Category Archives: Design

thoughts and insights on game design.

Small Side Projects – The Saviours of Creativity

Well, I have been very busy with university stuff the last month. A few more final tests and work for this term is over :) Cheers!

So I took the ever decreasing stress around me as an opportunity to dwell within my lab of gaming madness. At least for a few hours :)

I wasn’t able to concentrate very well so instead of working on our projects, I decided on quickly hacking together a Lightgun Game on the great Dreamcast. After having some ridiculously funny moments with this weird experiment1, I felt like talking about the greatness of small scale projects.

lg2

lg1

Too often those fine little excersises are blamed to be a waste of time, keeping you of the real work and don’t end up being shared anyway, whilest in reality they are a great source of motivation.

When you are a two person team, trying to create games with complex concepts like Reblobed and Saviour, you will surely, at one time, get to the point where things seem to go out of hands.

I love to draw for hours and I love big projects where I am my own master, able to create complex and interesting worlds. It is great to go from nothing on a blank page to even the smallest detail of characters or landscapes.

I get a lot of inspiration from my environment and other peoples work. Creativity is something that flows, from thought to thought and input to input. At the beginning of every project, be it games or any other kind of art, this river of imagination is quite wild and uncontrolled, which leads to a lot of quick results.

Development is going fast until there needs to be a frame to make all those results fit in together. This is were artists, designer and programmers have to adjust and focus on fullfilling the tasks that are needed to form a well-balanced product. An easy example for this kind of adjustment would be me creating a dungeon for Saviour or level for Reblobed.

I typically start drawing without too much thoughts of layers and tiles to simply get out ideas only to end up fixing a lot of the details later on, in order for my work to be perfectly useable within our game engine2. If I feel like ending the character work for a stage, because I cant imagine another kind of enemy within it, it’s no use because game balance and design need me to create 6 enemies per level. It’s always a mixture of being creative and doing professional work. Both go hand in hand within game development.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the way games work and even tend to like being pushed and directed by the boundaries the development process establishes, but it certainly blocks my way of creating art when I dwell within those for too long at a time.

With projects that take month or even years to be finished, because they are more complex than small ideas, one is quite often caught within this mind-blocking circle, cause things need to be polished and implemented.

So after awhile at working on our two big projects currently announced, I need to free myself of those boundaries in order to get some new ideas and motivation. So what do I do? Well, of course I go outside, do some sports, take time to learn, meet various people, enjoy all kinds of entertaining media or just relax and do nothing.3

Going back to the project work after some time of AFK makes it more easy to continue, but there is still something missing.

This little extra thing that pushes me forward even more and that is the feeling of completed work. A token that makes me realize: “I can do it! I can finish that game! I got a lot of ideas and I am sure I can implement them!”

This is were I have to say small side projects are the saviours of my creativity and motivation. Simple creative works like a lightgun game can be done within a day or two, depending on how many hours you are able to sit on your desk at a time ;)

They are a way of trying out new things, a platform to learn, getting a finished project without being caught in endless fixing processes and most importantly enjoying the feeling of “DONE!” It leaves you with new energy for that stuff you still need to work on, cause afterwards you know finishing something is still possible!

Footnotes:


  1. Alright maybe I just got a little dizzy by looking at my really shitty old CRT for a few hours straight, but it was fun anyway :P 

  2. Have a look at our Blog entry Announcing RetroLeap 

  3. Wooohooo Game Devs have a life after all ^^” 

Composing for the musically incompetent

This time I wanted to address a topic I find quite interesting, although I am no expert on it whatsoever.

I have always been an admirer of all kinds of musical genres and am certainly no exception in that regard. Despite that fact I never came across the opportunity to professionaly learn an instrument or really understand how to write and read music. Nonetheless from time to time there are some melodies building up in my head I would wish to be able to write down.

As we are currently developing games which are very much in need of a soundtrack backing up their gameplay and visuals there certainly is the opportunity for me to experiment. On top of that, financing a musician wouldn’t be possilbe for us at the time and finding the perfect fit for the team would take a hell of a lot of time or strike us as a miracle. So I thought to myself why shouldn’t I at least try something out. Can’t hurt can it? The first question in my musical adventure I recently began was, where to start?

