Days of boredom
This is a story. Yes, that’s the story of a group of millennials who decided to face a challenge: in this quarantine period their bodies were confined and aching of boredom… but not their spirits and their minds, so what’s better than creating their own challenges and games?
We are Valerio, Lily, and Francesco, and we are “The Fox And The Hounds”, a trio of videogames enthusiasts, and heroes of this story. Our challenge was to go beyond being just passionates and approach a world we have always observed from the user-side, never the maker one. As we were diving into the iOS world, we started thinking about creating a whole game: this meant, for us, starting from zero, not a single clue about the game-making process. We wanted to create something distinctive in the mobile gaming scene, something that would put all our passions together… we wanted to dare. That’s how Smash the hit, our game, is born.
Okay, we have to admit, it hasn’t been that simple: we had an idea of what to produce, yet we didn’t know anything about the working process. As we found out soon, we had to focus on three essential aspects of creating a game: the design, the art, and of course, the code. Each one of us concentrated on their most fitting aspect, but the core of the project was collaboration and one goal in mind: to make a prototype of our game in just three weeks.
Game Design: The concept of the idea
We started with the basics where Valerio, the game designer, put his heart and soul in the duty of decision making. “This won’t be one more of those endless running games!” he stated at the beginning of one of our Zoom meetings, and we all agreed. Nothing against that kind of games, just they weren’t our cup of tea. He wanted to recreate the experience of a challenging game, yet with appropriate commands for a mobile device. Having played Cuphead just some days before, the “how to carry a challenge” part was clear, but you can’t use controllers or keyboards on a smartphone. Also, gestures are tricky because bad-recognized ones would result in a different action and, sometimes, in an unfair game over.
We took inspiration from the old consoles, such as the GameBoy, so we provided the least number of actions and each one with a different button or area to tap on the screen: monodirectional move, jump and shoot, the very basics of our game directly under the thumbs of the player.
“We just need to create the levels and we are done!”. Well, no: the truth was that still a lot of things needed to be done. This YouTube video helped the process, defining all the information and decisions that needed to be gathered, from design pillars to game loops, magic moments and full feature sets. All of this resulted in a big chunk of text, the Game Design Document, and believe us, it has been a lifesaver: while writing it, a lot of new “key features” for the game were created, introducing bosses, unique mechanics and a series of elements that, as key features for the game, aimed to be “what the user would remember while thinking about the game”.
With everything set and a clear vision of the game mechanics, it took a really short time to come up with a first level idea, the core for the implementation.
Game Art: The shape of the idea
“You know what? I have the exact idea for this game!” shouted Lily, our game artist, in the said Zoom meeting. If you ask, she’ll admit that her ideas took over the project, but at the same time she was glad her colleagues let her creativity do the job. The inspiration came in many forms and shapes, but especially from music games: Kira Kira! Pop Princess and Pop Town, Crypt Of The Necrodancer, The Metronomicon and even a little bit of Parappa! The Rapper helped to shape the core of the game: something inspired by music. But what if music was the weapon…?
This theme led her to take inspiration from one of her favorite bands, Mindless Self Indulgence (MSI for shorter). MSI isn’t the band you would make to listen to your grandma… yet, they are so fun to listen to! So punk! How to recreate the exact feeling she had, but in the game?
We needed an engaging story.
“Okay, so, what if we are one of the wittiest and weirdest bands ever existed and we just landed on the music scene? And the leader of this band is this guy with pink hair, that thinks he’s the best but is actually cuckoo? And what if this band was trying to climb to the top of the charts but has to fight against the other bands and singers?”.
Putting all the puzzle pieces together helped Lily imagine a story that players could find enjoyable and exciting, with colorful and recognizable characters people could get attached to, pop-culture references and punk vibes. Most importantly, was something coming from things she was passionate about so that she could put her heart and soul in each design. One day she’ll stop calling this game’s characters “my children”, we hope.
Game Programming: The idea takes life!
“Well… I have no idea how to develop a game” said Francesco, our spotless and fearless programmer, and that’s what led him to a week of documentation taken from every useful source and of attempts over attempts at making the code work.
