Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Revisiting the tile based game

My next game has a tile-based system behind it. Gratuitous Space Battles didn’t have tiles because if it did, all of them would be “tile 1: space“, which is kinda dull.

Tile-based games are typically associated with very old school RPGs and with early top-down very basic RTS games. Generally, these games seemed to have a set number of tiles (a ’tileset’) and the tiles would be of  fixed size. The tile size was small, to enable sensible pathfinding, but this would make the terrain look very obviously gridlike, with tiles repeating and the largest terrain objects being tiny.

Tech has moved on, and we can afford to have big textures now, but the problem is that a system that uses the tiles for non-visual stuff (pathfinding, AI, terrain etc) still probably needs fairly small tiles. For a while, I was struggling with small tiles and coder art, but the first few bits of proper art have forced me to reassess how I was doing things.

It’s all coded now, and the solution was to basically have two overlapped tile systems. Effectively, the game grid works on smallish tiles, and the visual tiles that have textures applied to them are four times the size. This is completely transparent to the gamer, but it does make for a slightly strange ‘change edit mode’ button in the game editor, and some slightly messy code. Eventually, the system I plucked for just uses the smaller tiles, in the game engine and the editor cunningly lets you apply the larger ones, and transparently splits them into 4 and applies them to the smaller ones for you.

It was a bit of a pain to code, but worth doing. One day I’ll have screenshots to show!

Big Vision Games

A frequent piece of advice given to indie devs is to work on small games, and to concentrate on the gameplay and the balance, and then add some shininess later. This is pretty much good advice. It’s good to caution against biting off too much.

Increasingly though, I am finding myself making games where this advice just does not work. My games have become about a general ‘feel’ and ‘atmosphere’, and based on a lot of things all coming together to have a cumulative effect.

Gratuitous Space Battles obviously had some cool ideas mechanic-wise, but it also had a ‘feel’ of ‘epic space battles’. The problem with this, as a design aesthetic, is that it takes a year of coding and artwork and polishing and tweaking before you can say “yup, that’s an epic space battle alright”.

This is the problem I currently have with LB. The game is awesome in my head, and I have that big vision in there for how it should come across, but it doesn’t feel like it yet. Not vaguely. Mostly this is due to crappy coder art (for 95% of it). I’ve got another 2 weeks or so before I start getting more proper artwork for it. I have to admit, it’s tricky to stare at something that looks so messy and maintain the big vision for the game. The good news is, I know I can do it, because GSB turned out alright.

I am, however, developing enormous sympathy for people running a studio with 150 people working for 2 years on a game, telling themselves every day that “don’t worry, it will be awesome when it’s done”. Talk about stress…