SURVIVOR Twisting Variables: “Early Jury”

When designing games, we constantly iterate. One of the things we’re looking for is depth of mechanics— and an effective way to explore a mechanic’s depth is to see what you can do with that mechanic’s variables:

I will examine a potential twist for Survivor by looking at the variables in the game. We’ll approach Survivor from the perspective of a game designer to explore the different effects of pushing these variables.

By messing around with the variables of Survivor‘s core game mechanics, we should be able to come up with some cool twists!

In this example, I want to look at a variable that hasn’t yet been pushed to its limits: the size of the jury.

“Early Jury Twist”

So picture this:

Episode one of a new season. Things going as you’d expect– the first tribe goes to tribal council. Someone’s about to join the first boot rankings:

Jeff comes up with the last vote:

“First person voted out of Survivor and the first member of the jury.

It’s a huge surprise. The looks on their faces! A #hashtag appears on the screen.

The jury’s there from the beginning: nearly everybody in the game will be on the jury (cast_size minus number_of_finalists). We’ve pushed the size of the jury(jury_size) to its upper limit.

So what are the consequences of this twist and how will they affect the players and game mechanics?

Everybody will be at every tribal council.

The jury sees every vote. They see all the blindsides and back-stabs along the way.

It’s a small consequence–one that’s very simple in concept. After the huge moment of the first reveal, it becomes a part of the game’s ruleset: less of a twist and more of a new challenge in the game itself. The potential is for the “early jury” to be a twist that creates ripples of strategy throughout the game (instead of something like the bogus Redemption Island twist, which changes the rules completely).

We sometimes talk about how there’s some behavioral leeway in pre-merge tribes because they know that the early boots won’t be there to vote against you in the end (easier to call Alecia “blondie” when you know she’s not making the jury). It’s the same reason you might want to betray someone early: flip on an ally after the swap but before the jury phase so there’s no repercussion.

Which leads to a built-in theme that Probst would love. I can imagine him standing there after a blindside: “This season is all about accountability.”

Also a big jury would be a rowdy jury, and I think that would be a lot of fun. We like to see big jury reactions on our TV.

This twist would work best on an all-star season– in that situation, the downsides become upsides: we already know the cast members so we negate the feeling of too many people. Plus: guaranteed screen-time for fan-favorites (Eliza and Courtney need to come back for the  “all-jury” season right?).

How has Survivor used the “jury_size” variable in the past?

Traditionally the jury has either seven or nine people on it. In Cambodia, there were ten people on the jury. Survivor Wiki tells me that’s the biggest jury we’ve had. So there’s plenty of room to experiment:

We can look at the opposite: a “late jury”. Imagine making the merge and the jury hasn’t started yet. You expect it on the next vote. And the next. But it doesn’t come. The remaining tribe members get paranoid. They’re counting members. And eventually Jeff drops the bomb at the final seven so there’s a five-person jury voting on a final two.

That could be really interesting (in theory. I think that one would end up being lame).  Ultimately, the only way to know is to prototype it and see it in action.

RPG Maker UI Concept Mockups

The newest RPG Maker program, RPG Maker MV, was recently released.

I don’t like RMMV’s UI– it feels awkward and outdated, especially when compared to other modern software like Photoshop, Game Maker Studio, etc. I also feel like RMMV really missed the opportunity for lots of improvements to the program; things that seem like no-brainers. So I thought that I could do better.

So here’s my vision of a more modern, improved RPGMaker UI (click for more):

concept mockup

More images and details here. It has a few huge images, as well as my notes, so it gets its own page.

What do you think?

Animating Aubrey: How I Made Player Animations for Symbiote

So I recently made a game in 30 days for an indie game competition. Here’s the game page (with screenshots and download, etc): Symbiote

Today, I want to talk about the player animations in Symbiote. One of my main goals with the game was to have really solid and fluid animations for the player. I think that I’ve mostly succeeded.

This short video shows the gameplay in symbiote and the final look of the animations in-game.

The original plan was to use traditional hand-drawn animation. That approach, however, would have taken me the entire month just to do the animations– and maybe longer. So instead I went with modular animation or “puppet animation”. This technique is A LOT faster (I was able to get all the base animations done in a single day).

This is the sheet of pieces that I used for the player character:

Sprite Pieces

Sprite Pieces

I used Spriter Pro to put the pieces together and create the base animations. This is what the base idle pose looks like when put together in Spriter, using the pieces from the above image:

Aubrey in Spriter Pro

Aubrey in Spriter Pro

Now, Spriter has a huge amount of really cool features: bones, kinetic animation, etc. I didn’t use them.

Coming from a background in traditional animation, I wanted total control over the pieces. Instead of using bones, I positioned each keyframe manually. Most of the time, Spriter’s tweening functions did a great job smoothing the animation between my hand-made keyframes. Occasionally I would tweak the in-betweens (particularly for the more complex animations, like the attacks).

This is how the idle animation came out:

Idle Animation version 1

Idle Animation version 1

It looks really smooth, and I love the subtle squash-and-stretch effect (which I use often in my animation to give a stronger sense of weight). Of course, the problems with modular animation are evident: the joints connect awkwardly (and in the case of the shoulder, don’t connect at all).

