By now, all the PGI participants have a good handle on what their game concepts. This week we took a look through the progress and as the games take shape, the way they look and sound are also coming together. Hex grids, character designs, Pause buttons, jazz BGM, moving balls in 3-D spaces! We shared anecdotes about our weekly successes and also failures, which surprisingly despite the content, made us feel encouraged! Our mentor for the week, Rekka Bell (website), illustrator of many works including the IGF-nominated game Oquonie, took us through her artistic process as we look to swapping their placeholders for beautiful creations. Onwards and Upwards!!
Progress Check In – Don’t Panic!
By now, you should have a pretty basic prototype of your game’s core concepts working. If you’re still having trouble with your prototype consider taking an hour’s break to switch gears and do something fun! If after another round of “programming” your prototype is still far away from being complete it’s time to consider several options:
- Break down the area you’re stuck on into a series of baby steps.
- Simplify. It’s easy to get excited about your game and try to do too much. Remember, that six weeks isn’t a long time. In order to scale back, you should list the most important verbs/actions of your game. Decide whether each is really necessary for your game and do the most, important ones first. Place the secondary actions as stretch goals. You can always get to them later!
- Switch game tools, if needed. Are you trying to learn programming (say in Unity) AND how-to-make your game? Try switching to a more visual-based tool. You’ll save a lot of headaches, plus, you can always come back and re-make your game with Unity later. There’s no shame in making your life easier.
- Go ahead. Copy and paste that piece of code ;)
The best way to keep yourself motivated and keep track of your progress is to make a list of every single piece of data you’ll need to create and import into the game! This is called an asset list, and it’s just a list of sprites, animations, sounds, songs, etc. You can even include pieces of text that need writing. At the very least, this can just be a text file with a list of stuff to do, which you can check off or delete when you’re done. It really helps you to get an intuitive feel for how long everything takes, and how much work is left… and therefore when to start cutting features and scoping down! At the most, it can be a categorized spreadsheet with each entry getting its own priority and implementation status. Feel free to download and modify this asset list Tanya used during Kitfox’s development of Sculptorgeist for a game jam. Once you have an idea of all the possible pieces, you can prioritize and work slowly through it. Having a checklist is great for visualizing your development and positive reinforcement as you get things done!
Creating Original Art
At this session, Rekka showed us some of her work and gave us tips on how to create our own processes. Some highlighted advice includes not only collecting a pool of images for inspiration, but also to participate in diverse activities and hobbies that ultimately feed back into your overall personal aesthetic. Consuming art and participating in life is just as important creating it. In moments of stress, it’s best to look at what you have and simplify, which also helps to punctuate the most important parts of the images you’re creating. Ask questions like: does this game actually need to be in colour? It is more important to prioritize characters and environments for a certain feel, or have detailed and readable UI? Keep it simple, stud! Your answers will come out of what best serves your game concept. Stay organized and communicate with your collaborators and how it might work with your chosen game engine. Moreover, have fun! Whatever you create, if it’s fun to you, the motivation will come. Sometimes it’s better to have fun and learn rather than make the most perfect result. The act of “finishing” a project is important, even if your final product is not as polished as you’d like, because it will be a launching point for newer, more exciting things to come.
If you’re looking to make your own art, graphics tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, or even one solely for pixel art (see below) can come in handy. If you’re inexperienced with pixel art, while it looks simple pixel art does take a long time and requires a lot of patience. If you’re inexperienced with art altogether there are lots of different options out there. You can choose to use free assets, use a stick figure or doodle art style, cut out photographs, or go with minimalist shapes to represent your game’s art.
