Slow Down, Bull

Slow Down, Bull is a small action game about a stressed out, overachiever bull who loves collecting beautiful things. Help the bull keep his cool to get the biggest, most beautiful collection he can by steering him and managing his stress.

Slow Down, Bull is an Insomniac experiment to make a great game with a small team. You can read a bit more about the origins of the experiment in this post. We are building Slow Down, Bull in Unity for the PC with a team of 4-5 people, and want to share the development of the game with you! Here’s how you can participate:

  • Stop by our Insomniac Twitch Channel every Friday at 2pm PST to see our live development stream. We’ll stream the team working on art, programming, design and sound for the game and will answer audience questions about game development. This is a great opportunity if you are an aspiring game dev to learn more or if you’re just curious to see what development on a small game actually looks like.
  • Keep up with developer logs on this blog and our forums to ask questions and give feedback about the game.
  • Follow @SlowDownBull on Twitter to keep informed about new updates to the project.

Hey everyone!

I want to catch up on a couple things we went over in last week’s dev stream. We spent the stream gathering name suggestions on the possum and going over story scene setup. Here were the team’s favorite Possum names, and we’ll hopefully have one picked and cleared in the next couple of weeks!

  1. Spike
  2. Shiloh
  3. Shakes
  4. Otis
  5. Eggland

This Friday’s stream is going to be another music one with Alex, by the way, so if you’re musically inclined then prepare yourselves!

So on the stream we were talking about how the story scenes had a camera that panned over each panel. We made some revisions this week based on some feedback, and now the panning is much snappier, with each panel dropping in on the player’s action. It lets the player control the pace of how they look through the story, and the drop-ins felt more fitting with the paper post-it style.

In other news, here’s some of Denae’s animation work on Esteban

To finish off, our last Pixelated Rorshach Test had a bunch of fun interpretations!

StreamLevel

@Deity_Falkor   A warrior lifting a dead snake with its sword.

@GDNerd   sausage grinder

@JayHooft  some sort of robot helping his friend robot from a table that’s fell on them

@AverageFranklin  A man kneeling down, holding a weird blunt weapon behind him.

@Mr_Moobs  a man lifting weights

@AntStiller  Part of the dungeon map from B2 Keep on the Borderlands

@DanielLake3  A mole wearing a yarmulke

@lcareccia  Long-eared dog sitting at a desk with lots of Ikea furniture in the background.

@zuca_piiau  A Charmander getting out of a mirror and a guy getting of a bed pulling is tong

@ScoJoHarr  a computer desk.

@IlagaEduardo  A man on his bed trying to force a monster back into his TV

‏@superbus  A battle – to the death – between a construction worker and an 80s-era school projector

@gunpeiyokoifan  Guy lifting weights, or construction guy with shovel.

@Teddypimm  A top down view of some circuitry.

@crowsmack  This is exactly what I see! Can’t un-see:) pic.twitter.com/Nbe0OhuTK2

@CalamityJive A floorplan with an inaccessible room toward the northwest.

@kralitabow   birdo with a sleeping cap on, sitting in bed.

@MKuhlberg   mother and child eating

@Phastin  I got Admiral Akbar slurping spaghetti and winking at the camera.

@Seamus_Donohue  A tree that uprooted and fell over.

@MYNAMEISNOTJJ   a mailbox driving a steamroller

Fun fact: That Rorshach test is the level mask from the level I built on stream a couple of months ago. Wow, has it really been that long?? Time flies! Follow @SlowDownBull on Twitter for more!

Greetings all!

For those of you who need to catch up on our developer streams, here are the archives of the most recent two:

  • Design Stream where I tune the bullcatcher failure state and playtest with various Insomniacs.
  • Art Stream where Denae animates the matador.

We also took name suggestions for the cat last week. Here are the team’s favorites which are currently being checked out:

  1. Mango
  2. Lily
  3. Kazzi
  4. Fifi
  5. Terri
  6. Priya

Right now things are very busy on the project as new art, animations, music and sound is coming in from Dave, Denae, and Alex. I’m scrambling to get all the new assets in, hooked up and tested while at the same time fixing bugs and balancing the game.

