The novelization: part 1.

How do you write a game story? How do you do the legwork to make sure there's substance and meat behind the characters, the locations, the context? That the world feels alive? Sure, you can create graphs of characters and aliens and whatnot, but in the end, you need a linear embodiment of the story behind the game. That's how I felt. So I got to work writing the story behind SpaceFrog.

Here's the rough draft of chapter 1, which provides a behind-the-scene backstory on the major characters, the SpaceFrog race, their status in the galaxy, and how their civilization works. I hope you like it. (STORY STARTS BELOW GALLERY)

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IN THE OUTER ARMS of the Anurak Galaxy, a spaceship blots out the stars.

A marvel of gleaming metal, the craft is vast, smooth, ovoid: behold the Star Lilly, a mobile command post patrolling the endless border. On the far side of the border lies a thousand civilizations, some warlike, some peaceful, most unknown. And on the near side of the border lies those few star systems inhabited by the SpaceFrogs. This is the mission of the Star Lilly: Keep watch in the forever night of space. Conduct diplomatic missions. Defend the SpaceFrog home systems. Intercept threats. Annihilate those who would dare invade the SpaceFrogs.

Should the threat be most dire, the Star Lilly is to unleash its ultimate weapon. Though the craft is well-armed, neither phaser cannons or strionic missile arrays are the Star Lilly’s greatest defense. No, its ultimate defense is a young SpaceFrog warrior princess named Gero Gero, ace fighter pilot, trained from birth to be the ultimate weapon. Fearless. Merciless. Flawless. Every SpaceFrog is bread and raised with a single function in mind: diplomat, scientist, engineer, etcetera. If not for the Princesses, the SpaceFrogs would be easy pickings for whatever race stopped by to gobble up their territory.

The Princess’s names strike terror in the hearts of the fearless and bring hope to the downtrodden. Marble statues of their fallen stand tall throughout the galaxy’s courts, as a silent threat of the power of justice. Someday, there will be statues of Princess Gero Gero.

Only, just now, she’s slept in, snoring loudly in her hyperbaric rest chamber, and drooling out of the corner of her mouth. Her hands silently shift over invisible controls, as though she’s having a dream about space battles. Which is probably true. A light buzzes in her glass chamber and a horn begins to sound, though the Princess is so engrossed in her dream she doesn’t hear it for minutes.

Finally, her great eyes snap open. She licks her eyeballs clean and steps out of the chamber. Her servants clothe her in royal garb, she cracks her neck, pops a fly in her mouth, and hits the comms array to open up a channel to Admiral Croakington, who wears a comically wide tie over a white officer’s shirt that shows off his stomach, sensible garb aboard a heated ship for amphibians. One of the Admiral’s eyes is covered by an eyepatch that hides the center part of a long slick scar older than most aboard the ship. He’s battle-hardened, wise beyond even his years, but quite an anxious fellow.

“Princess! Thank gods you’re awake, oh cold-blooded one! Your betrothed, Prince Tad… his… his ship has disappeared. All we’re getting is a distress beacon, and then it went blank! We’re ready to enter hyperspace. On your orders we can emerge near his last transmission. I humbly request you investigate in your fightership, which we’re prepping in the docking bay. I’m sending details to your assistants.”

Princess Gero Gero swears in her head. Prince Tad was a skilled statesman, or she wouldn’t have agreed to marry him. Plus, he had a cute butt. Still, the diplomatic consequences of a disappearing prince concerned her far more than their personal connection. Nobody would ever call a SpaceFrog warrior princess sentimental. Sentimentality is for young frogspawn and the weak.

“Very good, Admiral. You have my permission. Bring the Star Lilly into hyperspace and exit us out near his beacon. On my way to the hanger bay. Princess Gero Gero, out.”

She walks down the rounded halls to the hanger bay. Her subjects in the ship bow as she passes.  She feels the slight shudder of the Star Lilly sliding into warpspace. The corridor colors change.

