  This gives me a total of eight sound effects, which should be enough to get me started.

  

Apparently, the volume of the MediaPlayer object uses a value between 0 and 1, and I incorrectly assumed that it was 0 to 100.  For some reason, the sound when it is played on the PC is much louder than it is on the XBox.  Maybe the XBox (or my television) has sound normalization so it isn’t loud like on the PC.  Setting the MediaPlayer volume to 0.1 makes it sound about right on the PC, which I believe is one tenth of the volume.  I will have to test it on the XBox later to see if that makes it too low to hear on the console.  If it does, then I may have to write some platform specific code to handle the differences between the PC and console.

Ran into a bit of an issue with playing sound effects.  In order to play a sound effect, the current screen must have a handle to the MediaPlayer object, which is only available in the main ResistorGame class.  I don’t want to have to pass a MediaPlayer object to each function on each screen that may want to play a sound effect.  I think I’ll make the sound effects like the screen transition, where the screen will implement a public method which will report whether or not the screen needs a sound effect played.  Then the Resistor game class will query that method on each update, and then play any sound effect that is requested to be played.  I usually don’t write code this way, but I think it may make things cleaner in the end, especially if I decide to write a media handler class.  I created a method called getRequestedSoundEffect in the Screen class and added a protected instance variable called iSoundEffect.  If the ResistorGame calls that method and it returns a value greater than -1, then it will play the sound effect at that index in the sound effect array.  Thefore, any of the subclassed Screen just have to set the iSoundEffect variable to any of the sound effect constants defined in the ResistorGame class.  Amazingly, this worked perfectly the first time that I tested it.  I also discovered that MediaPlayer is not required for playing SoundEffect objects (Songs objects only), but it was good that I implemented it this way, otherwise I would have the same problem with passing the sound effect array around to all of the screens.  Just calling the Play method on the SoundEffect object itself will play the sound.  One drawback is that only one sound effect can be played for each update call, otherwise the previous sound effect(s) ID assigned to the iSoundEffect variable will be lost.  This may be a good thing, because there shouldn’t be too many sounds playing at the same time.  Once scenario that I can imagine is if two LEDs are lit at exactly the same time.  Just playing the sound effect once should be sufficient.

Using Audacity and a short tutorial from eHow, I was able to record my voice for the title screen which I gave a repeating robotic sound.  First, I used the Repeat Effect on the start of the audio clip.  Then I used the Delay Effect with Decay=10, Delay=0.01, and Echos=20.  I repeated that effect about 6 times.  I also made audio clips for “level complete”, “game over”, “S”, “A”, “B”, “C” and applied the same effects.

  

Level Selection Modification

I may have messed up by making the LevelDefinition instance a member of the GameLevel class instead of the ResistorGame class.  The ResistorGame class needs to pass the maximum number of levels to the LevelSelectScreen class.  The maximum number of levels is defined in the LevelDefinition object, so it has to get a reference of that object from GameLevelScreen which is a little messy.  I may have to rework this later.

Sound Effects Added to Game

After updating the game code, I now have sound effects for menu movement, menu selection, wire begins filling, light filled, and light busted.  I had to add an additional variable to keep track of light filled, since this property was never actually tracked.  I added that check to the game win check, since it was already looping through the lights on the board, so if the number of lit lights is greater than the number of lit lights on the previous check, then the lit sound effect is played.  I was happy with all the sound effects, except for the electricity one (originally water running from the faucet).  It still sounded to static-like, and it started to give me a headache after awhile.  Therefore, I replaced it with the phaser sound that I made (also from the water running) which has a much smoother sound.  I also had the Pepto Bismol sound (now named SE_PLOP in the constants) play on each menu movement and the spoon sound (SE_SPOON) played on the selection.  This didn’t sound right because the SE_PLOP was longer than SE_SPOON, so I just switched out the occurrences of those two sounds, which makes it sound much better.  The lit light and light busted sound effects sound great.  I may need some delay or an animation when a light is busted, because the light busted sound effect plays through the game over screen.

Special Cases

While playing the game, I noticed a special case that may need to be handled.  If a wire is placed next to two (or more) filled wires (or other pieces), I believe it just takes the Elex value of the first one in the if/elseif statement.  I should calculate the highest of all the neighbors, and assign the new wire the highest value of all the adjacent pieces.

Another thing that had been bothering me is that I thought that the time statistic was proportional to the pieces used statistic, which would make it somewhat redundant.  However, through testing I found that it is possible to get a S rank in time and a C rank in pieces by quickly spamming wire pieces.  This is a good thing, which prevents someone from getting the best possible grade by quickly spamming pieces.  The inverse is also true, where someone can get an S rank in pieces but a C rank in time.  Just take a long time laying down the pieces in the shortest path.