Hey everyone! The past week has felt great for progress! I've worked on a ton of improvements which have made the game feel much more enjoyable to play. I've started to really enjoy testing it! Anyway, let's start with the level design changes.
I've nearly got all of the Waste Processing levels, that's the Flop Shark region of the game, to a playable point. The last level of the region isn't ready yet but the other three are almost finished. After testing them in sequence, I noticed there was something that didn't feel right about the first level. At the events I've taken the game to, I've only included this level so that it doesn't take too long for players to reach the boss. I made the level a bit larger to make it interesting without having to add more levels, but this now feels strange with the other levels being a bit smaller. So I've shrunk certain parts of the level while managing to maintain the overall design.
Another aspect of the first level that I originally thought would be a good addition was an unlock-able shortcut back to the player spawn point from the exit. However, I found that players were more interested in unlocking this optional and empty passageway than unlocking the exit. While I do like levels that loop around, and will probably use this sort of design later in the game, I no longer like the idea of it being in one of the first levels the player will experience. Removing it has actually made the level feel much more streamlined. I'm pleased with these changes, especially as I enjoy playing the level more now that it is compact and simplified!
I've got a new level to add to the list. This is a level that will appear at the end of each region. I want to reward players for completing regions to make them feel good about making progress. This was always going to be done with the Mutagen upgrades, which I've talked about before, but until recently I was not sure about the best way to do it. What I've come up with is a choice between three different Mutagen upgrades that the player will be able to identify through their symbols. I used to show what a Mutagen does using text that appeared when the player got close to it. However, I think that it might be more interesting to let the player guess what it is or learn to identify Mutagens by their symbols. I think I will make the reward selection random for each play-through when I have more of them, but for now it is the same every time. Hopefully, this will promote replay-ability and make replaying the game more interesting.
Tweaks & Fixes
As I've already said, I have done a lot of testing over the past week. This has led to the discovery/rediscovery of a bunch of bugs and issues that I am working my way through. One that has been irritating me for a while is the player appearing behind parts of the Flop Shark arms. It wasn't too noticeable but drove me crazy when it happened. I fixed this when I found that the enemy materials still use 3D space sorting rather than 2D sorting layers. Another issue was that enemies would damage themselves if the player infested one while it was attacking. Enemies would also continue attacking if stunned during an attack. To fix this, I added an interrupt to the attack animations. There are many other fixes but I've mentioned the main couple that were irritating me.
Before finishing the post today, I should mention that I'm going away next week. This means that the next post might come out at the end of this week instead of next Monday. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this week's post!
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Hello everyone! It's been another good week for progress on the game. I've been busy working on the backgrounds, tweaking the infest mechanic, and making exciting new features! I'm also trying out a wider GIF size. Let me know if you like it!
After writing last week's post, I decided to do some more research into other pixel art games and how they handle backgrounds. The most common way to make backgrounds seems to be using tile-sets just like the foreground. However, I don't want to use traditional repeating tiles in the background of Squillamorph, like it has had before, because there are a ton of tiles to cover and it looks very repetitive. Then I found an interesting method of creating panelled walls in a 3D game. A tweet I saw from the Prodeus Twitter showcased this method of having panels appear according to the rectangle they created. I then found that a similar method is used by the developer of Megasphere to quickly create pixel art backgrounds. I decided to give it a go and see if it would work for Squillamorph.
Despite finding these examples with relative ease, finding any other examples or explanations was nigh impossible. I realised I would have to devise my own method. I started by figuring out how to compare rectangles. I needed to do this so that I could draw a rectangle of any size, using a sprite renderer, and have the sprite change to one that matches its size from a sprite sheet. The method I came up with compares the diagonal size of the rectangle I make against those on a sprite sheet. It then swaps out the sprite on the rectangle for the matching sized sprite on the sprite sheet. I soon found that I could not do this accurately without snapping the sprite's position and scale. The result is seen in the GIF at the start of this section. I am very happy with this and find it much faster to make decent backgrounds now!
I've made a few little changes to balance and improve the infest mechanic. I've now added the ability for me to decide whether an enemy is infest-able or not. This is a really nice improvement for as it means I've been able to stop players from accidentally infesting the 'fuses', the machines you deposit points into, once they are full of points. It has also let me stop players infesting the Test Dummies with no swords in the tutorial. Enemies which are stunned can no longer be infested either. This was for the sake of balancing considering how easy it is to stun enemies now. This change has also allowed me to create a new one time infest machine.
