We Made a Game for TOJam 12 Called Blobber Basher!

Hello there! I'm Alina, a Toronto-based pixel artist and if you've been following what Spooky Squid Games has been up to lately, you've already seen my art in Russian Subway Dogs!

This weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the 12th annual Toronto Game Jam, my first game jam ever.

Expectations

Some of my expectations of what a game jam might be like had me a little nervous about signing up.

Having been with Spooky Squid Games for almost two years I have learned without any doubt that while game development can be fun and rewarding when things are going well, it has an equal potential to be gruelling and disappointing when something just isn't coming together. Why would full time game devs want the additional stress of developing a side project in three days' time? Or the disappointment of coming up with a promising idea and not finishing it in time?

At the same time, knowing that Russian Subway Dogs had itself started out as a jam game, it didn't make sense to ignore the potential behind rapidly prototyping a game idea. Who knows how far it can go one day! And hey, if it never goes anywhere big, at least you gave it a shot and learned something.

Jamming

Working under the assumption that most finished jam games are mere shadows of the developers’ original ideas, Miguel and I made a point of not planning out too much ahead of time.

Our basic concept was to make a local multiplayer, alien-themed soccer game with a sentient ball. We imagined the ball having a few different behaviours to add an unusual challenge for players, and also thought it would be neat to include a few different power ups that could drastically alter the ball’s behaviour.

I found it very refreshing to rapidly prototype the smallest possible version of our idea in contrast to how we usually work, which involves constructing and following a fully fleshed-out game design document. That's not in any way meant to knock the design document approach - if anything it's necessary for any large project - but it was very nice to get a break from that method.

A quick pixel sketch to establish the style for the game’s playable characters. The one on the upper right was inspired by the boot-shaped McNugget!

A quick pixel sketch to establish the style for the game’s playable characters. The one on the upper right was inspired by the boot-shaped McNugget!

I started out by doodling some ideas of what the players might look like. I tried to go as low-resolution as possible in order to simplify animation, but we went even smaller in the end!

 
 

To save on animation time and effort, I decided to give the playable characters a squishy bobbing animation that would be used both when they’re idle and “walking”. Miguel made their animation speed up in-game when they were moving and it looks surprisingly good considering how much time we saved on animation!

I also tried to give these sprites a little bit of directionality so that, even though I only made one set of animations, we could flip them horizontally in-game to make them face left and right.

 
 

Inspired by Snipperclips, one thing we wanted to experiment with was altering the characters’ facial expressions to give them a bit of personality when they scored. I’m glad we gave it a shot because it made a big difference, even though it meant I didn’t end up with enough time to animate any of the other playable characters.

This was our progress at the end of the second night of TOJam. The squishy “attack” pose is just us reusing the squishiest frame of the bounce animation!

This was our progress at the end of the second night of TOJam.
The squishy “attack” pose is just us reusing the squishiest frame of the bounce animation!

In the end, even though we went in with what we thought was a pretty simple idea, which we then pared down to what we thought to be its most basic, essential iteration, we still ended up having to go even more bare-bones than that! The current version does have a ball with very simple AI, but it does not turn angry, and there are no powerups to push it into.

Having said that, we still came out of this weekend with a small little game that’s fun to play!

Play it now!

Aftermath

Overall this was an extremely positive experience for me. One thing that was very helpful was partnering up with Miguel. Because we’ve been working together at Spooky Squid for almost two years, we definitely had an advantage thanks to already knowing how to work efficiently with each other.

Another big help was using tools that we are already familiar with! While there’s nothing wrong with using a game jam as an opportunity to learn a new language or software [Miguel: I used it as a chance to learn Box2D physics!], I felt I was much happier making stuff with an already established workflow. However, this is absolutely up to individual preference and your learning style!

Even though we didn’t get all of our initial ideas into Blobber Basher, we’re still excited about them and may be adding a few new features within the next few months. You can play the current version of Blobber Basher right now on itch.io.

