During my downtime from working on EG I pecked away on the Unity engine, learning both the 2D and 3D sides. There was another type of 2D game I wanted to make where EG wasn't scratching that itch. EG was a slower paced game focused on the expanding journey of a long trek through an alien world. While +AB still has some elements of EG's inspiration in it, it's more arcade-like in structure.
When jumping to Unity I tried to learn from my amateurish mistakes from when I was coding EG. I tried to keep the code clean and concise, keeping everything organized and notated for future use. Jumping to the struture of Unity from straight coding was a godsend. Things that took me forever to get up and running was done in mere moments. It took me 3 weeks to get a fully playable game engine up and work what it took me months to a year to do in straight up coding.
For the game itself I only dialed a couple of things back from EG to make it easier on myself. First is was the graphics' style. When making EG I ended up going with an open 16bit influence where the graphics were meant to invoke the styles of the SNES and Amiga era, but never limiting myself to color or sprite limitations.
With +AB I went back a step and with an NES inspired style (with a few addition colors). By giving the game NES sprites it allows for easier limiting on other aspects as well, such as animations and tile sets. With EG I was trying to design everything with a bit of uniqueness that's constantly giving the player something new to look at. +AB goes with a more tighter, old school design that more reminiscent to games like Mega Man and Castlevania designed their stages. This allowed a quicker constuction of stage design as well.
Also with EG, even though it was a sci-fi fantasy adventure game I tried keep things a bit grounded. By grounded I mean everything has a bit of an organic connection to the world. For example in Super Mario Bros you will always see things like floating blocks throughout the world. In EG if there was a block it is connected to the world somehow. In +AB I wanted to loosen up that kind of restriction and allow for a looser stage design.
The game itself has been made up of parts of things I've been wanting for years but have yet seen. A classic style game that contains its own sequels and lots of replay-ability. The game would have a bit of a structured randomness to it. It starts off in the hub area that splits off into 4 paths. Those 4 paths each lead to one of 12 level themes (meaning there will be 8 themes the player won't play through the first time around). Each of those levels are broken up into 3 sections that also come from a pool of randomly selected stage layouts.
Rather than go the route of how some modern action rogue-likes are set up like Rogue Legacy and Binding of Isaac where there's a bunch of similarly set up room types with a bunch randomized enemies and item sets peppered throughout, I wanted to keep the level designed as a set structure with predetermined platform and enemy structured. The idea was to have the player feel like they're playing something akin to the design of a Mario, Mega Man, or Castlevania level rather than hoping that the next randomized room goes in their favor.
At the moment this project is still in the very early stages. Most of the core engine aspects are finished. The main character moves, runs, jumps, slides, climbs, shoots, attacks, gain/lose health, and collects items as she should. Level panning, parallax scrolling, level transitions, scoring system, and the game's loading & saving are all functional. Even have the game's core randomization code that determines every level set, bosses, enemy weaknesses, etc. all in place. So the engine is there ready to make a +AB with, but then there's my long time project of EG. Now that I have a solid 2D engine in place I could just start working on moving all my EG assets over and try to finish that game.
EG was my first foray into creating my own original game. No more messing around with roms (Massimo) or making game fanfic (Evil Dead). It was time to pull up my sleeves, flex them finger muscles, and get down and dirty.
I started EG like I started with Massimo, by setting up a contest over on NeoGAF. This time the contest was for anyone new to game development to learn and create a game within a year's time frame. I also partook in the contest as motivation to do the same (like last time I excluded myself from the final voting). I was thankfully with a job at the time in which gave me enough downtime to study programming and begin building an engine to make a game in.
At the time I decided I want to focus on XNA and the C# language to start building my game. It took me about three months to get a decent grasp of coding and getting a character functionally moving and jumping around the screen correctly. During the process I had grown attached to my little character (dubbed "The Marshmellow Monk") and ended up building a game around it instead.
Thus came EG.
