Jetboard Joust: Next-Generation Retro Arcade SHMUP - Steam Page Now Up!

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Re: Jetboard Joust - Defender-Inspired Cute Retro SHMUP - Alpha Now Available For MacOS and Windows

Post by BitBullDotCom » Wed Oct 02, 2019 1:10 pm

Decided to split this devlog in two as making a videogame trailer is a fairly long process, particularly when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing! Plus there’s been a couple of other things that needed attending to before I felt I could really progress as I’d like.

1. Audio FX
Firstly I had to do some more work on the in-game audio. There were a number of actions I felt required fx that didn’t have any (some pretty important such as unlocking weapons and worlds) and a couple I wasn’t happy with. I spent a couple of days on this. There are now around 270 individual effects files in the game, and that’s not including background music and loops! I think the audio is a pretty distinctive part of the game due to the fact it’s all produced from scratch on analogue gear – no stock samples here, folks!

2. Performance Optimisations
Secondly, as I was recording a bunch of action footage I began to notice frame-rate drop at a few points where there was really intense action on screen. This was exclusively at places where enemies that release a bunch of ‘offspring’ are destroyed by a weapon that kills the enemy and all it’s offspring in one fell swoop (e.g. the jetboard attack). The resulting explosion-and-bonus-fest was just a bit too much.

So, I worked on some optimisations for the above. This included adding object pooling for every object that’s generated when an enemy is destroyed, combining multiple smaller explosions and/or smoke clouds that are very close together (and instantiated in the same frame) into one larger one, and pre-caching of the terrain elements that pickups might hit as they fall (rather than calculating this every frame). I’ve also let some offspring ‘escape’ in the above scenario as I didn’t like it when absolutely everything got destroyed. I no longer see any frame rate drop now, even when there’s a shitload of fireworks going on, and I’m running a Mac from 2008!

3. Start The Trailer
Before starting the trailer I read through a number of very helpful blogs on the subject by Kert Gartner and M. Joshua. Here is a particularly good one.

3.1 Choose The Tools
One of the most useful practical tips I picked up from these was a pointer to an app called Screenflow that will grab 1080 game footage at 60fps even on my ancient Mac. I’ve been through a bunch of these screen capture applications (Snapz Pro, Capto, Screenium) but Screenflow is the only one that will do this. Capto is cheap and neat (this is what I’ve used for most of my animated GIFs and devlog posts) but will sometimes compress really heavily for no apparent reason, Screenium is almost as good as Screenflow (and cheaper), will let you record a set area AND remembers this rea (really useful) but it still compresses a bit even at the highest settings (plus I found it’s editing tools a tad clumsy and prone to crashing). For the purposes of recording gameplay footage for trailers Screenflow definitely comes out tops.

3.2 Intro
Probably the hardest part of the trailer to get right is the first 15 seconds. You don’t want to lose the user’s interest and you have to attempt to communicate the core mechanics of your game in as short a time as possible (without being overly didactic). I’m still not sure I’m 100% there but I think what I’ve come up with does a reasonable job of communicating abductions, mutations, the jetboard attack and the general carnage of the game in that timeframe. To get this footage I used a combination of scripted events (i.e. faking things through coding) and playing through a set sequence over and over again until I managed to one-shot all the enemies in a way that looked effortless and ‘readable’ enough.

3.3 Shock & Awe
After this initial intro section comes just under another 15 seconds of what I’m referring to as ‘shock and awe’. This is a high-octane segment that focusses mainly on the destruction wrought by the jetboard attack but also features a couple of other weapons. This is all ‘real’ gameplay footage, I just recorded a load of stuff to get a variety of enemies and palettes. I deliberately try and move the action from one side of the screen to the other here.

3.4 Breathing Space
Lastly comes just over 10 seconds of ‘breathing space’. A longer cut in which we see the destruction of a boss, the opening of a treasure chamber and the discovery of a new weapon. This section has a certain amount of scripting (reducing the bosses health and getting rid of some onscreen distractions) but is largely the result of playthrough after playthrough to get things looking slick and pulled off in as short a time as possible.

I’ve tried to keep the player’s position onscreen consistent between cuts so that the viewer’s eyes can easily track what’s going on. I’m also zooming/panning across the action where appropriate in order to avoid ‘dead’ areas of screenspace and create variety. I thought this might be overly distracting but it doesn’t seem to be.

