Sunday Update #6: Warning, Fight to Win

One of the main things I did in Venusian Vengeance is add a mechanic where you’ll occasionally be stopped from progressing and have to defeat all the enemies in the area to continue.  Not only does this give me better control of pacing encounters (like the stopped screens in Cold Vengeance) but it also gives me more freedom to include bosses and minibosses that I don’t want the player to just be able to run/fly past.

You’ll also notice in those images that I added a visual effect where you’ll see how many points you got from each enemy you kill.

Last week I mentioned I was working on a small game, and that I’d have something to show this week.  Well, I do.  The game is an arena shmup where, rather than destroy enemy ships, your projectiles disable their movement, which means each enemy you hit will stay on screen making your life more difficult.   The disabled enemies will also hurl insults and threats at you.  Expect a playable build some time next week.

Screenshot 2015-10-11 09.23.26


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Sunday Update #5: Textures and Fog

Skipped the Sunday update last week, but at least this week’s update is actually on Sunday!

I’ve been working some more on the look of Cold Vengeance.  Learning more about how to texture models as I go.  I’ve also changed how the fog works from exponential to linear.  This allows me to more directly control the cutoff point (which is helpful since I only want the player to see enemies within combat range) and lets me set a starting point for the fog, so that colors aren’t as washed out.

Cold Vengeance 1

Also, enemies can now drop powerups.  The player can hold up to two powerups at a time, and can level up each powerup by grabbing multiple of the same type:


Now that Ninja Outbreak is finished, I’m doing something which I haven’t done in a while: quickly make a small game.  I’m not quite ready to get into the details, but it will probably be well on its way to being done by next week’s update, so keep an eye out for that.  I’m hoping to get back into the rapid development habit for side projects while I’m working on Cold Vengeance.

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Sunday (On Monday) Update #4: Ninja Outbreak Now Available

Once again this update comes a day late, but I have a good reason this time for being late.  Or, depending on how you look at it, more of a reason I should have done this on time yesterday.  Because yesterday I released Ninja Outbreak!

Finally my top-down straight-faced (up until it isn’t) Godfrey Ho-inspired Survival-Horror Action-Adventure game is available for the world to stare in vague confusion at.  Yes, this may be the least marketable game I’ve ever tried to sell, but hopefully it will find its audience of weirdos.

If you think you might be that weirdo, you can purchase Ninja Outbreak on or using this widget:

The Dragon’s Fire Burns Hot


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Sunday Update (On Monday) #3: Robots

Work continues on Cold Vengeance.  I spent a lot of the week working on new enemies.  Here’s a robot spider and a flame thrower robot.

Spider FlameBot


I also worked on planning and blocking more levels.

And, of course, putting the finishing touches on Ninja Outbreak, which will be coming out this Sunday!

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Sunday Update #2 – Early Level Design

I have spent much of this week planning, outlining and blocking levels for Cold Vengeance.  The process roughly mirrors the process I used for Venusian Vengeance (which I wrote about in my Level Design Primer series)

I have a rough outline of the overall game.  This includes the level order, environment types, which enemies get introduced in which levels, stuff like that.  I have more detailed outlines of about a third of the levels.  From there, I’ve begun blocking a few of the levels.  I’ve been spreading out the levels I block, so I get the feel for each environment type.  So far I’ve done rough passes on 2 city levels, a canyon level, and some preliminary work on a forest level.

Here’s an image of an in-progress level.

Cold Vengeance Level Blocking



One of the reasons I decided to do one of the canyon levels so early on is it highlights the game’s verticality, so I wanted to get a feel for designing levels with multiple teirs that the player can move between.

Cold Vengeance 7


I’ve also been working on more enemies, including this Gun Turtle here:


As well as some environment models.  As I mentioned in the last post, I’m using a combination of modeling the overall shape of the level, and also modeling objects which will be placed within the level.  Here are some pieces that I can use to build ruins:


Meanwhile, on the Ninja Outbreak front, I’ve been continuing to test the game, get other people to test the game, and tweak and fix accordingly.  Don’t forget to vote for it on Steam Greenlight:


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Sunday Update #1: Cold Vengeance

I’ve decided to start trying to post a weekly update with what I’ve been working on.  And, since I just announced a new game, this seemed like a good time to start.

