Planck Dev Diary #4: ...and moving forward

Brenton here again. I hope you enjoyed the video dev diary last week– big thanks to programmer-slash-video-editor Andrew Richardson for putting that together (and being brave enough to venture into the dank archives of our old builds to capture that footage). Last week was an especially big week for us: we finished up our “Playtest Two” build to put into playtesting and to submit to the 2011 Independent Game Festival! Happily, we met our deadline without significant issues, and began distributing our baby to friends, fellow developers, and others in search of feedback.

We’ve mentioned before how constructive our first playtest was, but the second one was even more helpful since we are now able to gauge the difference in reaction between the two builds. Encouragingly, people are really starting to grasp the experience we’re trying to create with Planck, so it seems that we’re heading in the right direction. Friends at studios as diverse as Respawn Entertainment, LightBox Interactive, Fire Hose Games, Haunted Temple Studios, and Klei Entertainment have all been playing the game.

With the wind from these heartening responses at our backs, we’re plowing forward into the exciting realm of new content. Our next level is currently in development and should enable more complex musical possibilities and advanced behaviors we didn’t want to throw at players in our very first “tutorial” level. The next level should also introduce some old Planck v.0 favorites that haven’t made it into v.1 so far, including the “suspend” motes, which need to be juggled in order to be kept on the playfield. That may not make total sense right now, but we do believe it will be quite cool.

The second level is also the first time the player will encounter a very special-case mote (in some circles, this might be known as a “boss”, but we don’t like to use that term after Planck v.0– buy us a drink and ask some time). Another tantalizing hint of what comprises level two is the word “dubstep.” Hmm. I wonder what that means?

On top of the exciting things to expect from our second level, Kyle “No Limits” Murphy has made huge strides in getting our Planck systems encoded into a generalized system along with a user-friendly GUI. This means that our vision for getting Planck to be not just a fun experience but one that empowers players with a wide variety of customization options shines on the horizon… who knows how far we’ll be able to take it?

Finally, keep your eyes and ears on our site for a new trailer, a tease of upcoming music, and, quite possibly, a big announcement(!?).


Shadegrown Games


Planck Dev Diary #3: A look back...


Planck Dev Diary #2: Making things better

Howdy Internet! Chris “the wild man” here to talk to you about our little-project-that-could: Planck. But first I need to clarify our last post describing my… (let’s call them) design methods. Though my methods might comparable to a controlled detonation, I would like to note that I do not trigger the detonation, I just place the charges, the fuse, and the tripwire right where the next person to use the project is likely to venture, hence avoiding liability. Secondly, I have never once broken a particle effect. I only take them from awesome to AWESOME. Or as Justin describes it, “breaking” the particle effect.

With the important stuff out of the way it’s time to talk about that other stuff… how Planck is doing. Like all great concert events, no one was content with just a single Planckapalooza. So at the nonstop cries of the fans we have decided to perform an encore. Let the rock and roll continue!


The first head we chopped off of the gigantic hydra monster that is feedback-based development was fixing the UI. There’d long been a disassociation between the instrument names, the mote that plays them, and the “weapons” they unlocked. In fact, we confused ourselves too, especially because we’d have parts named things like “Piano,” “High Piano,” “High Piano 2” and so on. This seemed like a good problem to address right away.

To fix this, we realized that rather than making the player wrap their minds around this trinity of doom (instrument name, weapon type, mote shape) we would simply eliminate one element, hence making the association considerably simpler (mote shape, weapon type). Now, instead of text of all the weapon names, we have an icon of the associated mote. This eliminates the text clutter on the screen and allows the player to enjoy the musical parts without having to wrap their minds around a bunch of arbitrary names for instrument parts that we came up with.

That wasn’t the only UI issue we had to face, though. No sir. In spite of my best efforts to avoid what I am beginning to believe is a retribution for sins in a past life, I had to acknowledge that my cross-shaped interface element that was supposed to indicate how far along the song had progressed and the player’s current sound balance value needed some serious work. Not only did it look weird, it was hard to understand, being about as intuitive as a car with pedal-powered windshield wipers and the brake lever in the back seat.

Thankfully, Justin came up with a much cleaner, much more intuitive design. As you might have guessed I really didn’t want to have to do any more UI work, but even I couldn’t deny the new design was about a million times better. Though it still needs some time in the incubator (by which I mean Justin’s computer), this little bad-boy will certainly be in our next playtest build.

With that head of the hydra sliced away and never to regrow, we decided to move onto another one that’s been plaguing our team since we converted to Unity 3: the distortion plane. One of the central elements of our art style has been the feeling of water, which we do thanks in most part to the wonderful power of distortion maps. Unfortunately, there are some differences in the way Unity 2.6 and Unity 3 render shaders, and nobody on the team knows much about shader coding. We toiled in the desolate unventilated salt-mines of shader design, venturing deeper and deeper into blind caves of disillusionment, before we finally came up with a solution based on one of Unity’s built-in shaders. We still plan to tinker with it to get it exactly the way we want it, but the meat of the problem, so to speak, is solved.

