Shifting Dungeons ~ Post-LD35 Update 1

One thing I’ve become exceedingly bad at is updating games once I’ve thrown them onto the Internet for the first time. The last time I did such a thing was probably over a year ago. But, starting today, I am a changed man! For I have vowed to complete Shifting Dungeons to a standard that I’m happy to put my name to and watch it run off into the wider world, playable and somewhat consistent. Ahh, games, they grow up so fast. I’ve been very preoccupied lately with ruining my sleep schedule by doing coursework right up until deadlines (and beyond…), but that didn’t stop me tweaking Shifting Dungeons a bit.

Without further ado, it’s time to list what’s changed! That’s what change-lists are for, after all.

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Character Customisation

There’s a handful of new character customisation options, bringing the total of skin and clothing colours available to 8 each. That may increase in the future, but for now I’ve stuck with 16 total options because the UI feels clean and not overwhelming with choice, while providing a relatively broad number of outfit combinations.
The whole character customisation scene has a background too – I’ve decided to make it look like the player is getting changed in their bedroom. It’s woefully incomplete currently, but it’s a start.

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Options Menu

The bare basics of an options menu are also now in the game. Most importantly, this menu has an exit button – something I’m very good at forgetting to add. Now you don’t have to Alt+F4 out of the game or use Task Manager! There are sliders for adjusting music and SFX volume and for changing text speed, but they don’t do anything right now (especially since there’s no music and next to no text). However, the sliders’ values are accurately stored, so it’s a start! I’ll probably have them fully implemented by next update.

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Intro Cutscene

I’ve also started work on a cutscene for the start of the game. It’ll be rather short and serve only to introduce the concepts and backstory of the game in a better way than the Ludum Dare entry version handled it – a wall of text. Instead, short sentences accompanied by pretty pixel art will probably work better. Similar cutscenes will appear during major story arcs, but since there’s no story right now, this is the only cutscene implemented.

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Controller Support

Any controller that supports X-Input should work with the game. I say should; I’ve been testing the game using a Wii U pro controller and an adapter that allows it to mimic an Xbox 360 controller (which uses X-Input), so hopefully it also works with other X-Input devices, although I can’t promise anything will work perfectly. The controls are fairly simple and you shouldn’t have any trouble getting to grips with them. However, there are no in-game instructions for controllers, so here is an image detailing how the controls work (which I probably could have just included in the game anyway):

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Enemy Lock-on

To make it easier to take down baddies, you can now lock onto them. On a controller, aim in the general direction of the enemy and press the left button; using a mouse, press the right mouse button. It’s the same button to de-lock (lock off?), but make sure you’re not aiming at an enemy when you do it or it’ll just lock onto the new enemy. Unless that’s what you wanted to do, then great, that’s how you do that. When locked onto an enemy, their health will appear next to them and decrease in realtime, plus your bullets will fire straight at them, so you can see why it’s a handy feature. Plus, when you kill a locked-on enemy, it’ll automatically lock onto any nearby enemies. To aid your aiming, there’s a second cursor – the orange one is for locking on while the white one is the mouse’s actual position. I’ve yet to implement the white cursor for controller input, but it’ll be in the next update for sure. Oh, and the cursor sprite and animation is a lot fancier, too.

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Mechanical Changes

The biggest gameplay change is possibly the addition of the Energy bar. There is a distinction between powerup energy and general energy, hence there two energy bars; the leftmost one, with the thunderbolt icon, will decrease when you fire bullets or slow down time and replenish when you move. The one on the right, with the arrow icon, starts off full when you pick up a powerup (try saying that five times fast), then slowly falls as you move until it reaches zero and the powerup expires. Health replenishes as you move as before, but at a slower rate, plus the UI is more reactive; being hit makes the health bar shake, and having low energy makes the energy bar shake more, the lower energy you have. Staying stationary also no longer stops time completely, but it slows it down a lot.

Shooting mechanics have had a bit of a mix-up too. Your bullets and enemy bullets don’t collide any more, as it provided an easy way to get rid of enemy attacks and there was no incentive to use the time-slowing mechanic to dodge bullets. However, you can now hold down the shoot button to start a hailstorm of bullets and wipe enemies off the map without me being liable for loads of repetitive strain injury lawsuits! To balance the increased shooting speed and the ability to lock on to enemies, your bullets do half as much damage, although in the next update I hope to add some system such as different bullet types that’ll let the player (and enemies) do more damage.