The core of what I wanted the game to be remained intact: a game with an interconnected world that evolves and changes its gameplay style the further you get. While some inspiration is obviously Metroid, I wanted to try a different approach to the "interconnected world" design by influence of the Amiga game, Shadow of the Beast. Sprawling levels, filled enemy and obstacle variety, and changing layout that gives the player a sense of journey and progression.
The world of EG is loosly based off of a short story I wrote a while back involving a evolving egg shaped planet. In this game you play as EG, an intentionally blank character that appears onto a seemingly empty, egg-like planet. As EG progresses the planet evolves. In a way making this game would be a reflection of how my skills as a game developer grows. With each area I pushed myself more and more to try and learn different things and represnt that in the look and layout of the level.
The look of the game was reflective of that too. The spritework started off as basic stuff. Trying to go for a bit of a timeless "less is more" approach (of course timeless is subjective). Even though the overall theme of the game is egg-like, most of the level layout consisted of 16x16 squares with no slopes (could never quite get that working). So even though the ground was flat I tried to keep with theme as much as possible by keeping the visual style of everything around the character rounded. Rarely you will see a hard edge in the game.
As mentioned before, the game starts basic. You just move, jump, and climb. Even the levels start in basic black & white. There's even a secret if you go backwards the game can become even more basic! As you progress further eventually your moveset evolves, gaining rolls, melee and projectile attacks, dashing and sommersaults, shields, warping, etc. The level design starts becoming more elaborate and lush too, eventually turning in a colorful world that's a mix between styles of the old Amiga aesthetic and the classic Mario style. Enemies became larger and some of the AI more complex as well.
So what happened to this game? Well I worked on it for years and got a quite a bit of it done. I got six full sized levels completed (not including the connecting areas), all the movesets and items functioning correctly. Had up to 50 unique enemies (each with their own AI patterns), a warp zone, save system, secrets and more all working well. Then I got laid off of work. That took a big hit to my motivation. At the time I was brain wracking over a stage design and was feeling particularly burnt on that one area. So when I was let go it hit me pretty hard and I needed a breather.
I shifted my thoughts over to 3D and VR game design and took a detour to learn new things and eventually come back to EG with a refreshed mind. My break took a little longer than it should've and soon I found myself in a new job with less time available to work on my projects. When I did go back to EG I ran into several stumbling blocks that stopped its progress. One was XNA becoming defunct and I was having issues installing the game on some computers. The second was that because this game was representative of me learning coding at the time, it showed. Over the years I had gone through to rewrite and clean up a lot of the code as my experience improved, but I never did a complete overhaul to simplify a lot of the early fat that comes from being an inexperienced programmer. Because of that, going back to the game was like looking through and endless forest of pages to just to change something.
So I had to take a step back again and reevaluate what I wanted to do. I spent a lot of time on EG, and was very proud of what I created. Of course I didn't want to let it go. I decided to take up learning a couple of these easier to handle game engines (Unity and Unreal Engine 4). I found Unity better suited for what I was doing and built a new foundation for a 2D game from scratch (which became the +AB Engine). I still have yet to do the long process of moving all the EG assetts over to Unity. In the meantime I did end up getting a midi keyboard and composed a bunch of my own music for EG's early areas (in place of the C64 and Amiga tunes I had there originally).
And that's where this game stands currently. About 40% complete in XNA and waiting to be moved to Unity. Do I want to do the time intensive process of moving everything over? Or do I want to put my attentions to one of my other game ideas?
Near the tail end of 2009 (?) I was chomping at the bit to make a game. So what better way to motivate me than to motivate others as well. So over on NeoGAF I started up a contest for fellow game making enthusiasts to try to create their own Mario level sets. Using the hacking software, Lunar Magic, everyone, including me, had three months to create their own Mario game.
