I mentioned last time that the project is on hiatus. It’s a two-person project, and we’re both insanely busy. But lately, I’ve been wanting to get back into it. Grad school takes up most of my time, and my chill out time is spent playing Dragon Quest IX. When I’m between things (mostly, when I’m driving), I brainstorm about Artemis.
The other hobby projects I’ve worked on have all been small enough that they didn’t need formal game design documents. This time, I’ve set up a wiki to organize my ideas. By the time I’m ready to seriously work on the game again, I hope to have every detail planned out there. A wiki seems ideal for this, since everything can be cross referenced (enemies, locations, items, etc.). Someday, when the game is finally finished, it might be fun to make the wiki public and let people see the planning notes. It might also double as a strategy guide, since the goal is to have every detail there.
I mentioned that I’ve been playing Dragon Quest IX. It’s really incredible, and I’ve gotten a few ideas from it. In particular, one thing DQ9 does very well is the massive post-game. Most of the time I’ve put into the game has been after beating the final boss. That said, it’s not a perfect game. My main gripe is that it’s too easy. I’d like Artemis to be roughly the same difficulty level as the original Zelda. From what I remember, that’s a game that got the difficulty just right.
So anyway, the hiatus continues, but at least some progress is being made on planning/design for Artemis. Each week, I put a few ideas into the wiki. I don’t have any particular timetable, but at some point I’ll get back into the programming – and then I’ll be glad I spent this time planning.
I have neglected this project lately, but I haven’t forgotten it. I’m glad I made a lot of progress in May/June, because the rest of the summer has been busy with moving, preparing for grad school, etc. Also, I’ve been spending some time actually playing games – Spelunky, Transformice, the BIT.TRIP series, and my newest favorite, Final Fantasy XII. A lot of that gameplay is time that I otherwise might have spent on Artemis.
This project has been going on for so long that I guess the occasional hiatus is okay. I keep really meticulous notes for this project, so I’ll always be able to pick up right where I left off.
I’ve made a lot of progress since the last update.
- There is a working main menu. There are 10 submenus, and 7 of them work so far. There is an 8th one that I’m going to do soon (settings menu). The other two can wait (world map and enemy guide).
- The player and enemies can attack now. Projectiles are just a placeholder image right now, but they seem to function correctly. Some minor refinements will still need to be made. Enemies can die and drop items, and the player can die and send the user back to the title screen.
- The player can pick up items and money.
- There is a simple HUD that shows player health and which items are equipped. The player can equip one attack and one support item at a time, and the tab key switches between which one is currently active. Support items are consumables like cure drinks and bombs.
- Saving and loading work well. The “which save slot?” menu looks good, and it shows a mini-screenshot of where the player left off for each slot.
- I’ve started putting my script language back into the game.
I’m going to continue working on the script language for a while. Also, I need to fix up all of the object data and scripts to work with the new coordinate system. This is going to be a pain. Since the game is at a lower resolution than before, the maps are now 1000×1000 pixels instead of 2000×2000. So that door at (1500, 800) that sends the player to (1243, 1711)… yeah, all that stuff needs to be divided by 2. This isn’t difficult for me to do, but it’ll be time consuming because I have hundreds of objects to adjust coordinates for. It’s still better than making new maps from scratch, though.
Once I have the script language working alright and the maps updated, I’m going to start going through and refining things. There are still more features to add (shops, item use, etc.), but it would really be wise for me to stop moving forward and just refine what I have. The attacking, enemy behavior, jumping, and collision need to be perfect.
Here’s a preview of the new menus for the game.
I guess lately these blog posts have become a monthly thing, so I’ll just roll with that. Here are a few thoughts for this evening.
- I’ve been reconstructing the game at a lower resolution, and things are going well. The player can walk around, collide with walls, jump over stuff, etc. All with fewer pixels than before!
- Two of the big things missing right now are attacks and menus. Both of these are going to be improved in this version of the game, so they’re going to take a bit more work.
- Revamping the interface is a high priority. I’ve made some new font and window routines, and I’m really happy with the results so far. I’ve also put in a custom mouse cursor. I’ll probably do a HUD soon.
- We have an interesting idea to try for the mouse cursor / aiming, but it’ll be a while before I get to it.
- I’m thinking about starting a Twitter account for Artemis updates, but I’m not sure if anyone would actually read it. Right now I keep a personal log with brief notes for everything I do. I’m not even a big fan of Twitter, but my version notes look like tweets to me.
Just a few random notes since last time…
- As mentioned in the previous post, the game is being switched to a lower screen resolution. Specifically, 340×255. But, don’t worry – it will automatically scale up and fill as much of your screen as possible. Pixelly.
