23/02 - The Elementalist concept

Hi folks, I'm Morgan Brown - an A-Level student and games developer from the UK - and this is the first devlog for The Elementalist, my new action platformer about rapidly switching between the elements to counter incoming enemies, coming in April/May 2018 to itch.io and Steam. In this first devlog I want to discuss the ideas behind The Elementalist, where they came from, and past iterations on these ideas.

So it all began around this time last year, with what I'll be referring to as Elementalist Classic for the purposes of clarity. Here's what that version of the game started out looking like:

This was among my earliest projects with Game Maker Studio 2, and this footage shows using a seed to turn water into plant life, fire to burn that plant life, and water to put out fire. It looks very rudimentary, but this would essentially form the foundation of Elementalist Classic.

It didn't take long for the mechanics and art style to change: this footage shows the first time those really began to take hold, with the player using fire, water, and earth to their advantage. You may also notice that each had multiple applications, something I was learning as I was beginning to pay more attention to learning game design. Earth powers could not only turn water into a walkable surface but also spontaneously create one for the player. Water could be fired in front of the player or in a jet beneath them, and fire could be shot or charged up to blast through multiple layers of earth.

The art style's biggest inspiration was Downwell, a game which is very conservative in its choice of colours, using just three. White is used to stand out against black, and give form to enemies and show where the player can walk, while red indicates danger. It makes the game instantly readable, and is incredibly effective. I tried to mimic this, with white and black as basic colours, grey for detail, red for fire, blue for water, and green for earth.

The game developed and eventually became what you see above. The design was most like a metroidvania, the idea being that the player would navigate a massive castle, having to use each of their abilities in succession to access different rooms. If you've read this medium post on my 2017 game Ninja Boy Returns then you will now that I was developing Elementalist Classic during a period where I had a tendency to over-scope on my game designs. While I still think there is merit to the concept of a metroidvania with these mechanics, I did not have the willpower to execute it, and so the project would eventually be shelved after a demo had been made and I would move on to other works.

Following a number of projects which I either managed to finish, but didn't exactly sell well (the aforementioned Ninja Boy Returns and the more recent Spaceship 20XX) and others which haven't reached their conclusion but ended up tiring me out (Elementalist Classic, Spaceship 2217, and, more recently, The Extended Project) I have realised that I need to scope down and focus in on the details which make a game unique and fun, both to develop and to play. It is with that in mind that I present The Elementalist, new and revised for 2018.

Many elements (ba-dum tish) are still there: the distinct but obviously Downwell inspired 6 colour palette; the player must still use fire, earth, and water to overcome enemies, but dramatic changes have been made. 

Firstly you will probably notice that the art is much simpler - even though it retains a similar colour palette sprites are now all just 8x8 and very minimal in their detail. I made this decision as for me the art of a game is often a drag to develop, so limiting what I do in this regard will save me copious amounts of time and energy, allowing me to focus on other aspects.

The metroidvania structure is completely gone in favour of a Super Crate Box style series of arenas following one after the other, although with more of a story in between (more details on that when it's worked out!) Enemies pour in from a number of points and leaving one will send them in the opposite way. Crowd control is incredibly important.

The player has just a few hearts but now has a limited amount of mana, which recharges once the player stops using their spells. Speaking of the spells, many of the navigational elements of them are gone; there is no longer any need for the ability to place a block of earth in the world as the player will not be needing to navigate vertically outside of the arenas provided. Instead the focus is on a rock-paper-scissors style combat system, where dealing with the huge number of enemies by blasting them with their antithetical element is the only way to survive.

If you couldn't tell by my fevered description of the game given here, I am very passionate about this, and am already having immense fun playing the prototypes. It's fast paced, it's mechanically elegant, and I cannot wait to show more of it to the world soon. Although this isn't the first version of The Elementalist, it's definitely my absolute favourite.

Thanks for reading! Consider following me to be notified of new content here on the devlog and when the game goes live. If you want to see more of development then follow me on Twitter - I've been posting daily GIFs so far, but I'm not sure how long I can keep that up! I hope you come back for the next devblog and when the game comes out in April/May this year.

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