The sky was the limit. You were open to make any changes you like to the game itself from the sprites, to music, to even the game mechanics themselves. So on my end I wanted to do a bit more than just make Mario levels I wanted to do a complete overhaul. I wanted to make this thing my own little creation.
First came the game design which would later be elaborated on better in EG. Back when I was a kid I was given Shadow of the Beast as a gift for the Genesis. It was a problematic game, even more so on the Genesis (the changes in the difficulty made it extremely hard to beat), but to was bits of design there that really rubbed me the right way. When you start in the game you can either run left, right, or climb down a well.If you go left you come across a patch of trees with one having a giant hole in it leading underground. Now if you go right, well you’ll be running for quite some time. Now the fascinating thing about running right was the crazy amount of variety in the enemies and obstacles you come across along the way. Even though you are running on a flat plane for quite some time, the variety present gave you a sense of progress and feeling like you were traversing through this bizarre world. It also helps that the music and art direction were top notch in this game.
So when I went into making my levels I wanted two main things: a world that was connected in some fashion, and expanded levels that would give the player a sense of journey that I got from games like Shadow of the Beast. Next was seeing what I could do with the graphics. Here the thought was to bland the tone of the Mario visual style by deemphasizing a lot of the happy charm (removing faces on clouds, hills, etc) and balancing that out by stylizing the graphics a bit differently. Even though it is still Mario underneath I wanted to give it a unique enough feel to make the player feel like they’re playing a different game. Music was also changed to reflect the dreamlike atmosphere I wanted to give this world. Most of the enemies were changed to go along with the new design as well. Of course I also reworked Mario’s sprite for the full disconnect by adjusting some colors, reworking a few pixels, and added a beard. I knew I wanted to keep an Italian name and after much searching Massimo was born.
The story of Massimo is simple: Massimo one day decides to crawl out of his home under the ground and explore the world. Nothing in Massimo is really meant to make sense, but there is a core story and a definite ending to it which underlines the whole thing. The whole world is designed to give the player the feeling of isolation and loneliness as Massimo is the only human present and the only things you talk to are the skeletons who spout riddles as to what to do next. I still wanted to include some main elements of Mario in Massimo as this was meant to be seen another take on that game’s world. The final area is still a castle where you still end up having a final battle with a dragon (is there a princess… well….).
If for some reason you are sensitive to spoilers you may want to skip this paragraph. For the ending of the game I’ve always felt that the player should be rewarded with something a bit more than a cutscene. I’ve always liked the endings of games like Toejam & Earl and Dragon Quest where the player is rewarded with a world to explore. So in Massimo the reward is Massimo’s new home. A long, harmless stage with little things to play around in. There is also a secret in the ending where you can change the day/night cycles and if you changed it to night the stage is swarmed with enemies that you can fight through. If the player gets bored with the new home you could go back out and explore the world again.
I ended up completing the game I wanted to make much sooner than I had even anticipated. I still had well over a month left to work on stuff so I decided to put in a secret world. This ended up being the part of the game I’m most happy with. When first designing the secret world I knew I wanted to created another game so I decided to make Massimo 8-bit. The thought here was if Massimo SNES was a sequel to an NES Massimo game then it probably was a retelling in a sense (kind of like how Super Castlevania was a retelling of the NES Castlevania). So what would the original Massimo game been like? That’s what came out of this.
But after I finished that I still had plenty of time left! So I made a secret world within the secret world! This was called Massi-Bits, and this was where I decided I wanted to go ham on the stages. Each stage gives a peek at different generations of Massimo games. The first one was in a text adventure style of the old Zork games where the level itself consisted solely of words. The next stage was influenced by Atari styled graphics which was my favorite stage to design in the whole game. After that Massimo jumps into my original game influence, the Commodore 64! The stage here was inspired by the C64 Mario knockoff, The Great Giana Sisters. The final stage goes back to the NES and was Mega Man in style. In retrospect the last Massi-Bit stage probably wasn’t the best choice. I should’ve gone with something from Genesis instead.
