Hello everyone! In the previous update, our main topic was the design of the Symbiot, the robot boss sketched by one of our top tier backers. Following that work, we continued developing the rest of the bosses that were still in a premature state. We took this opportunity to record and share with you some of the key sequences of the Hybrid, the human-plant mutation appeared at the end of the Paradise Lost reveal trailer.
We also added new decorations for the backgrounds and finished entire areas of the map that required a new set of mechanics. We’ll get into detail about the assets designed and the challenges faced to create this stages.
The task that we are struggling the most with is the creation of cutscenes. They are complex and rich in animation (multiple characters talking and doing gestures to recreate dialogues, monitors with interfaces, and so on). They also require a lot of FX to represent specific actions, and the assembly process inside the cutscene editor is long and tedious. It is being one of the most time-consuming labors of the development.
For those reasons, they’ve been set aside so we can focus on finishing the art for the levels and the boss sprites. Hopefully, after the final boss is done (which is massive and needs two different sets of backgrounds, huge animations, and effects) we’ll be able to speed things up.
Without further ado, let’s check some of the content we’ve been working on.
While doing bosses we also worked on new mechanics for chapters that were half cooked. Here are most of them:
Two of the chapters of PLFC are focused on the platforming of assembly lines where players have to test their skills, avoiding presses and welders while moving on top of conveyor belts.
Still working on the FX for this area, sorry!
First of all, we needed to define the basic gameplay patterns to obtain a coherent level design that also avoided the production of a massive quantity of assets (one of our main problems developing this game).
This is the draft for the basic elements that will be implemented into an assembly line.
Finding the correct balance was no easy task since we didn’t want to end up with repetitive patterns over and over. Luckily, the iterations between all of the elements and the variation of their properties (speed of the conveyors, dimensions of the surfaces, and timing of the presses) gave us a wide range of situations to play with.
After this, we started testing the different elements composing an assembly stage on Unity with some basic graphics like presses, welders, interactive platforms, and conveyors. We made sure that everything was robust enough and all assets were able to interact between them without problems.
Each element has a series of components that can be altered in the main script in order to modify its behavior in the game.
For example, a press has starting and ending points, and we can choose the type of movement it can perform between them: constant (can’t be stopped) or activated (depends on a panel’s button to make a movement). Loop time > represents how long does it take to go from one point to another. Time between loops > how much will it stay still in each position.
With all the tools in hand, we started to define the dimensions of every object and its variations into our vector grid (the script properties and times are assigned in the mockup for every object). Here we make sure that the player is able to jump, interact, and move freely within the level’s space before building assets and moving into the engine.
As stated in other updates 10 pixels equal 1 square in the design grid, so it's easier to assemble a raw level here and then adapt vector units to pixel art assets knowing the scale in detail.
Sometimes, like in this case, we start making early concepts of levels until some assets are finished/tested, just to have an overall idea of how a mechanic could work and what elements can be sidelined. We try to maintain most of the original concept if it looks interesting, but we can’t avoid the simplification of designs based on the limitations of the final interactives.
This method also helps us see if we need to change the pixel assets, their scale and everything else before moving into the game engine and start assembling and testing the levels.
From top to bottom: platforms + sliders, presses + welder, interactive panels, and conveyor parts
The solid blocks serve two purposes: hide the graphic of a press or a slider inside their structure and work as a platform. All of the sizes have two front decorations to avoid graphic repetition
Another advantage of working with modules is that we can do multiple iterations with different elements. In this case, the head of the welders can be attached to a beam or inserted inside a block
This is a sample of the previous draft without details, ready to test. If everything works as expected we dress up the room with the decoration sprites:
Some of them are created to spice up the conveyor belts or add more depth to the backgrounds with blocks in front of them.
At last, we add the objects that are transported through the assembly lines showing the products manufactured by G.E.R. in each section. To create a pattern that can be replied multiple times these elements are looped along the conveyor animation before being exported to the engine. This way if the conveyor needs to go faster we only need to change the fps rate of a single element. In gameplay terms, the box collider that acts like a mobile surface it's manually adjusted to the width and height of the belt, ignoring the objects on top.
The chemical area was one of the featured chapters since the inception of the game (you can see a prototype of a storage full of jars in our trailer), but its final design took second place since we prioritized on main levels and certain parts needed to be finished (like the assembly lines and biohazard scientists). The conveyor belts are used in both engineering (presses and welders) and chemical sections (here instead of welders, you’ll have to avoid acid dispensers).
To reinforce the toxicity of the tanks and elements that appear all over this sector we decided to tint the friezes and walls with a vivid green palette, and add a subtle bevel effect to the warning signs of some of the set pieces. Glasses show strong gradients composed of green, blue, and yellow colors while some details preserve the orange branding used along the facility to create a strong contrast.
Each wall has a composition of multiple color-adjustment layers, in order to obtain a certain metallic look. Finding the right balance of tones was no easy task since Subject W and the scientists with biohazard suits have to be recognizable.
The climbable platforms like machines and tables are drawn with a neutral grey scale to distinguish themselves from the background (the LUT effect applied to the camera will equalize all elements despite its color with a slight blue tone).
Welcome to G.E.R.
This is the entrance of G.E.R., where Dr. James Warren will meet Dr. Aaron Selten, the head of the facilities.
For this background we went with a clean, restrained look for the back pieces with light glasses and clear walls, allowing other elements like the sign, the desk, the couch, and the info objects to stand out.
In the center of the hall, you can see a big baobab-alike tree with blue pigmentation on its crowns, a statement of the achievements made by the bioengineering division of G.E.R.
By the right side, an elevator gives access to the underground facilities, where the action of the game takes place.
