Color By Chronicles
Published 4 years ago
Development from Steven's point of view.
Steven, Jean-Luc, Eric
Welcome to the colorful world of Color By. This 2D puzzle platformer with mechanics that deviate from the traditional meta has been “my baby” up until a few weeks ago when my son, Kayson, was born. My name is Steven Kiesewetter. Together with Eric and Jean-Luc Turman, we have made Color By. What Color By is now is far from what it started as.
           I started making Color By as a class project in conjunction with my Masters in Fine Arts degree at the University of Texas—Dallas. Using GameMaker, my vision at the time was merely to create an “interactive environment” where the player would reveal hidden platforms using paint. I wasn’t sure how to make a game out of a mechanic that basically involved spraying everywhere until you win, and at this early stage I had paint guns that the player would use to paint the world; it was in desperate need of art.
After I finished my class I invited Eric in on this little pet project—only still a small idea of a game. Eric and I have worked together for over five years at Element X Creative, an animation, VFX, and motion graphics studio. Making a game outside of work on personal time is hard, but we would work together to make something out of this fun painting‒platform mechanic. Eric had worked in AAA games for over 10 years and has loads of experience. We’ve been able to develop a wonderful working chemistry between us, and as a result of bouncing ideas off of each other, created the first iteration of Color By in GameMaker.
           While I am Color By’s programmer, Eric has developed all the art, sound, and music. In its beginning, I had developed a few levels for the game but it was clear we were in need of a dedicated level designer. Eric’s son (then 12 years old) had taken an interest in building levels in games that included level-building tools. Jean-Luc is on the autistic spectrum and has Asperger’s Syndrome, though at the time I had no idea what that meant. Just for kicks I decided to let Jean-Luc make some levels since Eric was encouraging it so heavily. What Jean-Luc ended up making turned out to be formative to the core of Color By.
          Eric mentioned that he was working with Jean-Luc to make the levels even less “twitch,” meaning no difficult frame-perfect jumps and such. I was impressed with what I saw, but not sold yet. What I remember most was the first level that stumped me. Jean-Luc had taken the mechanics and systems that I had programmed and created a level with a real solution that I couldn’t beat right away. I was convinced at first that there was an error in the level and that it needed to be fixed, but Eric insisted that the level was indeed solvable. It took me a few minutes of thinking but I solved it, confident that “autistic” was synonymous with “genius.”
           Eventually we moved to Unity from GameMaker so that we could utilize its 2D frameworks and GUI system that were newly introduced, as well as the performance boosts it offered. It was beginning to feel like a real game and had come a long way from the “interactive environment” that I had started with. Jean-Luc kept delivering levels and I couldn’t believe that an autistic 13-year-old was creating the levels that I’m proud to have in our game. Since Jean-Luc was involved so early on in the process, he even collaborated with Eric and me to flesh out the mechanics as well. The entire game was built from the three of us collaborating in a harmony that caught me by surprise.
           We spent the most time developing the look of the paint, needing it liquidy but with just the right amount of viscosity, since painting the environment is the core mechanic of the game. I’m certain at least a third of our art development conversations were about the look and feel of the paint. I worked with a Unity plugin called Shaderforge, developing a “monolithic” shader that would handle rendering a handful of RenderTextures to the screen which handled the paint, water, and blocks, sorted them at the correct depth for the item crystals, fountains, and other elements to be rendered properly in the scene. Getting to that solution (and then the subsequent interminable tweaking) took forever.
           Eric came up with ideas that really shaped the entire look and feel of the game in a cohesive way. He replaced paint guns with paint crystals. The backgrounds were a simple piece of geometry that we instanced dozens of times and rotated around slowly. The blocks have “debris” on them to break up their geometric look and add depth as the character is walking around, with a specular to add more depth. Eric was responsible for nearly every piece of art: every sprite, animation, and particle effect. His finesse made everything in the game feel like it was part of the same world.
At one point when Eric was working on the soundtrack, he showed me a handful of chords, barely a song at all, just an idea of where he was leaning for a “feel” for the song. It stood out: The first time I heard it I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. He stopped working on this one immediately and we used it for the intro sequence.
We released Color By in January after less than two weeks of Steam’s Greenlight process. After a few months, Eric discovered the Let’s Play Gaming Expo, scheduled right in the middle of June when my wife Kayla was due to give birth to our son.
I knew I couldn’t be at the Expo but Eric and the entire Turman family (Eric, his wife Jean, their son Jean-Luc, and daughter Giselle) were determined to go. I saw them work beautifully as a family to host our booth.
LPGE setup l-r: Jean-Luc, Steven, Eric, Giselle
Eric and Jean
One of the most heart-touching moments of this game’s production occurred when Eric approached me in the midst of Jean-Luc’s cranking out levels, explaining that it had been very difficult to connect with his son being on the autism spectrum. Color By allowed him an opportunity to build this relationship in a way that had been previously impossible. They were able to work together on a project, father and son, forming a special bond that a father and son should have. It’s a bond I certainly hope to share with my own son some day.
        Eric and Jean-Luc
Eric and Jean-Luc (now 15) are still working on some additional content for Color By. Since the programming is basically over, my work on this project is wrapped up. I’m moving on to what our next project as Polykroma Games will be: Not sure exactly what we’re going to be creating, but I’m hoping for something multi-player for sure!
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Eric Turman