My Summer of Game Development

In the summer of 2016 I got really into making little video games with Game Maker Studio.  Most aspects of the games were created by me: coding, level design, and artwork.  Sound effects and music were the only things I didn’t create myself.  Each game revolves around a single mechanic and features very simple controls, most only making use of the arrow keys.  They are pretty bare bones, and lack many quality of life features like saves or level selects.  But they are functional and (IMO) fun, so I am very proud of them.

[Remote Controller Lawn Mower]

Click here to play

RCLM gameplay

 

The first full game I made after getting past the “messing around” phase with the program. Remote Controller Lawn Mower is a game about mowing lawns.  The idea was given to me by a guy I met at a concert, although different from what I believe he had in mind.  It’s silly and intentionally ugly.  I decided to call it “Remote Controller” because I didn’t want to draw a little person pushing the mower. This game was practice before moving onto other projects.

 

My original intention was to make it a Pac-man clone, which informs the way the mower controls.  But I decided to add a mechanic where running over cut grass loses points, so it plays more like Snake.  There are still some maze-like elements with fence posts and rocks.  To add some motion to the screen I added additional objectives in the form of bugs.  Then later I wanted moving obstacles, so I literally drew legs onto the fence posts and rocks.

RCLM55

This game was an experiment with level design.  Occasionally new mechanics may pop up for 1 level, like stop signs, never to be seen again.  The last few levels I messed around with a power up, a Mjolnir like hammer that could smash rocks.  I had some ideas for other power ups, but after finishing up the hammer levels I lost interest and moved onto a new project.

 

[Super Sleepio]

Click here to play

super sleepio gameplay

This was a concept I had come up with after my initial messing around with GMS in December 2015.  The basic idea is a single screen arcadey platformer where you play as Sleepio (sleepy Mario), who needs to put out each candle in the level then go to bed.  To complicate things there were fire imps who could relight candles.  In the original concept, you would need to collect an extinguisher to remove imps, but this never made it into the final game.

 

Instead I added a system of switches and doors.  Each switch and door were color and letter coded.  Flipping a switch would either raise or lower a door depending on the door’s current state.  Fire imps and Sleepio were blocked by the doors.  Sometimes you would need to either trap Imps between doors to snuff candles, or perhaps open them to lead imps into lava, into which they disappeared. So far pretty simple, it got more interesting when I let the imps also flip switches.

 

Imps have very predictable movements, moving forward until they hit a wall, then they turn around.  This let me use imps and switches to create things like timing based platform challenges and more interesting puzzles.  You may need to open a door to let an imp through to flip a switch which lets you open another door.  Sometimes specific timing is needed to let a fire imp through, but not so far as to flip another switch or relight a candle.

 

Eventually I wanted a foil to the fire imp, so I added ice imps*.  These imps would put out candles, but did not flip switches. If a fire and ice imp collided they both disappeared. This added another layer of complexity.

*Initially they were snow imps.  But people saw white round blobs with faces and assumed they were ghosts. It was important they read as “cold”, as opposed to the fire imps “hot”.  Instead of being solid white I made them mostly blue with bits of white, which corrected the issue.

 

After this I added some more floor interactions.  When an ice imp collides with lava, the imp disappears, but it cools the lava, which becomes walkable floor.  Later I added ice tiles that melted when touched by a fire imp.  The puzzles in the game were explorations of the interactions amongst fire imps, ice imps, lava tiles, ice tiles, doors, and switches.

 

This game was much more complex and took a lot more time than any other project on this list, fortunately it also received the most playtesting.  First big playtest was an old friend from college who said the game was fun, but had an anti-climactic ending.  The original final level was mostly just complicated. Then the game ends.  During my next round of revisions, I removed that level, then added 4 new ones.  I was very happy with these new levels, especially the last 2. The earlier one is a great puzzle that’s tests the player’s knowledge of each interaction in the game.  The Final level has a ‘boss’ puzzle that isn’t too complicated, but requires you to think outside the box.

sleepio4

After those changes I took the game to a local game dev meet up.  I showed it to a few people there who were also showing off their games.  Eventually a father and his 2 kids sat down and took it over.  They played through the entire game, beating the last level and boss.  One of my favorite moments was when all 3 were gathered around the screen talking and trying to figure out those last 2 levels.  I explained how I changed the ending to be less anti-climactic and they told me they felt the ending was very good.

 

The last few changes I made were removing a couple of levels that appeared too difficult from that last playtest, adding an additional screen for the ending *and integration of secrets.  I decided to take those unused levels and turn them into secret levels that can be found by collecting the 8 secrets on certain levels.  The secrets are difficult to find, but the secret levels are bad, so I won’t be sad if no one finds them.  I also added a brand-new level to the secrets, but it’s pretty bad too.

*A suggestion from the boy in the earlier mentioned playtests.  The illustration is by my girlfriend.

 

Overall, I’m happy with this game.  It has simple components that combine into a complex game.  It’s also my most complete videogame, with a very defined beginning, middle and end. Each other game on the list just stopped when I ran out of ideas.  I had enough stuff in this that I could trim some fat.  If you’re going to try out any of my games this would be my top pick.

