So, last weekend Ludum Dare 34 happened and I really love the Ludum Dare game jam events, my first attempt was way back in Ludum Dare 24 and since then I’ve entered almost every one.
This time around, I set myself the additional challenge of making a Gameboy game and whilst my Flash Cart had just given up the ghost, I persisted with the plan.
For the first time ever, two themes were tied for first place, so I could choose which one to go for. Either “Growth” or Two Button Controls”.
I opted for the latter and within an hour I’d roughly planned out in my mind what I was going to make, essentially a game where you have to escape from a pit, as a spaceman, before the rising lava plume consumes you.
GAMEBOY & GAME ASSETS… OH BOY!
Now, asset creation for the Gameboy isn’t a trivial thing sadly. You’re limited to 4 colours which simplifies things a lot but, GBDK only contains some basic tile editing programs, which I love by the way, thank you very much to the developer of these, they mean I can actually get my hea around things!
So, I’m limited to 8×8 groups of pixels, which is okay for smaller sprites and looping backgrounds, but not so much for creating detailed backgrounds, that becomes a lot more time consuming and error-prone when transposing from Photoshop into each 8×8 tile.
When it comes to sound, it only gets tougher, you don’t just load up a wav file and set it to play, you’re manipulating the sound channels directly and the Gameboy is armed with:
2 pulse / square wave channels
1 noise channel
1 custom channel, so, you could in theory import wav files somehow but, it’s not recommended, we have minimal RAM and ROM to play with here!
Coding in plain C isn’t too bad though, as long as you keep everything small in terms of code size and try not to use comparison operators (e.g. less than, greater than, etc) or multiplication, division, sine, etc. (At least not without look-up tables). then you’ll be okay.
No floating point variables either, those would really bog the 4Mhz Z80 down, ideally keep everything to an unsigned 8-bit integer (0-255) which again, is tough initially but a couple of 16-bit integers are allowable.
Having mentioned all of this, the game managed to get to a fairly playable state within the first day, although at this point there were a lot of gameplay issues that still needed to be fixed, for example, you could simply hold A and not much would get in your way, sometimes not at all!
Also, there was no horizontal movement, only vertical, which felt a bit boring, so the following day, whilst refining the newly added enemies and trying to generate their placements in more annoying ways I stumbled across an idea.
A FUEL METER!
Of course, why didn’t I think of this before. If the jet pack runs out of fuel, then that’s it, you’re toast. But, it needs balancing out somehow, so in went the flashing fuel cans and gun recoil, allowing for some control over horizontal movement with the B button whilst vertical motion is all handled with the main (A) button.
But how to handle giving the player fuel? It should be based on performing a task and also, as horizontal movement is slow, lava is rising up quickly under you, it could be too tough to reach!
There was only 1 solution in my mind that would bring another layer into the game at this point, shooting enemies could release homing fuel cells which the player could collect with relative ease.
This meant that not only were enemies deadly, but you had a damned good reason to hang around and aim for them, your jetpack quickly runs out of fuel on the hard mode in the game, so enemy destruction is a must!
The game was looking pretty close to it’s final form by around 4-6pm on Day 2 and with around 7 hours left it was mostly debugging, polish and ensuring all the standard trimmings such as endings, title screens, differentiating easy mode from hard mode more and, in general making sure it all run without too many bugs.
Because, there are bugs, just a couple, but I couldn’t find how they were occurring. In the scope of things though, they’re fairly minor and, in some circumstances, give a player an advantage whilst playing, sooo, yeah. I guess I’m okay with that.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Ludum Dare this time around, it wasn’t as stressful as previous ones, how much of that is down to experience and how much of it is down to going for the Gameboy, I don’t know. However, you can play NOVASCAPE for your Handheld Nintendo Gameboy System here and I recommend that you do, it’s fun, you just need to learn the controls 🙂