Dev Blog

Dev Blog #6 - Status Updates & Art!

Another month passed means another dev update! Lots of big stuff to cover in this one, including a big technical update, some new background art, early character concepts (including a tease of new characters??), and our announcement that we’ll be featuring the game at one of Florida’s biggest conventions - Metrocon - this July! 

Normally we’d start things off by reporting where we’re at on the dev roadmap, but oh boy this month was a doozy so we’ll get back to that a bit later. What we described as a “road bump” in our Discord just a couple weeks ago was actually more of a huge Mario Kart-esque boost ramp that shot us airborne and left us not knowing where we’d land for a few days. Thankfully we landed back on track! But unfortunately with a bit of lost momentum. That’s the short of it in non-technical terms, but if you’re curious keep reading below for the technical details (or just scroll straight to the art stuff!):

What started as just a few technical inconveniences with the game engine the past few months grew unexpectedly into full-on barriers (specifically with the shop and other networking features we had planned). We were faced with the choice of halting progress until a solution was found (since creating one from scratch would take too long) or, what we ended up choosing, which was subverting the issue entirely by migrating to a different environment (libGDX, if you’re curious!). Fortunately the core chunks of progress the past year won’t be affected by this shift, like the servers and account system, and it happens to alleviate many other smaller issues that we thought we’d just have to live with in our previous state. While we’re still in the middle of gauging everything fully, all this should mean running into a lot less progress-blockers in the future as well. The only needed rewrites will involve the gameplay / UI  from before, but even there we’d only just scratched the surface content-wise (in that preview build) so it’s not much of a set back. We’re just glad to have caught this now and not later when it could’ve really derailed some important progress. And most of all we’re just excited to be in the clear to focus on gameplay builds again!

Background Art: Expanded

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The biggest challenge posed to the art in our game so far has been the newly added support for a wider aspect ratio. With character sprites, UI elements, and even multiple game boards, the art assets remain the same while the position / scale / layout adapts to different screen orientations. But not so for background art! Our prototype on iOS was designed with one screen-size in mind, which allowed us to work quickly, but left us with very “vertical” backgrounds that just won’t work on a 16:9 display format. Stretching horizontally would look awful, cropping / zooming would make for gigantic ugly pixels, meaning the only option was to expand the frame and redraw entire sections for use on larger displays. The idea being: the PC version would see the full background, while smaller screens like phones will simply frame a smaller section of the same background (see the image above).

For a more direct comparison of the old backgrounds VS the new ones, here's a couple examples (the most recent addition being the updated Azure map with a wider view of the city):

background_samples.png

Also worth noting is that the new backgrounds are actually a smaller resolution than their original iOS versions. Generally speaking, the less pixels you have to draw, the less time / resources it takes. Both versions are displayed at their true pixel size above, while in game they'll be scaled up to fill the screen while preserving the pixel art qualities (as you've likely seen in other pixel art games you're familiar with). Lastly, the new backgrounds are still in draft form and will likely see some changes / updates over time (with some animated bits as well!).

Concept Art: A First Look Into Emily's Sketchbook!

While our plans for story-based content are still a bit down the roadmap, I couldn't wait to share some of the early concepts of our current (and future!) cast of characters. Emily is our resident illustrator and concept artist, with the majority of our current character sprites being based off her drawings. She recently shared a big batch of scans from her top secret sketchbook, where she was exploring different styles and versions of each character to see what stuck. The only image not from Emily is the Macktooth concepts, which were graciously provided by one of our awesome cousins, Mailiis (taken from a phone camera). I collaged them together, ordered by character, for your viewing pleasure in the gallery below (click to expand each image):

 

Some of these concepts were made even after the sprites were created, to better nail-down the look and feel of a character in a higher-detail setting (when the time comes produce more story-driven content, or areas of the game that could use higher detailed sprites, like special abilities, dialogue scenes, etc). I also included that last unmarked image at the end, which is an unedited full page scan from the book in all its chaotic glory (why is there a frog in there? You'll have to ask her!)

And while not everything is ready to share just yet, there are definitely plans for new playable characters you haven't seen before as well...

secret_concepts.png

If you want to send some props Emily's way, she goes by "Babbitz" in the discord! (or on Twitter here) Send some love her way!

