Renegade Sector Episode 8: The Hive
Vol 2: Part 4: The Hive
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There are three disciplines that maintain a strong influence over the medium of Videogames: Art, Technology and Business. Videogames are a commercial, technology driven, art form. If you’re in the field of games, it’s hard to think about one of these aspects without being at least some what influenced by the others.
One of the ways that this is most evident is our predilection with “features”. You don’t often see “features” on other pieces of art. If you look at the back of a book or a movie, you’ll see a plot synopsis. Probably the closest thing to a “features list” you could find would be the taglines of a cheap exploitation film.
Where you do see features are in areas where Business and Technology meet. Features are a great way to develop and sell pieces of technology. They satisfy the technology side’s desire to innovate and the business side’s desire to have concrete selling points. Features lists are the hallmark of consumer electronic and software utilities. “Buy our toaster: it’s got 4 slots, a timer, and can even be set to toast only one side of your bagel!”
But art is less about what you do and more about how you do it. A game could have all the innovative features in the world and still fall flat, while another game does nothing which hasn’t been done before, but puts love into the details and pays attention to how the whole coheres *cough, Dark Souls, coughs*
And, not only are features a bad judge of quality, but designing around features can limit what we can do with the art form. Features are all about adding More to a game, when often times, the right artistic decision is less.
In these situations, I always trot out the example of Megaman. In Megaman, the game is built around the fact that you can only shoot horizontally. It allows the designers to carefully craft each challenge around that limitation. If you could shoot in any direction, the game would break down. You would lose out on that type of precise level design. But “Can only shoot horizontally” is not really something you can use as a feature, while “360 degree freedom! Aim in any direction you want!” certainly is. On a features list, “100 levels” sounds a lot better than “10 levels”, but that doesn’t take into account the quality, length and variation of those levels.
But here’s the weird bit: features have become such a pervasive part of the medium that even the artistic side often thinks in terms of them. Just look at the games that were coming out in the early indie scene: we were finally free of corporate influence and the need to use the most up-to-date technology and what do we make? It’s a platformer but with This One Cool New Feature. The New Feature is what Elevates it to Art.
To give another example: I remember some time before Fable 2 came out, Peter Molyneux did his standard shtick of hyping up his game with claims that it would completely revolutionize games as an artform. To this end, he said that you would have a dog in the game, and over the course of the game, you’d grow attached to the dog, and then, two-thirds of the way through, the dog would die, and you would feel sad (unfortunately I can no longer find this interview, so, take the caveat that this is just my recollection). So, let’s ignore, for a moment, that “killing a beloved dog” is more in the realm of cheap melodrama than high art. Instead, let’s think about how what was supposed to be an emotionally resonant moment was brought up before the game was even out, as a selling point for the game. “Sadness” is a feature. This is how we think of games. Even when we’re trying to evoke some real, emotional reaction out of the player, we think of it in terms of a bullet-point we can put on the back of the box.
Buy our brand new toaster! It has four slots, a timer, a bagel setting, and it will even make you sad!
While this has gotten somewhat better over time, Features still permeate how we think of games as an art form, and we certainly still lean on them heavily when trying to sell our games. How many games are content with a tone-setting synopsis on their Steam page or on the back of the box as opposed to a sentence about how many different types of enemies there are and a sentence about how the game features the ability to slow down time? Even a quick look at my games will tell you that I’m not immune from this.
It’s a hard habit to break, but I think it’s worth it.
Movies, music, books and paintings all do fine without features lists. Leave that to toaster ovens and smart phones.
It was a few weeks off (almost two months!) from doing these, as I got out of the habit what with getting Ninja Outbreak ready for its Steam release (available now!). But now the Sunday Updates are back! And on Sunday!
I’ve put Famed Explorer of the Robot World on the backburner for the moment, and I’ve been focusing on Cold Vengeance for the past couple weeks. My current hope is to have some sort of rough but mostly content-complete build done by the end of next month. In the mean time, here are some screenshots of some of what I’ve been working on:
Here’s an overview shot of a section of the Canadian Snowfields level.
I’ve also been going through and adding a bit more detail to the locations in the city level. Here’s a Diner that you’ll fight through:
And here’s a robotic T. Rex
This week has been spent mostly with enemies for Cold Vengeance. I also put together the first full cutscene for the game (The first one I’ve made, not the first one to appear in the game). The cutscene is related to one of the enemies, as it introduces the fearsome Barbarian Queen, the boss of the Ruin level.
