On bringing magical new characters to life and making them get a job…
Last time our guest, Boss Fight author Sebastian Deken, helped us dream up a game about talking animals, mystery, and the passage of time, now we’re setting out to bring that idea to life. To hear from Sebastian and sit in on our full design session, check out the last episode of the GameDev Breakdown podcast.
This week’s episode is about all the progress we’ve made in taking our red panda archaeology game concept and bringing it to life. It’s a look at the implications of the game’s concept, the philosophy of the art and character design, our intention to develop a simple map system with Godot’s tilemap tools (prior to the recent release of version 4.0), implementation of basic RPG controls and collisions, and the UI work so critical to a story-driven game.
We’re consciously going story-first with this game, because that’s where we’re putting our emphasis for this project. That does raise some design challenges. We did establish that we wanted to use retro-style pixel art and top-down RPG mechanics, so we knew enough to get started on a tilemap system, basic movement controls, and collisions. A lot of the story will be told through dialogue, documents, and other UI features, so this subsystem was vital. This more than loaded up the week with development targets.
Character design and art
We weren’t subtle about Animal Crossing being an inspiration for the game (though we will start to pull away from it from here) so this informed some of our style choices and the way the world would work in general. Much of the game will take place in a simple, low-resolution pixel world, but we identified an opportunity to work in slightly higher-resolution art through the dialogue system in the style of Stardew Valley. This was good news because I messed up and made pixel assets that were much too big very early on.
Pro tip: If you’re relying heavily on premade sprites, you have to design additional sprites to scale with what you’re already using.
Bonus pro tip: You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) upscale pixel art you plan to use in Godot.
Tilemaps and collisions in Godot projects
I’ve made backgrounds using a variety of methods in my projects, but it was important to have fast, powerful world design at my disposal here, so I took the time to really familiarize myself with Godot’s tilemap system in version 3.5.1. That was just swell, because they went ahead and officially released Godot 4.0 days later.
If you’re thinking of making a similar game, to go ahead and make the jump to Godot 4–I understand they’ve overhauled and greatly expanded the tilemap system.
As for us, we managed to implement a layered tile system that could create quick and pleasing backgrounds as well as props with defined collision shapes. As long as you have your player configured accordingly, this will take care of a lot of worldbuilding for you.
UI and dialogue work
There’s no sense in hiding it: the closer you can get to early Final Fantasy UIs for a game project like this, the better. Kenney clearly understood the assignment when designing his Roguelike/RPG pack and included a variety of perfectly appropriate nine-square and panel tiles ideal for this type of work. This made it simple to construct a status bar, a message panel, and with the help of the input prompts pack, we got a button prompt added to both the player sprite and the UI system.
At the end of the first week, I’m still working on expanding the dialogue system to display multiple options and kick off separate function calls accordingly based on the player’s choice. I have a plan for a custom class that will store a quote as well as string arrays for response options and the names of callback methods that interactable characters can store in a property. It’s the kind of feature that takes a little more thinking than doing.
Finally, we’re hoping the new UI features will lend themselves to quick sale and inventory systems so we can move on to story and story-driven gameplay features. Based on those ideas, we’ll create the first version of the full map and really see how far this idea can go!
Topics and resources we used this week
- Affinity Designer – This is a sleek app for vector art (and more) that isn’t a huge expense for anyone who might work in this style on occasion especially for logos or reusable assets. If you like the idea of infinitely adjustable art, this is a great method to create it. For me, it’s a must.
- Kenney.nl – Kenney’s assets are taking care of a lot of heavy lifting in this project including background assets, fonts, UI, and more. I’ve dropped him payments on more than one occasion, even though it’s rarely required, and you should, too.
- A Guide to Pixel Art – If you haven’t done much of your own pixel art, or you want to build up some confidence and technique, I highly recommend this ebook which explores the fundamentals, styles through the ages, and best practices when you’re out there on your own. Thanks to this book, I was able to put together some character sheets I was comfortable with.
- Top-down Action RPG Template – Playing and browsing this Godot project really helped me get a sense of how to make RPG mechanics work and where I needed to make adjustments in my own setup. This template features just about everything you’d need for this type of game.
- CollaNote – When I’m not recording in Zoom, I do a lot of my explainer drawings on the cool digital dot grid paper in the iOS CollaNote app. If you have an iPad that supports the Apple Pencil, it’s really great.
Todd Mitchell is a US Midwest-based comedy writer and game developer with bylines at Weekly Humorist, Fanbyte, Slackjaw, End of the Bench Sports, and more. He’s the author of Inside Video Game Creation, the founder of CodeWritePlay, and host of several podcasts including GameDev Breakdown and Fully Remote with Todd Mitchell. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.