Just checking in at the start of the new year to let you know that yes, development is still proceeding well and a 2019 release is still the plan. Will post soon with a more detailed update.
Although I’ve done most of the graphics for In Retrospect myself, I hired a graphic designer friend of mine to do the logos for the game and my company, Paper Salamander. And he came up with some awesome stuff. But we’ll get to that later. During the process of communicating what I was looking for to him I collected a fair amount of video game logos that I like, so I figured I’d make a post about it.
Let’s start retro. One of my all-time favorite logos is the Yoshi’s Island logo, because it totally nails the fun, youthful tone of the game (you play as Yoshi and baby Mario.) Simple, colorful, and a super neat font.
I also always had a thing for the “perspective” style logos that appeared a lot in the 8-bit and especially 16-bit eras.
They often did some neat things with the coloring / gradients in that era as well.
Of course a lot of new indie games are heavily inspired by the past, and sometimes a nice simple retro logo does wonders for a game.
Another thing I like in my logos is a sense of simplicity and beauty. Of course, this depends on the game and whether that fits or not, but when it works, it really stands out for me. I especially like the colors on this one, and you’ll see below that they also show up on the logo for Paper Salamander.
And then you have something like Gone Home, which keeps it VERY simple in the text itself, a single color scratchy font, but it works in the context it is used.
Thomas Was Alone also keeps it simple, but add in the shapes and it really represents the game well.
Indie games in general have a lot of my favorite logos. They really seem to try to say something about the game through the logo. Celeste is about a lot of things, but on the surface it is about climbing a mountain, so they put the mountain right in the logo.
I mostly like this BIT.TRIP logo because of the colors, but it’s a pretty cool retro logo with a neat font as well.
Life Is Strange works the photography in as well. And has a custom scratchy font that works.
It almost feels unfair to include Tomorrow Corporation logos because their art is so amazing it feels a step above most indies.
And another Tomorrow Corporation game logo that works very well in context.
One of my favorite indie game logos is for Night in the Woods, it has a lot of energy and style.
And finally, some busy logos that actually work as busy logos. The World Ends With You to start.
Just love everything about this Earthworm Jim logo. It has a LOT going on, but it all looks good together.
Pikmin 3 uses the Pikmin themselves to create a logo, it’s so adorable!!!
Viewtiful Joe, a wild game with a wild logo.
I don’t know if this is an official logo but I can’t do anything about style without including the king of style, the Persona games.
I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of great ones, but this will have to do for now.
Anyway, here are the logos for Paper Salamander and In Retrospect! I think they both turned out great!
If you’ve been paying attention to In Retrospect, you will probably notice a few things new to these screenshots.
1. The old player design was fine but it was too specific, I really want this game to be about YOU as the player playing YOUR life story, regardless of who you are. So instead of a specific character design, I decided to go more abstract. Not totally sure if this is working out as well as I imagined, but I think I’m heading in the right direction.
2. Enemies and other objects were too hard to pick out at a glance, so they all have outlines now. Enemies have red outlines, but other colors like green, yellow, and more are used for various objects as well.
Anyway, here you go!
This was an interesting little bug.
As far as I can tell I accidentally left the test character turned on just randomly hanging out up in the air, the actual character was also on and somehow got moved directly on top of the test character (no idea how the heck that happened), and they got stuck in some weird loop where they kept bouncing off of each other but couldn’t escape each other? Something like that?!
Timeline of yesterday (and this morning):
6:30 am – Get up to get ready for work.
3:30 pm – End a busy day of work.
4:00 pm – Take a nice walk.
4:30 pm – Decide to change the colors of my wind object so that it will stand out better from the backgrounds it is often used on (the wind is two different shades of blue, and a lot of my backgrounds are also primarily one or multiple shades of blue as well.) I project this will take about 15 minutes.
5:30 pm – Wow I can’t… quite… find the right mix. Either it doesn’t stand out enough or the colors feel wrong.
6:30 pm – Am I seriously still working on changing two little colors?
