Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Dino Detectives, part 1

Quick little update for the evening to summarize my fourth and final idea. Well, I say "quick and little", but what I really mean is "lengthy and full of words".

Now, I'm not sure this is even allowed, but I am going to bring back two little characters that can't seem to leave me alone. Yep. It's these guys:

I really liked the concept of a fearless little kid and a dinosaur solving mysteries together. Alex and Melvin have stayed with me. A few years ago my sister told me that she had such a hard time finding good books for my nephew. He must have been around eight years old at the time and he wasn't really into reading. I remember when I was that age and how I used to hide under the covers with a book and a torch for hours past my bedtime... There is something very wrong with the world if a child ever grows up without experiencing that.

Ever since that conversation with my sister I've wanted to bring Alex and Melvin on a bunch of adventures, either in the shape of books or as interactive story apps. This pitch would obviously explore the latter. Having had a look at the hollow and brain-melting rubbish in the"children's books" category of the iOS app store, I'm even more keen to do this.*

I thought that, perhaps, my nephew or some other kids out there might be into crimefighting, prehistoric reptiles... So I did a quick sketch and some scribbles of what I had in mind.

At this point I was using the story from Tiny Dinosaur, but framed as an interactive book instead of a DS game. It would feature puzzles, minigames, little interactions and cool gadgets, not to mention an awesome story. Obviously!

But I can't use the same story. That would be cheating. So tonight I sat down and wrote a little blurb for a new adventure, following on from the events of Tiny Dinosaur. In this tale Alex have met Melvin, and together they have outsmarted the evil Doctor DeVicious and liberated all the tiny dinosaurs in the village of Backwaters. My cunning master plan of establishing the duo as detectives for future sequels needed a story where Alex and Melvin are forced to act when no adults are capable of doing so, thereby earning them some recognition as problem solvers. And, naturally, every good children's story rests on the principle that Adults Are Silly.

Here it is. It doesn't have a name yet, and obviously it needs to be interactivified and it needs some pretty pictures and buzzwords to go with it. But I'll do that later.

Nothing ever really happens in the small town of Backwaters... Except that one time when Alex found a small dinosaur called Melvin in her back yard and uncovered a devious plot to capture a group of tiny and not-at-all-extinct reptiles, but that was AGES ago. Several weeks, at least.

Since then, Alex and Melvin have had the bestest summer together.

But lately, something hasn't been quite right. Alex' parents can't seem to get out of bed in the morning, and yesterday Alex saw their neighbour Mrs Pickles  fall asleep on the pavement when she was walking her dog. And to make it all worse, someone - or something - is breaking into houses all around town, leaving strange dust tracks behind. With the city's adult population snoozing the summer away it's up to Alex and Melvin to figure out what's going on. 

So, something strange is putting the city's grown-ups to sleep for a sneaky purpose. Imagine this with lots of interactive elements, maybe even a branching "choose your own adventure" system, minigames and an inventory full of cool detective gadgets... And a dinosaur. Can't go wrong with that, right? Oh, and I have this really cool idea of how I could get parents involved in the story as well and make the kids to put the iPad down for a moment. More on that next. Sleepies now!

* There are also loads of awesome and amazing storybooks on the app store, but seeing them obscured by fifty different variations of CARS 2 LIGHTNING MCQUEEN JIGSAW PUZZLE STORY RACE GAME made me cry on the inside.

Pony Loves Cake!

My third idea has all the things I love in life: ponies, cake and simple game mechanics.

I've always liked the thought of doing an endless runner as an exercise, because (at least, in my head) you get to focus on perfecting the feel of the game rather than worrying about story and characters and endless art requirements.

Another aim of this particular game idea was to depict it using as few words as possible. So, let's see how that worked out. Here's the first sketch:

Fairly straightforward, right? Pony moves automatically, you move the clouds to keep the pony bouncing. Eat cupcakes to stay fat (because, naturally, skinny ponies can't bounce), and pick up wings as an extra life in case you fall. The speed increases as you progress.