Boss animation process
The Hybrid is the last boss that we’ll be able to show because the rest of them enter spoiler territory. This human-plant experiment breaks free after the merge of a parasite with the poor soul locked inside a stasis tube. Confused after the bonding, this creature will try to defend itself from W with its arm-vines and deploy obstacles to get in our way. Players will need to use multiple skills to confront its attacks and force the host to throw out the creature grafted inside him.
An arm with a spiked ball... what were we thinking
Since we needed to complete its animation set based on the final mechanics (the concept anims were made on a dated pixel art program that wasn’t compatible with our current toolset) we took the opportunity to refine its look, making it bulkier and more detailed.
Mixing DNAs doesn’t seem like a good idea
The animation sequences developed for the cutscenes took some time, with all the bubbles, cables, and floating elements inside the pod. Luckily we recorded some of its core movements so you can see how we create this intricate pixel art pieces. They are very long so feel free to speed up even more the Youtube videos!
This boss is based on close combat attacks so you must stay away from it most of the time. For this pose, we decided to create a strong-paced animation with little details like the chest expansion and the arm-vines in constant motion.
The Hybrid will use its long arms to create an extended vine and reach Subject W from the distance.
To avoid the attack we need to give players enough time to avoid the attack with the double jump ability. Players need enough time to escape from the attack so we delayed the hit with a charge (the enemy contours its body before releasing the vine). In the end, the step was too much of a giveaway so we cut the animation a little bit to obtain a faster sequence.
The arm is exported separately so it can be rotated inside the game engine and reach the player in any position while maintaining the pixel perfect aesthetic.
After some time the parasite merged with the human will lose its grip from the host, forcing it to generate a cocoon and regain control (but leaving its form exposed to W’s attacks).
The first thing that we needed to highlight was the weak point (the human head), facilitating its reach by kneeling the character while creating a “little forest” on its base to keep it rooted to the floor. Its arms get entangled on the body, giving away that it can’t attack while maintaining this form. Energy lights flow through the vines while a glowing effect loops during the time that takes to charge and return to its plant form.
Exposed and stunned
If we managed to hit the Hybrid in the previous state the human body will be exposed for a brief moment, leading Subject W to take control over the situation (literally) by releasing the human host from its parasite. The transformation sequences are very tricky because you have to change from one character to another, blending the limbs, head, and other exposed parts, while maintaining the proportions of both the monster and the person.
Turning into human
This was the initial transformation pose, developed to see how the boss turns from plant to human. After designing the sprites, the animation was cut into pieces to transition to multiple states (stunned, recover, etc.).
Transformation and QTE
In order to release the human after using the host skill, we created a little QTE mechanic in which the players need to press the action button repeatedly to free him from the parasite. This was a tricky one since we needed to make it work forward and backward, with all the keyframes designed to move from one stance to another while avoiding sudden jumps or strange positions.
This is a clash based on the use of the double jump so the boss will create new traps on the floor and the roof for each routine. As you can see, this animation also has the energy patterns seen on the recharge stance, this time releasing the energy from its arms into the stage.
We didn’t record this animation either but we wanted to show the enemy puking at the end of the third hit. It is just fun, isn’t it?
To be as transparent as we can about the development process we decided to represent the percentage of progress made in different departments so you can see how the game is coming along and what are the parts that are taking more time.
User Interface elements
- Vector art > 75% done | Basically all things related to menus, tutorials, tips, and pop-ups (non-pixel art graphics). Most of this content is waiting in the shelf to be implemented at the end of the development (possible changes to the description of skills, relocation of photos to obtain experience points, etc).
- Animation for bosses > 75% done | The final boss requires a lot of work and is composed of different parts. After finishing it we can speed up things in the animation department.
- Animation for Enemies and the rest of the main characters > 100% done
- Animation for Cutscenes > 50% done | This part is the easiest to develop because most assets for NPC’s are very simple or need few tweaks from the ones already made to represent certain actions. Elements like monitors or background effects can take more time, aside from the last two bosses that need dedicated animations.
- Backgrounds > 80% done | Our game, like Castlevania SOTN, has a second version of the entire map with an all-new set of assets that will be overlapped above the original stages -Sorry for the SPOILER dear backers (not sorry, muahaha)-. We need to create elements that can be applied to different levels without changing their original structure, and also match with multiple aesthetics. With the help of color-adjustment tools and patience we are managing to obtain great results, but it’s a slow process.
- Bosses > 70% done | Some of them still need a lot of testing (they have way more different mechanics than a regular enemy) and the final boss is still in an early stage until all of its graphics are done.
- Cutscenes >36% done | One of the slowest tasks of the development. Creating animations for them is going well, but adding them to the engine, estimating the time of each sequence, matching dialogues with poses, inserting FX… work overload.
- Assembling levels > 65% done | An entire sector needs to be done, another one has the structure without enemies and, for the final one (the SOTN gameplay change), we need to add a new layer of decorations, modifying the whole map and including a new set of enemies (luckily they are already designed). This part will go faster after finishing the bosses, having more hands on the level editor.
OST and Fx > 40% done | Most themes are done and others need the cutscenes to be made. Besides this, our composer is not fully working on the game so he has to carve out time in his exhausting schedule to create the pieces and making compositions right off the bat is very difficult. A song for an entire chapter needs to work at multiple levels: match the type of enemies, aesthetics, and gameplay pace (while playing in a constant loop) so it’s no easy task.
Finding and recording Fx is another time-consuming labor, that needs a lot of testing and editing. The low percentage of this part is due to the need of cutscenes to decide if some FX can be left aside or recycled from other in-game elements.
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As you can see a lot of things need to be done, but the percentage of some tasks will rise faster with the implementation of stuff that is already made. In any case, and as always, we’ll keep you informed about every detail concerning the development.
Hope that you like how the game is coming along.
See you around!