Writing a blog tracking the development of a videogame isn’t anything unusual. Tedious and self-aggrandising? Yes. Interesting and original? Definitely not. So how, then, do I liven things up a bit and make it even harder than it is already to write something worthwhile? How about having written a large proportion of the bloody game ages ago? Yes, that ought to do it.
My regular reader will, of course, be aware by now that Maxwell already entered the big wide world last year when the demo version Maxwell Mouse And The Missing Game Mystery was unleashed on a largely suspecting Amiga public. If you’ve come across that, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect already and you’ll be unsurprised to learn that the majority of the features in the pilot episode also pop up in the feature-length production (if that’s what you want to call it, which you don’t, but I do, so shut up). This does make documenting the implementation of the game’s elements because of the minor technical detail that, by and large, they’re already alive and well in the code.
That’s not to say, though, that what’s there can’t be improved upon. I’ve largely resisted the urge to bung in loads of new ideas, because then I’m in serious danger of falling into the classic trap of adding so much that it becomes unlikely that it’ll ever be completed. Instead, I’ve thought about what could be done better, and outrageously decided to… well, make it better. Or so I hope, anyway.
One of the most immediately obvious flaws (and one that attracted a lot of comments) is the status panel at the top of the screen. While this is essential for keeping track of objects held, number of lives, conversations and so on, let’s face it, it wasn’t exactly troubling ‘oil painting’ territory, was it? So one of the first tasks for the new game was to make it more appealing. Thanks to Predseda, we’ve got a prettier version with some colourful borders and more defined areas, meaning there should be little trouble working out where the items go, the position of the cursor and so on. As you can see for yourself from the screenshot below.
Unless you’re desperately lacking an eye for detail, you will have noticed some other subtle changes, too. Witness, for example, the addition of a box on the left of the screen displaying the face of the character talking, designed to leave you in no doubt who’s wibbling on a little too much. All of this also has the side effect of leaving less space for the dialogue itself, so I’ve countered this twofold. Firstly, the panel is now a mammoth 16 pixels taller than before (which has also meant a rather drastic recoding of the playing area, as that’s taken an entire row of blocks off the display, and has meant a lot of messing about taking into account the new edge-of-screen boundaries for when Maxwell moves onto a different section the map and the like). (Incidentally, this rather pleasingly has resulted in an entire screen being able to fit into the display of the RED Map Editor, meaning there’s no more shifting up and down to make totally sure I’ve covered the entire visible area and not (for instance) leaving any embarrassing blank patches. A most serendipitous discovery for me, of absolutely no consequence to anybody else on the planet.) (Oh, and I love brackets.) (Oh yes I do.)
Secondly (I bet you forgot there was a ‘secondly’, didn’t you?)… try not to faint with excitement, but the text now comes in a new fun size edition. Which is to say, it’s been shrunk. This came about via the fiendishly cunning strategy of asking Predseda (author of the original font) to conjure up something smaller with the intention of cramming more words onto the screen, and within almost literally minutes, he presumably performed some sort of magic spell because there it was, ready to be used. This actually makes the process of writing a good deal easier, as fitting more into one ‘section’ allows for more creativity (read: tragically awful and potentially libellous jokes) without having to incessantly worry about overflow errors. And it looks neater too, which is always a bonus.
And how about the game itself? When it loads up for the first time, there’s another strikingly obvious enhancement – Maxwell himself. I’m grateful to top pixel artist Wayne Ashworth (of Renegades Deluxe fame) on this one, as he’s taken the already-impressive Maxwell sprite, and basically re-coloured him and added some lovely extra details, like his head that now moves. It’s difficult to tell on a blog with static pictures and an image quality that does no justice to his work whatsoever, mind you, but take my word for it – it does make a difference and gives him extra character. Hopefully, one day, you’ll see it for yourself. (One day, I’ll grab some proper screenshots from an emulator or something, I promise. Day unspecified to keep you all on your toes, natch.)
As you might also expect, there’s also some improvements made in the ‘engine room’, as it were. Take the collision detection, which has been streamlined somewhat making the code perform quicker and allowing more flexibility in choosing when to, er, detect a collision, having arguably been a tad on the harsh side originally. Again, that’s tricky to demonstrate here, as is the addition of non-player characters being animated, my excuse this time being that I haven’t – yet – got any sprites to test this feature on.
This is all (compared to writing a game engine from scratch) fairly trivial stuff, but the advantage here is that it gives me more time to concentrate on the level layouts, the puzzles and the script, which is where this game will be judged. Plenty of planning, testing, tweaking, and testing again will be taking place, and who knows? If you all behave yourselves, next time I might – just might – give you all an insight into how I go about this particular process (albeit without giving too much of the game away). Don’t think you can get away with causing trouble when my back is turned, either. I know everything.