I’ve now made enough of Heat Signature to be fairly sure of what it is, which means a) here’s a new trailer!
And b) I’m ready to start looking for an artist and a composer to work with!
Update: the deadline has passed and applications are now closed! We got a lot! More as I sort through them.
I’d like to do it the same way I did for Gunpoint, with Open Submissions. That means anyone can send in a sample of what they can do, and I’ll pick the best artist and the best composer based on that. In this post I’ll explain loads about what we’re looking for, but the highlights are:
✓ No experience required!
✓ Work from anywhere!
✓ Flexible hours!
✓ Game already works!
✓ Application deadline: [EXPIRED!]
You can see what the game is really about in the trailer above, and I’m adding lots more systems to make on-board stuff more intricate and full of interesting possibilities. But for the purposes of this post, I’ll try to give a bit more context.
It’ll be set in a region of space prohibitively far from any planets, hidden from long range sensors by colourful vapour clouds, and dotted with dozens of space stations. Being so remote, cults, corporations and gangs fight freely over control of these stations, and form uneasy alliances to get what they need to survive. In the game, you’ll hopefully be able to zoom out and see a sort of galaxy map of all these stations and who owns them.
Each time you start the game, you’re playing as a different person – their location and the faction they belong to might even be chosen at random. They take on missions like the ones in the video to harm other factions, help their own survive, or in some cases maybe just for money. The galaxy is persistent, so anything you do achieve will change it for your future lives. I have plans for how that works, but I won’t go into them too much till I’ve had time to try them out.
Death is permanent, though as you’ll see in the video, there are ways to avoid it. If you want to stop playing or try a new character but haven’t died yet, you’ll be able to let your current character rest at a station until you want to play as them again. There will probably be some manner of written stories that you can stumble across out in space, but again, I won’t go into my plans for that too much until I’ve had a chance to see what works well in this context.
I like to do it this way because it means:
- People get judged by their ability
- It gives first-timers a chance, breaking the old Catch-22 of “You need experience to get work, and you need work to get experience”
- I can find the person whose talents best suit this game in particular
- It means I don’t have to restrict my game ideas to ones that suit the skills of a pre-existing team
- It means I’m always working with people who are excited about this particular game
Gunpoint’s main artist John had never done pixel art before. The other, Fabian, was a game design student. All six of us had other jobs or responsibilities. But it’s hard to imagine that game looking or sounding better.
I’ve also been on the submitter side of it, for short stories, and it gave me the opportunity to get my first piece of fiction published without any connections in that world.
- Absolutely anyone who meets the basic practical considerations (below).
- You can be anywhere in the world.
- No experience required.
- Work whatever hours you like – look at the workload and time frame below and decide for yourself.
If you want to apply, all I need to see is a sample of your work that would be appropriate for this game.
- It’s fine to send in something you made for something else. Bear in mind I’m not a clever man, though, so if it’s very different I might have a hard time guessing how good you’d be for the style Heat Sig needs.
- If you do make a sample, don’t spend too long on it. We had 34 artists apply to work on Gunpoint, so 32 of them did not end up working on it. Personally, I only apply to an open submissions thing if I want to make the thing for fun anyway.
- Don’t do anything until you’ve read all of this post! There are specific requirements.
- Tell me how long your sample took you. Be honest, obviously – I’m not prioritising speed, I’m just checking viability.
- If people are up for it, I could do a post showing off the best submissions – let me know in your e-mail if you’d be OK to be included in that. Fine if you’d rather keep it private.
As you’ll see in the video, your time in Heat Signature is split about half and half between flying through space and sneaking through the corridors of spaceships. You usually only spend 30 seconds to a minute in each mode, sometimes even less, so we can’t have the music change every time you dock. But the tension in the game does vary wildly, from serene space travel, to fleeing a missile lock, to hiding in a corner and praying a guard won’t turn round, to sudden outbursts of lethal violence.
I’m open to suggestions as to how to handle this, but my current thinking is that each track could have two layers:
- A serene, beautiful layer that we ramp up as you spend time jetting around peacefully or in empty ships, then fade out when there’s danger.
- A tense layer that we ramp up when you’re in danger, whether that’s in space or inside a ship, then we fade this out once the danger is passed.
And that would be one track. The tracks themselves could be tied to regions of space, or we could just shuffle them.
I had some luck in Floating Point with writing an algorithm that controlled music volume according to a constantly changing level of ‘coolness’ of your performance. I found that it feels good for music to be responding to what you’re doing, but the change has to be more gradual than the variable it’s responding to, or it’s jarring and annoying. I could easily track a danger variable in Heat Signature and have individual music layer volumes respond to a smoothed out version of that.
For peaceful music, I love slow, expansive stuff that conjours the majesty of space. Like this:
As a general track, which could probably be taken in a ‘tense’ or a ‘peaceful’ direction, I like this one from the EVE soundtrack:
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If you’re making a sample:
- If you’re able to have a go at both ‘tension’ and ‘peaceful’ music, that’d be great.
