SLicense to Dye was an action puzzle game that combined Fruit Ninja with color theory. Colored lice fell from the sky, and it's up to you to slice them with the right color. Along the way you'll encounter more and more difficult lice combos, with different color patterns, abilities, and equipment. Oh yeah, and there's a coherent(probably) punny story backing all of this too.
We had a few repositories we used for the project. One was set up by Michael directly on our studios site, but with that down now, we've since moved to Github. Because our repository contains some private key information (George'll know more about that), however, we decided just to be safe to make our repository private. That being said, I'd like to keep a record of my own work and share it with others, so I've included a copy of the game art folder.
SLicense to Dye was the biggest project I've worked on in terms of members, length and scope. Its completeness... was another issue, but regardless, everyone's put in a huge amount of work into the game, and I can't be upset about that. We had a lot of a lot of members who came in and out of the group (random shoutout to Daniel), but the credited individuals above are the ones who put in the most effort and stuck it out from pretty much start to finish.
SLice took over my entire sophomore year. Its brainchild was Christian, who came up with the idea and pitched it to the club as a year long project. Back then, and I think still how they do it today, we signed up for projects through a Google form, and we had a number of first, second, and third choice options. I put down Project SLice for all 3.
I had really fond memories of working with Christian a year ago on my first ever game jam, First Reality. He definitely knew his stuff, was a pretty good peoples person, and seemed really motivated to work on this personal project. These were all good flags in deciding a project to join, so really, I chose the project just based on my previous experiences with him rather than any idea itself.
Not to take away from the idea though. I think it may not have been the most original thing ever, but it was still plenty to iterate and work off of, and I imagined myself having a lot fun with it. Project SLice was inspired mostly from a VGDC game the year before. I actually forgot the name of the game, maybe it was Spuzzies, but it was a color theory game involving wizards striking down these cute puffball creatures that dropped down the screen.
In this game, however, you couldn't slice multiple creatures and had to tap them all to eliminate them. SLice would be very similar to that, except we would add slicing and also think up of a few unique equipment and abilities to add for the enemies. For example, these could include adding in a barrel that takes multiple hits to clear or a bomb that splashes colors on nearby enemies. And most importantly, we would theme the game around lice.
Our team hit it off well immediately. Tyler, Grant, and I knew each other really well from VGDC and from past projects/classes. Christian had a really good direction for the game, and already by day 1 we were quickly planning well and getting to work. That night I somehow worked on the logo for our studio name that we apparently agreed on, SmokeTree Studios. Not my proudest work, and definitely not a great logo, but it's memorable for us all.
The name is a reference actually to a street in Irvine, but somewhat obviously it has its smoking connotations. I regret not using a cannabis leaf; it skipped my mind at the time. I won't talk too much about the team's smoking adventures, just that not everyone, including myself, attended these. I'm a clean goody two shoes, I swear man.
Oh yeah, that's another thing. Spending so much with these guys started altering my mannerisms in ways I didn't expect. I think it started from Chris on First Reality, but he was the one that somehow instilled into me saying "for sure dude" everywhere, and this was just reinforced again in SLice.
We had a lot of small speech patterns that just became commonplace. Adding man everywhere: hey man, yeah man, sure man; and other things like sup dawg and calling people gods started to be a part of my regular speech pattern. I think that's when you start realizing who your circle of close friends are, when your speech mannerisms get warped to whatever your friends are saying. Every time someone says visceral I'm reminded of Christian, because that's how he often described things.
Funny story, sometimes on games I go by the tag WAX CHUG DA GWAD or WAXCHUGDAGWAD, a kind of obnoxious bastardization of my name. This all started from SLice. Whenever members on the team complete something pretty amazing or finishes a pretty important section, we congratulate them in our friendly way by calling them gods. And in additional to gods, Grant was also the one I think who brought dogs into our conversation.
Pretty soon, I think it might have been me, I started to warp dog into its cousin, dwag. To get this, you spell dog out as dawg and then switch the w and a to form dwag. So then a common greeting became sup dwag among each other. And seeing the similarities with god and gawd, that too became gwad. Now I was then often called Max the Gwad.
