The Metroidvania Metroid-like game genre, from a development perspective, is quite complex to master. World and level design, for examples, are core elements of the game along with player abilities and game physics. You cannot plan one without the other. This is because player abilities, powerups and game physics, are the very elements that allow the Player to progress and advance (or backtrack) throughout the levels. This also means that levels must be designed around the player’s abilities, powerups and game physics (among other things).
Everything starts with the tiles. If you make tiles your measurement unit, you’re going to be able to simplify the visualization process. I made this kind of reasoning: how many 16px square tiles do I want displayed vertically?
I wanted to be able to show at least 10 tiles. Which then I realized was a pretty low number for a Desktop game. That meant having a vertical resolution of 160px. That was the resolution of Metroid Zero Mission, on a Game Boy Advance. Granted, it looked great even on an emulator, on a Desktop PC… but… did I really want to go with that little number of tiles? Let’s look at how others approached the problem…
Axiom Verge, a more modern desktop platformer, is displaying almost 17 tiles vertically, at a vertical resolution of 270px. So I had to stop and ponder a little. Was it enough? Was it too much?
Too much indeed. Axiom Verge displays gigantic environments around one of the smallest player character I’ve ever seen. The player’s height to screen height ratio is absurd. But it works, for that game.
I wanted to keep a more claustrophobic feeling. Given I didn’t want to mess with tile size, I had to display less tiles. Simply by reducing the resolution.
Metroid Zero Mission has a resolution of 240×160. It’s a 3:2 aspect ratio and it’s not what most computers use today (or even back in the days). In fact the 16:9 aspect ratio is now almost a universal standard. Or at least you can find it in most of the TV sets, desktops and notebooks you see around.
Back to Axiom Verge. It’s 16:9, which is great. But I already chose not to go with a resolution as high as 480×270 because I want less tiles on the screen.
Don’t get me wrong. If you want to be able to display a great number of 16×16 tiles on the screen, 480×270 is a really great option. I would advise you go with that resolution! It’s 1/16th the pixel area of a Full HD monitor. Which means it scales pretty well without pixel interpolation artifacts (you multiply 480 and 270 by 4 and you get the 1920×1080 Full HD resolution).
Next, I looked at the closest 16:9 resolution available with almost the same vertical resolution as the Game Boy Advance: 288×162.
I made a few tests at this resolution and even though I liked it (a lot), it doesn’t scale well. There’s no easy way to scale the 288×162 resolution to perfectly fit a 1920×1080 monitor. That means problems. Also, even though I liked the effect, it really is a little bit ugly. And maybe a little too much claustrophobic, even for my game; there’s barely enough space to fit 10 tiles, vertically. Given my player’s height is a bit more than 2 tiles, it meant huge player (yes, you can draw a different character), really small “field of view” and ugly pixels.
The 384 x 216 Compromise
I finally found the optimal compromise resolution: 384×216. Multiply that by 5 and you get the Full HD resolution. This should avoid pixel interpolation distortions. It also allows me to display 13.5 tiles vertically. This is not that far from the Game Boy Advance look, but it sits nicely between Metroid Zero Mission and Axiom Verge.
I don’t want the player to feel small, inside gigantic environments. I want the players to feel the environment around them. Leaving him/her with little air. But not as little as in Metroid ZM on the GBA. All with a modern 16:9 look.
I found my own resolution with this process and a bit of testing. It might not be the best approach (in fact I’m sure I might have missed some other considerations) but for now it’s working great. Your mileage may vary so I recommend a lot of testing.
My primary objective would be to prototype the game with graphics.
I still don’t know if this is going to be a commercial project or not. Should it become a viable commercial game there could be many options. Here are just some of them
Prototype’s used to get funding. Then…
The artist remains the same, becoming the final game artist. Gets what is due to him/her, plus revenues shares.
The artist changes; prototype art won’t be used; he/she will get no revenues shares but will get what is due to him/her.
Prototype’s not a prototype anymore and is ready to market; no more funding necessary. Artist remains the same so revenue share model apply.
Project gets cancelled. No one gets anything (this should not happen! at all costs!) Artist is free to use his/her art however he/she sees fit.
Project is released as freeware (unlikely). Same as above.
The project is going for the commercial route. It’s now a revenue share work relationship.
Right now I’m unable to test the mechanics, to think about what works and what doesn’t; to imagine the game world. I need to quickly place things in the levels, test them and get an emotional response as to what works and what doesn’t.
That statement is a dramatic exaggeration. But you get the idea.
As of now, everything you see in the image below, except the blocks tilesets, were drawn by me. Ideally, this should change.
Right now I’m working full-time on this project.
I will be trying to help the artist as much as I’m able to, given my limited artistic skills.
The game will have a resolution of 384 x 216.
Player will be more or less 36px tall.
The current game art won’t be used as a basis (thank god!)
Beware: the game videos/images are only there to show collisions and other tech aspect. The overall feeling of the game is going to differ drastically. Think Super Metroid (there, I said it).
This won’t be an action packed game. In fact, when I think about it, I think about words like
If you would like to collaborate, have comments or want to share your thoughts, leave a comment or get in touch via social networks etc.
In the earlier tech demo, I had positioned a truckload of similar tilesets. Those bluish/greyish square blocks are not hand picked. I did not make that work in the level editor. I got inspired by the Smart Tile Objects tutorial by HeartBeast.
Not relevant anymoreThings changed quite a bit and thought I'm still using the same notebook, I'm now a happy Windows 10 user running GameMaker Studio 2. I use Linux only when compiling via VirtualBox.
I’ll keep this short and sweet.
Whenever I tell people that I have a notebook, they usually reply with something like “and what about your main computer?”.
I do not have a “main computer”. I have just this notebook. Which is running Linux and has no accelerated graphic card available (to tell the truth it’s an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000).
Yet I’m using GameMaker Studio. How is that even possible? VirtualBox made it possible. I’m running Windows 7 inside Linux via VirtualBox.
Even though I cannot take advantage of all the graphic acceleration stuff (e.g. the awesome graphics in Hyper Light Drifter looks like shit on my notebook; Shovel Knight is unplayable and so on…) I’m able to run my platformer engine with a decent 400 FPS (real). A consistent 60 FPS.
I’m quite happy about it but I just hope I can keep developing with this machine. Fingers crossed.