Mysterious Space 0.9.5 release, and other dev news

I’ve finally released a new version of Mysterious Space – 0.9.5 – which introduces ENDLESS MODE. you can read about that here, but I thought I’d also take a moment to talk about my other projects, which are in varying stages of development.

Space Man (working title)

a Mega Man-like I started a few months ago. I made a TON of progress, but haven’t worked on it much at all this last month or so. I’ve given the source code to a couple friends, and they’ve been playing with it on and off, as time has permitted them. perhaps some collaboration will happen there, later, I don’t know. it’s something I put a lot of work into, and I’d hate to see it go to waste, but there’s a lot of other things I’m interested in working on, too, so… we’ll see…

Not PsyPets (working title)

in 2004 I started a browser-based game called PsyPets. I’ve probably rambled about it before, so I won’t say much about it again, except that it was created about the time that other browser games like Kingdom of Loathing and Gaia Online were starting up, which may give you a sort of an idea about the kind of game PsyPets is.

anyway, several years ago I gave the game to another developer, but it’s a game that’s always on some part of my mind. “Not PsyPets” is a mobile-first re-imagining of PsyPets that I’ve been poking at on and off. PsyPets is something which will always be special to me; “Not PsyPets” is definitely something I’d like to give more time to.

Game of Choices (working title)

this is a game I never expected to grab my attention in the way it has. which isn’t to say that it’s got me super-excited – it hasn’t, quite? – but something about it compels me to work on it for a week every couple of months.

it’s a text-only game that I guess you could say is inspired by Oregon Trail and simulationist roguelikes: you travel in a straight line toward a goal with a small group of characters across a procedurally-generated fantasy world in which all kinds of things – mostly bad – might happen to you. this isn’t a new idea, of course, but it’s still fun to work on from time to time. and there’s something about playing a game in a DOS window… I dunno… I like it😛

And That’s It

those are the bits of code and ideas that I’ve been working on this last year or so.

I’m definitely going to continue developing and supporting Mysterious Space, but I’m also always going to work on other little projects on the side. whether any of them are things you’ll see on, or Steam, or anywhere else, I don’t know; I’ll definitely let you know about any interesting progress I may make on them, though!

thanks for reading🙂

Roguelike Radio 124: Shoot Em Ups

a monthish ago, three makers of roguelike shoot ’em ups were interviewed on the Roguelike Radio broadcast: me, James Whitehead (Really Big Sky), and Chris Park (Starward Rogue). that episode has finally been released!

we talk about what inspired us to make such strange games in the first place, thoughts on bullet hell, different types of in-game abilities and how they affect game-play, and other things.

my own take on a Mega Man-like

space man level design

the hardest part about making a 2D platformer is LEVEL DESIGN. at least for me. thinking back on it, it’s not a skill I’ve practiced much, which seems kind of weird for someone who likes to make games!

Mysterious Space features procedurally-generated levels (there’s some design there for sure, but it’s very different); PsyPets doesn’t have levels at all; I’ve done a few little things in RPG Maker, but that’s a very different kind of level design. as a kid I drew Mario and Mega Man levels on graph paper, but I was never able to actually implement, play, and test them.

so I’ve been reading up on platformer level design online, and have been learning a lot of good stuff…

but before I talk about that (and the picture above), maybe I should talk about what the hell I’m doing, because it clearly isn’t Mysterious Space! >_>

basically, after playing Mighty no. 9 and being kind of disappointed by it, I thought I’d try my own hand at a Mega Man-like game. I’ve been spending this month playing through bits of the original NES Mega Man games and taking notes on the enemy design, reading articles on level design (including this one, amazing, crazy-detailed analyses on the level design in Super Mario World), and of course actually coding the game. I was able to copy a ton of code from Mysterious Space, but the game physics of Mysterious Space are very different, so there’s a lot of basic stuff I’ve had to do from scratch as well.

besides borrowing code, though, I’m also borrowing some other things. to start, the premise of the game is that – on your way home – your ship has been affected my a mysterious force, draining your fuel, and so, in order to get home, you must visit a nearby planet and find three fuel. besides ripping story/universe concepts from Mysterious Space, I’ll also be ripping some enemy designs and other graphics (trees!)

but let’s talk about the level design! it’s something I’ve been reading about a lot recently, and super-interested in.