Developing a game for iOS, so approaching onto frameworks as SpriteKit or GameplayKit, has been a new but nice adventure: he encountered many ups and downs (more downs, actually) and there have been many problems (like outdated documentation), but what doesn’t make your program works makes you stronger, doesn’t it? And with that strength, he has been able to give life to the fantasy of the team.
We won’t lie: we were giving up. The project seemed amazing in our minds, but the code didn’t want to cooperate, even after days of studying the Apple documentation and hours after hours on many coding forums. Maybe we got carried away with the concept and planned something too complicated.
We decided to press pause.
Actually, our coder pressed pause, spending a whole day between meditation and desperation (isn’t it what programmers usually do?) and this has been one of the best decisions ever taken for the whole project. Not touching the code for even just a whole day helped a lot and the non-stop programming started again, faster than light. With the help of the game designer, unexpected programmer, the code was growing a structure.
Most of the time has been spent for debugging and testing of the application- actually, it wasn’t an application anymore, but a world existing on its own, with rules said by us. Everything was combining, acquired knowledge slowly getting modified by other new knowledge, even some concepts of physics obtained at university that haven’t’ been fun to write in code.
Our programmer would call this experience “a tale of logic and code… and unnecessary rage against the machines”, but with no doubt has been useful to grow professionally.
THE GAME: Smash the Hit
That’s how our game was born, a 2D platform with music and bands as the main focus. The keyword here is “hybridization”: we created a system that would combine a dynamic platforming experience “Castelvania style”, but with the final tidbit: a boss fight, old RPG style.
The story is about a band, the “One Zillion Odd Raccoons”. They have one goal: to reach the top of the rankings and dethrone the coolest band of the moment (and their arch-nemesis), the “Sugarskullz”. The main characters are the member of this on-the-rise alternative rock band trio: they are nasty, non-conformist, quirky, and people love them! Vicious is the mischievous founder and frontman of the band: he’s a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and, most important, his name fits him perfectly. Killer Qween is the bassist of the band, famous for her full-on backbends while she’s playing. She may look sissy and cute, but watch your back when she’s around. Rascal is the drummer and his drum solos are the best. The most common question people ask him is “why are you wearing that stupid eye make-up?”. Their nemesis is the band duo of the “Sugarskullz”, two spoiled twins with an obsession for loud music and excessive jewelry, Vanilla Skull and Cinnamon Skull, that thanks to their style are on the top of the charts of most of the countries you can name.
On their way, regardless, there are other famous singers and bands, along with their brutal fans. They have to fight, just them against the music industry!
As the game goes on, the player has to overcome stages filled with savage fans and the dangerous noises they make, in order to reach other bands’ stages and confront them to prove who has the best tune! Collect power-ups, unlock special musical strokes to blow enemies up, and find the right rhythm to climb the rankings, until, at last, a final showdown with the top-ranked skullz!
The game is currently just a prototype version, but you can try it here, have fun!
At the moment not everything has been implemented, but we have a lot of plans for the future! For sure, we’ll keep working on the level design and structure, adding more elements, the enemies, collectibles, and the fire button that is still missing. And hopefully more levels and bosses! An easy mode could be also thought about, and who knows, maybe even online rankings! The music will be, of course, another element to focus on. We relied on something from Bensound, but it would be nice to create our own soundtracks and special effects, and we’ll definitely give it a try.
Challenging games come from challenging yourself
This has been a big challenge for us, we dived into the unknown: a challenge where we have met some difficulties and faced them. Each one of us grew personally and professionally, under various aspects — from learning how to write a game document to making artworks and concepts for game characters and explore frameworks never approached.
We didn’t want to prove we were the best, but that will is power: we wanted to demonstrate the resolution in carrying on a project starting from zero, that even if we struggled we succeded. It feels great to jump from gamer to devs sometimes and, with the right amount of time, energies and willpower, it’s definitely possible.
Our Project for a “remote quarantine challenge” @ Apple Developer Academy Naples
By The Fox and the Hounds team
Francesco Spigno, Ilaria Patrociello, Valerio Volpe