After some time fooling around at the keyboard and trying to get some nice sounds from my guitar I decided it would be much easier for me to just do it digital. I have to say I am not entirely new to music creation tools, however professional composing is pretty much an unkown deep sea creature to me. If you are, like me, just somebody scratching on the surface of the audio world and you don’t feel the need to dive deeper it’s good to go for some free software that does the basic job.

I decided on using lmms (linux multimedia studio), because I was amazed by it’s diversity of functions and easy to use interface. I am an amateur at this, but if you ask me for my opinion I would say, it is a masterpiece of free music creation tools. Have a look at their site if you are interested.

Enough with the advertising and on with the actual topic. I won’t tell you anything about how to use that program or how to compose something because as I said I don’t have a clue about it, but what I will tell you are a few facts I realized while struggling with my first attempts.

As I was listening to some soundtracks for inspirational purpose, I was lying on the floor, my headphones on, eyes closed and picturing all kinds of images in my head. Previously I had the fear that I would not be able to do anything musical, but at that moment I realized that music is really just another way to describe feelings, landscapes, characters and objects to us. Listening to something makes me visualize a story in my mind, so I was certain it must work the other way round. With that new found courage, I decided on creating the musical background for my favourite environment in Reblobed: The old mining cave.

As I had already drawn the whole stage I had a lot of pictures to use as orientation. The first thing I wanted to hear on the track was something like water dropping from stalactites.

If you listen to that track it is nothing more than a simple bass, but with a picture in the back of your head it suddenly sounds like big water drops on an old piece of leather lying around in the cave.

As I was looking at my drawings and dream walking through that environment I saw a lot of smaller drops joining the big ones in leaving the ceiling…

… and maybe even hit some rusty metal pieces inbetween.

After only mixing those noises I had something quite rythmic and atmospheric put together.

So far, so good. At that point I still needed something melodic for the environment. I opened up the piano scroll within lmms and at first was at a total blank. I thought, I could use pictures in my mind to find the right sounds but how are pictures going to help me create a melody? Here I was sitting in front of my pc, with that same old fear of the unknown I had previously managed to ignore. After giving in to my frustration I went to look out the window, inhaled some fresh air and was about to end the days work.

Angry and bored I took the mouse and randomly began to put senseless notes on the scroll which turned out to be a great action. Within a second my frustration went away, because I had found something all too familiar on the screen. I was just drawing lines and forgot about the feared complexity of melodies. The next thought I had was: If I can simply draw melodies, how about trying to draw my cave level by using notes?

melody

Imagining stone tunnels winding up and down through a mountain, my melody became a curve of low and high points. Walking around in a dangerous cave, with a lot of pits to fall in, you don’t want to just run the whole way through. Inbetween the flawless walks, there are well needed slow downs.

At the end I felt like listening to the sounds of a mysterious labyrinth consisting of looping tunnels and me having a hard time finding my way out.

Finishing the track was a lot of fun and I am happy with the result. At the end I realized visualizing stuff can help a lot with music creation. One does not have to be an expert to get something working.

If you want to listen to the complete track click play below.

The Importance of Failure – An Artists Point of View – Part II

Here we are again continuing where the last article stopped. Part I gave an overview of my childhood love for games and first steps in game development as a teenager. This time I shall talk about my involvement within the homebrew/opensource scene and my professional growth as an artist at 2D-RP, whilst reflecting on all my good and bad attempts connected to that.

Until late 2007 I spent some time off from game related work and nearly thought about dumping my dreams of becoming a graphics artist. It was at that time I, by pure chance and totally random luck, met up with Philipp. We were both finishing our last years in school, simply hanging out in our free time, playing a lot of games together and realized at both ends, how much the topic resonated with our interests in art and programming.

We developed a deep friendship over time, were both very passionate about our creative working areas and obviously shared the same ridiculous love for games. Realizing that fact it was the most logical consequence to try our hands on some ideas and build up our own playground.

As we both had no background filled up with lots of finished projects and previously had only tried to learn on our own terms, what lay ahead of us was entirely new. Working with a partner as passionate about a project as I was made me feel overly lucky but the fact turned out to be a downer too. Why a downer? Well, because I was dumb.

