Wireframe

Glitchfall and the 'bad end' of game development

By Ryan Lambie. Posted

Glitchfall certainly looks cosy at first glance: a 2D platformer made with a warm colour palette and charming sprite designs. It is, like lots of other games of its kind, a “love letter” to the titles Greek developer Nikos Stavridis played when he was growing up. It doesn’t take much digging, though, to discover that there’s something even more personal going on in Glitchfall than a homage to much-loved childhood games. Its protagonist, Johnny, is – in his creator’s own words – “a 30-something, failed indie dev” who finds himself dragged into an old video game and asked to defend its pixel-art world from an invading threat known as Glitches.

“Johnny is the ‘bad ending’ of many real-life game dev stories,” Stavridis says. “Faced with his failure in game development, he comes to understand that his life may never be what he wants it to be. He wants to settle, get another job, and be a responsible adult, but he can’t, because he hates not doing what he loves. You could even say he’s still like a kid.”

Zapped into the world of the game, Johnny’s mission will take him across eight zones of four levels each, acquiring new powers that allow him to change the properties of the game, all while helping the world’s friendly characters and repelling its dastardly enemies. It’s like a combination of The Matrix, Tron, and some of Stavridis’ favourite games, among them Super Mario Land and Undertale.

If there’s a bitter-sweet edge to Glitchfall’s backstory, then that’s perhaps because it was born in the wake of a difficult period in Stavridis’s own history. “In Greece, all males are bound by law to serve in the army once they reach 18 years of age,” he explains. “You have the right to postpone it for studies, but all my time had run out. I could no longer avoid it. It was 2016 and I was in the barracks, unable to sleep, and listening to the music from Undertale on a $20 phone I’d bought, since camera phones were forbidden in the base. I was 20kg overweight, full of anxiety, and in no way athletic, but I managed to get through basic training without breaking down.”

Stavridis is using the HTML5-based game engine Construct 2 to make Glitchfall, along with Paint.NET for sprites, and FL Studio for music. “I like to keep things simple,” he says.
Ambition

Three months into his service, however, Stavridis suffered “a huge panic attack”, and he was taken to hospital; with six months’ service still to serve, Stavridis managed to get a placement at an office on another military base. Once all that was over, he began thinking again about an ambition he’d had since he was a youth: making games. The trouble was, his previous attempts at making an RPG had stalled, and by the time he’d finished his national service, he’d completely lost the thread of the game he’d started about a year earlier. “I went home, opened RPG Maker, and couldn’t remember anything; not even my own code,” he says.

From scratch

Instead, Stavridis decided to start again from scratch with a completely different game, in a different genre, with a decidedly personal storyline. “Once again, I started a new project: a game about the good and bad side of nostalgia, the joy we get from games, and how they can change our lives. The hero would be me, and all of us indies on Twitter, on Reddit, and everywhere else who are developing and showing off the games we dreamt of as kids.” It’s just over a year since Stavridis started Glitchfall, and it’s clear from his Twitter feed that his platformer’s progressing nicely.

Among Glitchfall’s most eye-catching elements are its power-ups; initially armed with little more than an Alex Kidd-like punch, Johnny can later acquire things like a Glitchmagnet, which can attract coins from all over the screen, a Glitchshield, which protects him from damage, and Glitchfire, which can both toast enemies with a jet of fire and add a bit of extra velocity to his dash ability. “At the moment, I’ve completed five offensive ones and five defensive abilities,” Stavridis tells us. “I think it’s a nice balance of variety and gameplay. Johnny begins the game with only jumping and punching as his abilities, but as the game progresses, he unlocks many more. There’s even a bit of a Metroidvania design, where, after unlocking a new ability you can go to previous levels and find secrets.”

Glitchfall’s main city will contain a shop for buying power-ups, as well as NPCs who’ll provide optional side quests.

There are also other secrets to find on the player’s journey to the game’s final boss, the Glitchking. “There are some points in the levels where the game is very unstable,” says Stavridis. “If you manage to find those Glitched points, you will be transported to the mysterious Minus World, where the true Glitches are.”

Stavridis still has more work to do on Glitchfall, including level designs, boss battles, and dialogue to polish, but he already has big plans for the game’s future, including a port to the Nintendo Switch. “I can’t wait for people to experience its story,” Stavridis says. “As you can see, I’ve put in quite a lot of my own story in there. The imaginative kid scribbling a monster in his notebook, the enthusiastic teenager learning about variables, the anxious soldier drawing courage from a song and a dream. And it’s all come to this. This game is me.”

This is the first boss, Joka Poka, which took 300 lines of code and about three weeks to complete. Stavridis still has more bosses left to design.

Assist Mode

Glitchfall may be a personal game for Stavridis, but he isn’t working on it entirely on his own. Among his collaborators, there’s Greek comic book artist Manos Lagouvardos handling artwork, while pixel artist Jeiman Sutrisman is providing most of the sprites. Music will be handled by Japanese composer Hiroki Yamamoto (making his video game debut), Jake ‘Chaotrope’ Cunningham, and Stavridis himself, and there are even plans for a theme song, written and performed by chiptune singer Professor Shyguy. “When I started the project, it was just me and Manos, but I eventually sought out some help and found these guys,” Stavridis says. “I’m using my own savings to compensate them for their services, but maybe I’ll be trying some crowdfunding soon.”

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