Learning BYOND, Day 10: Early Contentment

Progress has been good lately. Although I doubt I’ll have a well-polished and ready game by the time school rolls around, 6 days from now, it seems I’ve at least completed some vital foundation framework. It’s reached the point where neither the Game Designer hat nor the Coder hat need to be worn as often. Now, I’m finding myself in increasing need to wear the Content Creator’s hat.

Voodoo Extreme)

Space Siege, a modern equivalent of a tile-based game, looks outstanding - especially if you've the hardware to run it at maximum settings. (Screenshot Source: Voodoo Extreme)

Content, content, content! Take a look at your average big-budget computer game, I’ve a point to make. Here, I’ll take a look at one I have right now on my start menu.. ah, the Space Siege demo. SpaceSiege.exe: 14.0 Megabytes. Associated dll files? Less than a megabyte each, it seems. However, the “resources” directory: 785 megabytes! The actual brains the drive the game take up less than 2% of the overall space of the game! What fills the other 98%+? You guessed it: content!

Content is all those high-resolution textures, movies, sound files, and other digitized representations of real life which the game engine tries to project out your monitor at the right time in the right places. Do good enough of a job of that, and the illusion is complete. So, as hardware improves and becomes better able to present more data quicker, the content files keep bloating, looking better and better as they go. Believe it or not, there are still places in Space Siege where pixelation is evident — more room for Space Siege 2 to push tomorrow’s hardware, no doubt.

A really early and ugly screenshot of my game.  One day soon, I'll look back at this and cringe.

A really early and ugly screenshot of my game. One day soon, I'll look back at this and cringe.

Unlike some of you out there on the Internet, I don’t have pirated copies of major development software laying around, nor the time or sheer force of will needed to use them well. So I won’t be able to create major jaw-dropping graphics. What BYOND supports, and what I’ll be using, are basic sound files (windows .wav and .oggvorbis formats are supported among others) and 32×32 windows icon files (these can be manipulated creatively in BYOND). To generate these, I’ll use legitimately purchased software, but (because I can’t afford much of those) mostly just freeware/shareware.

To create the sound files, I’m employing three tools. One is Dr. Petter’s SFXR – this is freeware program that is capable of creating a wide-variety of simple machine sounds not unlike you may have heard out of an Atari 2600. For music, Ableton Live LE — this is the $200 version of my big-budget software. For speech, I’m using A1 Speechtron, an excellent shareware voice synthesizer program – I could just record myself, but I’m no voice actor and there’s quite a few technical hurdles involved in making a good recording. Finally, to clean all this up, I use the impressive freeware sound-editing program, Audacity.

Archon, Commodore 64 (gw-design.net)

Archon for the Commadore 64 could look good with even smaller than 32x32 size icons and 16 colors. The viewer's imagination filled in the rest. (Screenshot: gw-design.net)

That covers what the players will hear, but what about what they will see? BYOND’s Dream Maker’s image support is extremely friendly, allowing for drawing your own images or simply cutting and pasting them in. It even implicitly supports multiple images tied to one labeled state, allowing for easy employment of animations and directional-based graphics.

The only inherent limitation is your ability to draw… and even this can be overcome through technology. A technique that works well is finding a picture I like on the Internet, booting up The Gimp (or even the Microsoft Paint program included with Windows) shrinking it down to 32×32 pixels, and pasting it into BYOND. Using the “masking” color in BYOND (in the upper left of the palette), I alter the (likely highly pixelated) result of my pasting to cut out the part I don’t want to display. It might look fairly bad close up, but zooming out produces a surprisingly realistic looking result: the human brain seems to naturally fill in the details the eye can’t make out.

Is this technique plagiarism? Not if you’re taking a large image and shrinking it down so much that it’s too diminished to count. Yet, why take chances? I could make the image even more by own by opening it up with the BYOND editor and subtly shifting the colors and shape to better suit my game. Creative application of rotoscoping is generally considered okay even amongst hard-nosed professionals.

I don’t consider myself an outstanding artist or sound expert, but today’s software can help overcome those limitations to a surprising degree. I may not win any major content creation prizes but, if I wear that hat correctly, I won’t get any complaints from players of my game.

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