7:00 pm – FINE. WHATEVER. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE. I’LL HAVE TO LIVE WITH CLOSE ENOUGH. (For now.) Time to do a build, do backups and enjoy the rest of my night.
7:05 pm – Hmm, the game got all the way to the end of the build and then crashed with errors. That’s odd, literally all I did was upload a new spritesheet, that shouldn’t change much. Well, I’ll just try again.
7:10 pm – It didn’t build again? Ok it’s probably just some Unity glitch, a reboot should fix this.
7:15 pm – Ok, still not building. Weird. I guess I’ll just revert back to yesterday’s working version and upload the spritesheet again. But first I’ll just test yesterday’s working version which is OBVIOUSLY still going to work because it worked then and nothing has changed…
7:20 pm – Ok yesterday’s version isn’t working either for some reason. I guess I’ll go back further.
7:30 pm – Wait, weeks old versions aren’t working either now? How is this even possible? All of these various versions worked when I saved them?!!?
Hours and hours of troubleshooting which involves loading various past versions, which seem to work inconsistently, trying to slowly move forward from working versions to figure out what is wrong, everything breaks again but I can’t pinpoint it, start over.
Eat dinner somewhere in there.
2:00 am – It APPEARS that whenever I do anything that affects this one specific tileset, the game will no longer build after that. But it’s way too late to fully test this. And even if that is the case, I’m not totally sure what to do since that is an important tileset that I will need to update regularly again in the future. Well, whatever, time for bed.
3:30 am – Actually fall asleep somewhere around here.
6:30 am – Get up to get ready for work again.
Game dev is so much fun.
Don’t worry this is still a game dev blog, but I will occasionally make some posts about other stuff happening in the game industry, and E3 is one of the biggest things in the game industry. Some new games shown off, some old games with new footage, whatever the case here are the 10 games of the show that got me most excited.
10. Control – I’m not a huge fan of shooters but Control feels like it stands out a bit with a really strange environment-shifting sci-fi setting that looks like it was inspired by the movie Cube. If they add in some horror elements too it could be pretty sweet.
9. Super Mario Party – Unfortunately I think my days of regular local multiplayer are mostly behind me, but I have still been holding out hopes that a new Mario Party would come along that went back to the individual character board progression style of the old games, which me and my family loved to death. Will this be the one? And even if it is, will I ever get people together to play it? Who knows?! I hope so.
8. Death Stranding – I love Kojima’s artistic vision even, especially when it gets ridiculously over-the-top, and Death Stranding looks ridiculously over-the-top. But… what is the gameplay? All we see in the trailer is walking? Surely Kojima isn’t making a walking sim? Well, I trust that there is more to it, and the presentation is certainly compelling.
7. The Last of Us Part II – I only recently played The Last of Us with the Remastered version on PS4, and although it was less of a horror game than I had hoped, it was still a very great experience. I wish Naughty Dog were more innovative, but they are very good at taking industry staples and creating an excellent product out of them, and part II looks like it should live up to the first.
6. Beyond Good and Evil 2 – I absolutely adored the first Beyond Good and Evil and everything about 2 looks pretty awesome so far. Except, again, what is the gameplay? Why are we still only seeing cinematic trailers when this game has (supposedly) been in development for years and years? Can’t put it up much higher on my list without seeing gameplay.
5. Daemon X Machina – I theoretically love mech games even though, for some reason, I barely play any, but Zone of the Enders 2 is one of my favorite games ever and I’ve been hoping for a 3rd. That may never happen, but Daemon X Machina has an impressive looking trailer and it could scratch that itch. It’s hard to say how this one will turn out though, I don’t know enough about the developers to get expectations too high yet.
4. Cyberpunk 2077 – I’m not sure exactly if the gameplay will be up my alley or not but wow, the setting for this game is sweet. I’m a big fan of cyperpunk and in games it usually gets thrown on top as dressing, but it looks like they went all out to create a whole detailed world here. I anticipate watching how this one comes together.
3. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – Hmm, where to even start with this one? Admittedly, I’d be more excited for Smash 5. But if they had to do a… what would you even call this? Port? Remake? Kind of sequel but without much new content? Whatever the case, if they had to do this, they sure are doing it right. It looks absolutely packed with content (every previous Smash character ever + some new + most? previous Smash stages?) and the new tweaks will surely make it the best Smash yet. Also, playable Ridley!!!
2. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit – I was already sold on “a new game in the world of Life is Strange that is free and coming in just a few weeks” but this trailer looks so good. It really manages to capture that youthful creativity and excitement, and it (hopefully) will show us that there are lighter stories taking place in the world of Life is Strange as well.
1. Resident Evil 2 (Remake) – GOTS. To be honest I played the original Resident Evil 2 was my 3rd Resident Evil game, which I played after the amazing 4 and the excellent Gamecube remake of 1, so it felt a bit antiquated, and it didn’t end up one of my favorites in the series like it seems to be for most people. With that said, the characters and setting and everything are great so I certainly don’t mind revisiting that story, and it looks like they are basically making it a Resident Evil 4 style game (at least with the camera and controls) with totally revamped gameplay and everything, so… I’m sold. But I still need to finish Resident Evil 7!
One of my early ideas for In Retrospect was to have at least one large object that the player goes inside of, and for various reasons (probably the fact that our cultural mythology has several examples of this?) that ended up a whale. Which meant that I would need an outside and an inside version of the whale sprite.
Of course, this led to some decisions about what that would look like. Designing in 2D space is actually pretty interesting, you’re basically trying to convert 3D space to 2D space, but there is no direct formula for the best way to do it. Maybe you do a cross-section, but that’s not always going to work, because true cross-sections look WEIRD. Probably you’re going to pick and choose and just kind of wing it until it looks ok. If you’re me, you’re definitely going to wing it.
Designing 2D space for a video game is even more complicated, because it’s not just a neat picture, it’s an interactive object. Now, I could have gotten really complicated and made the player travel through the entire digestive system or something, but that wouldn’t really work with some of the constraints of my game’s core logic, not to mention I wanted to give the player space to maneuver inside without the whale being TOO big, so actually, almost the entire inside of the whale is “empty” space the player can move around in, while the actual guts and organs and such of the whale are behind the player in the scene. Does this make sense logically? No! But 2D space never makes sense! Shut up I can do what I want!
I didn’t want to totally wing it though, so I searched something like “inside of a whale” on Google and ended up using this image for reference:
Whether it is accurate or not I have no idea, but it looked good enough to me and I doubt many whale biologists are going to play this game and get mad that I don’t have more accurate whale biology in it. Oh, and also I found out later that it’s not even a whale, it’s a dolphin. WHATEVER.
So I used that for the core design, but it still felt empty inside. So I just started filling it in with a bunch of uh… just sort of vague… organy looking… things? I was making them up on the spot, basically.
Anyway, this is what I came up with, part real dolphin biology, part totally made up junk… for my whale.
My GF said it reminds her of a Miyazaki movie and I was like hmm, yeah I can see that. I wasn’t thinking of Miyazaki movies when I made it but his movies definitely have a lot of colorful kind of gross biological… things… with white lighting on them.
“But why is there so much direct light inside of a whale?!”
Shut up, it looks cool, that’s why.
Here is a video of the whale in action. A lot of work for basically a couple of seconds of gameplay where the player won’t really have a chance to notice all of the little details anyway, but I guess that’s just the way I roll…
I don’t claim to be a brilliant pixel artist by any means, nor a brilliant pixel animator, but considering how little experience I had with this kind of thing before making this game, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done. I could probably do so much better if I had the time to focus on just getting good at graphics, but the reality is that I’m doing everything here… design, programming, graphics, audio, you name it. Sometimes it is hard to really dig super deep into a single skill when you have soooooooo much other stuff to do all the time.
Ah well, it’s all getting there, slowly but surely.
Actually I’m just testing post functionality but I figured might as well give you something to look at.
I used to have a small and a large ghost in my game, but the large ghost was just the small ghost scaled and I didn’t like how that looked, so I tried to do the large ghost normal style, but then it looked sort of not quite close enough to the small ghost to be the same thing scaled but too close to be something else, so I thought F it I’ll just make a disembodied vampire head instead.
