The Colour of Light

Apparently I wrote this blog when Flight of Light was launched way back in August 2017, but for some reason never published it. So here it is, looking back at one of the key aspects of the game’s evolution over its 3+ years development time!

Flight of Light was developed using an organic / evolutionary design method – At each stage of development, I took the work-in-progress game to a lot of different events and conventions. Allowing its design to be guided by feedback and suggestions from those who played it. During that process, one aspect of the game’s design came up time and again. In conversations with players, it’d usually go something like this:

“So, this game is all about matching colours?” Indeed. “Well actually, I’m colourblind. So how does that work for me….?”

base_protanopia

The above picture gives an approximate idea of how people with Protanopia – one of the most common types of colourblindness – see colours differently. About 1% of men are colourblind, with many more having some reduced range of colours they can easily distinguish between. So it made sense that when showing my game to 200 odd people over a weekend at a games convention, statistically at least, one player would be affected.

A quick search of the internet gives plenty of good advice and examples of how to adapt a game so that colourblind people are not at a disadvantage. However, due to the aforementioned organic game design method used for Flight of Light, once I started considering colourblindness, it actually had a deeper impact on the core game design itself.

The game as it is today

 As the game looks today

Flight of Light is a rhythm game in which players travel on rails along a rollercoaster-style track, shifting from side to side in order to hit coloured objects coming towards them on the track. The objects hit in-time to the music/beat, and the closer the player is to hitting the objects dead-centre, the more points and bigger the speed boost they get. (Think Audiosurf but with motion controls).

However, the game started off as something very different: Way back in the early stages of development, players would be given a colour that they would have to match, using a colour picker, within a time limit. The closer to the colour they where when the time ran out, the more points they earned. (In the picture below, the target colour is on the right. The bar on the left is the colour picker, with the white selector indicating the player’s current colour. The player would move the Wii Remote up and down to move the selector up and down the spectrum bar and so change their colour).

In the beginning

 In the beginning…

This was problematic, as for colourblind players, two different colours could look identical, with no way to tell which was the “correct” one. The immediate solution was to only use colours that were easily distinguishable (for the most common types of colourblindness). So rather than use the RGB rainbow colour spectrum – red to green to blue, and whatever was in between – the game could use any colours and simply blend between them. Purple to yellow to blue to red for example.

However, the blend in-between colours were often a problem: Half way between, say purple and yellow could look very similar to half way between yellow and blue. When the game randomly selected one of these in-between colours as the next target to match, it caused confusion for all players.

Next idea was to design one special colour palette by hand, where everyone, including colourblind people, could unambiguously tell the difference between all the colours on the chosen spectrum. It worked great from a technical point of view. Colourblind players could play just like anyone else!

You can see the results below. (By now the bar had evolved into a colour wheel and the target colour into coloured blocks on the rollercoaster track):

Protanopia colour scheme

 Mustard blue and greyish-yellow.

Trouble was, colourblind players wanted to play the same game as everyone else. They didn’t want to be forced to play the “special” palette, as it just highlighted their disability, rather than taking it out of the equation. Moreover, colour-blind or not, people found the scheme I’d chosen downright ugly!

This became the catalyst for a series of design changes. Firstly, I flipped round how the colours the players were asked to match were selected by the game. Previously the game would have 3 or 5 colours, blend them together into a spectrum, then pick a random point along that spectrum.

Instead, the colours the players would have to match would only ever be the 3 or 5 or 8 pre-determined base colours, rather than the in-between colours.

Initially, to keep the game challenging, and still use the continuous range of input from the Wii Remotes, the colour spectrum was retained, now as a colour wheel the player rotated around their avatar. However, the game continued to evolve. The blocks were replaced by coloured segments pointing to where they were on the colour wheel around the player (see below). And from there, the colour wheel was itself replaced, with the player’s avatar moving side to side to physically hit the coloured blocks.

Evolution of the game's UI

 Evolving the game

The game still has its issues: Players can customise the colours before a game, and each coloured object has a unique pattern to help distinguish it. But some of the default colour choices aren’t the easiest to tell apart, especially on hard mode, where there are 8 different colours in total.

Flight of Light had many different, quite separate influences. But undoubtedly it’s course was altered in no small part by considering the needs of colourblind players.

Kickstarter Launch!

We’re raising funds for Flight of Light’s soundtrack over on Kickstarter! The money will be used to pay a number of different musicians to compose the game’s soundtrack. If all goes to plan, there’ll be four musicians creating two pieces of music each to fit the game’s initial nine levels. (The ninth music track has already been composed by freelance musician Lawrence Shahid, which you can listen to in the trailer above!)