Efficiency? What the …

The confrontation with a real programmer made it clear to me, that I was at a turning point again. I needed to forget about my clumsy ways of doing art and start from a blank. It was not easy for me to give in, because my false pride kept me from accepting that I had basically learned nothing so far.

I still wanted to be the expert on the subject, feeling good about myself. However most of the technical side to game development was still a riddle to me.

I never gave a thought about screen sizes or resolutions. At 19 years old I was still drawing like a little kid: a lot of colors, gathering all the cool things I could think of at once and putting the whole stuff on enormously big paper sheets while using just the tiny corner on the left.

Clumsy Art Sketch

I wasn’t alone anymore. I had become a teamplayer, who needed to be supportive to the game creating process. So I had to learn about something called “efficiency” and boy was that hard xD

If you want to create art for games you have to get rid of the idea that it’s just about drawing the cool stuff and be done with it.

Artists only create a part of games and they are the once supposed to make it fit, otherwise programmers are really gonna have a hard time to enjoy their involvment. Letting them write trash lines of code to cut out pictures, or scale something to make it fit to other graphics, only means they are doing extra work the artist was too lazy to do. It ruins the source code of the game and creates truly unnerving loading times. Basically it’s like being the asshole, who delays the process and than asking why it takes so long to finish the game.

Looking back at that phase, Philipp honestly had a hard time trying to convince me of the value of otherwise indiscussable facts. I should have given in much sooner. Nonetheless trying to do graphics the impractical old way and realizing things don’t work out as they should, wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

I guess I needed to see myself fail on providing fitting assets, in order for me to really understand what’s wrong with it.

Love at first sight – Dreamcast and Open Handhelds

The first project we managed to complete as a team was another one of those “your favourite tetris clone” entries in computer gaming history.

Until late 2008 we had focused on developing for home computers, because it was the most easy platform to target for two newbies. However, I am a console gamer at heart. Growing up with cartridge based games for the SEGA and Nintendo consoles always made me put a higher value to those. It is an individual, maybe even just a nostalgic feeling, but it was on of the reasons why we wanted to turn our efforts towards console development.

Without having an Xbox 360 and XBLIG just finding it’s way on to the market place, it was out of the question to try our luck there. Furthermore there was some scepticism among us wether we would be a perfect fit to Microsoft’s target group. So we wanted to try and find another way to fullfill our dreamy ideas.

Previous to those thoughts Philipp had already read up on the history of Sega’s Dreamcast and since it was one of the consoles that wasn’t in our collection so far, quickly bought a used model on ebay. When the package arrived within the next week, we joyfully tried out the games and controllers that came with it. After being inspired by our little play time we went on to do some more detailed research and quickly realized the great homebrew community behind it. With each piece of information we became more and more amazed by the idea of developing for it.

Some more random searches for console development led us right to the awesome open handheld community, which was mostly about development for korean gaming devices by GPH and of course the inspiring Open Pandora project.

We were so happy about the new found possibilites and immediatly decided on developing for those platforms. What was concerning us now was how to establish a professional approach to our previously clumsy gaming experiments. Filled up with lots of respect for the mentioned communities we were very serious about the way we should publicly found our team.

Creating a public identity

Being two inexperienced students without a marketing/PR department on our side required us to take on certain tasks ourselves. As graphics artist I was confronted with the fact that I only barely knew how to do pixel art for games and how to draw ugly cartoon/anime doodles on paper but had never done anything different.

I focused only on learning about graphical things I liked, but ignored the other stuff. How was I supposed to create a logo for our puplic presence? Once again I had to change my behaviour and sit down to actually read about logo design, something I never took an interest in and wasn’t all too passionate about.

logo over time

However, it turned out to be a great way to improve my artistic knowledge in general. I read up on color theory, proportions, positioning and started to differenciate graphical approaches like vector and bitmap illustration. My confrontation with the “lame and boring” part of art, turned out to be a real treasure chest of information.

I started university in 2009 and had some classes related to web design and programming, so naturally I would combine my excersises with 2D-Retroperspectives’ need for an online presence.

So we had a name, a logo and a website. Great for a start, but who cares? Of course nobody until there would be some content to talk about and our stuff properly advertised. We had a small gaming idea in the back of our minds for a while and decided to realize that as a first game project for our newly found console love interests. The whole concept was centered on the introduction of a team mascot like Nintendo’s Mario or Sega’s Sonic.

