A post mortem
|Screenshot from the original C64 version of Giana Sisters (Source: Wikipedia)|
Game and Level Design
|The oddworm games editor.|
The Visual Art Style
|The adventure begins.|
Landscapes of Plantylon
"When I started drawing some backgrounds, I thought about what setting they should have. At first I wanted to create a real looking but dreamlike world. Some kind of deformed reality. So I had to find a coloring style that would fit this setting. The first idea was to color the pencil drawings like a watercolor painting. I tried many different digital brushes and ways of coloring. I got the best results with wet brushes and a low density. The problem was that these big brushes work best, if they have enough room to unfold, but most frames on our sprite sheets were rather small, therefore I decided to use simple brushes instead." For many of the larger background items such as the sky, hills and rocks, a watercolor look was retained, though. As most levels have a depth of field effect added to them, the difference in coloring styles is not very obvious.
|Parts of hills used for background layers (above) and what they look like in a level (below).|
|From pencil drawing (above) to colored image used in the game (below).|
|Eerie one-eyed worms inhabit the grassy hills of Plantylon.|
|More sketches of plants. Only the first six ended up in the game.|
|A hazy dawn in the Aigan Fields.|
|A sunny late afternoon in Aquablox.|
|Entering the Wart of Darkness at dusk.|
|Night has almost fallen during the misty Cave Race.|
Considering the limited amount of assets, the game still turned out to be visually diverse by making full use of functionality Peter had built into the level editor. With several options such as scaling, depth of field, fog, general world lighting, light occlusion as well as independent tinting (coloring) of each of the 15 parallax layers, it was possible to come up with visuals beyond the scope of the original assets.
One effect I would end up using quite often was a distortion effect, which I tweaked until I had something that very much resembled water. I used the effect for water flowing out of pipes, for roaring waterfalls and for ponds in which Florence could swim.
|A plant needs proper watering, doesn't it?|
|A gruesome death for a plant.|
Inhabitants of Plantylon
|Orange goo will stun the player while green goo kills them right away.|
|An odd looking worm.|
|This fella called Spike-Fist was supposed to have a spinning attack, which sure would have hurt Florence a lot.|
|Hurting and defeating Floro by jumping on their head is tricky due to the confined space. Luring them to more open bits of the level is the key to beating Floro.|
An Unlikely Hero
Soundscapes of Plantylon
Sound effects and music came into play rather late in development because my top priority was to get the gameplay and levels finished in time. But starting with audio this late also meant that most of the game could serve as inspiration for the music tracks. The soundtrack comprises five tracks, each about two to three minutes long. I kept the playtime short so that we would not exceed 50MB for the entire game, which allowed us to sell the game for 1$ on XBLIG (Microsoft had three price tiers for XBLIG depending on overall filesize of a title.)
I started out with "Horizons", the track that introduces the first level "Aigan Fields". Initially, it only consisted of a basic beat and the bassline but the vastness of the fields and wide horizons in the level called for some spherical synth-pads that support the dreaminess of the landscape. The eerie flora and the quirky plantagonist inspired the slightly off-key tune that kicks in later. The ambient track was intended to be accompanying in the background rather than drawing too much attention, its repetitiveness designed to get players in a state of flow.
The track's theme is shared by the other three tracks used during gameplay, all of which feature variations of the same bassline and tune but serve to create different moods. The wide open and dreamy nature of "Horizons" yields to a denser and darker tone in "Caves", a track played mostly in "underworld" levels such as "Amira Caverns", where the beat gets heavier and saggy and the thickened bassline leaves no room to breathe, too. A sense of suspense and rush is conveyed in "Hunted", where the style shifts from Ambient to Drum'n'Bass to create a feeling of urgency driving players forward in auto-scrolling and fast rail sections of levels such as "Cave Race".
I used the same theme for all the gameplay accompanying music so that I would be able to create sound effects in the same key, which meant they would sound like additional instruments on the music tracks. Most of the sounds e.g. for walking, sliding and collecting tonally fit to each of the four songs. For example the bell sound that's played when a clock collectible is picked up consists of six in-key notes (one of which is played randomly on each pick-up), which almost always harmonize with the music and might even produce a fitting melody. I just liked the idea that the entire game world and the player's actions correlate with each other and would make up these consistent soundscapes. It was also a first foray into interactive sound design for me (if only a minor one) that I extended to the main menu as well.
(On a side note I'd like to mention that I haven't created all of the sounds used in-game myself. As mentioned in the game's credits, some effects have been taken from freesound.org, a great resource for Creative Commons Licensed sounds. I didn't know how to create some of the more realistic sounds such as water flowing, purling or splashing and therefore resorted to this very useful database.)
The main theme played in the main menu is an upbeat synthie-rock song. Its "bouncy" melody in the verse is played with a synth lead that's slightly reminiscent of quacking or croaking and seemed a perfect fit for Florence's melodic introduction. The electric guitar heard throughout the song and in the refrain is an actual guitar recorded for this track, whereas all of the other sounds were created with VST plugins and arranged in Cubase.
Selecting any menu item or entry in the menus plays back one of eight notes from the song's main melody in the correct order so that users can actually play along with the song and create their own version of it. I've always enjoyed this kind of interactivity in other games that did this because it makes navigating the menus a fun experience, too, and not just necessary means to get to the gameplay.
Menu and User Interfaces
|The title screen.|