Benjamin Burnes, of Tallbeard Studios, has been making video games well before he had a beard, since the early 90’s on a Commodore 64 nonetheless using QBasic. The games as you can imagine weren’t very good, so Ben let that drift to the wayside while he started focusing more on writing music and releasing it independently towards the late 90’s. A few years back he was commissioned to create a soundtrack for a video game, The Maker’s Eden, which drove him to the direction of creating OST for games. After being surrounding by game developers again he found himself drifting towards game development which thankfully for him was more user friendly this time around. Fast forward to the present day and we have Ben working hard to get his game Color Jumper Greenlit on Steam. Today we at Super Game Reviews get a chance to sit down and talk to him about his experience and game!
SGR- Out of curiosity, how was creating games using QBasic? Compared to present day technology and programs you have now, how has your experience differed between the two?
Ben- From what I remember with using QBasic (remember this was like 1993), it was incredibly raw. Each line had to be denoted with a number and the system’s logic flowed from top to bottom unless you told it otherwise. If you ever see “GOTO 10” relating to programming, it is harkening back to the days where you had to tell the computer what line of code to start reading. No functions or subroutines allowed, really. You could draw shapes and colors with programming, but most of the output that I did was text based. I made adventure games. One game I made was so big it overflowed the maximum size for text files. I didn’t have any idea how to get around that problem, looking back probably splitting the programming into multiple files.
And computers were so slow back then. For example, the NES could only handle a few sprites at a time before things started flickering. Some of those preconceptions have persisted with me even with modern technology, I still have the fear that my simple programming will slow my computer down even though it is probably capable of running thousands of copies of the code at the same time with no problem.
I love working with Unity though. It enables the programmer or artist to get work done rather than tinkering around inside the engine. One of the biggest problems with working with things like Flash (Actionscript 2, at the time) was I always felt like I was fighting the system. The graphics and the programming felt like two separate entities with a small canal of communication between them. Unity doesn’t have this limitation the same way. For more advanced projects you can actually pop the hood and root around in Unity’s source code, but I am nowhere near that brave yet.
SGR- Since you have experience not only creating games but the OSTs as well, which one is the harder of the two to translate from thought to finished product? Did you have any trouble making sure they compliment each other?
Ben- Well I’m fairly new at game development in the modern sense. Color Jumper is my first “real” game in many ways. I’ve been making game soundtracks for the past 3 and a half years or so, but I’ve been writing and releasing music independently for nearly two decades.
The soundtracks I make are generally on a commission basis, so I work with other developers and help craft the music that fits their game’s look and feel. Other times, I
help connect developers with music I’ve written in the past and make sure that it is properly integrated in their game. I’m sure that on some level, working with so many talented developers over the years gave me the itch to try it for myself again.
As for which one is more difficult, I can’t really say. Music for video games can be hard because each project is so unique. The Maker’s Eden series (http://store.steampowered.com/app/313360/) requires a super chilled out, jazzy noir sound. But then a game like NEON Ultra (http://store.steampowered.com/app/528270) is all about fast, upbeat electronic music to get the player energized.
When developing games, right now the main difficulty is just the learning curve. I started Color Jumper very new to C# development and getting the hang of it was definitely a tough fight. However, a month or two ago I really hit my stride. Most of the programming I’ve been doing lately is just fixing my newbie mistakes from 9 months ago.
Surprisingly, making music for my own game is a whole different monster. It is so easy to get too close to your project and think that nothing is good enough for it. It’s been very difficult to write a song for Color Jumper that I genuinely like, though I’m getting closer!
SGR- Your latest game Color Jumper, seems like nod to traditional puzzle platforms with a color rotation twist while your previous game Crystal Caveman seemed like an Adventure based game. What drove you to create a game in a different field?
