Saturday, 28 January 2017

An Indie Dev Story

Asbo a Gogo

An Indie Dev Story

The Beginning of it All

During the development of Collider in 2013, the NSV team had plans to create another game after finishing their current project although they weren't quite sure what yet other than they wanted a retro styled game with a bit more depth. There was however ideas in the mix, Creative Director Ben Sutcliffe had an idea for a 2D side scrolling brawler like Double Dragon but they needed some kind setting, so after chatting, Ben and Artist Nathan Gambles came up with the idea of it being based in Sheffield since that was No Sky Visible's hometown and they could give it an all important local touch.

After deciding what the concept would be, it was keyboards at the ready and development of the prototype began. This was hugely important to the project since at the time, they didn't really know what they were getting themselves into but nonetheless they got stuck in bashing out a prototype, they soon found it would be a great deal more complex than Collider would ever be. 

With Big P (Paul Sanderson) leading the programming, this initial phase allowed him to get to grips with the sort of code he'll have to create since at this point in time, Paul was still pretty new to the whole practice and still learning, but with the help of forums and tutorials he managed to get everything up and running in Construct 2. At the Same time, Nathan was going out onto Sheffield's busiest streets to collect reference for all the assets that were needed and with his trusty software, he got to work developing the all important sprites, animations and backgrounds. 

Punching Frame
Shaduken inspired animation (A really painful uppercut pretty much)

Forum: one of the most recognizable places on Division Street, Sheffield in an 8-bit style

After creating all the needed assets, correct code in place and design refined, everything was coming together to form the first Asbo a Gogo prototype and although It was basic in its own regard, it set the foundation for what they were all aspiring to create as well as proving to be big learning curve for all of them.

From here they got a real understanding of what was needed to improve their core concept and set in motion the next design phase with Paul Sanderson brushing up his coding knowledge and improvements being made to the sprite and animation quality, and for this to happen, you need to choose your outfits fighter girls.

Ben also talked to two of his friends and asked them if he could base the designs off of them, and soon enough the Asbo a Gogo girls were born and ready to kick some ass, they just needed to plan on how to kick that ass first.

Outfit Design for the first Asbo a Gogo girl
Outfit and animation design for the second Asbo a Gogo girl
Paul then got them into the game and functioning
Nathan went onto making pixelated versions from the designs

After everything for the prototype was completed, it was time to begin full production of Asbo a Gogo which meant devoting a lot of time towards its development, however this meant that artist Nathan unfortunately couldn't find the time to continue at NSV due switching jobs at the time. This meant that the call for another artist was needed, so Ben spread the word across Facebook and soon enough another talented artist called Sam Skillington stepped up to the plate and development continued. Round 2.

Nathan Gambles Experience

Nathan played a key role in the beginning phases of design and helped out with ideas, themes, artwork and a bit of collision detection although he was still learning a great deal himself about animation at the time and found that this would be a great experience to try it out. Although Nathan never got finish work on Abso, he still thoroughly enjoyed the process and thought the final product spiritually true to the prototype and concept. After talking with Nathan some more, I found out that he would love to go back and make an Asbo a Gogo 2 if he ever had the time and would come back to No Sky Visible given the opportunity. 

Developers! To Battle Stations!

So by this point, development was full steam ahead for the NSV team, they were lines deep into code and art assets were being produced regularly, so every Saturday the team met in the studio as well as making it in the week whenever they had the chance to slowly start bringing it all together. They had decided that the game will take place on two of Sheffield's most famous streets, Division and West Street, and combining them together to create the battleground for thugs and furious fists to battle it out. Sam created the assets and Big P learnt from the prototype and improved the fighting mechanics to get a working version up and ready.

First ever screenshot of Asbo a Gogo
After getting the core fundamentals of the game in place, it was now time to expand it beyond the one level, so they cracked on and produced several areas which allowed the player to travel through varied environments so the game would be generally more interesting as well as being a treat for a player from Sheffield to see landmarks of their hometown.
Battle Tram!
Don't worry i'll explain why everything is suddenly destroyed in a minute
Like any other game, bugs were expected and they came in the truckloads and each one had to be fixed in order for it to function, this is when Big P really had to work hard and research as much as he could about Construct 2 and it's visual coding system. Although the bugs were very laborious to fix, some of them were quite comical which made everyone laugh from time to time.