Alternative Ways to Make Art:
- Stop motion
- Glitch Art
- String together YouTube clips
- Scrape Google Search to create auto-generated art
- Draw, color, watercolor, etc on paper then scan them in
- Use the laptop’s built-in camera then manipulate the video feed of the player with programming like a 1337 hax0r
Free Graphics Programs:
- Pixlr, online photo editor
- Pyxel Edit, pixel art and tileset creation tool,
- Tiled Map Editor, general purpose 2D tiled map editor
- ASEPRITE, animated sprite editor and pixel art tool
- Wings 3D, 3D modeler (no animation)
- Graphics Gale, tool for animation, spriting and pixel art
- Gimp, open source “photoshop-like” tool
Free Art Assets:
Sound is the key to immersion. It’s what the player listens to. It’s another way of giving the player feedback. If you’re ambitious, you’re probably hoping to sink your claws into sound design which can be an amazing experience! But plan your time wisely, it’s easy to get carried away with sounds of traffic, children at play, and splashes. If you haven’t got the time, there are lots of free sound assets out there for you to use!
General Tips on Sound:
- Keep in mind that the effectiveness of sound in games has slightly less to do with the type/style/quality of the sound, than with the timing of the sound. Instantaneous timing that creates the proper reactive signal to your player gives them the sensation that what they are doing is meaningful to the game. It matters less what the sound is, it matters more that the sound plays at the appropriate timing.
- Many free sounds have blank bits or silent lead-ups until the sound actually triggers. Use free programs (see list below) to cut them down, and maximize on that reactive timing.
- It is important during sound implementation that you are consistent, all across the board. If you implement a sound for one game enemy, but no sound for another, your player will feel like something is off or that they have broken something. Make your asset list and prioritize what feedback is most necessary.
- Consider programming functions in that control all your sounds. It will make it a lot easier if you want to edit and improve on them later — you can swap out one single line, rather than searching in your code for 40 different lines.
- There’s a treasure trove of free sound assets available to use (see list below)! However, do be mindful of proper crediting and attribution rules. Read up a bit on Creative Commons and how that works.
- Save sound implementation right until the end! Playtesting will reveal what and when those sounds are most needed. You can then add background music to emphasize the aesthetic you’ve already created. Plus when your code is more or less finished, adding a couple lines in for sound is a quick and satisfying task (but still… back up often).
Free Sound Tools:
- More assets over at PixelProspector
Sound Design Reading
- The Guide to Sound Effects
- Quick Tip: Make Retro, Low-Fi Game Sound Effects With Bfxr
- Sound Design Advice
- 5 Tips for Creating Sound Effects
- Game Audio: Getting In
- How to Break Into Game Audio
Bonus Resource: Math Vectors
Many of the incubees this round are working in Unity, and may have had some trouble with mathematical vectors in programming. Alicia mentioned this free e-book at the session that describes it very well, and it may also be useful to some of you Following-Along! → The Nature of Code — Free E-book
Once again, we encourage you to go online to discuss at our Facebook Group! There’s still no substitute for face-to-face interactions though, so we encourage you to meet with us again at our weekly Extra Sessions. Meetups are on Saturdays, happening weekly from January 17th to February 21st, from 2 to 5pm. Upcoming dates below:
Not many sessions are left!! This week, Pixelles will be bringing in dedicated Unity experts, so if that was your game engine of choice, they’ll be there to lend a hand. If there are any other specific mentor/helpers you’d like us to bring to the remaining meet ups, don’t hesitate to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Showcase: Feb 26th at GamePlay Space
Nitty-gritty work for the upcoming showcase is currently ongoing, though for now we are pleased to confirm that it will be on the evening of Thursday, Friday February 26, hosted at GamePlay Space (1435 rue St. Alexandre). Tell your loved ones to it aside, and in the coming weeks there will be more information for you to share. Look forward to it!
- Continue working on your game prototype! There’s only 2 more sessions left and it’s up to you to take the reins and develop your game further. Be realistic. Think about what can you do in the remaining time.
- Don’t be afraid to scrap your idea and start over, or even switch tools. It happens and you just may be happier with your second try. Don’t panic, it’s not too late, and the skills you’ve learned thus far and the efforts you’ve put in are still valuable, never wasted.
- Start adding in the artistic touches, swapping assets. It will be a good change in gears from programming and will motivate you to get back into it.
- Add at least one sound effect or background music to your game. (Even just to know how to do it later.)