For the next month, we’ll be putting out updates on how the kickstarter is progressing alongside the usual dev diaries and updates on the game’s progress.

Shiny Circles

Upgrading Flight of Light’s graphics had major and unexpected effects on the game’s playability

Previously, most of the game’s art was cobbled together placeholder assets, many of which had gone through multiple iterations of gameplay alterations, to the point where they no longer made sense or didn’t fit with everything else. That was fine for when the game was constantly changing. With the game’s recent change of direction, it also became clear the game’s graphics needed a major overhaul. However, having swapped out the old assets for shiny new ones, it quickly became apparent that the playability of the game had been impacted far beyond what we expected.

The biggest change came from trying to give the player a sense of speed. Pulling back the camera and widening the field of view as the player’s speed was boosted gave a great sense of acceleration. However it left the actual playable area of the game confined to a tiny portion of the screen.

The first instinct was to simply make the notes larger, so they could be seen from a greater distance. This worked, but the extra-large notes would frequently clip through the new scenery. The scenery also needed to be relatively close to the track to help with the sense of speed – trees and rock faces rushing past the player at close quarters.

Reducing the amount of camera shifting,combined with a slight increase in note size made the game much easier to play. No more squinting into the screen to try and make out the tiny notes in the centre. However, that really killed the sense of speed.

Actually increasing the speed (as opposed to simply the illusion of speed) helped, but also brought problems of its own. If corners were too tight, it would cause sudden jarring changes in direction. The notes would travel along the track so fast that the player would barely have any time to react. In the next blog, I’ll detail more about the process of re-making the track and forest level to fix that.

Adding in the new spaceship model also threw up unexpected issues. Being far bigger and, more importantly, wider, than the old placeholder model meant players would often think they had just clipped the edge of a note, only for the game to tell them they had missed. The game doesn’t use physics to calculate the collision of notes with the ship, but rather relies on timings, and on knowing what angle the ship is at versus the angle of the note.If the difference between the two angles is too great, the game will take that as a miss, regardless of what model is being used and how things may appear to the player.

Making the angle range within which the game recognised a hit had the knock-on effect of making the game that much easier. However, we’d noticed already that the effects used to show the player they had missed were already on the extreme side. Violent screenshake and asudden slowdown that really made players feel they were being punished harshly. We’re currently working on a way to make those effects more of a sliding scale, so that a small, occasional miss will still be noticeable to players, but not completely kill the flow of the game.

In the end, it’s been a combination of changes and small compromises in different areas made a huge improvement to the game’s feel and ease of play. And also a lesson learned about just how clousely coupled graphics and gameplay can be.

Change of Direction

Back in May, we pitched Flight of Light to a number of potential investors. However, none of them were particularly interested in the game. A disappointing experience, but on reflection came the realisation the game lacked focus. It felt schizophrenic, two competing personalities and styles, neither of which was really fulfilling its potential.

We decided to redirect attention towards the futuristic neon racer side of the game. The simple reason that it was the closer of the two to being finished. It’s also much more technically within reach to make a really good job of it. I initially spent a number of days trying to improve the algorithm for the unfolding triangles on the Autumn level. So that it could unfold into any given shape, allowing for a whole landscape to unfold in-front of the player. Sadly, it was just beyond my capabilities, and left me banging my head against the wall, going nowhere fast.

Flight_of_Light_byCrystalline_Green_neon_1_720p(from this..)

We’ve also had issues for years with trying to illustrate how Flight of Light is played through video. Incremental changes are slowly making it easier to learn the game without instruction. That’s having a positive knock-on effect that it’s also easier to work out what is going on just from watching the game. However, even if it’s still a little hard to work out precisely what the game is all about, if it looks good, that at least encourages people to want to find out more about it.

Graphics really do matter, especially when selling a game, and it’s easier to create a futuristic racing game than an artsy, low-poly procedural musical experience. Furthermore, the audience for the former is arguably larger and easier to reach with the sorts of tools available to low-budget independent developers like us.

Flight_of_Light_screenshot_09

(to this…)

The aim is now to release version one of the the game by end of January 2017 (or thereabouts). That will then provide a platform from which the game can potentially be expanded to include different styles and new modes of play.

Fly Faster – FoL Update

We’ve produced a short teaser trailer for Flight of Light. This shows the latest gameplay and much improved graphics. We’ve also updated the Flight of Light website and presskit with new screenshots and information about the game:

We’ll be going into more detail on how the game has changed in future blogs and videos over the next couple of months.