So now we have just under 45 seconds of trailer done which is approximately half of it. Next step, around 20 seconds on enemies and weapons, 20 seconds on bosses, and a five second closer!

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Dev Time: 10 days (inc 2 days audio and 2.5 days performance optimisations)
Total Dev Time: approx 292 days
====

James Closs, Director & Wielder of Code, BitBull Ltd

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Re: Jetboard Joust - Defender-Inspired Cute Retro SHMUP - Alpha Now Available For MacOS and Windows

Post by BitBullDotCom » Wed Oct 30, 2019 5:57 pm

Please wishlist Jetboard Joust on Steam here.



Well, the trailer’s finally done – thank God! As with the last instalment I ran into a few issues along the way and got distracted by (necessary) bugfixes. Here’s a brief summary of how things panned out…

1. Oh, Bugger!
The thing about doing a trailer is that it makes you capture and scrutinize a shedload of gameplay footage AND deviate from your ‘learned’ methods of playing your own game. The consequence of both these things is that you uncover new bugs.

I ran into a few new bugs when working on this section of the trailer, most of them related to trying out different weapon types on the bosses. The most significant of these was that there were major deficiencies in the raycasting algorithm I was using to work out damage caused by explosive weapons. Turned out I was only calculating collisions based on axis-aligned bounding boxes (fine for smaller enemies, not fine for the more complex outlines of some bosses). So I had to redo the algorithm to work properly with convex polygons.

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There were also issues in the way damage was distributed via ‘proxies’ (e.g. different parts of the same boss) which had to be looked at and problems with the ‘particle storm‘ weapon which were very fiddly to debug.

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2. Enemies and Weapons
The next twenty-ish second chunk of the trailer aims to give an overview of the variety of weapons and enemies in the game. I split the into eight 2.5ish edits, taking the timings from the ‘Enter The Gungeon’ gameplay trailer which seemed to pace the edits about as fast as you can get whilst still making sense of what’s going on. Managed to squeeze a brief glimpse of the weapon upgrade process in here too – I wanted to convey visually that there’s upgrade paths available for the weapons.

The edits were made by grabbing a shedload of footage and then whittling it down to the ‘best’ short segment. This was a time-consuming process. I set up levels artificially so I was only dealing with one enemy at a time – ‘real’ gameplay footage proved too confusing as there was just too much going on most of the time.

3. Bosses
The next twenty seconds or so provide a five second ‘reveal’ of the first four bosses. That’s only enough time to sneak a look at the first attack phase of each but I think that’s enough – I’m bit worried about giving too much away as it is. As with the previous stage, I had to grab a ton of footage and then whittle it down to the ‘best’ edits. I also had to bear in mind the transitions between the edits whilst grabbing the footage, i.e. make sure the player was positioned onscreen at a point where a smooth transition would be possible so the viewer’s eye never has to make a disconcerting jump. I found this was particularly important when dealing with very short cuts. I had to re-shoot a couple of edits in both this section and the last in order to get these transitions smooth.

4. Out With A Bang
Initially this section was simply a glimpse at the final boss fight but I felt that just cutting to titles after this seemed rather lame. Consequently I worked on a more ‘scripted’ take where the player flies over the final boss and then takes it out with an R.P.G. It’s not possible to do this in the actual game (the fight has about five stages) but it acts as a significantly more punchy ending to the trailer.

I had to do multiple takes of this to get it right as I needed to fly over the boss, shoot it accurately, and then position the player accurately in the middle of the screen all without doing anything visually unappealing like crash into the edges of the screen or flipping left/right too much. there were plenty of bloopers – including some where I fired the R.P.G. in completely the wrong direction.

5. Outro Titles
I ended up doing these in code and positioning them over the last section in After Effects using chromakeying. Initially I thought I’d animate them in After Effects but I just found this far too fiddly. Fortunately I was able to use the in-game logo ‘entrance’ without having to change anything much so it was mainly about animating the subheadings with the release date etc. I like the way the smoke is still dissipating in the background as the titles appear!

6. Back To The Beginning
Lastly, I went back to the start of the trailer. I was every-so-slightly over 1:30 seconds so I edited the initial titles down a bit. As some people had commented that the player appeared to come ‘out of nowhere’ a bit (I kind of agreed with this) I tried panning across to the player before going back to the alien babies/abductions. This seemed to work. I also made the player blink in this cut to bring him to life a bit (done in After Effects) and added ‘abduction’ and ‘mutation’ text with pans and zooms with the rest of the action.