Lastly, we’ve begun to address the feedback point that the game can feel ‘pointless’ at times. Now, first let me say that we all love good goal mechanisms in a game as much the next person, and we know it’s essential to the experience of most games that the player be given directions and carrots and sticks. With that said, for Planck we don’t want players to feel like they’re being prompted to go in any one specific direction. Instead we want them to enjoy a free, open experience that’s harmonious with the music they hear.

At the same time, we can’t ignore people’s expectations either, and one of these expectations is that the game have more “game” to it. That’s why the final focus of Planckapalooza II has been to expand and integrate player feedback and goals in Planck, hopefully in a way that accommodates both the free-form exploration that the Shadegrown team prizes so much and those players who want to be given a specific sense of purpose in the game. Though we have no specifics to present yet, we’re confident that all the people who felt a sense of pointlessness in our last few builds will be pleasantly surprised by our IGF build on the 18th.

Shadegrown Games


Planck Dev Diary #1: And so it begins...

Hi folks, Brenton here. In an effort to appear more like humans and less like soulless automatons we’ve decided to begin a weekly developer diary following the creation of Planck. Sharp-witted readers might already be thinking “but hasn’t Planck been in development for over a year now?” and to you we say, “yes, thank you… we’ve been rather busy, and now we’re ready to let you in on our super secret inner workings”. Others might be thinking “What’s a Planck?” and to you I offer both our first trailer and our official blurb about what Planck is exactly:

“Planck (pronounced – “plonk”) is an abstract, 3D scrolling musical shooter. Planck is about experiencing music as an interaction between player and artist, and using the established framework of a video game as a conduit to make it possible. Planck features a combination of music and visuals that are timed (quantized) to a beat as the player interacts with the game.”

Since this is our first Dev Diary, we figured it would be a good idea to introduce the Shadegrown team:

Matthew Burns (Fearless Leader, Creative Director) - Mr. Burns is the driving creative force behind our scrappy little team. He’s worked in the game industry and the music industry on projects big and small. He’s also written a bunch and has a blog.

Kyle “No Limits” Murphy (Lead Programmer, Engineering Savior) - Kyle is the team’s programming wizard; he turns our dreams into our reality. He also has a passion for video game music and drinking large amounts of water. Did we mention he has no limits?

Andrew Richardson (Programmer, Software Engineer) - Andrew backs up Kyle in the programming department and is responsible for tackling some of our long-term dreams for Planck. He’s also a retro game collector and one of the top Smash Bros. players in the country. It’s true!

Justin Kimball (Lead Artist, Beautification Expert) - Justin makes Planck look outstanding with his mastery of form, color, texture, and light. Justin is rarely seen working without a Mountain Dew and is often responsible for reigning in Chris’s artistic… enthusiasm.

Chris McCarthy (Designer, Artist, Programmer) - Chris is like a game development wild man. He is capable of doing pretty much everything and his methods are often compared to (un)controlled detonations. Also, let Chris know if you need him to break your particle system.

Brenton Woodrow (Designer, Producer) - Brenton is Planck’s lead designer and team producer, and often the sanest person in the room. Not that that’s saying much. Like a lot of our team, he works a little bit on everything. Brenton is also Shadegrown Games’ official Gantt chart artist.

Chad Bechard a.k.a. Pres (Composer, Beat Slanger) - Chad is the aural soul of Planck; he’s also a working DJ. Somehow we were able to convince him to pause the wild boat parties for a bit to compose music for us. Maybe he just got tired of his rockstar lifestyle.

Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, it’s time to talk about what we’ve been up to. A while back we held our first playtest for friends and family called (very originally) Playtest 1. We’ve been focusing on polishing that first tutorial level for what we call– can you guess it?– “Playtest 2,” which is intended to address a lot of the feedback we got.

With that in mind, this past weekend we had a a 48-hour long remote work session that Chris dubbed the Planck Jamboree (though I prefer Planckapalooza).

The first thing we did for the Jamboree was upgrade from Unity 2.6 to Unity 3.0. This wasn’t completely painless– some of the shaders did not carry over and had to be manually fixed, and we encountered source control issues.

That said, the upgrade was definitely worth it. Unity 3 is giving us better performance, new graphical capabilities, and more exciting features to play with– so we’re looking forward to showing the game running on it.

In the game progress, we completely revamped our asset structure, restructured some instrument patterns, refined player control, and did some work on the larger game flow. More on these topics later.

We also fixed some of the more tricky music timing issues we were dealing with, thanks to Kyle’s revamped beat system. We’ll be posting more about that and how it works in future updates as well.

Finally, we watched plenty of our two favorite YouTube videos of the present moment and learned that after 2 AM work doesn’t really get done.

We’re planning a sequel to that work session this upcoming weekend, so look forward to our report on that!

Shadegrown Games

Aug262010 Takes a Look at Shadegrown Games

The weblog took a look at the Shadegrown Games development process. Exciting things are on the way, we promise!

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