Super Plexis will be at Metrocon this July!

If you happen to be in the Tampa area between July 19th-22th, stop by our booth running all weekend at Metrocon! We’ll also be hosting a game dev panel that Friday at 7pm. This will be our second time attending Metrocon featuring the game, the first being back in 2016 before we had even finished the iOS prototype (but wanted to gather a good number of beta testers). You can check out the panel we hosted back then in its entirety on youtube here:

Or check out a shorter vlog of that day, with clips from our first-ever tournament, here:

We’ll have more information as the actual date approaches!

That about covers all the new info for this month. As always you can join us on the Super Plexis discord, where we sometimes have more informal updates / news to share outside these official blog posts. Thanks again for following our progress! We hope to have more big news (and builds!) to share with all of you soon.

Dev Blog #5 - Roadmap Progress Update

April has officially passed us, meaning its time to look back at our road map and deliver a status update! After that first build we were very excited to be finally working on gameplay, and thanks to everyones feedback, we quickly identified what needed to be fixed and which new features we wanted to tackle.

In our most recent vlog you can see some of the progress in action (notably on block mechanics, the matching algorithm, control schemes, and a text overhaul):

And while much more progress on our goals continued off-camera, a few major complications arose as well. To walk through one example: we always do mock-ups of new features and UI before committing things to code. Here are a few of those low-detail black and white menu drafts focused around “Arcade” mode:

UI_samples.png

In this case, as we were deciding on how best to approach player lobbies and party functionality, we found that accommodating multiple cursors in these multiplayer menus wouldn’t be possible with the way inputs were programmed for last month’s build. Looking further into the issue revealed that a full rewrite of input code would be needed to support this (something that wasn’t originally part of our roadmap). While multiplayer isn’t planned to be finished for the next build, it’s risky to put off such a fundamental system for later, especially when building new gameplay and UI on top of it.

And in case you’re curious what some of those mock-ups looks like with semi-finished assets, here’s a sneak peak! (very much still subject to change):

UI_samples2.png

So while there was substantial time spent attending to these unexpected-but-important overhauls (not even mentioning the content and text renderers which required similar rewrites), progress continued and items were checked off our list. Some items were also bumped to lower priority so that we can get to that second build release faster (even if it means less polish in some areas that aren’t vital to gameplay). With that said, here’s the items from the roadmap finished last last month:

✓ Animated blocks

✓ Animated match explosions 

✓ New control schemes

✓ Early stages of local multiplayer

✓ Arcade interface designs

✓ Block Art Refresh (added new “break” frame)

✓ Grab-and-drag single cursor rework to support touch and mouse input

✓ Detect when a player switches inputs

In addition to these completed items that weren’t initially part of the roadmap:

✓ Polished in-game mechanics related to block timings and pop order

✓ Fixed matching algorithm bug related to certain “T” configurations

✓ Content renderer overhaul

✓ Switching all in-game text to bitmap

✓ Designed new fonts, both for basic system text and textured header fonts.

Which just leaves the remaining items, re-ordered by importance with a few omissions:

  • Chain combos (this applies to all game modes)
  • Garbage blocks start to arrive after a certain level (garbage blocks apply to most game modes)
  • Health bar and damage systems
  • Game Mode Selection
  • Systems and architecture that allow players to enter and exit games smoothly
  • Support for multiple game modes (necessary before working on VS mode)
  • Client side prediction and server side correction
  • All handled over TCP / IP
  • Animated lift
  • UI and gameplay sound effects        
  • Local storage of user preferences
  • Audio settings interface
  • Video settings interface
  • Polish Background Art
  • Converting Music
  • Board shake tests
  • Controller / keyboard settings interface (not accessible if touch enabled)
  • Keyboard / mouse settings interface (not accessible if touch enabled)
  • Battle setup, countdown, health bars, and end-game interfaces
  • Beginnings of the game replay system

And lastly some new goals that will be necessary sooner than we expected:

  • Friend / Lobby System
  • Matchmaking Servers 

That about wraps it up! And the list above you could now consider our updated roadmap for the month of May. While it represents everything we want to have finished, there’s no telling what could pop up along the way, so we’ll resist the urge to set any release date estimates just yet. Despite the extra time needed for this, our goal is to get the next release as stable as possible with all foundations locked (for sure this time!) so we can finally start releasing the regular gameplay updates we’d all love to see. Thanks again for everyone’s patience!