- You don’t have to include the transition or try to get them to work together at this stage.
- No need to make a whole track, 30s to 1m of each would be plenty, or whatever you feel you need.
- If you want to try something completely different to what I’m suggesting, go ahead!
- If you want to try scoring an actual part of the video above, feel free – you have my permission to edit and distribute that video however you like for this purpose, as long as it’s clear where it came from.
I’m looking for someone to do all the art in the game, which I’ll break down below. But first an important note:
Everything in Heat Signature will get rotated and stretched by Game Maker as it spins through space and we zoom in and out. There’s some built-in anti-aliasing to this, so any per-pixel crispness will get blurred (it’s possible to disable this, but then rotating and scaling mess up fine detail even more). With apologies to John Roberts, this is what it would look like if we tried to use Conway’s sprite from Gunpoint as the player’s ship in Heat Signature:
That is a screenshot. I actually did this.
All this means is: avoid intentionally jagged diagonals or anything where the placement and clarity of individual pixels is critical.
Beyond that, the only styles I’m pretty sure I don’t want are ‘comical’ or ‘abstract’.
The art we’ll need includes:
Heat Signature is set in a region of space dominated by colourful gas clouds. These are huge, you’d never see a whole one on screen, so in practice it’s more like each region of space will have a different background colour. I’d like some regions of darkness, but as you’ll see from the reference pics below I mostly want space to be colourful.
I might have a ‘burn colour’ for these gas clouds, also randomly selected, that would flare up around your ship when you’re hot. So if you’re thrusting through a green cloud, you might see the gas you’re cutting through burning red. You know that bit in the Voyager titles?
Here are some pictures of space that I find exciting. Sorry that only some of them are credited, my sources for the others were imgur links with no attribution or info.
This one’s from somewhere called StarArmy I guess!
It seems like most of these involve:
- A strong colour, usually fading into another or into darkness. Not sure how we do this, maybe when you’re in a gas-cloud-region it’s a blank background colour, and when you’re moving between them we use a giant gradient sprite that passes slowly until you’re fully in the different colour.
- Some kind of texture or patterning, sometimes like cloud, can be very faint. We could do this with a tiled sprite we layer over transparently.
- Bright pinprick stars. I think these’ll need to be individual sprites that we move and place in code, as they are right now. They’re not actual stars, since those wouldn’t parallax noticeably, so we’ll say they’re space stations.
As ever, open to totally different approaches if you have something you think will work. For a sample, I don’t need to know what the individual layers are, I’m only interested in the overall look.
A ship module is currently 256×256 pixels – you can stray from that, but not too drastically. Anything solid needs to have dimensions that are multiples of 32: that’s how big one unit is on the collision grid. That means the thinnest wall has to be 32 thick, and a person should fit inside a 32×32 square. Currently, interior rooms are 6 units across and doorways and corridors are 2 units wide. Click this for a full-size guide:
Ships are made of square modules, as you’ve hopefully noticed, and the sprites for these are light greyscale, then the game colours them with the ship’s randomly chosen colour. The way that mask works is that pure white in the sprite becomes the colour of the mask, so overall the sprite gets darker, and the luminance of the mask colour is the max luminance of what you see (i.e. white is impossible). What we can do, though, is layer another sprite on top of that that’s independent of the ship’s colour, for any glowing lights or features that should be the same on all ships.
The different modules a ship might have are:
- Standard: no functional significance, so can look plain from the outside. Could be identical to each other, doesn’t matter if they’re not, as long as they don’t look like they ‘do’ something.
- Missile turret: gun part turns to track whatever it’s shooting at.
- Thruster: thruster part turns away from the direction the ship’s travelling, emits a visible thrust whose length is proportional to acceleration.
- Bridge: the most crucial module – if it’s destroyed, the ship is effectively brain dead. On larger ships, it’s set one module back from the front, to protect it. Needs to really stand out from the other modules even zoomed out, because it’s life or death whether this module is still intact.
- Probably a Defense module, that’d shoot down incoming missiles.
- Maybe a couple of other module types, if more prove necessary.
The modules that do stuff will obviously have the controls or workings inside: a seated gunner for Turret modules, a fuel canister plugged into some apparatus for a Thruster module.
I’d like the rest of the rooms to give a sense of the ship as a real place where people live. Some of these ships will be fighters, others transports, others scouting vessels, but almost all of them will be designed for people to spend more than a day on. So the Standard modules might contain:
- Mess hall
- Food garden
- Space bathrooms
- Cargo storage
However! They also need to be massively reusable. Every bit of art will be reused hundreds of times on different ships, so if there’s a plate on the floor and some food spilled next to it, it’s gonna look odd to keep seeing that exact same mess in different places.
Depending on time, it might be nice to have an alternate set of these to distinguish between old, functional rustbuckets and shinier, more expensive new ships. Not vital though.
