To Light a Candle

edited in Projects
Current status: pre-alpha, plenty of bugs.

Demo level (v0.2.0, 21 September 2013):


Win32 Installer

[Original post]

Greetings all! ^_^

This is my current work-in-progress game: To Light a Candle.

Status at time of writing: Pre-alpha -- most core mechanics are implemented, but some significant elements and puzzles have yet to be built. Additionally, there are still plenty of bugs!

(I'll confess that I'm not terribly happy with the title; that may very well change between here and release.)

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Prospective main menu backdrop/title screen

The Story
Our protagonist comes from a world in which the only celestial light is the sun; where night brings utter blackness. And in the deep night-time dark prowl the creatures known only as "The Dwellers in the Dark", hunters of humanity that cannot stand light. Humanity huddles around what light it has: the natural crystals in the caves that sheltered early humanity; firelight; the tall lamps around which the people of this world build their cities and towns.

At long last, however, a group of sages have found a source of hope: an artefact in another world, which they believe that could light their night sky.

But they cannot draw the artefact from that world, nor say where it lies or map out the contours of that land. All that they can do is send a single person into this other land, there to seek out and retrieve the artefact.

For all their long delving, they have uncovered only two clues to guide this seeker; two names, of the place in which it lies and of the artefact itself: "The Archive", and "Moon".

Concept Art
(Some of these might be familiar; one of these has previously been posted in my sketch thread and another is a coloured version of a piece posted in my sketch thread, I believe.)

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A view towards the city in which the game begins.

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No comment. ;)

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A verdant environment

The Gameplay
The game is a side-scrolling Metroidvania-ish exploration-and-puzzle-solving game; more or less "Metroidvania meets puzzle-solving/adventure game".

While outright puzzles are intended to a be a part of the gameplay, the focus is intended to be on placing obstacles before the player and then providing them with a set of tools with which to find their way.

The core of this problem-solving is the set of spells that the player collects throughout the journey, each providing some new capability: pulling objects towards the player, activating magical effects, scrying, cooling things and more.

For example, the player may be faced with a large plant blocking their way.

If there's a fire-source nearby, that might be useful -- but the character won't pick up burning objects. If it's not too far they might use the "pull" spell repeatedly to drag it to the plant, set the plant on fire and then wait for it to burn down.

On the other hand, if they have a specific item, they might be able to grow a tall, climbable plant. They could climb this and then simply jump over the plant that's blocking their way.

These aren't the only solutions either; at least one other, perhaps two, come to mind, I believe.

As to controls, the player character is controlled by mouse clicks: a single left-click to walk to a point, a single right-click to examine an item. Spells, the general-purpose "use" command and jumping are all controlled via a set of buttons at the bottom of the screen; to use one of these, the player clicks the button and then clicks on the desired target.

In-game Screenshots
All of the following is at a pretty early stage; the art in particular is not intended to be final. The frame-rate (as shown at the top-right) is pretty low at the moment -- but then, this is running on my rather underpowered little netbook.

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A plant-filled cave and some crystals.

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The view across a lake.

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An in-game version of "no comment" above. I still have no comment. ;P

Cutscenes, by the way, are intended to take the form of graphic-novel style sequences with minimal animation (if any) -- something like those seen in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers or Gray Matter, for example.

Engine: Panda3D

Right now my main sticking point is how to handle my environments: my levels are fairly large, and I've been wanting to avoid too much texture tiling, wanting the setting to look more convincing than I feel tiling tends to. My approach at the moment is to use 3D geometry, viewed through an orthographic camera and with a single large texture applied to it, giving me both a unique texture and normals for lighting (without the use of normal maps). However, I'm somewhat worried about having so many large textures, especially in terms of space taken up in memory. (The orthographic camera allows me to have branching paths without revealing their depth-relationships to each other; my gameplay is entirely in two dimensions, and having visible depth differences between paths complicates that, I feel.)

I'd appreciate suggestions of other approaches that I might have missed!

I'm also currently hoping to find an artist or artists to work with me, in particular on the aforementioned environment art.

