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  • Joined: 01 Feb 2014
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Sunny the Mermaid - development thread
Post Posted: Fri May 15, 2020 10:27 am
Introduction

Back when I made my first SMS game Bruce Lee, I maintained a development thread in this forum, where I posted anytime I made significant progress. I really liked the feedback that I got from the community, so for my new game, Sunny the Mermaid, I’m going to do something similar and use this thread as a kind of development diary.

What I won’t do this time is posting playable demos of the unfinished game, as some of those ended up on dubious emulator websites back then. I will, however, happily share art, music and thoughts that go into gameplay decisions. I hope this will be of interest to at least some of you. If not, I’m going to do it anyway as I think documenting progress made will keep me motivated in the long run.

After finishing Flight of Pigarus I felt a little burnt out, as its development had been really taxing, especially towards the end. So for my next game I decided that I wanted to do something more relaxing with fewer technical challenges, just concentrate on giving the player a good experience and make the new game look and sound as nice as possible.

I considered doing another remake, like I did with Bruce, and thought of the old 8-bit homecomputer game Mermaid Madness. I vividly remembered fondly playing it on a friend’s C64. Only when I loaded it up to reacquaint myself with it, I found that my nostalgia goggles had deceived me and that it’s actually a terrible game with ropey gameplay, crude graphics, grating music and puzzles that make absolutely no sense. Worst of all, I couldn’t believe how outright mean it treated its protagonists.

Shocked and apalled, I immediately abandoned the idea of remaking this mess, and decided to just keep the game’s premise (chubby mermaid saves trapped diver) and build a whole new game upon it.
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The title screen
Post Posted: Fri May 15, 2020 10:31 am
Last edited by Kagesan on Fri May 15, 2020 10:39 am; edited 1 time in total
The title screen

As you can tell from my previous games, I like plain, arcade-y title screens. I’m not a big fan of title screens with actual pictures on it, so a big bold logo will do. I settled on a sort of “pirate” look for it, then added a little playful element with the tip of the tail.

I like it when the title screen of the game changes according to the system’s region. I had the title screen switch to japanese in Bara Burū and Flight of Pigarus before, so I wanted to have that here as well, albeit in a very toned-down form. This time, instead of changing to a whole new screen, only a single small line of katakana spelling サニーザマーメイド (Sanī za Māmeido) appears above the logo when the game is played on a japanese system.

At the same time I created the font for the game. I gave it a friendly rounded appearance to reflect the personality of my main protagonist and the mood of the game in general, while making sure it remained readable.

Eventually I decided to add a little special effect. By using line interrupts to create a wave effect, I tried to make the screen more watery looking.
I had a whole elaborate system with different overlapping sine waves worked out. I implemented it and ...it looked like crap. The resolution was just too low for the more subtle changes to look like something other than graphical glitches. In the end I trashed the whole idea and went for a very simple system using LUTs to create swelling and waning waves with only a tiny bit of randomness added in to make it more interesting.

When composing the jingle for the title screen, the inability to reproduce the sound of a steeldrum with the PSG got me interested in FM sound, something I hadn’t touched so far. Apart from D.A.R.C., there was very limited work done on the SMS homebrew front yet, so I looked to the MSX community, where solid tools did exist. Using MoonBlaster, I was able to create a very satisfactory jingle, which, after porting over the MSX replayer, played perfectly on my Master System. I tried to give the jingle a bit of a vibe reminiscent of Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid, hopefully without plagiarizing it outright.
title.png (4.56 KB)
title screen - with katakana
title.png

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The intro
Post Posted: Fri May 15, 2020 10:34 am
Last edited by Kagesan on Fri May 15, 2020 10:42 am; edited 1 time in total
The intro

I’ve never had an intro in any of my games before, so this was another new thing I wanted to explore. I looked towards Ninja Gaiden (NES) for inspiration, but thought that the whole cinematic approach wouldn’t really fit my game, as its emphasis is more on exploration rather than action.

Instead I opted for a different approach and used comic-book-style panels to tell the story. I first scribbled them roughly on paper before drawing over them to create the actual pixel art. I used partial screen scrolling and varying palettes I could fade in and out seperately to achieve a nice and dynamic flow. To add to the playfulness of the game I decided to make the whole intro text rhyme, which was surprisingly hard to do.

Accompanying the intro sequence is what I believe to be the very first 9-channel FM tune ever to grace the SMS. I think I made it sufficiently dramatic and foreboding, so it sets the mood perfectly.
sunny.jpg (62.24 KB)
Sunny (scribble)
sunny.jpg
ben.jpg (65.9 KB)
Ben (scribble)
ben.jpg

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Ingame music
Post Posted: Fri May 15, 2020 10:40 am
Ingame music

Now that the intro is finished, I’m starting to prepare the assets for the game proper. The first thing I finished is the ingame tune.

I think it turned out nicely and it’s interesting enough to listen to repeatedly during lengthy gaming sessions. I struggled a bit with MoonBlaster, as its weird arbitrary limitation of 76 patterns max caused some headscratching before I was able to fit the whole tune in.

Additionally, the YM2413’s drum sounds are clearly not meant for slower songs. Generally, they sound too dry. The bass drum has a really aggressive kick to it that’s great for fast, action-packed tunes, but less fitting for slower ones. It also defaults to too high a pitch, but tuning it down makes it lose a lot of its punch. The rest of the drums and the cymbals are okay, though, even if the tom drums tend to sound a bit like hitting a yoghurt cup.

Here’s a preview vgm of the FM version. I’m working on a PSG version next.
stm_ingame_fm.vgz (3.58 KB)
ingame music (FM version)

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  • Joined: 29 Mar 2012
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Post Posted: Fri May 15, 2020 11:41 am
Great idea! It's nice to see a journal of all de creative process involved in creating such a process! :-D
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  • Joined: 02 Mar 2011
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Post Posted: Fri May 15, 2020 9:04 pm
Hi Kagesan, thank you for sharing your creative process. I hope you will get the energy to work in your game without feeling tired.

Adding brand new games to the sms library it is awesome. Your work will remain forever.
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Post Posted: Sat May 16, 2020 11:42 am
Yes, thanks, this is a great idea. It's interesting to see the development process.
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Ingame music
Post Posted: Mon May 25, 2020 4:35 pm
Ingame music

Here is the PSG version of the ingame tune. Compared to the FM one, it loses some of its dream-like quality and unexpectedly gains a kind of stomping grittiness. I can't decide which version I like more. I guess that's a good sign.

Making a slow song for the PSG is even harder than making one for the FM chip. Long, drawn-out notes have a tendency to sound piercing, so must be balanced carefully. Making the FM version first, then stripping it down to its very basics for the PSG seems to yield more interesting results than doing it the other way around. In this case, I knew I had two melody lines I wanted to preserve, so sacrificing a tone channel for better drum sounds was out of the question. I used noise for drums almost exclusively, but decided to use the tone channel for proper tom drums, as those only appear briefly.
stm_ingame_psg.vgz (5.94 KB)

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