I don’t know much about what these will be like yet, but I’m happy for them to be mostly made out of ship modules. They won’t be bustling with people, but we might want a few civvies sitting at cafes or bars.
The tiny personal ship you fly around in. It will end up being longer and thinner than what’s in there now – the interior will need to be 64 pixels wide and 96 long.
You’ll be playing a different person each time you start a new game, so it’d be cool to be able to cobble different-looking characters together from component parts. But I don’t know a) how much work that is, b) how much variety you can show at this scale from this perspective. Interested in your thoughts and ideas.
As a guide to the game’s scale in pixels, here’s the current player sprite:
We can vary a little from that.
Animations will include:
- Sneaking quickly
- Pouncing on an enemy at short range and knocking them out
- Sitting in a seat using controls
- Shooting a rifle
- Walking while aiming (in independent directions)
- Getting non-fatally shot
- Remote-controlling your ship
- Adrift in space, unconscious
- Adrift in space, shooting your gun
- Adrift in space, remote controlling your ship
- Carrying a body
- Carrying a fuel barrel
- All the rifle-related animations but with a pistol (held in both hands)
Guards: who patrol the corridors of the ships, with rifles and sometimes pistols, and sit in any pilot seats. For animations, they’ll need:
- Shooting a rifle
- Shooting a pistol
- Getting fatally shot
- Getting knocked out
- Adrift in space, unconscious (they could maybe thrash a while before they pass out)
- Sitting in a seat using controls
- Possibly either surrendering or punching (if they’re caught unarmed)
As mentioned, we may want a few people sitting around in space stations.
May want a ‘Heavy’ guard type who’s resistant to conventional attacks, to encourage interesting ways of dealing with them.
It’d be good to be able to colour guards with the ship’s random colour, through the mask system mentioned earlier. Individual variety would be nice if it’s easy, but not essential.
Missile, explosion and impact effects.
Lots more stuff I’m forgetting or failing to foresee. As you can probably tell, I like to keep a game to as few unique elements as possible, and then only add variety if it really needs it.
I’ll design the UI, in terms of what goes where and how it functions, but I’ll probably ask for your help in snazzing it up once it’s in place.
If you’re making a sample:
Something that shows a bit of space, a spaceship interior, and a person doing something would be awesome.
This is contract job for one game, not a permanent position.
Cut-off for applications will be 23:59.59 UK time on the 22nd of August. From there, it might take me till sometime in September to figure out who to go with for both positions.
I’d like to get all the art and music in the space of about four months after that. That’s not when the game will be done, it’s just when I’d like that side of things in good shape.
As always with games, though, any part of it could run much longer than expected. I’ll be paying you for however long it takes. If there’s anything in your future that’ll mean “I have to stop working on it by then”, let me know when you apply – it may not be a dealbreaker.
- You’ll be paid by the hour, and it’s up to you when and how much to work. I’ll trust you to keep track of your hours.
- If it’s taking a large number of hours to produce a small amount of work, I’ll give you a heads up that we might be approaching “I can’t afford to employ you” territory.
- Tell me when you apply what a fair rate would be – I have no experience with this.
- I won’t pay you less than I think is fair, even if you ask for it.
- If the game does as well as Gunpoint in its first month, and you saw your part of it through to completion, I’ll add a percentage bonus onto everything I’ve paid you.
- If that happens and you were particularly great about replying to e-mails, making changes, getting stuff done roughly on time etc, I’ll add an extra bonus on to reflect that.
You’re probably not in Bath, England, which is fine. We’ll communicate mainly by e-mail, so that any feedback/guidance is there for you to refer to, and I have time to articulate what we need as clearly as I can. If you also wanna Skype sometimes I’m up for that.
I will definitely ask you for changes to your work, regularly. Absolutely nothing to do with talent. If Leonardo da Vinci submitted the Mona Lisa, I’d say “Sorry, but for gameplay reasons the smile needs to be readable on low detail settings at wide zoom levels or players might mistake her for hostile. Can you make it a bit more pronounced?”
Even if you’re better than him, and a telepath, I will still be asking for changes. If you’re at all precious about your work or don’t like being told what to do, don’t apply. I need to be able to ask for this stuff without feeling like I’m asking for favours, or the game will suffer.
- You need to be at least 18
- You need to be legally able to sign contracts for yourself
- You need a bank account I can send money to from England (don’t know of any exceptions to this, I currently pay to US, Chile and the Netherlands)
- You must be the full legal owner of the work you supply – if you’re under employment or contract with anyone else, check they don’t own work you do in off hours. Many do. If they do, you can often get an exemption by asking, but obviously we’d need that in writing direct from your employer before engaging you. It’s fine if you’d like to wait to see if you’re selected before asking, but do mention it in your submission.
How to submit:
Alas, it is too late! As mentioned at the top, the deadline has now passed.