But since we've distorted the god part, it's only fair to distort my whole name too. Max became Wax, Chung became Chug, and the became da. That's how Wax Chug da Gwad was formed. It's a really stupid name that kind of doesn't make sense, but I think it's a kind of catchy, so maybe I'll stick to it for a while. At the very least, it's a pretty good troll name I frequently use.
That's a big tangent. Back to the team, we had a pretty big group to manage. Most groups had about a dozen members give or take, which, as I've mentioned in a past post, was not a great idea. A lot of members were going to dip in and out, and it would be difficult to manage tasks among one another. SLice, for the most part was fine, though. Christian was a good leader for all the programmers, and he also worked closely with the designers. Everyone also stepped up to try and learn and work.
On the second week of our group together, VGDC held a kick start game jam for the year long projects. A kick start worked quite a bit different from normal game jams. While teams were expected to start from scratch, it was not meant to be a competitive experience or something that should be sped through. Rather it was just a chance to encourage teams to work closer together and have a good head start into the year.
The reasons for not having a fall game jam was something talked over by the officers. Since spring quarter, the board had discussions about how to best hold game jams. Last year, it looked like VGDC actually lost a lot of potential members during the fall game jam because of how incredibly intensive it was. There were quite a few people who described it as being thrown into the fire and were scarred poorly by the experience.
So as a middle ground, we decided to have a pseudo game jam and use it more as a bonding experience for teams. As for whether it worked out or not, I'd say the lack of formal competition deterred strong progress. For SLice, had a really good time working with and getting to know each, so we definitely got benefits out of it. Regardless, for the past two years VGDC has decided to not hold jams of any kind in the fall quarter. They now use the fall quarter as a full learning experience.
I've talked about this before, and I think I agree with how things have changed in the club, moving away from fall game jams. It's a lot less stressful on new members. I don't have the data to back me up, but anecdotally I feel like there's been a larger retention rate after my year. The counterargument in favor of keeping the early game jams was to weed out members who weren't serious about game development, but this happened pretty naturally I would say as members grew disinterested in the long term projects.
Alright, so after all that off topic talk, I think I'm finally going to start getting into the nuts and bolts of SLice, mostly from my perspective. I worked 100% on all the art and touched the code a very, very tiny little bit to adjust some things to my liking. I'll preface by saying that I may not have a great grasp of some of the more detailed events that happened because of all the time that's passed. I'm probably just going to talk about things as they come to me.
The bulk of the game consisted of fending off 8 kinds of lice. These were the red, yellow, blue, orange, green, purple, brown, and white lice. The primary and secondary colors can be explained pretty simply. Taking the red lice for example, you needed to slice it with red in order to kill it. If you sliced it with yellow on accident, then the red lice became orange. The orange can be deconstructed with red or yellow or made even worse with blue.
If you added blue to the orange lice, this forms a brown lice, which then on cannot be deconstructed by any color. In order to remove these, you must obtain either a spray can that destroys everything on screen or use a bomb to get rid of them. Finally, there's the white lice, which incidentally gives you a free spray can to use.
Making these was a lot more work than you might think. I made it so that each lice had to have its own particular look and animations. And animations were also a little tricky too because every single lice (it should be singular louse, but that sounds kinda weird so I'm going to call everything lice) had six legs that I had to be sure to animate. I assure you, after doing so many of these lice frames, I've basically mastered my personal sprite sheet making process.
Each lice had its own standalone frame along with a moving and death animation. So in total I had got about 2*8*8 frames to worry about just with lice alone. I then worked on transformation animations, where I made sprite sheets for swapping all the lice to different colors. This took quite a bit of work, but I think we eventually removed all this as it got too cluttered and just resorted to transforming in code.
I definitely did a lot more art than was required of me, some of which was to just ease the programming required for the project. At one point I think I was actually animating particle effects to help out. I definitely, objectively, put in the largest amount of work into the project. Every single day I tried to work on it and contributed something no matter the day, season, occasion.
