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Game Concept: Amazing Furious Sky Print E-mail
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Written by Stuart   
Wednesday, 02 June 2010 05:53

The first game is called Amazing Furious Sky. It's a retro arcade game, presented as a light-hearted port of a Japanese game from the 16-bit era, with subtitles and loosely translated text.

There are two target audiences: older gamers (30+) who have warm memories of the games they grew up with, and arcade fans of all ages, who will enjoy the fast, simple gameplay.

When people today go back and play actual vintage games, either by dusting off a console or running an emulator, then normally find it much more primitive and frustrating than they remember! With this project, I want to provide the highlights of a nostalgic experience, without the rough edges that detract from player enjoyment.
So the general plan is this: focal elements are authentically retro, but integrated into a clean, modern presentation, as described below. The game pacing is optimized for short, casual play sessions, unlike actual vintage titles. It's possible for a player to "do a level" and make tangible progress in five minutes or less.

Visuals

The player, enemies, bosses, weapons, and some of the "foreground" environment are rendered using a big-pixel art style with a limited palette. However, they are allowed to rotate arbitrarily in a higher resolution frame buffer.

The game is set in space, around a series of stars. The background is never black; the sky is coloured and luminous, with a generally warm palette. Clouds of starlight are animated using a fluid simulation, and interact with the player ship as described in the gameplay section. As the player advances in a stage, and gets closer to the star, the starlight becomes thicker and moves more quickly. The environment animation is done at higher resolution than the focal elements.

The entire game experience, starting with the splash screen, is presented as if viewed through an old CRT television. This involves:

  • Spherical distortion to give the look of a curved picture tube
  • Authentic shadow mask pattern
  • HDR phosphor glow, gamma response, and persistence
  • 3-phase dot crawl (like the original NES)
  • NTSC fringing and bleeding artifacts
  • Local geometric distortion in bright areas of the screen
  • Global blooming to simulate poor power regulation
  • DC offset drift (causing subtle horizontal streaking)
  • Cheap-cable simulation (smearing, reflections)
  • Slight interlace flicker
  • Ground-loop distortion
  • Differential gain/phase errors in the video signal
  • TV OSD controls (brightness, contrast, color, tint, sharpness) exposed to the user

All of these effects, individually, are rather subtle, but combine to give an authentic impression of looking into an old glass television. 1080p native output will give the best effect, as individual phosphors are visible, but 720p will be adequate. Users running in standard-def will get the NTSC artifacts, but not the phosphor patterns, interlace simulation, or similar effects.

Keeping with the theme, menus are minimal and terse, and rendered with an old-style pixel font. Menu transitions and animations, however, are smoother and modern.

Sound

The feel of the game music is inspired by the FM-synth sounds and limited voicings of old games, and melodies are played with a heavy synth feel. The rest of the mix uses modern instruments and a fatter sound. The general musical theme is triumphant, frantic, and slightly over-dramatic. Each stage in the game has its own musical theme, which is a loop somewhere between 90 and 120 seconds long.

This is an audio test I did for a "boss battle" sequence. The first part is pure chip music, and the second part is the same tune rendered with a nicer backing.

Gameplay sound effects are extremely retro, more in the style of Atari-era bleeps and bloops, but rendered with a bit of reverb/etc to help them fit into the soundscape.

There is also some ambient sound related to the CRT emulation, which includes:

  • 60hz mains hum, tied to the brightness of the on-screen image
  • Horizontal retrace whine (very, very subtle)
  • Screen static crackle during the splash sequence, when the CRT is "turned on", and also (to a much lesser degree) later when the screen gets darker after long periods of brightness

Gameplay mechanics

Space is filled with swirling, fluid starlight. The player can fly through it, but starlight is slightly viscous, and slows the ship down. Navigating the starlight is a strategic element of the game.

Some weapons use starlight as fuel, however, and need to be charged by ploughing through the fluid. That's a tradeoff the player needs to manage.

The basic player ship has a couple of mount points, and picking up a weapon will attach it to one of those points. However, weapons and other upgrades themselves have nested mount points, which can host further items. The player can therefore stack up multiple items, and must choose his upgrades carefully for the best effect.

In retro fashion, the player has a point counter which is constantly increasing as enemies are destroyed and the player makes progress. The player is rewarded with extra lives and power-up drops.

Each stage of the game is a "star", which is guarded by a boss. Each star has a theme (for example, say, robotic cats), which is embodied by the boss, the enemies, and the level layout. There are five stars.

Each star is presented as a series of about a dozen short levels, each of which can be completed in 3 minutes or less. They increase in difficulty, and culminate with a boss battle for control of the star. The difficulty then drops off a bit to begin the next stage, giving the player a few minutes of breathing room while the action builds up again.

This is intended to engage the casual player, who may only want to spend a few minutes to clear a level or two, but still provide constant positive reinforcement for players in longer sessions.

Progress is saved automatically, and the user can continue his game with one button press from the main menu.

Status

Various parts of this plan are in different stages of prototype. In the next few days, I'll be sharing what I'm doing for the CRT simulation. In the meantime, please let me know what you think!

 

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