Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

11 October, 2010

An RPG in a month
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 8:56 PM
(This post has been viewed 6215 times.)

So, what's happening at Psychoavatar? As I mentioned, we're working on an RPG in a month for October. So, I figured I'd do a "developer's diary" type entry. Won't be daily, but I figure a few postings to give a glimpse at what an accelerated development schedule looks like might be interesting. Not that I shouldn't be working on it instead....

First some organization

One of the first things I did was to settle out tasks between us and set up some tools to help. Dave is working on the visual part of the game, I'm doing the behind-the-scenes gameplay stuff, Kat's working on tiles and logos, and Sara's doing player and enemy art. I also set up email addresses for us on the psychoavatar.com domain, and set up a wiki to organize planning for the game. (I've actually been holding on to the psychoavatar.com domain for a while.)

I'm pretty old-school in my design style, so I started with Word documents. I've slowly grown to accept wikis as an alternative, but there's still some problems with them. The biggest is that there is a mild level of technical proficiency required, which can discourage people from using it. But, it can also make changes to the system easier than passing around a Word document if you have multiple people who need to edit the same document. Wikis do seem to be more useful as the team grows, so I guess using a wiki for a team of four people shows some optimism in that I hope we'll grow from here.

The next choice was which wiki software to use. I settled on WackoWiki because it's fairly lightweight. It also has a few nifty features, like "clusters" (which I just call subpages) that help make organization easier. It also has an editor to help you with syntax, even though it isn't quite WYSIWYG as WikiMatrix claimed it was. Overall, I think it's working well.

Now for some design

The next step is to figure out how much of an RPG we can make in a month. I pretty much took charge here since I'm going to be doing the behind-the scenes work. I came up with an informal list of features I wanted, including:

Then I set about fleshing out some details. One goal is to separate out the core design and implementation from the data that keeps it interesting. So, for example, I might detail a system where weapons have "ranks" to determine their power and how weapons can have randomized bonuses (so you can get a "short sword of Fire" instead of a normal short sword), but I'm going to wait to define all of those bonuses until the infrastructure is in place. I've also prioritized the features, so if time runs short we can decide to cut something.

I also wrote a very brief "backstory" for the game. Nothing epic, just something to explain why you're trudging through the dungeon to no certain end.

A question of art

Given that we have a month, a fully realized 3D world ain't happening. Not that you could do that in Flash very well, mind you. So, there has been some discussion about what style we want to use. We've settled on a faux-8-bit style. Something a bit more colorful than the true 8-bit games, perhaps comparable to the older version of Spelunky. This is good because it allows the artists to crank out a good variety of art, but it still appealing to more modern tastes.

We're also working on some logos. You can see a preliminary logo for Psychoavatar on our website. Thanks to Kat for throwing that together quickly.

Added: Here's some early art concepts from Sara Pickell:

Current status

So far, things seem to be on track. Dave has completed some random level generation and a basic loading screen. You'll also note that he's working on a second game by himself, truly earning the "psycho" part of the company name for himself.

Art is being produced. Sara has created several variations for the player art: male and female, different types of armor, etc. Kat has also created a tileset we can use to create initial dungeons. Lots more art to work on here.

As for me, I finished the design last week and started working on the gameplay code. My goal is to get the basic infrastructure done this week, spend next week inputting data and tweaking gameplay to get a good game, then get something playable by the 24th. I'll probably post a call for testers on here and on my Twitter feed, so it might be a good time to start following me.

Other information

Can't get enough information about game development? Take a look at the competition site. Lots of interesting projects going on, with some people posting a lot more often than I do. (You can also see the brief posting I made about the game on the site.)

Anyway, feel free to post questions in the comments if you have any. I'm not giving away too many details about the game yet since there's still a lot to do and some stuff might get cut. But, it's not like you'll have to wait a long time to play it unless things to horribly off-track.

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10 Comments »

  1. Great to hear that it's coming along well! I also find it really interesting that you went with a retro-2D art style (and that you name-checked Spelunky!). I'm definitely up for testing whenever it's ready! Go Psycho(avatar)!

