The Propahverse: Episode I

This is a copy of the first devblog for my new game “The Propahverse: Episode I” that you’ll be able to follow up on itch.io over the next few months. Please take a moment to read it!

Check out the project on itch.io here!

When me and my friend Will Bryce were  much younger, we used to sit around making films. Weird films. Experimental kiddy films with no budget and an improvised plot that didn’t make much sense at all. We made little stop motion LEGO films on a normal camcorder – painstakingly pressing the record button over and over to recreate frame-by-frame animations without any editing equipment. We made such wonderful films as “Gulp: The Movie – School Edition” and “The Mad Zombie Fishy Fish” and they were fun and good. People used to laugh at us and make fun whilst we did it, but we never stopped – because it was what we loved to do.

As we grew up and matured into immature and reasonably problematic teenagers, the love for making films, comics and games still burnt brightly in our hearts. By this point we’d assembled our high-school friendship group and we were interested in making some new videos. YouTube was a thing, we could send our stuff out to the world – it was going to be BRILLIANT.

Thus began four wonderful years of Propah Job Studios – our film studio. I was the director, we never wrote scripts. Most of the time we’d just grab the camcorder, go out into the fields near my house and come up with a story there and then – which reflected pretty obviously in the quality of our content.

We came up with a tonne of random characters and strange situations for them. We had John McCullen – the owner of McCullen INC – an american businessman who grew his fortune via Liquocheese, a cheese flavored fizzy drink. We created Doctor Robert Maria Smedley, a man so cruel, twisted and narcissistic that you couldn’t help but have a soft spot for him.  We created John M’Blobnimnabob – the world’s friendliest dictator and ruler of Happystan. It was good fun.

We filmed and created a series called LeftPOORDead, where the characters of Reginald and Tippy fought off hordes of poor people in the zombie apocalypse. Every episode of the series the quality improved, and we learnt more and more about the characters we were developing. I had so many ideas in my head about where I wanted the characters to go and what I wanted them to do… but we never had the budget or the time.

After LeftPOORDead series one was completed, we took a small break. One day I was sitting in the park with Will, Mitz and Mark (Butler, Tippy and M’Blobnimnabob, respectively – don’t worry… you’ll learn about them when you play the game…) and we decided upon our next series – a horny time-travelling genius called Captain Fabulous – the idea sparked and within several minutes we’d ran out of the park and ended up in the nearest charity shop so we could buy his outfit: we bought the most obnoxious clothes we could find.

After filming several episodes of Captain Fabulous it became clear that we were all starting to get a bit too busy to film things. It got harder and harder to get the gang together. People were too busy with university and work. It was disheartening at the time – filming things with my friends was one of the things that really gave me a sense of self-worth and belonging.

I started filming things at university with my friends there, I set up a weekly Propah Job Radio show too – which got quite a few listeners! We had a small but loyal fanbase who had really enjoyed our videos and were looking forward to more. Hell, someone even took the time to make us a TV Tropes page!

Unfortunately, we just didn’t get around to making any new videos. We were just all too busy.  Even the radio show was getting in the way of my studies. The time of Propah Job Studios came to an end. The website was shut down and the forums were closed. It was all a distant but fond memory glowing in the back of my mind.

It was sad to think that the story of Captain Fabulous would never be completed.

It was even sadder to know that Reginald and Tippy’s second series wouldn’t ever happen.

In my third year at university I felt compelled to finish the story of Reginald and Tippy – so for a whole week I locked myself away in my room and wrote the story down in a novel. It was never proofread and I didn’t look back at the chapters as I wrote… I just needed to get the story down on paper before it was lost forever.

But, as I started to write the story of Reginald and Tippy, other characters from our videos started to rear their odd little heads. All of our characters had been crafted with such pure love of entertaining others that it felt a shame not to somehow include them all…

…and so, The Propahverse was created.

Now, after all this time I’m making the story into a set of three games spanning across a multitude of characters, both old and new. I’m giving the characters the chance they deserve to be loved by others, and to get their story out to the world. At some point in the near future, you’re going to get to play through a story that is eight years in the making. A story that is incredibly important to me as a person. A story that defined a large chunk of my life.

I really hope that you’ll enjoy it.

-Sean

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#LudumDare34 Post-Mortem

So you know how I take Ludum Dare pretty easy most times around? I do an hour every once in a while and eventually get a game done? This time around I think I hit a pinnacle of laziness that I can’t possibly exceed. This time around I spent roughly six hours max on my game… and it shows.

19104-shot2-1450130083-png-eq-900-500

The two themes for this Ludum Dare were Growth and Two Buttons – so I thought why not literally grow two buttons? The first idea I had was a farming sim where you have to grow new keyboard parts for customers, but I didn’t have the time or patience to create that, so I went with something simpler.

The game I made puts you in the role of Sprout the Scout. Sprout is from a race of aliens whose technology relies entirely on plant-matter. He’s crash landed on rather inhospitable planet where the local animals have a rather voracious vegetarian appetite. You have to call for help, but need to grow buttons before you can, these buttons need to be defended from the caterpillar creatures that live on the planet.

I was inspired by the game Rain World to create some kind of creepy bug creatures that moved using some kind of constrained ragdoll physics, so I made a caterpillar that tries to fling itself towards it’s prey. It looks really cool and I like the emergent behaviors that have come from a surprisingly simple piece of code.

