Robert Hornbek

Game Development & Exploration

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Posts Tagged ‘Puzzle’

Synaps: Characters

Posted by rHornbek on August 23, 2011

In dire need of an artist, I began a search to find someone who could help us develop characters for Synaps.  I was reminded of an artist name Joanna that I met multiple times while attending the San Jose Fanime convention, and after looking at her various work online I was excited to ask for her contribution.  After some discussion about the goals of the project and the characters we were looking for, our new found artist comrade took a week to put together some concept art for us.  This was the result of our discussion and following week…

Synaps Characters, Rough Pass 01

Needless to say our team was pretty stunned at the quality and creativity of these character, and I hope you agree!  If you have been following along you may notice that these characters are a little different from the ones we have displayed in the mock-ups.  Well there have been a few changes.

While browsing Joanna’s portfolio I came across an image that caught my eye.

Steam-Powered SPN Chibi set 1 by Joanna Johnen

Being a sucker for steampunk I immediately asked Joanna a little more about the image.  Among her description she asked me if this was the style we were looking for our Synaps characters.  At the time it had never crossed my mind because our original goal was to create a spacey, web 2.0, sleek iPad looking world, but almost immediately I thought “HEY, why not?!”  So I ran it by the team and they all felt very much the say way.  So now the spacey world of Synaps is slowly turning industrial.

However, my goal is not to have consumers see the product for the first time and think “steampunk”, I simply wanted them to say “hey this looks cool”.  That said we are going to avoid many of the classic steampunk cliches, explicitly cogs, steam and of course goggles.  And while these things are not evil we just want to avoid or rater limit the cliches.

Despite being completely bowled over by the characters there was a lot of feedback generated for the next pass.

Character #3

Character concept #3 is the first in our lineup that we would like to see back in the next pass.  While the image of this character looks refined, his clothing is a little uninteresting.  As a commoner this character would be perfect, but we are dealing with 6 to 9 unique characters that will represent the user during the fight, so a little more depth is in order.

Characters #5, #6 and #7

These three female characters are great because they are diverse and interesting!  We expect to see them again in the next pass, especially #7 who we would like to see refined to same polish as the others.

Character #8

We liked this character because he was a bit younger than the rest, and that also meant he was a little smaller in size.  We aim to take a page from Team Fortress 2‘s book in character design by creating characters that are recognizable in silhouette.  So characters of different size and proportion will be important to achieving this goal, in addition to hairstyle, clothing and expression.  It was also with this character that we decided to avoid the cliches of steampunk and remove his goggles.

Character #10

While greatly unfinished, this character really caught my eye.  We wanted to have a multicultural group of characters to represent all the regions around the globe who are coming together to play this game.  I almost immediately imagined this character from a South American region with cornrows, large golden earrings, ornate bracelets and a silky red dress that just sort of drapes.

Character #11

At first glance I did not like this character, he did not appear to have anything going on and the unrefined nature of the image did not help.  However, after a few comments by the team we found a lot of value in this guy!  First off we liked his stature, it was different than many of the others.  We also liked his large belt, and later discovered that it looks like he is wearing a hood.  After some thought we came to the conclusion that this would make an interesting monk, one who dresses in simple robes but with a grand belt to match his stature.  We look forward to his revision.

Character #12

I was quick to like this character, his clothing pretty much won me over in terms of style and dept.  However I felt like his expression was inappropriate for the character as a whole.  Without changing much about his clothing I requested that this character’s expression be changes to look stoic, like he is a serious dude ready to win.

Characters #15, #16 and #17

As previously stated, diversity in the characters is paramount, and we felt these guys fit the bill.  Posture, expression and style is different on each of these characters, so needless to say we decided to keep them on for the second pass.

We look forward to seeing the results of these discussions by the end of the week.  If you would like to see more and learn more about Synaps please check out he FaceBook fan page HERE!


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Kernips: Not Dead!

