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Episode 14: Doodle World


Scrobins

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A Homebrew Draws Near!

A blog series by @Scrobins

Episode 14: Doodle World

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Introduction:

If Twitter is any indication, inspiration is a fickle thing when designing a game. Crafting characters, gameplay, and a story, among any number of other elements can be a challenge when trying to create something new and fun. But sometimes out of the mouths, or in this case markers of babes come forth ideas that make even the most seasoned game developer smack themselves upside the head and exclaim “why didn’t I think of that?!?”

For this entry, I’m covering Doodle World: a platformer developed by Nate Peters, inspired by his daughter’s doodles, and topped off with the musical stylings of Takumi Grainger. As of the time of this writing, Kickstarter backers have received their games, the game’s rom is available for download here, and physical cartridges are available here. Additionally, Doodle World is available on the Evercade Indie Heroes Collection 1 multigame cart, alongside other homebrew games (and A Homebrew Draws Near! subjects) as KUBO 3 and Quest Arrest.

 

Development Team:

@natepeters (Nate & Araceli Peters): programming & design

Takumi Grainger: music

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Doodle World CIB with crayons for the instruction manual/activity book

 

Game Evolution:

Doodle World grew out of its predecessor Doodle Land, an entry in the 2019 NESmaker Byte-Off Competition. Nate first shared this game and any updates to the NESmaker forum on February 6, 2019. For Doodle Land, Nate designed the game around his then 4-year-old daughter’s drawings, channeling a childlike doodle aesthetic to bring Araceli’s art to life.

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Screenshot from Doodle Land demo

On March 6, 2019, Nate started a new thread on the NESmaker forum for Doodle World, sharing updates and responding to feedback as the project grew ever larger on its way to being a fully fleshed out release. On July 23, 2020, Nate started a thread here on VGS to share updates on his game and tease the upcoming Kickstarter.

On September 9, 2020, Doodle World launched its crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, meeting its funding goal in less than 12 hours! Backers could choose to pledge money at tiers to receive the game’s rom; a cart-only copy; a CIB with crayons; and a limited edition CIB with a special white cart, signed/numbered LE certificate, and a LE start screen in-game. Offering crayons lodged in the styrofoam block at the bottom of CIB copies was a really cute and clever touch. By the end of the campaign, 317 backers pledged more than $17,000 to project, crossing a stretch goal at which Nate would purchase games and consoles for The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

On January 29, 2021, Nate announced that Kickstarter fulfillment would commence, and on February 3, 2021, Doodle World launched its page on itch.io. More recently on May 7, 2021, Doodle World was released on the Evercade Indie Heroes Collection I multigame cart.

 

Gameplay Overview:

Doodle World is a classic side-scrolling platformer in the spirit of Mario and Co. You play as Doodle, tasked with reclaiming the magical crayon responsible for creating your wonderful world from the evil King Eraser and his office supply sycophants. Your quest will lead you through 15 levels spread across 5 worlds. The game has two settings: normal and kids mode, the latter of which grants the player additional lives at the beginning, only eraser enemies (which can be jumped on), no pits, and fewer hits needed to defeat the big eraser bosses.

Doodle World’s controls are intuitive: move Doodle with the d-pad, jump with the A button, and hold down the B button to run. As you take in nature (take in notebook?), you’ll find not all office supplies are bad guys. An assortment of crayons can be found throughout levels, and in abundance in bonus rooms, with an extra life to reward you for every 100 you collect.

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Except for that shade of blue that Katie is ALWAYS HOGGING

Shiny crayons on the other hand grant you temporary invincibility, so keep an eye out for their glowy sheen. Hidden in each level is a piece of torn paper that acts as a portal to a bonus room where you’ll find crayons galore, if you have the skill to navigate the entire room. Meanwhile a full notepad is your prize for finishing a level or defeating a boss and gaining the portkey to the next world.

 

Writer’s Review:

Doodle World is a fun platformer that proves how even the most seemingly mundane pieces of our everyday lives can be the seeds for an engaging and colorful game, reminding us how far our imagination could take us when we were Araceli’s age. It’s almost too perfect how objects on the desk in my office can serve as a broad array of antagonists. After seeing the way Doodle smiles and waves at the end of each level, I wish my doodles smiled at me or came to life.

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Er, nevermind.