A few other changes are there, namely that rooms are much larger and the camera is zoomed out so the player can see further. It makes it slightly less confusing when you can hear you’re being shot at, since you can more easily see where it’s coming from by virtue of the threat actually being on-screen or only just off-screen, not a million miles away.

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Yay low-quality GIFs! My computer is just bad at everything…

Bug Fixes

You know that game-breaking bug I wrote about in the last blog post? The one that means you couldn’t get past the first dungeon because you’re unable to move on its final floor? That’s been squished. There were also a couple oversights where the game would sometimes skip to the final floor when there was supposed to be another standard floor before it, but now the floors act like they should.

Bugs Implemented

There’s only one that I’ve actually found and can remember, and it’s not hugely important: on the character select screen, the player’s face appears blank. That’s because technically he’s looking upwards, and due the the fact the player’s at an angle in 3D space, the game doesn’t recognise the mouse position correctly and doesn’t face it. If you press the right stick on a controller, the player will face the correct way, but unfortunately the right stick’s rest position has the player looking upwards anyway… Swings and roundabouts, huh?

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Meet the very introverted and shy hero of the game.

Next Update’s Priorities

Most of all, I hope to implement more enemy types. Right now, there’s only one type, and they share the same sprites as one of the character customisation options. They all share the same terrible AI too, so I’m going to at least attempt to work on pathfinding and give some enemies different attacking styles. I’ll also try to make more dungeon types and give more variety to the dungeons themselves – different sizes, shapes and maybe obstacles inside the rooms. Plus, I’ll try to finish the powerups that were originally planned for the Ludum Dare version and implement new ones – the ‘shapeshifting’ aspect of the game is a little bare currently. Finally, I still need to balance the floors’ difficulties and spawning rates of enemies and powerups, since it’s still very imbalanced.

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Xbox One: My Thoughts So Far

Not so long ago, Microsoft announced its long-awaited successor to the Xbox 360 and the third console in the Xbox chronology. The Xbox One is designed to be a powerhouse and an all-round home entertainment suite, handling all your gaming, TV and movie needs. However, views on the reveal were very mixed and perceptions of various aspects, such as online connectivity and used games, came under great fire.xbox_one_1The console design

The console itself looks pretty basic, but people overlooked some pretty important stuff while they were busy calling the design lazy and rubbish. Firstly, the layout is pretty much that of an Xbox 360, as you can see from the disc drive and the Xbox logo, so people won’t get confused looking for slots and stuff if they’re familiar with the 360 layout. Another point people missed is that the surface is flat; this might not seem like much, but you can shove your other gizmos on top without them falling off- another advantage. I do think the Xbox 360 was a little sexier than this ( especially the 360 S), but hopefully aesthetic changes will come with any upgraded versions later in the console’s lifespan.

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The controller

Microsoft made a smart choice by sticking to the same kind of layout as the 360 controller, since it has been hailed as one of the most comfortable, intuitive controllers around. The ‘liquid black’ colour- the blackest black possible, according to the Xbox boffins- is also very appealing, and I like the way the vibrant A, B, X and Y buttons stand out against the controller’s body. The analogue sticks look like they have greatly improved grip, so longer playing sessions will be easier on your thumbs. The rear trigger buttons support programmable haptic feedback, which basically means you will be able to feel vibrations localised to each trigger; this could turn out to be a nice touch in, for example, an FPS when the player shoots a gun. The battery is set inside the controller rather than protruding out the back, which will help people with very long fingers to hold it more naturally. One little niggle I have is the home button, which is raised a lot, as it may take getting used to reaching upwards to press it.

xbox_one_3The Kinect

The second iteration of Kinect supports fully HD video recording and much better audio recording thanks to an array of microphones that filter out background and game sound, as well as allowing 6 people in its viewpoint at the same time. It has advanced facial recognition software that can distinguish individual players from each other, and it tracks the location of each player using the infrared detector on the back of each controller (see above picture). The true potential of this Kinect is humongous; it analyses each player intently to find out how they are feeling, and it always knows what you’re doing. This could bring a new era of advertising and offers specifically aimed at your needs and preferences, determined by the things you say. Games made with Kinect should also be more responsive and competitive, as it tracks players more accurately, and allows them to get closer to Kinect than before, as well as allowing more players on screen at the same time. It is designed better than the original Kinect in that it seems like it will rest nicely on top of your TV.