There are some solutions for this that work within the modular animation approach: for example, drawing rounded shoulders or individual pieces for the joints themselves. These solutions would work for some types of animations, but I knew that I would need a huge variety of animations — and ones that made heavy use of squash-and-stretch techniques, and that would require me to create a lot of different versions of each body part: I felt that at that point, the time commitment wouldn’t be much different than animating in the old fashioned way.

The running animation had similar problems:

Run Animation version 1

Run Animation version 1

Beautifully bouncy and full of character, but those joints look painful.

There were also other problems: notice the blank areas underneath the hair. I thought about changing the hair pieces themselves to have a red “base” which would serve as the back of the head, but that limited some of the ways I wanted the hair to move in other animations. Creating a simple red “back of head” layer could have worked, but at that point I knew that I planned to manually clean up the animation anyway.

I used these “puppet versions” of the animations for prototyping the game, and for the majority of the development process. They functioned just fine in-game.

Towards the end of development, when all the programming was finished and the level designs were implemented, it was time to dive into polishing the graphics. So I took each frame of the player’s base puppet animations, popped them into photoshop, and went at them with my wacom pen:

Idle Animation version 2

Idle Animation version 2

You can see some jittery evidence where I manually edited the frames: the shoulders, elbows and knees were the areas of the biggest concern.

The jittery line on the hip betrays the haste with which I went through this process (there were a lot of frames, after all)– but the classic artist’s trick hides these problems: the original images are all HUGE and they downscale for the game itself. The images you see on this page are downscaled from the working size, and they’re still about twice as large as the in-game sprite.

And the run animation:

Run Animation version 2

Run Animation version 2

Overall, I only spent two and a half of my development days on the hero’s animations. Half a day turning my concept art into useable sprite pieces, one day making all my base puppet animations in spriter, and one day fine-tuning each animation in photoshop.

With more time, I’d smooth the animations even further (for example, the way she turns her head in the run animation above seems kind of choppy compared to the rest of the animation)– but those details likely wouldn’t even be noticed in this project. Again, that magical downscaling trick hides any problems with the animations.

I’m really happy with the end result. The modular approach to animation saved me a HUGE amount of time, and going in to manually clean up the sprites ended up giving them that traditional-animation feel that I love so much. The blend of the techniques worked really well, and I think that I’ve succeeded when it comes to my goal of solid-yet-fluid animations for Symbiote‘s player character.

In future projects, when I’m not on such a strict deadline, I imagine that I can come up with some really cool stuff.

Thanks for reading. :)

Symbiote Game

Hey guys! I’ve been CRAZY busy the last month, busting my ass to make this game. This is my entry for the 2015 Indie Game Maker Contest. There’s more about the contest here on GameDevFort.

If you enjoy the game, consider voting for it! :)

So the game I’ve made is SYMBIOTE. It’s an adventure-platformer, but the best way to describe the game is to show the gameplay in action:

Here’s the deets:

  • The focus of the game is on the movement: tight, responsive controls allow for precise platforming.
  • Features hi-res, hand-drawn graphics and animations.
  • Put together the backstory from the crew’s recorded messages, or feel free to ignore the story to get on with the action.
  • Collect sparks from defeated foes to upgrade your max health.
  • For completionists, find the five artifacts hidden throughout the world.
  • Playable with gamepad or keyboard. Gamepad STRONGLY recommended.
  • Support for multiple resolutions.

You can check out the submission page on GameDevFort here: Submission Page

And if you just want to dive in and play it: Direct download


Man O War Beta

So I made a thing. Over the past week, I’ve been teaching myself to program (with the help of my friend Nate).

This is a little game that I’ve been working on. You might wanna check it out.


This thing is technically in a “beta” state. I don’t know yet exactly what I’m going to do with it. Prob just keep it as a free browser game. Maybe make a version for iphones or something, who knows.

The game is here. Click.

Feedback would be appreciated of course. Particularly about the level design. Thanks for playing. :)

Time Fantasy Preview

I’ve been working on a new style of RPG graphics for the past couple of months. Things are starting to really come together. You may have seen me share some WIP images on the FBB facebook page. Here’s the first large preview of my Time Fantasy graphical style.

First off, here’s just a small group of some of the character sprites. Maybe you can recognize a few of them. ;)

charsAnd here are some maps that I created using the tiles. This is a mining town that I created:

miningtownNext up, the interior of the mines. Crystal mines, of course. Notice how the side doorways are locked. The player would need the correctly-colored key to open those. Also, the wall in the center is climbable.


And an interior map. This one is a shop:

interiorLastly, the set won’t just include classic fantasy locations. We’re taking it to the stars! Check out this spaceship cockpit map that I put together:

cockpitThis set is still a few months away from being completed. I have big ambitions for this style. I want to make this pretty comprehensive and allow for a huge variety of locations, both sci-fi and fantasy. What you see here is only a small sample of the stuff that I’ve created so far, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

What I want from YOU is suggestions! Where do we go from here? What kind of locations should I make next? What areas are important inclusions for an RPG graphic style?

Share your suggestions and ideas in the comments, on the facebook page, or via email. Give me inspiration.

Thanks guys.