    Comment by Kumar "Destral" Daryanani — 11 October, 2010 @ 9:01 PM

  2. I now use Google Docs exclusively for collaboration. Real-time docs, spreadsheets, drawings, and forms, with permissions locks and in-document chat function? Pure win.

    Best of all it's free to anyone with Gmail. Highly recommended.

    Comment by the Jack — 11 October, 2010 @ 9:14 PM

  3. What I'm most looking forward to seeing is how the initial choice of design focus determines the form of the completed game.

    I find the roads not taken interesting. Rather than starting with story or (as we now know was the case for Roy Trubshaw and MUD) with world-simulation, it looks like the design here crystallized immediately around the now-traditional Diku-inspired, rules-oriented, "kill it and take its stuff for advancement"-driven, Gamist/mechanics-focused fantasy combat with leveling.

    There's nothing wrong with that. For a quick game intended to appeal enough to someone to sell one copy (and given the professional experience of the designer), making the quick design choice to specify mechanics first and let that drive everything else could be the most sensible choice by far.

    I just can't help but wonder how that embryonic design decision will wind up determing the form of the mature game, and to what extent story and worldiness will be able to support that game.

    Secondarily I'm also interested in the tools the group will wind up using. Partly the project management tools, but more so the code/tech-side tools. In particular I'm curious whether you'll crank out your own one-shot system from scratch, or if you'll use a third-party engine. I've been looking for one for my own projects, and so far everything I've seen has been either too heavyweight (Unity, Unreal), too low-level (Java, Flash, Objective-C for the iPhone), or doesn't offer a low-cost license (Rocket Engine) for amateurs like myself to bootstrap from.

    Meanwhile, best of luck to the group!

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 11 October, 2010 @ 10:40 PM

  4. Destral wrote:
    I also find it really interesting that you went with a retro-2D art style

    I wanted to capture a bit of the feel of some of the older RPGs. (And now I've been reading http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/ after I decided that.) And, as I said, you get a good balance between looking acceptable and being able to produce a lot of art in a short period of time.

    and that you name-checked Spelunky!

    My original inspiration for art was from this art provided for an older game competition. But, I wanted something a bit higher resolution than that, and Spelunky fit that bill. We're actually going with 25x25 sprites. Any less and you had to spend more time really thinking about detail (like that sprite set did), any more and you start feeling the need to add more detail (shadows, shading, etc.)

    the Jack wrote:
    I now use Google Docs exclusively for collaboration.

    I've thought about it, but there are two marks against it. First, Google already has enough info no me, no sense giving it my game design as well. Second, I'd rather not have to rely on Google being available. If our Wiki isn't available, that means the rest of my sites aren't available so I'm going to be busting heads until its fixed. If Google isn't available, I have to sit around and wait for it to come back. Admittedly, it's more likely for my sites to be unavailable than Google, but I can stay in control easier. (Plus it doesn't officially support the browser I use, even though it works fine, so that's a minor issue.)

    Bart Stewart wrote:
    ...it looks like the design here crystallized immediately around the now-traditional Diku-inspired, rules-oriented, "kill it and take its stuff for advancement"-driven, Gamist/mechanics-focused fantasy combat with leveling.

    Yeah, although this type of mechanic is much older than Diku. The reason for choosing this game mechanic is threefold. I really want to highlight the elemental advancement mechanic, so doing too many weird things at once might distract from that. Second, I really wanted to capture some of the feeling of older games, which basically did come down to murdering stuff en masse (see the CRPG addict blog I linked above). Third, as you said, with limited time falling back on something relatively familiar is a simple shortcut.

    My hope is that the elemental advancement system is interesting enough to keep the rest of the game interesting even for people who have played CRPGs to death already. I also expect that if there's enough interest, we'll revisit the game and perhaps focus more on story or world building to build a more full game. But, this should be a good start.

    Comment by Psychochild — 12 October, 2010 @ 12:09 AM

  5. the design here crystallized immediately around the now-traditional Diku-inspired, rules-oriented, "kill it and take its stuff for advancement"-driven, Gamist/mechanics-focused fantasy combat with leveling

    Diku-inspired? So I imagine Paul McCartney is famous because of Wings.

    but really I posted to second your final question Secondarily I'm also interested in the tools the group will wind up using. Partly the project management tools, but more so the code/tech-side tools.