Gameplay is simple, allowing you to appreciate the doodled landscape and adorable enemies (before you ostensibly kill them of course). Don’t be fooled by their cute appearance though, unlike Mario’s adversaries, Doodle’s foes don’t reveal whether they are the type to pace back and forth on a platform or plow straightforward in one direction by their color, challenging your intuition and expectations where you least expect. At least you can tell which ones you shouldn’t jump on (but if you're like me, you have a few pencil points lodged in you because you learned that lesson the hard way). Fortunately, for other enemy info, the instruction manual offers helpful hints and doubles as a coloring/activity book for your kids…or your own inner child.

Doodle World’s music is bright and bubbly. It’s hard not to bob your head and hum while playing, though the tunes get appropriately tense for boss fights. In the meantime each world has its own flavor while maintaining that perky vibe that transports me to being a kid getting up early on Saturday mornings to watch my favorite cartoons and play my favorite games with the house practically to myself. Such are Takumi's joyfully hypnotizing melodies.

 

Interviews:

For more insights into the game’s development and how a doodle jumped from the page to the video game screen, I chatted with Doodle World’s dev team…

 

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natepeters

@natepeters

-Before we dive into Doodle World, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrewer? What is your origin story?

As a game collector/enthusiast, I honestly never gave homebrew or indie retro titles much thought until I started attending PAX South here in San Antonio. Seeing all the awesome developments and tools being created inspired me to look into making something of my own. I met Joe Granato at PAX South 2019, and he introduced me to his tool, NESmaker. I have a background in software and hardware development and, using Joe's NESmaker tool, I thought I would give NES development a try. What really gave me the push was Joe's announcement of the first NESmaker Byte-Off competition at PAX South. I figured I could use the competition as a hard deadline to try and come up with something and see if NES development was right for me.

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

I have always been a huge fan of old-school platformers, so naturally my main influences are Shigeru Miyamoto and Yuji Naka. Those two created some of the most iconic characters and platformers in video games. Today, I really like the stuff that Mega Cat Studios is producing, they are putting out some great retro titles.

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Shigeru Miyamoto and Yuji Naka

 

-What tools do you use to code?

I use NESmaker, Notepad++, and Game Maker Studio 2. NESmaker is a great IDE for asset and script manager for NES development. Notepad++ is great for coding as it is simple and lightweight. I recently picked up Game Maker Studio 2 for some new projects.

 

-You’ve mentioned that Doodle World originated in watching your daughter doodle, tell me more about her ideas and contributions to the game.

She is the driving force behind most of the game's design! Anytime I came up with a new idea, area, or character I would run it by her. She came up with the initial design for Doodle and together we both created the game's world.

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Nate & Araceli Peters

-Were/are you a doodler too?

I was, these days not so much. I do find myself doodling digitally from time to time trying to come up with new ideas.

 

-Tell me about your creative process for designing and programming the game. What lessons can you share to others who want to learn to make their own games?

First and foremost, come up with a solid idea. Get everything down on paper, plot, world design, character design, gameplay ideas, etc. Once you have a good idea laid out start with coming up with the digital art (character design and world/level design). Then comes the programming!

One big piece of advice I can share is don't be afraid to ask for help. Game development, especially on old systems, can be very tricky. There are lots of great forums and people out there who are willing to help out and answer questions if you get stuck. There were loads of people who helped me out along the way.

 

-What was the intention behind the design of Doodle World’s protagonist, and do you feel the character reflects you or your daughter in any way?

The design came straight from her doodles. Doodle's design is a pixelated recreation of her design. I think Doodle's design really reflects her personality, he is always smiling and is not afraid of going on an adventure!

 

-Do you feel that Doodle World has any qualities that are quintessentially you? How would you describe your aesthetic?

I think so. Doodle World is meant to be enjoyed by everyone, it is not too difficult, not too long, and will leave you smiling. I am an easy-going person and tried to add that idea to the game. I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it, even the youngest of gamers.

I would say the best way to describe the aesthetic is crayon and pencil on notepad paper. It took a lot of time to try and get the look just right!

 

-Doodle World began as Doodle Land, an entry in the first NESmaker Byte-Off Competition. Tell us about your work on that version of the game. How has Doodle World evolved from that first demo?