Posted by rHornbek on February 1, 2011

Alas it is February and Kernips has not been released to the general public, and here is why:

Near the end of our production (some time in December) key contributors to the project fell on hard time and had to allocate their time to more life saving activities, such as making enough money to eat!  This drastically reduces our ability to complete the game at the level of quality we would have liked.

So we had to make a decision, to ultimately end development of the game, even in its underdeveloped state (play sad music here).

A month or so later I had my birthday and for my birthday I was given an updated version of the game!

New Art Oh My!

There are a few outstanding issues that should get addressed, but we are all still dedicated to completing the game… at some point.

On one hand we can view the development of Kernips as a failure, not meeting our final deadline and not making any sort of return.  This is not uncommon to indie project, most of which never get played or completed at all!

On the other hand, we started this project as an experiment with no intention of creating anything great.  But when we discovered the potential that we and the game had we pushed ourselves a little further.

In the end we are happy to have come this far and glad we experienced the pitfalls that we did.

I plan to post more about the state of Kernips as time progresses, but don’t hold your breath.

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Kernips: Gameplay Demo

Posted by rHornbek on September 15, 2010

Take a look at this rough gameplay demo I put together today.  I plan on making a much more thorough demo sooner than later, but this should be a quick fix.  Keep in mind you are basically looking at the skeleton of the game.  Nearly all of our resources are going into adding skin to this monster so that it will be much more presentable.  I hope you enjoy it!

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Rainbow Sprinkles

Posted by rHornbek on September 4, 2010

Rainbow sprinkles are those colorful little pieces of candy that we shake on top of ice cream, cookies, cakes etc.  The reality is they don’t make anything taste better, but they do make the overall experience a lot more interesting!  Details like sprinkles can be all it takes to turn a good game into a great game.

Recently a video has been released, from PAX, of Portal 2’s cooperative mode.  This is the first time we get to see how the cooperative mode actually works.  In addition to various emotes that add color to the game I caught this silly little detail after one of the characters fell into the dreaded green goo.

If you look carefully you can see Blue's (the blue robot) thumb in the air as he goes down.

The developers did not have to do this, but clearly this little detail has made enough of an impact to motivate me to post about it.  Not that the game needed any more props, but it just goes to show you how simple little details can make an entire experience that much better.  You can view the entire video here…

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Kernips: FaceBook Page

Posted by rHornbek on September 2, 2010

In case you have not seen the official Kernips logo, here it is!!!

By Uncharted Interactive. Kernips is a puzzle game where users cultivate and grow precocious plants called Kernips. As they mature the Kernips may be plucked from the ground revealing precious gems for points. Points can then be spent to purchase additional Kernip seeds and utilities to further the development of the garden.

However, this post is intended to announce the grand opening of the official Kernips Fan Page on FaceBook!  This is our first attempt outside of my blog to present Kernips to a wider range of the community.  The goal is to develop awareness of the game and hopefully interest.  Later on when we decide to raise some money to bring the project to completion we will have venues to do so… oops spoiler!  Keep you eyes open and spread the word.  Cheers!

Click here to check it out!

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Game Experience: Update

Posted by rHornbek on June 23, 2010

Recently I added 2 new titles to my Game Experience page.  I found them both fascinating an inspirational for their designs, I’m sure you will be rather familiar with at least one of them!

I am lucky not to have been beaten senseless for taking so long to eventually play Portal, but honestly besides the hype I did not feel an urgency to play it.  However I really had no reason not to once Steam made it available to play for free.  And it should come as so surprise that I loved it and am glad I finally played it!

I must add that while most people praise the game for its creative gameplay, what I found most fascinating was the Aperture Laboratory setting and GLaDOS’ dialog.  Now I am looking forward to its sequel teased in the video below!

At first glance the browser game Transfermice does not seem all that interesting.  After playing it for even a few minutes you quickly learn the nature of the game and the nature of humans operating in a large unorganized group.  The object of the game is simple, get a piece of the cheese and return it to the mouse hole.  Of course in the flurry to achieve this everyone ends up killing one another or themselves.  This video should give you an idea what I am talking about…

Of course you really cannot understand Transfermice without playing it yourself, which I highly recommend.  I might add that in addition to dozens of player controlled mice there is always one Shaman during each challenge.  The Shaman has the power to conjure objects that are meant to aid in the objective.  However most Shamans abuse this power and typically use it to destroy the other mice and take the cheese for themselves.

