Hey everyone! Recently I conducted a Q&A over Twitter about the development of Visual Out, and got a bunch of really great questions! I also have something exciting to announce, so stick around ‘till the end (or just skip there I guess??) and find out! So let’s get on with it!
bleach2121xx (@bleach2121) on Twitter asks: Explain Visual Out in 10 words or less. - Exlporation focused Metroidvania within a dying, obsolete computer system.
ghostkirby (@Ghostofheros) on Twitter asks: What is Visual Out? - Visual Out is my current game in development. As stated in the previous question, it’s a Metroidvania, with a focus on exploration and problem solving beyond simply shooting dudes in the face. You’ll gain abilities like the Jammer and Current that allow you to manipulate the environment by connecting circuits or glitching enemies and electronic components, and other abilities like the Dash and Jump aid in traversal. If you’d like to access updates, as well as a bunch of other stuff, head over to my Patreon and consider supporting me there! Parts of this game may not get made without your help!
Michael Cook (@mtrc) on Twitter asks: Can you say anything about the “dying computer” narrative? Are there AI undertones? - I don’t want to reveal too much, but player will find parts of story hidden in terminals throughout the game. The gist is that the computer’s SOS signal never made it out due to the operating system’s sense of self-preservation. As for why there was an SOS called in the first place, I’ll leave that for discovery. There’s a lot of different directions one could take “AI undertones.” The story doesn’t revolve around exploring common topics found in most AI-centric stories, like “what is it to be a person” and whatnot, but the computer’s OS is an AI, and part of the narrative is exploring its want to stay “alive”, so there’s that.
Also that gif is so evocative - are you writing shaders to get those effects? How much experience do you have with that stuff? - I’m using Construct 2 to build this game, so I’m not (and can’t) use shaders. Everything is a composite of a bunch of images layered on top of one-another, with some layer effects applied. It also looks REALLY BAD if you have WebGL turned off, or if you’re on a WebGL-disabled device, so I advise against that. (Here’s a screenshot without WebGL, and then with. Much clearer with.)
I’ve never written my own shaders, but I once frankensteined a shader similar to Antichamber’s for a school project. That was fun!
Luis (@HeyRaguio) on Twitter asks: What other games and creative media influence the direction of Visual Out? - Metroid, .Hack, Sword & Sworcery (at least influenced the Ludum Dare version), old electronics, Portal (to an extent), Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis (when your premise is “we shot this giant tin can to the moon and found sapient Totoros” how could you go wrong?! Also Visual Out sort of falls into the category of “tech wasn’t nearly advanced enough to do this crap but let’s pretend it was” sci-fi, which I love.), and other stuff I’m probably forgetting.
BeyondZagurave (@BeyondZagurave) on Twitter asks: Where did the idea of visual out come from? What made you decide to make it so big? - The Ludum Dare twitter account posted an image of an old CRT TV when they announced the theme “entire game on one screen.” I hated the theme, but I saw the image and was like, “I could make it on a… computer screen… One. Computer screen. Yes.” And so an aesthetic was born. The Ludum Dare version had some pretty shoddy gameplay, so when I revisited it, I knew I wanted to rework everything but the aesthetic from the ground up. I also wanted to make it exploration-based, so I looked at other Metroidvania games, compared sizes, and determined how big I wanted to make it based on that. In terms of Metroidvanias, it’s pretty small.
Cheeseness (Josh) (@ValiantCheese) on Twitter asks a lot of things! How long has Visual Out been in development? - Technically since December 2014, since that was the Ludum Dare it was created during, but I rebooted it in August 2015, so about six months. Hopefully I’ll be able to release it sometime in 2016.
How has your experience with previous projects benefited Visual Out? - I, at least vaguely, know how to do what I’m doing. Fun fact: The first game I wanted to make was a Metroidvania. I still sort of want to make that game, but uh, don’t try to make a huge exploration-based game as your first game. Previous projects also helped define my style as a game developer. I still do a mishmash of a lot of things, but for the most part “moody pixel art with lots of lighting effects” seems to be working best for me.
How did you arrive upon the game’s concept? Do you have any influences or inspirations that you have drawn upon? How have your vision and intentions for Visual Out evolved over time? - The first two of these questions are pretty similar to some previous ones, so I won’t repeat myself. As for how my vision has changed, Visual Out started as a mostly-walking sim with some puzzle solving, and a very unclear narrative with mechanics that lent very little to reenforcing that narrative. I needed to add something that made sense within the setting, and manipulating the electronic components around you was something unique which coencided well with the narrative and setting.
How would you describe Visual Out’s aesthetic? - Moody pixel junk. (I don’t mean junk in that I think it looks bad, I mean like, junk data, junk electronics, etc.)
