Let’s play Abuse!

Actually, let’s not. Abuse is a 1995 game that Loren turned me onto. It’s been open-source’d for a while, and exists on most platforms (I can’t recall specifically where I got my Mac build, everything I’m finding now requires some SDL libraries, but the price is right). If you want to play it it’s available.

It’s kinda shitty.

But pay attention to something in the video.

All the lighting in the game is localized in these pools of light. It gives the game a murky look; I’ve described it’s visuals as “Quake-y,” which is not necessarily a compliment. Unlike most games, almost every part of the screen that you can’t move into is in darkness. When you fire large weapons they explode in a pool of light, and many times in the game you find new areas by flipping a lightswitch and seeing something in the blackness come to light.

The Youtube image quality is too poor to see it, but all these pools of light get slightly dimmer as you leave them, and the ones you step into get slightly lighter. The outdoor sequences are pretty evenly-lit, but in some of the darker corridors this can really affect the mood.

When Loren pointed it out to me I started thinking quite a lot about how I could use this in One-Eyed Monsters. A 320×240 screen is 15 times taller than a 16 pixel character. In the few times I’ve gotten to play with the characters in a moving background (back when I made mock-ups in AGS), the aesthetic looked pretty good. But I’ve worried sometimes that the size of the backgrounds will become visually overwhelming.

Picture, if you will, a cross-section of an office building, with one of our little characters in it. Julie, let’s say. She’s on the bottom floor, in the lobby. Every room in the building is visible in the cross-section, but as she exits the lobby and enters the stairwell, the light in the stairwell gets slightly brighter, and that of the lobby gets dimmer. And as she exits the stairwell into one of the rooms, the stairwell dims and the room brightens.

This effect can be very subtle in some cases, most unnoticeable, designed to redirect attention; one area of the screen on a bright day gets only slightly lighter when the character enters it. In a pitch black night, it can go from blackness to very dim light to imply eyes adjusted to the dark. Should a character a series of rooms with no power have a flashlight, the difference in lighting as the character moves from room to room can be much more amplified.

This all serves to leave the screen very large but narrow the player’s focus to the active areas. With four characters onscreen at once, there can be a few levels of brightness: the active character’s area being brightest, the inactive playable characters dimmer, the nearby areas dimmer still, and the areas some ways away the dimmest.

There are a lot of possibilities here to mull over, and it’s good to have the idea early in the design phase.


Adam Atomic has a great blog about drawing low-res backgrounds that I saw a little while back. So long as we’re talking about backgrounds. It’s interesting to have someone talk about color theory and suddenly realize that the way I’d imagine backgrounds actually had pretty good color separation. Guess those years in art school weren’t a complete waste of time. Rather than contrasting with mids-in-foreground, darks-in-background, highlights-on-edges, my head was separating by warms and cools (blues and purples in the distance, tans and yellows up front), but the separation works similarly. So hurray for me!


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