Hi, I'm Henry. In 2012 I quit my job as a programmer at BioWare to spend a year making my own indie games. This blog is about what happened next...

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Game Feel

Hi everyone,

GDC was great, I’ve been away from the conference circuit for a while now and it felt good to reconnect with the broader community. I gave demos every day to other indie developers and got some useful feedback.

It’s always hard to show off a work-in-progress, there are so many things that I know are broken or incomplete, but enough of the game is working now to show the potential and I know how critical it is to get feedback before it’s too late to change things.

One of the things I need to work on is to make the basic interactions of the game more intuitive and natural. Two of the main things you do in the game are moving around and examining things and these actions are still not obvious.

This is a mobile game so I don't have a joystick or arrow keys for movement. You move around by tapping on things but previously you could only move to objects of interest: doors, scenery, and items. My thinking was that it would simplify things. I didn’t see an obvious need to move to arbitrary points on the floor, so why even allow it?

Now from watching people play and hearing their comments I’m changing it so you can move anywhere in the room by tapping. This actually solves several problems:

  • You could always move to some places by tapping, so not being able to move everywhere felt limiting and frustrating.
  • It removes the confusion between interactive scenery (which you could move to) and decorative scenery (which you couldn’t).
  • It allows for more expressive freedom when communicating with other players. You can now say things like “stand here” or “follow me this way” while moving your character to the place you want to indicate.

Moving around by tapping

Similarly, I’m making it possible to examine everything, including purely decorative scenery and the floor. Currently this is done by pressing & holding, but I’m still experimenting with other gestures like pinch to zoom, and dragging a magnifying glass around the view (see below). Being able to pan the view around when you’re zoomed in makes it less frustrating to examine a bunch of things one after the other.

Experiment with draggable magnifying lens

Another problem with player communication was not being able to explain where you are in the level to the other players. The random layout is confusing and there still aren’t many landmarks (yet).

So I’m adding a ‘shout’ feature that lets you broadcast your location by showing everyone a speech bubble on the edge of the screen coming from your direction. The game was already doing this for environmental sounds (portcullises opening, scenery sliding, etc) so it was a natural extension.

Shouting

More Art!

Sam is churning through the art assets faster than I can integrate them. I’m really happy with how they’re turning out :)

Lots more scenery and items:

Furniture and carpets Gargoyles AnimalParts

And a first look at some characters!

Characters

Random Unity tip: Don’t reorganize/rename your Script folders outside of Unity (eg. in the Finder). I did this and had to fix a whole bunch of 'Missing Script' references afterwards.

~ Henry


GDC Prep

Short post today. I’m preparing a playable demo of Blabyrinth for GDC (the Game Developer’s Conference) next week in San Francisco. If you’re around and want to give it a try let me know and I’ll try to set something up!

Real Art!

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be working with Sam Ballard to make the art for the game. He's already started building surfaces, scenery and items and I’ll be integrating them soon. Here’s a sneak preview:

That’s it for now, but I’ll post again soon.

~ Henry


Generator to Maximum Power

It’s been a while since my last post so thanks for your patience! This year I'll make an effort to post more often, which will be easier as I get closer to launching Blabyrinth and have more to show. Soon I can also start showing real art from the game because I now have an artist! I’ll make an official introduction next time and showcase some of the work so far.

For now, in the game (and these blog posts) all the art is still placeholder.

The Level Generator is now building “complete" levels with all the critical components: treasure, an exit, secret sections behind locked doors, main puzzles, side puzzles, decorations, traps, and meta-game elements. There are still only a few examples of each thing. eg. ~6 puzzle types, a handful of decorations, etc. and at the moment the levels are quite convoluted and random, but it’s enough to start testing the game as a whole so I can make sure it's a strong foundation on which to flesh out the details.

Here’s the kind of content it’s generating now, presented as an abridged walkthrough.

Overhead map of the whole level, which won’t be seen by the players:

You start in the central room with the four torches.

Scattered throughout the level are a set of mysterious stone crosses with musical instruments engraved on them.

You also find a door with a keypad, with musical symbols on the buttons. Could they be related? … Yes, they could.

For this particular puzzle you need to count the number of symbols on all the crosses together and you’ll get:

The numbers correspond to the order of symbols in the keypad code, so the final sequence that will open the door is:

Behind the locked door you find more symbols on the floor and a fragment of a larger clue:

Combining this with other fragments hidden around the level will reveal the complete clue, “Two must walk North South North East from The Sigma”.

Phrasing is a bit awkward but the idea is that if two players move together in these directions in sequence, a hidden door will unlock. In this case "The Sigma” refers to a greek letter engraved into the floor of another room.

The hidden door leads you to the Treasure Room! But you still need to find the Exit and escape.

Elsewhere you find a lever that opens a portcullis (requiring two players to work together) and a red key that unlocks a red door.

Behind the red door is another clue:

Again this is badly worded. I’m experimenting with generated clues that sound “poetic”. But hopefully you get the idea. This clue refers to four jewelled items that can be found in the level and “Flower Sun Leaf Trees” indicates the four symbols on the floor found earlier. If you place a jewelled item on each symbol then another secret door will open: the Exit!

Now you all have to work as a team to carry the Treasure (which is very heavy) to the Exit and freedom. This will trigger the “end" of the game.

The whole process takes 5 or 10 minutes but the puzzles are pretty bare bones right now. Even so, tasks that seem simple can suddenly get a lot more complex when you have three or four people trying to coordinate while lost in a maze :)

Set Pieces

One of the ways I’m making the levels more interesting is by adding a few partially-handcrafted “set pieces” made up of scenery in preset arrangements. So instead of having a room with a random bookshelf in it, the room might become a Library. More examples from the level above:

  • An underground oasis
  • A throne room
  • A henge
  • A bridge over a chasm (which is only considered if the room has exactly two opposite doorways)

These elements can still seem out of place so the next step is to tie things together thematically by making the entire level feel more like a temple or a cave or a castle, or with some other unifying theme. And then if the items and clues can also tie into the theme then the levels should be much more coherent.

Family Playtest

Over the holidays I prepared a build to play with my family. There are still a lot of bugs so they only got through one full playthrough from beginning to end without anything going wrong. But they had several partial game sessions and I got a lot of good feedback. It’s clear that I need even more cooperative elements or it’s too easy for one player to act like an "alpha gamer” and boss the other players around. Or, just as bad, for two experienced players to go off on their own and leave someone behind with nothing to do. I already had a lot of planned mechanics to encourage cooperation but it seems like I should be forcing it in more places.

Random Gifts

In the spirit of the holidays I have few random game codes to give away to the first people to claim them! I didn’t work on any of these games but they’re all made by friends or local Montreal studios. If you’d like one just try redeeming it and if it works (ie. it hasn’t been taken) maybe make a post to let people know. And please be courteous and don’t take more than one!

Happy New Year spacefriends!

~ Henry