Doodle Land was a very crude demo of what Doodle World has evolved into. Doodle Land has a lot of elements that would eventually lead to what Doodle World is today and there were some ideas that ended up in the garbage can. Most of those were design choices, like the colors of the cave level and boss design. As the game evolved a lot of features were added such as "B" button running and the "Super Crayon" invincibility.

 

-How did you first connect with Takumi, and what was your working dynamic like?

He reached out to me after playing the Doodle Land demo, which had no music or sound. He was awesome to work with. His sound and music design is awesome and he captured the essence of Doodle World perfectly. I am hoping to continue to work with him on many future projects. Doodle World would not be where it is today without him. People do not realize how much sound and music design really make a game stand out.

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing Doodle World?

The biggest challenge was the art design! Before Doodle World I had never done any pixel art before. So trying to learn how to create art assets and also keep them within the crayon aesthetic was difficult. A lot of the assets in Doodle World went though a ton of revisions to try and meet my design requirements.

 

-There has been a lot of support and enthusiasm for Doodle World, having blown through its initial funding goal on Kickstarter. How does it feel to see so many people excited for your game?

It is extremely humbling! I never thought a little demo created for a competition would garner so much support and such a big following!

 

-A really special aspect of your Kickstarter was a stretch goal (which you exceeded) where you would purchase games and consoles for The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. What is your connection to such an important institution that serves children?

I was always taught that if you are given, you should give back. I chose our local Children's Hospital because the game was co-designed by a child and the theme of the game really appeals to children. Araceli really wanted to be able to help other children as well. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis and Degenerative Disc Disease and have had to spend a lot of time in hospitals, and even had to have back surgery during Doodle World's development, so I know what it means to be able to have something like video games to help distract you from the environment and situation that being hospitalized can create.

 

-Do you plan on producing any additional carts or CIBs since fulfilling orders from your Kickstarter backers?

Definitely! I have already had another run of carts produced and they can be purchased at https://doodleworldgame.com/shop/ 

 

-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, NES or otherwise? Any dream projects? Collaborations?

I am currently working on another NES game in the "Doodle-verse". This one will be completely different from Doodle World, a co-op puzzler! My dream would be getting Doodle World released on the Switch, either in its current form or as an enhanced "deluxe" release. I currently do not have any collaborations lined up, but am always open to working with other devs!

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

Tapeworm by LowTek games is going to be a lot of fun and I am looking forward to the release!

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Gameplay gif from Tapeworm Disco Puzzle by LowTek Games

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

I just want to say thank you for the interview and thank you to everyone out there who supported us and helped make our dream come true!

 

 

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Takumi Grainger

@TakuikaNinja

-Before we dive into Doodle World, I'd love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to be a musician? What led you to compose music for homebrew games? What is the origin story of TakuikaNinja?

I'm a half-cast between New Zealand and Japan. I grew up with Nintendo consoles (DSi onwards) since my family went on vacations to Japan quite often during my primary school years. My interest in chiptune (and by extension composing) came from a few things. One of them was Kitsune^2's "Rock My Emotions", which I had stumbled upon after seeing a few YTPMVs of it on YouTube. Another factor would be my liking towards retro games, especially since the Nintendo eShop regularly showcased retro gaming content such as Game Center CX, the Virtual Console releases, and the NES Remix games.

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Artwork of Kitsune2

 I didn't really start composing until 2019, which was when I started learning music at high school. Quite a few of my original compositions are what I made for the assessments I had to do as part of the course. Time constraints and procrastination typically resulted in me having to use FamiTracker to make them. I'm still fond of those early tunes, so much so that I've arranged them a few times.

 To be completely honest, the sole reason I decided to compose for homebrew games was because I wanted to win the "Best Music" award at the 2019 NESmaker Byte-Off. (Selfish, I know) I had known about NESmaker well before that, but it wasn't until that competition that I realized that I could contribute to a game so easily. During the competition, I made the music for "Fight of the Phoenix", "XenoCreeps", and you guessed it, "Doodle World". (It was called "Doodle Land" back then, though) The satisfaction of knowing I've contributed was enough to offset the disappointment of not winning any awards, and I've continued making game music since.

 

-What is the significance of your username?

"Taku" is my real-life nickname, "ika" is the Japanese word for squid (since I love Splatoon), and "Ninja" represents my Japanese side.