Now I think we’re finally there. Next episode – Steam page and assets!
====

James Closs, Director & Wielder of Code, BitBull Ltd

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Re: Jetboard Joust: Next-Generation Retro Arcade SHMUP - Steam Page Now Up!

Post by BitBullDotCom » Mon Nov 11, 2019 3:30 pm

Since it's been thirty years since the original... I wrote a blog post on the game that preceded Jetboard Joust here!


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Re: Jetboard Joust: Next-Generation Retro Arcade SHMUP - Steam Page Now Up!

Post by BitBullDotCom » Thu Nov 28, 2019 11:42 am

Yes, Jetboard Joust can now be wishlisted on Steam here. Your support is much appreciated, even if you don’t end up buying it each wishlist helps - as does tagging!

I’m getting rather behind on this devlog again and wanted to write something about the process of getting the Steam page up. Even if it’s not strictly ‘development’ per se, it’s an important part of the process and took me some time.

I started off by reading this excellent Reddit post on how to create a kick-ass Steam page. Lots of useful info there and I kept referring back to this throughout the process. I also spent quite some time looking at the pages of other games, especially those that are also in the same general genre (fast-paced pixelart SHMUP) such as Nuclear Throne and Enter The Gungeon.

The bulk of the work, of course, is creating image assets. I decided to do this using the in-game art rather than trying to illustrate the game in some other fashion. This was a decision largely borne out of necessity (it would have taken me ages to produce quality vector illustrations), but I also felt a pixel art approach would more accurately convey the spirit of the game. If I couldn’t get it to work with pixel art I’d try another method, maybe even commission someone else.

I started off working on rough layouts using art cut-and-pasted from the trailer just to see if what I wanted to do was going to be achievable. I knew I’d need to use at least one of the boss sprites as they were the only ones likely to have the necessary impact without being blown up a ridiculous amount. I settled on the ‘stinger’ boss as it seemed to work well within the proportions of the various steam ‘capsules’, the other bosses actually proved to be too large and complex.

When I had a layout I was happy with I built a much cleaner final version using art taken from the original sprite sheets.

A huge part of the game’s personality though is the particle and shader effects and without these my capsule images were looking rather static and boring. As these are all semi-transparent in-game and overlap other elements it was impossible to cut-and-paste them from gameplay footage and would have been extremely laborious to recreate them ‘manually’ in Photoshop. Consequently I was a bit stuck as to how to convey these in a static context.

After much head-scratching I came up with the idea of doing a pure black-and white palette for the game. I could then make only the particle and shader fx visible, capture these as gameplay footage, import them in to Photoshop as an alpha channel, position where I saw fit and apply colors and blending. This method, with a bit of post-editing, worked really well and, I think, enabled me to communicate the feel of the game pretty well in a static context without a lot of laborious Photoshop work. It was also extremely useful when it came to mocking up / embellishing screenshots.

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For the screenshots I also used a ‘green-screening’ technique whereby everything but key sprites are rendered in green making cut-and-paste from gameplay footage extremely easy.

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Annoyingly the ‘angled’ logo I use in-game just didn’t work within the proportions of the Steam Capsule images, particularly the smaller ones, and its proportions meant it was either too big or too small when blown up in the exact multiples necessary to maintain the pixel integrity. Consequently I had to recreate a purely horizontal version of the logo which I did in illustrator and pasted into Photoshop as vectors. I think a ‘pure’ pixelart version would possibly have looked better but I’m not sure it would have justified the amount of time needed to do it, particularly given the differing size requirements.

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Then there was also the text to write, a myriad of forms to fill in, emails to write to try and generate some publicity, tags to add and a press page to create. I was pretty much losing the will to live by the end of it (not the first time I’ve said that on this project) but it’s done now. Check out the final result here.

Dev Time: 6 days (including other marketing)
Total Dev Time: approx 306 days
====

James Closs, Director & Wielder of Code, BitBull Ltd

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Re: Jetboard Joust: Next-Generation Retro Arcade SHMUP - Steam Page Now Up!

Post by BitBullDotCom » Wed Dec 04, 2019 8:35 am

The final major thing I wanted to do before releasing the beta (other than going back to the PC port) was implement multiple save ‘slots’ per game. It’s surprising how few games bother with this now but for me, it’s essential. Not only does it provide a loving nod back to the days of 8bit consoles, it allows the player to mess around with different upgrade paths and/or multiple members of the same family to maintain their own save state.