Matador

Bug-fixing can sometimes be frustrating, especially when it comes to UI. Putting in UI is an often underestimated workload, and since it relies on you having the whole flow of your game fleshed out it often becomes an end-of-project task. Last week we were fighting with a bug where elements on the end of level screen and map screen would spontaneously change depths. UI elements (like buttons, menu panels, etc) have a depth value that tells it whether to draw in front of or behind other elements, and even though everything looked correct in the editor, when you returned to the map screen after completing a level, this would sometimes happen:

When I tried to mess with the depths at runtime, it would just swap out which piece was broken. Debugging UI can be really difficult, but in fixing a lot of depth arrangements, updating NGUI, then fixing all the things that broke from updating NGUI, I think we finally nailed this bug!

I doubt we’ve seen the last of UI bugs, though… See you on Friday in the stream where we’ll need YOU to help us suggest names for the Possum, as well as more design or maybe some music with Alex!

-Lisa

Ahoy ahoy, humans! I hope you are all well. If you missed last week’s stream, Alex did an in-depth look at his composition process. If you have any interest in game music, or music in general, check it out! This Friday we’ll be looking at some testing and tuning processes, so the more design-inclined of you should stop by then.

We also had a fun time with all of you last stream collecting suggestions for names for the bullcatcher. You had some fantastic ideas, and after sorting and discussing and debating (and checking with legal, of course), the team decided on Annette! Because, afterall, that’s what she uses to catch you. Don’t get caught by Annette!

annette

In other news, our other artist, Denae, is now on the project! She’s going to be doing a lot of animation and production art as we start wrapping up all the places where there is still temp designer art. Because there’s so much to do and only Denae to do them, we started with as low framerate animations as still look good in the game. This way if there is time left when everything is done, we could do more in-betweens, but if not these animations still work. The paper cutout style makes low framerate cycles fit in with the overall aesthetic, so we’ll be in a good place.

SDBVaseCarrier

SDBCat

Hey everyone, several of you have requested another audio-focused dev stream and we are happy to comply! This Friday, Alex will be working on some music on-stream, so come check it out and bring along your game audio questions. We’ll go live Friday at 2pm PDT on the Insomniac Twitch Channel.

Also bring along your name-ideas. We had so much fun discussing names for Esteban that we want to do it again, this time for our primary antagonist, the wily Bullcatcher.

bull-catcher

She is bound and determined to catch Esteban and kick him off her lawn, and nothing stands in her way! Except maybe water. She doesn’t like water. Like we did with Esteban, we’ll gather up suggestions in stream and the team will pick a name next week.

Other Developments

As we get further and further into development, we’ve been revisiting some earlier art concepts now that we’ve had a chance to play with them in game. The transparent water walls of the beach area weren’t working out so great – making them look good while overlapping was problematic – so we redid the beach walls as sand dunes and macaroni shells. To get water back into the beach, we wanted to be able to see the ocean around the perimeter

This effect is done with two things:
1. A script to translate the offset of a tiling water texture so it moves around
2. An alpha mask shader to block out the area of the level where we DON’T water to show. The level mask images come in handy once more!

Speaking of level masks…

Pixelated Rorshach Test

What did Twitter see in this level mask?

SpeedBitTraining

@leelo124: Pea shooter from Plants vs Zobmies Garden Warfare :)
@TechyZeldaNerd: An awkward thirteen year old girl who just had a guy run away when she tried to kiss him.
@SugaoKC: I see Qbert
@audiosprite: a minimap and I wanna go left
@syntheslice: Looks like a bad idea for a Super Soaker that just might accidentally spray water back in the user’s face.
@AndyGainey: A frightened and very worried elephant. With an inexplicable spot on its forehead.
@darthbator: Doom 1, Hangar, overhead view.

Follow @SlowDownBull to see more!

Greetings all! If you missed last week’s stream of Dave creating the art for our matador character, you can watch it here. As a reminder, there will be NO STREAM THIS WEEK as our entire Community team is off in Cologne for gamescom. But we’ll be back the week after and hopefully with a much-requested audio stream. Follow our Twitch Channel and/or @SlowDownBull on twitter to keep notified.

Current Status

We continue to stay very busy on the project as we balance assimilating feedback from our weekly builds into our schedule of work that still needs to be done. It can be somewhat of a juggling act, especially when great ideas show up that are just beyond the scope of the time we have left. Sometimes we’re able to find ways to incorporate the core of those ideas without using them in their entirety, but some just have to be let go in the interest of getting things done. It’s always a tough decision!