 

[Cyber Slide]

Click here to play

cyberslide gameplay

My take on the slide puzzles from Undertale.  The goal is to move and destroy blocks in such a way to clear a path so you can shoot the enemy.  You have 1, 2, or 3 shots to do this. Blocks all move together based on the direction you press.  You can fire shots to destroy blocks, or if the path is clear, the enemy.  I really liked these puzzles, but there were only a few in Undertale.  I wanted to create of these puzzles, while also expanding the mechanics.

 

The first puzzle in CS is the only one that appears in UT, the rest are all original.  The first new mechanic I added were blocks that moved with arrows, but were indestructible.  These are kind of obvious, and seemingly boring, but they came in handy for later levels.  The other new mechanic I added was a way for the enemy to fire back.  If a yellow square is placed in the enemy’s vision, the enemy will fire a shot.  These shots can destroy blocks, and are blocked by indestructible blocks, but destroy your ship if it has a clear shot.  I was happy with this mechanic, but due to how buggy the game was, I didn’t get to explore it as much as I wanted.  The bugs are rare, but they bothered me a lot, because I was never able to fix them.  Despite that the game usually functions very well. If you play you probably won’t encounter any bugs.

level9

Originally this game was about an archer and rabbits.  I tried my best to make this look good, but mostly it looked weird.  I switched over to a “cyberpunk” aesthetic that was abstract, and more suited to my artistic skill.  I cribbed that visual style from my earlier Game Maker experiment called NetCop.  NetCop looks a lot like this game, with the scrolling grid background, but it was a top down shooter.  I don’t really like that kind of game so I stopped working on it.

 

[Shift Effect]

Click here to play

shift effect gameplay

My twist on the Sokoban genre.  For a little bit, I was really into puzzle script games, specifically those from Draknek.  I wanted to make something in that style, but puzzle script was a little too much for me to learn at the time so I just did it in Game Maker.

 

Every original mechanic in this game was found by chance.  Initially I planned on it being much more complicated.  I tested the idea of walls that turned on and off each time you moved. I accidentally found that by shifting the main character starting position 1 space over, the times when the walls were on/off reversed.  This meant that when I created a level, I could essentially create a second level by copying it, then moving the character over.  The other mechanic I found out by accident is the ability to kick the balls through the shifting walls.  Once I figured out how this was working I integrated it into a few puzzles.

 

Having each level count as two may sound like it saves time, but designing them was difficult.  Each different version of the level required a solution, and one that wasn’t too difficult, but still fun. Levels also couldn’t be symmetrical, because then the solution is the same for each side, just reversed*. At least a couple of times I had to scrap entire levels because I could find a solution to one half, but not the other.

*Although I left in a few symmetrical levels for whatever reason.

 

One thing I should have mentioned above, because this applies to all 4 games I made, is my method to puzzle design.  What I did was set up the puzzle, then played it over and over until I either found the solution, or was confident that there wasn’t one.  Sometimes I could tweak it until there was a solution, but occasionally they had to be scrapped.  I feel like there is likely a better method for puzzle creation, but this way was fun.

shift effect 2

Because this game was inspired by puzzle script games, I went for an intentionally minimalist visual design.  I feel like this game has a more cohesive and appealing visual design than the rest of my games.  I really enjoy creating the visual elements for my games, but I recognize that they rarely look good.

 

While working on this game I listened to a lot of Flying Lotus.  This game is a little more abstract than previous games, it lacks a cohesive theme or even an implied story.  Something like Cyber Slide has a vague “hacking” theme too it*. Fortunately, I found an artist who provides free music that had a similar vibe to Flying Lotus in Broke for Free.

*although nothing in the game indicates this, it’s mostly just in my head  

 

Some final notes on development of this one.  I tried to port all my games to web player, but this was the only one that didn’t completely bug out.  This game took only a week to go from concepting to publishing on the web.  I’m especially proud of this one because I was trying to go for a specific vibe, and I feel like I hit it.

 

[Wrapping Up]

After that I never touched game maker studio again.  Why?  The big one was time. Once school started up I couldn’t devote as much time to video game projects.  The other issue was ideas.  Most ideas I had going forward would have been much larger and complicated games. Combined with the time issue I just couldn’t see myself possibly starting something larger.

 

I do still work on games, but they are card games.  I’m always working a card game or two. It’s something I did before I ever touched GMS.  Sometime in the future I’ll write a blog post about some of those games. As far as video games go I’ve considered picking up Unity to make some 3D games.

 

Thanks for indulging me and reading about my own game development endeavors.  If you happened to have played any of them let me know in the comments and/or post a link to any games you have made.

8 thoughts on “My Summer of Game Development”

  1. Dude those are some cool small games. I wanted to learn GMS as well but just didnt had the focus for it which is FeelsBadMan worthy. I would love to make easy simplistic platformer games haha. I should get back to making and trying again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Game Maker uses its own language called GML. It’s pretty easy to understand. The built in tutorials and Youtube tutorials do a good job of easing you into it.

      Like

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