Monday, January 11, 2016

"Angry Video Game Ninja", an abandoned fan-game project

Several years ago I started work on a 2D platformer with Torque2D.  The title was "Angry Video Game Ninja".

Yes, as you guess from the title, this game would have featured Cinemassacre's "Angry Video Game Nerd". AVGN has no shortage of fan games, of varying quality.  I think my path to making a fan game was different that most.

First off, while AVGN was the titular character, he was going to be one of many in the starring cast.  Think Super Mario Bros 2.  The brothers are only 1/2 of the playable cast, Mario himself is only 1/4. I intended to include many other online personalities (more on that later).

Even before that, my priority was to emulate some parts of early (especially NES) martial arts-themed games, especially those that I felt were under-appreciated.  I remember watching AVGN's reviews of some of the games, or hearing others talk about the games unfavorably, and thinking to myself, "...but I liked TMNT on NES!"

So, combining the positive aspects of some of these under appreciated games, I tried to make a proper homage that old-school gamers would enjoy.

This video represents about 10 hours of work.  Yes, it's incredibly basic.  This is my MVP, or "minimum viable product".

One of the games I wanted to emulate, particularly the player control style, was "Ninja Gaiden" for the NES.  However, I didn't want to emulate the art style, I wanted that to have more of a cartoony feel to it. I decided that I'd use characters from "SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium" for the Neo Geo Pocket for stand-in sprites.  This would allow me to use other characters from it's large cast to create a large variety of NPCs and enemies that would still look consistent next to the player character(s).  I chose Haohmaru to stand in for the player because I liked his run cycle, it seemed the hair and face would be easy to modify, and because I wanted the main character(s) to fight with a sword.

I should mention here, that while this was my first choice of art style, I did contemplate switching it (along with the gameplay style).  I actually wanted to make a 4-player arcade beat-em up, and even started to modify the sprite of Stephen Stills from the "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" game to look like AVGN.  I backtracked after it turned out that animating the idle animation alone was more work that the entire spritesheet in the "SNK vs Capcom" style, and I am only one man.

So, in this MVP there was the ability to run, jump, and appropriately navigate space in what would become the building blocks for level creation.  As you can see, I initially had ridiculous jump heights for the character, something I later decided to tone down.  On to the next video...

This video was taken after about 20 hours of work.  As you can see, I added the basic attack animation.  I created some stand-in enemies for the sole purpose of testing the ability to give and received damage.  I expanded the basic attack a little bit to allow for a charged projectile attack.  The jump height was reduced.  As you can see, the Haohmaru sprite was modified.

A note here for any aspiring game developers, here's where I made a mistake that you can learn from. I, like many developers, tend to focus on the wrong stuff first.  At this point in development, the characters probably should back been boxes.  Using the Haohmaru sprite as a placeholder was a little helpful.  Animating it was unnecessary at this stage.  Customizing it was overkill and it got in the way of developing the fundamental gameplay mechanics.  Per the advice in the "Extra Credits" MVP video linked above, keep it simple.

Anyway, about the new character sprite.  That character is actually the internet reviewer "Pat the NES Punk".  As I mentioned, AVGN was going to be one of many playable characters, Pat was another, and was the one I decided to draw first.  I'll talk about the reasons for that decision later.  Onto the final WIP video for this project...

This is where I started trying to switch things up (the gameplay changes mentioned about), and I also got a new job that started taking up more time.  I took months to get this far, and actually waited over a year before recording it.

As you can see, I started to change up the theme and started to create what eventually would have been the first or second level of the game.

There's a two new character sprites included at the point, one for the Happy Video Game Nerd, and also AVGN himself.  I also laid the groundwork for the character-switching mechanic (you can see me doing it by console commands here, but it eventually would have happened in-game). 

I remember doing some development beyond this, including a couple basic enemy characters, but as the project file got broke I'd have to roll back some.  This video probably represents the latest stable version of the product that I had.

About the design choices...

I already mentioned that I wanted a control style similar to Ninja Gaiden.  I wanted the speed and fluidity of that game.  I also intended to include wall clinging and climbing, though I later wondered if the level designs would benefit from that type of movement.