this is your ship, and where the game begins, and the only “level” I’ve put any design thought into so far:

space man level design

you start in your room (or should I say “your quarters” to sound more Star Treky? :P) in the top center of the ship, with an obvious exit – the ladder- but screw that. let’s talk about…

and : we’ve got some flashing things behind some grates in what you won’t even believe for a second to be inaccessible areas. there’s obvious paths through the “solid” parts of the ship that connect those areas to the rest of the ship, including the very room you start in. my hope is that this accomplishes two things:

  1. informs the player “there are ‘secret’ things, and walls you can go through”
  2. informs the player “this is what a collectible thing looks like”

it’s not clear from the screenshot, but the yellow diamonds and the little box in the lower-right have blinking outlines. blinking outlines are the game’s “you can collect this” signal, and I want that to be taught from the beginning. (I’ve seen many new Mysterious Space players be frightened of the gently-moving white pick-up boxes. and in fairness, there’s nothing that really makes it clear that they can be picked up! well, until I added the “GET” text that flashes above them when you first see one, but I wanted to avoid relying on reading as much as possible this time around.)

I might even put a diamond in an easily-accessible part of the ship, JUST TO MAKE SURE.

: on the other side of this gap (which is patrolled by a platform that moves up and down at regular intervals) there’s a glass chamber with a gray arrow bein’ all like “GO HERE”. for the player, clear SOMETHING will happen if you go there, even if it isn’t clear yet, but important, you HAVE to jump in order to get there. the elevator platform doesn’t go much higher than the position seen in the screenshot.

now if this were a console game where a controller was your only option, I’d be happy to leave it at that. but I definitely want to support keyboard, and on the keyboard you’ve got, like, what, 3 billion keys? AND SO: the red “⇑ Shift” text instruction is apparently printed into the hull of your ship to remind its human operators how to jump. (p.s. sorry I relied on reading so soon after saying I didn’t want to >_>)

finally, seeing the letter “z” on its own probably wouldn’t mean anything to the player if it were there on its own, but paired with some red text which is obviously referring to a key on your keyboard, and which has given you some helpful instruction, I’m fairly confident the player will realize that “z” means “try pressing that letter on your keyboard”. pressing “z” fires your weapon, and while there’s nothing to shoot here on the ship, that glass chamber is a teleporter, and whichever level you choose, you can be sure that firing your weapon (and jumping, which you also had to learn in order to get here) is going to be important!

but are these lessons effective?

I have showed this level to precisely one friend. I learned that she’s so used to WASD, that the idea of the arrow keys moving her character did not occur to her >_> BUT ALSO: I learned that the “⇑ Shift” and “z” instructions worked precisely as planned, so that’s good😛

but again: this was only one user. and one who has played many games. more testing is definitely in order.

finally, there’s the .

space man level design

: this is the ship’s engine/fuel room. it won’t begin with that blue crystal slotted in, and so a new player might not understand what they’re even looking at when they see it, and that’s mostly fine. I definitely want to improve the graphics somewhat, to really show “HEY. THREE THINGS ARE MISSING HERE.” but even without that, this room’s purpose will become clear once you’ve collected your first fuel. the fuel will be slotted in, as we see here, with an… energy… line… or something, all blinking and stuff. it’s obviously important, and obviously asks that two more of its kind be found. WHAT WILL HAPPEN ONCE ALL ARE COLLECTED?! surly you will not be satisfied until you’ve discover the answer to that question. (spoiler: you’ll win the game!)

I have created another level of sorts, but it’s mostly just a place for me to test the things I’m coding; no real design thought has gone into it, so there’s not much to say about it right now.

however, I’ll be posting again, for sure!

I think my next big focus is going to be on enemy design and placement, as it’s a super-important aspect of level design that I have not explored much yet.

thanks for reading!

Mighty no. 9

I backed Mighty no. 9 when it was in Kickstarter, because… of course I did! I love the Mega Man games, and Mighty no. 9 promised to be “Mega Man, except not, but only for legal reasons,” and I’m 100% down with that😛

and from what I’ve played of it, it has totally lived up to that promise! but perhaps… too much so? Mighty no. 9 has been getting mixed reviews, and from what I’ve seen, it totally deserves them: the game is retro in a lot of good ways, but also in some important BAD ways.