While the game has many fascinating gameplay elements it was ultimately executed pretty poorly.  I had a concept for a game that played off of human nature and now feel I should revisit the idea after seeing how it was done in Transfermice.  I look forward to reporting on that in the future.

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Kernips: pre-Beta

Posted by rHornbek on May 1, 2010

If you haven’t already heard Kernips is nearing beta, which is extremely exciting for me!  In the next week or so we will be putting the final touches on the core gameplay so that while testing we should only have to make minor variable changes.

Some of the things changed in the latest build can be seen in the image below…

I cannot wait for updated art!

Updated in this version of Kernips includes…

  • New Item icons in the bench.
  • Implemented Water and Fire Storm Items (not seen here).
  • Implementation of the Hopper system (right side of the image).
  • The user now earns additional items when they pluck 4 or more Kernips.
  • Skewed the placement of Plots in the Garden so it is clear which Kernips are connected.

And while these changes are grand there are a few key elements we are trying to work out.  For our next build we need to do the following things…

  • Remove random Seed drops in the garden.
  • Make all Dead Kernips permanent.
  • Implement Seed Storm Item (to make up for removing random Seed drops).
  • Implement Item Drop Modifiers (IDM) to control what appears in the Bench.

Once these features have been added we will test them internally.  If these changes solidify the gameplay and don’t cause additional challenged we will be good to go into beta.

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Kernips: Budding

Posted by rHornbek on April 15, 2010

So we just started our third week of development on Kernips and the game has come a long way.  We have the 8 x 8 Garden, we have 6 different colored Kernips with a full life-cycle, you can water them to help them grow or prevent them from getting dry, the bench now produces random items including seeds, water and fire, fire will burn and spread and you even earn points for plucking groups of Kernips.

Splash Screen

Above you can see we added a splash screen to test the game using different variables which is a huge help.  With this we were able to determine which phases needed to speed up or slow down.

In Game

In the image above you can see many of the features I have already mentioned, even the glove we created for the cursor.  The row of items at the top are not going to be there, but it gives anyone testing the game a chance to use any item at any time.  The row of items at the bottom (the Bench) can be used in the Garden and a new item will replace it.

I am really excited and proud of how far Kernips has come!  However, like any growing game it has much work ahead of it.  Some of the changes and improvements we plan on making for the next set of builds are…

  • Earning points for burning dead Kernips.
  • Implementing Water, Fire and Seed Storm items.
  • Updating the item system so there are limited items that can only be replenished by the user’s actions.
  • Adding sounds placeholder effects and music!

I look forward to the updates and putting the game in front of additional testers.

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Kernips: Update

Posted by rHornbek on March 25, 2010

Ok so I thought it was about time for me to post an update on Kernips development, so here we go.  Last time I focused a lot on gameplay concepts that we wanted to implement.  In addition to this I covered a few goals set for the game by the end of development.  Most of this has not changed, but we have made a few changes as we learned more about our creation.

Our programmer, while very capable, is learning ActionScript for the first time so part of early development is getting him acclimated with the language and software.  To achieve this, we established what I have been calling the Alpha Prototype objectives.  If the name doesn’t give it away, the objective for this milestone is to create a rough working prototype.  This has narrowed our current goals, as listed below…


  1. Kernip garden containing 8 x 8 spaces called “plots”
  2. System to produce Kernip sprouts in random empty plots at random intervals
  3. 6 different Kernip asset types
  4. System for Kernip’s life cycle
  5. Allow mature Kernips to be plucked from the garden

This set of objectives gives us a good start point to develop the game further.  Once we get this working we can see what’s fun, what isn’t and where we need to make improvements.

