Dev Log Entry 15: Lets done creativity much

This is a dev log about creating a game called Newtius in GameMaker Studio 2 (Indie edition). Starting with entry one might make this easier to follow.

In entry 14 I went through a different playlist tutorial game called little town. Well mostly I highlighted what I thought were some clever approaches to some code included. Though that game looks quite simple there are some good lessons to learn from how it’s put together (and it is a simple game).

I actually took a week off from GameMaker entirely. There wasn’t really a reason. And I don’t even like the game I was playing instead of working in GMS2. (It’s called Windbound and it’s a buggy a mess of a thing.)

If you’re wondering about the brilliant title of this post it’s called creativity.


Introduction

I’ve decided to do something a little different for this post: instead of little town or Newtius or even code discussion, I wanted to try and do some brainstorming on ideas for a completely different game I’m expecting release in…2035 or so. Given my current pace of progress that seems about it right.

Sometimes I just have to get everything out in whatever form before they disappear.

This hypothetical game draws from (at least) three separate sources of inspiration:

  • The B-Movie: a movie from the 90s featuring cyborgs. Both really bad and hilarious. Imagine if there was a licensed game based on the movie released on the NES/SNES.
  • The ’80s-inspired game: the recent re-release of Blood Dragon, as FarCry 3 Blood dragon: Classic Edition, brought back memories of wanting to create a loosely inspired “de-make” version of it (again imagine a NES/SNES era version).
  • An unspecified podcast: the original ideas for a game inspired by this podcast has been pulled back a bit to some basic plot elements, character names and possibly the title of the game. That’s about it. It’s my favorite podcast I’ve been listen to for nearly ten years.

The B-Movie

I had an idea for a game in 2006 or so…something like that…it would basically be an imagining of an 8-bit NES game based on a really bad B-movie called Knights. I found this movie randomly around 2003, recorded it from a cable box over RCA video out into a primitive video capture card and isolated some clips out of it. I’ll think about that movie every so often (I’ll just say I was the first to upload clips of it to YouTube thank you very much).

Here’s the trailer of the movie to give you an idea:

Trailer for “Knights” (1993)

Actually in 2020 I bought the VHS of the movie (since it’s not on DVD) and also borrowed a VCR (since who has one of those?) and started trying to capture the whole thing so I could make my own custom DVD with menus. Problem is my VCR was mono. That project kind of stalled out. And that’s kind of a digression. I did capture of bunch of clips and put them on Imgur, though.

Anyway, here are a few scenes to give you an idea of why I would want to make a game loosely based on the characters and events depicted in the movie.

The sound effects, the music, the obvious over-dub inserted in post-production. Just something about it.

See this is why I like Simon more than Gabe: Ah! Damn!!

Well I could go on further with my clips but that’s what the Imgur page is for.


The plot of Knights is relatively simple: in the not-too-distant post-apocalyptic future, the uh cyborg vampires are on a mission to round up a population of humans on their way to the city of Taos. The cyborgs are able to live indefinitely off of only human blood via retractable needles in their hands. That’s pretty much it. Get to Taos. Which turns out to be some sage brush with some a clothing draped over it. Ya, “city” (the movie doesn’t have closed captions so I’m guessing on some this spelling).

Along the way one of the underling cyborgs – Simon – comes across a different kind of cyborg – Gabriel. After a very high production and not at all stuntman oriented acrobatic sword fight Gabe kills Simon in spectacular fashion. Gabe then allies with a character Simon was harassing named Neha and the two travel together. Gabe’s mission is to kill all the vampire cyborgs. Well it’s a lot simpler than I make it sound.

This background summary is necessary, just go with it.

This movie has some strangeness in it: Gabe disappears part way though the movie but manages to come back in the end, albeit missing his bottom half so Neha straps Gabe’s upper torso on to her back. So she’s fighting people in one direction of the upper half of Gabe is fighting people on her back. Well it might have been a little person strapped to her back. Did I mention it’s a B-movie?


