Eye of the Abhorrer

These game design notes pick up where The Horror left off.

I chose an 8-bit aesthetic for Horror Vacui (iTunes App Store link) for a couple reasons. Nostalgia was one. It’s no secret that I’m a bigger fan of consoles past their prime than I am of the current generation. Another significant motivation was inexperience with the game development process. The self-imposed graphic and audio limitations allowed me to focus on figuring out all the invisible things that make a game tick while hiding any gaps in the fit-and-finish. And since the first games I really enjoyed playing were on the NES it seemed logical to open with an 8-bit game of my own.

The Cards You’re Dealt

Once I nailed down the game play using my rudimentary paper prototype, I did some quick sketches to work out the basics of the card design. The only thing that really changed from these sketches was the addition of a colored border that indicates the Temperature of a card which is the same regardless of the element/player the card represents.

The original Wii sprites actually had a lot more detail at first. Water cards had bubbles and Earth cards had pebbles with larger rocks embedded beneath the surface. These details looked great when you examined each card individually but on even a half-full board the extra detail proved too visually noisy and made it difficult to scan the Vacuum quickly.

I sketched out the logo hastily, playing with the art-world definition of horror vacui (a fear of whitespace) and the established card design. The incorporation of the two normal elements helped break up what would have otherwise been flat, irregular type.

The game’s Default.png pays homage to the Pacman kill screen. I knew going in that this intentionally glitchy screen was going to cause confusion (and it already has) but the smile-in-the-mind it gives players who are in the know makes it worth it.

For both the Wii and iPhone versions I created all the art at half-size and then resized to 200% with Nearest Neighbor resampling during export. I did the same for the pixel iPhone and App Store badge for the mini-site. All the graphics were mindful of the 4 colors-per-sprite limitations of the medium I was imitating (with the exception of the logo which combines the palettes of two sprites plus a highlight to make it pop).

Hearing Aid

All the music and sound effects were composed on the Korg DS-10. The main theme started as a demonstration of the Nintendo DS software for my aunt Suzanne this past holiday season. Because of its origins I dubbed it “Gameboy Named Suz.” The start chime is actually an ascending melodic run playing at 220bpm. The flipping sound is straight noise. The other sound effects are just the result of experimenting with various percussive sounds and fiddling with knobs.

Audio was imported by patching the headphone jack of the DS to the microphone jack on my MacBook Pro. I used Audio Recorder to capture the audio and save it as an AIF. I used Audacity to trim, in some cases amplify and then export the individual sound files.

Keeping with game music tradition I’ve created a Horror Vacui Original Sound Version soundtrack EP:

  1. Gameboy Named Suz
  2. Grover

Horror Vacui Original Sound Version

Play with yourself

One of the most interesting parts of developing the game was creating the CPU opponent AI. It required really thinking about and formalizing my own play strategy and figuring out a way for the CPU to pick the best available option.

One of the fun side effects of developing this AI is that once I worked out the kinks I was able to pit the CPU against itself. This proved handy when it came time to eliminate memory leaks and suggested the player-free demo that starts if you stay on the title screen for more than 15 seconds.

The CPU AI is not as robust as it could be but should keep a novice on their toes for a couple plays. The real magic is playing against a human opponent. There’s nothing like having a friend draw an Ice Age or Inferno card on their last and (what would otherwise have been) winning turn and then taking the game from them.

Available Now
Shaun Inman
February 5th, 2009 at 2:00 pm