After all that I still had time left so I decided to put some finishing touches on the game and put together a nice zip package for it. I included an instruction manual which included a strategy guide and screenshot art from some of the stages (displayed here). Also added a nice remix of the main Massimo theme (which came from Turrican) and various desktop wallpapers. Since I had some time left I put together a second Mario level set called Mario’s Mini Adventure. Rather than add more to Massimo I went and made a short little game. The game consists of four stages that are connected together, each one containing a hidden alternate version. After working on Massimo so much I just wanted to try my hand at something a bit more Mario like.
After the contest was over (I didn’t win as I excluded myself since I was the contest creator), I went on to release the game on the main romhacking site, Romhacking.net, and it went on to receive a hefty amount of downloads. When I revisited the game recently I was hit with a mixture of feelings, both good and problematic. Good in that a lot of the stages I designed still held up for me, most notably the in the area called Yg, the later stages of Massi-8bit, and the first two stages of Massi-Bits. What sadly didn’t work on my play through were the Metroid-like puzzle elements with the items. Even with the in game hints I had forgotten the solutions and was completely stumped. I had to resort to my included strategy guide to finish the game! Looking at it now I would have completely reworked some of those elements, and made it much clearer to how to get to the next area. I would’ve also opened up the secret stages so the player can enter those at the beginning of the game rather than having to play halfway through. Maybe I’ll touch up on that in the future as I don’t think it would be too hard to fix, and now that my sprite work has improved I could touch up on some of the funkier looking sprites in this game.
There was going to be a sequel to Massimo (dubbed Massimore), and even had the initial starting area all finished, along with improvements to the game structure (more interconnected levels rather than a map screen to tie everything together). After much thought I decided to discard the sequel and finally move onto making my first original game…
Rockman Kenk (mod)
After the death of Tales of the Evil Dead life got kind of hectic for a few years. I spent some time going to school, while working on some writing, art and video projects on the side. Once things settled and I had a steady job the bug of wanting to make games started to hit me again.
So I started off easy with rom hacking. Rockman Kenk is mod of a mod of the original Rockman (Mega Man) game. People are fine with hacking the original games so why not hack a hack? The original mod was called Rockman Kai created by ________. What started this was when I was playing through various rom hack and getting annoyed by the absurd difficulty present in almost all of them. When I eventually played Rockman Kai I was ecstatic to find a mod that almost attempts to keep the balance of design closer to the original games. Almost.
There were a lot of flaws still present: Floors with hidden gaps in them that led to the player’s death; some questionable enemy placements, and other glitches. So I decided to give this what I called the “Enk run through”. I ended up reworking a good portion of the game by the end, trying to take careful consideration of enemy and platform placements, and also adjusting bosses to change them up a bit from the original layouts. I also gave a few of the stages a bit of a visual makeover as well adding new sections and reworking some of the color palette. Unfortunately there were some things hard coded into the original hack that I was unable to change on my end. Things like music for certain levels that repeat several times, to Elecman’s unorthodox stage design. Still I was pleased with the outcome.
I was able to finish the hack in time of Mega Man 9 and released it as a tribute game that attempt to create a balanced hack in line with the originals. Some players took to it kindly and one Mega Man Youtuber did not. It seemed he was more upset that I attempted to hack and hack than create something original which was a bit of a silly criticism. Going back to it recently I am still somewhat pleased with the outcome but there were a few things that maybe I should’ve changed (mainly a particular puzzle segment on the last Wily stage). But I did this mainly to start getting my feet wet again, and the following projects I was ready to get full on soaked.
Take on the Evil Dead
Everyone has to start somewhere. Some start with Twilight fanfic and changing up character names and occupations. Others begin with a “what if” between Sonic the Hedgehog and Thundercats. For me it was a fan game based off of my favorite horror series, The Evil Dead.
