It’s nearly been a year since my last post, which happened to be about DIY on-the-cheap white-boards, but I’m back now with a desire to at least write one more post. I don’t know how long I’ll be keeping this new found desire to write going.
Post Content and Focal Point
A good majority of my posts to this blog will focus on iOS game analysis. Specifically, I will be analyzing free iOS games in the following categories:
In our oh so digital world it’s easy to collaborate and work on ideas online. There are a plethora of free useful web tools that offer a long list of features. But sometimes analog is just better and this is often true with white boarding new ideas.
White Board Options
Let’s face it. The cost of white boards are usually prohibitive to most indie developers. $30 for a 2’ x 3’ is not something to sneeze at - plus, 2x3 is tiny for all the ideas we will be thinking up. A ready-to-use melamine 8x4 white board with hangers in the back and marker rail can cost you $240 ($7.50 / sq ft) at your nearest office supply box store. So that’s definitely out of the question for me. Plus, I don’t like the restrictive nature of this type of board. If you want to double up on them the bevel will make it hard to use.
Another option is a paint specifically made to act like a white board surface. The most common one that I hear about is called IdeaPaint. This stuff is pretty cool. You literally (yes, I know this word no longer has any meaning) paint the stuff on a wall, let it dry for a couple days, and use it like a white board. If I had the money, I might invest in this and turn all my walls into white boards. However, the cost is still prohibitive at $225 per bucket which “covers 50 sq ft” ($4.50 / sq ft). So cheaper than buying a physical white board if you don’t count the painting supplies and primer which can cost around $30-40. Still too costly for me.
The third option is to purchase this awesome construction board called “Thrifty White” from your local hardware store. This board is 8x4 for a total of 32 sq ft and according to the website costs $13.38 ($0.42 / sq ft HOLY COW). The price must have increased because I remember spending less than $10 on all my supplies. This stuff is very similar to the material used in white boards and is extremely cheap in comparison. You’ll need to do some handy work to get it hung up though since the board is more than a couple pounds. A couple of screws and washers will do the trick though.
Thrifty White isn’t exactly the same thing as white board but it’s damn close enough for me and at the price I paid, I’m extremely happy with it. The first thing you need to do is to find the location of the studs in your wall - you can do this with an inexpensive stud finder. If you don’t have one you can pick one up for $5-10 at a hardware store and you will probably use it in the future for another project anyways.
One thing to keep in mind is that these boards are not specifically made for this purpose and may be beat up a bit. Some may have scratches on the white surface and others may have fraying on the edges and corners. Look for a good piece that you’re happy with. If not, ask them to hold a couple clean ones as soon as the next shipment comes in.
You may want 1 or 2 people to hold up the board on the wall while you secure the screws into the studs but I actually accomplished this by myself with no help by propping up some boxes to hold half the board while I held the other half. You’ll need a power screw driver with a drill bit to drill holes into the material first. If you don’t have drill bits or misplaced them, like I did last year, you can probably still force the screws through the thrifty board with little force - I did this and it worked perfectly for me. Make sure you get wood screws and washers that fit the screws. I used 8 screws to hold up the board in total.
One issue with the board, and with nearly all white boards, is left over shadow residue from old marks. The photo really shows it but when looking at it in real life it’s really not as bad. Be sure to use your favorite glass cleaner to remove stubborn marks and you should be golden. Leaving marker on the surface for months on end may be more difficulty to remove but will come off after two wipes.
This time I would like to talk more about the tools behind Taia Arcana.
First in the tools list is PlayMaker. I touched on this in the last post. We are using PlayMaker to setup a visual design platform to create bullet patterns. They can be complicated and a bit nested at times. But since it also allows for a more modular approach you just use the building blocks to create what you think is cool. Being able to see how its working really reduces the time it takes to get feedback on ideas.
Next up is Retiled an in house tool parses files from Tiled to get them into Unity. It does more than just put textures on meshes and draw renderers. Tiled offers properties at many levels that provide ease of scripting in the editor or at runtime. This lets the artist/design quickly set properties to make in game scripting fire without worrying about how it works.
Tiled deserves its own category. The power behind this tool is really amazing. It is a free open source project that can be found here.
Last but not least is Sprite Lamp. This is a 2D lighting tool that just recently popped on the radar but proves to be an amazing asset. Sprite Lamp is running through a very impressive Kickstarter at this time. We are working closely with the developer to have the opportunity to use this product for Taia. Below you can see some early sample artwork after being run through Sprite Lamp. It should help set the mood. Enjoy!
After a couple weeks of searching for and reviewing portfolios we’ve finally found an artist that has the talent and style that we were looking for. He, Leonard, has worked on a couple open sourced projects in the past but nothing commercial but we’re hoping to make this project a huge success and a great start to his promising career in game art. I’m sure you will agree that the mockup image he provided is masterfully composed.
The art is a tricky thing because, honestly, we’ve never done dynamic lighting/shading in code for flat 2d images. We have a general idea of how it’s done in code but we’re antipating long hours of tweaking to get the saturation, brightness, and shading just right. The first few assets that Leonard will create will need two versions - one fully shaded and lighted and another with full brightness and saturation with no shading. The first version is what we will try to match through dynamic lighting in code with the latter version. Eventually we’ll get it just right and be able to create a fully lit version and have it look amazing in the engine. I’m expecting a lot of blog posts about that system in the near future.
We’ll keep you posted on future developments which will now include pretty pictures!
We are now past the initial flurry of progress and ideas that is the prototyping phase. The basic game idea is proven to work and is fun. Now the goal is to keep drilling down on that fun factor and make it bigger.
When doing prototyping most things are just thrown together. You do want to keep in mind how things will be later but only for a few moments. The point of prototyping is to get something working good enough fast enough to know if its worth doing. If you spend too much time planning you wind up months into something probably making tools. Step away and all you have made are tools!
The initial game concept for ‘Taia Arcana’ was running after a week. It was a dirty mess with not even programmer art but you know what did work? The basics for moving and shooting things. What you will spend 99% of your time doing. We spent the next week smoothing things just a bit mostly with controls and bullet patterns to see if it stayed fun.
Now that the prototyping phase is done you can start working on the game again with more tact and hopefully better scope. One thing to do at this phase is take another look at what you think you actually need to make the game (fun). This step should honestly be repeated as many times as possible without getting on the way of progress.
So the biggest point of a bullet hell/shooter are the bullets. Flying all over looking cool and being scary. When I started working on a bullet editor I thought I could handle it without much planning. The first few levels of complexity went okay but I soon found I was out of my element. I had never done a crazy math oriented bullet shooter before. I looked around at some other alternatives. Unity being as modular as it is with its Asset Store and community I started shopping around. There are a few options but none that satisfied our needs. Some gave insight into what a better system would look like though which was really helpful.
I set out to redo my initial design to be easier to edit. If its not quick and painless you can’t play with numbers and effects to just see what looks cool or feels right. This by the seat of your pants feel is something suggested many times by other successful shooter games.