This post mortem is an archive from my 2010 blog post on my previous site
K-million is a super-spastic Flash game made in collaboration with Alister “Alilm” Maunder.
Alilm, a while ago, coded a frantic game, called Combo X-999, and wanted to revisit it, with “custom” graphics, and gameplay adjustments.
Combo X999 is a strange game, some sort of a cross-over between a BeJeweled, Space Invaders and a Slot Machine game. the concept is quite basic and charged with “fun” potential: you destroy incoming waves of colored invaders (shooting several adjacent, same color invaders resulting in combos), get some cash and unlock powerful special attacks using the slot machine. The result is an extremely fast paced, frantic game.
The “re-skinning” process
My first task was of course to identify what could be improved in the original game, concept wise. One thing that was rather obvious was how the various gameplay elements were still very independent from each other, at least visually. For example, the slot machine stood alone, and had no real visual connection, explaining to the player how the process related to the enemies he was shooting at. The second step was to find a strong game concept that would tie all these elements nicely in one theme, and provide some sort of “back story” to the player, on why he/she is shooting these incoming baddies.
Quickly, I submitted a concept-sketch to Alilm, on what was my vision for the remake: K-million was born!
A – the title, connected directly with the machine – the original K1000000 was quickly changed to the much more reader-friendlyK-million.
B – The slot machine became kind of a big vacuum cleaner sucking crystals of the ground – these crystals are dropped by shot enemies.
The head of the vacuum is operated by two squirrels (C)(don’t ask why!) and they move it laterally, following the player. Once sucked, the crystals go in the vacuum tube (D).
E– the crystals are then turned into some liquid or dust, that go fill a gauge (E) – that gauge has some markings (under the marking, you can’t use the slot machine, over the markings, the slot machine is ready to use (status can be shown by a green and red light, shown in (G)).
F – The slots – function the same as in the previous version, except that icons will represent the type of bonus attack available.
H – The gauge has a critical mass : if the gauge is too full, it explodes, and cannot be used for a short while.
I – Player score.
J – Player character. There were several additional gameplay elements tied to the Chameleon (Color change adding extra bonus to the same color enemies shot, for example) that were later drop for more gameplay clarity.
K – that’s where the “enemies/stuff to shoot” will be at… I was thinking cute, color coded insects (Ladybug, flies, scarabs, etc) could be fun and fit the chameleon theme nicely.
The concept got positive feedback, and was approved, so I switched to “production” mode.
The Slot Machine
The first element I started was the Slot Machine. I was pretty happy with the concept, and had been looking at quite a bunch of Steampunk websites (for different reasons), so I decided that the slot machine would be a Steampunk apparatus ?
The Slot Machine had became quite a central element in the gameplay, and the only UI in the game, so I was really careful to keep it as detailed as possible, with a lot of little animations and eye candy (some of which didn’t made it in the final cut of the game, for performance reasons). I went with a retro/copper feel for the machine, with a lot of little details such as engraving on the cylinder, Warning texts, lots of little bolts and screws etc.
For some reason, when I started working on that game, I became obsessed with squirrels. I wanted squirrels everywhere! I thought it would be cute and fun to add sidekicks to the player, and introduced two squirrel-operators, maneuvering the head of the vacuum.
But that wasn’t nearly enough squirrels. These guys can become quickly the stars of any show they are on, and, in the case for K-million, the whole setting was screaming for more “squirrely” action! ?
More squirrels were introduced in one special attack, the “Squirrels Rampage”, triggered by a combination of symbols in the slot machine. When the player successfully align 3 red squirrel icons, 2 squirrels appear on both edges of the playing area, pop machine guns, and start to frantically shoot all the incoming baddies in a rain of bullets. Now we are talking!:)
These cute little dudes where completely animated in Flash, “puppet-style”: I’ve cut in Photoshop, and separated different body elements, and rebuilt the squirrel in Flash, using tweens to animate all the different body parts. This allows for a very “light” sprite footprint, and also opens up a lot of potential animations for no additional file size (or very little).
The game also included some Paratrooper squirrels, that the player had to avoid shooting (under the penalty of a swift retribution from the sidekicks) but these where later removed to streamline the gameplay. Less squirrels was a sad, but necessary evil! ?
The “enemies” are waves of color coded insects that the player has to “eat”. Each insect was imagined with its own “personality” in case we wanted to explore different movement patterns per enemy.
The cast of enemies includes the bold and daring BeezyB, the anxious Arachgnagna, the proud and slow Wormidable, the elusive Flibie and the shy LoveDot.
All the enemies were drawn and animated directly in Flash, but later exported as a PNG spritesheet, to work around the performance hog that vectors can be in Flash. (the game sports an insane number of enemies on-screen at any given moment).
The player-controlled chameleon is the star of the game. I had trouble at first to find the right shapes and volumes to make it recognizable (nothing look more like a lizard’s back than a chameleon’s back!) but thanks to some quick sketches provided by my illustrator friend, Ryan Terry, our little hero finally got it’s makeover.
The Chameleon was drawn and animated completely in Flash, using some vector fills, and some Flash runtime effects to give it a little more volume.
Aside the regular moving animations, the Chameleon also has “special” animations (though, less than originally planned) such as sporting scuba-diving gear when the player triggers the “downpour” bonus attack.
The Forest background
The last item that was created for the game was the game window background. I had a very precise idea of what I wanted: an illustrated forest scene, rich, vibrant, but not overpowering the rest of the game elements. It ended up being a bigger task than I thought – my first version wasn’t working well at all with the rest of the elements, rendered almost invisible by the sheer luminosity I had going. So I restarted the whole thing from scratch, and worked towards a much darker, more atmospheric rendition of the scene. The final result, 6 or 7 hours later is the one that can be seen in-game now. All was hand drawn in Photoshop (using the mouse, which reminds me that I absolutely need to buy a tablet, presto!), with a little bit of photographic textures thrown in the mix for good measure.
I should also add that the game got some extra attention in the sound department: Alilm came up with some very nice sound effects for all the little buttons, explositions, and in-game events, and Akelixe delivered a very fun, and very fitting “chip tune” compostion for the game. This additional sound work really adds to the general polish of the game.
The project went very smoothly – we completed it almost within the time we had set (minus a week delay for a few graphic elements and some gameplay adjustments).
Alilm had to resolve a few performance issues, due to the sheer amount of on-screen animated elements, but the game now plays rather fast on your average computer.
From the art standpoint, it was a very interesting game to work on: it’s definitely a “different” project than what I use to work on (by default, my graphics tend to be more “serious”) and I had a blast imagining and working on this little universe.