It’s not really a technical challenge either. What’s time consuming, as with most functionality of this nature, is designing and implementing the UI.

Fortunately I was able to cheat by recycling 90% of the UI for the upgrades screen (which I’d implemented in a pretty flexible manner to allow for different numbers of stats per weapon). This saved me a ton of time and allowed me to romp through this task pretty quickly.

The only real change I made from a UI perspective was the positioning of the ‘jetsuit’ and ‘jetboard’ icons. I also though the jetsuit looked a little static without any kind of animation so I implemented a few simple idle anims to bring things to life a bit.

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On MacOS I have shifted location of the save files to ~/Library/Application Support rather than the default C# IsolatedStorage directory. This makes more sense and, crucially, means save files are preserved between builds (I wouldn’t be able to test it otherwise). As I’m using JSON for the save data I’ve also implemented a very simple encryption algorithm to obfuscate the files, it’s now now longer a trivial business for users to edit the file to change upgrade levels etc!

The game saves at the end of every level and at other key points, such as losing a life and upgrading a weapon – not every time the user picks up a coin or something. Consequently progress will be lost if the user quits in the middle of a level but I don’t think this matters – the end of the level is effectively the ‘save point’.

Testing seems to have gone relatively smoothly so far but I’m continuing to test as I do my final round of pre-beta playtesting.

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Wishlist Jetboard Joust here, and view the trailer here, sign up for the beta here.

Dev Time: 2 days
Total Dev Time: approx 308 days
====

James Closs, Director & Wielder of Code, BitBull Ltd

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Please wishlist Jetboard Joust on Steam

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Re: Jetboard Joust: Next-Generation Retro Arcade SHMUP - Steam Page Now Up!

Post by BitBullDotCom » Thu Dec 19, 2019 5:29 pm

The last couple of weeks have been taken up with what seems like an endless round of playtesting, bugfixing, and making minor improvements. It’s the first time I’ve really played the game through from scratch, gradually upgrading a character and progressing through the various worlds in an attempt to see how much time, and how difficult it is, to complete the game.

I made it to just before the second-to-last boss before realising I had to implement major changes to the cost/benefit ratio of the weapon upgrade system in order to get things to scale properly across the game. So now it’s back to square one for another go (groan). It took me around 11.5hrs of gameplay to get this far so I reckon there’s at least 15hrs worth in the game in total.

Every time I come across a bug (no matter how minor), or something that I just find frustrating in the overall experience, I log it in Trello to fix later. There’s been too many minor improvements to list here so I’ll just go over some of the key ones…

Abduction Warnings
There is now an indicator to show where the closest abduction is relative to the player. What became clear to me during playtesting is how vital it is to unlock teleports at the end of each level in order to enable free travel throughout the various worlds. As you unlock teleports by completing a level without having had any of your babies abducted, warnings as to when and where abductions are occurring are key. I may also add some kind of audio indicator as well, like a siren or something.

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Map Improvements
Rather than show every upgradeable item with the same icon the map now differentiates between new weapons, weapon upgrades and (valuable) jetboard/jetsuit upgrades. This make it less likely that the player will get frustrated chasing items that are less important. The map now also shows the location of the jetsuit (akin to the bloodstain in Dark Souls) which makes it easier for them to retrieve any cash they may have lost on their previous game.

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Weapon Warnings
It was too annoying when enemies armed with powerful weapons such as the RPG or grenade launcher ‘one shotted’ the player pretty much as soon as they appeared onscreen so I’ve implemented a configurable delay for certain weapon types. The first time an enemy appear on screen there’s a delay set before they can fire so the player has adequate warning that that weapon is ‘in play’. A separate (shorter) delay time can also be set for each subsequent time the same weapon appears on screen.

Explosive Weapon Limits
I have limited the player to one explosive weapon per level, some levels offered up multiple explosive weapons which pretty much made the player invincible. The was fun, but didn’t really do much for the gameplay.

Rocket Recharge Limits
I have stopped the meter that indicates when a new rocket will be awarded (for the jetboard attack) from filling up if the player’s rockets are maxxed out. It seemed a bit too easy that a new rocket pickup would get dropped almost as soon as the player used the jetboard attack.

Combo Restrictions
I have limited the cash ‘combo’ multiplier at x5 as it was ratcheting up massive combos which could dish out a huge amount of cash and throw off the upgrades system.

