MAL: A UAT Game Project Group
Brad Macomber, Justin Pereira, Dan Peschman and Brian Clifton banded
together to create a game that morphed from a programming exercise into
an full-fledged game. The four amigos presented the MAL game at the most
recent UAT Technology Forum, and then agreed to an exclusive interview
with UAT 's What's Happening. See the game online on Brian's site.
Did 80s music inspire you with this game?
Brian: Definitely, how could it not? I listen to 80's music everyday.
All of it is great, especially "Take on me" by Ahha.
Brad: No comment. Well actually, I stole some inspiration for music
from ancient NES games, if that counts.
Justin: Devo for at least eight hours a day.
Dan: For the other guys I'm sure it did, but I was too busy growing
in the 80s to stop and listen to music.
What kind of game is it?
Brian: MAL is a 2D platform/arcade style game. It is probably closest
in style to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Brad: MAL was originally a group exercise in coding a simple game, which
grew into the work of art you now see before you.
Justin: MAL is a 2D platform game on the PC. It’s amazing what
kind of games you can produce without having to sell it to anyone
Dan: Castlevania + Metroid + Prince of Persia
Why the name (and the name change?)
Brian: Originally, I offered the name MAL, standing for M(urderers) A(nd)
L(ooters). Also, the acronym MAL when said out loud is Spanish for bad,
which is cool. Then later we started making up more and more possible
names until the rest of the group came up with M(agicians) A(nd) L(ooters).
Brad: After Justin joined the team, the theme of the game started to
weed out some of the murderer-type characters and included more magicians.
So this is more appropriate considering that the style of gameplay and
everything else has been steered likewise.
Justin: We’ve also looked at Magical Adventures in Looting, Meatballs
And Lasagna, and Mario And Luigi.
Brad: My favorite is still Midgets and Lemmings.
Dan: I hated trying to explain how to pronounce "MAL," since
I wasn't sure myself. (is it "mahl" or "maul"???)
How many levels are there now?
Brian: Well, the whole world is divided into Zones. Each zone is divided
into screens. A screen is a unit that is 640x480 pixels in size, which
complies to the resolution we chose to use for the game. Right now, I'm
pretty sure there is almost 2100 screens in the entire world, and there
is probably more to come.
Brad: The game contains a single giant, contiguous level. In the beginning
of the game, progression through the game will be directed through a certain
route, with "boss" battles being rewarded with more capabilities.
The game world is currently larger than 2000 screens.
Justin: About two miles wide and one mile tall. This allows for a lot
of permutations in using the different objects in our game, but because
of the limited content you’re probably going to decapitate at least
a hundred morg minions (the sexless skinny goblin things). Not a really
bad thing, now that I think about it. So our biggest challenge has been
giving the player new and unique challenges. I think that our choice to
make the game really big paid off. Of course, I did make the game world,
so it’s hard for me to get bored or lost.
Tell us about the Level Editor ... How did it work for you? The
advantages and disadvantes of that? Why did you want to build it yourself?
What did you learn from that experience?
Brian: We planned to have a massive game world, bigger than any sidescroller/platform
style game out there. In order to do that, the world data needs to be
stored and made available to be edited. With such a large world, editing
each screen by hand in notepad is not really an option. I started writing
the level editor from the ground up in straight C before we really even
knew what we wanted, because I knew that it would take a long time to
finish it. After we submitted our game to the Independant Games Festival,
I started writing version 2.0 of the level editor in C++ based on my original
C code. I wanted to build it myself, rather than using VB C# or Java,
because I like to code everything myself. When you code everything yourself,
there is only the code you need to run the program, and I can optimize
the code heavily so that the compiler outputs efficient machine code.
I rewrote a ton of controls like buttons, listboxes, the window itself,
and more just because my way is more efficient than using Win32 api. Also,
another key thing to note is that I could use the same code we used in
the MAL engine in my editor to get a 100% WYSIWYG-"what you see is
what you get" editor. I wrote the exact same graphic engine code
in the editor as I wrote in the full game. I learned a lot about making
intuitive interfaces and what end users want to see.
Brad: MAL is too complex a game to not have its own editor. Brian did
a nice job of this.
What's the next step to development of the game?
Brian: Well actually, I just had to stop working on MAL. This is my
last semester, and I have to get a job.
Brad: I have a huge list of features to implement. After adding a few
more fun things, I have to enhance the script system to allow for the
route of progression we've planned for the player to beat the game. Further
unessential content will probably be postponed indefinitely.
Justin: I’ve been handed the task of refining a lot of the gameplay.
I find myself tweaking numbers and tiles constantly now. More tedious
than it sounds, but I think it’s more fun than adding the countless
hundreds of frames of animation that went into the game. After all that
I’m going to add pirate ships and make it 3D.
What do you ultimately plan to do with the game?
Brian: Use it as a portfolio piece, I guess.
Justin: Burn it to a single CD and hide it in the desert.
Dan: If it reaches a certain level of maturity before we all go bonkers
and quit, I'd be up for trying to sell it as shareware.
Did you get any feedback about the game from the GDC conference?
Brian: I talked to one or two people who did make it to the top10 that
did get a chance to play our game, and they said they really liked it.
Justin: I talked to some people in the student competition. They said
they might have played it but didn’t really remember.
You ended up re-doing a lot of the code .. why is that? What is
Brad: Well, after the August deadline, we rewrote alot of the code in
a few areas, and I think we've benefited greatly from this, in terms of
making better decisions and being better organized. Incidentally, in case
you're an intermediate programmer, I should advise you to not be afraid
to rewrite your engine as many times as is necessary to test implementations
of different ideas. One of the original Quake programmers reported that
they rewrote their engine hundreds of times.