    I'm one of those developers that is just awesome at taking existing code and modifying it, but I flounder a lot before I have a runnable copy of something - mostly because I'm also one of those annoying "self-testing developers" that likes to manually run my program and see my latest thing tested and working every 10-30 minutes.

    At my day job, I start a new PHP form/page by taking my best one from my last iteration and making it do the new job, hopefully making some improvements to the core as I go. So while I no longer write code that resembles my first PHP page at all, I can trace a lineage back to it without a real "do over" in between. That's a simplified example, since obviously I can whip out a 5 line form without copying something else, but when I want to do a page full of drag and drop objects and other such bells and whistles - I never really start from scratch (side note: well, of course I use jQuery, the part I'm copying is the structure of the html/set-up, and the server-response "ajax" code. And my permissions stuff and other things that can't just be done in javascript. Let's not trivialize it - a good web product is still a lot of work). Anyway, back to my point: I never really start from scratch.

    Side question: why does Adobe get to charge everyone who wants to do web stuff that is gamey/cool, whereas everything else in web development is free?

    Comment by silver — 12 October, 2010 @ 5:42 AM

  6. Secondarily I'm also interested in the tools the group will wind up using. Partly the project management tools, but more so the code/tech-side tools

    We're going for an AS3 game with Flixel and using Flashdevelop as the editor. Going for Flash is mostly because it just makes distribution easier and that's a tech that both Brian and I already know. Flixel came in simply because I used it in two other projects. Not much because of some preference but just because that's the first library I tried and been able to do what I wanted to do with it. I'll have to check other options like Flashpunk later when I have some more free time. But overall the choices were made so we don't have to fight/learn something new.

    I also work much like silver. I rarely ever start anything from scratch and when possible I try to do as less coding as possible by iterating on existing code from previous projects, searching online, etc (as long as doing so doesn't take more time than starting from scratch). I also try to make sure that each piece of code I write can be use somehow in other projects. I'll usually try to get something running very fast even if it's really sloppy and then will iterate on it until it becomes solid.

    The random dungeon generator was already rendering a visual result after 15 minutes (copy code from previous project, adjust, delete a bunch of stuff and then just get it to compile without caring much about the junk around) so it gave me a better idea of what I was looking for. Some might think that this way you waste too much time destroying and rebuilding code to make something good out of it but as a visual person I found that it works nicely for me. The faster I can see something the better I can efficiently orientate myself in the project.

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 12 October, 2010 @ 6:48 AM

  7. Silver wrote:
    Side question: why does Adobe get to charge everyone who wants to do web stuff that is gamey/cool, whereas everything else in web development is free?

    You can work in Flash for free. As Dave mentioned, we're using FlashDevelop, which uses Adobe's free Flex SDK via ActionScript 3. I actually like it better than the Flash "authoring tool" because the whole bit about timelines and keyframes was rather confusing if you aren't drawing resources.

    Dave Toulouse wrote:
    I also work much like silver. I rarely ever start anything from scratch and when possible I try to do as less coding as possible by iterating on existing code from previous projects, searching online, etc (as long as doing so doesn't take more time than starting from scratch).

    I do a bit of both. I'll often grab snippets of code from previous work, etc. to start. But, I'll also start with a blank page, especially if things aren't quite like what I'm doing now. For the gameplay code for this game, I started with empty files and have been building up the code. I don't think I would have done what Dave did and copied a project quite so much. But, it worked just fine for this project. So far... we'll see if any random zombies or air blimps show up in the final game by mistake.

    Comment by Psychochild — 12 October, 2010 @ 10:50 AM

  8. we'll see if any random zombies or air blimps show up in the final game by mistake.

    You call this mistakes I call this easter eggs ;)

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 12 October, 2010 @ 11:27 AM

  9. Thank you - learning interesting things from the last few blog entries.

    Comment by silver — 13 October, 2010 @ 3:38 AM

  10. Same here -- appreciated!

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 13 October, 2010 @ 7:39 PM

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