Plastic Reality, One Year Later

On January 5, 2018, we surprised everyone with the Early Access release of Mondrian – Plastic Reality. This was a game we had kept under wraps for a while, and after a year in development, we were ready to show the world what we were cooking up for Abstraction in Beauty’s sequel. Now, another year later, the game has grown by leaps and bounds with new mechanics, new art, new visual effects, greater optimization, and more. With the new year upon us, and the second year of the game’s Early Access just starting, we figured it would be fun to look back at the last year, and look forward to what 2019 has in store. There are also going to be a few surprise announcements in this post, but not a release date. We are still yet to announce a proper release date, as there is a lot to do, but we’re not only confident about the state the game is in now, but also the state it will be in later on this year. Fear not, Mondrian – Plastic Reality is on the way and is going to take over the world.

But without further adieu, let’s look back at 2018.

From Humble Beginnings

The very first build of Mondrian – Plastic Reality felt almost identical to Abstraction in Beauty because, well, it was. Believe it or not, we began development on Mondrian – Plastic Reality as an expansion pack to the first game. It would include new levels and some other new goodies. As we began building it out, however, the process for level design became more and more tedious. The original game generated its levels through hand-coded coordinates, with some serious limitations. Each level could only use one shape of block, at one size, one angle, and one pop particle effect. It was at a Playcrafting event that our coder at the time, Carter, mentioned how excited he would be to get his hands on a level editor for the game. Immediately after, we set out to build Mondrian Maker.

The first iteration of Mondrian Maker was very limited in its capabilities, and actually ran as a separate application to the game itself. The editor was capable of placing the five different block shapes, bringing them back into Free Move or Nudge mode, Aligning/Centering blocks, Flipping blocks to grays, deleting blocks through the context menu, and iterating the difficulty for 4 layout variations. However, with these tools alone, we were able to rebuild all the original content from Mondrian – Abstraction in Beauty, plus a couple new levels, in just one week.

It was good, but it needed to be faster, and it needed to be implemented into the game itself in order for the Test your Level button to work. Since the Windows save file dialog does not work in Fullscreen applications, this meant it was time to create a custom Save/Load interface.

Overcoming Fusion’s limitations in terms of displaying filenames, writing/reading files, and scrolling through file lists was no small task, but in the end we managed to get it work for both Saving and Loading windows, along with other functions like Activating/Deactivating and Deleting levels, saving Backup versions of levels, and eventually the Level Importer and Exporter, allowing you to save and load levels from anywhere on your system. What this did was turn Mondrian Maker from a level editor to a full-blown file manager for all things Mondrian. We’re planning to update the Save/Load dialog to manage other types of content as well, including Backgrounds, Gem Chests, and anything else we make moddable.

With the editor in place, development started becoming even faster. While new level mechanics needed to be started in Mondrian Maker just so they could be set in-game, this opened up the world of Block Types, Block Modifiers, and even the Painting system. A real synergy was forming between the editor and the game, to the point where entirely new creative possibilities were opening up. With levels no longer limited to one block shape, it also became possible to rotate blocks to any angle, and scale them to any size. The original pop particle generators were axed in favor of creating pop particles as simple in-game objects, giving us the freedom to allow any shape at any color and never worry about object sorting or crashing the game at runtime by creating a particle object (yes, this was an issue we coded around for a long time). The Grid, Snap to Grid, Stamp, and Eraser systems were added to make level design go even faster. Mondrian Maker has shaped up quickly, and though there is still plenty to add to it, it’s very functional, and very easy to learn, and a lot of fun to use.

Mechanically Dynamic Aesthetics

At its core, Mondrian has always been a mechanical experience. The goal when we started the original game was to create something that really explored game design itself while not worrying about details like narrative. We absolutely achieved what we set out to do with Abstraction in Beauty, but with Plastic Reality, we knew we wouldn’t have much if we didn’t bring elements in that could help us really build out the world. While we purposefully set out to remove humanistic elements from the original game, ironically bringing them back in is what is helping to make Mondrian – Plastic Reality one of our most exciting projects to date.

The first step was figuring out what part of Art History we wanted to explore. Since the game was already named after Piet Mondrian, and was inspired by his works and 20th century art history, we decided to focus on creating a cast of characters that would fit in with the 90’s cartoon aesthetic of Children of Liberty, an aesthetic that helped define who we are as a studio. The cast we decided on included Piet Mondrian, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Hale Woodruff, Andy Warhol, and Loïs Mailou Jones. Each character would then have their own feel, with some feeling very much like the earliest jam build of the original Mondrian, others feeling more like the final version of the original Mondrian, and some that felt completely new.

Subject-wise, we decided to take the route of traditional art history, instead of the first game’s abstract look at videogame art history. This decision was made for both technological and educational reasons. Technology-wise, the shaders used to achieve the “emulator” effects from the original game were not compatible with platforms other than Windows, and thus would have severely limited future multiplatform possibilities for the game. From an education standpoint, we knew a game that explored the biographies and works of great modern artists would have more appeal for schools, museums, and art students in general.