As always, you can find us over at our Super Plexis discord here: https://discord.gg/cJXzN4z to stay up to date on the latest info!

Dev Blog #4 - The April Roadmap

Hey everyone! Welcome to the first of many "roadmap" blog posts that outline our goals for the month. This series will give you an in-depth look at our current priorities and what we plan to have released for Super Plexis each month. Let's jump in: 

Battle

Endless mode and battle engine

  • Polish the implementation for the first animated battle background

  • Chain combos (this applies to all game modes)

  • Garbage blocks start to arrive after a certain level (garbage blocks apply to most game modes)

  • Animated match explosions and garbage block explosions

  • Health bar and damage systems

  • Board shake tests

  • Animated lift

  • Animated blocks

  • Beginning development of AI systems / local multiplayer

Andrew's Notes: "These are basic necessities for finishing the bare minimum battle engine and making Endless mode really feel like a real challenge. Remember that Endless mode also comes paired with an “Endless (CLASSIC)” mode which is almost identical to puzzle league style endless / marathon modes."

 

Design

Music and sound

  • Login screen music, title screen music, and battle music

  • UI and gameplay sound effects

Andrew's Notes: "I’m hopeful that the major build for April will include music, and if we’re lucky I could even have sound effects implemented."

 

User interface / experience

  • Animated title screen

  • Local storage of user preferences

  • Audio settings interface

  • Video settings interface

  • Controller / keyboard settings interface (not accessible if touch enabled)

  • Keyboard / mouse settings interface (not accessible if touch enabled)

  • Arcade games interface

  • Battle setup, countdown, health bars, and end-game interfaces

  • In-game notifications

Andrew's Notes: "Most of this won’t be animated, and once it’s all put together we can implement animations very soon after (like notification bounce or achievement glimmers / shines, etc). Please note that achievements and other unlockables will not be implemented in this build because they require online game servers."

 

Updated UI Designs

  • Game Mode Selection

  • Misc  

Gabe’s Notes: “As you may have seen in the preview build already, the menus will be quite different than the original iOS prototype. The new designs will allow us to build the same version of the game to all devices, and all elements will automatically scale / re-arrange themselves to fit. Expect to see more examples of this UI as we add new modes to the game (along with more “under development” placeholder buttons!)”

 

Background Art

  • Polish Title Screen background

  • Polish Loftwood Battle

  • Reformat Azure Background

Gabe’s Notes: “The new 16:9 format means all our old mobile backgrounds will need to be updated accordingly. Just like the Title Screen and Loftwood backgrounds (currently in the preview build), this means drawing in a much wider field of view with new details. And animation too!”

 

Converting / Updating Music and SFX

  • Title Screen

  • Loftwood Battle

Gabe’s Notes: “Now that the game is running on more than just mobile devices, its time to get the audio more stereo-ready for PC! The existing songs were written at wildly different times with different sounds/instruments over the past couple years and ill be doing a fresh pass on all of them to unite their styles (and maybe add some new stuff too!)”

 

New Block Details

  • Block art refresh / new frames

Gabe’s Notes: “We’ll be experimenting with different resolutions of blocks depending on the current screen size, but we’ve also been playing with a fresh new idea related to how “expressive” the blocks are in their different states of gameplay. Won’t say any more than that for now!”

 

Technical

Mouse / touch input 

  • Grab-and-drag single cursor rework to support touch and mouse input

  • Detect when the player switches from mouse to keyboard and back again

Andrew's Notes: "When players use the mouse the grab-and-drag cursor should activate, and then if the player goes back to using keyboard or controller than whichever cursor they were using for that will reactivate (single cursor or boomerang cursor)."

 

Local game server testing

  • Systems and architecture that allow players to enter and exit games smoothly

  • Support for multiple game modes (necessary before working on VS mode)

  • Client side prediction and server side correction

  • Beginnings of the game replay system

  • All handled over TCP / IP

Andrew's Notes: "This is my primary task for April. If I can deliver a successful build by the end of the month with local game servers, we will be extremely close to the first online multiplayer build. The local game server tests simulate what it would be like to play online with extremely low ping. Local game servers are also the backup in case no online game servers are accessible."

