Most of my time on the project, until fairly recently, has been focused on simply getting things to work and making things look decent. I was working towards getting enough enemies designed so I could start putting together a level with a sequence of enemy waves and formations. Once I finally got there, and after some feedback from the first demo, it became apparent that the player really had no motivation or reason to shoot any of the enemies other than to just, you know, shoot all the enemies. I’m a big Shmup fan, and as such rarely enjoy or pay attention to any stories, especially ones that interrupt the shooting, but this forced me to acknowledge that of course all Shmups need a story or framing narrative of some sort. So it was time to try and figure out mine.
The first breakthrough I had, after a long struggle with ideas, came when I started working with my friend Tom Pegg on the music and sound design. The concept for the game had always been that we were watching a drawn on film animation, so when the music was put in, I thought it’d be fun to play about with a slow down effect and a camera pull out to reveal the edges of the film when the game was paused…
This test reminded me of something that had always kind of been at the back of my mind, which was to have the ‘animator’ as the main antagonist, a hand drawing in all the annoying enemies and becoming the boss at the end of the first level. I had to think about how I wanted to implement this tho, as I didn’t really like the idea of just having a cut scene play out at the start of each level - I wanted to try to somehow convey it all through the title screen and the context of the menus leading up to the first level. So for the last couple of months I’ve been focusing mainly on menu design and implementation, which I really wasn’t expecting to happen!
If I wanted this ‘animator’ to be the baddie, it made sense that we should see the player character relaxing at first before being interrupted or bothered by them, so I got to work on a title screen, and then started playing around with camera zoom levels and positions for the various menu and option screens.
I was happy that I was finally getting to grips with my camera system at least! The next task was to get the paint brush directly antagonising the character somehow - I’m not totally settled on the order of events here, and I think it all needs to be a bit snappier, but this is as far as I am at the moment.
I still want to have some sort of transition to the first level where the brush actually paints in a couple of enemies before it starts, and I might swap the sequencing of the brush swiping across the screen with the ink drip, so it feels a bit more threatening and leads more naturally into the painting. I really like the title music when it slows down, it feels like a real interruption to the character’s nice sleepy vibe, and I plan to add more sound effects for the brush moving about as well, to help sell the idea more.
This focus on the menus has really helped to bring the game together I think, and it’s lead to some changes that were needed in the actual gameplay as well. Because the brush vandalises our character’s world, it gives the player some motivation to restore it back to it’s original peace and tranquility, which has helped me finally figure out one of the main mechanics in the game as well - the popping buttons. The instruction to the player at the very start now is “CLEAN THE REEL!” ( I’ve not settled on that language, but you get the idea), and when you ground pound onto the first button, you see the background transform to it’s original colour. The percentage of the background you manage to clean up is also going to be tied in to a score multiplier at the end of each level, so there’s hopefully an interesting balance to strike between maximising your score and managing your finite energy and health resources (which also come from the buttons).
In turn, this inky style in the background has lead to some of the enemies leaving behind an ink splat as they die, which can also be cleaned up by the button pops, and generally makes the level feel a lot more dynamic and interesting, I think. My latest bit of work has been to change the way the path enemies look and to introduce the animator’s brush into the game proper for the first time…
Overall, I’m pretty happy with how things are progressing, and pretty surprised that focusing this much on the menus would help so much. I’m hoping to have a full on new demo done by around about the end of February, hopefully including a boss fight, so please keep an eye out for that, and please let me know what you think of all this - all feedback is welcome.