Jump ‘n Blobs development started in late 2009 and was finished in January 2011. During that year we actively spent our time within the german gp2x forums in search for opinions on our work, whilst also silently working on the dreamcast port. Due to the fact that the members of this community were genrally older and of good knowledge within the hard- and software realms, their opinions were well articulated, helpful and mattered a lot to us. Opening up to a larger audience by also releasing Jump n Blob for Dreamcast made things more interesting and the opions of people became more diverse.

Taking Feedback the right way

When I think about Jump n Blob getting featured in news posts around the world no matter how small the website was that was sharing the information, I have to say I was blown away. There where of course german and austrian pages talking about us, but also english, spanish and french communities discussing the game. Even korean and chinese blogs had articles about us. For an unknown and inexperienced artist sitting on her desktop in germany, drawing average pictures and trying to realize her dreams, that was totally overwhelming.

Of course I took every single comment straight to heart no matter how professional or important the source may have been. I guess that’s the one issue were all creatives struggle, because a finished work is never just a product to them, it is a small piece of mind and soul. Appreciaton and approval of my graphic’s made me feel important, experienced and loved. It is a great source of motivation, but can also lead to an unreasonable and quick work flow just to pump out content and feel appreciated.

Along with the positive attention came the negativ part. There was the average harsh sounding critisim, that is still a valuable source for personal growth and of course the senseless shit talks from random people on the web, simply stating the uglyness of the game, as well as e-mails containing personal attacks. At times I felt so down and aggressive that I wasn’t able to work on anything, just because of a few words I could have ignored. I guess it is importened to value reasonable feedback, getting motivation from euphoric words, whilst not becoming too euphoric oneself, and of course ignore the haters.

That is something I still struggle with today, but with each year of experience my way of reacting to feedback has gotten more professional. It is, and always will be, a very thin line to walk on.

Polishing Products and thinking about the user

At 2012 I had learned how to efficently work in a team, became better at coping with feedback and knew how to finish a game from scratch to final version. My studies for a bachelors degree in media and computer science where also coming to an end and I had to think about an idea for my final project. As I wished to specialize within the field of digital media I had no problem with finding my subject right away.

Of course I wanted to design a game. Preferable for Dreamcast. Sadly the crowd of game enthusiast at my university wasn’t all that big so I already had a hard time being taken serious among all the film and theatre buffs within my year. In fact I was the only one who decided to specialize within games. It would have been even more obscure to realize a project on retro platforms than it was to create a game anyway. Furthermore it is a well known fact, that universities try to be about the modern stuff when it comes to practical lessons so the suggestion was to make a game on XBLIG instead.

At first I wasn’t all to happy about it. I thought I couldn’t come up with a game idea, that would be considered good by the average xbox gamer. In the end I simply decided on something that would be rather easy and fast to implement. A casual party game later known as the rather experimental 2D House of Terror.

After all I only had 3 month for everything. That meant getting to know the target platform, designing the gameplay, coming up with a background story, doing voice overs and sound effects, animating cutscenes, creating the graphics and actually programming the game. Since the project was rather complex, big in size and had a lot of different working areas combined, I was luckyly allowed to get some help with the coding by Philipp who, on top of it all, finished the coding within a week during his final exams.

As we started the “inhouse” testing on our demo builds, we also began submitting the game to peer review on the xna developers forums. There we were confronted with a phenomenon previously unknown to us, called the evil check-list. A collection of guidelines to insure Microsoft’s quality standards regarding user experience, even among the rather free and unpredictable culture of indie games.

I wasn’t passionate about developing for xbox at first, but what I learned from it was to think more about the actual player experience. Getting a game to work is only the first part in development and what is often forgotten in the later process are the small details that actually DO matter. After the rough work is done and you’re exhausted by the project, all that’s left is the wish to get it out there and celebrate another finished product.

Those guidelines required me to do the extra work and showed me how much the end result profits from it. Regarding art I had to insure readable font sizes, make sure game elements are within view among different screen settings, as well as create icons/covers to fit the dashboard and properly advertise the game.

