OK even I am finding it a bit weird that I am turning out new games so fast. Gridrunner is still pretty recently out (and still garnering excellent reviews; Tap! magazine called it “Out and out the best arcade shooter for iOS” and gave it 5 stars and Editor’s Choice).
But there’s no rest for the impecunious, not ever, so here I am again.
Five A Day? I am sure some of you are wondering. I know it sounds like I’ve given up all the shooting things and branched out into some kind of namby pamby healthy eating fad diet app in a final desperate attempt to actually make a living out of this whole malarkey but that isn’t actually the case.
If anyone was reading my blog a couple of years ago when I first started to play around with iOS programming they may well remember that one of the little prototypes I knocked up and one day swore to return to was a Time Pilot-esque thing which featured lots of flying around, shooting things, and collecting bananas.
So a month or so ago I started playing around with that idea again, beginning with the same ship and bananas as I’d had that first time round (completely different code though, that old framework isn’t in use any more). And it should’ve just progressed into a good old banana-oriented shooter as originally intended but by accident it sort of went all New Age and ambient. While still actually retaining the characteristic of actually being any good, of course. It didn’t just turn into a useless ageing hippy of a game that lies around smoking weed and listening to Steve Hillage and burbling on about auras and crystals without ever doing anything useful. Redolent it may be of joss sticks and wind chimes but it’s still jolly good fun and will kick your arse quite handily on the higher levels, just you wait and see.
Here, take a look at this video. It shows the first five levels (to the point where the first extra life is awarded for “Five A Day”) and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.
I mean yes, gongs and clouds and ambient stuff and the tinkling of temple bells, but also a whole bunch of different kinds of fruit, grunting minotaurs and lots of lovely shooting. You can even defeat the end level bosses by slapping them around with your bananas. Later on you get to shoot the floating head of Kevin Toms right in the ear while battering him with bits of melon. This is no pacifist of a game despite the lingering whiff of joss sticks that the audio evokes.
So how did it get like that? Quite accidental really. Firstly I spent a bit of time putting in the clouds, and they came out so fluffy and nice-looking that they must have put me into a subconsciously New Age frame of mind. It could well have been one of those times when Giles sometimes burns a joss stick in his room. Perhaps some patchouli-laden odours wafted through to me here, displacing my more normal thoughts of super powerups and large particle explosions. Who knows.
It started relatively slowly at first, with just fluffy clouds and the addition of a rainbow trail behind the spaceship. Then I needed some audio and headed out to a site called Freesound, where you can download snippets of stuff and use them in your projects. You can search by keyword so I put in “Space”, and that was it, game was doomed from that point on. All manner of floaty synth sustains, whale noises, chimes and gongs, page after page of them. Once I started putting one or two of them into the game, the game more or less began to shape itself. By the time I got to the first shower of bananas and enumeration of the first end of level bonus the audio was already heading firmly in the direction of “epic New Age”, and that’s how it ended up.
Actually I’ve rather enjoyed doing it. After the pure 80s arcade sound stuff from Gridrunner, doing something really quite different (whilst still making a plainly and unapologetically shooty game) has been a load of fun.
Anyway, let’s take a look at the game in pictures.
Here’s the title screen, such as it is. Actually there isn’t really a fixed title screen at all. The game runs a continuous demo along with a brief text description of the gameplay, followed by the hiscore table and credits. What they used to call back in the day an “attract mode”.
And here’s the basic essence of the gameplay right here. Your ship is in the middle of the screen, and the sky, clouds and everything else scrolls by as you fly. You can fly in any direction. The controls are about as simple as can be – firing is continuous, and you just use one touch to guide the ship. It’s simple and fluid and I swear if anyone moans about the controls I am going to seek them out and slap them around a bit with a large leek. But I am sure somebody will; one of the great certainties of iOS development is that somebody *will* moan about the controls. Jesus Christ Himself could come back to Earth, somewhat peculiarly to do a bit of iOS game app development prior to getting on with the Eschaton, and he could implement the most perfect control system possible, one designed for him by his very dad, and still someone would moan about the controls, call him a twat and vote his app 1 star. That’s just how it is.
Anyway there’s also tilt controls for those who prefer them. Game works pretty nicely on small or large devices.
Notice that the bees in that image are carrying bananas. Now technically those bananas actually belong to the bees. There are special squadrons of fruit-carrying bee brothers whose mission it is to collect the bananas, and I am sure if they were left peaceably to do that that’d be an end of it. But you’ve decided that bananas like that are just too good for alien bees to be having, so you set out to hunt down the fruit brother squadrons, destroy them all, and steal their bananas.
