August 6, 2013 10:42 PM | John Polson
Erlend Grefsrud on this dazzling new collection of living geometry
The hook: If I had an attention-grabbing one-liner, I would probably have launched my Kickstarter a long time ago. As it stands, I can't even work out whether I should call the game Austerity or Myriad. Let's try this for size:
You are free, space is malleable, no boundaries constrain you: Make the world, then break the world.
But that's more of a tagline, and it doesn't really explain anything. Austerity/Myriad gives the player unprecedented control over the game space: The whole system is controlled by player intent, from level design to enemy spawning, while still presenting a focused, skill-based challenge.
God, that's hard to answer. Basically it comes down to my definition of the art of games: Plasticity and mastery. Games let players create, manipulate, perform, improve, to be agents of change. But they are also kinaesthetic, they are about the joy of motion and what Tim Rogers calls electrofriction. I wanted to demonstrate precisely what I find so beautiful and wonderful about games, even if that thing has no real name yet.
The sticky, punchy interplay between audio, video, input; the travel of buttons and the yield of analogue sticks, and the sense of rich, meaningful expression within a zero-flub environment geared to make you want to struggle to keep feeling good. I wanted to make a game purely about these things: The beauty of kinaesthetics, and the joy of effecting change, of feeling every action (not just decision, action) matter, to feel like being in itself in the moment of play could be no richer.
I haven't quite, y'know, crystallized my USP [unique selling point]. I get a bit closer every time someone forces me to try.
Release info: Since I'm developing in Unity, PC/Mac/Linux is a given, and I want to do an iPad version, although that would probably be a remix rather than a straight port of the game. I really want to do a PS4 and Vita version, since they've got touchpads and the game needs a pointer-esque input method to work properly, and I think the game would lend itself well to the video streaming feature. As for price point and availability, I'm not close enough to release to have decided. I expect to release this year, but when and where depends on a lot of factors outside my immediate control.
Screenshot info: The screenshot depicts death. The avatar has just run headlong into an enemy and popped like a grape of wrath in exceptionally slow motion. Since every play session ends in death, I wanted to reward players for their efforts. Dying always feels like losing. Dying usually feels abrupt and disappointing, a moment of "aw shit no" and then just a wash of "well, that's it" and then you either quit or try again. I wanted death to be a ceremony, like opening a chest in Zelda, but not purely gratifying -- rather, I wanted it to feel bitter-sweet.
Details on earlier aesthetic iterations: I've got heaps and heaps and heaps of material. I've been developing this thing actively for over 9 months now, and I've switched from Flash to Haxe to Unity on the way. To briefly iterate my changes:
1. Made a prototype over a weekend, discovered to my great pleasure and surprise that people liked it and kept playing it
Originally it was just an experiment in simplicity: How few systems could make a varied, replayable game?
Nasty, glowy programmer-arty placeholder graphics that I smacked together in about five minutes
2. Worked on it for a while, and then ported to Haxe, as I was starting to get a really good feeling about where the game was going and wanted native Windows and Mac versions
Developed the ultraminimal black and white style, partly because I wanted to program a game rather than work on tons of art assets and, well, I like circles a lot
Had a stroke of luck with the enemy colour scheme, probably the only thing I haven't pored over for way too much time
Decided this would be my Super Crate Box: A gleeful excuse to make tons of cool, beautiful guns and a simple, easily mappable game system to use them in
3. Got frustrated with Haxe, and decided to go with Unity instead, mostly because Haxe's cross-platform stuff was a bit dodgy and I couldn't get the performance I needed
Maintained the minimalist art style, and decided the only real frippery would be gorgeous particle effects, since Unity's particle system is neat, simple and fast
From there, things quickly spiralled out of control as I realized that I could kiss technical constraints buh-bye and that C# is so great it almost makes me forgive Microsoft for being Microsoft
Failed completely to maintain Super Crate Box-grade scope, and quickly veered into very, very experimental territory and decided I wanted to make a game where the player builds the levels through play
Tried, failed, explored and iterated until I had made something that I thought, even after working on it for hundreds of hours, was pretty damn fun and interesting
Discovered that isographic rendering can result in awesome sense of vertigo, and that my players would probably love this
4. Scrapped my first Unity prototype, cracked my fingers and recoded the bugger from scratch
Settled on the complimentary colour shader trick that's the heart and soul of the game aesthetic
Settled on circles and triangles ONLY (initially I wasn't too picky about what geometric shapes I wanted to use, but in a fit of self-loathing I decided to make life terribly hard for myself)
Dropped soft particles as alpha-blending the invert shader turned out to be a pain in the ass and remarkably ugly
Went whole hog on the isographic rendering, and decided vertigo simply wasn't enough: I wanted to bend space until it screamed for mercy.
That leaves out a lot of moaning, shouting, crying, running out of money, losing a job and a lot of explaining to my Significantly Better Half what happened to that quick six-week project I started last October.
The devs and tech behind the screens: You're looking at an arrangement of very high-poly unlit cylinders stacked in weird configurations that appear flat and tidy from the top but grows troubling and starts messing with your spatial perception as the camera tilts and pans. The environment changes colour based on your weapon loadout, weapon upgrade level and position. The centrepiece is a particle effect, consisting of about a dozen mesh emitters chucking equilateral pyramids, some stretched billboards and a bit of ye olde shader magic. Finally, the little red dot there is a geodesic hemisphere with an unlit, flat-coloured trail. The shot is a little steppy and rough because there's only 2x anti-aliasing, to avoid slowdown during video recording.
The game is built in Unity, code written in MonoDevelop, geometry and animations built in 3ds Max. It's all my own work, except the pretty damn great music by FASTLAND, who's done the audio for all my games. I hope to one day pay him back for making me sound way cooler than I am.
The selection process: Mostly I pick screenshots based on what makes me giddy and proud of the work I've done. If I find myself going "Oooooh yeeeeeeeees!" as I scroll through my FRAPS screendump folder, the inciting image is probably gonna wind up on Twitter in a desperate bid for recognition, attention and gratification of my artistic ego.
How can people follow you? I spend way too much time as Slaktus on Twitter, I SHOULD be updating this Facebook page and this company website but instead I mostly write weird, cryptic and esoteric nonsense on this here Tumblr instead.
Pay it forward. What game caught your eye this week?
Skyrouge by Kenny B. I love trails, find something about them really attractive, probably because they don't exist in real life and I adore the economy and heft of good low-poly art. I like the chunky gradient in the sky, and the bold, chunky HUD. It's a shame so many games try to hide their HUDs in a bid to be cinematic. I think they're an important part of the visual language of games, and I remember readable, distinctive UI elements almost as well as a catchy tune.
[Screenshot Daily attempts to take a closer look at the games of Screenshot Saturday. Screenshot Daily is as much yours as mine, so let me know what you'd like to see or learn from it!]