I love the freedom that comes with indie game development, but normally there are no such guidelines to remind you of such stuff. It is importened to remember that besides creative freedom, there still has to be a limiting frame put around your ideas, to form a selling product. Like the golden frame around those pictures you normaly see hanging on museum walls. It’s not that important but it puts even more value to the work.

So thanks XBLIG ;)

Present and future

So it has been 7 years now since we started to create games as 2D-RP, forming a professional image and learning important lessons on our craft. We got two big projects in development and hope to hit commercial quality with the release of those.

Furthermore we want to extend our audience by targeting additional platforms like Ouya and officially establish a company. We are very thankfull for growing up in the extremely kind and helpful environment of homebrew and open source software, so we will always try to give back to those communities regardless how far things get or don’t get.

By writing articles on this blog, we hope to give an insight to our personal struggles, development of our games and hopefully be an example for the line “never give up” that is all too often heard but rarely seen in living examples.

As an artist, I personally try to give back to the community by uploading my “off project” works to places like Open Game Art and even taking on art requests when I got some free time on my hand.

The last thing that is left to say now is: stay tuned for more, comment, share and like!

Thanks for reading :)

The Importance of Failure – An Artists Point of View – Part I

As promissed with the last update our dev blog activities are continued :) Today I shall have the honor to make the first entry to a whole new series of articles titled “The Importance of Failure”. As a reader you will basically follow us as we are reflecting on our previous struggles in game development, realize what we did right or wrong and what can be learned from the past. Naturally, it will also be an insight into our personal path to becoming game developers and what we are trying to do as 2D-Retroperspectives. So for those interested in some, more personal, background stories this is for you. Enjoy!

Somehow I always wanted to write this article, but never did because I never thought it would interest anybody that much. After some meetups with people asking me how I came to do what I do, why I do it and how long it took me to learn stuff, I finally decided to simply write down my answer to those questions. I feel some stories are so long they are better read than listened to.

Well now this article is going to give an insight into my way of becoming a game artist and all the important failures I needed to experience through that journey.1

I am going to split the story in two parts, with the second part focusing on my involvement with the Open Handheld Scene, Dreamcast Homebrew and XBLIG. For now let’s get back to the roots.

Between daydreaming and video stores

I simply begin with a little childhood tale to get things going, cause for game enthusiasts this is were it all starts, isnt it? ;)

My earliest memories of gaming go back to when I must have been around 5 years old, fighting the criminals of Gotham City in Batman Returns for the Super Nintendo. On weekends I would always try to persuade my parents to take me to the local video store and rent the next coolest game I could possibly find there. Thankfully I had the loud screaming and sobbing of my lovely brothers as a backup, so it worked out good for us pretty often ;)

It’s clear to me, that my appreciation for game art certainly began at that time. I would walk through the store and look at all the details of the boxes presented on the shelves as well as the colorful commercials hung up everywhere. It was mindblowing to me, like a whole parallel universe of fantastic creatures and worlds I could simply step into.

While I also adored the colorful cartoonish art on games like Tetris, Mario, Kirby etc., the serious artwork on RPGs would always interest me the most. My twin brother shared that appreciation with me, so naturally we would rent a lot of those classic titles like Lufia, Secret of Mana, Terranigma or Illusion of Time and play the hell out of it.2

part_of_game_lib_2012

As children we were so inspired by these stories that we often tried to re-enact certain parts of the games, build our own weapons and costumes or just simply draw the characters we loved that much. In between the copying there were times we tried to invent our own stories which would lead to endless hours within our rooms dreaming about distant worlds, drawing detailed maps and writing down descriptions of long forgotten tribes.

First Steps, First Failures

Around 2000/2001 things started to get more serious when I went out to buy some comics at the usual store and to my complete amazement saw a magazine advertising a software called RPG Maker on it’s cover.

I never heard about engines or development tools before and only recently got my first own PC and very slow internet connection. So with the magazine in my hands I basically ran home to tell my brother about it and together we looked up all the stuff we needed to know on various forums and quickly became members of the community that had been built around that software.

I learned about character animation, tilesheets, level design, basic coding ideas as well as how to create my own sound effects and midi music. I felt great about it.

The first so called „failure“ I commited was to go with a feeling which I would simply call „newbie-pride“. Of course , although my eleven year old self thought different, I had learned nothing about game development at all. It was just a very tiny insight on an otherwise highly complex process. Still to me, at that time, it was like learning everything there was to know about game development.

