First of all, Happy New Year everyone! I hope you are feeling optimistic about the new year and feel relaxed after the holiday season.
In this blog post I’m going to talk about a new game prototype I have been working on. You can download an apk of my progress here: prototype.apk(18mb)
I’ve been working on this puzzle game idea sporadically over the past few months and I’m pleased to share some progress with you. I’ve programmed a few simple rules and a level editor, and have been doing most of my level design on paper. Over the last few days of the year, I finally programmed a few levels into the game.
I’d love to hear what you think. Particularly, I’d like to hear feedback on:
Were the rules clear? Did you get stuck on any of the early levels?
Which levels did you find particularly puzzling?
Did you find any levels boring?
Below is a list of known issues / work in progress
UI is very placeholder: coins and hint buttons do nothing
‘Zen’ levels not ready – button disabled
You will pass with a blue (pass) or purple (perfect) star. Occasionally, the game awards an incorrect star.
This blog contains some thoughts about about mood and tone. In games, I’m arguing that mood is mostly created by design, whilst tone is created by art. Both have to be interpreted by a player.
For me, RememBear is mostly about mood. The feeling of being in a forest, the feeling of being creeped up on, and the reaction of being attacked. Panic.
The creeping feeling is perhaps the most important. Like creepy old fairytales that seem so sweet but quickly become so sinister. This is the mood that takes the lead.
Faye Simms drew RememBear and had to carry this mood across to tone. She got this spot on. Take a look at her work in action, and then we’ll have a look at how the bears came into being!
To look at the mood to tone journey, let’s take a few steps back and look at the early ptototype. The mood of the game comes through, even with coder art. You probably won’t get the from a screenshot. The game already has a creeping mood, but the antagonist is only menacing after I’ve told the player that they are being hunted by a bear. The tone is pretty much up to the player’s own fantasy.
The mechanic was there, and the feeling of creeping panic came as the game progressed. Adding the art, giving a form to the bears, defining the terror, is what brings the game to life.
Faye sent some early sketches to get a feel for the kind of bears I wanted. The bear needed to look cute and cuddly, but have a vicious side too. The transformation is important to the tone and it reinforces the mood.
Moving from cute and cuddly to big and imposing…
This shape shifting creature fits the mood perfectly. The contrast in the shape outlines is superb. The noses keep the continuity but the creature has transformed. The mood of RememBear is of sweet characters turning sinister. Uncertainty. Fear. Panic.
The tone of these characters matches that.
I’m speaking in general terms, of course. Mood can be set by elements of design outside of the mechanics, but the tone has to come from the art or audio – from the actual assets. This is part of creating a good ‘game feel’, identifying your mood and making sure the tone you are setting fits. I know I’ve made mistakes with this in the past and I’m sure you have too, if you’re honest. I encourage you to look over your project and check that everything – everything is building towards the correct mood.
As someone with a background in audio for games, SFX were always going to be an important part of RememBear. Audio for mobile games needs to be chosen carefully so as to not be intrusive, since players may be running background audio from other apps. Audio should not be vital to gameplay as many players will not have their device’s volume turned on.
With this in mind, the audio in RememBear is quite minimal, but, I hope, very effective. I’m going to have a quick look at how the SFX were put together, but in the meantime please watch the gameplay trailer to familiarise yourself with the soundscape:
With the visual art style I was trying to juxtapose the cute, cartoon, fairytale illustration with the bloody gruesomeness of being eaten by a bear. This is reflected in the sound palette too – the childish xylophone jingles clash with the fierce bear roars and blood splats. I’m going to talk about how the sounds were made and why I chose them.
The game opens into background ambience, some quiet birdsong. I wanted to set the player in a location of a forest and have set a slightly silly tone. I recorded the birdsong myself, using a whistle bought from this man. The whistles used in the game are the few successful takes from about 15 minutes of recording time!
The next sound is a rising semitone xylophone pattern, in the style of the opening music. It is a playful, childlike phrase and it mimics the animation of the approaching bears. Three seconds later it plays again, a semitone higher, as the bears get closer and the game gets harder.
This is the main audio in the game. It is useful, since it indicates where turns have ended, but it is not essential. It is hopefully not annoying either, being tied to the animation and level progression. I hope that users will want to play with it active, but I included the option to mute sfx since I can’t assume the user’s sole attention when playing on a mobile phone.
If the player is doing well, the next sound they will hear is the ‘tinkle’ of the ‘ranger awarded’ sfx. This is accompanied with a little icon flash to show that a ‘good thing’ has happened. The sound fits in place with the game, coming from the same xylophone source.
Most likely, before too long, the player will make an error and a ranger will be eaten by a bear. The audio for this is made up of a few layers, firstly the ROAR of a hungry bear.
How to record a bear roar? What do bears even sound like?
Terrifying. I needed a short sound with a quick attack, a quick impact to shock the player and let them know they’ve done something wrong. To recreate this sound, I snorted into a microphone and applied a layer of overdrive to the bass. This is in stark contrast to the other, more playful sounds in the game.
Another layer in this sound is the ranger screaming. This is mildly amusing (as the bloody visual effects are) but can be disturbing. I also added the sound of a fruit salad being destroyed, to represent the sound of blood and guts flying about the place. This adds a level of comedic violence or gruesomeness. I hope the player’s mind translates this into something disgusting. Audio is a wonderful tool to enhance a player’s imagination.
The final sound you’re likely to hear is that of the children being eaten. This is the same as the rangers, only the screams are of a boy and a girl and are pitch shifted up in order to sound like cartoon children. A final musical cadence refers back to the theme music and rounds off the experience nicely.
This covers all of the SFX in RememBear. There is not much to it, but it is all focused and functional. I hope you enjoy playing once it is released and let me know what you think of my bear roars!
My last entry was about how I created the trailer for the RememBear. This post focuses on the trailer’s music composition. If you’ve not seen the trailer yet, I’ll let you catch up below:
In my last post I talked about my storyboarding process and how I blocked out the story I wanted to tell. I approached the music composition with the same mindset, such as I could have written to the final storyboard without any video! I always talk about how important storytelling is in music, as in all art, and a videogame trailer is no exception.
We open with an establishing countryside theme, which is quickly interrupted by a sneaky, atonal bear melody. This is what the entire game is about in musical form – there is no respite from the incoming flood of bears! Since I’m using a woodwind quartet, The bear melody is in my lowest available register on the bassoon – a classic villain trope!
After building tension with a rising semitonal pattern, we switch to the Ranger’s theme, rather American sounding with it’s tuned percussion, military tone and homophonic arrangement. As the voiceover says, the player is the commander of a troop of park rangers and so a disciplined musical score reinforces this idea.
The ranger’s theme is finally interrupted by a bassoon, loudly playing its lowest note, as the bears appear to savage one of the rangers. This is intended to be a shock moment in the trailer and so the bassoon’s return is apt, and narratively this reinforces the concept of the bears interrupting the picnic. The lowest note on the bassoon is also out of key, which heightens the unpleasantness of the savaging.
Writing this score was great fun. Getting the tone right was surprisingly easy, but figuring out the clearest voicings for the different parts was occasionally tricky – I’ve not written much for woodwind quartets in the past! The instrumentation in the game’s title music was chosen to imitate Banjo-Kazooie, so I thought it best to use a similar timbre in the trailer for consistency. Creativity loves boundaries so being unable to introduce a French horn, for example, was both annoying and constructive – I hope you like the music!