And yes I know the whole jaw should be moving if the mouth is opening but I got lazy. He’s really only on screen for a couple of seconds anyway and players would be more looking for WHERE TO ESCAPE FROM HIM than at him, so it’s probably not a huge deal. Maybe I’ll fix it eventually…
I’ve been super engrossed in making sprite backgrounds for In Retrospect lately, in fact it’s pretty much all that I have been doing on the game for the last couple of months. It’s very overwhelming, and if I learned anything from this experience it is that I want to plan my next game right so that I don’t have so many darn backgrounds to make all at once. But I digress. Today I want to talk a bit about the process of making a background. I’m not an artist by trade, in fact this game is the first time I have put much time into anything art related, so I won’t be able to explain the art process much beyond some basic stuff I’ve stumbled upon. I can really only just show you my trial and error process and how it resulted in a background that I’m pretty happy with.
I’m going to use my stage one background for this post, not because it is necessarily my best background, but because it is the one that went through the most revisions, and I made some of the most mistakes with it, so it’s probably the best one to see evolve over time. It’s currently on its 20th iteration, which I hope will be the last one, though I will probably still tweak a few minor things here and there moving forward. I won’t show all 20 iterations though, you will see some iterations skipped below and it is because they had insignificant changes (often just tweaking the edge of a cloud or something), so I’ll stick with only showing off the ones where a significant change was made.
First off, for almost every background in In Retrospect I start with a reference photo (usually just something found in free stock photos online or whatever) which I mess around with a bit in GIMP to pixelate it a bit so it fits the game more. I tend to try out a bunch of backgrounds until I find one that fits what I want. I then mess around with the size a bit to make it (more or less) fit the perspective of my game, although honestly, I don’t have the best sense of correct perspective so it becomes a “feels right” type of thing more than a science. The theme for stage one is childhood excitement and exuberance, and I knew I wanted to set it on a farm because, basically, running around on one of my relative’s farms is one of my childhood memories that best fits the feel I wanted for this stage.
I do all of my sprite work in Pyxel, and to get to my first iteration of a background I tend to more or less trace over my reference photo, but with a much smaller color palette and simplified objects (especially when it comes to complicated things like field textures.) I’m mostly just trying to get the feel right at this point, but with my own art, as opposed to the placeholder background.
As you can see I originally made the farm a bit run-down, with dying trees. However, that didn’t really feel right to me, since I was going for “excitement” and “exuberance”. I also just kind of hastily sketched out the ground, but it felt too sloppy.
So I made nicer trees and cleaned up the ground. The colors had felt dull, so I brightened them up a bit too.
But the ground was still bothering me, it felt like a big chunk of boringness. I tried out a bunch of stuff that wasn’t working at all, got frustrated, and put this background on hold for a bit. However, when working on some other backgrounds I started looking to one of my favorite SNES era art inspirations, Yoshi’s Island, for some ideas. And I noticed they often used a kind of soft gradient in their skies.
I started doing a similar thing with the sky in some of my other backgrounds and it was looking pretty solid, so I decided to try it on the ground in stage one’s background.
It had a decent effect. You’ll notice also that the image is taller now. My process is to originally make all of my backgrounds 480×270 pixels, which can be multiplied by 4 to make a 1920×1080 background. I then have a background that nicely covers the screen on a typical 1920×1080 monitor or TV (and my graphics stretch to fit other resolutions.) HOWEVER, since I use parallax scrolling my backgrounds move a bit when the player moves. I make sure that a background like this tiles nicely left to right, but it’s kind of hard to make it tile nicely top to bottom when you have sky and ground, so without adding some padding on the top and bottom, you end up with a situation where if you get too high up in the level you see the bottom of the ground show up on top of the sky, and vice versa. So after I get a background into a decent state I add some padding on the top and bottom to make sure that never happens.
Anyway I felt like it was getting there but the colors still felt too dull, so in my next iteration I brightened them up a bit again.