So, probably the biggest news of the past week was that I released the Cold Vengeance Demo. If you haven’t already, check it out here: https://malec2b.itch.io/cold-vengeance-demo
It contains a Demo-specific level which will not be in the final game.
In addition to all that, just today I added a second type of Ninja.
Burrowing Ninja are a hallmark of the kind of schlocky ninja movies I love such as Ninja: The Final Duel and Duel to the Death. I’ve wanted to put them into a game for quite some time, but I never end up doing it. They were in the design notes for the original Cold Vengeance flash game, as well as Venusian Vengeance and Ninja Outbreak. I’m glad I’m finally getting them into a game.
Meanwhile, I’ve been continuing to work on Famed Explorer of the Robot World. I’ve been polishing various things, such as making enemy projectiles look nicer. I’ve also been doing some more level design, as well as playing around with making levels less boxy. All in all, the game is starting to hit that point where it comes together and feels like an actual game.
Hey, here’s another late Sunday Update.
This week was again spent mostly with Cold Vengeance. I’m working on putting together a playable demo, and I wanted to make a new level specifically for that rather than just using one of the levels in the game.
Did some more tweaking and level design for Famed Explorer. Once I’ve got the demo for Cold Vengeance done (which will probably be tomorrow), I’m going to shift focus towards getting some level design done in Famed Explorer, so look forward to seeing more of that next week.
Remembered in the fading minutes of Sunday that I still hadn’t written the update for this week. And so, here it is. This week, the main thing I worked on was a Canyon level for Cold Vengeance. The main defining feature of this level is that running through the center is a pit with a raging river at the bottom. So the action takes place on ledges and arches crisscrossing the canyon. Naturally, this lends itself to verticality, with some parts of the level having multiple tiers of ledges.
Meanwhile, for Famed Explorer, I’ve mostly been working on tweaking and polishing what I have so far before making another batch of levels. I changed the way that shooting works so that, in addition to being able to lock on to enemies, you can also hold down the fire button to strafe while you shoot:
Once again, a lot of the work I did for Cold Vengeance I want to keep under my hat this week. However, I will talk a bit about NPCs.
In a few areas of the game, there will be safe zones containing NPCs. These NPCs may give you items, information, or just bring a bit of life to a world overrun by death.
Here’s some residents of a village of survivors in the Ruins:
Meanwhile, in Famed Explorer of the Robot World, I’ve been mainly working on new enemy types. I’ve gotten into a pretty good flow with that game, and hope to have some sort of build done by the end of February (but don’t hold me to that).
All in all, it’s been a good month. It’s been nice to get back to working on smaller projects along side a moderately sized project like Cold Vengeance (Unlike the last couple years where I was working on moderately sized projects along side a massive project).
Work continues on Cold Vengeance, but it’s mostly stuff that I want to keep as a surprise (a mid-game miniboss and an hidden optional miniboss).
So instead I’ll talk about Famed Explorer of the Robot World
This week I started a DevLog over on the TIGSource forums. If you want to see more frequent updates, you can check that out here: https://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=52459.0
I’ve been working on enemy designs and level layouts. It’s been something of an interesting divergence from my normal level-design workflow where I usually start with enemies/obstacles and then build levels around them. In this case, there’s enough to work off of just designing level geometry that is interesting to navigate. Then, in parallel, I’ve been designing enemies that can take advantage of different types of geometry that show up in the levels (enemies for open areas, enemies for attacking over gaps, enemies for ramps, enemies for long, thin pathways, ect…). I’m sure, though, that as I create more enemies, it will begin to switch and I’ll start designing levels with specific enemies in mind.
First and foremost, this week I put Cold Vengeance up on Steam Greenlight, and released a trailer, so if you haven’t already, please head to the Greenlight page and vote for Cold Vengeance.
Meanwhile, I have been continuing to work both on Cold Vengeance and on the Prototype which I’m currently planning on calling Famed Explorer of the Robot World (Those of you who regularly follow my games [all three of you] might know what one of those words entails). I sketched out ideas for a bunch of enemies and have started adding them into the game to give me material to work with while making levels. More on this next week.
Aside from the trailer, the main thing I’ve been doing with Cold Vengeance is continuing to work on the ruins, particularly the multi-tiered areas. Here’s a overview image of one of the areas after the jump (note, contains mild gameplay spoilers):