For the first objective, we decided that the garden would be procedurally generated.  In other words we will have two variables, Hight and Width, that will define how many plots the garden will be.  Initially we plan to test on on an 8 x 8 plot garden, however if this feels too small or too big we can quickly make changes.

As for the 6 Kernip types we are not going to be using anything too exotic.  Our focus needs to remain on core gameplay, but we will need the art assets to test them.  In the mean time our artist will be busy elaborating on their concepts.

In the previous post I talked a little about the Kernip’s life cycle; Seed, Bud, Mature, Withered and Dead.  Not that this is groundbreaking information but we decided that we did not need a unique art asset for each Kernip’s Dead state.  The reason for this is entirety gameplay related.  When a Kernip is dead its color will make no difference in the users decision process.  This will save on some time and asset costs.

A work in progress!

Behold!  The image above is the Alpha Prototype in progress.  At the moment random color Kernips spawn in random locations and begin their life cycles.  If left to their own device all the plots will become filled with dead Kernips.

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Garden Dreams: Is Now Kernips

Posted by rHornbek on December 24, 2009

As stated in the last article, I have been thinking greatly about the puzzle-simulator concept.  The first thing I did was smelt the concept down to its purest form, so really identify what the game is about and of course how it is played.  With the flower theme I was hitting some snags, the greatest being my question “Why?”  Why am I planting these flowers and why must I pluck them at a minimum of three of the same color.  Of course I know well enough that games do not have to make logical sense to be fun, look at Katamari Damacy for instance.

Point Made?

However, despite Katamari Damacy’s absurdity there is motivation!  You collect stuff creating a large enough body of mass to reform all of the lost stars, and I feel this ultimately colors the whole experience a lot more.  Enter Kernips, a little concept I had in the past that never really saw the light of day has breathed new life into not only the concept by my motivation to develop it!

Say hello to the Kernips!

Ok the image is a bit small, but I am proud of the pixel art.  With this fresh take on the concept I have not only establish a setting but also brought more meaning and motivation to the events of the game.  I have narrowed the game down to a simple statement that describes what the game is…

Plant, grow and cultivate your Kernips to reveal precious Gems.

Collect Gems to purchase supplies to further the growth of the Kernip Garden.

As far as I am concerned this is a pretty big leap from the original concept, without really creating a different game.  Of course this is the high concept, but we really need more details to describe how the game is played.  Below is a list of details that I have gathered from brainstorming.

  • The entire game can be played with the cursor and left-click!
  • The Kernip Garden is basically a 10 by 10 grid allowing for a maximum of 100 Kernips growing at a time.
  • Kernips have 6 stages of life.  Seeds, Sprouts, Buds, Full, Dry and Dead.
  • Full Kernips, if left unchecked, will begin to dry and unless taken care of or plucked they will perish.
  • Kernips must be plucked in a conjoined group of 3 or more and must all be the same color.  This is because no Kernip wants to leave the Garden alone, so make sure they do not go alone!
  • Plucked Kernips will reveal precious Gems hidden in the ground as they flee.  The more Kernips that are plucked at a time the more Gems will be revealed.
  • You can collect Gems by clicking on them in the Garden.
  • Gems can be spent to purchase items from the store, such as Seeds and Water.
  • Water can be placed on existing Kernips to grow them quicker or on dry Kernips to revive them.
  • While seeds of a random color will occasionally plant themselves in the garden, the user can purchase specific color Kernip seeds and plant them in the Garden wherever they would like.
  • The game ends when all the Kernips are dead and the user can no longer plant any more.

While there where a few other ideas mentioned in the precious article, I think the list above is much more concise and a little more complete.  Some of the ideas I want to venture sooner than later are…

  • Day and night cycles to represent rounds, or simply to measure time spent playing.
  • Seasonal effects on gameplay.
  • Additional supportive items that can be purchased from the Store.
  • The implementation of Fisles, the evil Kernips that cause trouble for them and the user.

Until then I will keep working on it and see what happens next!  If you have any feedback regarding the concept or anything else please comment.  This is an open forum so I would like to hear what you think.  Cheers!

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