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Guard Duty: A Development Retrospective - Dev Diary #1 - A look back at Guard Duty's development and how the game has evolved since 2003.

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*Archived content originally posted to tumblr in 2015

Guard Duty: A Development Retrospective - Dev Diary #1

Art direction and the history of Guard Duty


aka ‘omg all my other backgrounds look rubbish now, time to redraw them’

Howdy! Welcome to the first devlog from us here at Sick Chicken Studios. This one focuses on art direction and the struggles that come with being an aspiring (and unpaid) artist, so on that note i’m going to take the reins.

Hey, i’m Nath (second intro! (⌐■_■) ) I’ve been working on Guard Duty, on and off since 2003. Yup, tooo long. I was 15 at the time and super excited to release a game with this cool underground game making tool i’d found online (AGS, represent).

I’d dabbled with a whole bunch of ambitious idea in the years prior to this and my pixel art was at a somewhat presentable level, so I went ahead and started pixelin’. It took a while to land on something I was comfortable with, I’d spent a lot of time trying to nail this simplistic style with only a few colours that still looked really clean and trendy. Mostly because I was obsessed with the AGS game Permanent Daylight by 2ma2, it was a big inspiration to me, kinda like a cheatsheet. I thought to myself 'this is it, this is what I need to make, I need this style of outline, this shading, about six or seven rooms and i’ll have an awesome game!’.

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Permanent Daylight by 2ma2 - dem pixels!


I was going to make my own story, setting and puzzles but Permanent Daylight was a really polished game and it showed me that you didn’t have to make something super ambitious to make it enjoyable.

That was all well and good, but this is where a pattern of habit started, one I still suffer with today (edgy!). It was about 6 months into trying to make this game 'Guard Duty’ that I hit the first hurdle, I had a long street background and a pub,medieval themed and not looking half bad. I’d drawn up a character and iirc, a few of the pub patrons.

I’d started dabbling in swapping pc hardware at the time and somehow managed to kill a Hard Drive, this was at a time where as far as I knew, hard drive data recovery wasn’t even allowed outside of the FBI. So I sucked it up and took this opportunity to start fresh on a different project, different name and story - something even more awesome!

That new project lasted a couple of months, but nothing was really working and I already had a story line planned out for Guard Duty.

So it started. I went back to Guard Duty.

Maybe 6 months later and I have 5 or so backgrounds, with three you can walk around and two for an intro.

So I present to thee, Guard Duty V2:

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It wasn’t half bad, and you could drop items wherever you wanted!

Disclaimer: I’m fairly sure I had a LOT of help getting that to work from the folks on the AGS forums, i’m a terrible coder. I was happy with the art style and I was pretty well set into making my first game, but alas, things happened in real life and I got a bit distracted.

So time went on, I got drunk a lot, did teenager-y things. Then in 2005 I decided that Guard Duty needed to come back! With a BADASS SUBTITLE!

Note: This was a terrible idea. Just, terrible.

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Oh god. Is that a… refrigerator? …and I’m pretty sure that’s just a hooker wearing a wizard’s hat.

Guard Duty: Wizzards (heh), Witches and Zombies. Yup, totally did the 'add zombies to your game for instant trendy market appeal’ thing before it was cool.

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This is pretty embarrassing. It’s worse than when they did that HD remake of SoMI.

Discworld: Missing Presumed is one of my favorite adventure games and once I got my hands on a scanner I realised I could do something that 'kinda’ looked like Discworld… right?

Not really. This was also shaming all the work I had put into trying to replicate the clean style seen in Permanent Daylight, so after a few months working on this, again I gave up. Now you see the habit forming.

For a while I decided Guard Duty was dead, that I wasn’t going to revisit the idea ever again. It was cursed or something. I tried working with a team on a few competitions but being an unreliable mid-teenager, I was ambitious but never realistic.

Jump to 2009, King of Pop Michael Jackson dies three days after my birthday and I decide to relapse. That is, revisit Guard Duty! (hurrah!) I was older now, more edgy. This meant that Guard Duty was too.

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There’s an elephant in the room.

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Heh.

This is where I hit a big milestone, I had started to grasp the elements which make up a good composition and I was quickly learning how to implement them. This was great for me, it meant that I could revisit any of the backgrounds later on and spruce them up with detail, but still being able to continue work on the game. No more restarts, just reworkings. I learnt that if the composition was solid, it didn’t matter if the detail was low or messy.

I got to the point where I had about 7 locations with a couple of puzzles and five characters running and playable and I then realised the importance of fabled 'game design document’. 'Pah, I don’t need one of them. My game’s short, I just need to do the art, then the puzzles and characters will fit right into the world!’

Nope, turns out having a plan for your game -before- making all the art is something you should definitely do. At least, for an adventure game where the puzzles and story are first and foremost.

I’d made a puzzle in the pub because I thought it was cool, but I had no idea how it was going to add to the endgame, I didn’t know what the endgame was.

So again, I hit a hurdle, struggled with it for a few months and eventually the game went on the backburner.

I took a break from making games, worked on my art skills a bunch and took a liking to film making. It was a LOT quicker to make something go from an idea to a short film. I wen’t to uni and studied Digital Arts, and there learnt skills in videography.

I think in the long term, this was the point where I learnt how to stick with a creative project through to the end. I’d made a couple music videos, a handful of short films and written a whole bunch of scripts.

I needed something to sink some time into, I like to keep busy so hey, why not, one last shot. So with my years of err, wisdom. I decided to try my hardest to do things right this time. I wrote out a design document, decided on key story arcs using a somewhat bastardised version of the 'hero’s journey’ (a storytelling technique often used in film making).

After I had a decent enough plan, I started work on the art. Here’s where the importance of the initial background composition comes into play. A lot of people use 'programmer art’ which is a basic sketch of the layout of the room, normally limited to black and white. This is used so the programmer can continue and implement elements of the game without having the wait for the artist. I find this approach a bit boring, art being my 'thing’, so i found a middle ground.

Take this background for example, Tondbert’s bedroom:

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The background initially started as this, just the essentials. It was functional and gave me a good feel for the room.

Now as the game has developed and puzzle elements have come into play the background now looks like this:

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The foundation was there to add all the tiny elements that make up an interesting scene.

It’s worth noting that didn’t happen overnight. 3 years have passed between these two screenshots and I’ve learnt a fair but about colour balance detailing in that time.

After about a year and a half of development (on and off, in my spare time) I decided that the struggle of my ego was over, I suck at programming and someone else could do a much better job and much faster.

It just so happened that I had the perfect man for the job, my good friend and old school (literally) game making buddy, Andy, now lead programmer. Andy helped a lot by setting up a Trello project board for us to work from (amazing thing that organised people use) it’s a pinboard where you can put tasks and add checklists and notes and stuff. We make a card for each room, have a list of the assets needed and a list of all coding tasks. It’s kinda like a race, except you’re playing leapfrog. I make a bunch of sprites, Andy implements them, meanwhile i’m making the next bunch of sprites, Andy is already waiting because he is super fast, Andy implements them. Before you know it, you’ve completed that card. Fun! Organised fun!

However, we both work full time, so it takes me ages to get some lists finished, but it’s even more rewarding when it happens. On the plus side, we’re independent. Two guys making a game, so we don’t really have any time constraints. The game will be released when it’s ready, whenever that is :)

So that’s it really, a look into how Guard Duty has grown to be the game it is today. We’re still a long way off finishing this, but we’re both way to deep to turn back now.

Thanks for reading my pixel life story, until next time.

Nath

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