From the beginning, we’ve been taking a “gameplay first” approach to every idea we come up with. The biggest unique feature of games as a medium is that it’s interactive — and if that interaction on its own isn’t compelling, no amount of story and polish can save it.
So with that in mind, through all of my initial iteration on Chromasome’s gameplay, even through the first couple playtests, it was basically just gameplay — there was no attempt at a story, and nothing you’d call art — it was critical that the gameplay was fun on its own first.
After our last playtest, we were glad to see that people were really enjoying the game — the mechanics worked well, and watching people getting hooked and not wanting to put it down was a great feeling. So I was ready to start looking at it from the artistic side, to create a unique style, and bring some life to the game.
In the current game mechanics, the end of each level zooms out to the next level, and what you created in your last level becomes the starting point for the next. This continues through a number of levels, until the last zooms out back to the first (with the difficulty ramped up, or some new mechanics introduced). This allows for a sawtooth gameplay ramp, where the levels can get progressively harder, but you’re given a break at the start of the next set (but with the whole set being more challenging than the last).
We needed to come up with a theme that fit this progression. We tossed around a number of ideas, before realizing that the original “Evolution” Ludum Dare theme could still fit this perfectly — with some twists. You start out colliding subatomic particles to create atoms, then atoms to create molecules, molecules to cells, to creatures, to planets, to galaxies, to universes. Then colliding universes to create subatomic particles.
That’s right, every time the Large Hadron Collider fires, two microscopic universes are being smashed into each other.
Throughout the game, you’re playing at progressively faster time scales. At the subatomic level, the pieces might have a lifetime of nanoseconds (and your view of the world is slowed down to that scale) — and at the universal level, a level might last millions of years.
This is probably a controversial topic, from both sides (because there are only ever two sides to anything, right?). Just mentioning evolution is dangerous, when we’re still passing laws protecting the right to teach creationism, and the US Congress science committee believes the Earth is 9000 years old. I’ve also created some pseudoscience of my own in there: I’m pretty sure colliding two aliens doesn’t make an asteroid — I could be wrong though, I’ve never seen it happen. But the subatomic particle thing is fact, I swear. I saw it in a vision. Tell everyone you know on Facebook, shut down the LHC now!
We realized immediately that this couldn’t possibly work as an art style if it was at all realistic. But if we went with a lighthearted, retro style, it becomes much more believable. The game had a ‘retro’ feel to it from the beginning, so sticking with it felt natural. Keeping a pixelated style also means we can ensure people with a 320×240 screen are going to have the same experience as someone with a retina display. It also fits nicely with the scope of the project — we wanted this to be something we could have complete and polished within a few months, and limiting the 16-pixel sprites with an 8-bit palette means we’ll have to spend less time creating content (and will have more time to polish it).
Enough talking about it, though. Here are my first attempts at actually creating some sprites:
This was basically the first time I’ve tried drawing anything since kindergarten, and that’s pretty apparent in the early ones… but as I kept working, it started to come much more naturally. Red/green/blue were my first attempt, and yellow/purple/orange I did after seeing how the first ones worked out. There’s still a lot of work to be done. Some of the stages may be dropped (the 4th and 5th, for instance, are too similar)… but as a starting point, I think it’ll work.
These are also partly procedural — one of the tricks I’m using is, in addition to frame-based animation, I have a handful of random palette colors that are dynamically animated at runtime, which I think adds a lot of life to the sprites (and, the effect looks much more impressive in-motion in the game than when it’s baked down to an animated gif). I was originally going to write up some of the technical details of how its implemented, but this is getting pretty long, so I think I’ll save it for another post — and maybe try to put together some in-game footage.