Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Cancelled game Snowball Earth playable at Indigo

In 2007, after we had made De Blob, we worked on a big game that was intended to be the first real commercial game by Ronimo Games. It was called: Snowball Earth. However, we couldn't find a publisher for it and the game was cancelled. After that, we went on to make Swords & Soldiers.

Since the game was cancelled, we never showed it to anyone after that. However, this weekend at Indigo, the prototype we made at the time will be playable! It is a 30 minute completely playable demo that shows the visual style and gameplay we were aiming for.

We will soon release a lot more information on what this game was all about, and even the complete playable prototype! I think it has some great original and unique gameplay ideas, so I am actually looking forward to showing those to the world! However, for the moment, enjoy these two screenshots!

To play Snowball Earth this weekend, visit Indigo! Indigo is a yearly exhibition by Dutch Game Garden that shows the best new work by Dutch game developers. This year it is held in Utrecht's town hall, at Korte Minrebroederstraat 2. On September 28 it is open mainly for press and business people, while on September 29 it is open to the general public. Entrance to Indigo is free, so be sure to visit and give Snowball Earth a try! Awesomenauts and my new project Cello Fortress will also be playable at Indigo!

Visit Indigo if you want to give Snowball Earth a try, or follow this blog for more info soon!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Awesomenauts skins out now!

Indeed! We have just released DLC skins for Awesomenauts on Steam! There is an awesome alternative look for every character, as you can see in the new trailer:

This comes together with patch 1.5, which along with skins also contains numerous balance fixes, and some big improvements to the matchmaker to make sure you play more against players of the same skill level.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Announcing Cello Fortress: a unique mix of live concert and game

Today I am announcing my new project: Cello Fortress! Cello Fortress is a really weird game concept, very experimental. I am really happy to finally have started working on it, after having it floating around in my head for years. ^_^

Cello Fortress can only be played live at events, and it will debut at the Indigo exhibition later this month!

Cello Fortress combines a live cello concert with a twin-stick-shooter, in which the cellist plays against the audience. It brings a unique experience in which I control the game by improvising on my cello, simultaneously fending off attacks and making music. The audience takes up controllers and tries to beat the fortress. The result is an exciting interplay between cellist, players and audience.

Up to four players use controllers to navigate their tank, using one stick to move and the other to shoot. They dodge bullets and attack the turrets. At the same time, the game analyses the notes played by the cellist, as picked up by a microphone. Aggressive notes activate the burst-cannons, dissonant chords turn on the flame-throwers, and an ominous melody charges a bombardment.

Cello Fortress is only playable at live concerts given by... me! So I am not only the creator of the game, but also the cellist. The debut of Cello Fortress will be at the Indigo 2012 exhibition on 28 and 29 September in Utrecht, Netherlands. The version played at Indigo will be a fully playable, early prototype, to experiment with this weird concept.

I find this project an incredibly interesting experiment. I have played cello for years, including in a band and currently in the Kunstorkest amateur baroque orchestra. I do lots of improvisation at jam sessions and such. But how does it feel to improvise with a gameplay goal? If I need to suddenly play low notes to fire a certain cannon, then I will need to come up with a melody that brings me to the low notes quickly, without sounding like random notes. After all, I am making music here! Besides the players, there is also an audience listening and viewing, so they need to hear good music as well as see interesting gameplay. Quite a challenge, and I look forward to trying it in front of an audience.

This game contains so many weird elements that it is interesting to list some of the rare and unique aspects in Cello Fortress:
  • Using a real musical instrument as a game-controller (like Rocksmith, but this time using a cello and to control normal gameplay)
  • Combining concert and game
  • Dynamic difficulty adjustment directly by the designer during gameplay
  • Completely adaptive soundtrack
  • The game is a show in front of an audience

Since the game is still in the early stages, the version playable at Indigo will probably not look very polished yet. However, I am already playing around with the visual style of the game, so here is a piece of concept art for it:

So to play Cello Fortress, visit Indigo! Indigo is a yearly exhibition by Dutch Game Garden that shows the best new work by Dutch game developers. This year it is held in Utrecht's town hall, at Korte Minrebroederstraat 2. On September 28 it is open mainly for press and business people, while on September 29 it is open to the general public. Entrance to Indigo is free, and Cello Fortress will be playable regularly throughout the day. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Shooting animations in Awesomenauts

A challenge that is faced in the development of many games, is how to animate shooting, and other actions that can happen at the same time as general movement. In Awesomenauts, the player can shoot while walking, standing still, jumping, falling and sliding. How to make animations for this?

