Poison gas in my kitchen!?

Poison gas in my kitchen!?

The world is my kitchen! And it’s full of poisonous gas! Wait what!?

So last week’s underground test convinced us that building underground was pretty fun. You get a cool ‘secret base’ feeling and the dirt provides natural shape to your tunnels. There’s still going to be a lot of tweaking required for many buildings to make them functional but, we’re hyper-aware now of building underground with each new thing we think of.

We wanted to further explore ways to make trips to the surface dangerous with good risk-rewards. Something requiring a certain amount of effort to get up there and maintain a presence. Time for some more extreme prototype testing! We’ve filled the entire atmosphere with poisonous gas to see what it would be like. :)

Immediate differences were all the plants & animals which grow & live on the surface suddenly became super valuable. Also, the warehouse still needs to be built with clear sight to the sky to allow the company ship to pick up shipments, so heading to the surface to store soup was initially impossible. We anticipated this much though and made some airlocks to go with the poison gas. They also clean the air inside them before opening the doors. Gas currently doesn’t do any damage, but we’re using our imaginations while playing :P The goal would be to have it kill you fairly quickly while touching it.

Gameplay gains have been on two fronts. Venturing to the surface has become more of a journey, but ensuring your base is airtight has also become critical. Enemies that affect the terrain around them now apply indirect pressure when letting gas in from the surface, or puncturing an underground gas pocket. Players will have to run and repair any holes plus safe guard their base in new places you didn’t even need to build towers previously.

Some interesting risk-reward situations have sprung up now which are kind of cool. Staying safe turtled in your base farming mushrooms will let you sell cheap mushroom soup, but venturing to the surface can get your something more rare and exotic… like grass! It also encourages intelligent base design with decent fall backs.

Current problems though include how to “fix” the gas (IE: your base network is now filled to the brim with gas and there’s a gaping hole to the atmosphere. Watcha gonna do?). Threats and disasters are only fun when there’s a solution or method to “fix” the damage done. We’re currently still testing a variety of ideas on how best to clear out the gas and patch any holes.

Whatcha cookin’?

Whatcha cookin'?

This week we wanted to experiment with some new motivations for the player to leave their base. New soup recipes requiring special ingredients now lure people outside into the wide world more frequently. When currently building a soup factory, you can choose from known soup recipes to produce there. Depending on the soup variety, a player will usually have to go exploring and collect the necessary ingredients.  After soup is made and ready to be sold it’s stored in a shipping warehouse to be collected. A soup’s base price is modeled off the rarity of ingredients and their difficulty to collect. There are even ways to value add to soup and increase its price after production, but that’s for later game macro management.

A player starts knowing just a few simple recipes, but can discover more as they play. I’d like players to eventually be able to invent their own unique soup flavours and try to sell them on the galactic market! For now though, it feels better to have the clearer “in-game” path mentioned above for generating income at the start. Because having to pore over a wiki when you don’t know what anything does isn’t fun. o.O

Out of sight out of mind

Out of sight out of mind

Last week we did something that possibly doesn’t happen often enough during game development. We rolled back an entire facet of the gameplay. Why? To get at the vulnerable design underbelly. It’s important here to differentiate this from ‘culling a feature’. This is different. This is the recognition that one design element was clouding (even hindering) the growth of another, and needed to be “out of sight out of mind” for a little while.

In our case, the ‘base helper robots’ were blocking us from figuring out exactly what is and isn’t fun for the player to do. While playing we continually ask the question of, “Is what I’m doing fun?”. The helper robots though existed on the presumption that the player wanted to delegate certain tasks, rather than doing it themselves. We should have been testing if those gameplay elements were really that cumbersome at all, before jumping to the conclusion of, “We need to alleviate unnecessary player micro with some helper robots.” It’s now become relatively easy to see exactly what underlying core tasks the player has to do to maintain and defend their base.

For example, one type of helper robot was carrying raw energy from mining stations to a power station where it can be converted into usable electricity. That was all great but, no-one felt thankful yet and they were muddying the balancing process due to their automation. Cutting them for now has let us focus more on the electricity in general and how the mining station outputs energy in the first place, while we’ve just left the manual labour to the player.

The message for other Game Designers is, “temporarily removing an entire design element can often give you clarity on another”. The lesson to be learned here would be, “don’t rush for the easy gameplay straight away” that you already know will probably be fun. You might be rushing past some gameplay gems in the process, if only you’d taken the time to peel back a layer or two and polish them up.

Space Creeps

Space Creeps

As we prototype, there’s only been a handful of space creatures living in the world for a while now. It’s time to increase their variety. Also, I’m sick of eating the same soup, over and over. :) Let’s mix production up a bit.

All of our space creatures aim to capture a defining characteristic. The way they move, sound and look (delicious!) should really define their place within the ecosystem. It’s also vital to consider their interactions with the environment and each other. A living breathing world should keep ticking even when the player isn’t there.

Some of the below concepts are already implemented and we might end up keeping them. Some have already been tried and discarded because they felt too bland (soup pun ha!). Putting in too many types at once will upset the environmental balance, so maybe only one more next week for now, before letting them settle. The only rule is, “If it’s fun, it stays!”

Roll Out!

Roll Out!

Exploring the HUGE environment in PixelJunk 1-6 is cool, but after a while you start wanting get around a little faster. With a little more efficiency.. with a little more style! I don’t really want to still be walking around exploring like when I first started. We also like the idea that players who choose to invest resources (yes resources) into vehicle specific research (yes research too) should be allowed to get some pretty funky stuff if they want!

Over the week we’ve been thinking about a variety of vehicles, each with a single clearly defined purpose. Either scouting, digging, combat, haulage, etc. Regardless of research, all players will have access to basic vehicles, but there should be some cooler stuff a little further on to reward those who choose invest in the research.

We’ll pick a few of the more functional & fun looking vehicles and quickly implement them when we can to see what they feel like. One of the drill cars is already in and being tested. Next should probably be something to make scouting a bit easier. We’re also running a poll over on the PixelJunk Facebook page for which vehicle concepts are the coolest. Head over and vote!

And this would officially be the coolest way to clear flat areas of terrain! >< City councils should get on this right now.

Why Steam?

Why Steam?

Hi everyone. Many of you have been asking, “Why Steam?” I thought I’d address this here to shed some light on the thought process that went into our decision.

We’re certainly not ruling out any platforms at this point. I hope 1-6 does well enough on Steam for PC that we can bring it to PSN and as many other platforms as is technically possible! Our expected spec requirements for PixelJunk 1-6 are fairly low, so even people without a “gaming PC” will be able to throw down.

Steam gives us the freedom to open up our development process and be completely transparent approaching release. 1-6 started like a gamejam with just a few of us, so a frank and honest dev blog is something we really wanted to carry through. We also want to rapidly iterate on the game following release, and Steam is probably the best platform around for this at the moment. Steam also has some interesting features we want to explore like the new ‘big picture mode’. I’m also particularly interested to hear how their recent Linux Beta is going.

In a perfect world I think most game devs would love for every decision they ever make to be simply because, “this will make the game more fun!”. Being an indie studio in control of our own destiny at the moment, we’re in the fortunate position of being able to do just that.

It’s exciting times for us!