Concerning graphics, a long time went by during which I only managed to copy and paste ripped graphics from my favourite games and recolored them to be my own assets.

Another failure of mine was to think of me as the almighty developer that was expert in every field. That one I kept going a loooong time, before finally focusing in art and design.

As I teamed up with my brother, who had a good run with „coding“, while I was more behind the visual stuff, things turned out slightly better.

Finally I really tried to create my own art from blank sheets to the high level of „cute attempts“ xD

graphic examples around 2001-2003

While I thought about where to find some pictures from that time to upload right here, I realized I really got to mention another failure of mine. In those years I never looked at my older pixel art as something to be stored or even valued as a resource to learn from previous errors. It simply got deleted and went down the endless realm of bits and bytes from whence it came.

Considering it retrospectively this was a very foolish thing to do. In my later years I took great confidence and motivation from looking at my previous work and teaching myself how to correct and prevent errors on projects to come.

Learning by looking at your very own faults might be the hardest, but also the most efficient way of growing at what you do. So if I could give you any advice on how to learn, it would most honestly be to store everything you ever create and look back at it from time to time. How else would you know that you have become better at whatever creative path you chose to walk? Don’t be ashamed of certain steps like I was.

If you have a look at the graphics I could recover from some old cd-r 3 you may or may not recognize a certain affinity to the lord of the rings movies, which were big in 2002/2003. I don’t think I actually need to mention this xD oh whatever…

I had moved from copying graphics to copying ideas and concepts of things I liked. At first look this was not all to bad, because I was able to motivate myself and continue to gain experience without actually having the need for a complete game project in the back of my mind.

Prior to that I lost a lot of time, during which I could have created graphics, by spending hours of my life trying to invent stories and reasonable game features. By writing about my ideas and discussing them on forums, I gained motivation and what I thought to be a basis to actually create some content. In reality I never had time to give those ideas any shape, so I finally managed to stop those endless community talks and continued to actually do what I wanted to do.

Taking inspiration from movies, books and comics I was interested in helped me to continue my excersises, on the other hand you could say it imprisoned my creativity. This may sound over the top but it’s true. It is good to copy from the big ones when you are a beginner, but I certainly spend too long trying to be like the role models I loved.

The struggle with opening up and building a team

Remembering that time it is clear to me, that I could have spared myself a lot of frustration, had I simply tried to accept the fact that the content I create will always bare my own signature style. My failure here was trying to be somebody else and thinking too low about my own ideas.

After a look into other game dev communities, like M.U.G.E.N, I took a break from those and simply continued drawing characters, writing down small stories and enjoying to play games on various consoles. As a somehow socially awkward teen, I had a lot of other stuff going on anyways :P Game Development wasn’t exactly the thing other kids around me were interested in, so I kind of had to go with the flow for a little while.

graphic examples around 2004-2007

The above is a small collage of stuff I drew and wrote during the years of 2004-2007. I had a lot of fun fooling around with ideas, but there was always that slightly sad feeling of never being able to create a complete project. My brothers weren’t interested in game making anymore and I basically had nobody around me, who either shared my love for the topic, or whom I could trust to complete a whole game with me. The most important resource to game development is people you can trust to stay focused and with the team until the very end.

While the idea of putting together a remote team was tempting, it never really seemed like an option to me. Simply because I had seen too many projects being canceled and team members blaming each other for it. Maybe you could call my shyness and scepticism towards people, before actually trying to work with them, another failure of mine. I certainly would have gathered experience in team work and inspiration for my art regardless of the projects final outcome. I guess I simply didn’t want to establish the possibility of getting hurt by people, because opening up to someone on a creative level is never easy. Presenting your dreams to a stranger takes a lot of courage and a lot of time. It’s up to you to decide what’s best for you.

So I continued to be on my own for a while and kept my mind of the game dev thoughts. However, within 2007 and through a very lucky coinsidence, I met up with Philipp, who is now my boyfriend as well as founding partner and programmer at 2D-RP.

Well, here we are at the end of part one. The only thing left to say for now is: Stay tuned for part two, which is going to be released next week ;)

Footnotes:


  1. so far! It certainly never ends let me tell you this ;) 

  2. The picture below shows a small part of my games collection that contains a few of those awesome titles mentioned. Glad I still have those treasures :) 

  3. presumably 12 years old, I am very glad about actually finding something that old and still working :P 

On communicating progress – Introducing RetroLeap

We have been silent for a long time. A very long time. A very very long time. In fact, according to facebook, it has been 233 days since our last post on the page. Our last release was the Spanish translation of 2D House of Terror, published 17.03.2013, more than 2 years ago and the occasional dislike and question regarding our activity suggests that many of you are wondering what exactly it is we have been doing all this time.
Well, i am about to break that silence, yet, lest there be any misunderstandings by anyone reading just the first paragraph, i want to make one thing abundantly clear right now: We have been and are still working on all of our announced projects(and more). We have not – and will not – abandoned anything and even though this post will, once again, not contain a release date, releases will undoubtedly happen. Lack of communication does in no way imply a lack of work – on the contrary. Although it has been reiterated time and time again, it nonetheless remains a fact that game development takes time, a huge lot of it (with more than two years being the norm, rather than an exception) and communicating its progress is not quite simplicity itself.

Sadly, despite the inherently graphical nature of its results, most aspects of the process of game design do not lend themselves all too nicely to quick presentations in short facebook posts with an optional image attached. In fact almost none do.
Visual art and music are a prominent exception, because results in those fields are largely self-contained and easy to appreciate even by those who never partook in their creation. Even in those fields, however, the beautiful simplicity begins to crumble once the progress advertised is no longer entirely new content but small, incremental improvements to existing one, which are just not quite as exciting to the average follower.
It gets much worse in my department, creating an engine and tools to control it. A simple screenshot of an unfinished program is just not very interesting or informative and whilst a short snippet of code might please a very small(albeit important) subgroup, it looks cryptic to all others and can therefore not be considered the best method of communicating a games progress.
How then could it be done? Videos showing developers at work, explaining the process whilst engaging in it, like the excellent and inspiring youtube series AiGD are certainly a valuable and fun option. However, even ignoring for a moment my apparent shyness and lack of confidence performing in front of a camera, composing those is a non-negligible investment of time and effort, a scarce resource in a team consisting of two full time students only. A resource we prefer to dedicate to the actual development.
Nonetheless, no matter how suboptimal it might be, any attempt at communication is undeniably better than no communication at all.

Which is why i intend to set right what once went wrong and start publishing blog updates on a semi-regular basis. I hope those are an improvement over way too shallow and short facebook posts, which could be interpreted less kindly, whilst leaving just a minor dent in our limited “free” time.
In this first one I shall simply get the readers1 up to speed and provide a general overview of all the areas I am currently working on. I will gladly go into more detail about specific topics in future posts(suggestions are welcome).

So, without any further ado, allow me to finally introduce the fruit of my labor, the child of my mind, the cause of many a sleepless night:

Retroleap Promo

This beautiful promotional picture was created by our wonderful graphics artist(as were all the logos) to help advertise the game engine powering both of our currently announced projects(Reblobed and Saviour), dubbed RetroLeap.
Whilst our previously released games committed the violent atrocity of intertwining engine and game content related code, we chose(after several complete rewrites) to use a better structured, more generic and flexible approach this time.2 Using an already existing engine, of which there are plenty, was never really an option, not only because of the obvious lack of Dreamcast support, but also for more personal reasons.
Whilst we take our work very seriously and do intend to eventually earn some money3, right now we are in the unique position of not having to. We develop games for many reasons: We want to entertain. We want to convey stories. We want to improve our society by advancing the appreciation of the most brilliant and engaging form of art ever conceived4 and maybe even make a small profit.
But mostly, we do it because its fun. Its our passion and as such we want to do it in the best, not necessarily the fastest, way possible. Utilizing something like Unity and trying to fit it to our needs, despite all its merits, is neither as fun nor as educational as building our own engine from scratch. We want to understand and control everything. We do care about performance. We do want to be the gods of our own imaginary worlds5
Due to this, a large quantity of time was invested in providing a high quality design and implementation of something fitting our needs perfectly. The result is a feature-rich, flexible, easy-to-use, efficient, component-based game engine optimized for 2D and running, among others, on Dreamcast,OpenPandora, Dragonbox Pyra, Ouya, Linux and Windows PCs and probably some more by the time we are done.6 Along with the retroleap engine itself, I wrote several tools for creating games and content, which is what all those smaller logos are for. A fellow dreamcast developer once wrote

“The best engine in the world is essentially worthless if it takes a low-level computer engineer to create anything worthwhile with it.”

a sentiment I very much agree with and which is confirmed by our own experience.
Consequently, our tools can be used to create complete (albeit simple) games without having to write even a single line of code and keeping with the theme of easily presentable information, lets view some “pretty”7 pictures of them in action:

RetroLeap Screenshots

Obviously, with more complex games, like Reblobed and Saviour, writing some game specific code is unavoidable, so some way to do this had to be provided. Extending RetroLeap in its native language(the wonderful C++, of course) is possible, but for short iteration times and quick and easy modifications embedding some scripting language was the natural thing to do.
Even considering the range of platforms we wish to support, there were several options available to us on pretty much all of them, most notably Angelscript and the de facto standard for game scripting, Lua. In the grand tradition of standards and for reasons not entirely dissimilar to the ones for not using an existing engine, i chose to ignore that and decided against employing any of them. At the time, I had recently become very interested in programming language and compiler construction and the idea of using a scripting language of my own design in our biggest project to date was quite intriguing.
In a commercial, profit-oriented environment it would be nigh impossible to set aside the time and resources for developing such a language and possibly delaying release, when a perfectly fine(and quite likely better) alternative is freely available and proven viable by countless successful projects. Luckily, in our current situation the time and resources used are entirely my own and i am free to spend them in any way i please, which is exactly what i did ;-).
Instead of showing off any code samples or explaining anything profound8 I will simply tease you with yet another one of those neat logos ;-)9:

Chronicle Logo

Everything mentioned above is in a functional state and in fact used to create our games. It is not, however, ready for release in any form yet, as it is incomplete, continually changed, extended and improved and doubtlessly contains countless bugs i am currently unaware of. It is what i spent most of my “free” time on in recent months and, as explained in the beginning of this article, not the type of work that makes for good(quick) advertisement. Of course we have been working in other areas, too, but those, like story development and level design, are equally hard to show off.10

I originally intended to end this article with some random piece of code used in our projects, because I am, after all, a programmer at heart, and publishing something without a single line of code feels like heresy. Sadly all short enough fragments considered were either just not particularly interesting by themselves or might require a post as big as this one to adequately explain. Doing so would certainly be interesting and fun, but rather contrary to this articles stated purpose. If, however, even a single one of our readers11 expresses his or her interest in reading a purely programming related post containing some fascinating C++ templates i would be more than willing to satisfy their curiosity.

Well, that’s it for today. How did you like our very first blog post? What would you like to read more about? What improvements would you like to see in future posts?
More C++ code? More C++ template code? More pretty pictures? More pretty pictures ;-)? Please tell us. Praise, any form of criticism, constructive or otherwise, suggestions, insults and threats of violence can be addressed in the comments or you can contact us directly via email, skype or xmpp.


  1. My insuperable optimism is demonstrated in this plural form ;-) 

  2. I have a half finished article detailing how our past mistakes guided most of our current design
    decisions. If anyone is remotely interested I can finish and publish it 

  3. Both Saviour and Reblobed are planned as commercial releases. This does not mean they wont be open source. 

  4. Video Games are art, don’t you dare question it! 

  5. Alright, i admit it, NIH-Syndrom might have played a minor role, too. 

  6. This might actually win some award for most buzzwords in a single sentence. Sorry about that. 

  7. The word “pretty” is – of course – a euphemism in this context, as the editors, whilst being useable, have some serious quirks in need of fixing and are not yet ready for release in any form. Also, dont pay too much attention to the content, it does not represent the real status of any game but was quickly thrown together to have something to show without revealing too much regarding any of our projects. 

  8. I will gladly elaborate in a future post if anyone is interested. 

  9. Everyone should have a graphics artist at home. Its so useful ;-) 

  10. At least without ruining parts of the finished product, especially with story driven games, like Saviour 

  11. That is, all of them ;-)