Some people blog their development like a journal. For my game, BuzzKill, it turns out I documented development on Twitter without even thinking about it.
It’s interesting to think that the documentation of my progress wasn’t the motivation. I use Twitter for promotion and dialog. Looking back has been fun and found it kind of neat to see how my game evolved over the course of a month or so.
BuzzKill started as an idea in Evernote, where most of my game ideas get logged. I always jot down the possibilities for any game, from theme to mechanics to code. Nothing is off the table. I’m always reviewing the notes and eventually whittle things down to a few core ideas that i think are fun and do-able.
BuzzKill’s hook was the smoke. I knew that early, even before I had decided on bees as a theme. From the simple idea of “smoke,” I thought about what would you fight with smoke…meat? Hmmm…how about, yes, bees! And it grew from there into honeycombs, hives and so on.
It was unusual for me to share progress on the things I’m making, whether it be a web site or a game. But with Pico-8 games I feel it just makes sense…not to mention, I’m not creating these games for profit so there’s nothing to “protect” in that sense. As it turns out, tweeting my progress was also a great way to build hype around the game and get people invested before it was even done.
On one hand, this was incredibly motivating. On the other, I knew then the game actually had to deliver the goods. There’s nothing worse than seeing a game that looks great and then finding out it’s no fun or just poorly made. But all I could do was just make a game that I would play and enjoy.
I had already doodled out some sprites before I started working on the game mechanics. I would usually do the graphics later in the process but having them early was really motivating and also helped dictate my development, and spawned more ideas as I went. To say I had the whole game planned out before I started would be a lie.
I knew I wanted bees to fly around and shoot. I knew I wanted the honeycombs to expand and spit out bees. At this point, I knew an actual bee hive had to be in the game but had no idea how I was going to use them.
This was the end of June heading into July.
— Brian Vaughn (@MorningToast) June 30, 2016
With some actual visual elements in front of me, I moved pretty fast and had an idea of what each thing in the game would do. The bees started moving and dropping bullets. The player character was able to blow smoke. Basic collisions were in place. I even had a basic power meter in place…and this was only 3 days later! I love Pico-8.
— Brian Vaughn (@MorningToast) July 1, 2016
About a week later, things started to take real shape. I added the big bee enemy that shoots the fat bullets and the normal bees just drop the little shots. I even had player hit detection in place with a tiny explosion animation, which I didn’t really like after seeing it in-game.
— Brian Vaughn (@MorningToast) July 11, 2016
Only a day later but now the hives have some response, they shake and fall. I remember being quite happy (and satisfied) that I was able to get the hive to “squash” when it hit the ground. Just one more danger to avoid during game play.
— Brian Vaughn (@MorningToast) July 11, 2016
Now a few days later, I finally got power-ups added to the prototype work. Power-ups were always part of the plan. I had a long list of possible power-up options and abilities that I thought would have been fun but narrowed it down to 3 to keep things manageable. Also by now had tossed in some particle effects…blood!
— Brian Vaughn (@MorningToast) July 14, 2016
Oh the boss battle. My initial plan for the boss was quite elaborate and complicated. I realized pretty quick that it would be a pain to program and probably overshoot the limits of Pico-8 by this point. I also hit a classic shoot-em up dilemma…do you make the bosses harder than the level? Or do you make them easy since it was so tough to get there?
Ultimately, it’s a balance, right? The boss can’t be so easy that you go, “I went through all that just for that?” But you also don’t want to the joy of just getting to the boss crushed by it being overly difficult. In the end, I chose a relatively easy boss battle but I felt it matched up well with the journey to get there.
— Brian Vaughn (@MorningToast) July 15, 2016
A day or so later, I had decided on a game title and threw together a title screen. I wasn’t very happy with the title at first, I felt it didn’t fit…but after a bit, I thought otherwise. The “cuteness” of the background and bees juxtaposed against the Sex Pistols treatment of the title was actually perfect.
You’ll also notice the “Endless Mode” option. The endless mode thought came midway through development and I thought it would be a cool feature to have but wasn’t sure I’d have enough space in Pico-8 to do it. Primary mission was the linear beat-the-boss mode through 10 levels. Once I got that done, I’d try to make an endless mode with what space was left. Thankfully, after some refactoring, I was able to add the feature after all.
— Brian Vaughn (@MorningToast) July 16, 2016
By this point, about 3 weeks after the first tweet on development, the game part was done. You could play the game in both modes…the only thing missing was sound and music. I suck at sound and music.
It’s always an afterthought for me and that upsets me but I can’t help it. Fiddling around with music and sounds is mind-numbing for me. Getting creative with sound is not my strong spot. I often have a sound in my head but translating that into notes, waves and whatever is grueling.
I was able to make a few basic sounds for explosions and bullets, but for music I outsourced it…sorta. I had seen on the Pico-8 forum a music jukebox. It was available to be used and so I did. Thankfully, some of the music fit decently within the game. It wasn’t an ideal but it was something that sounded good and better than I could do.
It’s amazing how much sound/music lends to a game. From the tiny bloops to actual music, it’s what really brings a game together and feel like a true product. To me, it separates a “project” from a “release.”
— Brian Vaughn (@MorningToast) July 19, 2016
Done! Less than a month after starting, BuzzKill was done and released to the world. There were a few update releases quickly after as people found bugs but I was happy.
I was happy that the game looked good, played good and sounded good. I was happy that people were enjoying it. But more so, I was happy I followed through on the project.
I often get really jazzed up about an idea and then about 60% of the way through, interest starts to wain. Sometimes that’s because it gets difficult but usually it’s because I fall out love with the idea and end game. But this time, I was very motivated thanks to the ease of playing with Pico-8 and just that I had gotten feedback from people by simply tweeting in-progress screenshots.
— Brian Vaughn (@MorningToast) July 20, 2016
The post-launch adventure for BuzzKill has been amazing too. The whole experience was wonderful and has led me down a path of happiness and self-satisfaction I didn’t expect. More so, the journey of BuzzKill has kept me making games for Pico-8.
The last time I made a game, it was fun and got a good response too, but for whatever reason, I didn’t make anymore games after that one. It was like I had achieved the goal of making a game and was happy with that – it was the journey, not the outcome – which, looking back, is kind of sad. But not this time. Pico-8 has rekindled my love for creating games as well as playing them.
So while this whole thing has been some insight into my process for making a game, it’s also proof that I do have the time to make a fun game. I’m a dad with a full-time job, so my free time is limited to usually only an hour or two a night after work and family – but yet in a matter of weeks, I was able to cobble together an idea that turned into a pretty fun game. Thank you, Pico-8.