I don't think I've ever been as dedicated to my projects ever since SLice, or maybe SLice was an exception. A lot of times I end up splitting my attention to multiple projects, and it's difficult for me to multitask efficiently. I prefer these days to just work on a single project at a time because the focused amount of work I'm able to produce for one project feels a lot more rewarding to me, the team, and progress overall.
After the basic lice I started to work on abilities and equipment. These were something that Christian wanted to add into the game to spice up normal gameplay and add a little bit of flair. There were quite a few ideas we wanted to incorporate, but eventually we settled for 6 of these in total. I want to say pretty much all them except for maybe 1 made it into the game.
Making these abilities and equipment was actually a bit challenging, because we didn't want something that was just trivial or tedious to make, like oh, I don't know, a stupid lice with a sword coming down that does extra damage. Not only does this not feel very rewarding but it can be a lot of work on my side to add in 6/7/maybe 8 * 2 animations for moving and death on each sword lice. The effort and time in making these was not justified for the payoffs.
So we needed to be smart with what we chose. It needed to be something that was not simply just attached every single lice or else we'd need to make something like 16 copies of it. Let me first explain differences between the abilities and equipment. Abilities were more like specialized lice, and equipment were more like things that were tacked onto the lice. Honestly, I don't think there's a big difference, so I may just group em all together and use the names interchangeably.
For abilities we had bomb, ninja, and mound. Bomb was a special lice that when sliced released a big color explosion that colored everything around it a certain color. There were only three kinds of bombs: red, yellow, and blue for primary colors as we thought secondary color bombs would be too difficult to handle. These added a lot to gameplay and definitely allowed the designers to make some more creative levels. These bombs were also another solution to killing brown lice.
Next are ninja and mound, which I kind of group together. Ninjas are unkillable until about halfway down the screen. Then they give off a little poof and turn into a normal colored lice. Conversely, for mound, a normal lice travels halway down the map and then burrows into a mound to become, if I recall, unkillable. I think the ninja ability was definitely cuter and more fun to play with. I'm not 100% sure if mound made it into the game, but I'm pretty sure it did.
For equipment, we have barrel, blanket, and egg. Barrels were something that Christian had in mind when he first started the project. These were placed on top of a lice and required three slices before it would break and reveal what was underneath. The cool thing about these were that you could mix abilities with barrels so you could have a bomb lice within a barrel. Unfortunately, I don't think we ever got barrels to a great playable state. It was difficult polling the slices correctly on hit, so often it felt too slow or too fast to kill.
Next was blanket. This was just a piece of white cloth slapped on top of a lice. These made the game visually more difficult, as only a sliver of an enemy was made visible. I believe you could also put any abilities you wanted underneath this one. Most of the time only the bomb lice was mixed in barrels or blankets because the ninja and mound were a little more special.
Egg was an interesting one that we tried to add late into project to have an even 6 number. Placing an egg on a lice would make it so that you had to slice from a certain direction in order to kill it. The egg protected 3 directions of the spider's body, but one direction was left crack and exposed. Unfortunately I believe this was never put into the game because of time issues from programmers and designers.
This covers basically all of the normal lice animations, but there were special lice that I had to draw a completely unique set of animations for, the boss lice. One of the things we started developing in the first quarter was a sense of story that carried throughout the play mode. This was mainly started by I would say Tasha, who was a writer briefly on the project. She left the team after some drama happened that I'm kind of at fault for but I'm not going to get into. Mostly personal stuff.
She was the one who thought up the first world of our game, Leechifer's Feast, starring Leechifer, a vampire themed lice. There was a backstory to this that I don't quite fully remember. I think it had something to do with lice not having wings, but Leechifer still wanting to be a vampire with bat wings.
One of his characteristics in his boss stage was having a phase where he would sit on the side fixing his makeshift bat wings while you had to fight against waves of incoming lice. After he finished repairing them, he then flew around and you had to slice him with the correct color of his wings. And then the two phases repeated.