For a little while now, I’ve been working on a sequel to Venusian Vengeance/Remake of Cold Vengeance called, naturally, Cold Vengeance (The less we acknowledge the original Cold Vengeance the better).  For those of your fortunate enough not to have played Cold Vengeance in its original flash incarnation, it follows Jon Dagger battling the forces of Canada through a bombed-out America.

The new Cold Vengeance will be a 3D Run ‘n’ Gun.  Basically, I’m going for something somewhere in between a third person shooter and a “Sin And Punishment” style rail shooter.

Here are some GIFs:

ColdVengeanceDrones ColdVengeanceExplosions2

In addition to the (hopefully) weekly updates I will be posting here, there will be smaller, more frequent updates in the DevLog on the TIGSource Forums which you can follow here:

Meanwhile, I have been putting the finishing touches on Ninja Outbreak, which will be coming out September 20th.  You can watch the most recent trailer here:


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Volatility and Enemy Agency

Today I want to talk about Gamestate Volatility, and specifically how it relates to obstacles and enemies and the idea of agency. How much can obstacles, enemies, and non-player-characters, in the ways they act upon the world, interact with each other and react to the player, change the overall gamestate. How much “agency” do they have over their situation.

More ->

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Level Design Primer Part 19: Familiar and Unfamiliar Space

After a hiatus, Level Design Primer returns! This time around, I want to talk about one of the evocative qualities of level design. Specifically, the ability to create familiar and unfamiliar space.

But first, as a way of illustrating what I mean by familiar and unfamiliar space:

There are two kinds of stores. The kind that you go to to because there’s things you specifically need to buy. The electronic store where you look around for the memory card section, pick one off the shelf, bring it to the counter, buy it and leave. The grocery store where you go up and down the isles picking up all the things you’ll need for the week. Then there are the shops you enjoy going to. You walk into the store, and you don’t know what you want to buy, but you know where the first thing you do when you enter the store will be. You’ll take a beeline to the coffee dispenser, or the stack of 25 cent comics, or the PS2 bargain bin. You make yourself at home. The experience is different.

This is what I mean when I talk about familiar space in games. Not just a place that you know the layout of, or know what to expect, or know your way around. A place where you feel at home, where you have control over your environment, where you already know where you want to go, and what’s the quickest way to get there.

Familiar space could be the home town in a JRPG, it could be your ship in a sci-fi adventure, it could be the hub area. It’s the player’s comfort zone. They know their way around they know where things of importance are. If there are obstacles, the obstacles are far below the current level of the difficulty curve, and the player can deal with them with barely a thought. Familiar space is not just safe (or safe-ish) but open and easy to navigate, with recognizable landmarks.

Unfamiliar space, then, would be the places the player goes when they’re leaving their comfort zone. The dark cave, the alien planet, the abandoned building, unexplored continent.

There is an evocative power to familiar and unfamiliar space. If you’ve played a Metroidvania, I’m sure you’ve had this experience: You’re delving further and further into an unfamiliar location, getting through challenges, and finally you find a new item. The item lets you pass through barriers that you couldn’t before. But you went through a one-way passage to get here. You can’t turn back, you have to push forward. You finally get to a passage blocked by the barrier that you can now open using your weapon. You walk through, and suddenly you’re greeted by an area you recognize. That door you just opened was one you walked by a hundred times, always wondering where it led. And now you breath a sigh of relief. You know where you are, and, what’s more, you know how to get to a save point from here. Tension and release.

Unfamiliar space can become familiar space over time. The perfect example is the Link to the Past overworld. At the start of the game, everything but your house is unfamiliar space. For a while, the overworld is presented as a series of challenges that you need to overcome. But after a little while, a chunk of the overworld becomes familiar. The enemies no longer pose a threat and you know your way around. You might unlock an item that lets you remove various barriers, thus opening up shortcuts that makes traversal easier. What was a linear path from your house to the castle at the start of the game opens up and becomes a zone that players can move freely around. And as you progress through the game, you open up more and more of the world, and those parts of the world go from unfamiliar to familiar. The dungeons, on the other hand, as the main challenge sections of the game, have the job of always being unfamiliar. You might hang out and just wander around the overworld, but in the dungeons, you have a specific goal, and obstacles in your way.

One thing to note is that openness can lend both to the quality of familiar space and unfamiliar space. If the player is dropped into a new area, and the area is very open, it can overwhelm them and lend to the feeling of unfamiliarity. One tool you can use to turn unfamiliar space into familiar space is to have it open up over time. Introduce it to the player as a linear or semi-linear set of challenges, and guide them around so that they start to recognize the landmarks. Then give the player ways to open up shortcuts and thus give them more freedom of movement through the area.