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The used game controversy

This is where many players lost faith in the console. The used game market is a multi-billion pound industry, and after the conference, it appeared Microsoft were hell-bent on destroying it; however, this is not the case, it seems. The announcements were not clear in the slightest and it did seem like Microsoft took the odd approach of giving customers bad news in a reveal, a big no for any company. Afterwards, I’ve dug out some more quotes and information though, including these which made things clearer (thanks to the Xbox forums for these quotes). Phil Harrison, MS Corporate VP, made these two statements:

“So, think about how you use a disc that you own of an Xbox 360 game. If I buy the disc from a store, I use that disc in my machine, I can give that disc to my son and he can play it on his 360 in his room. We both can’t play at the same time, but the disc is the key to playing. I can go round to your house and give you that disc and you can play on that game as well. What we’re doing with the digital permissions that we have for Xbox One is no different to that. If I am playing on that disc, which is installed to the hard drive on my Xbox One, everybody in my household who has permission to use my Xbox One can use that piece of content. [So] I can give that piece of content to my son and he can play it on the same system.”
“I can come to your house and I can put the disc into your machine and I can sign in as me and we can play the game. The bits are on your hard drive. At the end of the play session, when I take my disc home – or even if I leave it with you – if you want to continue to play that game [on your profile] then you have to pay for it. The bits are already on your hard drive, so it’s just a question of going to our [online] store and buying the game, and then it’s instantly available to play. The bits that are on the disc, I can give to anybody else, but if we both want to play it at the same time, we both have to own it. That’s no different to how discs operate today.”
The way he puts it makes complete sense. I can give a friend  a disc of a game I own to play on his console (applies to any current-gen console), but there’s no way of using that one disc on my system and his at the same time. With digital permissions on the Xbox One, it makes sense that if I have the game installed on my system at home then take the disc and play on my friend’s Xbox One, using my profile is okay, but when I go home, whether or not I take the disc with me, as the game will now be installed on his system, why should he now be able to play it on hos profile without buying it? So then purchasing it from the online store for full price makes sense because he has the game installed and has purchased it, just like me. I can  see where all the previous confusion came from, as Microsoft explained it poorly, but hopefully this has cleared it up.
The TV integration and the complete entertainment solution
Microsoft were very insistent on pushing their new console as an integrated TV unit. Basically, they want their new system to do everything your existing set-top boxes, DVD and Blu-ray players can do, but tied into one console for an all-in-one entertainment experience. In theory it is a wonderful idea, but it depends on how Microsoft go about it. Procuring exclusive deals for bonus content on the Xbox One will be a must, so Xbox Live subscribers will have access to content not available anywhere else. I am interested in how they take this, although one common complaint about the system’s reveal event was “too much TV, not enough games”. Perhaps E3 will yield more gaming stuff.
The 24-hour compulsory internet connection test uproar
This is one area of the reveal that infuriated many players, myself included. With talk of users’ paid-for content being locked-out if the connection test cannot be performed, I can see why people feel let down, especially if they don’t want to be connected every day, or perhaps like me they have unreliable internet and can’t. It seems like a bit of a double-edges sword here, as they are trying to keep track of everyone to stamp out piracy and generally improve security, but they are letting down customers who pay for content and then are forced to report every day to use it. It’s a bit like being on bail really, having to report back all the time. I will wait to see if their approach changes later on, but right now, mandatory internet connection seems a little ‘Big Brother’-ish to me.
The power and the graphical prowess
Now it’s time to get inside the machine: it has been estimated to be 10 times more powerful than a 360, so you can count on high-quality games in terms of graphics. But what are the actual specs, and what’s powering this wonder machine? Well, it boasts 8GB of RAM, as well as a 500GB HDD, so you can store your entire games library effortlessly and store huge game worlds in its memory. An octa-core custom CPU will allow for lightning-quick processing of game logic and physics, and a GPU made with assistance from AMD should allow your favourite games to be rendered fast too. This is a powerhouse which will handle anything you throw at it and more.
There’s a lot more that I could’ve talked about but I hope this was enough to get you all excited and thinking about the potential of this new console. The reveal did have its flaws, but hopefully E3 will give us more details (such as some games perhaps) and clarify some of the controversial spots. If they hope to out-do Sony’s PS4, they will probably need to pull more out of the bag, but so far it looks like they will be able to win back some fans at E3 with some exclusive games. I’ll have more to say after E3, by which time Sony will have revealed their PS4 and I will be able to do a better comparison.
-Daniel