There's a lot more work to a world than just the boss animations themselves, however. There's the world background, the world level select on/off buttons, in game mirror decorations, level names, portraits for both the boss and its minions, and maybe more that I'm forgetting. These steps had to be repeated again for the tutorial stage, Schoolhouse Slice; and the other two stages, Major Munchies and Baby's Breakfast. With the exception of the tutorial, somehow the worlds became food related. Not quite sure how that happened, but I like it.
Minions were a special kind of lice that were themed off of the world they were in. We had dialogue boxes before and after each level that had conversations between characters in game. Usually these would feature Lou Sebald (shorted to just Lou), the main character of the game talking with the lice he's fighting against. In Leechifer's level, the minions were gothic/emo themed lice.
For characters, Schoolhouse Slice featured Nurse Expel, the instructor and explainer for the game. I think this was mostly designed by Christian, maybe also helped out by Emma, who I'm not sure was a strict member of our project, or I don't know, someone else. Emma was a writer who was on Apocalypse University with me. Her story in SLice is a little bit weird since I didn't work with her directly, but I'll try and recall what I can.
In the second quarter of SLice, the dialogue writing was starting to get out of hand because there were quite a few levels, 9 per world, that we had to worry about. We started looking for a writer to help us out, and Emma joined us then. At the time she was leading The Xavier Mosaic, another year long VGDC project that turned out to kind of a pretty disastrous nightmare, so she was busy for sure. But I think she worked with Christian to try and write out some lines for us.
Now, I'm not exactly sure how much was her work and how much was a mix of everyone else's on the team. At one point I'm pretty sure I approached her saying that we were going to remove her from the credits and redo work she did because we haven't heard from her in a while. Again, I haven't worked with her directly since she mostly working alone with Christian, so I don't know what she's done.
She, however, got upset at that because she apparently worked a lot on the dialogue, just that Christian may not have used it. I'm not too sure of the exchange that happened. This was also during a time when some internal tensions in the project popped up and member shifts were happening.
Either way, there's no way we could have fit all of her work into our game because we, as I recall, ran out of steam towards the end of the project. I don't know if the current dialogue is hers, but I based the credits off of what I had in the game for the most recent build and in this one her name out.
She also claimed that she helped design world 2 and 3's theme for us, but this I strongly disagree with, as I think the rest of the SLice crew held much more responsibility in that regard, if not myself in particular. World 2, Major Munchies, featured Munchies, a soldier-themed lice. Apparently major is pretty low on the army ranking spectrum, but we couldn't pass up the chance for that alliteration so we kept it. His unique boss fight featured him riding a tank shooting down at you.
The last world is probably my favorite since I took a heavy hand in deciding the theme for it. World 3 was Baby's Breakfast starring Baby, a Cthulu-esque lice. His world featured aliens, and his unique boss fight depicted him in his UFO shooting down colored lightning bolts at you. I had a lot fun with this one, I think maybe just name alone inspired me. Babies Breakfast, a part of my delicious, nutritious daily diet intake.
One of the great things about this project was just the really punny and stupidly humorous environment we had. Everyone cracked dumb jokes with one another, and I was maybe possibly at the forefront of that. At one point I think I was designated the role of drawing out level name tags, featuring such keepers as A Lice in Wonderland, Lice Free or Dye Hard, A Game of Cat and Louse, and Little Louse on the Prairie.
These were supposed to show up when you clicked on a level and saw a challenge screen showing the level details and your friends' scores on it. Christian wanted to push this game as more than just a solo game by itself and have it hooked up to social media with stats and achievements. A lot of this we eventually scrapped due to its low priority and lack of focus. I think George said he got achievements working for Google Play somehow though, but I've never actually tested that out myself so I can't confirm.
The title of this game was of course a huge pun of its own. The original project was named Project SLice, and we worked hard to iterate upon that. SLicense is a combination of Slice, Lice, and License, and Dye relates to the color mechanics and of course to Die. When said all together it kind of doesn't make sense, I'll give you that, but it definitely has a special charm within the SLice team. I'd like to say Tyler came up with at least half the idea here.
