Zylatov Sisters Process and Progress

Oct 31, 2011

Everyone manages their project teams differently, and works on parts in their own preferred order. I’d like to briefly share a window here into the first month of updates on one of our ongoing projects, in case it may any strategies or ideas of interest to others.

This semester in Georgia Tech VGDev (link to past games) I’m leading Zylatov Sisters. It’s a fast-action game with 8-bit production values. The core gameplay is inspired partly by Super Crate Box (one of my favorite recent games, plus it’s free for Mac/Windows so you should play it) and partly by Bubble Bobble (my favorite game from childhood).

Foundation (Flixel Tutorial)

Since this was my first full project to be done using Flixel, I began by following the EZPlatformer tutorial at FlashGameDojo. That gave me a foundation like this (use spacebar to jump, arrows to run).

Week 1: Basics

I created Zylatov Sisters Week 1 Build (playable – space shoots, arrows run, up arrow jumps) by making the following changes to the tutorial platformer:

  • Animated player sprite. I drew and animated it using DotTouch for iPad, which took quite a bit of experimentation since the app is cryptic and lacks English documentation.
  • Wrapping, so that falling off the bottom brings the player to the top.
  • Support for two styles of auto-tiles.
  • Ability to place characters and items directly in the level grid.
  • Basic AI characters. They look and function like the player character, but behave randomly.
  • Three gun types: shotgun, machine gun, rifle.
  • Item crates. Pick up crates to cycle to the next gun in order – which is definitely not the intended functionality, but it sufficed for now.
  • Shells that eject when firing.
  • Kickback when firing.

When I pitched the game to VGDev, I explained that there are two types of position openings on the team:

  1. Technical Designers – responsible for making at least one level (including their own layout, background image, and tile art), coming up with one enemy idea (plus the sprite for it), and one weapon idea. I take care of the programming for their enemies and weapons.
  2. Audio – creating 8-bit-style music or sound effects for the game.

I planned the project to scale easily for however many volunteers we had, whether that was 2 or 10. We wound up with 5 people that have helped as Technical Designers, and 3 that have helped with Audio. One especially versatile VGDev member joined to fill both roles.

I gave this Week 1 update (presentation slides PDF) at the next VGDev general body meeting to inform peers on other projects of our progress. That build also included a feature that, when the game was played locally in the standalone Flash player, allowed level designers on the team to load/preview their custom maps in-game. Designers on the team that week sent me suggestions for weapon types that we could have in our game, and I spent the next week making them. Designers also sent me their first level layout files.

Week 2: Guns and Levels

The Zylatov Sisters Week 2 Build (playable) introduced these changes:

  • Custom background and tiles, the first of many to come, made by one of our designers that was getting ahead of schedule.
  • Multiple levels – press keys 1-6 (above QWERTY, not on the number pad) to load each of the saved levels.
  • All guns implemented according to designer specifications – press letter keys in the top row of the keyboard (QWERTYUIOP) to switch between guns.

Weapons Guide
Q – Shotgun: Gun player starts with. Short range.
W – Machinegun: Medium range, rapid fire, fully auto, very good
E – Quantum: Long range, randomly toggles between 3 fire modes (direct, split, delayed split)
R – Shield: Temporarily halts player in midair; enemies that bump into the bubble will be frozen for awhile
T – Laser: Medium range, fires through walls and through targets, medium-long reload
Y – StickyBomb: Fires a time delayed explosive. If it hits an enemy, it attaches to them.
U – Freeze Beam: Temporarily halts enemies touched by it. Fully automatic.
I – Brushback: Pushes back live enemies. Removes dead enemy bodies.
O – Hack: Changes an enemy to fight on the player’s side, until it dies. Immune to player attacks, except for explosions.
P – Corroder: Diseases enemies on contact, which then spread the disease upon contact, and die shortly thereafter.

I delivered this Week 2 update (presentation slides PDF) to communicate our progress with the rest of the club, in addition to showing the latest build. Designers on the team provided descriptions of enemies for me to build, and each gave a simple sprite illustrating how they wanted their enemies to look. I also asked designers to decide on a setting for their level(s). Audio contributors sent sound effects and music my way to be included in the next version.

Week 3: Enemies, Audio, and Art

For Zylatov Sisters Week 3 Build (playable) I did not have any update presentation, I just demonstrated the latest gameplay since so many of the changes were surface-level:

  • Jump height varies based on how long the up arrow is held.
  • Music and sound effects integrated.
  • Includes custom tile art and backgrounds from designers on the team.
  • All enemy types implemented according to designer specifications – they spawn in randomly in most levels since the related code changes came on right before meeting, but Level Key 8 shows that specific ones can be placed deliberately.
  • Updated levels. Press keys 1-8 (above QWERTY, not on the number pad) to load each of the levels. Level 8 (the start level) is just my demonstration of placing specific enemies by type.
  • Labeled weapon crates. Now crates randomly spawn into the pre-defined locations, one at a time, lasting for a short timer that makes them vanish if ignored. Color coded letters on the crates – non-obvious labels but easily learnable and recognizable – hint at which weapon each contains.

Enemy Guide
MimicDroid – A robotic version of the player, capable of using any gun used by the player.
ElectroMedusa – Flies back and forward while gliding in a smooth sine wave, destroying the player on contact.
Bomber – Paces around laying stationary timed bombs that have an area effect.
Leaper – Hops about, pausing between leaps. Defeats the player on contact.
RepairBot – Floats, firing down electrical charges at random. The zaps kill the player instantly, but if they hit a downed enemy then the enemy will be brought back to life.
MagnaBot – Pulls itself upward toward the ceiling, sliding around and hopping with inverted gravity. Defeats the player on contact.

Week 4: Lives, Co-Op, and Basic Scoring

The Zylatov Sisters Week 4 Build (playable – use YU keys the cheat change P1 gun, HJ keys to cheat change P2 gun) is the latest version at the time of this writing, with the following updates:

  • Death frames for all enemies. In the previous build, as placeholder behavior the enemies just toggled to color inversion versions when defeated.
  • Co-Op: 9 key toggles two players made. If in two player Enter shoots for P1 instead of Space, and Tab shoots for WASD Player 2.
  • Lives and respawning. In co-op, lives are shared between players.
  • A couple of new tilesets.
  • Bumping into any enemy type now kills the player. In the Week 3 version, enemies with projectiles (RepairBot, MimicDroid, and Bomber) could be safely bumped into, but this inconsistency lead to unfair surprises when touching those enemies that attack instantly on contact.
  • Levels redesigned to specify the placement of particular enemies, rather than having spots for randomly chosen enemies to start.
  • Brief invulnerability upon player spawn.
  • Shot ownership. This removes most types of friendly fire (i.e. explosives no longer indiscriminately kill the enemies or players that laid them), and is also useful for scoring since I needed to be able to tell which player was responsible for various kills. This is a bit less straightforward than it seems, since several of the attacks are indirect and require transitivity, like the spreading poison from the Corroder or the delayed explosion of the StickyBomb.

Week 4 update (presentation slides PDF) communicated these latest changes, as well as our team’s upcoming todo goals, to the club last Friday.

Deadline: Dec 2011

We’ll be done with the project this semester. As I emphasized in Establishing a Videogame Development Club back in 2009, we found in Carnegie Mellon’s Game Creation Society that there are a lot of benefits to closing out projects the same semester that they start.

The next update about Zylatov Sisters on HobbyGameDev, a month or two from now, will be when our game is completed.

Thanks for reading!

[Update: Zylatov Sisters is now done! Read a bit more about it here, or give it a try!]

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