Monday, July 29, 2019

Project Sky Adventure! - A hot air balloon exploration game

Hi! James here. We are extremely excited to talk about our new project which are are temporarily calling 'Sky Adventure'

Sky Adventure is an exploration/adventure game where you fly around a vast skyworld in a hot-air balloon, learning about all the different animals that live there by taking pictures!

I started this project as a little experiment around mid February, since then it has become apparent that quite a lot can be done with the concept so we decided it would be fun to continue this project up to a vertical slice.

  • Pilot a balloon! - Fly around a hot air balloon, use your burner to increase your height or release air to drop. Also ride wind currents to fast travel around the open environments.
  • Take photos! - Capture photos of the animals with the animal cam to learn more about the ecosystem of the sky world, or use the cinematic camera to just capture the view. View all your photos in a photo album.
  • Bestiary - From tiny critters to giant mythical dragons that control the sky-ways. Complete the animal's entry in the bestiary to make them start appearing by your little farm!
  • Relax and enjoy the world - The sky world is filled with nature and beautiful vistas, explore at your own pace and enjoy the ambience. 


How did this project start?

Well, as mentioned above I started experimenting with the concept of a hot air balloon at the end of february after doing some projects that didn't work out. So I wanted to work on something for myself as a bit of a passion project.

I've had the idea to develop a game based on flying a hot air balloon for a while now, something similar has been stuck in my head since I watched the Studio Ghibli fil 'Laputa: Castle In The Sky' a couple of years ago. I wanted little clouds that could be bounced against and beautiful sky-scapes that felt relaxing as the layer navigated them.

I've never got round to executing on it. It was only this year that I felt confident enough with my knowledge of Unreal Engine that I thought that it might be worth finally building a prototype. So on the 8th of February I made this little thing:


It was extremely primitive, but it was a start. for the next month or so I focused on refining the physics of the balloon which is based on real world physics of hot air balloon movement. I knew the game wasn't going to be an accurate simulation of balloon flight, but I needed the physics system there to underpin it and make it feel right. I'm still tweaking physics values now!

I also needed a burner! A burner is the propane tank the fills the envelope (the top part of the balloon) with hot air. In the game, when you activate the burner the balloon envelope increases in temperature. The higher the temperature inside the balloon is compared to the ambient world temperature, then the fast it will travel upwards. The temp is capped at around 120°C which is an average max temperature for real-world balloons.

After the basic flight implementation I added in a system that allowed you to drain the air out of the top of the balloon (which will allow you to quickly drop down. This is known as a parachute vent on real balloons and is used for additional contorl over ascent.



A little bit later on I added wind currents to allow the balloon to move through an open area faster! I designed them so that the player doesn't have to use any inputs whilst inside them and it will just take them round, but they can break out of the current easily if they wanted to. :)



So I got the basic movement figured out, next was actually making it into something that resembles a game.

 I had it in my head for a while that I wanted the core gameplay mechanic to be something relaxing and non-violent. Photography seemed like something which naturally fit the game concept because the sky landscape would lend itself well to taking really cool cinematic photos. Generally though I just love to take photos in video games (it is one of my favourite thing to do in Breath Of the Wild) so I thought it would be really interesting to try and capitalize on that and see how far that mechanic could be pushed in a different setting. 



Pokemon Snap was also an influence on adding a photo mode. From this the idea of including a bestiary came about, where information was collected about the animals in the world when you taken a photo of them. (Almost like a Pokedex) This brought in an objective to the game: To record information about the skyworld's ecosystem by learning about it's wildlife. 

I introduced a few flying birds originally (they just flew in circles), then more recently I would get into developing a bunch of simple behaviour states for the animals. This would make it so that the player had to record the animal doing a range of things in order to complete their bestiary entry!

Basically this means that to record the animal's diet information: you need to record them eating. If you want to record their character, you need to capture how they act towards other animals or the player. This adds a bit more challenge to the photo-capturing.



Below is a sample of some photos captured with the in-game photo mode: 


Amongst the hills
Birds flying above

A skygull taking a daytime nap
Skygull is having a little eat.



Art + The World


I had an idea for the kind of art style the game should have: Styized, vibrant, colourful but minimal visual noise. Wind Waker and Laputa were inspirations here again mixed with some influence from the artist Moebius, The Pixar movie 'UP'. Another part of the world design I wanted include is this architecture and general mood from Old Town Alcudia in Majorca, Spain. There was this brilliant white paper bunting around the whole town and it had a nice airy feeling to it.



For the world in the game I wanted to at least get some initial concepts/sketches out there whilst working on the prototype to get a feel for what the game could shape up like. This was needed to give some direction to  Amber, who will be working on the character designs, animals and eventually the 3d art. So we needed a clear idea of a style. I created quick colour concepts of different parts of the skyworld which you can see below:


So that is the jist of most of the early development so far! I'm saving some of the other things for another post. :) Next time I will cover some recent tweaks I have done including UI aswell as talking about working on the game in the Bristol Games Hub, where I have been for the last few months!

Until next time, see you, and enjoy your summer!


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