Last weekend me and my brother were invited by Jack from SoGoodStudios to take part in Ludum Dare, an event where you spend a few days working by yourself or with a team to develop a videogame from concept to publication. The theme this time around (for LD36) was Ancient Technology.
I talked with my brother about game genres and what skills we have, and we decided that he would do all of the game coding in Scratch because he has experience using that, and I would work on pixel art for the game. Our idea was to do a tower defence game, called Roman Defence. In our game you are a Roman soldier defending a town from escaped wild animals. It is a relatively easy game, using only a few keys, but as you play the enemies get faster and it becomes more challenging. There is also a power-up in the shape of Pompeiian bread that appears every 30 seconds.
The game was written in Scratch but converted to Flash for playing on the web using the converter at http://junebeetle.github.io/converter/. You can see inside our code on the Scratch page for Roman Defence. I used an Android app called Pixel Art Editor for the visual elements and we used PixiTracker for the music. It was the first time we had used these apps. They were a bit confusing at first but we learned enough to be able to produce what we needed.
The only experience I have had in the past of doing pixel art is building in Minecraft creative mode. Working on my tablet to create the sprites was fun but zooming in and out all the time was a bit of a pain. First I researched online to find images of Roman shields, helmets and spears, and for pictures of lions and rhinos. Then I opened the app and created a canvas in the size needed for that sprite or background. My brother J told me what size he wanted for each object, as he was coding alongside me using just coloured blobs and rectangles until my art was ready. I thought about the images I had found in my research and did rough paper sketches of what I wanted, then started to work in the Pixel Art Editor app. Sometimes the poses weren’t quite right, so for example my first draft of a lion looked very tame! But it was easy to change and add shading etc. I like my designs but it would have been good to have had more time to create more animations and enemies. The only animation in the game is that the soldier’s head and arm bob up and down as he moves.
I saved the images as .png files with transparent backgrounds and used BlueTooth to send them to the computer that J was working on. I sent them one by one as I completed them so we could see straight away what they looked like in the game. It took only a few clicks for J to replace his blobs with my art and I felt satisfied and proud seeing them in the game. Sometimes I sent partly completed images just to check that they looked right on the screen. At the end of our Sunday working session I also drew the game title for the start screen. That took more time than the other images because I had to make sure the characters were evenly spaced. J said he wanted fat characters like in the Metroid logo, so I did some research into the old Metroid games and used that as a starting point, but obviously we didn’t want something space age! I think my final design looks like an authentic retro game title.
When we had finished Roman Defence after two long days of hard work we opened an itch.io account together, calling our team KitiJenGames, and uploaded our game there. Then we created a Ludum Dare account also called KitiJenGames and submitted our game to the Game Jam. I also wrote a blogpost about making Roman Defence and Jupiter Hadley (support her with Patreon) played our game in Part 3 of her LD36 YouTube videos and again in her Plymouth Game Devs LD36 video. We have been playing lots of other games which were submitted to the Jam and leaving some comments. Two of our favourites so far are Tank In Dungeon by @BentouDev which we would buy if it were a longer game, and Sacrifice by @tayl1r which is interesting because it is such an odd (and dark!) concept.
We were lucky to be working on our game opposite the team which consisted of Jack from SoGoodStudios, Emmy (Ghoulkiss, support her with Patreon) and @OhCarson from Sizeable Games. They were helpful with advice and testing our game and we learned a lot just from seeing how their own development process worked. Their game for LD36 is another of our favourites, and is a rhythm/puzzle game called Disgolem. Emmy’s golems are adorable and are brightly coloured with geometric designs. I was really pleased to meet her as I admire her work but I was a bit shy and didn’t say much! I also briefly met Will from SoGoodStudios and the BrainyBeard team, and the Plymouth Game Devs have tweeted and Facebooked our project. We definitely plan to make more games, J is getting started with learning to use Unity and we already have some ideas for our next project, so Watch This Space!