The Blood Dragon “de-make”

I actually did a review of the game Farcry: Blood Dragon for this blog a few years ago. Just at random because I had positive memories of it and wanted to replay it. Little did a know Farcry: Blood Dragon classic edition was slated for release in late 2021. Even though I already had the Windows version, I purchased the Classic Edition for PS4 and replayed it – again. Actually I replayed several more times since then, too. There are still parts that amuse me and make me laugh even though I’ve seen them so many times.

Replaying this game reminded me of another idea I had along time ago: a “de-make” of Farcry: Blood Dragon. I mean making a pixelated seemingly 8-bit version of Farcry: Blood Dragon with some highly down sampled/midi version of the music and sound effects.

For good or not, Farcry: Blood Dragon plot is little vague on details as well as background information.

The main character is named Rex “Power” Colt – classic ’80s movie action name – and he’s assigned alongside a partner – Spider – to stop of a rogue general and his army of…cyborg commandos…from doing whatever it is they’re trying to do before it’s too late and by any means necessary.

There are some random background details sprinkled in throughout the game: Canada was nuked to prevent a Russian invasion, there was a thing called Vietnam War 2, something happened to Rex before the start of the game that required rebuilding him from scratch (like RoboCop or…Mass Effect 2 although that’s probably not a direct inspiration) and Rex had apparently worked with his partner Spider on previous missions. They both had previously served under the main villain of the game, General Sloan. Spider mentions something about “that thing in South America” which I assume is a reference to the movie Predator. Actually there’s a number of references to Predator, Terminator, Commando and a few other movies. Maybe that could open the door to alien enemies.

So there’s a lot of openings here. Not necessarily the exact plot and time line of Blood Dragon but maybe something highly inspired by it.

The basic “game loop” of Blood Dragon is liberate the garrisons on the map to unlock store items that enhance weapons and also provide side mission. Rinse and repeat as needed. There’s also the relatively small number of story missions to get through in order to finish the actual game.

The third thing: this space intentionally left blank

There was a third idea I had: it’d be loosely “based” on one of my favorite podcasts. At the time I first thought of this idea there was a lot of discussion on this podcast about “universe A” and “universe B”. This would also be something of an 8-bit era pixel game.

And since this podcast has lot of hilarious tropes and memes of its own – such as extended an song about hating ants – I was going to try and implement details such as these.

As far as I got with this idea was using some sound effects, implement the song about ants along with a flame thrower and a few other references like NPC names, places and possibly the most important aspect: the universes. Also the title of the game would be a obscure reference for long time listeners.

I was brainstorming on this in 2015 or so and I kept thinking about a game having to implement ideas and powers from the two universes in order to successfully get everything needed to finish the game. It was going to be a metaphor about becoming a complete person by seeing grey areas and using strengths of all sides without necessarily embracing or endorsing those sides.

If it’s not clear I’m being ambiguous about what I’m talking about on purpose.

After laying out this idea of making the player take positives from two separate universes and making the only way to complete the game by combining these things I realized something important: I’m basically describing the series finale of Star Trek: The next generation.

Okay, let me summarize (sorry). In the final episode of Star Trek: The next generation, Captain Picard is told by long time “frenemy” character Q that a space anomaly has opened up that will threaten to destroy the universe. Or something. It’s been a while. The point being that through this plot device Picard jumps back forth through time, inhabiting versions of himself from the past – the pilot episode of Star Trek: The next generation, the future – multiple decades into the future – and the present which is after seven years of serving as captain of the USS Enterprise.

The anomaly is experiencing time in a different way: it started smaller in the future and seems to growing larger going back in time. The omnipotent character Q has to demonstrate but not directly tell Picard how to resolve this issue.

At the start of the episode Picard is disoriented by the time period hopping and clueless about the anomaly itself but by the end his mind has opened up enough he’s actually anticipating the time period jumps and is completely on board with exactly what must be done in the three time periods to prevent this anomaly from destroying the universe (or whatever, does it matter?).

So my game idea main plot (which I thought of without realizing the similarities to the TNG episode) would revolve around very gradually implementing ideas and solutions from both universes over the course of the game such that by the end the player is using those solutions without even thinking about it. As naturally as Picard delivers lines and orders in the three time periods, the player is picking and choosing elements from the different universes to overcome the obstacles provided in the game.

