Saturday, 4 January 2014

Security to World 3! The Aubergine Story

With Aubergine settling in well and World 3 taking shape, I wanted to take a moment to talk about Aubergine's origin and how she arrived at her current design. She was actually one of the earlier characters, named ahead of Starch and Coral, but her concept has changed a few times.

her catchphrase was "Hi, I'm placeholder!"
Eagle eyed watchers over on the Steam community noticed that Aubergine made an appearance in Eight and a Half Bit's Elevator Pitch back in May last year. At the time she was simply a Cactus recolour, and armed with a weapon we were calling a Carbine and a Cluster Grenade Launcher.

Carbine - pew pew pew!Grenade Launcher - bang bang bang!
The Carbine was a three shot burst rifle - the shots did more damage and travelled faster than Cactus's bullets and as you levelled up, the shots became increasingly stronger, giving the impression the bullets were punching through enemies. She had great reach but the pause between bursts made aiming vital which meant she was a slightly advanced character.

The Cluster Grenade could release up to three grenades that each split into eight, and would explode on a timer or on proximity to an enemy. It was an easy to aim weapon that would spread damage all over a general area. It lacked punch against single targets, but with a good aim you could concentrate the majority of grenades on large foes like Embryo.

The issue was, while she ticked all the boxes, she just wasn't interesting. Sped up bullets start taking on properties of a laser, and we already had one of those, which was a beam and made a laser sound and everything. And Micro Missiles were a better crowd cover weapon and were way more interesting to watch. Aubergine existed as an uneasy overlap of existing characters, and this was the exact opposite of the direction we wanted to go.

Sanatana and I took an afternoon to sit outside and brainstorm weapon ideas. We went over the standard, the exotic and the just plain infeasible, and one of the more out there ideas was a pet controller. In my mind I was picturing a rabid little zergling/headcrab cross that would run at enemies and latch onto them until you called it back by releasing the fire button. The idea didn't really work but it stuck to me (much like a zergling/headcrab cross) and as I was working on her design (an uptight ship security officer nursing a one sided rivalry with Cactus) I kept trying to simplify the concept back into something more practical and immediate.

Once we got onto the idea that Aubergine's pet could float, things started coming together. It'd be able to move rapidly across the stage, cross gaps (important!!! considering we like to put turrets on islands) and it's attack could be omnidirectional, like an electric shock or a spin dash.

seriously, I had no idea what he was going to look like when I started drawing. I started with those weird floating head designs

The original idea was he could slash enemies with claws, but I realised I'd have to make his hands huge and his claws monstrous looking to pull this off, and it would detract from the character. Meanwhile, I was drawn towards the floating ear look, another throwback to the android motif that I was already reflecting in Cactus's spaceship and the Firepower drones, so I went with the idea that they could split apart and generate heat and he would attack by spinning like a top. Finally, after vetoing my idea to call him Fuchsia, Sanatana dubbed him Helo, which I guess is kind of a way better name.

if I'd called him Fuchsia, I was going to have Aubergine scream "ATTACK THEIR EYES!" every time he activated

In terms of implementation, there is an invisible point in front of Aubergine that moves outwards when fire is held and moves backwards when fire is released, and Helo flies towards this position. With the right tuning this gave him a pretty good feel, you could send him out and pull him back like a boomerang, but if you changed direction rapidly you'd send him whipping across the stage and could weave him between objects. Finally, to stop him getting stuck, he can teleport if he's being retracted and runs into an object that's between him and Aubergine.

what happens when physicists decide to divide by zero

The 'black hole gun' (Singularity Generator) had been kicking around for a while and was something I really wanted in the game - it was the kind of gun that made peoples eyes light up when it was mentioned. Tt'd work as a crowd control weapon, the counter point to Coral's repel field, and support Helo by grouping together enemies. The concept was straight forwards, although it went through a number of tuning variants until it reached it's current damage properties. It does immediate damage on hit, then damage over time to whatever is closest to the core. Combined with the utility of pulling enemies together, it became an effective secondary weapon.

Aubergine is part of the security personnel, and they're based in World Three which up until this point had been white-box. This was exciting to dress as it's the first time we've shown a new tileset since the announcement trailer back in March last year! I had big plans for World 3 that I had in mind when I was building Checkpoint. I wanted it to involve cold blue and metal, glass and electronic screens on the walls.


I adapted the water reflection shader example to work as a reflective floor (you might notice my reflections are desaturated, this was needed for gameplay to stop bright colours registering as threats) and then built large flat wall sections that used a two texture material - a point filtered 32x8 image combined with a repeating mask to give the wall screen effect. So far I'm using it to display a basic music visualiser I hacked together, but it can also play frame animation and my goal is to have stages that react in a number of interesting ways!

I was inspired by pinball table displays

Finally, here are some before and afters of the most recently dressed levels!

World 3 - Stage 1 - Checkpoint
World 3 - Stage 4 - Revolution

All this stuff is in the Early Access if you want to have a play with it! Look forwards to more dev news soon!

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