The servants following behind her brief her from their comm relays. “The distress beacon is coming from a young nebula cluster,” says Ranid, a fresh-faced recruit not yet 20. “In the middle of nowhere, galactically speaking. No habitable planets or star systems nearby. It’s in the deadzone between SpaceFrog territory and Clockroach space. As they’re one of our closest allies and too dumb to figure out how to put on clothes, let alone plot subterfuge… I think we can rule out foul play.”

Princess Gero Gero spins to face Ranid, her eyes icy. “Don’t overestimate the importance of intelligence. Lazers don’t think. For every SpaceFrog there are 10 billion clockroaches. Never once see us as top frog, because we never are. We’re always underfrogs. Cocky gets you killed. Remember that.”

Ranid drops his head. “Yes, Princess. Of course, Princess.”

She smiles. “But, you’re probably right. They have proven trustworthy.”

They reach the hangar bay, where the Princess begins changing into her flight suit. A side door opens and out steps Dr. Polly Wogglesby, chief scientist and engineering officer for the Star Lilly. The back half of the Dr.’s head has been removed to allow her massive pulsating brain room to breathe. She wears orange suspenders that leave nothing to the imagination. She has neither tact nor manners; such things were bread out of the engineering class to make room for every ounce of genius possible.

Dr. Polly Wogglesby bows deep. “Hello Princess. We just finished fitting your ship with new rockets that resupply automatically, effectively giving you unlimited ammunition. I deem this feature ready for combat testing. Should your ship explode due to mechanical failure I will know I was wrong in my risk probability calculations. But I’ve learned to never be surprised. I’ve been told this is a low-risk mission, so please test the rockets out. If you survive I would appreciate a field report, your cold-bloodedness. I will be in the battle-room monitoring your feed should you have questions during your mission.”

Princess Gero Gero nods. “I looked forward to trying them out.” She cracks her neck, puts on her helmet, then enters the hangar bay. The Star Lilly is a minor first-response tactical vessel, and the Princess’s fighter ship, Rao, is the only thing in the hangar. She’d been flying Rao since before she could speak. She flies in her dreams. Whenever she closes her eyes. When her thoughts wander. As the saying goes, “A princess’s body is her ship.” Rao is a squat looking tactical fighter maxed out for agility, armor, and firepower over range or speed. Built for a 3 parsec range from its hanger ship, the Star Lilly, in this case. Its defining feature is the unique control system; Princess Gero Gero floats in the cockpit, rather than sitting in it; her movements are tracked, and as she dives side to side, ducks, jumps, or rolls, so too does Rao. And when she punches, Rao fires a rocket from its corresponding wing. Again, there’s a reason why it’s said that a Princess’s body is her ship. Because it’s basically true. As the good book says, “The more you know and understand your vehicle, the more safety and pleasure you’ll experience driving it.”

The rest of the hangar gleams with industrial piping, sensors, and mechanical winches.

The Princess climbs up a set of steps inlaid in Rao, eases open the cockpit and drops in, just as the Star Lilly slides sideways out of hyperspace. The Princess runs her pre-flight check, rolls her shoulders, smiles. She doesn’t feel alive outside of Rao. So it’s good to feel alive again.

The comms screen on Rao’s dashboard lights up. “Bad news, Princess,” says Admiral Croakington. “We’ve exited hyperspace per your command; however, there are tons of life signals out there. Lots of movement. Get ready for anything.”

Without a grin, the Princess replies: “always am.”

The hangar bay doors open, a machine beneath Rao catapults it gently into space. Finally, she’s weightless again. But before she can take Rao through a warmup set of maneuvers, Admiral Croakington is back on comms. No surprise as to why.

From beyond rainbow-colored clouds of young nebulae, shapes emerge. Insectoid aliens begin swarming in her direction, many with great pulsing eyes, tentacles, claws. Instantly her tactical brain cuts in. Their flight patterns indicate a hivemind structure. Deadly in close-range.  

“What the… those monsters are Klurxons, our mortal enemies!” Admiral Croakington barks. “They’ll eat you if they can. Go weapons hot!”

Klurxons!? I thought we drove them from the galaxy decades ago, she thinks. She doesn’t need to be told twice. Princess Gero Gero begins dodging and weaving in Rao, letting loose with vicious punches that launch rockets with equally vicious precision toward the oncoming Klurxons. They pop in a satisfying way. Now Princess Gero Gero really does feel alive. She licks her eyeballs. If she was capable of sweating, she’d be sweating now. If explosions were audible in space, her ears would be ringing.

“The Prince’s distress beacon is up ahead,” says the Admiral. “Gods, why did it have to be Klurxons… I haven’t seen Klurxons since the battle of Gloopglax 7. We barely managed to push the Klurxons back into the netherspace. Of course, this was years ago, back when you were just a little tadpole. Although… in a weird way, it makes sense they’d attack now. The last Princess trained to combat Klurxons just retired.”

Princess Gero Gero listens with half her attention and obliterates Klurxons with her active mind. There aren’t that many here. A scout force? An advance force?

Admiral Croakington continues. “This kind of timing is suggestive of a higher intelligence. Planning. Forethought. In other words… leadership. She’s back. The Klurxon queen. We must alert high command. I’ll-”

But then it comes into view, from behind a swirl of nebula: the Prince’s ship, a sleek cruiser, oozing smoke into space, clearly demolished. “We can only hope he and the crew ejected and are somewhere around here,” says the Admiral.

Just then, from around the corner, a gruesome, ghastly shape: a great space lobster, or so it seems, with writhing tentacles and many eyes on stalks that twisted and moved independently. A message came through the open comms channel… the monster speaks in a raspy voice. “You’ll never get past me in your puny ship. We have taken your prince. He is ours. And when the wormhole behind me closes, he’ll be ours forever.”

Well, that makes life simple. Kill the Klurxon boss, redock with the Star Lilly, and head straight for the wormhole. No time to lose.

“Aim for its eyes!” the Admiral weezes. The Princess grins. Perhaps a challenge? But no. She maneuvers Rao so quickly and deftly that by the time the space lobster releases a blast of toxic plasma in her direction, it’s all over. She deadeyes the last eye (pun intended) with a rocket. The space lobster shudders and explodes into a thousand pink sparks.

But there’s no time to lose. The wormhole is already beginning to wobble. Soon it’ll shrink. “Close in on my location, now!” she barks over comms. “All the Klurxons here are dead. But I’ve got to head through that wormhole, with or without the Star Lilly.”

“Closing in now,” says the Admiral.

The Star Lilly arrives within the minute. She redocks Rao in the hangar and orders the Admiral to jump through the wormhole while it’s still open.

“But your royalness,” says the Admiral wearily, “we don’t know where it leads. It could be a trap.”

“I’m counting on it,” says Princess Gero Gero with a grim smile.  

Alexander Goldman
How do you design a boss? Triface (level 3)

Sorry it's been a while- we've been too busy working on SpaceFrog. Each of the game's 6 levels has a unique boss. Level 3 is set in a field of space wreckage, which immediately reminded me of this character from The Transformers: The Movie (19986).

(So I accidentally deleted the first draft of this post, which you wouldn't have known if I didn't tell you. Just thought you should know, because sharing is caring.)

Innocent! 

Innocent! 

As SpaceFrog is a love letter to 80's and 90's cartoons, comics, and games, I thought it only fitting to look for design inspirations there as well. But I wanted to take this concept- a character with multiple heads that rotate only the axis of the neck- to the next level. Wackier faces. Weird facial hair.

I began by designing the faces, modeling and texturing them in Sculptris.

 

Then I imported my faces into Unity and built some animations and created the behaviors.

I love the way the eyes look as they spin, and the lids open and close! Next step: creating voices!

Alexander Goldman