Ever since finishing Impulse, I’ve been trying to think of an interesting idea for another game. I finally think one has come to me.
The general premise is this: a platform game where you control one character in the traditional method (keyboard, gamepad, etc) and simultaneously control another character with your voice by issuing commands like “run”, “walk”, “stop”, “turn” and “jump”.
Don’t panic! This is just programmer art. I’m hoping features I’m programming into the game will allow a skilled artist to make things much, much prettier (and less Mario). More on that later.
Read on to learn more about the project.
What’s the Point?
A good question. I treat it as a hobby. But I do like my hobbies to actually reach a finished state. I do this by setting low (realistic?) goals and applying the KISS principle.
So as a hobby it doesn’t matter if the game turns out to be popular and/or profitable. If it does — great. If not, oh well, it was a fun hobby and nothing is lost.
Will the game be free or not? It all depends on how quality it appears to be when it’s nearing completion.
On the Voice Control Idea
As far as I know, it’s not been done for a platformer. (Prove me wrong in the comments below if you know better.)
The main downside to this whole voice control is that it restricts the audience. Some people don’t have microphones, or if they do they don’t know how to set it up. Some people won’t want to play a game where you talk like an idiot to your computer. Some platforms are ruled out (mind you, using XNA does that to an extent anyway).
(I might implement a feature where the voice control aspect is also contolled by keyboard or gamepad, just so people without microphones aren’t totally left out.)
Still, I figure its better to have an interesting concept for a smaller audience than a bland concept (e.g. a plain platformer game) for a large audience. Besides, like many indie game-makers I am a person of fairly modest means — I don’t think I generally can compete against the mainstream unless I have some interesting take on things.
You may agree or disagree, but that is my reasoning.
Voice Control: More than a Gimmick?
I certainly hope so. I think it has quite a lot of potential. Mainly for puzzles. Go play N+ in co-operative mode (XBLA version only). You need two sets of hands to complete some puzzles, often with devious timing. Add on to that the special challenge of multi-tasking both at once.
Speech control is slow. It’d be cumbersome even in the best of cases, but there’s also a small delay as the computer analyses your voice. So the voice-operated player will need to move fairly slowly and not be put into any twitch-gaming scenarios.
Currently I am thinking the camera will focus on the keyboard-character, making it possible for the voice-character to be left behind. The most basic level would therefore simply be having the keyboard-character “lead” the voice-character through the level. No doubt you can think of how things might get more devious from there.
Now I think about it, this could actually be novel co-op game, where one player uses the keyboard and the other uses voice-control.
By the way, Vox Venio is Latin for “voice movement”. Well, my Latin is total guesswork so it’s probably not right at all. But hell, it’s just a working title.
The In-game Story
What is the storyline reason why these two characters are running around a platformer world like this? I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t even matter.
I keep thinking of it in terms of a sighted person leading a blind person through a dangerous place. That’s pretty uncreative. (It’s also a little offensive to blind people, who I know can be quite independent.)
So this stuff is up in the air for now. Mainly because…
The Look and Feel
Now I’m just a programmer. I have no artistic skills. I mean, let’s look again at the game as it is currently:
All these textures are assets stolen… uhh, borrowed… from other games. Like I said it is programmer art. It doesn’t reflect the final look at all what-so-ever.
What I can do as a programmer, however, is make the life of any artistic collaborator easier. All of the textures you see are dynamically loaded. That means to change the stone floor into a metal one all you need to do is pop open the corresponding texture, change it, save it, and reload the game.
Same goes for Mario. Currently he’s not animated but eventually he’ll just be a series of frames across one or a few files, sorta something like this:
I should mention that while my programmer art is very “8-bit” pixelly, the final product certainly doesn’t have to be. The textures can be as big as you like, all the better should the player choose to play in 1080p (or higher). Transparencies are supported as well (check out Mario hiding in the grass).
I hate level editing. Trust me, I tried really hard to think of a good idea for a game that could take something… anything! and turn it into a level with some sort of coding smarts. I only could think of mediocre things, though.
Second best thing? I endeavored to make level editing as easy as possible. You can do it in Notepad.
For example, this level:
Is generated from the following text in Notepad:
.....========== ===............ .............GG SSS.......GGGEE ......SS..EEEEE .....P....MMMMM SSSSSSSSSSSSSSS
Fairly straightforward, no?
I should mention that the level can stretch for a very long ways in any direction. You’re not limited to the size I’m showing in screenshots.
As the game stands currently, most everything you see can be changed by tweaking the level files, which are all very simple text-based affairs. For instance, you can change the background as well as the rate at which it scrolls (i.e. parallax). You can even introduce a totally new type of tile by putting its texture in the correct directory and tweaking one of the level’s text files to define a new letter. All without recompiling the game.
(I’m not boasting, by the way. These techniques are hardly new to game design. Still, they’re worth mentioning.)
It is true that this design leads to a world that is populated by equally-sized blocks. But skilled artists can and have been turning squarish levels into pretty worlds for decades now.
The Progress So Far
Apart from what I’ve already talked about, here’s what’s been done so far:
- Rudimentary platforming control-by-keyboard (move, jump, drop down off thin platforms), with the camera following the character.
- Speech recognition. The recognition system is totally working — I had it changing the colour of the background for a while. Pity there’s no voice-controlled-character for it to control yet.
I can’t take much credit for this, thank Microsoft’s System.Speech.Recognition for being so easy to use.
- Resolution independence. The game scales to all resolutions without strange distortion. (Though there might be a bit more work needed to make this perfect.)
Stay tuned for more updates as progress is made. Click here for all articles tagged Vox Venio.
If you have any questions or comments, use the comment system below or feel free to contact me.