I considered having character-specific special moves (in addition to the projectile one seen in video #2), but also considered weapon/powerups like this in "Ninja Gaiden" and "Castlevania".  I also considered changing special attacks like those in "Super Ghouls n' Ghosts".  It was a question of how unique I wanted each character from one another, and what would be used to differentiate them.

As for the player characters, I was taking inspiration to "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" on the NES.  This would provide variety in gameplay (different abilities from different characters) as well as the life system (dying as one character would result in them being "captured", so the player would have to play as someone else).  Unlike TMNT, I wanted the player to start off with one character and them "rescue" their teammates to increase lives.  

I intended to have level structure like "Super Mario Bros" in which there'd be a boss at the end of each group of levels, but the boss would be themed after that particular level.

I even thought of incorporating "Mortal Kombat"-style finishing moves to the end of the boss fights, depending on which boss you defeated with which player.

These were all big plans, probably too big considering I was just starting out, who knows what else I would have come up with.

On the subject of the player character choices...

I was inspired to do a retro-style game after watching many retro game reviewers including AVGN.  I had the idea of including a few reviewers (or their side characters) in the game before the idea of having them be the actual stars of the game.

I sent messages to many reviewers.

By far, Pat Contri (Pat the NES Punk) was the most supportive and responsive.  He pretty much gave me permission to use his likeness in any way I wanted.  It was his eager attitude towards this project that made me design his player sprites first.

Linkara from "Atop the Forth Wall" was also very supportive.  If I remember correctly, the only stipulation to using his likeness was that "he had to be awesome".  The only reason I didn't make his sprite next was because his show isn't game-centric like many of the other reviewers, and I wanted to put more effort into his special attack and intro animations.

Derek Alexander from "The Happy Video Game Nerd" responded positively, as did the late Justin "Jew Wario" Carmical.

I reached out to James Rolfe (AVGN), but the response I got was from his friend, Mike Matei.  Mike said that James was impressed with my MVP footage and would allow me to continue, the only stipulation was that I couldn't sell the game.  It'd have to be available for free in the "fan games" section of the site.

Another reviewer (who will not be named at this point) was approached.  Apparently he assumed he was the star of the game and there'd be money involved.  Sooo... that didn't work out.

I reached out to, but did not get responses, from many of the other reviewers affiliated with "Channel Awesome" (formally "That Guy With The Glasses").  Spoony of the Spoony Experiment was my favorite reviewer, and I wanted an appearance from both him and his character "Dr. Insano".  I also wanted Nostalgia Critic in there somewhere. I hadn't decided which ones, but I wanted at least one playable female character.

Most of these reviewers would've been NPCs, maybe minor cameos, though some might've had important parts in the game's storyline.  I didn't want dozens of playable characters to choose from.

I had a few reasons for abandoning this project.

It started off just as a hiatus as I started a new job.  The job was as a software developer, it ate up a lot of my free time, and made spending my free time in front of the computer a little less desirable.  That was a minor point, however, as I got used to the long development hours.

Another issue was making an appropriate game for audiences of all ages.  My young niece was getting into gaming.  While making this game, I was providing my arcade game collection to a friend's restaurant and thought it'd be cool to have a coin-op version there. However, I would need to have the game omit the swearing and toilet humor that's a staple to many of these reviewer's styles.

This game was being developed with Torque2D from GarageGames.  Over the years, I invested a lot of money in their engines (like, thousands of dollars).  I even preordered some engines for what was supposed to be an early-adopter's discount.  Well, they drop the price after release, eventually making it free, and never did deliver on the promises they made to their customers with documentation, editors, or Mac support.  I've given up on Torque entirely, so continuing the project would mean starting it over entirely from scratch.

So why not start from scratch?  Well, I have considered making it in Unity3D.  I've thought about using 3d models for the characters instead of the 2D sprites I've already created.  I guess the problem is the scope.  If I'm going to make a game this big, I want it to be entirely my own, not a fan project.

So, if I do ever bring this project back to life, it'll probably be secondary to (maybe even a modification of) my more personal Unity3D projects.  As of now, I have no plans to continue with this.

Thanks for reading.

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