Upgrade Tweaks
I have implemented an algorithmic system for allocating weapon upgrade costs that takes into account the maximum amount of cash that can be earned on the level when the weapon is unlocked, and the estimated amount of levels before the weapon is maxxed out. For weapons that are unlocked earlier on in the game I have allocated more upgrade levels so that they can be upgraded regularly early on but also continue to be upgraded throughout the game and dish out enough to damage to be effective in the later levels. This is proving to be one of the hardest things to balance.

Restrict Level Exit
It was too annoying to accidentally teleport out of a level when you were in the middle of a boss fight. Consequently I’ve made it so that, once a treasure chamber has been activated, you can’t exit the level until either the boss(es) have been defeated and the treasure retrieved, or you’ve lost a life.

There have been numerous bugfixes as well, and other minor improvements. I’ve also made some very significant improvements to the way I calculate explosive damage but that’s going to be the subject of a post in its own right…

Added some recoil to the antimatter gun as it was too overpowered...

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Improved the way 'sticky' explosives stick to rotating targets...

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Dev Time: 8 days
Total Dev Time: approx 316 days

Wishlist on Steam here | View the trailer here | Sign up for the beta here
====

James Closs, Director & Wielder of Code, BitBull Ltd

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Please wishlist Jetboard Joust on Steam

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Re: Jetboard Joust: Next-Generation Retro Arcade SHMUP - Steam Page Now Up!

Post by BitBullDotCom » Mon Jan 13, 2020 10:28 am

Check out Jetboard Joust on Steam here. View the full trailer here.

During my recent intensive playtesting sessions playtesting I’ve become a bit concerned that there’s not enough variety in the earlier levels of Jetboard Joust.

Originally I’d paced things so that either a new weapon or a new enemy is introduced at least every other level. This is fine once you’ve made a bit of progress through the game (as it has all the weapons/enemies from the previous levels to draw on for variety) but earlier on it just felt like I was facing the same old enemies too much, even if they were armed with new weapons.

So I’ve decided to bite the bullet and create a new enemy per level for at least every level until you meet the first boss. As these enemies appear early on in the game they don’t need to be too elaborate, but as engagement in the first stages is key I thought it was worth the extra effort.

This means a total of five new enemies, I’ll cover the three simplest ones in this post as the two slightly more complex ones in the next devlog.

The first two are both jetboarding enemies. Jetboarding enemies are the easiest to add as they all work from basically the same AI, I just have to tweak certain values and maybe add a couple of specialist behaviours for variety. I wanted these ones to have a ‘gang’ type behaviour so I designate one enemy from each group as a ‘leader’ and have the others position themselves around the leader until they get within a certain distance of the player (in which case it’s pretty much every man for himself). Both enemies follow this pattern, though one type will abduct/mutate whereas the other attacks more aggressively.

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The enemy on the left is supposed to be wearing a kind of gas mask / backpack type arrangement. This was bloody hard to get right in so few pixels and I’m still not convinced to be honest. Someone on r/pixelart said it looked like a racoon and now I can’t unsee that! It looks better in some palettes.

The other enemy I’ve christened the ‘swarmer’. As you can guess from the name, it attacks in large batches! For the attack pattern I generate a virtual circle around the player and set an ideal position for each enemy on a point on that circle. The enemy tracks to this ideal position rather than directly onto the player, as I rotate each ideal position this means that the enemies circle the player when they get close enough.

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The swarmer also has a more aggressive ‘ram attack’ where it propels itself towards the player at high velocity. To make sure that not too many swarmers are doing this at once I maintain a virtual ‘baton’ which is passed from one enemy to another, only the enemy that possesses this ‘baton’ can carry out the attack. I can vary the amount of batons per group to increase difficulty.

Whilst testing on large groups of this enemy I found that gameplay tended to get a bit unbalanced, with all enemies lumped on one side of the player. To avoid this I’ve implemented a ‘split’ AI whereby, if things do get too ‘one sided’, a bunch of enemies will split off in the ‘wrong’ direction to wrap round the game world and attack the player from the other side in a pincer movement! You can see this in action in the video. This mechanic seems to work well so I’ve applied it to a few of the other ‘swarm’ type enemies as well.

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Dev Time: 4 days
Total Dev Time: approx 320 days
====

James Closs, Director & Wielder of Code, BitBull Ltd

http://www.bitbull.com
Please wishlist Jetboard Joust on Steam

@BitBullDotCom

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