The game that was, from the game that wasn’t. DOWN.LOAD’s story.

A friend of mine is between computers and draws pixel art using an app on their phone. Generally, they use a 64×64 canvas to make pixel doodles. One of them caught my eye.

© 2014 Spoony McMoochThis madness inspired me. I had been thinking on mobile-friendly games for a while since Flappy Bird had shook the public consciousness at the time, and I wondered how simple a game could be — my idea for an endless shooter in which the player only moves the ‘ship’ as it autofired at an ever-accelerating barrage of enemies, came a couple of days before I saw this pixel doodle. My mind combined the two and I asked my friend if I could appropriate the graphics for it. They accepted.

"Space Toast" © 2014 Spoony McMooch, Jay TownsendA prototype was cooked up using Stencyl, a program I was assessing at the time after a recommendation from an Internet-friend. Due to .jpeg compression, I essentially had to redraw the thing from scratch, but it was a playable thing where the toast followed the mouse pointer. I whipped up some sound effects and got the game to the stage where it was fully-functional, but needed some presentational flair. I asked my friend if they’d help.

© 2014 Spoony McMooch

One false-vignetted image I’d have to redraw from scratch anyway. That’s all I got. Not the requested background for in-game, not anything else. And I mean, I waited. And waited. It’s becoming more than just a data trend to me, to never trust friends with game assets. And so, I sat on the idea. Ever waiting.

Cue the second game jam I’d actually enter: Cyberpunk Jam.

The theme was Cyberpunk, and an image was voted to ‘inspire’ entries — of some nigh-silhouetted cyberpunk figures leaping from a tall neon skyscraper. Initially this bought to mind the bonus rounds from the Sega Megadrive version of Shadow Dancer. Lo, an opportunity arose! I could remake that simplistic endless shooter idea! And cue, the mockup:

MockupWorking at half the canvas (a width of 32 instead of 64), I focused on the idea of descent: a downward-scrolling shooter as opposed to the traditional inverse. I wanted a LOW resolution, as that was a thing that drew me to the initial pixel doodle in the first place. Enemies were improvised based around jellyfish-merged-with-the-Atari-logo and skulls (I just love skulls).

Fleshing this out to an asset sheet took an afternoon. I used Construct 2 (after Happy Turd’s initial version was a relative success compared to wrestling with Stencyl’s obtuse and obnoxious logic boxes) to create a first playable, an extra day after that, and then a day of polish. The ‘skull’ enemies gave a new dimension that the initial ‘Space Toast’ game lacked; invulnerable obstacles not designed to be destroyed, but to impede movement. Also, the automatic firing was consigned to bursts to force the player to think more about evasion than simply sweeping the playfield to shoot everything.

Cheekily, I re-used the sound effects I generated for Space Toast for this game, now named DOWN.LOAD as a computer-sounding term that doubled as a pun for the theme of descending. A couple of hours throwing synths and beats around in OpenMPT, and on the third day I had a game ready for the jam — indeed, the third one uploaded!

DOWN.LOAD © 2014 Jay TownsendMy second game jam game ended up being rather slick, a large improvement in presentational terms from the initial rough version of Happy Turd. And in the jam’s final ratings, it came #10 overall — out of over 250 other games!

From the ashes of a failure came something I am very proud of indeed. Play it on itch.io.

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