New Game! The Herbal Spice Problem# 1 Nov 2018 by Cal
The Herbal Spice Problem
Dying for a cup of tea
Long time no post, I know. This one’s mostly an announcement thingie! Last week (was it last week? oh gosh) I published a new PICO-8 game, The Herbal Spice Problem, which I made in conjunction with fluffy.
The teal-deer: The game is a puzzle game masquerading as a parody survival platformer. You’ve crash-landed on an alien planet and you really, really need a cup of tea. Explore the randomly-generated maps to find plants to brew, before time runs out.
The initial idea for the game was all fluffy, actually, spinning off a riff of a box of tea she saw at the store. I got really excited about the idea and fluffy said she probably wouldn’t be able to make it herself for a while, so I asked if I could! I did the art and the coding, fluffy did all the sfx and the music. Which is available for listening and purchase on her bandcamp page.
It was great fun to make, even if I did finish it 98% of the way, then shelve it and forget about it for several months before publishing it… oops. There were a lot of things involved in coding this game that I hadn’t done before in any game work, let alone in the resource-limited PICO-8, which made it also a good learning experience. The map terrain, for example. I didn’t want to have to draw out the whole map: that was a pain, and also made for a boring replay experience in a game where you’re expected to die and start over several times before you manage to win. So, instead, I built “screens” of maps: 16x16 tile blocks, since it is exclusively a sidescroller (there is no up or down camera movement, just left and right), and when you start a game, it randomly selects blocks and places them next to each other until the map is wide enough.
The first time I got myself stuck halfway across the map from my ship due to the game placing two blocks next to each other that had more of a height difference than my double jump could handle was pretty embarrassing…
Another fun thing I learned was drawing the grass! This is also where I wound up generating the actual game-play plants, once I figured it out. Flat ground tiles just looked boring, you know? But you can’t layer sprites on top of each other for the map… So after the game picks and places the map blocks, I had it run through all of the map tiles (yes, all of them), look to see if any of them were ground surface tiles, and place a randomized grass sprite in the box right above it. I also had a chance selector for whether a potential-tea-plant would grow in that spot, and then an entirely separate chance table for which plant grows.
My favorite part of making the game, though, was definitely the artwork. I put a lot of thought into how to use the limited color palette and the shapes of the plants, and it seems to have paid off, from the positive responses to the look of it! Working with a super-limited palette is always a challenge. In this case, I wanted the alien planet to have a distinct color palette both from an Earthlike environment, and from the player. And the player needed to be colored so that they were easily tracked while moving. So I went with the vivid colors for the player and the more pastel for the terrain, leaving me with the great red-green look for the player and the ship, and the pleasantly alien pink/pale blue for the terrain.
The plants, I wanted to look like plants, but also not look like real plants for the most part, which was mostly a process of scribbling down pixels until I liked the look of it and then cleaning it up. (I also did mushroom trees, because I love mushroom trees.)