Good news everyone! My fellow Handsome Dragon Games crew and I have just taken part in the 48 Hour Game Making Challenge, held at QUT, Kelvin Grove. The game-jam was a 48 hour event, where we were given three key words to use as inspiration for a game. This year the words were Swallow, Thief and Collapse.
In the 48 hours, the team didn’t get much sleep and when we did, we slept wherever we could, which more often than not was under the desk we were huddled around! It was a fantastic event and I would like to thank all of the organisers and volunteers who made it possible, this year there was a full house, which is really encouraging to see and very good news for the Brisbane Game-Dev community.
One of the hardest things about game development is getting an idea and agreeing upon it, luckily enough we didn’t waste too much time on this process and within a couple of hours we had come up with the concept of a Swallow that steals a ribbon (Thief) from a picture-scroll and the creative paper-world it lives in starts to Collapse. The idea turned into a game rather quickly, thanks to the team bouncing ideas from one another. Working in close proximity to the team is a luxury that the humble old sound-guy doesn’t get too often, so it was a lot fun to be part of the process from the inception, observing how the rest of the team operates and being amazed by the unique talents that everyone in HDG brings to the table.
Seeing the floor filled with teams was an awesome sight and I thought if we were all working on the same game, how good it would be!
Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics
For the game “Emakimono” we decided on using a somewhat Japanese aesthetic for the visual style. The art was left simple with brushstrokes showing, to enhance the feeling of the world existing in a picture scroll. The scroll is a constant enemy of the player and if the little swallow lingers to close to it, the scroll engulfs it. The controls were kept simple, just the left and right arrows on the keyboard, left (<) controls the bird to fly up, right (>) controls the bird to fly down and because the game is an auto-runner, the bird automatically moves forward.
As well as the impending doom of the scroll, we made anything that was coloured-red an obstacle which could be hit, halting the birds movement. The more the bird crashes into the red-outlined obstacles, the further back in the screen it becomes until the scroll finally engulfs our adorable avian ally.
We are fortunate enough to have the very talented Artist, Angelica Zurawski in Handsome Dragon Games and thanks to her providing all of the art and a stunning sprite sheet of the swallow in flight, we saw the bird gracefully take to the sky, inspiring us all.
To compliment the graceful nature of visual style, I composed a Piano melody that later became an orchestral arrangement. While going for a traditional Japanese sound may have seemed logical and would have worked, I went for a Studio Ghibli approach. Joe Hisaishi is one of my favourite composers and the mastermind behind Studio Ghibli’s scores, so I impersonated his style and the results were fantastic.
To be the bird, you must think like the bird and for me, a swallow is free and the music must represent this freedom.
To begin the composition, I went back to the basics in Diatonic Harmony and input the major scale in 7th chords. As you can see in the picture above the beginning of the composition started with a C-Maj7 then moved to a D-min7, after the photo was taken I kept moving up through each 7th-chord of the scale. Once the chords were blocked out, I went about finding a nice progression by eliminating the chords that weren’t graceful enough and threw in some chromatic passing notes. Within a few hours I had the main theme written and everyone was happy with the direction, so I went about orchestrating it.
The song was coming along nicely and Jack Kuskoff, our game-designer had the brilliant idea that the music from the title screen be solo piano, then seamlessly adapt to the orchestral arrangement when the player hits “start”. This worked wonders for the flow of the game and Morgan Jaffit from Defiant Development even complimented the team on how well it flowed from title screen to game, a job well done!
I should point out that when the piano is playing with the orchestra, it is playing a different arrangement to when it is playing the theme solo. When the piano is playing solo, the chords are arpeggiated and the melody is played down one-octave. When the piano plays with the orchestra, the melody is raised by one-octave and the chords are played as blocks, this helped to give a unique character to each of the variations. Implementing these variations was simplified by the time-honoured method of vertical-layering, a method used by game-music composers and one which I discuss in detail previous blogs.
Originally, the composition was a flowing, one-movement piece that transitioned between “happy” and “sad” sections, the rational being that we adapt the stage to the music.
This could have been quite effective but after some discussion, we decided to make the level infinite, the player would now compete with their own high scores as well as competing with friends. Because we all loved the original composition and didn’t want to waste any of it, the consensus was to have each section of the original play in certain stages of the game. This meant that the “sad” section would now take over when the bird is dangerously close to the scroll, adding to the threat and the feeling of impending doom.
Once again our handsome game designer Jack was to thank for this idea. Similar to the “happy” solo-piano title screen music merging into the orchestral variation, we decided to have the orchestral variation of the “sad” section seamlessly merge into the solo-piano variation when the player dies. This was equally effective and really made you feel for the sparrow.
I am working on a video of the gameplay from Emakimono, until then why not play it yourself by clicking the link below for a free download of the game!
Thanks for reading and stay creative!