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Fire Truck!

 

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If there is one thing kids love more than Garbage Trucks, it’s Fire Trucks! Immediately after completing my Garbage Truck! game I started planning the followup in my head. Months later I started doing the art for a fire truck, then got immediately frustrated at how much more detailed it was than a garbage truck. In January of 2015 I decided to buck up and give it a go, and I began making the art for it, then again became too hard on myself and came down with a severe case of “fear of failure” and abandoned the work for a full year. January of 2016 I got the gumption, again, to get this game made and weeks later it is complete!

 

A bit about the process

It’s amazing what two years of practice in a game engine will yield in terms of ability and expediency. Once I started putting items into Game Maker: Studio it was hard to pull me back into Photoshop to finish the art. It all began with a lot of photo reference, and there is no shortage of trucks in our town. Whenever I saw one parked nearby a store we were in, if I needed photo reference I could just walk up and take some photos. On a few occasions I talked to the firefighters about the truck and got some general information on bits and pieces of the truck. And of course there is no shortage of neat looking trucks when you do an image search.

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Like Garbage Truck! I wanted kids to be able to touch anywhere on the screen and have something happen. When I first began the game I thought I would just have a truck driving around which you could change the colors of, and I wasn’t sure what it would even do! I literally had no idea how it would put out a fire, so I wasn’t going to do it. Luckily my wife told me I was crazy, stupid, and some other mean things before it dawned on me that I could just use the hose on top of the truck. It was serendipitous because the hose is mostly centered on top of the truck, so players can aim in any direction and send water flying. Whenever I put the game into someone’s hand, adult or child, they spend a good 10 seconds or so just shooting water into the sky, or spinning it around the truck in all directions.

 

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And of course if the player touches the truck, just like in Garbage Truck! I wanted the player to be able to change the color of the truck. I experimented with random colors like I did in Garbage Truck!, but the randomness felt off and too often I got a color of fire truck which felt incredibly unnatural. An image search of trucks showed that they come in many colors, but there was definitely 8 or so common ones, and a few uncommon ones which looked pretty neat. In our town alone there is the standard red truck, and some light green trucks (similar to the one pictured above) which are part of the forestry service. In total there are 13 true to form colors based on real truck colors, plus pink (because my daughter asked for the color pink), and a random color which cycles through its random colors. Then there are 4 stripe patterns which are picked at random, and their color picked at random from a small grouping of colors complement the current color of the truck. Both the body of the truck and the stripes are white/bright and the color is applied using a multiply blend mode of color. As an artist I used to hate this process, but as a programmer I love it.

As I developed and tested things out I definitely feature creeped myself.

  • The gauges on the side panel of the truck looked so static, so now they are individual working gauges which react to the player using the hose
  • Instead of just sticking with an American flag on the side of the truck (which so many have) I decided to put almost all of the state flags (minus Ohio’s weird shaped one and Mississippi for obvious reasons.)
  • I wanted a drop shadow on all the writing, and drawing lots of text was eating up draw calls, so I spent a good chunk of time making each random city name
  • On the panels of the truck there are levels are switches with “foam” written on them, so of course I had to make water and foam versions of the truck.
  • The background felt so empty and stale, so I got Chris Drysdale to update the background for me and paint some trees (and some urban sprawl in the BG) and then it dawned on me that simply putting out fires on the sidewalk might get boring, what about an occasional fire in a tree?
  • And the random color truck didn’t feel dynamic enough, so I decided it should constantly cycle through colors. Once I did that, the water didn’t feel right either, so in a big nod to my buddy Zack Bell and his game INK the fire hose shoots out water which matches your truck’s color and leaves an painted mess on the sidewalks. (and I just feature creeped an idea for “washing it away” while writing this…)

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All in all this is some of the most fun I have had making a game. It is incredibly rewarding seeing all of this come together.

Bad parent time, again…

We severely limit the time our kids have with digital media in the house, outside of music playing in the background (usually Pandora or Spotify.) We don’t have cable TV, watch a Blu-Ray a few times a month, watch some short shows on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon from time to time (Chiro, Tayo, Fireman Sam, Animal Mechanicals, etc), and rarely allow time for using devices.  I even have my old VHS hooked up to watch the old puffy box Disney movie collection of my youth (it’s pretty neat how quick the kids adapt to the tech, and how bad VHS quality truly is!) We try to encourage playing with toys, puzzles, or reading books before we dip into the media, and for the most part the kids are really happy with those options. But every now and again they want something different, and sometimes you have to buckle.

For example, this past week I needed to drop my son off at his preschool and we were running five minutes late. He didn’t sleep great the night before and was in a super grumpy mood, so getting him to sit in the car and not throw a fit was a tough one that day. I negotiated a bribe: “sit down and get buckled in and I’ll let you play Fire Truck! game.” He complied very fast, and I gave him my phone, and he ended up calming down and talking to me about the drive a few minutes in. We arrived at the school about 7 minutes later, and I told him to put out one more fire, and he did. He shut off the device, gave it back to me, and we were ready to roll.

And that is something I didn’t know would be great about this kind of game: The time a child feels they “need” to play it is incredibly flexible. For example if I negotiated an episode of a show like Tayo the talking bus, those run about 12 minutes. I could potentially be dealing with a cranky kid if I was making him cut his show short. Not to mention the time it would take to boot Netflix, navigate to the show, wait for it to begin, and hope it doesn’t buffer while playing. Finding the app was quick, there are no title screens, no loads outside of the initial load to deal with, and no blockades from simply playing the game. It’s the perfect distraction which can fill a convenient time window from small to big.

Parents use these kinds of techniques all the time, and always have. Rewards, distractions, or both. I think these games are great in moderation, and help our kids understand our technology, and help them feel closer to us as parents and adults whom they see using the devices on a daily basis.

Thanks for reading!

I hope you have a chance to check out Fire Truck! for yourself. I think it’s a great game and I think you and some kinds in your life will too. Now, onto the next  truck game…

 

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