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”:



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!



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



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.





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.



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.



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.


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!

6 thoughts on “What exactly goes into a DataJack level? And version updates

  1. Very interesting look behind the scenes. Now I feel even better with my donation! 😉
    I come from traditional programming and don’t know MMF2 – but got the Humble Weekly Sale bundle “just in case” – maybe I’ll tinker with it some day…

    Keep up the terrific work! I’m very curious what your next project will be!

  2. oh man, this game is GREAT! So much potential! It’s almost like Syndicate RPG. I wish it could be merged with Uplink so the data you steal can be used to hack at home into systems or to ease some future mission.
    Also some perks should be upgraded like “eyes 3.0” which gives you ability to see line of sight of guards and cameras…
    I could go on and on, potential is to big for this one and for version 2.0 I suggest that you start Kickstarter campaign and do it the best game after legendary Syndicate and Uplink

    • The original plan was to have a whole phase of each mission where you could hack the whole building / network from home, sometimes being able to complete the mission without going on-site if your hacking ability was high enough.

      Thanks for your praise, I’m currently taking a break and figuring out which game to make next. Hopefully there’ll be a DataJack 2 down the line!

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