Such writing and game design I think is beyond my (current?) skill level, of course. At least to the degree that’s in my head. But it seems like some version of this idea could be implemented.

This podcast idea never really got off the ground beyond a vague idea for a few reasons. The most obvious being games usually revolve around some form of combat or conflict. But beyond songs about killing ants with flamethrowers there isn’t really any sort of conflict or combat from the podcast. It’s not like AVGN. It’s just a lot of talking about stuff with some cool songs and sound effects. So unless I wanted to make a Myst-style point and click game that revolves entirely around dialog (I don’t) there weren’t a lot of options.

Bring it all together?

At some point I also thought perhaps instead of multiple games all three games idea could be combined into a single game.

All three ideas already had the decision around being an 8-bit throwback. All three always had that in common.

Luckily two out of the three ideas do involve conflict and combat.

Both the Gabe and Simon are really great characters from Knights. And by coincidence that movie has cyborgs as does Blood Dragon.

So the idea would be to combine the two ideas: character names, locations and plot points from Knights along side some sort giant creature that kills enemy NPCs and player characters a like on an island with some garrisons and an over-the-top 80s action B-movie plotline and dialog.

Well my thoughts around the de-make of Blood Dragon at one time centered on making it something of a prequal and centered around the character of Spider. Perhaps it ends with newly minted Mark IV cyber-commando Spider meeting up with also Mark IV Rex “Power” Colt for a mission. Launching into the start of Blood Dragon in other words.

And since both Spider and Simon wear masks over the bottom half of their faces it seems like an obvious track to take. Easier to draw and animate too.

I’m kind of combining game design ideas with story plot ideas here. But the two can’t really be that separated. The design has to be derived on some level from the plot.

Choosing a Genre

I actually went back and forth on what exactly I wanted I wanted for this game to look like and be.

I decided since my original podcast idea I probably wanted it to be relatively accessible to wide audience since my fellow fans of the podcast may not be actual gamers. And I had already decided on the 8-bit sort of look. Probably as few action buttons as possible (four or fewer I would hope).

From there there are three choices:

  • 2D side-scroller, like Shovel Knight, Super Meatboy, Castlevania…you get the idea
  • 2D side-scroller but with some vertical space, like Double dragon, Streets of Rage etc
  • 3/4 perspective “open” map, like Legend of Zelda or Bit Dungeon II or the 8-bit version of Metal Gear (or UnMetal) or…Undertale…

My only hesitation from the 3/4 perspective idea was worrying about whether I could figure out something so seemingly complex.

But – I’ll skip the end here – after going through many, many videos making Little Town in GMS2 I don’t think it would actually be that complicated. Well it will be complex. Just not necessarily grossly overly complex or more complex than the other two genre ideas. So I have decided to make it a 3/4 perspective “open” map.

My very preliminary ideas right now would be that the character starts on a limited sized map with maybe one garrison or other “thing” the player must get around to open the map up further. That’s probably what it would be: liberate some number of garrisons, get a specific weapon, solve a specific puzzle and beat the area boss to get to the next section of map. I just realized I’m sort of describing the form of a GTA-style game, aren’t I?

This is all hypothetical of course. But I want the pacing to be somewhat similar to Blood Dragon: stealth is an option but fast paced combat with lot of enemies is an option that’s there. Perhaps some kind of puzzle – I use the term loosely – to silently over take a garrison without combat, an option to burst in the front gates, and a third option. Like letting the hostile-to-NPC/player killer ants into a garrison to distract the enemies.

I was trying to think of how complicated this would be with the camera, the 3/4 perspective, a number of different weapons etc when I started looking at gameplay of 80-era games. That’s when I came across the game Commando from 1985 appropriately enough (see gameplay sample below).

Sample of the arcade version of “Commando” style play

I wouldn’t be trying to re-create something this fast paced and difficult. I was more studying the movement and how the player has guns as well as grenades ready for use.

This is when I realized that commando could be described as a “shoot em up”. I mean the player is constantly moving up vertically, there’s the dots for bullets and the enemies firing bullets at the player as he moves. Make the player a prop plane and the background starfield or blue ocean background and bam…that’s (arcade game) 1942 right there. That’s kind of a digression. But I’m keeping it anyway.