That's everything for April! We'll be checking in with smaller updates throughout the month, but to stay up to date with the latest progress join us over on discord: https://discord.gg/cJXzN4z

Dev Blog #3 - Introducing the New Engine!

On the Eve of the First "Preview" Build

Hello again! It's been some time since you've heard from us (unless you frequent our Discord server here: https://discord.gg/cJXzN4z ,which we recommend for regular updates!), but we wanted to be doubly sure our next update was a big one. Of course, that came with the unfortunate side-effect of postponing our first playable build, but we think it'll be much better for it! Anyone still expecting a simple Android port of our iOS prototype is about to be pleasantly surprised...

If there's a central theme of these past few months, it would definitely be: short-term sacrifices for long-term gains!

Over-simplified for sure, but if you want the juicy technical details, read onwards! Or if reading isn't your thing, check out our latest dev vlog to absorb all this new information in video form below:  

The What, When, and Where

"What is in this first build?" 

You'll be able to log in using your Medley ID and play a few variations of Endless mode, for the purposes of testing our account backend and new control options. Players on mobile are limited to touch as usual, but with the new PC / Mac versions of the game, players can use their mouse or gamepad to swap blocks as well!

Multi-directional swapping on a gamepad will be an interesting new challenge, but we'll also include an option to use a more classic method - the horizontal cursor - to swap blocks in the same way we know and love. 

While we'll be testing the new gameplay servers hosting these Endless mode matches, the full implementation of multiplayer / online play will be added in a later build.

"When can we expect the first playable build?"

We're currently on track to release it in the middle of March! (hopefully even earlier) Once we're over this first technical mountain, the foundation will be laid to make future updates / modes / content much faster.

"Where can we download it?"

This part we're excited about: while the first build will be shared directly to our followers via Discord as a simple .exe (on Windows), App (on Mac), or .apk (on Android), all future beta builds will be publicly accessible on all major markets. No fumbling around with Apple's Testflight or the Google Play equivalent, just head to your respective mobile app store (or Steam on PC/Mac) and download nice and easy.

We'll provide more instructions on how to download and run the game leading up to this first "off the grid" release, so stay tuned! Especially on our Discord which is where we'll likely distribute the download links. (here's that invite link once again: https://discord.gg/cJXzN4z )

 

Under the Hood

In our recently posted vlog, we introduced the game engine we are now using - HaxeFlixel - and its vital role in making Super Plexis truly multi-platform. We also touched on other important milestones achieved in the past few months: the launch of our website, our custom ID / account system, and having all associated database/server structures up and running.

Introducing HaxeFlixel! (...what is it exactly?)

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To use very non-professional terminology: HaxeFlixel is our cross-platform magic wand, allowing us to write code once that translates natively to any target platform we choose (if you skip to the end of our last vlog, you'll see a pristine example of how it continues to impress us). This means we don't have to start from scratch each time we put Super Plexis on a new platform. It also means when we update the game, those changes can be easily distributed to all platforms quickly. 

"Haxe" on its own is a high-level cross-platform programming language, while "Flixel" is a 2D game engine built on top of it. Then Open FL gets involved and...well, here, look these charts if you're curious:

about-haxeflixel copy2.png
openfl3architecture.png

...still here? Anyhow, this is a game changer for us (quite literally! Super Plexis is being rebuilt as a new game from the ground up) and all the time, research, and work gone into preparing these foundations are about to pay off for the first time in a playable way!

Also worth noting that the Nintendo Switch remains among the available platforms we can distribute to when the time comes (with a little extra preparation required) despite it not being listed in the charts above.

Thank you all again for sticking with us through this crazy ride of ours. We're just two guys with still so much to learn, and feel hardly worthy of the everyone's kindness and patience up to this point. But because of it, we're as inspired as ever to deliver something we hope everyone will enjoy!

See you at the first build!

- The Medley Studio Team

 

Dev Blog #2 - The Timeline (and Happy New Year!)

Happy New Year everyone! 

