The Evolution of the Man: My Game Dev History (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of my history with game development. Part 2 is coming soon!The Man History

I’ve been involved in game development for about 10 years now. Over that time I’ve worked on a lot of projects, learned a lot of new stuff, and dreamed up some of the strangest concepts. However, one concept in particular stands out as the one I’ve invested the most time and effort into, and am still working on it to this day in the form of Ambience.

The Man (2006)

When I first started using GameMaker (I think it was version 6) way back in 2006, my first game was entitled The Man. It was a simple dungeon crawler that involved navigating a misshapen, yellow smiley face through a maze while avoiding grey bouncing balls (aptly abbreviated to “GBBs”). The premise was simple: collect the rainbow bars for points; collect the grey bars for, well, more points; and if you collide with a GBB, you gradually lose health or “energy”.

Man1_Level3
One of the levels in the original “The Man”.

Of course, being my first game, the gameplay and mechanics were incredibly rudimentary. There was no grid-based or turn-based movement; instead, everything worked in real-time, making gameplay feel more like a primitive bullet-hell game rather than a dungeon crawler. Aside from the main character himself, most of the sprites were the default sprites that came with GameMaker. And collisions with enemies and walls were very poor, too – I can recall several instances in which the misshapen protagonist got himself stuck on a GBB and was doomed to lose all his energy.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start, and the concept seemed to stick with me for far longer than it probably should have. In fact, there are quite a few references to the original The Man in Ambience. For example, compare the first rooms of both The Man and Ambience: Screenshot TM1 Screenshot AmbienceAnd the player’s expression at the beginning of Ambience bears a striking resemblance to the Man’s twisted smile:

Screenshot Ambience Twisted Smile

Of course, that’s not to say that Ambience is a totally unoriginal game – just that it has a few borrowed elements from some of my earlier projects.

The Man 2: Age of Destruction (2007)

After The Man, I decided to rehash the concept in another game genre: the classic platformer. With that, The Man 2 was born. The premise of this game was almost as simple as its predecessor. The aim was to collect the coins for points, and instead of simply avoiding the GBBs, you could now shoot them. With bullets. Lots of bullets. (Oh, and bombs. Lots of bombs, too.)

Screenshot TM2 Bullets
That enough bullets for ya?

While the bullets and bombs didn’t make it all the way through to Ambience, there were a few other aspects of The Man 2 that did. One was the introduction of other types of GBBs. As well as the vanilla volleyball, which simply moved back and forth along a platform, The Man 2 also introduced a flying GBB which flew horizontally across the screen like a demented bird, and a shield GBB which did not move but had considerably more health and required more bullets to destroy. These different types of GBBs were the inspiration for enemies in later incarnations of The Man; more recently, they indirectly inspired both some held items and the whole Ambience idea in Ambience.

Man2_Level5
Cherries, coins, teleporters, and various GBBs in The Man 2.

Returning from The Man were bright blue teleporters, which did exactly as the name described, but this time without the possibility of accidentally killing you. Also, The Man 2 was the first game to include cherries as a means of restoring your energy, establishing a precedent which Ambience continues to follow.

Also interesting to note is that the ultimate villain in both The Man and The Man 2 was an oversized atom called, appropriately, the Super Atom. I’ll talk a bit more about the later developments regarding the Super Atom in the next part of this series.

Still, though, perhaps the greatest “feature” of The Man 2 was the player’s ability to completely defy basic collision box concepts and hang off platforms using his gigantic nose.

Screenshot TM2 Cliffhanger

The Man 3: Beacon of Hope (2007)

Both the first two The Man games had one thing in common: they lacked a substantial story-line. With the lure of story-telling too great to resist, later in 2007 I developed The Man 3: Beacon of Hope. This was another platformer with many of the same features as the previous game, just with a longer story. The story of this game really wasn’t too different to that of the first two Mans, with the ultimate aim still to eventually defeat the Super Atom. Ironically, while The Man 3 was designed to be story-driven, changes to Windows software and so forth means that the primitive dialogue system in The Man 3 no longer works on my Windows 10 machine. However, the platformer aspect still works just fine.

This game added a few more, interesting bosses, most notably the four Fangators – the first boss, the Grass Fangator is shown below. The Fangator design here provided the inspiration for the Guardians in the Ambience Demo. However, in this case they didn’t seem to work out as well as I’d hoped visually, so in this case I think I might just be flogging a dead horse. In any case, I’m definitely going to redesign the Guardians for the final release of Ambience.

Man3_Boss1
The first boss battle in The Man 3, against the Grass Fangator.

An interesting bug in The Man 3 involved saving or loading files while in a dungeon. In your “base”, you could save or load files by walking up to a flag; cancelling the process would move the player to the left slightly, so as to not cause repeated collisions with the flag. However, the save/load functions in a dungeon worked the same way. So, you could prepare to load a saved file, then cancel the process to make you “jump” slightly to the left – this could be used to your advantage to progress through one particular dungeon very quickly. Amazingly, this bug went totally unnoticed until earlier this year, establishing my personal “bug with longest time in hiding” record of 9 years. It still doesn’t beat the “Fervor bug” in Age of Empires II, which went 13 years before being discovered – but still, 9 years is quite a long time.

To be continued…

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