The first idea might be to simply make an animation for each combination. This means animating both walking+shooting, walking+sliding, walking+jumping, etc. This is a lot of work, especially since in the console version of Awesomenauts, characters need to be able to shoot in 5 different directions. That is just a lot of animations.

And that is not even the worst of it. The real issue is that this doesn't actually work. The player can shoot at any moment in time. This means that shooting can start at any point during another animation, not just at the start of an animation. So if the player is already halfway through his current walking animation, then the walking+shooting animation will not connect. Either the shooting has to be delayed until the walking animation has finished, or the feet will shuffle every time the player shoots (which in most games is very often). Both are unacceptable, as shuffling is ugly, and delaying destroys the responsiveness of the controls.

The common solution to this problem, is to split the upper and lower body and animate them separately. However, as I explained in last week's blogpost, our character designs were not very fit for that. And since Awesomenauts is a 2D game, we also don't have any bones to do animation blending on parts of the body, as is commonly done in 3D games.

So we had to be more creative. We came up with a combination of a couple of techniques. Our solution is somewhat hacky and weird, but I am pretty happy with the result, and the amount of time it took to make was quite acceptable.

Our solution on console consists of two parts. The most visible part is the shoot effect. Whenever the player shoots, an effect is played at the position of his gun. This effect usually contains a light flash and particles, as is very common when shooting in any game. The trick here is that we exaggerate these shoot effects to compensate for that the character's body itself is not playing an animation when shooting.

From there our artists took this even further: some shoot effects contain body parts that are drawn on top of the character. This essentially means that the gun of a character might be visible double during the shooting, but since it goes so fast, the double is not really noticeable (unless you read this blogpost and start looking for it). The recoil animations this makes possible look much more natural and powerful.

The other part of our solution in the console version of Awesomenauts is that we skew the entire character based on his shooting direction. Skewing is a rather crude effect to apply to an entire character, and looks horrible in slow-motion, but when seen at the speed of the actual game, it actually looks like a recoil effect and looks pretty good. Depending on the shooting direction, we also sometimes squash the character instead of skewing him.

This video shows how the combination of a shoot effect and a skew works out in the console version of Awesomenauts, both at normal speed and in slow motion.

This technique works fine for the short burst that each shot is, but doesn't work for some of the longer skill animations. Here we got lucky: most of those don't allow the player to walk while performing them, and many don't have specific aiming either. Clunk's Bite skill is a nice example of this, and was thus pretty straightforward to animate.

The most difficult one here is Lonestar's grenade throw. He can charge this while moving around, and throwing requires an animation in the arm. Luckily, our artists came up with a really simple solution to this: they animated him with his feet of the ground, as if jumping to throw that grenade. This works fine both when Lonestar is in the air, and when he is on the ground. Similarly, Yuri's skills are animated with his jetpack turned on, also resulting in his feet being off the ground. Note that when looking really closely, solutions like this might not look perfect. However, when actually playing, they look totally fine, so I think this was a pretty smart solution from our art team.

A couple of examples of how some of the longer animations simply use a jumping pose to solve the problem of mixing the animation with free movement.

While reading this, you might have noticed that I am constantly talking very specifically about the console version of Awesomenauts. This is because on PC, we separated the arms from the body (as I explained in last week's blogpost), and that suddenly makes it a lot easier to do some proper animation while shooting. So on PC, characters have proper recoil in their arms while shooting. Most characters also still have their skewing animations, and the combination of gun recoil, shoot effects and skewing looks great, in my opinion.

Some examples of shooting animations in the PC version of Awesomenauts, where arms are separate objects and can thus have proper recoil animations.

For the moment this is the last blogpost in this short series on animation in Awesomenauts. I would like to get back to this topic later, to talk about our tool chain and the way in which our artists create animations, but for the coming weeks I have some much more exciting topics to pester you with. I have some cool footage coming up of a cancelled Ronimo project (in my opinion a lot cooler than the previously discussed Monstertruck VS Zombies). And, even more exciting: next week I will announce the new hobby-project I am working on! My new hobby project is the weirdest thing I have worked on so far, so be sure to check out it's reveal next week! ^_^