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

There are too many influences to list here, to be honest. European composers make up the majority of my influences (Neil Baldwin, Follin bros, Maniacs of Noise, Gavin Raeburn, Alberto J. Gonzalez, etc).

In terms of works I'm watching closely, those would be other homebrew game soundtracks (mainly CutterCross and Tuï's works) and songs from members of the Chiptune Café, which a discord server I'm active in.

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Partial screenshot of The Prying Eye by CutterCross

 

-What tools do you use to compose, generally as well as for games?

I mainly use FamiTracker, which is a piece of tracker software for making NES/Famicom music. I do change things up and use trackers for different systems from time to time, though.

 

-Do you feel that your music has any qualities that are quintessentially you? How would you describe your aesthetic?

I think I'm still in what I call the "style discovery" phase. I try to change up the sound design and music styles between songs so I can figure out what works and what doesn't.

 

-Tell me about the development of Doodle World’s music, what is your composition process?

For Doodle World, I was tasked with making the tunes "somewhat childish/whimsical". My first thought was to recreate some common childhood instruments (Flute/Recorder, Xylophone and Trumpet) for the lead. To keep the tunes simple, I did the sound design early on and made the instrument set quite small so I could focus on creating catchy songs. The earlier stages of the game have simpler songs, while the later stages have more complex songs to spice things up. Admittedly I went wild on the boss and final boss themes.

 

-Do you feel your approach to chiptune composition has changed over time?

In terms of sound design, not much. I tend to use a small set of instruments so I'm not overwhelmed by the options available. I've definitely improved my composition skills, though. Learning basic music theory has helped me understand what good options are available when it comes to chord progressions.

 

-In your opinion, what is essential to make a chiptune song memorable?

I think that a catchy melody, a groovy bassline, a nice chord progression, and a solid beat is essential for a song to be memorable. If those are good enough, the sound design doesn't have to be perfect (though I'd recommend making sure the mixing is decent).

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in your work on Doodle World? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Most of it was smooth sailing, though I do remember struggling to fit the invincibility theme within the actual invincibility period Nate had set aside for it. Communication was key to mitigating that problem.

 

-What was the working dynamic like as you worked with Nate on the game?

Nate requested the songs and sound effects, and I composed them. Later on I joined the playtesting team to find bugs before the game was announced on Kickstarter. I have a massive respect for Nate since he was working so hard on the game even though he was recovering from a back surgery.

 

-You posted on the NESmaker forum that you have several other soundtrack commissions in progress. Can you tell us about any of them? What other projects do you have on the horizon after Doodle World? Another dream project that you hope to bring into existence, NES or otherwise?

The games listed in the forum post are commissions which I've finished. I'll list a few details about each one:

Fight Of The Phoenix - Byte-off 2019 entry by Lother. I made the full soundtrack.

XenoCreeps - byte-off 2019 entry by Natendo. I composed the main theme.

Force Bot - A work-in-progress homebrew game by Erockbrox. I composed the title theme, ending theme, and a few in-game tunes. A second composer, Estlib, is working on a few more songs.

Pinky! - A NESmaker game by axbakk. I made the full soundtrack along with a the tunes for the Xmas Edition.

Tiny Robbers - A NESmaker game by justadude. I composed the full soundtrack.

One that I haven't mentioned (but since added to the post):

Paws N' Play - Byte-Off 2020 game by Lother. I made the whole soundtrack.

 

There are a few more game soundtracks in the works, but I can't talk about them just yet.

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Screenshot of Xeno Creeps by Natendo

 

-Have you ever considered compiling your chiptune music and releasing it on cartridge albums like Zi with Bleep Bop Records?

I've had thoughts about making an original album for the past few months, but I hadn't thought about releasing them on cartridges.

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

Force Bot, The Prying Eye, and Witch n' Wiz look exciting. I'm looking forward to playing them on original hardware.

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

Thanks for the opportunity! More game soundtracks are on the way. Uploads will be on YouTube and updates will be on Twitter. Searching my username on either of them should be enough to find me.

 

Conclusion:

Thanks for tuning in to this latest episode of the series that looks behind the game to learn about the doodles that started it all. What are your thoughts on Doodle World and its talented development team? Do you have any doodles worthy of becoming the next big homebrew character? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?

 

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