I am learning Unity

Unity 2D, that is. With 4.3, Unity has added a whole new 2D toolset. This is great if you want to make a game but don’t have an army of 3D modelers and level designers to help make your game look halfway decent.

The only downside right now is that 2D tutorials are scarce because it’s so new (to be fair, this guy is doing great stuff) . However, the most important parts of the 3D stuff still apply here, which is great if you’re already familiar with Unity. If you have experience with object-oriented design patterns then a lot of it makes intuitive sense. I still need to actually make something to get a hang of it though, and since I’ve outpaced the tutorials I’ve found, I’ve been plunging headlong into a stupid throwaway project called Tanks Versus Mummies.

(If you’re an OG Epic Banana fan, you may recognize this as a playable game-within-a-game in Another Day at Work: Wednesday)

screenshot of the in-development Tanks vs. Mummies

Screenshot of the in-development Tanks vs. Mummies. Right now it has mummies but no tanks.

So far Unity is great to work with, thoroughly documented, and robust. On the 2D side of things, I don’t like the lack of a snappable grid (resulting in unaligned pixels) but since the meat of Unity is in its code and not its scene editor people recommend creating level layouts in an external format and reading them in. The fact that we’re also dealing with a camera instead of a fixed resolution kind of grinds my gears but maybe I need to get with the times. Anyway these aren’t major problems, just aesthetic gripes.

What exactly goes into a DataJack level? And version updates

I know some of you are curious, so I’ll lay it out here. DataJack was of course made with Multimedia Fusion 2. MMF can make some sweet games that don’t have to look as crappy as DataJack if you really sweat the pixel art and effects, but it does have plenty of quirks you need to know to get the most out of its scripting language. Thankfully, I’ve been working with programs in the clickteam family since I started Epic Banana in the 90s.

Let’s take a look at one of the later levels, “Third Time’s the Charm”:

level

 

It starts out as a bog-standard “break in and steal this thing” level but there’s a twist in the second act.

Now at the base of the level is the collision layer:

collision layer

 

This mask clearly tells the game which parts of the level are obstacles, which are things you can crawl under, which are half-height obstacles that provide cover, glass, ledges, etc. Each type of terrain has a unique RGB color. The advantage of this method is that it allows me to modify the terrain on the fly, allowing for destructible walls and things. Destruction is very important!

background

 

The backdrop provides the visual background for the level, which provides the player with information about where there are loud and quiet surfaces, basically.

shadows

 

The shadow map serves two purposes: for one, the player can hide in the shadows and so it’s important to consider where to place them. Secondly, it adds a touch of visual variation to the scene and drawn-in shadows of buildings & etc. can add to the three-dimensional quality of the scene.

 

 

objects

 

I usually start by roughly blocking-out a level here, on the main action layer. I drag & drop sprites into the scene to build up the level, and they are for the most part autonomous and know how to handle whatever situation I create. Things like computers and interactive stuff usually requires a little hand-tuned coding.

The roof graphics & the HUD layer sit on top of this, and there’s a separate mask to control where the roof should be displayed; e.g. you don’t want it displayed when the user is inside the building, or when the user has a line of sight to a window. The roof adds another layer of strategy to the game, as planning an approach to a building that you can’t see inside can be tricky.

patrol

 

The patrol map is the single most finnicky part of the game design and I should probably have touched up its code or gone with a different method. It sits in an invisible layer and tells the guards & robots the rough path they should follow when they’re on patrol. Each RGB color corresponds to a direction of motion which is slightly randomized, and the yellow colors tell patrolling guards to reverse their directions. Dealing with this thing could be a nightmare sometimes.

footmap

 

Lastly there’s a material map which encodes what sound your footsteps should make, and correspondingly how loud they are. There are a handful of materials in the world and some I never even used.

That’s the quick rundown. All of these layers sit in a photoshop document, and I perfected a streamlined workflow for the whole thing. The principal difficulty was in finding a unique layout with multiple approaches, where to place hackable items and how to direct the player through a sort of obstacle course.

Updates

So I’ve put bug fixes in place for what seem to be the major problems: the bugged final tutorial level and the way in which things like the red keycard don’t carry over from scene to scene. Also a handful of smaller fixes. I just need to test this version & then send it off to Desura and it’ll be ready in the week.

After this I’ll be implementing some new features: screen sizes intermediate between fullscreen and 640×480 and maybe possibly a keymapper. Stay tuned!

Press Response and Known Bugs

DataJack is getting some awesome press!

http://indiestatik.com/2013/11/22/datajack

http://www.kotaku.com.au/2013/11/datajack-is-your-free-isometric-cyberpunk-themed-pc-game-for-today/

http://indiegames.com/2013/11/freeware_pick_deus_ex_inspired.html#more

Fullscreen Mode?

To run the game fullscreen, use the fullscreen_launcher.exe in the DataJack folder.

Known Bugs

Everyone is bringing up that the tutorial is kind of bugged in at least the last (stealth) portion. This is strange to me, I’m trying to see if I can reproduce it. Also I suspect the red keycards are not working as intended due to a different bug fix. These will be fixed in my next update.

