Final Form, Year One: WHERE WE’RE GOING

by Mike
Thu, July 1, 2010 -- 19:59 UTC

It took 365 days of hard livin’, but we’re finally here: Final Form Games is one year old today! You are our loyal, never-say-die readers with whom we will always shoot straight, and we hope you are excited to celebrate with us! Over the past few days, we’re brought you up to speed about where we’ve been and where we’re at, but said very little about…

WHERE WE’RE GOING

or

Seriously: What In Tarnation Are You Guys Working On?

What a good question! We are working on a rad videogame! It represents a lot of what we love about games, its working title is Jamestown, and we think it’s going to be a blast.

Logo

First things first: The screenshot we posted back in October wasn’t an image of functional gameplay. We know, you’re shocked. HOWEVER! That image does represent the overall aesthetic and milieu that we are striving to deliver to YOU, the customer! To vouch for the truth of our words, here are some totally real, in-game (and very Work-In-Progress!) screenshots of what the game looks like on this very day:

And HERE are some scintillating details:

- Jamestown is an old-school, handcrafted shoot-em-up (or “shmup“) with a new-school twist: 4-player co-operative play!

You will roll deep.

You will roll deep.

- As many have guessed (amazingly), it is set in 17th-century British colonial Mars. It will feature: Famous alt-historical figures! Majestic alien landscapes! Steampunk space tech! Hard-bitten settlers taking their shot at ekeing out a better life in the New World! Redcoats and Martians settling their differences with spear and space-musket!

Redcoat

- With the gameplay, we’re striving to press all the important hardcore gamer pleasure-buttons, while still leaving room to innovate on what co-op can really mean in the context of a classic shooter. We just love co-op games so much!

In 2011, one of these ships could be you.

In 2011, one of these ships could be you.

- We hope to tell a story within this world that is legitimately engaging and worth reading/watching/playing. A story that one might use the word “swashbuckling” to describe! Or, “coherent!” Or even, “explodathon!”

- In terms of timeline, we plan to submit to IGF this year, and hope to release on PC sometime in 2011, with other platforms to follow. The comments section awaits your snarky comments about release dates!

RedcoatFw

This is our first project, and we undoubtedly have plenty of rough waters to contend with between now and ship day, but we are optimistic about the journey ahead. As you may have read in our previous two posts, Year One was largely about investing a huge percentage of our energy into developing the game mechanics, technology, tools, and skillsets that we think are necessary to make our game great. Year Two is going to be about using them.

Thanks for being here with us on our first birthday. More to come.


Final Form Games, Year One: WHERE WE’RE AT

Wed, June 30, 2010 -- 17:49 UTC

On July 1st, a mere earth-rotation from now, Final Form Games will celebrate its very first birthday. To commemorate this milestone, we decided to break our customary silence to talk about where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re going.

finalform_officepanorama

Day one.

WHERE WE ARE AT
or
THREE FACTS WE HANG OUR HATS UPON:

0511101929

Tim, hacking the encryptions. And yes, he is using three mice at the same time in this photo.

ONE: For prototyping, our goal/dream was to write games in a way that was as rapid, straightforward, and fun as tools like Flash.  Tim told us he had a vision, and that though the path would be a risky one, he knew it would take us where we wanted to go. When Tim finally emerged from his 5-month journey into code, drenched in gore and using a walking-stick that appeared to have been hewn from the claw of some long-forgotten subterranean insect, we looked upon the spoils and knew that we had found what we were looking for.

0306101557

Hal, playing our game in the Traditional Manner.

TWO: We realized that we needed two programmers, and had but one. This led to a conversation that basically went like this:

Tim: “Hal, we’re going to need you to become a programmer now.”

Hal: “Okay.”

And so he did.  It’s easy to say, but much harder to imagine actually doing: Hal bootstrapped himself the bulk of the distance between occasional-web-tinkerer and full-blown-gameplay-programmer in less than a year.  Working closely with Tim brought him the rest of the way there, and now almost all of our actual gamecode is the result of Hal’s skilled handiwork.

THREE: People routinely compare our art to the art in Metal Slug. The rest of Mike’s life is more or less guaranteed to be downhill.

ALSO!
or
OTHER TRUE FACTS THAT WARM OUR HEARTS WHEN ALL IS COLD AND DARK:

- We are active members of the small-but-scrappy Philadelphia game developer community, and are thrilled to be a part of its establishment and continued growth.

Our playtests... are getting a little crazy.

Our playtests... are getting a little crazy.

- We’ve given a few talks and round-tables about what we do at some local colleges and universities, along with our BFFs over at Cipher Prime and Merit. We’ve enjoyed dipping our toes into these kinds of education initiatives, and hope to wade in much deeper during the coming year.

Crunch dinner, courtesy Hal's then-fiancée-now-wife Jenn.

Crunch-time dinner, courtesy Hal's then-fiancée-now-wife Jenn. It was delicious. And TIMELY!

- Our friends and family have been hugely supportive of our endeavor, contributing everything from kind words to sage advice to crunch-time donuts. Two particular people (one of whom was Mike/Tim’s mother) went so far as to teach themselves how to pixel, and contributed much-needed art assets during our darkest hour.

- Finally: we are doing what we came here to do. We are spending our days making games of our own devising, learning all we can, and enjoying it ever so much. Year One was a great, tumultuous adventure. Join us on our birthday tomorrow, and we’ll tell you about why we’re so excited about Year Two.


Final Form Games, Year One: WHERE WE’VE BEEN

Tue, June 29, 2010 -- 23:19 UTC

On July 1st, a scant two days from now, Final Form Games will be one year old! To celebrate, we decided to bring our (fiercely!) loyal readership up to speed on where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re going.

But what about right now, you ask? What is Final Form working on right this second? When will I finally see evidence that anything from that timeline up there is actually true?

Well… it is our birthday coming up…


FallGuy Prototype – The First 2.5 Days

by Mike
Mon, September 14, 2009 -- 18:04 UTC

This is the first in a series of posts that document the process of building a prototype game in about 7 days.  Because I am writing it, it places special emphasis on the particulars of how the art and animation got made.  Hopefully someone out there in the nettertubes will find it useful/interesting/boredom-slaying.

So there we were.  PAX was 7 days away, and we wanted to show some sort of playable prototype product to the beautiful people there.  Tim was busy in the Code Mines, slaying dragons with fell monikers like “Reflection,” “Serialization,” and “Lua Integration.”  He could not come to our aid.  That left Hal and I with just a stick, a ball, and the elaborate game-prototyping framework that Hal’s been chipping away at in Flash for the past year.

Undaunted, we made the following plan: Hal and I would prototype a playable somethin-somethin in a 7-day sprint.  Tim would be present for brainstorming/playing stuff/giving feedback, but otherwise uninvolved.  Scary as that was, we sallied forth bravely into the dark woods of prototyping adventure.

Days 1 and 2:

Getting our version control pipeline going took up the first 1.5-2 days of the sprint.  This involved setting up the new .svn and .hg repositories, linking them together in a delicate lattice that allows me to check in art that is sym-linked into hal’s flash code directory, testing that setup, fixing what didn’t work, and then writing a script that sets all that up with the push of a button.  Having gone through this process already with the website and a small Python game really smoothed these preparations out considerably. However, a website is not a flash game is not a regular game, and in each case we have needed to iterate and explore a bit before finding the optimal setup.

Anyway.  Found it.  Took about 2 dev-days when you count lunches and lengthy discussions about that most elusive of prey, the “best” solution.  While prototyping is typically oriented around “good enough” solutions, we felt a carefully-considered repository structure was worth the investment because it would make all subsequent Flash prototypes (such as the one we’re doing this very week) much much easier.  So you can call this a 5-day sprint with a 2-day speed-bump, if you like.

Day 3, part 1:

And they’re off!  First, all three of us brainstormed in the manner described a few posts down.  Then we culled and refined in a manner to be discussed in some subsequent brainstorming post.  By the end of the session, we had a pretty clear idea of what our goals were for the project:

- Get a generic shmup working. In this case, “generic” means a 2d game with a scrolling background, a ship or other craft that can be moved around the screen, the ability to shoot, and enemies to shoot and be shot at by. We didn’t brainstorm with this genre restriction locked in, but it certainly had a leg up on most other options.  This was because A) shmups have been the main genre we’ve planned to explore since before starting the company, B) we’d already used Hal’s tools to lay a lot of the groundwork for a game in that style, and C) it’s frankly one of the easiest genres of videogame to implement.   However, we still kept the door open to other styles of game during brainstorming, just in case something unexpectedly awesome and practical snuck in during the conversation.

- Add a sweet feature or two. This is what makes the prototype interesting!  Even Space Invaders, which is among the oldest and most powerful of the Elder Shmups, had more going on than the baseline features I described above (including destructible environments ZOMG).  Given how tight the project schedule was, we weren’t sure we’d even get the basics working, so this goal was mainly included in the plan just in case we found the time for it.  The sweet features we were most excited about trying out were a melee attack (most likely involving a sword), and a fighting-game-esque special attack mechanic.  Think Ryu’s fireball from Street Fighter, and you’ll get the basic gist.  In fact, think Megaman learning Ryu’s fireball in Megaman X and you’ll get even more of the gist, as that was another game that cross-bred core fighting game features with a different genre (in that case, a platformer).

- Make it look neato. This meant coming up with a coherent look for the thing, and then producing a lot of art in that style very quickly so that nothing utterly temporary (i.e. flat-colored boxes and circles) remained by the time we were done.  This actually isn’t the way we’d approach the art side of prototyping normally, as prototyping is ideally as fast and nimble and prone-to-throwing-things-away-when-they-don’t-work as possible.  Ordinarily, that would mean simple flat-colored boxes and circles were perfectly acceptable art elements until quite a few gameplay concepts had been tried.  However, this project was meant to see the light of day (unusual for a prototype) at PAX, which basically meant it would be doing double-duty as a gameplay experiment AND a piece of marketing material for our company. As such, we decided to try and eliminate all blatant placeholder art from the final product. Additionally, I still need all the practice I can get producing pixel art quickly (more on that later), particularly animation, and this project was a chance to do that on the clock in an actual production environment. The process of trying new techniques and comparing various style treatments is itself a form of prototyping, so that was a part of this goal as well.

The broad strokes of the art direction fell pretty naturally out of the high concept Hal pitched to us during the meeting.  His idea was to make a vertical shmup where the player “ship” looked like a Brock-Sampson-esqe action hero in a business suit, flying through the air with a pistol in one hand and a samurai sword in the other.

Our muse.

Our muse.

It was pretty clear from the reaction in the room that we could all get down with that, and so I started on the first step of the art process: working up a screenshot mockup for the game we would eventually start referring to as “FallGuy.”

Next post: the rest of Day 3!  There will be animated pixels and swordplay.  See you there.


Welcome to Final Form Games! Dot com!

by Mike
Wed, August 19, 2009 -- 14:07 UTC

As I type this, Hal and Tim are muttering arcane strings of code sigils. Ostensibly, this constitutes some form of back-and-forth communication between the two of them. The frequency of these little gobbledygook salvos has been rising steadily for the past two hours or so. A good chunk of it is over my head, but I have pieced together the following through context clues:

  • This website is almost done. Indeed, it is very possible that we could go live before C.O.B. today.
  • Doing so will require that several annoying bugs in the category Tim refers to as “survivors” be squashed with extreme prejudice.
  • Going live before C.O.B. today would be desirable in the extreme.
  • Having some actual content on the blog when we go live (for our “readers”) wouldn’t get kicked out of bed either.

So our two alpha coders put their heads down and started speaking in tongues. As a result, I have been charged with producing our very first message to the world at large. I’ve decided to talk about the big picture of what this year is about for us.

Put simply, this year is about starting up. It’s about paying what it costs to spin up a studio, a technology core, and a decent understanding of what 3 guys making an entire game in a reasonable amount of time really looks like. Most importantly, it’s about setting up a webcam. Because you gotta have a webcam.

We’re 2.5 months in now, and things are going pretty well! In keeping with our goal of contributing to the Dialogue At Large, we’ll be expanding on the how and the why of our emergence from the primordial bog in subsequent posts. For now, suffice to say that we have the studio, the technology that will underpin our games is well underway, and we’ve been evolving our development processes steadily over the course of these initial efforts. We also (improbably) have a webcam. On a webSITE! Not using capital letters and italics to convey our excitement is becoming increasingly difficult.

Which brings us to today. With the website done, there’s not much left to do around here except our JOBS. To wit:

  • We will make fun, handcrafted games that explore the themes and mechanics which have always resonated with us.
  • We will sell those games to you. For cashy money!
  • We will use that money to repeat this process.
  • We will drive the minions of evil to the world’s jagged edge, and pitch them into the chasm so that the bell of peace can ring in our land once more.

Alright. Back to it. Join us! Explore! Check back often! There will be new stuff!