The Many Iterations of Ninja Boy
Hi there, my name is Morgan Brown, an indie games developer trying to turn a hobby into a business, and my first step on that road is the upcoming release of my first commercial game: Ninja Boy Returns!
As you can see from the above, I’m finally getting towards releasing it, with a current target for October, but this has come after a lot of iteration — this game did not come to me fully formed, as it is now, but rather developed over the period of a year to be what it is today.
In this post I intend to discuss that iterative process and its advantages, as well as my satisfaction with this as the end product, to hopefully give some insights into the games development process! Enjoy!
I dug out the above gif in my GameMaker Studio 2 projects folder under the title “Megaheroes”, perhaps giving away my early intentions for Ninja Boy. In the first version of the game, which we’ll refer to by its original title of Megaheroes, the player would navigate a metroidvania style map with the ability to instantly teleport to the position of the mouse. This, combined with other abilities, would allow them to navigate the lair of a villain and defeat them in classic superhero fashion, but this version of the game was ultimately canned for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the sheer size of a metroidvania seems like too much for me to handle in a reasonable space of time. Having to create a series of challenges that are not only enjoyable on their own but also have a place within a broader world is a difficult task, and one which intimidated me. Then, there was the case of the mechanics themselves — in giving the player the ability to teleport instantaneously to any point on the screen I was effectively setting myself up for a more difficult task ahead of me. I would have to accommodate the fact that the player could feasibly click anywhere, and in doing so could circumvent some challenges if not properly barricaded. Megaheroes did not get much farther than what is shown in the gif above before it would be put to one side forever.
The next version of this game would go down in my projects folder as “New Ninja Boy”, so, again, this is what it will be referred to as here. New Ninja Boy was a radical design shift from Megaheroes, scaling back the metroidvania map to single screen levels and giving the player a limited range in which to dash. This led to a much greater amount of progress being made, with over 20 levels done for this New Ninja Boy, adding a variety of mechanics, just a few of which can be seen above, including fields in which teleporting does not work, enemies which kill you on touch, and red, ambiguous rectangles which kill you if touched.
Since Megaheroes, though I’d shelved the idea for a while, I’d played around in my head with a variety of different ideas for Ninja Boy and his abilities, and ultimately settled on something I thought couldn’t spiral out in to something with too grand a scope and too tricky core mechanics to complete. But, ultimately, I ended up losing motivation on this project too. After creating so many levels and still not having more than a couple of minutes of gameplay, I was disheartened, knowing what I’d worked on could be beaten in so short a time. Megaheroes was too far in the direction of grandeur and massiveness, while New Ninja Boy was too small to satisfy me. Again, the idea would be shelved, with me deeming it as something that just couldn’t be turned into an enjoyable game, either for me or the player.
And then I took part in the Game Maker’s Toolkit Jam.
Although the games had been put to one side, the idea behind Ninja Boy stuck. Having put the game out of my mind for sixth months, when the theme for the GMTKJam was announced as “Dual Purpose Design” I jumped back on it with renewed vigour and focus. In my projects folder, this one is saved as “GMTKJam”, and almost immediately after I created the project I knew what I wanted it to be. Ninja Boy, I thought would be perfect.
What about instead of teleporting anywhere you clicked the mouse, your could dash a fixed distance in front of you at the press of a key? And, in doing so, you would also slice through enemies? This seemed ideal, and I immediately set about making it a reality. I took what I’d learned from my previous attempts to perfect the design of this one, striking a balance between single screen levels and a sprawling metroidvania by shooting for levels roughly the length and structure of those of Mario. In addition, the simplified dashing rather than teleporting limited the player’s ability but in such a way that I had all new opportunities as a designer which I hadn’t had beforehand. The lower expectations of a game jam let me create a game that lasted just a few minutes rather than having to hold up for hours, and in doing so I made a game which I was proud of.
But, that’s not to say it didn’t have its flaws, and many of them. Level design was often marred in moments that were frustratingly hard, and not in a “fair” sort of way. In addition, coins were not perfectly aligned in jump arcs, and the presence of flags in the backdrop led to some visual confusion as many believed they were checkpoints. There were many other issues which I don’t have time to name, but the core was there, and people liked it. And so I decided to run with it.
The above gif shows how far the game has come — notice how there is now a timer in the top left, for scoring purposes, the level design is much more easy to navigate and dash through without frustration and annoyance, and there is the addition of a coop multiplayer mode.
This gif shows the final world of the game, and though it features some placeholder art, it shows also a couple of the new enemies, and there are plenty more in the game! In total, there will be 20 levels of “game” to this game, not including the story scenes, and there will also be a coop and time attack mode right out of the box. These 20 levels are vastly different to those of New Ninja Boy, which lasted just a few minutes, as a player on their first run of the game would take an hour or more to beat. While sheer length isn’t necessarily something to brag about, as it has been the downfall of other games, I think that, after almost a year, I’ve finally reached a version of Ninja Boy I can really be happy with.
I’ve learned a lot from this process, from many different perspectives, but that’s a topic for another time.
Thank you for reading! This was just a topic I wanted to discuss here, but there might be more to come on Ninja Boy Returns in the future. It’s been a fun process, and I look forward to finishing it up and releasing it very soon. I do hope you enjoy it.
You can find more about the game here: https://morgangb.itch.io/ninja-boy-returns
Or play the GMTKJam version of Ninja Boy here: https://morgangb.itch.io/ninja-boy
And follow me on Twitter for updates: https://twitter.com/MrMorganBrown