It should also be possible to include a key mapper. This is something I’m working on.

Desura Ranking

DataJack’s current ranking:

DataJack

 

And stats. 90,000 hits so far!

 

Social Media Networking in the Internet Era of Connectivity

My youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/scrudgey

And my twitter account: https://twitter.com/scrudgey

Release Date: November 22

That’s right, a week from today everything should be in place to send DataJack off to the good folks at Desura.

FINALLY.

I started my first dev log back in August 2008, which means I’ve been working on DataJack for five years. It hasn’t always been a constant stream of activity, but it has always been my main project focus. I began work on DataJack simply because I wanted to make the game I always wanted to see, and I assumed other gamers felt the same way. I knew it was a larger project than I’d done before, but didn’t quite anticipate the extent of effort it would require. But Epic Banana doesn’t back down from an ambitious project, oh no.

beforepk4

Things have come quite a ways from those first test builds. Features were added and removed, enemies were defined and programmed, I made 24 separate missions, a town, user interface, shops, and 28 different weapons. Every step has introduced new challenges, and every phase of development is a different sort of workflow: designing the game, coding its basic engine, creating levels, animating characters, writing flavor text, playtesting and bugfixing.

rooftop

Of course, even from the very beginning I found a loyal (and very patient) fan base that kept me motivated through the whole thing. The community response has been very encouraging so far. You’ve waited long enough!

The last game I released under Epic Banana Software was Another Day at Work: Wednesday and that must have been in 2002-2003, meaning this will be the first official release in ten years.

dialogue

As Epic Banana, I’ve always released my games for free. This means that my efforts are entirely supported by gamers like you. I think I must be at least a little bit crazy to give away a five-year project for free, but in the end I want as many people to play it as possible. Please donate if you can.

 

After DataJack (and perhaps a short break) I have many, many more game ideas that I would love to realize. I have more ideas than I have time, at the moment, unfortunately. But stay tuned, for the release of DataJack, and for what comes next!

Launch Delay

Sorry everyone! It wouldn’t be a game launch without a delay, now would it?

The basic issue is just that I want more play testing before I’m sure the game is ready for launch. The good news is that in my playthoughs I’m not finding major bugs any more, but I am making adjustments to the difficulty.

Things I’m testing for: proper balance between mission rewards & item costs, proper balance between health and enemy damage, proper balance between weapon strengths, costs and enemy health. Proper early hame

More good news is that it is almost here. I sent a review copy to the German TV show Reload (edit: link provided by Frank). A slightly more balanced version is about to make its way to the blog TwoDashStash who also expressed interest in a review / video playthough. This sort of attention has made me nervous and more meticulous about balance.

I would also be lying if I said I didn’t want my launch party to be overshadowed by everyone’s Halloween parties :)

Anyway stay tuned, the full launch is just around the corner. Also note I’ve put up a donations button!

Preview Mission Prompt

Here is an example of an early contract from the Erisian Liberation Front (E.L.F.), the revolutionary, anarchic hacker gang. In the game, all missions are made available to you as email contracts from the three different factions, branching out to more difficult missions after you’ve built up your reputation. This mission is pretty benign in that it doesn’t involve any killing or theft; it’s also pretty easy and is one of the first missions in the game:

 

 

E.L.F. COMMUNIQUE #TK-421
CULT OF THE CRYPTOKIDZ
for immediate solicitation
—————————————————–
“Challenger muttered that he was taking the earth with him, that he was leaving for the mysterious world, his poison garden. He whispered something else: it is by headlong flight that things progress and signs proliferate. Panic is creation.”
-Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

I was talking to my friend Bones the other day: “Bones,” I says to him, “how buzzy is it that we don’t control the means of mass communication? Why, it’s criminal the way those pig megacorps deny the public our voice of reason!” And so the idea was born.

We have a video file that we would really like the public to see. Unfortunately we don’t currently have access to the airwaves and the gatekeepers of public taste would keep it that way. We need you to give us that access. You can do this by breaking into a local broadcast building and hacking their server and video database. Be aware, the building is known to have a metal detector in its lobby. You’ll need to think of a way around that.

We also want you to plant a backdoor in their firewall so that we don’t have to make you go through all this trouble again in the future.
Today the airwaves, tomorrow the solar system! Hail Eris!

Tentative October release date

I just got back from vacation and work is ongoing… At this point I’m writing flavor text, fixing any last bugs I find, working with Apel to finalize the soundtrack, working with Desura, etc.

The entire game is in a playable state. You can start, play though the branching mission tree, manage items / weapons / upgrades, and beat the final mission. The main issue right now though is one of balance, and finding the right combination of costs, rewards, enemy strength and player strength will require a few playthoughs.

I don’t have a whole lot to announce with this post, since I’m just continuing with what I wrote last time, but I wanted the fans to know that I’m really really close to being done with this project, and I’m still aiming for a release in October. The release party will be huge. 4+ years of work huge.