Not sure the mighty God Vulcan will appreciate being shot by that
As you can see Asbo a Gogo aspired to be much more than a brawler and incorporated a jet pack battle scene to fight the final boss as well as a mech fight being introduced later down the line, this was done to keep bringing on new and exciting challenges for the player to face as well as being different from the run of the mill brawler games.

With the story of the game being that the statue of Vulcan has come alive and all the machines have aligned themselves with him to wreak havoc upon Sheffield, it was only appropriate that they've combined to form giant mechs which of course means, mech battles. Awesome. This battle mechanic which is basically rock, paper, scissors when boiled down was introduced to add a unexpected edge as well as being incredibly fun way to mix up combat.

"its not just side scrolling ball busting action, we've got giant mecha too!" - Ben Sutcliffe
Maybe we could talk this out?

Sam Skillington's Experience

Although Sam Skillington doesn't work at No Sky Visible anymore he still thoroughly enjoyed the process since it was an entirely new experience for him. Sam responded to the Facebook post Ben put out and although he had never done animation before, he quickly learnt the basic skills needed and got to work on Asbo a GoGo. The process itself was quite tricky since there would be continuous problems in the project like hand drawn sprites not working correctly, thus having to redraw them all but through thick and thin he got stuck in and produced all the art required. 

Sam's favourite part of the entire process had to have been working in the studio with everyone in those last few weeks of development, with him and Ben singing Holy Diver at the top of their lungs to annoy the other developers hard at work, it got them all through the crunch time. Given the chance, Sam would be up for making another Asbo a Gogo, so who knows! maybe one day there'll be an Asbo a GoGo 2!

Promotion! Promotion! Promotion!

There was a lot of time going into developing Asbo a Gogo so it needed a release worthy of effort being put in, so Ben Sutcliffe got in contact with the yearly Sheffield music festival: Tramlines. After some negotiating Ben managed to secure a huge deal for No Sky Visible and got advertised and promoted for the Tramlines event, this huge leap in awareness meant that socks had to be pulled up because they now a had a very important but very real deadline to meet. This was a great opportunity for NSV to get its name out there to the public and gain some traction.

No turning back now guys
With this new deal ready and in place, the advertisements for Tramlines went nationwide and and Asbo a Gogo got a slice of that action with it being featured on the official website.

Tramlines Festival website
After the ball was set rolling with the traction gained from Tramlines, No Sky Visible had a spree of local media taking interest in Asbo a Gogo since it was the next best game out of Sheffield and soon enough Toast Magazine got in touch and featured it in the Crumbs From the Table section, reaching every reader.

Toast Magazine Article
The No Sky Visible team also got covered by the local newspaper, The Sheffield Star, which meant a great deal to everyone since they were now being seen as the next upcoming gaming studio from Sheffield, this also gave them them a huge amount of awareness after the release of Asbo a Gogo.

The Sheffield Star Article

Still at the Battle Stations!

With Tramlines fast approaching, the workload was increasing with the rush to get everything creating and functioning in time for launch, this meant that pretty much everyone was coming in throughout the week to blast out as much as they can, sometimes doing 14 hour days to make ends meet. This was a big strain on everyone and the odd time ideas would clash and become heated, but these would soon cool down and development would carry on as normal as it could be in crunch time. 
It was all coming together though
Throughout the entire process there were bugs that had to be ironed out but one in particular kept Asbo a Gogo from reaching its full potential, the spawning bug. This drove Big P and all the other developers mad, it would cause enemies to keep on spawning over and over again if a certain amount of enemies were on screen which lead to countless attempts to fix it but all of them proved fruitless till the very end as you find out soon how it all unfolded. 

Something always has to go wrong in Games Development

Paul Brand's Experience

At this phase of development, Paul Brand also joined the Asbo a Gogo team although he mainly working on side projects for NSV, he helped create a few secret mini games that Ben had wanted placed within the levels so that the player has something new to find if they look hard enough. Paul Brand got to work on the main mini game which involved Paul Sanderson and Paul Brand's friend Scott getting together and being recorded whilst performing fighting moves. These were then taken into an animation program and then put into the final release of Asbo a Gogo so yes, you can beat people up as Big P, C'mom! This fight takes place in the Asbo a GoGo equivalent of the famous Meadowhall shopping center, MeadowBrawl!