- For low res graphics, right now I’m just using scaled-down versions of our sprites and tiles. This doesn’t quite look right, but it’s what I have available to work with right now. Since it looks rough, I probably won’t be posting screenshots any time soon.
- I’m rebuilding much of the engine from the ground up, using chunks of code from the old version of the game. It feels like I’m putting a jigsaw puzzle together. I have the picture on the box for reference, but some of the pieces need to be modified/improved as I go along.
- We’ve been doing some weapon and item planning. This is interesting. We’re leaning more towards the Zelda approach to inventory, rather than Final Fantasy. This means 8-10 weapons will be available, instead of the 16 (or whatever) that I had previously planned for.
- There will still be an interesting level-up system for weapon skills. Since there are fewer weapons now, this means the player will get to spend a significant amount of time with each one (if they choose to).
- Okay, specifically, right now I’m thinking 8 weapons, 8 armors, 8 accessories, 8 usable items, and 8 key items. This would give the game a grand total of 40 items available, plus bundles of arrows and piles of money. So, it’s a larger inventory than Zelda games, but it’s still smaller than FF games.
I’ve made some minor adjustments to the game lately, but nothing really worthy of packing up a new demo yet. I added some butterflies to the forest, added some basic joypad support… eh.
Recently, we’ve started questioning why Artemis is an 800×600 resolution game. We’re both big fans of low res pixel art, and the game is heavily influenced by role playing games for the SNES (256×224 res) and Gameboy Advance (240×160 res). So why did we ever make this game so high res?
At this point, lowering the resolution of the game would be a major undertaking – because it’s something I never planned for when programming the engine. But we’ve talked about it, and we can both see some obvious benefits.
- We both prefer a lower res style.
- It would be faster to make sprites and tiles for the game.
- The game would run at a higher frame rate, which which give me the option of including features like weather and a day/night cycle. These features were previously in the game, but they caused too much slowdown in high res.
- The visual style would fit better with the audio style we prefer.
- Overhauling the project would give me an excuse to redo some of the things that have been bugging me, like the menus.
- It would take tons of time to program this.
- It would mean getting rid of all of the graphics currently in the game.
I’m still not 100% sold on this, but I might start playing around with some code.
Here’s the most recent playable demo, from November 9th, 2009. It should run on any version of Windows. Please understand that this is a pre-release demo, so some of the graphics are preliminary placeholders. Download version 1692 here. (25.4 MB zip file)
Updates since version 1597:
- The game finally runs fullscreen. No more black border around the edge of the screen!
- Added a simple jump for the player (right mouse button).
- The player can only have one weapon equipped at a time now, because the other button is used to jump.
- The mouse scroll wheel can now be used to change weapons.
- Added the Eagle Feather item and several accessories.
- Added three new enemies: bee hive, jumping rock, and doppleganger. The graphics are preliminary placeholders for all three.
- Added nine new maps to feature the new enemies.
- Added a simple world map to the menu. It still needs a lot of work.
- Removed the minigame. There will be other minigames included later.
- New music for several of the areas.
- Various other small additions and fixes.
Partial list of known bugs in this version:
- Tree shadows cause visual glitches near the top and left sides of the screen.
- Some of the scrolling menus may leave visual trails/glitches.
- Jumping off a map may cause the game to freeze. This is rare.
- There are some weapon aiming issues that I need to fix.
I’ve been trying to come up with a new music style for the game. My latest tracks are a bit more old school than before.
Here’s one for a forest/mountain area:
And something more urban, for a city area:
And here’s some cave music:
I’m still trying to find the perfect sound for the game. I like these tracks, but I wonder if they might be too “8-bit” to match the visual style. On the other hand, maybe that would make the music stand out as charming and unique? I’m not sure. Any thoughts?
Yes, it’s true – we’ve been working on this game for over 3 years. You see, this is a hobby for us. We have jobs, school, and real life to deal with. Since we’ve started working on this project, we’ve moved, started at new schools, started a home business, and got married (yes, we’re a husband & wife dev team ). So, Artemis hasn’t been our #1 priority.
We love this project, though. I guess that’s why it has persevered. Lately, due to our other commitments, working on Artemis has been a sort of binge development process. That’s where we don’t work on the game for several months, and then suddenly there’s a weekend with free time (precious, precious free time) – so progress happens in bursts.
Our project goals have changed around a lot over the years. Originally, the game was going to have random, turn-based battles and a four character party. Those ideas were included in the game and somewhat fleshed out. Sometimes we have to go down the wrong path in order to realize it’s the wrong path, right?
So, 3+ years, and the project continues. I’ve heard that the guy who made Cave Story spent 5 years on it, and that game has won awards and stuff. I’m just sayin’.