At this point I was kind of happy with the state of the background, but even with the gradient, it still felt like there was too much empty space on the bottom. Sure, you mostly never see the entire bottom, but on occasion you see quite a bit of it, and it felt wrong to me. I tried to add a variety of farmlike things down there like haystacks and such, but none of that was working.
So I made a lake.
I also redid the gradient to have more steps and so instead of smooth change from one color to another the lines jump around a bit, which I thought better hinted at (without explicitly being) the sort of rows of uh… stuff? you might find on a farm. I had no clear idea WHAT that stuff might be and why it would be covering the entire field, which is why I left it as just a hint.
But the lake felt all wrong to me.
Doubly so when you got further to the right in this level and, due to the tiling, the lake started appearing again. I only wanted one lake, not multiple, identical lakes! (This is always an issue when putting a “unique” object into a background that is supposed to tile, but, for instance, it doesn’t matter with the trees and the farmhouse in this case because the level isn’t long enough for them to start showing up again.)
I kind of liked the idea of a lake, but I wanted something that tiled nicer.
So I turned it into a river. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t had experience with this kind of art, but although the lake might look ok in a single image, even better in some ways, the river felt better as a tiled background, because it hides the tiling better so things feel smoother as you move to the right. One thing I’m learning fast is that game art is all about context, backgrounds especially. You can’t just make something that looks fine as a standalone image and call it a day. I also saturated the colors more again, because it still looked too desaturated, especially next to my other backgrounds.
But the area below the river still looked too empty to me.
So I added a bunch more trees! Cool, ri… right? Keep in mind I am an amateur here, and this was a process of experimentation.
Whatever the case, it certainly made the area below the river less empty, but I knew something was off, because now the background just felt way too busy.
So I pulled down the shadows a bit. That helped some, but look at this monstrosity. It’s still way too busy!
To deal with the busyness I looked at the sky, and realized I had stuck with this multi-color sky for no real reason other than the fact that my original source image had it. So I decided to clean up the sky and use a soft gradient on it. That definitely helped a bunch, but it was still too busy.
Well gee, I wonder how to fix this one.
Get rid of all of those trees I added, duh! Sometimes you have to admit you made a mistake and fix it.
Honestly, at this point I was pretty happy with where things were at in context of stage one alone. The image above looks pretty solid, right? However, one of my big concerns with In Retrospect is that I feel like stage one and two are too similar, and now they both had similar colored blue skies as well. So I decided to do something about that.
I decided to change the sky gradient. I honestly expected to have to try a bunch of different colors out, but the first yellow I picked I ended up liking, so I stuck with it.
The yellow made the clouds and sky blur into each other a bit at the bottom though, so I gave the clouds more contrast with the yellow by darkening the gray in them a bit, which ended up looking way cooler anyway, so that worked out nice.
I also made a texture behind the ground using four colors, and added some transparency to the ground so the texture comes through a bit. Just gives it a little more of a “ground” feel, and distinguishes it from the sky a bit.
However, with a more dramatic color shift in the overall sky gradient, each little step becomes a lot more noticeable. I’m obviously making “pixel” style games so I don’t try to hide every “line”, but I like to find a balance and the sky lines felt too obvious now.
So I changed the gradient to give it more steps, making the color changes a bit less obvious. I was pretty close to calling this one done but I decided to try one last thing.
I added more clouds. Uh oh, is this really a step forward?! Honestly, it’s tough for me to say, and I go back and forth on whether this iteration is better than the last one, or if I just made it too busy again.
But for now, I’m pretty happy with it, and I decided to call this “done” and move on. There are still a TON of experiments I could try on this background, or little tweaks I could do, and I’ll probably see a few things here and there that nag at me and get me to change them, but as a solo indie developer who is doing a lot of art, audio, storytelling, game design, programming, etc. in addition to my full-time job and other responsibilities, I’m trying to get ok with things not being perfect. I’ve already been working on this game for over 4 years, I don’t really need to make it a 10 year project.
Anyway if you have any questions, comments, concerns, etc. I’d love to hear them!