I’d like to break some of that down, think about why Mega Man – and faithful clones – don’t work alongside modern games, and try to come up with a couple possible fixes for the genre.

all the complaints I’ve seen online seem to boil down to the antiquated “lives” system of Mighty no. 9. sometimes there are complaints about instant-death spikes, or other hazards, but those are not the real issue – no one’s pissed about the pits in Mario games – the real issue, in my mind, is that these are coupled with the lives system.

and to be fair, a limited number of lives is not inherently a bad thing, either! (but then, I suppose I’d have to say that, since Mysterious Space – as a roguelike – is a one-life game :P)

but no, look: some games – like Roguelikes/Roguelites, and the Civilization games – dull the pain of a single life by making every game feel unique: the initial conditions are different, the maps are randomly generated, you can make game-changing choices during the course of the game, etc. the game is saying: “if you die, yes, you lose a lot of progress, but you’ll be playing a different game next time, so it won’t be a total slog.”

others – like Super Meat Boy – give constant checkpoints, and let you get straight back in the action without delay. “if you die, no biggie: you lost, like, 10 seconds of progress. and it took you 0 seconds to try again.”

some games even go so far as to do both of the above (endless runners), or lie somewhere in between (RTSes, maybe? I’m having trouble thinking of a good example here), making a sort of spectrum of “uniqueness of each play vs. quickness of each play”.

maybe we could add another dimension to this spectrum: number of lives! and so we might think: “we can give the player more lives – let’s say three – and in exchange…” wait… “make the game more of a slog after they’ve lost all three?”

hm… maybe this hasn’t really solved the issue after all…

yet this is how the original Mega Man games play out: the levels aren’t THAT long, but they’re ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE longer than a Super Meat Boy level, and there’s no new gameplay to explore by replaying a level. (okay: sometimes there’s a LITTLE; more on this later.) and the “but that’s okay! you have three lives now!” thinking doesn’t really help: when you lose all three lives because of some mechanic that’s giving you trouble, or because you don’t know how the boss moves, and/or haven’t figured the order you’re supposed to tackle the bosses in (more on this later, too!), you STILL have to replay the same stuff you’ve already experienced. there’s nothing new to see, or do, or discover, or learn. it’s still a slog.

and NO number of lives helps this. it so happened that when I started playing Mighty no. 9, I immediately wanted to change the voice acting from English to Japanese, and in the settings menu for this there was ALSO a “number of lives” setting, ranging from 1 to 9! setting aside that it seems a bit odd to hide this away with the language settings, this is a great idea, right? a good addition to modernize a Mega Man game!? but I was wrong: it wasn’t😛 I beat the ice boss fairly easily, however the fire/oil boss gave me so much trouble, I lost all 9 lives. and even before going through all 9, I kind of wanted to just quit and go find whatever weapon the dude is weak to (it’s not ice, apparently!), but at the same time, quitting would mean giving up all the progress I’d made on this level, so now I’m in this situation where I’m making a choice between two things I DON’T want to do – quit and lose my progress, or keep fighting this obnoxious-ass boss – and that is not the sort of decision you want a game to be giving its players😛

surely there’s a better way!

but first, let’s talk about “figuring the order you’re supposed to tackle the bosses in”, because as tedious/poorly-implemented as it is – in everything from Mega Man 1 to Mighty no. 9 – it is a very distinctive feature of the Mega Man games. while you could absolutely make a Mega Man-style game without this mechanic (which could be a step toward solving this problem of slog; see Shovel Knight), for something like Mighty no. 9 which – again – “Mega Man, except not, but only for legal reasons,” the absence of this mechanic would stand out.

so let’s try to work around it, instead.

there’s a couple ways I can think of to solve the problem, and one of them is explored in Mega Man games, and is core to metroidvanias: giving uses to newly-acquired tools in old places!

for example, in the NES Mega Man games, there was almost always SOME boss weapon that would let you blast apart blocks that you couldn’t blast apart before; in Mega Man X, a new weapon, or power-up from Dr. Light, might let you blow up obstacles faster than you could before, or blow up obstacles you couldn’t blow up before, or – just to be crazy and different – sometimes simply beating a boss just straight-up changed ANOTHER boss’s stage in some fundamental way (by putting out most of the fires, changing the water level, etc).

Mega Man X in particular makes pretty good use of this. there were many levels in that game that you WANTED to play again, even after already completely beating them, because you now had a tool you needed to get some max health upgrade you’d seen earlier but COULD NOT figure out how to get.

that being said, I DO have to wonder: without the nostalgia I have for Mega Man X, would it hold up today?