It’s not always bananas. In fact on each level it’s a different fruit – here it’s lemons. Notice that the sky is darker in this image too – as you play through the levels the sky colour changes depending on the time of in-game day. Each day is divided up into five sections – Haytime, Crunchtime, Nicecupofteatime, Currytime and Sheepenumerationtime. On each successive day things change and you get to meet new enemies (and blast the crap out of tem and steal their fruit and veg).
They don’t take all this shameless fruitnapping lying down, mind, and so as you progress you’ll see various kinds of other baddies apart from just the Fantabulous Flying Fruit Brothers squadrons. Here a jellyfish attempts to intercept and disrupt your shameless corncob heist.
No shooting game would be complete without some pink blobby things, and here a chain of them in the form of deadly mines has been dropped in your path by that little green chap. The clouds light up purple as you manoeuvre desperately to avoid crashing into them, potentially losing your way to your 5 a day. Someone has thoughtfully fired a homing missile at you too.
Notice the little line of fruits at the bottom of the screen – if you manage to bring at least one fruit to the end of the level it gets added to your store at the bottom of the screen, and when you get five of them you are considered to have been eating healthily and you get your Five a Day, just like in all those ads on telly and the little notices they put in the fruit section at the supermarket, and you get an extra life.
It wouldn’t be a proper game without some minotaurs in rainbow jumpers, and you will also encounter enemies towing minotaurs behind them instead of fruit. You can do yourselves and the minotaurs a favour by blasting these enemies, releasing the minotaurs, who thank you politely. If you then subsequently manage to collect the minotaur it emits a grateful ring of shots, the more shots the more fruit you are already carrying behind you. This can be very useful to clear nearby baddies, or to smack the end of level boss around with.
All the enemies that tow stuff behind them on those glowing tow line thingies also gradually reel in whatever they are carrying. If you don’t shoot them and release the payload before they suck it completely up, then they mutate and turn green and start pursuing you rather more enthusiastically whilst uttering an increasing barrage of shots and homing missiles. It behooves you to deal with them before that actually happens. Here you can see two minotaur-carriers that have sucked up their minotaurs, turned green, and come after you with a bunch of homing missiles. Eek.
Getting hit by shots or missiles, or running into enemies, depletes your ship’s shields. Fortunately collecting fruits and minotaurs restores them quite handily, so as long as you keep doing that you can take a few hits and carry on. Always try to fly into open space when you can, as on later levels with all kinds of baddies and shots flying everywhere it’s all too easy to get rattled around like a pinball.
Suck up too many hits though and this will be your fate – careening down to a fiery explosion with your melons scattered to the four winds. You still get a chance to pick up any floating fruit with your next life if you’re quick, although you usually can’t get away with that more than once. If you survive to the end of the level but lose all your fruit and bring home nothing then you’ll suffer the humiliation of losing your progress to 5 a day.
The game ends in an appropriately fruity manner, with “Game Over” spelt out tastefully in fruit and veg, and your stats and score displayed.
I’ve had a lot of fun doing this game, particularly doing the audio design, that was great fun and I think it’s worked out rather well, producing a game which is at once shooty, chilled-out *and* good for you as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. In fact if there’s one thing I regret about doing such short projects it’s that I don’t get as much time as I’d like to spend on some aspects of things, everything has to be thought of, implemented and finished almost before I’ve had a chance to do any experimentation. I’d love to spend a bit more time noodling around with synthesisers and doing more complex audio design myself one day, for example; there’s so much more that could be done. But short projects are all you can do when you haven’t got any money, and there’s no room for R&D. Oh well, at least it means people don’t have long to wait till the next game.
I don’t understand people like the Angry Birds people who keep making the same game all the time. If I had a game that made me millions I’d be thinking “excellent, now I can make WHATEVER THE HELL I WANT” and be gleefully trying out all kinds of mad ideas and having fun without having to worry about being commercial. It’d be *ace*. But their response to the same thing seems to be just to keep making the same game again and again. Which is odd. I’d be quite the opposite.
Anyway, here you go. Submitted to the app store today so all being well it should be out within a week. I hope you’ll all enjoy it. In the meanwhile before I start the next game I really have to sort out my Mac. I think the disk is dying and the last week of development of this was characterised by at least 10 xcode crashes per day, and even xcode isn’t usually that flaky, so I think a bit of sorting out is necessary before something dies completely. Also the optical drive seems to have gone south which is strange because it’s basically never been used. I see a bootable USB stick somewhere in my immediate future.
Anyway. Curry time.
See you on the leaderboards in a few days .