This week Dave finished up one of our last environment concepts, check out the pieces:

area4

This is intended to be the last week that Lillian puts in any new big systems, and she just hooked up some more macro-facing things, like a way for me to set up tutorial screens in levels with new mechanics, and a big iteration for how we present in-level progress to the player. Most of it involves a lot of UI hookups. UI is one of those things that always takes up way more time than people tend to plan, so if you are an aspiring game developer, keep that in mind! Never were there so many edge cases that need solving as in UI! That’s my opinion, at least :)

More Pixelated Rorshach

I continue to probe the minds of the Twitterverse to find out what people “see” in these level mask images:

ArenaWithSpikes

@aptigertheory: key with a tail
@edlago: a key with some kind of cloth/fabric tied in the head o.o
@MikeTiv: A key with a shadow.
@CholidSnake: a mutan fetus with a key attached to his forehead
@syntheslice: It’s one of those “glasses with the fake mustache underneath” things. But horribly deformed.
@jakesones: The dragon from Adventure on Atari 2600. http://t.co/6a79i68TmM
@csgeorge: An unnecessarily intricate key.
@leelo124: An elephant with a weird trunk on a planet with 2 moons :D Or.. Some sort of mech pointing his machine gun arm at something.
@zhiwiller: Key on a bazooka (Sorry everyone is saying key).
@SleepyBeeMon404: Overhead view of a person cooking an egg in a pan.
@IndieKylo: Definitely a phonograph.
@tolicious: A key that somebody smashed head first into a wall. Why would you do that :(
@naveen_pcs: A key with something come out of the bottom right corner of it.
@SugaoKC: A slug smiling dementedly?
@TechyZeldaNerd: A river key.

With this one I did a couple of artist interpretations of the… interpretations

PossumTrainingNew

@syntheslice: Definitely a dragon. Head is the right bit, extended wing to the left, and the tail curled up in front.

dragonrorshach

@danielsound: first thing that came to mind was platformer level with wall jumping, before actually reading the tweet
@leelo124: I got nothing on this one :P …ET and a praying dinosaur back to back maybe ? lol

ETrorshach

@regisRquoi: Waw, this one is hard. Maybe a desk with a computer on it I think (with a 90° rotation). No? :O
@csgeorge: Ok, that’s a snail. Total snail.
@llnesisll: A squirrel sitting down, it’s tail off to the left. Brain, I don’t even.
@Infinit777: a face… Am I a psycho?
@TechyZeldaNerd: A headshot of a two headed dragon.

Ahoy ahoy! Things are ramping up on Slow Down, Bull as the team has started making weekly builds for internal playtesting, and so we are busy busy! In last week’s stream, Lisa built a level from scratch and answered more of your fantastic questions. You can catch the archives here if you missed it: Part 1, Part 2. I do want to take a moment to say that the whole team has been really impressed with the questions you ask each week, thanks for being awesome!

This week we’ll likely be doing an art stream on Friday, so if you haven’t already, follow our Twitch channel to get notified when we go live. Meanwhile, check out these schoolcraft “spikes.”

spikes

Names and Rorshach Tests

We are still waiting for the final legal checks before being able to commit to our bull’s new name, but Esteban is leading the charge, followed by Reginald, Blue, and Quinton as backup. Thanks for all of your suggestions!

And speaking of stream audience participation, last week when looking at level masks on stream, RegisRquoi suggested they looked like “Pixelated Rorshach tests”, and we all thought it would be fun to post them and see what people “saw.” Maybe we can even use the ideas for inspiration for level names! Here was the first one:

BasicLevelPyramidMap

(for those that missed the stream, this is a mask overlay for a level that helps us decide legal spawning positions for powerups and pathing for the bullcatcher). And here’s what people “saw”.

@naveen_pcs: 2 trees stacked on top of each other. The bottom one has a face. On top of the higher tree, a zombie from minecraft with its arms extended outwards.
@regisRquoi: It looks just like a fan art for the game FEZ. but.. You know, kind of… upside down Style \o/
@BMac_Attack_64: It’s clearly a top down view for a level of some sort haha
@syntheslice: Looks like a weird inverted snowman on a stick.
@csgeorge: Some kind of tower. Like a skyscraper.
@MikeTiv: An ant on a tightrope.
@MattDwny: it’s not quite symmetric, but I’m gonna go with a kebab.
@leelo124: Sad decapitated robot head on a pike :(
@rojomojogogo: Utter disdain for everybody else not wearing a fancy hat.