Dan: I think it's a good habit to go back and look for inefficiencies
in one's code and try to make it more organized. That way, the next time
you are confronted with a similar problem, you'll already know a better
way to handle it.
What kind of technologies you used to make the game? (and why
Brian: The music is stored in ScreamTracker3 and Impulse Tracker audio
formats which are loaded and played using a DLL I found from ModPlug Tracker;
The graphics are rendered on the screen using OpenGL; The textures are
all 32 bit (RGBA) TGA files; I store the textures in a custom ZIP format
I wrote using the Zlib 1.14 compression algorithm; The sounds are WAV
files which are loaded and played using DirectMusic; The keyboard and
USB controller support is through DirectInput; The rest is XML.
Brad: We used Visual C++ .NET and Photoshop. We store most of the game
data in XML so that the level editor and the game can be updated individually
without getting stuck with binary data that's only compatible with one
of the two programs. By forcing each program to parse the data from text
(using agreed-upon strings), we don't have to worry about differing enumerations,
etc. Also, I can tweak the world in notepad without having to wait for
the newest level editor.
Justin: There was a conscious choice to not use 3d tools to create the
game. We were very concerned with a consistent artistic style and eventually
just the thought of using 3d tools on our 2d game would make me go cross-eyed.
Call it a rebellious act from everyone telling me to put 3d characters
in the game.
What about the storyline: What is it based on? What inspired you?
Brad: Initially this was a coding exercise; we wouldn't have much of a
storyline if Justin hadn't joined the team. Also we watched alot of pirate
movies. But that whole Kyrandia thing was a complete coincidence; they
stole all our ideas 10 years ago.
Justin: When we added the mechanic of having to find the other characters
and have them join you I felt that it was entirely logical to give the
players some text to read and hopefully make the game more enjoyable.
It’s a pretty messed up storyline but I feel that it captures what
we wanted pretty closely. Our inspirations came directly from Harry Potter,
Monkey Shine, and Kentucky Fried Movie (which I have never seen but it
still managed to inspire me).
Is the game a little bit satirical in spirit? And what are you
Brad: I can only imagine that you're referring to Justin's sense of humor.
Justin: Most our jokes were conceived on Saturday nights following a “wouldn’t
it be funny if…” I would only write the script if the time
was past four in the morning, which is when I thought everything was funny.
How long has the project taken?
Brian: we've been working on it for just over a year so far
Brad: The project would have been done in 2002 if it wasn't for all
What do you want to work on to complete it?
Brian: I feel kind of bad, I have to quit working on the project to find
Brad: My to-do list is prioritized so that elements essential to making
the game complete come before the extra stuff which I'd "like"
to do but don't really need.
Justin: I don’t think I’ll ever be completely content with
the level design, but that’s going to be the largest portion of
work left for me to do. I’m also going to surprise the rest of the
team soon with new monsters that I’ll create just to give them more
work to do.
Brad: Really? I like more monsters.
Dan: As for me, I tend to put in elements that I think would be funny
or cool even if they are unessential before the more important stuff.
This might be because I seem to be the guy where most of the "Hey,
it would be cool if..." statements are directed. In terms of what's
important for me to finish, I have to create 6 or so more brains for some
monsters, fix a few bugs, and tweak the AI for the other enemies so that
they work how they are supposed to.
You wrote everything from scratch ... why did you choose to
do that? What did you learn from that? If you ever had to do that again,
would you do it again? Or do differently?
Brian: I personally write everything from the ground up (in C or C++).
I don't use other people's code or libraries unless I know the person
who wrote it, know it is very efficient, or I have no other choice.
Brad: We chose this route because we started as a group of coders, and
this is the process in which we choose to be knowledgeable. It's good
experience to code with other people and compromise to see how the pieces
Tell us what you learned about game project management ... how
did you assign the roles, maintain the discipline and keep a sense of
Brian: I learned a lot. At first, I tried being the "project management"
guy and tried to get Brad and Dan to do things my way. That didn't go
over so well, but after that, we all figured out our positions. We all
pretty much collectively managed our project. I learned a lot.
Brad: We were lucky enough to have alot of dedication from all the members.
Each person had an idea of what they were capable of and interested in,
and for the most part everyone got a chance to contribute what they wanted.
Also we had no designated leader, although I think Justin and I pretended
to be leader more times than the others. I think in the future I'll have
to be more careful in delegating and accepting responsibility, especially
with other schoolwork being in the way.
Justin: Because of the size of the team (4) we had an incredible amount
of flexibility, so I don’t think we received a very good impression
of the normal game development process. It was nice, though, since we
could communicate very easily over design issues and any problems we ran
into. With a team so small things either get done or they don’t.
If one of us lagged then the project would never have made it this far.
Dan: It was cool how I didn't need to know how the level editor or the
physics or the data loading worked. I could write my bit completely independently
without having to understand everything that goes on behind the curtains.
Creating a flexible system in which we (programmers) could be mostly autonomous
allowed us to be much more productive.
Tell us how your project gelled together with the members...
how did you meet and agree on a common goal?
Brad: In some areas one person would have a plan which could be implemented
without much regard from the others, and we seemed to have a general agreement
about what the game would be like, but we also held "debates"
to determine as objectively as possible the best decisions for gameplay.
Justin: While I might know something about art, and the rest of the team
knows something about coding, we were very new to working on an idea for
a game from conception to finish (as a team). It was very haphazard, and
sometimes unproductive, but I think we really needed this to better understand
the process. We all had very different ideas even though we could agree
on the same genre, but I don’t think MAL would have the character
it does now without the ideas and innovation of the entire team.
I heard there's some kind of "secret shoe" in the
game. Is that just a rumor?
Brian: I don't know what you're talking about.
Brad: Where do they come up with this stuff?