Some games will also subvert familiar space. Take a place where you felt comfortable and safe, and make it dangerous and unfamiliar. This can be a powerful moment. In Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, when you jump forward 7 years and become adult link, your home town, Kokiri Forest, gets invaded by monsters. It’s no longer the safe haven you remember it as. And what’s more, the Kokiri no longer recognize you now that you’ve grown up. It is no longer your home.

Probably the most interesting (and frightening) parts of The Evil Within were when the safe room, where you go to save and upgrade your character, suddenly becomes different and threatening. These sections are all the more frightening because they are happening in a place that the game had set up as a safe haven. They’ve invaded your safe place.

Keep in mind how the player interacts with the space in your game, and, moreover, how the player feels about the areas of your game. Where does the player feel safe, or comfortable, or at home? You can use these familiar and unfamiliar space to create emotional and dramatic arcs through the level design itself.

 <–Part 18: Emergent Objectives ——– Part 20: Coming Eventually…

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Design – Soft Gates

I’ve talked before in my Level Design Primer series about Gating mechanics: mechanics that block player progress until they’ve accomplished a certain task, reached a certain location, or acquired a certain item, thus directing the order they play through an otherwise open space. Keys in Legend of Zelda, mobility items in Metroid, and so on. Not all gating mechanics, however, are absolute.

I would like to break up gating mechanics into two categories: Hard Gates and Soft Gates. A Hard Gate is when some condition absolutely needs to be met in order to progress. The condition is a binary (either you got it your you don’t) as is the gate. Doors which can only be opened by missiles in Metroid, or doors which can only be unlocked by keys in Zelda, are both examples of Hard Gates.

A Soft Gate, on the other hand, is when progression would be prohibitively difficult until a condition is met. In this case, the condition could be either a binary or a sliding scale: the more of it you have, the less resistance the Soft Gate provides. Take, for example, areas in JRPGs with enemies of a higher level than the player. In order to reach the next town or dungeon, they have to pass through this area. If they are under-leveled, they still have a chance to make it through, but they’d be better advised to hold off until they have leveled up some more. Another example would be a tough boss battle in a Metroid game. The player already has all the items you need to take on the boss, but they might want to acquire more energy tanks and missiles before the fight.

Put in basic terms: a hard-gate is an obstacle that requires the player go do something else before they can progress. A soft-gate is an obstacle that encourages the player to go do something else before they can progress.

By creating soft-gates, you can give the player more freedom while still guiding their experience. You can let players test the boundaries of their environment and assess their own ability (as well as their character’s power and resources). And if the player decides that the Soft Gate provides too much of a challenge, it’s up to them to make up the difference, and up to the designer to provide ways for them to do so. They might take on quests to gain experience, seek out items to make them more powerful, or obtain resources they can use when trying to get past the Soft Gate. Soft Gates can act as motivation for the player to explore the optional content of a game.

It also gives them more leeway in how they get past the gate. A long time ago, back in the EverQuest days, a friend of mine and I, at a relatively low level, made the decision to attempt a cross-continent expedition. MMOs like EverQuest (and it’s descendants such as World of Warcraft) are full of soft-gates in the form of the level of enemies in each zone. Each area of the game is build around being faced by players in a certain level range. However, you aren’t required to be within that level range to enter that area. We managed to sneak our way through high-level zones and eventually make it to the other side of the continent (although my character ended up dying in the final zone outside the city we were heading too, a zone which, ironically, contained level-appropriate encounters). Such an adventure would have been impossible with hard-gates, but with soft-gates, it became a fun subversion of the intended pace of the game.

To tie this in to what I’m currently working on, in Ninja Outbreak, the final area leading up to the boss becomes accessible a few zones into the game. At that point, you could head directly for the final boss and, if you defeat him, beat the game. The game has Metroidvania-style weapons which open up new paths. However, there is a way through the final area which doesn’t require the special weapons. It’s much longer and more dangerous than the path that does require them, though, and there are no checkpoints in the final area. The crux of this is that it puts the responsibility on the player as to how they proceed. This final area serve as a soft-gate, encouraging the player to explore the game world, but not requiring it. That way, every time the player puts themselves into a dangerous position in search of a weapon, it was their choice rather than something they were forced to do.

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