Given the chance to do it again, he would definitely be up for making a remastered version at some point but for now he continues developing small titles at NSV HQ.

Paul Sanderson's Experience

This whole experience for Paul was definitely a huge learning curve for him since at the beginning, the only previous visual coding experience he had was making Collider so Asbo a GoGo would be a huge step up. Nonetheless he got stuck into forums and tutorials to learn as much as he could and do whatever he had to do to combat the bugs, even though it was extremely tough for Big P, he found that the entire Asbo process really taught him a lot and he gained confidence in his own coding abilities, 

Big P was in it right to the final minutes developing Asbo a GoGo and although these were the hardest times, they were the most fun and rewarding times and because of his commitment and dedication he brought Asbo to life! Given the chance like everyone else, he would go back and improve the hell outta' that game. 

The Retro Machines

Big Pand the Retro Machines, should be a band name
In the weeks leading up to the release of asbo a Gogo, the team wanted something to bring the retro brawler feeling back to the player and lucky enough, just down the road the local lazer quest they were selling 2 old arcade machine shells! Ben and the team went down to buy and pick up the arcade shells, after finally lugging them back to the studio it was time to go to town on these bad boys.

First things first! Guttin' time!
The fresh shell being prepared for a new paint job
Ben designed a stencil and got to work spraying away
Each asbo a gogo girl will be spray painted onto each side
Boom! One Asbo a Gogo girl!
The final Abso a GoGo arcade machines ready to go

After the redesign of the arcade machine shells, they needed some way of getting their game to play on them since there wasn't any electronics inside, so Ben being a crafty thinker he thought of getting a stand and hooking up the laptops from the inside which worked brilliantly in the end. The people who came down to play on Asbo a GoGo found it captivating to be thrown back to the days of Streets of Rage and Double Dragon.

But what happened to the arcade machines after launch? Unfortunately i do not know the fate of one of them but the other however, has found its home at Ben's house, taking up vast amounts of space and being too heavy to move any where, so worth it though.

Release day and the End of Asbo

The arcade release!
After months of hard work and development, Tramlines was quick upon them and release day was here.

 These last few days of crunch time were a real strain on everyone with the team spending all the time they could to work on the game however not everything always goes to plan. As I mentioned earlier, the spawning bug was a real hassle for Big P and even minutes before release he was trying to fix it but time soon slipped away meaning they had to role with the version they already had, meaning that they couldn't have more than a few enemies at  time but either way, physical copies were rolling out along side the digital versions.

This however didn't stop a successful and extremely fun launch! quite a few people came down to Bank Street Arts, the HQ for No Sky Visible and drank and played away on the Asbo A GoGo. The whole experience was incredible for all the team from diving straight into the deep end to finally reach that crucial deadline, arcade machine ready and set to play. This was a landmark title for No Sky Visible since it was their first game to have a proper release with advertising which is a massive leap from the Newgrounds release Collider had.

To This day if you want to give Asbo a GoGo a go, feel free to use the link below! Although the online version doesn't contain the cut scenes that are in the physical copy, it still makes for some good o'l retro brawlin' action! -

Ben Sutcliffe's Experience

Ben obviously played a huge role in the development of Asbo with major design decisions and advertising deals coming from him, he really propelled Asbo a GoGo forward and gave the game and the business a lot of recognition and although stressful, he had a brilliant time doing what he loved most, making games! Asbo a goGo was just the beginning.

Ben found that in the end there was a lot he regrets in terms of design decisions such as not quite full utilizing all of the best mechanics such as the mech fight, as well as the 2 hidden levels that were a bit too well hidden meaning not many people would even get to play them. Sometimes it was down to inexperience and time, for example they wanted a difficulty system in place but wasn't able to integrate it and that's why the game is pretty damn hard.

But nonetheless it was still an amazing experience! The entire team loved working on the game since it was all their first time producing one and unfortunately it wasn't a commercial success but it didn't matter because they all learn't a tremendous amount and looking back, its still incredibly impressive given the circumstances! 

So give it a go! Asbo a GoGo!

Written by Community Manager - Richard Clark

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