I’ll be posting more of these during the week, so follow @SlowDownBull and keep an eye out for them if you want to participate!
-Lisa

Greetings everyone! Thanks to all who stopped by the chat last week for Rename-the-Bull-athon 2014!! We had a lot of fun discussion suggestions with all of you, and the team has narrowed it down to a short list of favorites:

  • Franklin
  • Esteban
  • Buster
  • Phillis
  • Rufus
  • Terry (oh the puns!)
  • Reginald/Reggie
  • Quinton/Quincy
  • Benson
  • Sir Benjamin Bullsworth
  • Bill
  • Bobert
  • Baltazar/Baltie
  • Constance
  • Felicity
  • Hyde
  • Blue

If you have an opinion on any of these, or have a last minute suggestion, tweet it to @SlowDownBull or post it in our forum thread. This Friday we will tell you which name we picked! This week on stream will mostly likely be me building a level, so you’ll get to see a lot of nitty-gritty editor process in Unity. Be sure to follow the Insomniac Twitch Channel to get notified about when we go live.

Pickup Art

Speaking of art, Dave has been doing passes on pickups for each area in the game. Our bull is collecting objects to use to beautify his art projects so they can be perfect. We’re trying out different objects in each area that would use to really spruce up a craft project (shells, buttons, bells, beads..), and changing up the sprites based on your multiplier, so it’s more easy to visualize the value of what you’re carrying around. Here’s a shot of some shells on the beach…

pic

 

One interesting design challenge came up with the pickups. We originally wanted to try out actual craft objects for them with the more photoreal textures (the macaroni shells, some gemstones) but ran into some issues with them reading awkwardly. They didn’t stand out as things you could pick up, and looked like oddly placed environment objects. We decided to stick with the visual design that any interactable game element (the bull, the NPCs, the cat, the pickups) should be in the crayon style with the paper backing, and reserve the crafted materials for the environment. It helps push the two apart on the playfield to keep things clear.

So walls, ground, trees and hedges will all be crafted textures, such as our cottonball cloud wall:

cloud

 

But the characters and game elements will be crayon drawings on paper

bull

Articles and Podcasts

Slow Down, Bull has shown up in a few places around the web, so check these out in case you missed them.

Indie Game Magazine interview about the project.

Spawn On Me Podcast where I talk about the project in addition to other general gaming going-ons.

Hope to see you in the stream this Friday!

-Lisa

Greetings all! You may recall in our art stream last week that Dave was working on the concepts for the cat character/powerup. For those that didn’t see, the cat is a character that you can pick up and carry around, and she will jump onto NPCs and knock them out of the way for you. But, like most cats, she doesn’t like to be carried for too long. I wanted to share the finished results with you:

cat_1

I used the concepts to swap out my temp designer art for the new cat (and put in a very temp tail animation), you can check it out in action here:

As for other updates, things are chugging along. Lillian is working on game flow connectivity, basically making sure all the pieces are hooked up for all the menus and level transitions and whatnot. I’m working on levels, tuning mechanics, thinking about balance, and figuring out cuts. On the sound front, every day we get a new batch of sounds from Alex. Stop by the stream Friday and I’ll be sure to show them off!.

This week’s stream will be a little different, as I will be going through the evolution of the Construct 2 prototype to show how the design changed over time. We’ll also be needing your help this Friday, because we are going to name the bull once and for all, and we want YOUR input! Now that you’ve gotten to know a little more about the project and our bull, we want your suggestions and to take part in the discussion. So join us on Friday at 2pm PST on the Insomniac Twitch Channel! If you follow the channel you will get a notification when we go live. See you then :D

– Lisa (@Wertle)

Follow @SlowDownBull on Twitter

Ahoy ahoy humans! You may recall that last week during our programming stream we were trying out a specific attack behavior for the bullcatcher. The goal was to give players a window of escape just before she pounces, to make the bullcatcher a little more manageable for new players. We’ve done more iteration on that and hopefully can show you the changes on Friday. This Friday’s stream will be Dave doing more art, so aspiring artists stop on by at 2pm PST! You can follow our twitch channel to get notified about when we go live.

Solving Sneaky Design Problems

Some of you asked about some of my other findings during my week of “new player playtesting,” and one of them was a very tricky problem with how players mentally map the buttons and the rotation of the bull. You steer the bull clockwise and counterclockwise using both mouse buttons or either trigger on a controller. Most people learn this fairly well, but we were noticing that the mental mapping would sometimes break down in stressful situations (like when the bullcatcher is on your tail) and specifically after bouncing off a wall many people would turn left when they’d intended to turn right, or vice versa.