To kick off 2018 we thought we'd share a retrospective of the past few years of this project, with events stretching back to before Super Plexis even had its name. Feel free to skim to the end for what we have planned for the end of the month!

2015

  • January to May- Sporadic, casual conversations about making games turns to serious consideration
  • June - Andrew moves to FL, planning begins for a “Puzzle Action RPG” for iOS, concept art/story writing begins
  • July - Research and experimenting with Apple frameworks in Xcode, along with a custom SDK.
  • August - Pixel art, tilesheets, and animation of assets. Alpha engine builds with basic character movement. Weekly vlog begins.
  • September to October -  a “proof of concept” demo is completed mixed RPG and puzzle elements
  • November to December - the game gets a name, finally. A long break from the grind is taken for the holidays.

2016

  • January - through much consideration, the RPG concept is shelved in favor of a streamlined multiplayer experience
  • February to March - the base game is rebuilt in Objective-C (instead of Swift), the shared office is dissolved as Gabe moves next door
  • April to May - youtube channel launches, new menus designed, special abilities are added to gameplay.
  • June - characters implemented, online multiplayer testing, SFX & music are added
  • July - rush to have a playable build at Metrocon, host a panel/tournament, and get the word out for our closed beta.
  • August to September - iOS beta announced for October, multiplayer menus (profile, leaderboards, shop, etc), account data, etc.
  • October - Closed beta launches on Testflight
  • November to December - iteration based on feedback, break for the holidays

2017

  • January to February - Introduction of single-player “Adventure Mode” map and levels, Super Plexis goes live on the iOS App Store
  • March - Promotion and game maintenance, planning begins on how to tackle porting to Android
  • April - The Kickstarter is launched to support the next phase of development. More promotion ensues! 
  • May - Kickstarter success! Connections formed with the community. Preliminary planning of new engine and account system
  • June to July - Post-kickstarter cool off period, with work on servers/accounts (Medley IDs) underway. 
  • August - New website designed, to be used with Medley IDs. Trip out of state to view total solar eclipse.
  • September - Hurricane Irma strikes! Forced to move in with friends for 2-3 weeks until power returns at home.
  • October - Work on servers/accounts resumes normal pace, complete UI design overhaul begins.
  • November to December - Medley IDs are completed, website goes live, and sign-ups for the beta open.

2018 ...?

...which brings us to today! At our current pace we’re on track to have our first playable multi-platform build before the end of the month. It will feature very early gameplay (so no character abilities yet), the ability to log in with your ID, and possibly our first test of cross-platform multiplayer. This will be a major milestone for us, as all the planning and foundations we've laid will be put to the test! 

We'll have more news about this first build very soon!

2017 was a huge year for us: we established ourselves as an official company, published our first app ever, ran a successful campaign, and met so many amazing people with so much support along the way. It was truly a year of grounding ourselves for the long haul, and now that we're firmly rooted, we look forward to blooming in 2018!

- The Medley Studio Team

Dev Blog #1 - Welcome to Our New Home!

Welcome, fellow puzzle fans, to our new site! Super Plexis finally has an official home. More than just a place to share dev blogs and announcements, this space will serve as the safe and secure hub for the brand new Medley ID account system.

Signing up for a Medley ID will gain you a spot in the upcoming multi-platform beta release (starting first on Android). And in the future, your Medley ID will be your key to taking your account and game progress anywhere, on any device.

We're excited to share more news soon, like when you can expect the first beta to go live, but in the mean time we'd just like to thank everyone for their patience and support stretching all the way back to the success of our Kickstarter earlier this year.

It's been an uphill battle researching and engineering the exact type of server and database backend to suit to our needs as a small indie studio. Since we'll be running the show ourselves now, not depending on any third-party systems like GameCenter and Apple IDs as we did on iOS, we needed to make sure we created something flexible, cost-effective, and scalable. These efforts will translate into a much smoother user experience for the online components of Super Plexis, such as matchmaking and friends-lists, while also providing a much more solid foundation to build future content on.

While it might seem like a simple update for now, this marks a major step forward in Super Plexis' development. As we transition out of this massively technical stage and move back into the game engine, you can expect to being seeing a lot more regular updates and info! 

Keep an eye out for more blog posts like this one coming soon!

- The Medley Studio Team