One small problem though: abandoning those shaders left a wide-open gap in the game. Suddenly, every level started looking the same. With just five possible color combinations – Red, Green, Blue, Grayscale, and Random – there were no visual surprises left. Mechanically, the game had never felt or played better, but suddenly, aesthetically, it was dull, and for a game about art, that was unacceptable.

Enter the Color Wheel. Knowing that visual variation was a must, we went to great lengths to create an improved version of the code behind the Red, Green, and Blue color schemes in the game. Now, instead of 3 colors, there are 12, and instead of just 12 monochrome schemes, each scheme comes with Adjacent, Triad, and Tetrad variations, along with Complimentary colors. This means there are a total of 80 possible color schemes on the wheel. Each scheme also adopts a random maximum brightness in a range of 128 levels, boosting the possible combinations to 10,240.

The Color Wheel has delivered the dynamic visuals we’ve always wanted from Mondrian. While having just 12 colors may seem like a very tight limit, we are making the most of those colors, and seeing the kinds of results the system creates never ceases to amaze us.

With the Color Wheel built, there was one last aesthetic system to really let players explore their creative side: Painting. This was a long-requested feature from members of the community, and it was one we knew we had to deliver. The idea behind the Painting system is that it foregoes randomness in favor of a user’s creativity. While blocks can still take on a random color within the level’s dynamically selected color scheme, users may also use the RGB sliders in Mondrian Maker to paint blocks specific colors instead. Blocks will always take on a painted color instead of randomly generating a color. In a way, this turns user generated levels into paintings, with the paddle, ball, wall, and background forming the canvas behind it. With 16.9 million colors to choose from, there’s no limit to how a level can look.

Commitment to Creativity

Mondrian – Plastic Reality is, first and foremost, a game for the creative gamer. It offers a tight, fun, addictive experience with 5 characters, 3 game speeds, 4 difficulties, and currently 3 game modes. But it is also a toolset for level designers, artists, and modders looking to build their portfolios, play around with game development, and see their creations in-game instantly WITHOUT damaging any game files whatsoever.

Of course, creators need somewhere to share their creations, and so as of right now you can visit mondrian.mod.io to host your levels, background art, and gem chests, with support for more content on the way in the future. However, the future of content sharing for Mondrian looks even brighter, so it’s time to lay out the current plan.

First , Mondrian – Plastic Reality will be coming to Steam with Steam Workshop support. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but hopefully it explains why the game is not on Steam yet. With how much work we’ve been putting into just building the game and Mondrian Maker, focusing on Workshop support has been a much lower priority. Our goal is to build Workshop browsing, publishing, and subscribing directly into Mondrian Maker, however we are aiming to do the same with integrated mod.io support as well. What this means is that, no matter where you are publishing your creations, we want you to be able to do so without ever leaving the game.

Second, our big goal for 2019 is to finally make Mondrian multiplatform. This starts with Mac. We know how much everyone has been wanting a Mac version of the game, and we are working to make it happen as quickly as possible. Other platforms are still up in the air, but our goal since Day 1 has been to optimize the game down to a form that will make it as easy as possible to bring it to any piece of tech we get our hands on. Considering the game now runs at a steady and smooth 1080p 60fps on a Ryzen 5 2500U, with only integrated graphics, we’re very hopeful.

A commitment to creativity in the modern world does come with a catch. We know how valuable time is, and with just 24 hours in a day and thousands of games launched every month, we feel that our Maker community has the right to be rewarded for their efforts. Therefore, when mod.io makes the functionality live, we are supporting patronage on any creation posted on the site. Makers will keep 80% of any earned revenue on their creations for Mondrian – Plastic Reality. This revenue will be limited to Donations; no Premium or Limited creations. We have chosen to take this route because we have heard the call from the gaming community. We believe that a traditional hub for user generated content is important, where you can explore, download, and upload creations freely; but that players should have the option to give their favorite creators a couple bucks for their efforts, should they so choose. Our hope is to build a community that supports and encourages each other to create great art, fun levels, and positive vibes all around.

So What’s Next?

The early months of 2019 will see us developing one or two major updates prior to PAX East. We are hoping to be a part of Playcrafting’s booth again, this time ideally for the full weekend if we can raise the money with your help. We are planning some major new features for the game this year, including:

  • Campaign Mode
  • Improved & Detailed Leaderboards
  • Tilesets
  • Steam Workshop Support
  • mod.io API Integration
  • More mod compatibility
  • Localization

Please remember that most of these plans are tentative and subject to change, but we are aiming to deliver a game with all the features you need to play, create, paint, and share your art with the world.

As mentioned above, we’re going to be working on porting the game to other platforms as well. There are a few different ways we can go about this, but with the optimizations we’ve worked into the game, we’re confident just about any route will work. This IS game development though, so even the best laid plans need backups.

For now, we’ll keep chugging along and whittling this game into shape. It has grown much bigger than we ever intended, and yet it has been and continues to be an absolute joy to develop. Make sure to keep up with its development here, on social media, and in the Lantana Ledger. There is so much exciting stuff on the way for Mondrian – Plastic Reality in 2019, and we hope you’ll join us for the rest of the journey.

Never stop creating.

– Danny

2019-01-08T23:17:27+00:00January 9th, 2019|

About the Author: