Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The State of Things 2016

2015 was a very quiet year in terms of my game dev projects, but 2016 looks to be busy time, so I thought it would be handy to lay out where everything stands.

Inferno (MSX)
Inferno is getting closer to completion. I've arted up all the sprites and am just mapping the final level. We then need to sort out an end boss of sorts and the whole thing will be good to go. This is our priority at the moment before we leap into any future projects.

Apothecary (PC Engine)
Cancelled. For ever.

Grelox (Windows)
Apothecary has been consumed by Grelox and they are now going to co-exist like some glorious retro-filled Brundlefly. Grelox is going to be ace and is next in line after Inferno is finished, with one exception.

Saber Rider and the Star Sherrifs (PC Engine)
Once we have all the relevant details sorted out with Saber Bossman, this is going to be developed either alongside or as priority over Grelox next. We're still waiting for clarification on certain things I think but it's going to be an interesting project to work on. Even with the graphics drawn for the other 'primary' versions, the whole lot will have to be redrawn from scratch to fit the tile sizes and limitations of the PCE, so chances are this will feel like its own unique game. And of course it will be the best version...

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Second Wind - Apothecary for PC Engine lives again

Back in February, I posted about the cancellation of my PC Engine action/adventure/puzzle game Apothecary.

Naturally, some of the PC Engine/TG-16 community was disappointed at a homebrew title getting canned, so I posted a challenge to programmers out there to get a working game engine up and running if they wanted to see the project live again. Orion, the man behind Ultimate Rally Club  and many other retro projects has since been into contact with me and began work on getting some basic sprite movement and maps together.

Well, we've now got to a point where I feel that both Orion and myself are committed to finishing the game and as such, I have been hard at work mapping out the rooms with the final tile artwork. While the game was originally planned as a HuCARD, it will now be a CD, but aside from that there will likely be no major changes to the original concept.

More information will be revealed as development proceeds.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Atlantean Trailer

It's been a few years, but Atlantean is finally finished. Here's the full release trailer. The game will be available to purchase from hopefully in the next week or two. It takes a lot of effort to build these cards and 3D print the boxes.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

How Big Is It?

Although the main gameplay of Grelox has been decided, I'm currently standing at a fork in the road and have to make a choice. When Grelox was originally conceived (as Apothecary) the aim was to make it suitable for short development and also to fit in PC Engine rom space. Now, we have a little more freedom, there are choices to be made.

The size of the game map is tied in to one of two styles. The first (original) style was a game where you played, learned the map, learned the puzzles, hit Game Over and started again. Each time you'd get a bit better, know where to go and what to do to progress. The Zillion model. The second style is where you have save points and progress just by getting a bit further each time you play, without having to repeat the puzzles or areas each time. The Metroid model.

There's something to be said for each model. Zillion-style is more traditional and can mean a tighter, more challenging game with a smaller game map (as it has to be practical to complete the game in one session once you know what you're doing). Metroid-style means satisfaction by constant progression, more of an adventure feel but requires a much larger game map as you don't get the 'replay' value of a die-and-start-again Zillion style. Another aspect of the Metroid model is that it seems fairer to most skill levels, less repetitive and easier to balance.

I'm currently considering doubling the game map (to over 200 screens) and choosing the save-driven Metroid style. What do you think?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Graphics and Gravity

One the the first things that happens when you start a new game is that you form a mental image of what it's going to look like. Obviously, the plan for Grelox was a straight out retro design, but nailing down the details can be a difficult, and ongoing process.

For starters, what kind of retro do you go for? C64? NES? PC Engine? Super Nintendo? Arcades of the late 80s? The choices are many and varied, and you are constantly re-evaluating the details. When you pick a specific look, it's very easy to accidentally make the graphics 'too good' for that look. Use too many colours, too much shading and you end up with something disjointed and uneven.

Yesterday I came across a minor crisis. After quickly mapping out some of the 'organic' area, I went back to draw in some background detail. The vision was to make the backdrops subtle but effective, so I set about making a nice rocky wall with cracks that you can see through to distant caverns. But despite it beginning to take shape, something was making me feel uncomfortable about it, and I think it's all down to emotion.

There are several core concepts to the feel of the game, but one of them is that I want it to stir up the memories of playing those vast, multi-screen arcade adventures on the ZX Spectrum. Comparing the look of the map with and without the background texture, there is something almost pure about the empty blackness that is very evocative of that era (while the art itself remains more advanced in style). So I had a chat with Andrew and we decided, for the moment at least, that this is the way we'll head. For me, that memory of old 8-bit games gives me a strong wash of nostalgia, and I hope that others may find this the case too.

Of course, everything is subject to change.

On the programming front, Andrew is still beavering away at finishing Atlantean for PCE Engine / TG-16. But I can show you the very first little buds of what will eventually become Grelox. It's not pretty and it doesn't work right, but this is what the birth of a game engine looks like. Jumping is extremely wonky at this stage, but Andrew has the idea of reversing gravity to produce a better jumping/falling system. You never know, reverse-gravity rooms may even be workable in the game, don't you just love those?

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Death of a PC Engine Game

It's always a really hard decision to close the door on something that you've spent an awful lot of time with - any project you work on seeps into everything you do as in the back of your mind, you're always trying to plan game mechanics, plot details, how things will look or clever puzzles to include. It becomes part of your everyday routine, not to mention the evenings spent sitting in front of a monitor mapping or drawing tiles and sprites worthy of inclusion.

After 2 years of planning, Apothecary for PC Engine is no more.

Apothecary was the forerunner to what Grelox will become - an arcade adventure using item puzzles as a form of game progression. It was always simpler than Grelox, as I designed it with my mind firmly on making it as easy to program as possible without sacrificing too much gameplay (and so there was no attacking, only dodging, no bosses and no scrolling!).

So why is it being put to sleep? It's all a case of timescales. From inception, Atlantean (our almost-finished PC Engine project) will be coming in at about 3 years development time, and that's for a simple Defender style shooter. Apothecary has already been in development for 2 years, and that's without a single line of code being written. It was due to be started after completion of our 'Jungle Hunt' and 'Joust' projects, which means it probably wouldn't see the light of day for a long time. PC Engine development is fun and exciting, but it's also very, very hard and slow. With just 2 people working on a game as ambitious as this, it's just depressing to think about.

That's why once day I realised that pursuing Apothecary any further was going to be more hassle than it's worth (i.e. I'd probably be dead from old age before it gets finished). While the plot, puzzles and other elements will be lost, at the very least I can salvage some of the map layouts and don't be surprised if a few of the background tiles turn up in Grelox, which promises to be a much faster development period due to the tools we have at our disposal.

So here I present a collection of images for Apothecary, the PC Engine game that never was.

A sample of proposed cover art and potential advert/poster design:

Animation for our main character, Amirella. She's a bit nudey because the game was planned as a sister project to Inferno, which had a slightly nudey man in it.

Game screen mockups:

An early concept for the Title Screen:

Saturday, 15 February 2014

What's in a name?

So where did the name Grelox come from? Well it has a long history. Back when I was at school (around 1988/9 perhaps) a group of friends and myself decided to make a fanzine reviewing video games (mostly imports). These were the days where you had to physically photocopy actual paper and staple it together to pass around information.

Well I can't remember us ever finishing a single issue, or if it even got past the initial planning stage, but we did come up with a name: Grelox. It stood for Games Reviewed Every Lunar Occidental Xenith (which despite the fact we had to spell Zenith wrong, means every month. At least we thought it did, you might have to ask an astronomer to confirm).

More recently, when Grelox began to be discussed, it was a combination of various games, mixing in another of our projects (called Apothecary). So for a while we were referring to it as 'Apothezilliontroid', 'Zillipothecaroid' 'Metrionecaryvania' as so on. This was beginning to get hard to type, so I decided to codename it Grelox as that just popped into my head. The name stuck.

So Grelox has quite a long history as a name. I'm glad it's finally getting used for something.