10 November 2013

Burning Horizon

Last Update: Nov 2013
Whats all this about? A horizontal shooter made together with @arcanetower for the gbjam held between 1 - 10 November 2013

Burning Horizon was our entry for the Game Boy Jam held between the 1st and the 10th of November 2013. We had bit of a slow start as we decided to join on the 3rd but had good progress during the week. We aimed for something simple that could be made in a week. Even though I knew we had such a limited time (total of 5 week days and a Saturday) I guess I'm real ambitious when it comes to designing games so things quickly went out of control and I may have missed the deadline completely trying to implement this and that if I was working on it by myself.

The finished version was a playable shooter with a couple of levels but we had tons of visual and conceptual assets left out due to time restrains. The current state feels something between a game and a tech demo but maybe someday we can decide to include the missing bits and turn Burning Horizon into a more complete game.

You can Download the GBjam version HERE 


1 - Concepts
2 - Art Direction
3 - Story & Stages
4 - Difficulty & Replay value
5 - Unused stuff
6 - Conclusion


Below are some concepts for various ideas we went through before we started things.

We spent around a day or two figuring out how basic mechanics were to play out. I wanted the game to scroll both ways so there could have been a single level with a couple of story based missions to complete (like rescue 20 prisoners, return them to a safe place, destroy the generator on the most right part to disable an energy field to gain access to the most left part of the map etc) and it would have made the game feel like a 5 minute adventure on a sandbox-ish map but unfortunately time constrains didnt allow us to take that path.   

Art Direction

Game boy has a very limited palette. You get a total of 4 colours and one of these usually goes to the borders of objects to make things pop up from the background. I picked brown because it seems to be easier on the eyes compared to the classic green and grey feels a little soulless, probably better for a "fantasy castle" or "stone ruins" sort of setting. 

I don't like busy backgrounds in games using limited palettes, so I went for a single colour background and instead of decorating it with images, I left it blank. This allowed me to add tiny details to foreground objects such as explosions, missile and jet engine trails, crumbling bits of pixels and fumes from burning structures to decorate the screen. These add dynamism to the game instead of a cool but static image. Single colour background also allowed the bullets to look crisp without much distraction with the aid of flashing.

With such a limited palette, small sprites and low pixel art skills, I had to go for a simple shading style. I'm not such a huge fan of adding gradient shading everywhere so i tried to keep it minimal and mostly used single colour shading.

I was sick of the over used "state of art ship fighting against hordes of aliens" theme so I tried to focus on a modern future warfare setting.

Story & Stages

Initially the story was planned to be told in the main menu screen but the idea was scrapped later on due to the limited time we had.

Friendly jets patrol the skies, entering the screen every 5 seconds and the admiral is fishing in the calm sees. When the player presses start, the title disappears and menu appears at its place. Once the player starts the game, menu disappears and suddenly a pillar of light falls on the ship, destroying the planes and the ship as the admiral falls into the see (oh nooo!!) but the player craft manages to take off just in time and starts flying towards the right. So you get a menu / splash / title and story using the same sprites :)

The player was to blast through the enemy lands and reach the enemies battleship that would be responsible for the ion cannon assault, sink the ship and take revenge.

The stages in our release had no themes. Its just the same road again and again with different patterns of enemies and structures. I would have preferred something that followed a theme such as the player managing to escape the enemies ion cannon assault and moving towards the enemy territory in the following order;

1) Beach (with enemy tents and bunkers, maybe couple of basic defence)
2) Urban and industrial area (with tons of structures and factories on the ground)
4) Enemy base (tons of ground and air defences)
5) Naval yards (with ships and other naval anti air units)
6) Battleship boss fight

Again we had more or less everything required to add these... Everything but time :)

Difficulty and Replay Value

The Version we did for GBjam had a few levels so the idea was to challenge the player as much as possible and Peter did a good job on that as the first few test versions had 3 lives and swarms of bullets to avoid, making things pretty hardcore. Later on the difficulty was lowered, lives were increased and extra lives were made easier to acquire in order to make it more friendly for the average gamer.

Ideally if one day we ever have the luxury of implementing more levels I would prefer something that starts from extremely simple and ends as hard as possible. Players need a few short levels to get used to the controls and game mechanics. Each level can get harder, allowing the players to master their skills, ending the game with a hectic bullet festival. 

The game is rather short, a player can finish the game in 5-10 minutes without dying and is not really re-playable once finished. The only reason to play again would be to achieve a higher score. This could have been easily fixed by adding different weapons, pick-ups, achievements and boss fights etc. But again we had to leave them all out due to time issues.

Unused Stuff 

Stuff below were intended to be added to the game but were left out due to time restrains or various other reasons.

Player sprites for various weapon upgrades... Only the first two were used. other pick-ups could have been bonus points, shields, extra lives etc.

Various ground structures and other stuff to decorate the ground levels of each stage. Cow's were meant to give extra bonus when you bombed them. 

Destroying flying units was supposed to produce particles that fell in a similar way to pilots. Fumes were to rise from damaged buildings.

And here is the enemy battleship that was responsible of sinking the carrier. The Players were to avoid tons of bullets and ion cannon blasts, take out its ion cannon units one by one and finally land a killer blow on the rockets towards the far right of the screen to cause a chain of explosions sink it...


It was fun working together with Arcnetower to get all this stuff done in a week. I just wish we could have polished the final product a little bit more into something with more replay value where people could come back every now and then when they needed five minute breaks.