Oh yeah, special shout out to A Bug's Life for the font. Honestly, I didn't think such a perfect font for us could exist, but here it is. Every single alphabet character has a bug-like shape embedded in it or antennae sticking out of it. Really cute. The only caveat is that you can't use capital letters, which have no bug shapes in them; or numbers, which are not supported.
That's pretty much all the lice related work I did, but as always with games, there's always a huge amount of extraneous stuff you need to work on besides the main guts. Extra menus, buttons, special effects, etc. all took up a lot of time. I don't think it's a great idea to rattle off everything I did here since things can be scattered about and such.
I will point out that the buttons took a while to get right, often to my demise. Originally, I animated every button on its own, which required having a button base with its unique label, coloring it properly, and then making a sprite sheet with a moving lice next to it. This, as I've done with other parts of the project, was to help lighten some of the workload for others.
However, these animations ran into problems when we wanted responsive buttons that, for example, lit up when you pressed it. Well, turns out it was a lot easier to just program parts of it. After getting the coordinates right, they just put on the already made moving lice animation, and I only needed to make single frames of the on/off buttons from then on. Not the greatest use of my time, but it's not like we could've seen this future from where we were.
Where a lot of these extraneous assets came together was making up the gameplay UI. As an artist/designer I tend to avoid as much text and bars if possible on the screen. I don't know, I just think that it's a little more fun to have other ways to measure health/resources and it helps to declutter the screen. Maybe the trade off in clarity isn't worth it, but this way just seems more interesting to me.
The only values we kept track of directly on the gameplay screen were Combo and Score. Combo was gained over time by stringing together lice kills. Taking any damage dropped your combo back to zero. A higher combo translated to more score per kill. Outside of these two, other resources were represented by other elements.
In the gameplay mode, Lou is in a bathroom facing a mirror trying to take care of his head lice problem. One way to tell his health status was by looking at his facial expression in the mirror. As he lost health, his character became more panicked and lost hair as well. Meanwhile, lice were falling down trying to hit your head on the bottom of the screen. As you got hit overtime, your head also lost hair and matches your state in the mirror.
That pretty much sums up all the art I've done. It's taken quite a while to just write this out, so even I'm pretty impressed with all the work I've done. Time-wise, this took about 2 and half quarters to complete, and basically by the end of that, I was at a stage where there wasn't too much left to do. I was far ahead of the other divisions in terms of work. The remaining time I spent optimizing my files, fixing mistakes and reducing image sizes to save space.
But while I finished up the art, the other sections were starting to drag on and not make as much progress. I think at the end of 2nd quarter or maybe it was the start of the 3rd, our team took big blow when Christian left the group. I don't know the full details of what happened, and I haven't really asked him about it, but I think it was something like a combination of stress from work and personal issues. He seems to be doing better these days, so that's good. I wish him well.
The rest of the team and I were committed to finishing SLice out to the end of the year. Some of the members probably looked to me to take up leading the project since I was one of the most active within it, but I think I did a poor job of doing that. After most of my art was finished, I basically took a step back from the project since I was pretty much done. I didn't take a dive into programming or design so late into the game since there had been so much built up already.
The bottleneck for this group came mostly from level design. 27 world levels, 6 tutorial levels, and 3 boss levels were what needed to be in the game. The boss levels were mostly handled by programmers with a bit of help from the designers since these levels required specific scripting of events. For the other levels though, the designers were very slow in producing and iterating off their work.
Some of it wasn't necessarily their fault. Christian made a separate level editor for the game in the first quarter, but with him leaving, it was left unmaintained and very bug-ridden. It would crash all the time for no reason, and you had to get used to some of its quirks to avoid losing your work. Towards the end of the project, George made a testing simulator to test levels directly because because compiling and running the game on Android can take quite a bit of time.
Still, work was really slow on the designers' end. John English, one of the designers, had it really rough on the project. He was kind of an awkwardish guy with not a lot of experience so he struggled quite a bit, but he put in the best he could and eventually got around to his work. He actually started off our sound producer, but he wasn't happy with his work and eventually turned to level design. Sound was handed off to Wes.