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned during development so far? - I feel like I always struggle with including instruction for the player. I’m sort of bad at tutorials. I struggle between coherently explaining things to the player, and presenting tutorials in a clever way. In Visual Out, I want the player to have to think, and sometimes get lost, but I still need to be more clear than I have been. While presenting at an expo, many players just stopped before they found anything exciting. I understand at an expo setting you want to see a little of everything, but that I wasn’t able to capture many people for longer than a first impression means I need to work on engagement, and part of that is letting the player know how to do things in the game. After the expo, I fixed the most glaring parts of the beginning area. I still have a lot to work on though.
What are the biggest hurdles and most pleasant surprises you’ve encountered along the way? - Programming is a struggle for me, even using a visually based engine like Construct 2. Recently I had to remove a physics object because, for some completely undescernable reason, it was relocating the character’s position to Not a Number (even though the character was in no way connected to this object). So finding a way to do what I wanted without physics was fun. Literally any time I code something that works is a pleasant surprise. ;p
How would you describe your approach to storytelling and world building in Visual Out? - To be honest I mostly just write down scraps of ideas and work them into specific lines of dialogue. There isn’t terribly much world-building, since the world is fairly small and enclosed, even in its most expansive moments. I nailed down a setting and sort of went from there. I’m not a writer. ^^;;
How do you balance narrative design with game/level design? - I don’t want to interrupt the player (though on occasion I know I will have to and that’s fine) so any dialogue needs to be able to happen while the player is moving. This works fine, since most of the spoken text comes from an omnipresent operating system, so it’s basically shouted from everywhere at once. Other bits of story will be hidden in consoles, so if the player wants to discover the entire backstory they’ll have to do some searching.
What thoughts and goals do you have in mind when designing a level? - Primarily, motion. The player will be traversing the same rooms multiple times while exploring, so I need to keep in mind which rooms will be highest-traffic, and how the player can best move about them. I don’t want a hub room to be full of enemies or environmental obstacles, such that the player has to crawl through all of that many times on their way to other areas. That gets irritating. I also want the player to be able to cross a room in many different ways, especially after they’ve located a new item. I think back to playing Super Metroid, and how as a player I think of a room in an entirely new way after gaining a powerup.
How long does a level (scene, room, whatever terminology you’re going for) take to create? - Probably about three days if I just did one room from start to finish? It’s dificult to judge because there are so many stages to it and I do things in bulk. I’ll do this process for each Sector - or half a Sector if it’s too big to do at once: I have a graph paper notebook where I sketch level designs, then after I’ve figured out where all the doors are in each room, I create the outsides of all of the rooms and link the doors together. Occasionally I need to create some temporary platforms so I can reach the doors to test them. So now all the rooms exist in an empty state. Then I begin blocking in the level according to the sketch I did earlier. I run around in it a few times, make any necessary tweaks, and then decorate the room with assets from that Sector.
If you could have players take away one thing from playing Visual Out, what would it be? - My only hope is that players find the world, and its methods of traversal, interesting enough to keep exploring. If they take away anything, I’d like it to be a desire to come back for more.
Thank you everyone who sent in questions! This was a ton of fun, and those questions were great! Remember to check out my Patreon if you haven’t already. I appreciate everyone who’s supported me thus far!
Now for an awesome announcement!
Last week, I applied to take part in the Core Labs Game Accelerator course, a 6-month long crash course in game marketing. And just recently I have been notified that I’ve been accepted!! What this means is I’ll be better equiped to bring Visual Out to fruition, as well as that I’ll have mentors and peers who are able to help with design along the way. I’m not 100% sure of the details, but this is very exciting and I’m going to be learning a lot. The next six months are going to be busy for me, working with Core Labs, developing Visual Out, and managing my Patreon, but I’m hyped!
Earlier this month I had the wonderful opportunity of exploring Amsterdam and Vienna with two of my best friends.
I just just competed my final semester of university in December 2015 and the last thing I wanted to do was face reality, so instead I went to Europe like any self-respecting twenty-something year old would do.
And all I have to say is that it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, starting with the fact that my friends were already in Europe for a semester abroad program. This means that I flew from Vancouver, B.C. to Vienna, Austria all by myself.
Now this may not seem like a great thing to accomplish, but flying alone has been a big fear of mine and put together with my anxiety I thought it was going to be a disaster. Somehow it wasn’t.
So, basically, this is me introducing my adventure and wanting to let everyone know that I’m going to be making some posts to go with my trip sometime in the near future. I feel like these posts will come up randomly, but they’ll be up eventually :)