I also had the pleasure of working with Magnus “SoulEye” Pålsson of VVVVV fame (albeit it very briefly… as we were both kinda busy this weekend.) It was great to chat with him on Skype as I’ve not seen him in ages and he’s a super interesting person.

Sprout Scout’s Situation was supposed to be a little bit grander and feels really incomplete, but I just didn’t have time to work on it properly. Magnus’s music was probably the coolest thing about it. However, my experiments with rigidbodies and connections to make procedural monster animations were a great success and I shall be using these techniques in the near future.

You can play the game here: http://ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-34/?action=preview&uid=19104

ProcJam 2015 Talk

Kieran and I had the pleasure of being invited down to speak at the opening ceremony for this year’s ProcJam (Procedural Generation Jam) at Imperial College London. It was an awesome event and I thought I’d do a little blog detailing what I remember of the day so I have it here for posterity.

Procedural Game

4:30am last Saturday morning, I awoke from my slumber to an obnoxious alarm and a cat sitting on my stomach waiting for food, it was at this moment I cursed not reading the event’s start times and booking us train tickets to get us into London for 9:00am. I crawled out of bed, checked my emails and then walked down the hill to find Kieran.

(At some point during that I also got dressed, can’t remember exactly when though.)

We got to the train station and had a wonderful first class voyage down to London. Normally Kieran goes in the standard class coach because he doesn’t have a railcard, but we just finished some client projects so I thought “why the hell not, we deserve some luxury.”

Once we got to London we had about four hours to kill, so we went in search of food: it’s surprising to me that in the capital city of the UK it was actually quite hard to find somewhere to get something decent to eat that wasn’t a Nandos or some other fancier restaurant. We eventually gave up and went to a Starbucks, then decided to head to the Science Museum and Natural History Museum. We had a great time walking around looking at halls of dead animals and awesome artefacts from the history of computer science. One thing we got kinda irritated about was the lack of inspiration in some of the interactive exhibits at the museums were, it was kinda disappointing and we spent far too long critiquing them and suggesting improvements to an invisible museum owner in the sky.

Eventually we got around to the ProcJam and it was AWESOME. So many inspiring people talking about making things that make other things. I got to meet Kate Compton in the flesh and have some really interesting chats with some of the developers behind No Mans Sky. I learnt more about Markov chains that I ever thought was possible, Kieran and I really want to make some Twitter bots using them in the near future.

We did our talk on the pros and cons of using realtime data to produce games, we discussed the development of Hashtag Dungeon and how it went from early PCG to UGC over time. We told everyone about the downfalls of using data like Wikipedia that fluctuates on a daily basis and real time weather data that is as unpredictable as… y’know: the weather. We also had the pleasure of discussing our newest game Satan’s Hole and the plans we have in the future for using procedural generation for creating hellscapes. I think most people enjoyed it and had a good laugh, and that’s what counts really.

I’ve seen some really cool stuff come out of this week. I’m super excited about the future of procedural generation in games and I’m looking forward to going back to the ProcJam opening ceremony next year to see what’s on offer!

The Current Plan for Hashtag Dungeon

I’ve been getting periodic tweets and messages from people asking me what is going on with Hashtag Dungeon and when we’re going to be releasing on Steam. So I thought I’d give you some important information on it now to put your minds at ease.

So as you might know I was studying a postgraduate certificate of education before the summer. It was a really heavy workload and I didn’t have much time for game development myself – turns out having to plan five lessons every day in depth leaves you with very little time for anything other than sleep. I was also going through a bunch of awful personal stuff which left me questioning if I even wanted to continue making games altogether; all of that is sorted now but it really put a halt on development for a good few months. I’m now teaching computer science at Lincoln UTC and it’s great – I feel a lot less stressed and have much more time at the weekend and nights to work on game-related stuff.

Meanwhile Kieran was working on academic stuff over at The University of Lincoln as a research assistant so he’s been super busy too. But in about a week or so he’ll be finishing preparations for a big conference and can finally work full-time on the game for a while.

This isn’t to say that the game is in the same state as it was when we released the magic update last year, because it’s definitely different now. We’ve overhauled all the UIs, added lighting into the game and implemented a bunch of new enemies, backgrounds and traps. Originally we planned to release all these different things as little updates a la Minecraft, but we thought why not pool them all together for a massive Steam-release update so that new players get an awesome experience and old players have a tonne of new things to mess around with. We didn’t want to release on Steam half-finished because that just seemed like a bad idea in general.

How it used to look:

Screenie3

How it looks now:

Lighting Update

We’ve also put in a class system that lets you run through dungeons as a bunch of different characters including:

  • The Exotic Blood Mage
  • The Boastful Paladin
  • The Ancient Robot
  • The Mysterious Ninja

Each of these classes brings a different strategy to the game, and some classes will be able to tackle different dungeons easier than others. It’s going to be interesting to see which classes people prefer to play as!

So what’s the Plan?

So yeah this is the most important part of this post, the current plan for the game and what we’re looking to do:

  • We are looking to release the full 1.0 Hashtag Dungeon update onto itch.io on the 30 of September, roughly three weeks from now. We will be sending a message out to all current players to let them know it’s out so they can play it.
  • We will then attempt to fix all the bugs the community finds and prepare the Steam version of the game once we are happy that the game is as stable as possible.
  • We release on Steam as soon as that build is ready. and then give out Steam keys to everyone who needs one.

I’m really happy with how things look and I’m really looking forward to getting player feedback. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get the game onto Steam considering we got greenlit in December, but life is full of little distractions and road-bumps that make it hard to work on something like this full-time.