Monthly Archives: December 2013

Minimalism Lives

After a lot of tinkering around with extended graphics, I ultimately decided to stick with the 256 tile limit. A lot of it came down to time, as I really don’t have enough of it to go back and edit every single map in the game to use completely new tile sets. I reverted the game’s code and data to a backup (made specifically for that purpose), with the exception of the “emulator” code the game uses for its graphics. I made a lot of tweaks and changes to make the graphics closer to a real 8-bit console, work I’d like to continue building on. I’d like to eventually release the source to the “emulator” so that other people can use it as well.

If you really liked the new graphics, don’t worry. I did too. Maybe one day I’ll make another 8-bit style game that uses them, as well as some of the music I’ve decided to leave out of the final release of the game.

Interview With 8 Bit Gamer

Awhile back 8 Bit Gamer contacted me to record an interview about Another Star. They posted it not too long ago while I wasn’t looking, so why not head on over there and check it out?

I will admit the way they edited my answers in the transcript is not quite to my taste. I’m picky about wording so I’d have preferred it to be more verbatim; although not so much so that it includes all my awkward pauses and “uh”s (I’m usually good about not doing that, but I’m not used to doing Skype interviews). In any case, it’s not like I’m Shakespeare, so I suppose I have no room to complain. Skimming over the transcript there doesn’t seem to be anything they’ve completely changed the meaning on, so if you don’t want to listen to me jabber for twelve minutes you can just stick to reading the transcript. The only factually incorrect bit I caught is that they transcribed XNA as “X and A”. [EDIT: The XNA typo has since been corrected.]

The footage they’re using is from this old gameplay preview, by the way. If you want to see the preview with my commentary, that’s where it is. (I really need to do a new gameplay preview that shows off some of the newer features added since the last beta.)

Graphics Overhaul Preview

I’ve been hard at work trying to get Another Star ready for release. Part of that entails making sure the game looks its absolute best.

Comparison of Tachi's old and new sprites.

Tachi looks more like his promotional art now.

As discussed in my last post, I’ve been toying with the idea of abolishing the self-imposed 256 tile limit. I haven’t decided for sure one way or the other, but I have been making new sprites to test out the waters.

Comparison of the original graphics and the possible updated graphics.

It’s quite a difference!

What does everyone else think? Is the improvement enough to follow up on?

The Death of Minimalism?

I noted last week that, unlike the rest of the game, Another Star‘s soundtrack had very little to do with the theme of “minimalism”. The track count continues to grow, by the way, now standing at 34 tracks with more on the way as I go back over and polish everything. But as the soundtrack balloons, the graphics are quickly getting left behind. The more music that gets added to the game, the more the 256 tile limit sticks out like a sore thumb.

Now I’m wondering if I should just abolish the tile limit altogether. I don’t really want to do this. I’m proud of the fact I fit so much—an entire game, with a sizable overworld and eleven dungeons, and all the enemies to fill them—into a mere 256 tiles! It’s actually quite amazing the ways I came up with to manipulate tiles to create so many different and distinct locations.

But at the end of the day, does anybody really care if I managed to create a game in just 256 tiles? Does the tile limit actually add anything to the game? I’m highly suspicious that the answer to that question is a resounding “NO”.

Now, I suppose I should clarify a few things. Supposing the tile limit does get dropped, the graphics would still adhere to the 8-bit limitations of systems past, but I’d be able to switch between tile sets (like on actual hardware). Furthermore, most of the major scripting on the game is done so I’m not going to completely rewrite the game. I’d probably add frames for NPCs to face directions other than straight down, but they’d still be rooted in position, and cut scenes would still be pretty static. The maps themselves would be a lot more pretty and nice to look at, though, and enemies would also be bigger and more diverse.

I think I’ll sleep on it before I decide what to do. What are your thoughts?

A Missed Opportunity

I knew from the beginning of development on Another Star how I would apply the theme of “minimalism” to the game’s story, gameplay, and graphics. But what I never was sure on was how to approach the music with minimalism in mind. Just like with the graphics, I didn’t want “minimalism” to just mean “simplistic”.

In the beginning, when the project was meant to be nothing more than a Ludum Dare entry, I decided that, to be minimalist, the game should only have 8 music tracks total. When the game became a full-fledged project I bumped that up to 16 to accommodate the longer story.

But it gets pretty boring to listening to the same few tracks over and over again in a game as long as Another Star. Even thought the game has only 256 tiles for its graphics, they’re combined and used in so many different ways that it stays fairly fresh. I wasn’t sure how to do that with the music, so I kept adding more and more unique tunes. In the first beta alone there were about 30 music tracks total, and a few more will even be added to that for the final tally (at this point I’m considering giving every dungeon its own unique music track).

So my next idea was to apply the “limited tile” concept to music by replacing the NES style chiptunes I was originally using and recreating them using a limited set of low-fidelity instrument samples. It sounded kind of neat, but it didn’t fit the feel of an 8-bit console game. Consoles wouldn’t use PCM instrument samples until much later, with the Super Nintendo’s S-SMP audio chip. (Sure, there was the Amiga’s Paula sound chip which gave birth to the modular music format, but that was a fairly expensive 16/32-bit computer system.) Finally, I just gave up and went with the Japanese Master System inspired YM2413 style that’s going to be in the final game.

It wasn’t until recently that it hit me what I had been doing wrong. The correct way to apply the theme of minimalism wasn’t to limit the number of instruments, channels, or tracks, but to limit the number of themes. I was purposely trying not to reuse leitmotifs in the soundtrack when that was exactly what I should have been doing. I should have come up with a handful of themes (maybe eight or so), and just used them over and over again in new and different ways. The soundtrack of Super Mario World is an excellent example of this. Every single level in the game uses the same music theme, from the sunny plains to the dark castles. But the plains play it fast and upbeat, while the castles play it in a minor key with lots of timpani and staccato strings thrown in.

Alas, by this point most of the music in the game was already done and it’s a little late to throw it all out. Oh well. It’s odd how something I normally gravitate towards but had avoided for so long was the direction I should have gone. I’ll have to be more careful in the future.

Progress Continues

I haven’t posted for awhile, so I thought I should go ahead and put something up to let everybody know that I am still working on Another Star. The break discussed in the previous entry has been over for awhile now, although I will be taking another break again soon for Christmas and New Year’s.

Thus far work on the game is going smoothly and the next beta should be ready by the end of the month. After that, it’s mostly just bug fixes and tweaks on the way to release!

In the past I had mentioned providing a pre-release version for sale, where you could purchase the upcoming beta for a discounted price and get the full version for free when it comes out. Right now it’s looking like that won’t happen. Sorry the those looking forward to it, but the complete game isn’t too far off so you don’t have that much longer to wait. I hope you’re still looking forward to it!