Ben- Well Crystal Caveman was a tiny side project for the Ludum Dare 36 (http://ludumdare.com/compo/) which is a challenge to make a game over the course of a weekend. The challenge prompt was Ancient Technology and I really didn’t know where I was going with it until about halfway through. (If you’re interested in watching all 20 hours of the development process of Crystal Caveman, you can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLo–mNz4wc&list=PLW08UHPY2AEppUcW6TFEscENSkqZlmE9G&index=1)
Platforming, especially difficult platforming like Color Jumper, has always been a style of game that I really enjoy. I have a strong love/hate relationship with Super Meat Boy and
VVVVVV (2D puzzle platform) and the myriad other games that rely on muscle memory and delicate movements above raw twitch reflexes. I love gameplay loop of starting a level that seems impossible, and then (through the course of MANY deaths) slowly learning all the tricks to navigate and overcome it. It’s incredibly satisfying.
SGR- With puzzles such as color coded trap doors, level changing mechanics, collectibles to fine and much more spawning over 100 levels of increasing difficulty, what would you say is the catch that is going to draw people to Color Jumper?
Ben- Definitely the difficulty. I know that challenging games are not for everyone, but I am fully committed to a game that is hard, but still fair. While developing the game, I put extra care into adding leniency in the player’s favor. This means that wall jumps don’t have to be exactly on the wall, and if you run off a ledge you still get a short span of time to jump even though there is no ground under you.
Fun fact I learned a week ago, the mechanic of jumping shortly after you leave a ledge is a fairly common in most platforming games and it’s called “Coyote Jumping” based off the old Road Runner cartoons.
It seems that often the raw difficulty isn’t why people quit playing hard games, it’s that the controls feel unfair or the player’s deaths were caused by things outside their control. The main goal in Color Jumper is to make sure that if the player dies, they know exactly the mistake that caused it.
Aside from difficulty, I am catering toward the speedrunning community. I absolutely love watching people speedrun games. Shoutout to AGDQ and SGDQ (https://gamesdonequick.com/) for completely ruining any productivity I might have while they are broadcasting.
Speedrunning is incredible to watch, not only because the runners are so skilled at the game they are playing, but they have found ways to break games in unimaginable ways. There are a handful of people who played the Color Jumper for less than a week and were clocking in speedruns at under 4 and a half minutes. I’ve been playing the game for over 6 months and I can barely get under five!
Color Jumper is great for speedrunning though; most levels have secret paths that skilled runners can exploit and there are already some incredibly risky maneuvers that would be silly to attempt in a normal run, but shave several seconds off a run. It’s very fun to watch.
SGR- With a game focusing on puzzles that correlate to matching colors, offering a colorblind-friendly option seemed almost a necessity. How difficult was that to account for within your game, did any issues happen as a result?
Ben- Colorblind mode was something I knew I wanted to do very early on. I have several friends who are colorblind and when I started posting screenshots of very early builds of Color Jumper they expressed their disappointment that they wouldn’t be able to play it. Accessibility in games is something that I feel should have more awareness and I’m really glad that even larger games studios are moving in that direction.
Around the time I released the Color Jumper demo a game called Hue came out (http://www.huethegame.com/) which has a somewhat similar mechanic to Color Jumper. Though Hue seems a bit more of a contemplative, story-based puzzler while Color Jumper is definitely more action oriented. I did notice that Hue has a very similar colorblind mechanic where it overlays various rune shapes associated with specific colors, so I’m glad that I’m on the right track with proper execution!
As far as difficulty implementing colorblind mode. It wasn’t that bad. Most of it is a palette and sprite swap between the original colors and the colorblind textures. In some places I needed to add an overlay texture with the symbol, but overall it was pretty straightforward. When things get into more complicated areas like boss fights I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do, but I have some ideas.
To see Color Jumper in all of it’s glory be sure to check out the trailer for it below!
To help makes this a full game, please vote on it for Greenlight: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles…
Play the Color Jumper demo on itch.io! https://tallbeard.itch.io/color-jumper