So not as fast and frantic as Commando but much faster paced that Metal Gear. Some where in between. An open map like Bit Dungeon II but with garrisons instead of dungeons.

The player can use an automatic gun, a pistol or a grenades and probably other weapon types against giant creatures. Perhaps earning a way towards the garrison at the end.

Perhaps the first map area the player is locked into requires getting through both a garrison and a boss. With that accomplished the player can choose from two or three different maps to go to first from there. Each one with a little different theme and it’s own boss and garrison to conquer. From those two or three maps more map sections are opened steadily increasing in difficulty.

The goal would be to reach the final map with the final garrison and final boss. But not all the maps would be required to get to the end. Maybe there’s hexagon shaped blocks with the player starting on the left side of the map and working through the maps towards the final map on the right. As long as the player gets to that final map on the right that map is unlocked even if there are more maps to complete. And hidden paths to jump forward in the map. Obviously.

I also had this random thought around cut scenes that involve incredibly bad looking “roto-scope” like that seen in certain movies of the late ’70s and ’80s. I think some animated kids shows did it as well. I had a specific style in mind though. That style being really bad looking rotoscope (see animated Lord of the Rings from 1979).

I was thinking about this but dismissing it until I came across two different things on almost the same day that made me think it might be possible: a video on a free web site/service called Plask and some software I found on steam that’s in early access called PixelOver.

I haven’t actually used either of these as I just found out about both of them.

Plask is a web site – apparently there are several others offering the same functionality – that takes in a video clip and using some kind of technobabble captures the motion of a figure in the clip and converts it to an equivalent animated 3D model.

While PixelOver..

…transform(s) your arts to pixel arts as best as possible, animate(d) in realtime with pixel perfect transformations, bones and key animation system.

PixelOver steam store description

In other words I could convert a short video clip to an animated 3D model and then export that animated 3D model into a pixel art including a sprite sheet. In theory. It might be something to try out.

I could probably achieve the same “bad rotoscope” effect using some kind of filter effect built into the cheap video editor I own. That wouldn’t help with the sprite sheet part. But the thing I’m describing is probably too many steps. It seems like that’d be a pretty big surprise to players though: simple sprite based game then all of a sudden cuts to a rotoscoped cut scene. Maybe the juxtaposition would be too great. Have to think about it.


Basic story ideas

Perhaps the main character – I’m not sure on a name yet – will be sent on a mission in South America to investigate captured intelligence about some kind top secret Soviet project. This project ends up involving radiation used to turn things like insects into giant monsters. This is where the flamethrower for killing giant ants might come in. There would probably be other creatures involved as well.

This would also be an easy source of an endless supply of enemies throughout the map.

Perhaps there would be a subtle reference in there for giant creatures that shoot lasers from their eyes and the experiment working especially well on reptiles. Maybe some wireframe art subtly hung in the background that looks like a dinosaur shooting lasers (out of its friggin’ eyes).

Maybe instead of garrisons it’s a series of labs the player has to shutdown one way or another. Either convert the players side to indirectly provide support and side missions as well as that many few enemies to deal with on a particular map.

Could be a very similar play loop to blood dragon: explore map, liberate/destroy labs, repeat. Maybe some labs liberated also inadvertently release new enemy types. And which labs those are and which enemies has some randomness to it.

At some point near the start of the game the idea of utilizing skills from side of two diametrically opposed sides. The more the player utilizes skills from both sides the easier the game is. I mean some kind of incentive. Don’t want to get to artsy or metaphorical. Just a subtle incentive.

Okay I might be running a little short on actual story line ideas. But it’s a good start.

Titles?

Originally I was trying to come up with alternative names for “blood” and “dragon”. Like “Plasma Drogon” or “Neon Basilisk”.

Well I’m still thinking about it. The code name at least I think will be Vinegar. I don’t know if that will be the final title. But it’s good starting point.


Reference links:


The latest version/progress of Newtius can always be found at my GitHub repo:
https://github.com/tildesarecool/newtius

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