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I started working on Sparks and Dust in late 2008, after putting up Magnesium Gardens for bidding on Flash Game License.
When I had original transitioned from my C# game engine to Flash, I had assumed that a lot of the image based 3D art styles I had been evolving wouldn't work in Flash,
mostly because they're fairly reliant on overdraw to achieve their interesting effects. This didn't really phase me; I had already used my C# engine as an offline
renderer for both Magnesium Gardens and several Flash versions of Cadenzia, and I had been pretty pleased with the results. Offline rendering has its issues, though, of
course; the file sizes are much bigger, interactivity tends to be severely constrained, you can't really make any runtime procedural content (obviously),
and the possibilities of meaningful camera movement and visually exciting parallax get pretty reduced, too.
While I was waiting for bidding on Magnesium Gardens, I decided it was worth seeing whether or not some really limited version of my image based rendering
might not work in Flash. After a good long weekend of fiddling, prodding, and iterating, I found, to my pleasure, that it definitely was possible; not easy, and not
especially flexible, but possible.
And so, (with some delays to work on other projects) I worked on Sparks and Dust until around April or May of 2009, and kicked it out the door.
Sparks and Dust is a funny game, in some ways. I made, essentially, a game I wanted to make, but I'm not ultimately sure if it was a great fit for what the
Flash game market was looking for (which, if you look at the rest of my unfinished games, is not feedback that is phasing me in the slightest). It's definitely a
more hardcore game, and a more time consuming one, than a lot of other successful titles. I was really thinking a lot about Super Mario Brothers 2 while I was working
on it. Simple controls, somewhat non-linear levels, lots of exploring, but not much persistent with the player and player abilities.
Much like with Magnesium Gardens, I think I might have punished myself a bit by having a somewhat obscure tangle of interactions that ultimately make up
why player control is interesting. The game really only requires 4 buttons - left, right, use focus, and
jump/double jump/pound ground/higher pound ground/giant pound ground/float/block shots/release counter attacks. Much of the negative comments from players, when they were negative, griped about the fact
that the game didn't have enough that the player could do. I had worked really hard at slowly unfolding player options. In retrospect, I wonder if I would have been
better served by introducing a few more attacks or moves earlier.
I also found myself somewhat hamstrung by a few of my technology choices. Sparks and Dust, as I shipped it, really didn't perform that well. On a fast machine
it's pretty playable, but not so on slower machines. But even to get it running at that speed required a lot skimping on level design on my part. This is a bit exasperating
for me to look back on, knowing what I know now, because it would have been immensely possible to make Sparks and Dust run much, much faster - I just didn't know Flash
well enough at the time.
I also found myself pretty frustrated with some process decisions I had made. Areas in Sparks and Dust were generated by a combination of somewhat random
algorithms and script code to handle placement of special items, enemies, and traps (but not baseline ones). It turned out to be a pretty imprecise and slow way to make and edit levels, especially
later when I needed to iterate on them more. I intend to write a lot more about my thoughts about procedural content and game design at some point, but it was definitely a topic here.
With all that said, I'm really proud of Sparks and Dust. I think it's a really high quality Flash game, it's visually distinct, and I really like the game
design of it. I don't know if I'll ever get a chance to revisit the game design of Sparks and Dust, but I'll be sad if I don't. There's something about the aesthetic
feeling of trying to find a really high point in the level to leap off of to smash the ground or a hidden boss really hard that just really works for me, and the intersection
of floating to block enemy shots, only to absorb enough to make a massive counter attack is also just really cool to me.
I have a bunch of high quality recordings of my music from Sparks and Dust. I'll find somewhere to put them online at some point.
At some point I'd really like to glue together a speed run of this game, too.