Up until now, I haven't made the Mutagens a massive part of the game. They have appeared as floating symbols which are collected upon player contact. The only collectable Mutagen in any of the levels, for now, is the wall jump in the tutorial, which was supposed to teach players about them but ended up needing more explanation. This was especially prominent when players moved so fast that they couldn't see the text that told them it was a wall jump before collecting it. So to solve this, I have now made Mutagens something that the player will be forced to see. This is done by making them infest a machine that plays a short animation to apply the mutagen. Then, similarly to the tutorial screen that appears upon infesting an enemy, a screen telling them how to use the applied mutagen will appear and the game will pause while it is there.
My reason for showing a screen that explicitly describes the ability is that this has worked really well so far for the enemies. If you are a developer, I am sure will know that making a tutorial is hard. Every time I show the game and thought I'd made a decent or improved tutorial, I've had to explain it to the player anyway. I don't want to end up explaining everything with a bunch of text because it is boring and doesn't work. Currently, the only bit of the tutorial that players don't forget about, is the screen that appears when they infest an enemy for the first time. I think it might be because it is the only time the gameplay completely stops which forces the player to pay attention. Obviously, I won't overuse this because it might break immersion. I will be looking to improve this method as time goes on, to incorporate it into the game world in a diegetic way.
Hey everyone! As I mentioned in the last post, the week just gone was my last week in the UCA incubator studio. It has been a great experience and the support from it has greatly helped the development of Squillamorph.
(Enjoy this GIF of some Flop Sharks running around the current menu screen!)
Connor, Sarah and I applied for the incubator a little over a year ago. At the time, Squillamorph looked very different in its prototype form. I was slightly concerned we wouldn't get a place due to the scope of the project, but luckily we were successful and got a spot! We were able to start working in the studio in September but I started work on the new version of Squillamorph at the end of August. Over our time in the incubator, we received much encouragement from those around us, which greatly motivated us! We were also given lots of support in the form of industry speakers and legal advisers. The incubator has been a fantastic platform to kick-start Squillamorph and I would recommend it to anyone who has an opportunity like it.
Nevertheless, Squillamorph's time in the incubator was not without problems. Over the course of the year, we had to scope the scale of the game down multiple times due to time constraints. This was most likely due to the lack of initial planning. At the beginning, we failed to set out a proper plan or vision to follow, which had several repercussions. We managed to address them as time went on. However, things might have been much easier for us if we had just planned everything properly from the beginning. Therefore, my advice to anyone doing a project like this is to set everything out at the start and take into consideration changes that may occur.
I have learned a huge amount from my time in the incubator studio and while Connor and Sarah are no longer working on the game, they also enjoyed the incubator experience. A big thanks to Andy Bossom (UCA Games Arts course leader & incubator studio director) for setting it up! Also, a big thanks to all the other tutors on the course for their support! Without the incubator, Squillamorph wouldn't be where it is today.
Onto the content updates! This is something that has been requested by play-testers for ages. There have been too many unfair situations where the player is killed right after ejecting from a creature. The solution, in the majority of these scenarios, is to stun creatures on ejection. Creatures will now be stunned when the player ejects from them. When ejecting from a fuse, the machine you deposit points into, enemies in the immediate area will be stunned. I am still balancing the fuse stun and I am not yet sure whether the player should be able to infest a stunned enemy. Nonetheless, I think that both changes will improve player experience.
Something else I've been meaning to address for a while is the far background of levels. Until now, the far background has been a random but tiled pattern. I am now experimenting with different ways of making it more interesting without making things too messy. What you see in the GIF is a background that uses some altered versions of the immediate background assets, which have also been darkened, to created a panelled surface over the existing tiles. I am not too keen on this method as it is slow to put together and a bit gap-filled/messy. The next method I am going to try out will be large tiling panels. These will take longer to make but should reduce the time it takes to put together backgrounds in the long run. The challenge is making something simple and interesting while also looking like the structure of a massive facility. We'll see how far I get with this in the next post!
Another change to mention is one that you can't see. I've decided to remove support for depth of field from the sprite shader. I originally made this change to allow for blurred backgrounds in the future. However, this caused a few problems that I was willing to deal with until now. I couldn't use sprite sorting layers to order sprites, which made it much more tedious to place sprites in the world. It also created an issue where the normal maps of sprites further back would show through foreground layers. The only solution to this was to move the sprites further back in 3D space, which wouldn't be an issue if it didn't affect the lighting so much. In the end, I didn't see the point of going through this just to allow for depth of field blurring later down the line. So now things are a bit easier again, yay!
I hope you enjoyed this update and the brief description of my time in the incubator. If you have any questions about it, feel free to leave a comment or message me on the Squillamorph twitter. Thanks for reading!
I'm the game developer for Squillamorph! I'll post here on the devlog as often as I can.