Comments and criticism very much welcome! ^_^
Thanked by 1GMax


  • Welcome bru

    Looks interesting. ^^

    Pro tip:
    No matter how buggy, give us an actual game to mess about with so that we can give more accurate (applicable) Comments and criticism
  • Good to see you again, Thaum. S'been a while. ;)

    I love the idea of solving puzzles through practical applications of spells and items. That's far more interesting than the typical "red door = rockets" paradigm used by other Metroidvanias.

    One question - is the idea to present discrete, unique puzzles as "gates", or to have the same gate types scattered around that then have to be circumvented creatively in different ways using what the player has at hand?

    Playable code would be rather excellent, when you're comfortable releasing it. :)
  • Ah excellent, you got a thread going! Just a note that your pics/screenshots don't seem to be showing up here (at least on my pc)
  • Thank you, everyone! ^_^

    All right, I'll hopefully have a playable (if buggy ^^; ) test-level sometime soon, then.
    Gazza_N said:
    Good to see you again, Thaum. S'been a while. ;)
    It has, and it's good to see you too! ^_^
    One question - is the idea to present discrete, unique puzzles as "gates", or to have the same gate types scattered around that then have to be circumvented creatively in different ways using what the player has at hand?
    For the most part the latter, if I understand you correctly: to build on my previous example of a large plant blocking the way, in one place it might be easily circumvented by a fire, while in another the prevalence of other flora might make fire somewhat... unwise. A player might not have the tools for every obstacle -- but they don't have to visit every level, or every part of a given level, and a level may have more paths than one.

    That said, I do also intend at least a few outright puzzles: for example, I intend to have spell acquisition involve a puzzle for each spell (the same sort of puzzle, but with different "pieces", in each case), and am hoping to come up with a lock-picking puzzle for certain doors.
    Gibbo said:
    Just a note that your pics/screenshots don't seem to be showing up here (at least on my pc)
    Aargh, that's probably thanks to my use of ImageShack -- if you have an ImageShack account then logging in to that might help. If not, perhaps DropBox allows hotlinking of images...
  • Love the story concept :) what inspired you?
  • edited
    Thank you! ^_^

    I honestly don't think that I remember the ultimate origin of the concept. An earlier form can be found in "Planar Depths", a game that I posted on the NAG game development forum, but quite where it came from before that or how I came to marry it to the gameplay concept (which has other origins, including Arx Fatalis and Ultima Underworld) I'm not sure, I fear. ^^;;
  • Thaumaturge, just gone through your post and man I love the story and game idea!! I see a lot of potential for "To Light a Candle"! Your set pieces/scenes illustrations are awesome and I particularly love the 2nd and 3rd ones with the crystal/city green ambiance and the floating rock ( you must have floating rocks like in always its just a win!) hehe ;) excellent work and idea!! Thanks for sharing your game with us!!
  • Thank you very much! ^_^

    Hopefully I'll have something a little more... interactive to share in the not-too-distant future. ;)
  • A quick update: I'm still working towards a playable level, but it's taking longer than I had hoped, I fear. It seems that there's nothing like preparing a project for public view to reveal all sorts of features that seem terribly important to include, or bugs the inclusion of which is not to be countenanced... ^^;

    Thus far I've made a variety of miscellaneous changes and inclusions, as well as some improvements to the game's performance. Some of the temporary models have been replaced; for one thing the player character at the least no longer appears to be literally made of purest alabaster.

    I've also added a few features that I feel are important, such as getting the connections between rooms working, and allowing doors to reveal "unlock" such connections. Simply put, in most cases entering a room reveals all connected rooms; however, some connections are intended to not be so easily revealed -- a room behind a closed door, for example, shouldn't become visible just because you entered the room on the other side of the door, but opening the door should reveal that room.

    Finally, I at last came up with a way to destroy "damaged walls" -- something that had eluded me -- and decided to include "containers" that can be destroyed to reveal their contents (containers that can simply be opened to reveal their contents may be added at a later stage).

    There's more to do yet, I fear, but I'm getting closer -- hopefully!
  • edited
    Well, this took far longer than I'd hoped! ^^;

    However, at last I've completed a demo level for To Light a Candle. The gameplay is very rough, and please forgive the shoddiness of the art. Please note that I've found that the game and the demo level itself can take a little time to load.

    There should be a brief "help" screen available from the main menu that describes the controls and suggests a goal.

    (Oh, one control that I forgot to include, I believe: while in the game, press "escape" to return to the main menu.)

    In the full game I would hopefully introduce each spell one at a time, perhaps after the first two, and give the player space in which to learn the gameplay, rather than dump them into the gameplay as I am here. Since I am dumping them all on you from the start of this demo, the first room contains a selection of objects that you can try the spells (and the "use" action) on.

    While plenty of bugs exist, there are a few that I think are worth mentioning before you play:
    • The main issue, I think, bug and mother of bugs, is that the floor system has... issues.
    • When jumping, the character sometimes slips through the floor (at the joints between floor segments, I think), or seems to hit floor segments in mid-air.
    • When jumping, it's sometimes possible to miss both the floor and whatever wall might be beneath it, resulting in the player falling past the wall and either out of the world or into another room.
    • If you click above a "moving platform" to walk to it while not standing on it, the character doesn't walk to it, and indeed stops if walking; at the moment one can only get onto such a platform by jumping onto it.
    • Sometimes the character appears to "sink" a short distance into the floor; this seems to especially be a problem when attempting to interact with something just outside of the character's reach. Just give the character somewhere else to walk to and try again.
    • When jumping to a new point, the system seems to fail to detect temporary or moving platforms under the player if the player is over another floor until after the apex of the jump.

    The appropriate links should be in the first post!
  • Haha, I like the blunt comments such as when you jump in the water - need an option there though to restart. I tried selecting Load but came across the unused saves section and after closing that I was stuck. Then tried Toggle Edit Mode then New and that just destroyed the level.
  • Heh, thank you! I took inspiration from Sierra on the matter of dying. ^_^

    (And there should be at least two more methods of dying available in this demo, with their own set of messages, by the way. ;P)

    As to the dialogue itself, hmm, I'm sorry about that. The button labelled "quit" should take you to the main menu, from which you should be able to start a new game, but I've perhaps mis-labelled that ("quit" could be taken to mean that it will close the game).

    As to having a dedicated "restart" button, I seem to recall that the old Sierra games had one -- but I don't think that I ever used it; if I had a recent save I'd likely load that, and I tend to prefer to not start all over again if I'm not close to the start of the game.

    So, to those of you who have played the old Sierra games (or other games that provide a dialogue that allows one to restart the game), did you ever use the option to restart the game entirely?
  • Hmm, more like restart level/location rather than restart altogether. Are you looking to implement an autosave system for those who forget to save at key points? Just acts as a quick alternative to loading a savegame.
  • I have thought of implementing autosaving on entering a level, I believe, yes.

    As to restarting a level, remember that this is a sort-of-metroidvania: one may return to a given level more than once, and changes are expected to persist; as a result, a blanket "restart the level" option doesn't seem to make much sense.

    Perhaps an option to automatically load the most recent save? Together with autosaving on entering the level, that should at the least allow the player to return to their most recent entry to the level.
  • New version! As before, both a web-build and a Win32 installer-based version are available:


    Win32 Installer

    Comments and criticism very much appreciated. ^_^

    - Floors, while not flawless, should now be a rather more stable and reliable.
    - Added simple loading screens.
    - In the game-over dialogue, changed "quit" to "menu" to better convey its effect.
    - Rolled the "call" and "pull" spells into each other under the name "call"; the prior, somewhat situational effect of "call" is now simply a special case.
    - Removed the "grow" spell and added its one useful effect to the "activate" spell.
    - Renamed the "activate" spell to "quicken" and broadened its meaning (such as including the aforementioned effect of "grow"); included one new effect and one "failed" effect.
    - Added "menu" button to main game UI.
    - Moved the "inventory" button to the bottom, in line with the rest of the UI.
    - Autosaving on entering a level is partially implemented; see the first "known issue" below.
    - Fixed a bug that caused some lifts to incorrectly set their base height, and which may have affected other objects.

    Known Issues:
    - Saving and loading is broken: in short, it looks as though one of my next tasks is going to be figuring out how one goes about handling "user directories".
    --- As a result of this, I've disabled the new "autosave on entering a level" function.
    - When jumping, I think that it's still possible to slip between floor and wall under some circumstances.
    - It may be possible to fall from a moving lift by jumping up while on standing on it under some circumstances.
    - In the installer-based version (I'm afraid that I didn't notice whether it was present in the web-based version), the "menu" and "inventory" buttons seem to be partially outside of the screen -- perhaps the window is not quite the right size, or the scaling is slightly off.
  • RIGHT. I'm sorry I've taken so long to get back to this. My reasons were good, promise. Please don't fry me like bacon.

    Firstly, I used the web player to test. Very convenient, thanks!

    I didn't get very far, unfortunately. I got as far as getting a seed to grow into a plant I couldn't climb, and then somehow falling down a chasm and unsuccessfully trying to collect a skull from a ledge. Then I fell into the water and died. :(

    I think my main concerns at this point are that (a) interactive objects are not suitably indicated and (b) the behaviour and use of my spells feels rather unpredictable and nebulous.

    The interactive objects needn't be exploding with particles and neon bloom "CLICK HERE!!!1!" markers (you still want an element of investigation, after all), but it took me some time to determine that the seed was interactive and collectable. At first it just looked like a part of the plant geometry, which I'd unsuccessfully tried to interact with and abandoned as a red herring. Perhaps some sort of highlight or prompt when the cursor passes over it, as in ye olde adventure games?

    Secondly, I appreciate that you've left the player to their own devices to experiment with spells to see what works, but when half the objects get a "nothing happened" prompt in the first area, it stymies attempts to learn spell effects. As a player, I have no desire to try every spell on every object until a thing happens eventually - this is why adventure games died. I want to understand my core tools and feel that I've used them cleverly and logically when I eventually solve a puzzle. I strongly believe that you should have an initial tutorial segment that gradually unlocks spells and illustrates their function to familiarise players with the verbs they have to work with. Armed with that knowledge, it'll up to the player to use that knowledge logically from then on. :D

  • Ah, thank you very much for the feedback!

    And don't worry, I won't fry you like bacon: I don't eat bacon.

    I do like fried fish, however, and stir-fry, and at least some fried pastries and the like...

    What were we talking about?

    On to the feedback!

    I'm surprised that you didn't manage to climb the plant; what did you try?

    I think that you're right about having a better means of identifying interactive objects, and I've implemented a basic version of the adventure-game tooltip mechanism.

    As to introducing the spells, I do very much agree -- as I think that I said elsewhere in the thread, the full game would be intended to introduce the player to each spell one at a time (perhaps excluding the first two spells, just so that the player doesn't start with only one), with spells being acquired fairly far apart (and indeed, a given player may not get them all). I would intend that each spell also come with a little more explanation, albeit perhaps still a little vague.

    That said... I'm honestly somewhat uncertain on the spell front. You make a very good point indeed regarding the issue of lots of "that doesn't work" responses discouraging experimentation, and another that the vagueness of the spells makes predicting potential effects difficult.

    The inspiration for the somewhat "fluffy" interpretations of the spells comes at least in part, I believe, from an example in the Quest for Glory games that has stuck with me through the years: a spell that one can acquire early in that series is the "calm" spell, the primary use of which was reducing the aggression of attackers, allowing the mage to escape (or attack while the enemy is not advancing). However, it had at least one other use, as I recall: it could be used to weaken or douse fires; "calming" the fire. To my mind that feels wonderfully "magical"; it expresses that this is something that doesn't work by strict, physical laws.

    However, it doesn't seem that I'm succeeding there. Perhaps there are too many spells. Perhaps it's just that too many combinations are indeed unused. Perhaps I'm missing something else entirely. :/

    For now I welcome advice on this; in the meanwhile I think that it calls for more thought on my part.
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