To narrow down the problem point and figure out how to solve it, we made a UI widget that explicitly shows which button will turn him which direction wherever he’s orienting. This helped me look at the problem case a little more clearly while watching people play.

steeringWidget

As you can see in the images below, the mapping breakdown would happen when people hit a wall at a very severe angle, because when the bull exits the bounce, the left/right button association is the exact opposite of what it was when he entered (notice how the blue and red halves are swapped). When in a high stress moment, it’s easy to see how a player could get confused and hit the wrong button, often turning themselves straight into danger.

steeringWidget6 steeringWidget7 steeringWidget8
 

One idea we’re trying is shifting when the pause on the bounce happens. Currently you ram into a wall and there’s a beat before you reflect off. We’re going to try shifting the pause to the moment when the bull has already reoriented, so players could use that beat to remap which direction they will turn when they hit a button. Thematically, it’ll be something like the bull rams the wall and then has a moment after he bounces off where he gets to his feet before running again.

Here’s the mouse-drawn designer sketch I used to propose the idea to my team.

bounce-diagram

Will this solution work? Only playtesting will tell!

Leftover Questions

Here’s a few questions that were leftover from last Friday’s stream.

Mattdwny: have you considered overlaying dischordant music with the regular music based on stress?

From Alex: Not yet! The sound itself is indicative of stress and it might be a little too much if the sound AND music got stressful. You don’t know until you try, though!

Vx967: Maybe a question for later, but: any chance of integrating an external audio engine, such as FMod or Wwise?

From Alex: I have no plans to yet since the game’s audio needs are pretty simple at the moment. But we may need to sometime! It would just take a bit of work to get it integrated seamlessly.

Omgwtfdenny: How do you balance creative and ambitious ideas with resource restraints? Where do you start cutting down?

We have to be very careful about this since it’s such a small team and since it was important to us to be nimble and get something out into the world (relatively) quickly. I’m constantly weighing ideas against the scope we’re working with, and often I think “what problem is this idea trying to solve? Could we solve the same problem in a different way that is within scope? Is the best way to solve the problem to cut out the thing that is causing it?” It’s never an easy balancing act, but I feel like constraints are what forces us to be our most creative selves, so I welcome them.

Ahoy ahoy, humans! Lisa here. Thanks again for everyone who stopped by last week’s dev stream. If you missed it and want to see some audio work and art streaming, you can watch the highlights on our twitch page, here: http://www.twitch.tv/insomniacgames/profile

We’ll be back to our normal Friday 2pm PDT schedule this week. Lillian will be doing a programming stream, so if you have interest in programming in C# in Unity, be sure to stop by! She will be coding the Bull Catcher and we will show off some more gameplay.

Name Changes

As I mentioned on the first stream, often circumstances show up in game development where you have to change the names of things for a variety of reasons. Normally players don’t see any of that and just get the final name when the game is released. But the purpose of this project is to show you all the behind the scenes madness, so here’s your first taste! Pretty quickly after we announced the project, we found out that we won’t be able to use the name “Axel” for the bull, so our beloved bull has gone back to being nameless. Don’t worry, though, we will name him together, but to help you should all get to know him first (so be sure to come by the streams!)

Playtesting

This week I’m off traveling to visit family, which is the perfect opportunity to observe fresh new playtesters for Slow Down, Bull. Most of our playtesters so far have been other Insomniacs. While there are many wonderful insights to be had from other developers playtesting your games, it’s also very important to get people to try it who don’t have a developer background, or even a typical gaming background. In this week’s stream I’ll discuss my findings.

Fan Art

We got our first piece of fan art for Slow Down, Bull! Check out Mattias’s rendering of our beloved bull hero:

1920x1080

Check out more variants and wallpaper sizes here: Flickr Album

Construct 2

Last week I had some people ask about the original Construct 2 prototype for the game and how I approached various things. We have a Game Jams group here at Insomniac where we occasionally get together and teach one another new toolsets, and I gave one for Construct 2 that was recorded for some of our North Carolina members. I’ve uploaded the video if anyone wants to watch the session (about an hour long). It covers some basic overviews for beginners and also a handful of features that I found were really helpful but not necessarily intuitive from tutorials. You can see how I did some of the events and things for the Slow Down, Bull prototype.

See you all in the stream on Friday!
-Lisa