Where it all started. Circa mid/late 2010

So, I guess it started when I was given a somewhat crappy, old, hand-me-down PC. It wasn’t up to much, no idea what spec, all I knew was, it was a PC, the first one that was technically mine.

Almost instantaneously, I knew I wanted to try and make a game, nothing but, nothing amazing, just something that I had made myself.

Not entirely sure what I was doing. After speaking to my wife, a software developer, I realise there was such a program as Visual Studio, so, I researched, discovered the XNA framework and just started to play about.
Ultimately, it was like the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, there I was, staring at this obelisk in the form of pages and pages of “how to” books and sites…

In the end, I just decided to go with what I knew. I grew up with Mario, Sonic and an almost infinite number of platformers throughout the 80’s and 90’s on machines ranging from the NES and Sega Master System to the Amstrad CPC464 and the ZX Spectrum.
A platformer it was, but, not wanting to slow the process down with character designs and the likes, I sort of ‘borrowed’ the work Nintendo had done previously and decided on a Mario themed game.

So, I put together a basic ‘room’ using Mario and random squares to define boundary.

From there, I added basic left/right and jump controls with the most basic of physics, if you can call it that.
After realising I just needed more, I expanded on this concept and spread to individual worlds.

So, with what I had learnt so far, I started plotting a basic level concept, but quickly found myself actually building the world as I planned, so unfortunately, there was very little forethought…

We started with the first level, a very traditional styled Super Mario Bros type level created with a sprite sheet of assets I had sourced.

I quickly realised the level was bland, so started adding coins to collect and enemies to kill/avoid and it finally started feeling somewhat like a game.
By the end of the first level, I was starting to feel more confident and decided to mix things up somewhat… A change in style was needed, even though it would mean a hike in the workload, I felt like I was on a roll.

So, the new level, in typical Mario Bros style, had to be an underground level, but, to further aid the atmosphere, I actually decided to alter all the sound effects and music to include a slight echo.

I also added the Koopa enemy, although, with the Koopa enemy having multiple states, (Walking Koopa, stationary shell and mobile shell) I found it somewhat difficult to program, I just took ages to get my head around it, but, after a few days of toiling and trawling the internet, I finally cracked it, I had a Koopa that reacted as hundreds of thousands of us 80’s-90’s gamers would expect it to!! Booyah!

Now, not really sure where I should go with this next level, I went for something visually, somewhat simplistic, just a typical Mario Bros 3 W1-1 style, with the NES Mario Bros 3 sprite to mix things up a bit.

Wanting to learn more and also explore what I was able to do, I finally started experimenting with animations… Staring with the “Munchers” depicted above. It’s a simple open and close animation, but it was a start!
I soon decided to swap out the Goomba I had used in previous levels for one more suited to the Mario sprite, which I felt needed an animated walk cycle, too. Things were coming along indeed.
It was as I was putting together the final parts of this level, I thought something felt… … missing, for lack of a better word.
So, I backtracked a little and started playing around with layering. Having a few semi-transparent blocks meant I could make the player head THROUGH the terrain… At the time, this blew my tiny little mind, it had to be added…

So, with animations and transparency added, I decided to start adding animations to Mario himself, so, in the fourth (And what turned out to be the final level, Mario finally actually walks.)

I decided to increase the jump hight of Mario for this one, and decided I wanted to make the level more vertical, I also wanted to slowly evolve the level the higher the player went. The Goombas towards the bottom of the tree were the simple two frame animated ones from the previous level, but towards the top, I had started to experiment with 7 framed sprite sheets hoping to generally improve the overall look of things.

It soon turned out to be somewhat difficult to add separate animations to Mario himself, though. A left and right walking animation was easy, I had pretty much nailed that, but a jump animation, for some reason, I just couldn’t grasp it. It was being overridden by the left/right commands.
My lord, it was frustrating…

Unfortunately, my time developing this particular project had come to an end, the hand-me-down computer had died, and with it, I had lost everything. Fortunately, I had had time to add a title screen, including music and also a basic ‘controls’ screen before the old chaps demise.
I had managed to e-mail the .exe to one Jamie Reader, so, although I lost the majority of my data, I had the actual standalone executable, it wasn’t all for naught!!

So, that was my first learning experience of any sort of game development, and, honestly, I think I was hooked.

Here is a little video playthrough of said game, titled “Super Mario Bros… ish…” and thanks for your time!

Benjamin “Retro Squid” Swindells


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