This weekend was a lovely learning experience for me, and I would like to thank the organizers for all of the time and effort that has gone into making this year’s TOJam happen.


PS: If you’re in Toronto and wondering how Russian Subway Dogs is going, you can check it out this weekend (May 13th & 14th) in the Comics X Games section at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival

The Night Balloonists - GAMMA4

We've just released our entry for the GAMMA 4 One Button Games competition: The Night Balloonists. It's for 2-4 players so you'll need to grab a friend or three to play. While it wasn't one of the six winners we're pretty pleased with how it came out and have been booting it up to play a match whenever we have enough players for a three or four player match. Also Andrew's wife Maryna is thoroughly addicted and vicious with the ink shots. Download is here

This video gives a nice preview of a four player match and has the dubious bonus of including my annotated commentary discussing various aspects of the game.

More arts and a general update.

Well developement video 9 is pretty much finished, I'll be uploading it sometime tonight.  To make up for the long wait here's another little slice of the production quality art mockup I've been working on.  Yes we're totally teasing you with these,  I'll eventually upload the full screen, but only after I've had a chance to add some final polish.


Also  the Game Developer Fall 2009 Career Guide came out a few weeks ago. It has a huge amount of cool indie games how-to info.   Both myself and my buddy Ben Rivers (who made the excellent Snow and The Accent) contributed to an article on low budget game engines and there's a little side column I wrote on the process of recording on the cheap for Night of The Cephalopods (complete with a photo of actor Scott Moyle talking into my lamp during the recording).  It also has Jim "Everybody Dies"  Munro's excellent guide to running your own Artsy Games Incubator and whole bunch of other good stuff.

Dead tree versions are available at a range of locations but you can also download a  PDF copy for free.


You may remember my video dairy from the last Toronto Indie Game Jam, well the last of the TOJam games finally went online recently which means you can now play both games I contributed to as well as 34 other strange little games:

'Cephalopods Co-op Cottage Defence' and other AGI games released.

I've posted a few times about the current round of the Artsy Games Incubator and the co-operative game set in the world of Night of the Cephalopods I've been working on as part of it. Well all the games are now online and playable.  Other then myself all the games are made by first time game makers, most with little or no experience programming.  There's a real range, from simple reskins of existing games to small complete experiences built from scratch to promising works in progress that are just a taste of what will hopefully one day be a larger experience.   Go check them out!

As for the NotC Co-op game it now has a name "Cephalopods Co-op Cottage Defence" while it isn't feature complete (it lacks sound and a few other features) it's still very playable.  I've sat down with several testers over the last few weeks and we've always found ourselves playing 'just one more time' in an attempt to beat our last high score.

Cephalopods Co-Op Cottage Defence is a two player co-operative horror game with old school pixel art graphics that takes place in the same world as my previous game Night of The Cephalopods. Unlike NotC it's emphasis is on teamwork gameplay rather then narrative.

Lady Amber Pennyworth (scientist, suffragette, and researcher of the occult) and Winston Mainspring (her clockwork valet and lab assistant) have found their cottage lab besieged by foul eldrich octopi.  Armed with only a hammer and a fowling shotgun filled with low grade birdshot they must defend the cottage for as long as they can.

It should be obvious at this point that the game isn't the same as Night of the Cephalopods it's a lot more about game play and a lot less about interesting narrative techniques.  Don't worry it's not supposed to be a replacement for the new and improved NotC, it's its own thing. Though I'll be taking some of the stuff I learned making it and apply that knowledge to the new NotC.

Here's the description from the readme:

Lady Amber Pennyworth (scientist, suffragette, and researcher of the occult) and Winston Mainspring (her clockwork valet and lab assistant) have found their cottage lab besieged by foul eldrich octopi.  Armed with only a hammer and a fowling shotgun filled with low grade birdshot they must defend the cottage for as long as they can.

Anyway grab a friend, download it from the AGI page and give it a spin.  Let me know if you find bugs and feel free to comment with high scores if you think you've got an unbeatable score (once the game is feature complete I'll be adding online high scores)