Back in the year 1998, at the ripe young age of 17, I decided that I really wanted to design games for a living instead of making films. In the past I’ve dabbled here and there with modding (mainly DoomEd) but this would be the first time to try and make a game. I knew at the time I wanted to make and rpg mixed with adventure game elements, and I had a passionate love of horror films as well. So I wanted to do something that combined all these elements together. The Evil Dead films were a huge inspiration for me so naturally my young mind went towards making and Evil Dead game fanfic.
I had no real programming knowledge at the time so I checked into various rpg engines. The one I eventually landed on was the simply named Official Hamster Republic Role Playing Game Creation Engine (OHRRPGCE for short). The engine at the time seemed pretty open for what I wanted to do. With it I got to learn the basics of game creation which ended up helping me a lot when I got down to actually coding when I started working on EG years later. It was fun taking the limitations of the engine at the time and trying to come up with little graphical and gameplay tricks that the engine wasn’t exactly designed for at the time.
The game has only been released in two forms: Evil Dead Weird (the first working prototype), and Evil Dead Timeline Take 2. Memory is a little fuzzy these days in regards to when I first started working on this. Hey it was more than half a lifetime ago! I can use the old man’s brain card here! At the time my sprite work was still a bit wonky. The while the tile sets and enemy design were wholly my own, I used reworked ripped graphics from Ghouls n’ Ghosts for the initial background images (later ones I did on my own), and the sprite of Ash himself was a reworked Strider sprite. Music in the game mostly came from midi versions from other games (mainly The 7th Guest) and films (like Exodus).
Like the movies the game itself was a weird mishmash of things. The films had a bit of a fast paced “one moment to the next” that I wanted to maintain in game form. The initial section was a bit more survival horror in that you needed to kill the enemies quickly before they finished you off (using a faster version of Final Fantasy’s Active Time Battle), and in several cases having to run away from large enemy groups all together. After the first area I started incorporating adventure game elements where the player collects items to be used in certain situations (like an axe to cut down bushes, and collecting a hammer, boards, and nails to make a makeshift bridge). The visual style of the game would change at times too switching from a top down perspective to a side scrolling one. Because of the small nature of the areas and the shortness of the game I wanted to balance that out with density of detail. Nearly every item, object, window, light bulb can be looked at and is commented on through Ash’s witty snark (well what was considered witty to my 17yo brain at the time).
The final version of the game that was released was Evil Dead Timeline Take 2 which itself was a demo for a larger game. The game went on to gain a bit of a cult following in the OHRRPGCE community and made a lot of 10 lists (even 1st place) at the time. Going back to it now is pretty rough. First the later versions of OHRRPGCE broke some aspects of the game. Mainly some of the graphical tricks I used lookfunky now and some of the music sounds off. The game was a lot harder than what I remember designing too. It’s still possible to finish the demo but it takes a bit of trial and error. Also the writing can be a bit rough. A lot of jokes I thought were cute at the time either cringe inducing or just poorly written.
I did attempt to finish the game but that eventually became what I called the “Evil Dead Take 3 Curse”. The final version of the game redid most of the graphics, game difficulty, writing, and area layouts. It also added new artwork, difficulty modes, enemies, attacks, puzzles, and more. The title of the game changed from Evil Dead Timeline to Tales of the Evil Dead. I really went out of my way to try and top myself with this on, and wanted it to be a gift to the OHRRPGCE community who have been very kind to my game over the years.
Then my computer crashed and I lost everything.
I thought I had backed up the game via email but alas it was not there. The only surviving remnants are the few fuzzy screen shots you see towards the end of this page and the file that is sitting on my dead hard drive which I wasn’t able to extract. I never went back to it and decided to move on. This was a huge learning lesson to back up my work on a regular basis. Maybe someday I’ll dig out that hard drive again and see if I can try to get on it and finally pull that file off. Maybe someday I’ll work on another RPG again using the ideas I had just without the Evil Dead name to tie it down.