After a period of ten weeks where a fair few felt like days and months at the same time, Archon completed the game “Aetherial.”
What is Aetherial?
Aetherial (or rather, Group Archon’s interpretation of Aetherial) is a 2D shoot ’em up where the player flies through the sky in an airship. The player can fire a harpoon as a normal attack, but may use the limited “Aether” available to them for two special abilites. They can fire homing missiles that return to the player if there are no enemies within the immediate vicinity, or teleport in the direction of the cursor and create an explosion in the center of where they arrive.
The game is comprised of two levels and a boss stage. Despite only having two levels, the levels are wide enough that the player does not necessarily have to go through 100% of the level to transition to either the 2nd level or the boss stage.
Impeding the player’s progression are three enemies: the “Aether Ray,” an enemy that flies around and fires a projectile at the player, the “Sky Slug,” which tries to charge at the player and explode, and a turret that is attached to the floating islands that dot the levels. The Aether Ray and the Sky Slug can spawn from portals until the player destroys said portals.
During the boss fight, the boss is surrounded by a shield that prevents it from being damaged by the player. The player must destroy the crystals that power the shield while avoided the multitude of projectiles being fired by the boss. When the shield is destroyed, the player is given a “Super Missile” and a button prompt to fire it at the boss to win.
While there is always something I’ve could have done better, this was the first game I worked with a team to create. My feelings about the experience could best be described as “mixed,” which I can hopefully go into more depth here.
- Made it to the Finish Line – Me and my group made a game and met the required milestones of alpha, beta, and gold. In the real world, more often than not, talent or skill means nothing if one can’t make deadlines. During the final week of development, everyone in the group went the extra mile to finish the game. It was a rare moment where it did feel like we actually were a team.
- My designs of the enemies – “Aetherial” was one of the more popular concept documents. Despite this, I do think my take on the enemies provided by the document were unique enough to help separate Archon’s Aetherial from the rest.
- Animation – During development, I discovered that I do like to create animations and I think it’s fun. While figuring out how to create them over time, I made my own creative process that allowed me to build up my animations through stages of iteration. This allowed me to spot mistakes in the animation and correct them before it was too late while still allowing me to not lag that far behind time-wise. What took me weeks in the beginning took only days during the end. It did feel like I got better over the course of development.
The Not So Good
- Perfectionism taking the wheel in my brain – I did not take to heart what was being taught in lectures with things such as ‘minimal viable product,’ or nearly every other group stressing about creating assets that were ‘good enough.’ In creative fields, there is a phrase known as ‘fix it in post’ which is derided because it signifies that one is merely delaying a problem early in production and they are just creating more work for themselves or someone else dedicated to fixing mistakes that could have been solved earlier. Hearing other groups go on about “good enough,” I thought they were only setting aside issues that were going to come back to bite them later. It is only now that I understand that I misinterpreted what was going on.
- Taking too much time to do things – I will be the first person to say that I went overboard on my first animation. Due to my perfectionist streak and the fact that I am a slower artist than average, I feel that I did not contribute that much. I can not recall a single time where I wasn’t working during the weekend to play catch up on things I did not finish on time. On top of that, I was also managing my time and energy on the wrong things. My sprites and animations were going to be in the game at only at a fraction of the size I had worked in . A smart artist would have understood that at such a scale, the finer details would have been too small to notice and would have simplified the design for the sake of speed. I was not a smart artist in this regard. I could have streamlined the wing venation in an enemy design and nobody would have cared that I did so.
- Communication (or lack thereof) – There were at least two instances that I can recall where a failure to communicate (and my apathy to it) resulted in a lesser end product.
- I cannot truthfully say that the other artist in the group and I worked together. Aside from sprint plannings and stand-up meetings, there were only a handful of moments when we made sure we were on the same page, and it showed. Style-wise, the assets were all over the place and even the untrained eye could tell that two different artists worked on the game.
- I did not get along that well with one of my group members and it started to affect the game in a bad way. During the last two weeks of development, I was creating the art for the boss and they were working on the code. It was crucial during this time that we both knew what the other was doing. I had no idea what they were up to. I knew the problem was there, but I was afraid of escalating the situation. Was I worried about getting known as someone who caused drama so close to groups getting reshuffled? Maybe. Was it my patience running thin? Probably. In the end, both of the things we had planned for the boss had to be scrapped and an earlier and lesser iteration of the boss was used for the final build. Needless to say, both of us were not happy with the outcome.
Going Forward and What to Bring Along With Me –
Making something that is ‘good enough’ is not the same as ‘fixing it in post.’ As much as it pains me to make something that feels half-finished, I need to remind myself that this is not the end result and that I am going to come back to it later to bring it closer to my standards.
Know the size of assets in-game and plan accordingly. On a similar note, make sure the programmers also know the sizes as well so there are no “surprises” the next time I open Unity or look over their shoulder.
Work closer with the next artist in my group. A consistent visual style is something I took for granted until it was no longer there. Until I had seen not just different styles in our game, but everyone else’s games, I had no idea just how jarring it could be. With the next artist I plan to work with, I will make sure that the art gels together much better. Hopefully, Aetherial will be the last time I make the mistake of not staying in communication with my fellow artist(s).
If there’s a problem, just say so. While it might cause issues in the short term, it will save much more time and trouble in the long term. Everybody here are grown-ups, issues can be resolved.
That’s all for now. Good bye, and take care.