Friday, April 22, 2011

Anguna – Homebrew Classic

Some of you may not have heard of Anguna yet.Well, that's exactly why I'm doing this post. I also plan to do a complete review of the game for our gameinfo page on it next week. So, what is Anguna? It is a truly remarkable Zelda like homebrew game for the GBA. I could go down it's list of features praising it, but I won't right now. That's going to wait until my review is complete. This post is just to let you know that my review is on it's way. Well, that and I also did a quick interview with Nathan Tolbert the author of Anguna. Nathan did the coding and Chris Hildenbrand provided the truly beautiful artwork. I wanted to let you all take a look at the interview before I did the review. So, here it is:

1. How old are you and how long have you been programming?
32. I started programming at about 6 yrs old when my parents bought us a TI-99/4a computer, that came with a book called "Beginner's Basic". I was immediately hooked, and spent the rest of my childhood trying to figure out how to make cheesy games in basic.

2. What do you do professionally?
I write software at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

3. How did you get into programming and how long had you been coding before you wrote Anguna?
I guess I already answered this :)

4. How long did it take you to code the game from start to finish?
About 3 years. Since it was just a hobby project, I wasn't able to sink a lot of devoted time into it, and I worked on it off and on during that time. I guess only about half or 2/3 of that time was actual game coding, the rest was level/game design, asset preparation, throwaway code for learning the GBA platform, etc.

5. What were your influences for the play style?
Zelda, of course :) Really, I've always enjoyed old-school action-adventure games (older zeldas, metroid, blaster master, etc) and all my life have wanted to make a high quality console adventure game. With Anguna, I sat down and said, "what would I like to play?" and tried to make that (I only half succeeded, I think). Some of the design decisions (no real plot, lack of clear direction of where to go, etc) were very purposeful based on what I enjoy in video games (And don't really appear often in modern games). I like wandering around not knowing where I'm supposed to go ;-)

6. How much were you involved with the art development.
Early demos of Anguna had HORRIBLE graphics that my friends I and made, combined with some nice graphics from Reiner's tilesets that were pretty but didn't fit well with what I was going for. (see )
Then I lucked out, and had an amazing artist (Chris Hildenbrand) contact me about reworking the graphics for the game. He had quite a few ideas about changing the game engine to support things that it didn't originally support (foreground tiles, enemy portraits, etc), but his art was amazing, so I overhauled the engine to support his suggestions. It was then a back and forth process -- I'd give him a list of sprites and tiles that I was interested in using, he'd give me back art that partially matched what I asked for, and also included other ideas. I'd then work what he had given me into the game.

7. The AI for the game is fairly impressive. Was coding it difficult or is it easier than it looks?
The AI was actually relatively easy and fun to work on. Each enemy had it's own script that ran every frame to determine what to do next. Most have very simple patterns, but a few (the toadies and sentries for example) took a good bit of testing and debugging to get right.

8. What influenced your decisions about level and enemy design? How did you go about developing a list of enemies? How did you lay out your dungeons?
Enemy design had 2 parts: first, what the enemy is (the picture), 2nd what it did (the ai). For what the enemies were, I mostly used fairly standard fantasy game enemies, combined with whatever Chris came up with in the graphics department. For what they did, that took more thought. One of the fun things about zelda, (and in contrast, what made some other top-down action adventures like Final Fantasy Adventure for GB weak) was learning each enemy, how they move, their patterns, which were all different, and fighting accordingly. So I did my best to come up with predictable but challenging patterns.
Level design was a bit harder. I'm pretty bad at it, I feel like. Trying to make maps that were not completely linear, but not just a mess of random rooms was hard. I'd generally sketch it all out on graph paper, then sit down at the map editor and flush out the details. Trying to get the difficulty right (not just of the enemies, but of the maze, secret passages, etc) was tricky. I still don't really know for sure if the difficulty level is quite right (since I made it, I know where the secrets are).

9. Did any enemies get marked off the list before they got in game? If so why?
I originally had a wolf and some undead critters (for the graveyard scene) planned, but never got suitable graphics for them, so they got chopped. And I originally wanted a few more types enemies for the 4th dungeon, but at that point I was getting impatient with finishing, so I just did some palette swaps (thus the red toady) and went with it.
Also the toadys were originally ogres, but Chris had that neat toady graphic, so I replaced the ogres with them.
10. When you can't see enemies on screen are they still running around with their AI or do they cease to exist?
Yeah, offscreen enemies that are in the same room as you are still running around offscreen. I debated a few different design methods for that, but finally thought it would be easiest if I broke everything into discrete rooms, and everything in the room is still processed every frame.

11. What was the single hardest challenge you had to overcome?
Heh, my own tendency to get bored and not finish hobby projects :)
Probably the hardest technical challenge was getting all the final glitchy bugs out of the game. I had a few places where the game would intermittently lock up after a few minutes of play. That was really hard to debug. And my background scrolling code was never rock solid -- I kept running into scrolling glitches right until the end. Developing for a small handheld made debugging a lot of those issues a lot harder than it is on a pc.

12. Will there be a sequel?
Probably not. I like the idea of doing one, but I'd really rather make a different game instead.
I do get people asking if they can port it to a different platform, (the answer is yes) but nobody has ever followed through with it. I've ported it to the Nintendo DS, and started on an iPhone port, but that got stalled out (making the same game 3 times starts to get old, and I'm not a fan of Apple's tight control over development on their devices)

13. Do you have any plans to develop other games in the future?
No definite plans, but I'd like to. The trick is finding a good niche. The GBA was perfect -- it was relatively easy to develop for, and had a such good homebrew community that I knew if I made a decent game, it would get played. I keep throwing around ideas to make an unofficial Blaster Master sequel for GBA and DS, but haven't gotten motivated to do so yet. I also keep thinking about trying to write an atari 2600 game, just to see if I can.
I'd also like to eventually make some games for android devices, but that will have to wait until my hobby budget can afford an android device!

14. Do you have anything you would like to add?
Not that I can think of. Thanks for the interest in the game! I did find a company that supposedly still sells GBA flash carts, I ordered some and am waiting to see if they actually will get delivered, so maybe I'll have physical carts to start selling again soon!


I found Nathan's responses very interesting and am certainly going to pull from them in my review. I may even touch a few of the points he mentioned in another post. If you haven't tried Anguna yet go play it. No, go play it now. As it's in the homebrew section of Console Classix it's free for everyone. Go click the play now button and play it. It's amazing to see what a couple of determined guys can do. Also, keep an eye out for my review. I hope to have it done early next week.

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