To Illustrator:

I learned A LOT about Illustrator as I was making this! Particularly merging objects and offsetting paths, which was always a great mystery to me before. I also had some fun with colour schemes and fonts. Plus I got to draw this, which was just awesome:

As I was working on this in the office I had a massive drawing of a fat pony on one screen and on my other monitor the test phrase "PONY LOVES CAKE" was written in caps all over My design manager walked past me, laughed and said "Wow, you're really in your element now, aren't you?" Why, I am indeed!

Here's the finished image:

Next up is a familiar pair, and my very last game idea for this project. Stay tuned!


Next up is another idea I've had sitting in my head for ages and ages... And just like Colourless, the game I ended up with was very different from what I imagined from the start.

I wanted to design a little 2D platformer that was a love story. It was going to be about a girl and a boy who couldn't bear to be apart, and it was meant to be a little bit moody and very toned down and quite artsy. I started doing a little mind map for it but couldn't quite put my finger on what I was actually after, so I abandoned it.

Then one day I listened to Björk and realised that the lyrics for Unravel summed the game up beautifully:

while you are away
my heart comes undone
slowly unravels
in a ball of yarn
the devil collects it
with a grin
our love
in a ball of yarn

he'll never return it

so when you come back

we'll have to make new love 

BAM! There it was. Two characters who need to stay within a certain distance of each other during the entire game, or bad things happen. When they are together again, they are happy and radiate love.

I started writing.

I left it here for a few days. I still wasn't quite happy with what I'd written. "Low key", "realistic", "evolve relationship"... Bleh. Not inspiring. 

I decided that if I'm going to be building a game while working full time at Blitz (=STRESSFUL!) it had to be a happy game. It had to be cute. It needed charm. So I did something different.

The characters went from being a boy and a girl to an owl and a deer - my favouritest animals on the planet (at the moment, anyway). Instead of having the characters becoming sad and breaking up if they ever move too far apart I introduced the shadows; an abstract and much less depressing threat. I could easily visualise these chubby cute lil' characters hugging and creating this aura of love while shadows reach for them in the background... And I was much, much happier with this direction.

Onwards to Photoshop and Illustrator!

The sketch for the final image was done in Photoshop and then I brought it into Illustrator for colour. 


Finished image:

Having drawn this, it was easy peasy to write a description I was happy with. Here's the finished page:

Click, then right click, and select "view image" to zoom.

...which ironically ended up as an image file anyway, because I couldn't figure out how to host PDF files on Blogger. Meh!

Next up: LITTLE FAT PONIES! But first, coffee in town.



The first idea kind of just appeared one evening; wouldn't it be kind of cool to play a game where you could mix colours and change the environment? So, Colourless was born.

Originally it had a story and a fluffy magical main character that had to save the world by painting it, but I quickly got rid of those elements. The idea was to create a nice experience, not necessarily an awesome game.

The first few sketches/doodles/words are below:

After this I had a fairly solid idea of what I wanted to create, so I left it to sit in the back of my mind for a few days. Then it was Drawing Time, and I ended up with something very different from anything I've ever drawn before:

 But I liked it! I added a HUD:

Wrote a description and loaded up Illustrator:

And ta-da! All done. 

There is a PDF file of this but since I created the image in Photoshop it ended up being 14 MB big... So I had to post a big JPG instead. Blah. Rookie mistake! From here and onwards we shall have vectors. 

Until next time,


Welcome to my honours blog! This is where I'll post all my ramblings and updates regarding my third year honours project.

Now, it hasn't been officially approved by anyone yet, but the plan is to create four one-sheet game ideas to start with. One of those ideas will be developed further as a pitch document, and THEN I'll select one small feature or level from that document and attempt to prototype it using a suitable editor. Awesome, right?! I know.

Once I get around to working on the prototype I am also going to try to be all planned and organised, because my year at Blitz has made me really interested in game production.

Like I said, this hasn't really been signed off yet. But I'm going to go ahead and do a sneaky little start anyway, and then rework things as needed.

Here we go!