Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hypershift Screens and Map Objects

Your first look at the game is today! Finally, I can show you some screenshots. Keep in mind that this is a very early alpha build (not yet playable) and the game may look a lot different than this when it's done. Most likely, though, it won't look that different.

This first pic is the campaign selection menu. First, you choose what difficulty you want to try. The options are Easy, Normal, Difficult, and Expert, and correspond to how many dimensions (from 2 to 5) are available for the entire campaign. More dimensions means more multitasking and keeping track of different types of creeps. However, it also means more towers and other weapons (more on those later) you'll have at your disposal. Once you move the mouse over the difficulty you want, you can select from three different campaign lengths: short, full, or extended. This is how many levels total are in the campaign. Short means a quick, fun playthrough for maximum enjoyment and minimum time. The short campaigns will contain more timed levels, meaning you'll have to make faster decisions and destroy more creeps in the same amount of time. On the other hand, you'll start off with more money. By contrast, the extended campaigns may involve slightly different strategies, such as having to manage money between levels, making more high-level decisions such as which way to go in your overall galactic conquest, or enduring endless waves of creeps with few resources. At the higher difficulty levels, this disparity becomes a lot more pronounced.

Next up is a screen of the gameplay HUD, as well as a few towers. You can see a dark tower, a light tower, and a gamma tower. In later posts, I'll talk more about what the towers do, their specs and special abilities, and how dimensions affect them.

The subject of this post is to introduce another key gameplay element: map objects. They are fairly uncommon in the tower defense genre, but in this game it will be vital to use all the tools at your disposal in order to triumph.

Map objects are things that can be found in outer space, such as dying stars, red giants, or asteroids. You may begin to wonder what exactly these objects can do for you to help destroy creeps.

Take asteroids, for instance. They can be used to mine for additional mass. Remember from the first post that mass functions as money in Hypershift, and is used to build and upgrade towers. If the current map contains one or more asteroids, for instance, you can build mining facilities (one on each available asteroid) to give you a slight mass bonus. Mining facilities generate mass at a low, variable rate, which can give you a slight edge for that final push, or a lull in high-yield creeps.

One thing to remember about map objects, however, is that they are much more expensive than towers. It's an investment, and one that might not pay off if you can't fully afford it. Most map objects also require a lot of energy to create, so think carefully before building one. Also, you need to consider when to build it, since most of the time you will only have one or two available. After you use up the available map objects, you can't build any more, so it wouldn't make much sense to waste one at the beginning of a level, when you don't really need it, and you barely have enough resources to afford it anyway. You might want to wait until that final, super-tough wave of creeps before giving up so much mass and energy. On the other hand, most of the map objects are permanent, so getting one right at the start of the level, while sacrificing a few extra towers you'd otherwise get from your initial resource allotment, means you get a lot more time-usage out of the map object.

You may notice from the campaign selector screen that there are twelve possible campaigns. This is no mistake. As developers, Green Lightning Software, and its various affiliates, put a lot of time and effort into making quality games for your enjoyment. Some, like Hyperblob, are free. This one, however, will be commercial, so we want to make absolutely sure that it's worth the price, or more. There will also be a free demo, and it will contain a decent amount of play time as well.

Finally, an update as to what I've been working on. The campaign menu is the main thing, as there were many troublesome bugs that seemed to love the campaign menu. I'd fix one thing and something else wouldn't work. It reminded me of those cartoons where a character is trying to keep something from leaking; when he plugs one hole, another springs open. When he plugs that one up, three more begin spouting water. But rest assured, I triumphed and it works smoothly now. Let me tell you, if you don't like challenges, game development is not the career for you!

The tower placement system also took a bit of coaxing in order to work properly. Part of the problem is that the older tower sprites (the boring ones that I drew, lol) were a different size than the main grid. This wasn't causing too many problems in itself, but just made fixing other problems a bit more difficult. Luckily, the game now has excellent, animated tower sprites (I'm truly sorry you can't see the tower animations in the screens, as they're pretty neat). There's also a lot of other effects that can't be seen, such as the stars winking in the background, or the campaign boxes gently fading in and out of view.

The main menu is also finally, miraculously, done. The old animation that sat in the middle of the screen was taking up way too much space and resources, as it was a series of 72 high quality Photoshop renders, taking up around 8 megabytes. Now, after much work on my part, it takes up barely one megabyte and runs very smoothly. It's also no longer entirely an animation, though it might look that way at first. (I didn't post a screen of this as it's quite possibly the coolest part of the game, and I didn't want to spoil it for you. Hey, I have to keep the suspense up somehow!) The "work" involved splitting apart the layers in Photoshop and animating each one separately, then using Game Maker's own collision detection to fire some of the animations. Altogether, the main menu animation has taken more time and work than the rest of the game put together! At least my time and work, anyway, and I've done most of the work thus far.

Last, but not least, was the most pesky bug I've ever encountered in my entire career in software development. The tower tooltips (I call them towertips for short) were being drawn underneath towers and other stuff, which was quite annoying. Once again, I somehow managed to fix the bug and everything works fine now. That was actually the first bug I encountered, and had been there until the very latest version of the game.

Just recently I haven't been doing a LOT of work on the game, mainly because there's a lot more graphical stuff to design, and my limited graphical skills have been basically spent on what's already done. I will get around to it eventually, or have someone else do it for me.

What's left to do now, you ask? Designing the messagebox graphics, the in-game and options menu, fix up the display options (the game will be able to run in fullscreen, fillscreen 800 x 600, or windowed 640 x 480), design the map objects, implement the rest of the towers and get them working, designing the bonus system and other game modes, a ton of level design, and finally, designing the credits. And possibly, based on beta testing, a profile system with automatic game-saving, or just basic game saving functionality. I'm leaning towards using the profile system, as it's more professional and seems to be more and more common in modern games, especially smaller titles.

Stay tuned for more info on towers and unlockables!

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