Physics and Character Design

Physics Objects

This week I've made some jungle ruins tiles.

This week I’ve made some jungle ruins tiles.

Having put some new tiles in for ruined temple structures in the jungle areas, I decided to implement a few physics devices this week. Although we’re using the Box2D engine to incorporate full physics into Wheelbound, the nature of the controls means typical platform game physics puzzles often wouldn’t work. You can’t jump after all!

Still, if nothing else, we can put some motion into the world, like this slightly bouncy bridge of linked wooden slats:

This bridge uses Box2D physics to bounce realistically.

This bridge uses Box2D physics to bounce realistically.

I’ve also got this working windmill structure in the game, which can lead to some interesting movement puzzles:

Movement puzzles using physics objects.

Movement puzzles using physics objects.

The downside is that a few of these highlight the rigid camera I’m currently using, which stays centred on the player under all circumstances. At some point I’ll need to implement a separate camera object that follows the player with a slight delay or only under certain movement conditions.

I’ve also put in some more of the weird alien plants this week – this particular one is a helpful one, rather than a death trap! Makes a change! These plants are like spring pads. When you roll over them, they start to vibrate, then they punt the player upwards to let them reach higher areas:

These plants function like organic jump pads.

These plants function like organic jump pads.

One other minor detail I’ve put in this week is that the waving willow frond-like creepers that hang from the trees sometimes drop leaves that float gently down. A tiny detail, but it adds a good bit of motion and life to the world. I know that’s the sort of thing that you should add right at the end of a project when you’re polishing it up, but that method of working never really works for me. I like to mix up what I’m doing at all times to keep it interesting. One day I’ll spent all my time drawing pixel tiles, the next day, scripting a new feature, and the next day designing a level.

I’ve also spent some time this week thinking about “interconnectedness”. The strongest Metroidvania games will have each new area you discover link back to previous areas, so that you find shortcuts and open new routes through the game, thereby breathing new life into places you’ve already traversed. I made a diagram of Wheelbound’s areas and how they connect to each other, and then looked at some other games’ area connections, such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Super Metroid, and Dark Souls. My conclusion was that we could certainly stand to connect areas more thoroughly, as the current design is heavily reliant on always returning through a single hub area. That’s a pretty abstract thought experiment at the moment though, as most of the levels haven’t yet been built.

Character design changes

Since the initial prototypes, the style of Wheelbound has gone through a large number of changes. The main character in particular has changed design a lot. Initially the game had much simpler graphics, and we were planning to create each “screen” or area as a separate graphic, rather than using tiles and a level editor. This quickly proved impractical, so the design changed. But here’s the tiny 6-colour guy you originally played:

The original player character, animated.

The original player character, animated.

We also set an 8-colour guideline per scene and the resolution of each screen was 256×192, to make it quicker and easier to draw scenes. It still proved impractical.

The original game was at a much lower resolution and had far fewer colours.

The original game was at a much lower resolution and had far fewer colours.

And here’s a selection of the variations the main character went through afterwards:

The design of the main character has changed a lot.

The design of the main character has changed a lot.

  1. The original player character – six colours, designed to be as simple as possible.
  2. A redesigned player, intended to be a bit more stylized. The downside was that it was hard to get changes of expression when he had no real features, and the outsized head makes him look more like a child.
  3. A version of the second character as viewed from above – toying with the concept of having some top-down bits with “race car” controls.
  4. Some scanned in sketches of character/chair designs. I’ve done many concept drawings for Wheelbound, most of them terrible!
  5. An attempt to make a larger, more detailed character with a properly defined face. He just ends up looking a bit weird.
  6. Same chair design as 5, but with a different character design. Experimenting with clothing options.
  7. A radically different chair design, with a much taller, thinner character. Didn’t like this one at all.

Eventually, this was the design I came up with and ultimately settled on. I think it’s a good balance between the larger, detailed ones and the smaller, more stylized ones. The important thing I was trying to focus on while designing most og these was ensuring that the player looked a bit hopeless. We didn’t want some cool, ultra-professional space marine type. This guy is supposed to be the unluckiest person in the universe, so his design had to reflect his unfortunate condition. I tried to channel some “lovable idiot” into him, similar in some ways to Abe from Abe’s Oddysee:

The final player design.

The final player design.

Abe, the quintessential lovable idiot.
Abe, the quintessential lovable idiot.

Now we just need a button for “fart”…

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