I… mm… I kind of think… maybe it wouldn’t?

the problem is, you STILL have the issue where when losing all your lives, and returning to that level later, it’s still the same level! maybe you could blow up a block you couldn’t before and get a healing pickup, or whatever, but for this approach to REALLY work, EVERY boss weapon needs to open up some new route, or grant access to some new, optional, permanent pickup, to save the game from feeling like a slog. and maybe Mega Man X50, or whatever they got up to, does this AWESOMELY; I don’t know. (if it does, though, Mighty no. 9 had no excuse for not copying this!)

ANOTHER solution though – which I’m not sure I’ve seen in any Mega Man or Mega Man-like game – would be to allow you to make PERMANENT progress through a level.

imagine this: you’re playing Mega Man X, and you get to that horrible Chameleon boss, and he’s swinging around, and turning invisible, and OH MY GOD YOU HAVE HAD QUITE ENOUGH OF THIS. so you quit. you go to the stage of the weirdly-named guy who looks like a robot ninja samurai, and you murder his face, get his boomerang weapon, and think “maybe THIS will beat that stupid-ass Chameleon.” so you go back to the Chameleon stage, BUT – but, but, but – INSTEAD OF HAVING TO DO IT ALL AGAIN, BAM: you’re just right outside the boss room. or maybe you get to choose where you want to start, from a list of points you unlocked, so that you can go back and find some health pickup that you needed the boomerang for. whatever. you get the point. you – the player – already beat this level. you already blew up the stupid grasshoppers that hide in the grass. you already went through the cave where rocks fall from the ceiling, and rock golems throw MORE rocks at you, just in case you weren’t feeling like you’d quite had enough rocks in your life. there’s nothing else to see here; you’re here to try your hand at the boss again; to do the thing you haven’t yet done! and maybe he’ll STILL kick your ass (but probably not, because spoilers: boomerangs totally wreck chameleons, just like in real life; did you not know about that?), but that’s okay: you could run around elsewhere, get some permanent health pickups you missed before, and try the Chameleon later, WITHOUT the “ugh, but now I have to do that whole stupid level again!”

whatever avenue you want to take as a game designer – randomized content, super-short checkpoints/levels, unlockable items and shortcuts – the goal is the same: if you’re going to punish the player with a setback, immediately give them something new to explore, or do, or find, or experiment with, EVERY time they try again.

Mighty no. 9 is so faithful to Mega Man, I think it fails to do that. I have only played three levels so far, so maybe I haven’t discovered something yet, but A) if that’s the case, don’t make your player wait so long before showing them how fun your game is, and B) based on the reviews I’ve read online, I don’t exactly have high hopes😛

and while we’re talking about all this, hey: is Mysterious Space there? does every play-through have something new to explore? something new to do, or find, or experiment with? mmmm… maybe not?? (I don’t feel like MOST Roguelikes do; it’s why I’ve struggled to enjoy the genre >_>) BUT: I’m absolutely going to keep working at it, and perhaps thinking about where Mighty no. 9 has fallen short can hint at places where other games – even one as unrelated as Mysterious Space – might be able to shine.

thanks for reading🙂

Kickstarter? wut!?

during the past couple weeks I’ve been putting together a Kickstarter project: a year of full-time Mysterious Space development!


everything is finally in place – updated Steam store, Kickstarter approval, etc – and so the Kickstarter has been launched!

I explain it in more detail on the Kickstarter page, but put simply, the idea is to pay my salary, allowing me to work on Mysterious Space full-time for a year! And if that goes well, we can try it again next year! (Unless it somehow magically goes SO WELL that two years are just funded outright!? OMG, that would be so crazy…)

I’m a little scared and a little excited. I’m fortunate in that my livelihood is not dependent upon this project’s success, but still: there’s amount of emotional investment, so it’s a little scary in that way…

AND NEVER FEAR: regardless of this project’s success, Mysterious Space will continue to receive my support and continued development!🙂

Thanks for reading, and thanks for playing Mysterious Space!🙂

P.S. here’s a link to the Mysterious Space Kickstarter project one more time. just in case😛

online tasklist via Google docs

previously, I’d been writing notes for Mysterious Space on index cards, loose pieces of paper, etc – whatever was around – and keeping these on my desk near my keyboard.


to better-track my notes, I’ve gone through them, and added the remaining, incomplete items to a Google docs spreadsheet. actually: first I added them to a spreadsheet on my computer, but then it occurred to me that if I posted them on Google docs, I could allow everyone to see them!

SO: if you’re interested, you can find my live tasklist here: