Below Earth

Recording your game: Advise to GIF away

Progress on the game was relatively slow in the last couple of weeks. I hardly managed to get myself to do something for it.

But still, I managed to add at least some content, like new special bombs and a screen transition effect.

Then I wanted to create some GIFs to show off some new content. Simple, right? WRONG!

GIF away your sanity

It turns out creating a GIF in reasonable quality/framerate/file size is near impossible. I tried out several programs, online services and tool-chains, but no solution really works without some drawbacks or workarounds. So, for a short duration I stepped into the hell that is known as video encoding formats, video editing softwares and screen recording softwares. And this is the conclusion I came to. (Besides that my computer is not fast enough to record and play a game at 60 fps)

There are many ways you can go about this issue, but every solution fulfills another requirement:

  • Use a time-lapse program to capture screenshots of your display at an intervall. Edit and modify every single picture and convert it into a GIF or video with some other tool.
    • Good for making timelapses of your work
    • Bad for recording game footage as screenshot intervals unlikely go beyond 1 fps
  • Use a screen recording program to record a video, edit it with a video editing software and later convert your video into a GIF.
    • Good for making actual (gameplay) videos (skipping the ‘convert to GIF’ part)
      • Software recommended for recording: Open Broadcaster Software
      • Software recommended for video editing: None (Please, if you know of any great video editing software that’s free, tell me right away)
    • Nearly ensures horrible quality while maintaining an immense file size. (Wonderful combination, right?)
  • Use a screen capturing program that records directly to a GIF.
    • Good for creating short GIFs of your games gameplay
      • Software recommended: GifCam
    • Still not the best quality (hey, what did you expect, it’s gif) and often only supports recording for short timespans.

(honorable mention for editing GIFs:

Although I found some new and interesting software, I’m sure this won’t be the last time I will have to struggle with this. Next time, I’ll probably just go with WebM and hope that it already replaced GIF…

The part everyone was waiting for

So here are some animated gifs (created with GifCam) showing some new features in action.

Too much power can easily backfire    Oh, what is that?

Tactical Warfare   Let's play 'Catch the dynamite'


Player Motivation in Below Earth

My first plan for Below Earth was, to procedurally generate levels, and generate different set of levels the further you advance. Quite similar to Spelunky‘s level system. But since I didn’t have much content I made a prototype with only one type of random generated levels to test it. But there was no motivation to explore levels or engage enemies, as all levels seemed similar and the only goal was to get a high score. And score doesn’t mean anything, if you don’t have any global or friend leaderboards ready and an interesting mechanic for amassing points like combos or chains. Just making a counter go up is (most of the time) not something you feel motivated to do.

In Spelunky on the other hand, you have a set amount of levels and you can find items and collect gold to buy even more items at the shops. This way exploring the level becomes a viable option. So you have to decide if you want to risk fighting against that enemy to maybe find some item or gold or leave it and try to advance further. But for Below Earth I didn’t want to have shops and lots of items. I wanted to keep the scope small (considering it’s a Ludum Dare entry), so I had to find a way to make it engaging despite it being limited in complexity.

That’s why I switched to a fixed amount of hand-crafted levels. Of course this would also be possible with generated levels, but hand-crafted levels are faster to get good results with. So the new goal for players was to advance to new levels to see what new content and what new situations await at the next level. I also thought keeping the score system was a good idea back then, but in hindsight it only felt slapped onto the rest of the game, as score only played a secondary role. There still were no leaderboards or combo system, so your score was essentially the amounts of enemies you killed. Not interesting.

So either you go the arcade-y point centric system of player motivation all the way, or don’t go it at all. One recent example would be Bastion, as it has a separate story mode and score-attack mode. In story mode, there is absolutely no score system to distract you, it’s just pure story. In score-attack mode it’s all about piling up points, the current score is permanently displayed on the screen, there are combo systems in place and after every level you can compare your performance to the global or friend-wide leaderboards. That’s score done right.

Finding the right way to motivate your player can be pretty tough. For the Below Earth post compo version I’m planning to completely drop the score system and instead rely on advancing levels, boss fights and maybe some items as player motivation. Speedrun leaderboards could be an alternative to the score system.


Plans for Sommer 2014

Business or not, it’s important to have short-term and long-term goals. Also telling other people of your goals makes you more likely to actually try and achieve them. So, what could be a better way of telling everybody than through a public website?

Future projects

We will participate in every upcoming Ludum Dare just for the fun of it. This also includes the next Ludum Dare 30, which is on the weekend of August 22nd to 25th.  Ludum Dare always provides an excuse to try creating something new, and is a welcome variation to everyday life.

Current project

At the moment we are working on refining another Ludum Dare entry.

I participated in Ludum Dare 29 and entered a small game called ‘Below Earth’. It’s about running around in a cave and throwing around bombs to blow sh…stuff up. We decided to further develop and polish it, so that it could count as a full game. We would like to be finished with it before Ludum Dare 30 starts. For no particular reason, but you have to set yourself deadlines to stay motivated.

The current downloadable builds (and the original LD entry) and the source code of ‘Below Earth’ are available on Bitbucket. Free for everyone to download and try out.

We will talk in detail about this project and its progress in future blog posts.