I'm not sure what happened to John, but he kind of cracked under the pressure. I guess we didn't realized how much unintentional stress we were placing on him or that he placed on himself. Maybe it was just because he wasn't having fun doing his grueling work, but he still at the very least finished the project with us. After this project was over, he decided to never work on a video game ever again. He even switched out of the Computer Game Science to solidify his intentions.
This was probably one of the most unusual reactions I've seen of someone on any of my projects. It's not something I can easily empathize with since I don't think I could ever give up making games permanently. John was a kind of sensitive character, so maybe just better communication with him and sharing his load would've helped him, but it seemed like a lot more of a personal issue on his end than something we could have really helped him with, or at least what he told me.
The other designer was Khai, who was kind of in opposites with John. I think he probably had the smarts to make good levels, but he just seemed really disinterested and unmotivated in the project. He even spoke to me aside about how he felt this project wasn't that fun or exciting, probably contributing to his lack of work. He's one of those guys you just tell and tell to do work, and they give to it you, really, really slowly, forced almost.
Programming, for the most part, kept it together. They got most of the special abilities/equipment in minus I think egg, which was probably fine since we had a ton to work with already. We scrapped quite a few social features because of their lack of priority. The biggest problem with the current build of the game is level progression, maybe as a result of how slowly the designers made the levels. Right now levels apparently don't save once you complete them.
George I think was the biggest contributor to the programming end. He's probably the best programmer out of us minus Christian, and he worked on a lot of varied things. I want to say he's probably the most proud of the shader he made for the slicing. Before he made that, we had some janky animation I drew for it, but his effect 100% looks cooler. It was mostly through George that we were able to sign our game and put it up on the app store.
I'm surprised George was able to find time for our game. At the same time as well, he was the lead programmer for The Xavier Mosaic, which was just a complicated hot mess of 3D story and fighting shenanigans. How he kept things together is a mystery to me, but he's a awesome, quirky dude that I'm happy to have had the chance to work with.
Then there was Michael, who I honestly don't know too much about. Apparently he's supposed to be a lead programmer on SLice, so alright, that's cool. I know he worked on a bunch of extra things outside of the game like hooking up a Git repository to our (then) site. Maybe he did some logic stuff too or attempted social features, who knows.
Somebody who probably would know would be Grant. There's a running joke in our group that whatever code Grant writes is just overwritten by other people, usually George or Michael. I don't know how true that was and how much stuff Grant actually wrote, but he's always been kind of funnily upset about that. Part of it was just him not understanding Monogame/Xamarin well enough, but another half of it was just poor communication among the programmers.
He and Tyler were probably the closest to me on the team because we had a bunch of classes with each other outside of SLice. We stuck it out in SLice from start to finish. Tyler, I distinctly remember, worked on pretty much all the bosses. He's a pretty good designer himself, and Christian at one point wanted to push him to be one, but programming was what he stuck to. He deserves most of the credit for coding and balancing all the boss levels.
And last but not least was Wes. Wes joined on in the second quarter when we were looking potentially for someone to make more sounds for us. I think our project was going really smoothly at the time, and he looked at that as a good opportunity to work with us. At the time John was making our sounds, but after Wes showed he had a lot of production experience, Wes took over and remade everything. He's put in a lot of good work for us, and I've worked with him in the future for some osu! music projects.
And I think that pretty much sums it up. I do have some regrets of not polishing the game as well as we could and fixing the progression bugs. There was also one thing I wanted to address somehow, but we never got around to it, scaling. A lot of the images I've made in game look warped or misplaced because of the way scaling was handled. For example, the backgrounds are all in 3:4 ratio, but this gets stretched for a lot different screen sizes. We couldn't figure out a way to easily fix that.
Regardless, I had tons of fun and met a lot of good people from this project. We still in fact have a SLicense to Dye Facebook chat that's pretty active to this day. I'm not a great keeper in toucher person, but at the very least I get a chance to talk with them online from time to time. Also, George and I occasionally play music with one another, in what used to be on plug.dj and now on dubtrack.fm.