Learning to Do Things the Hard Way

Posted by – March 14, 2010

I’m a little stuck on this game called VVVVVV. It doesn’t look like much on paper: it was made with Flash, and the graphics might have been at home on a Commodore 64. However, the music is great, the quirky little humorous storyline is fun, and, despite multiple playthroughs, I’m still not sick of it.

But this is not a review of the game. No, this is me sharing yon pictograph. But first, some background. (Feel free to skip it if you’re familiar with the game.)

VVVVVV has collectibles (what game doesn’t?) called “shiny trinkets”. Collecting them is the key to accessing the secret bonus level, but some of them are really hard to get. The hardest is appropriately titled “Doing Things the Hard Way”. This trinket is so epic that it took me three minutes to get…the fifth time through. The first time…well, let’s not dwell on that.

The following is a pictographic representation of my fifth time collecting the “Doing Things the Hard Way” trinket. Click it to see it in it’s original-sized glory.


As you can see, it’s quite an endeavor. I feel like I have to retrain my reflexes every time I try it.

Here’s how I made it:

  1. Turn off the backgrounds before palying as they’ll mess up the compositing process.
  2. Obtain the trinket. Record the attempt using a screen recorder (in my case, Snapz Pro) at 15 FPS, which makes good motion trails. Save the resulting movie using lossless compression (I used PNG).
  3. Export the movie to a sequence of still images. I used Quicktime 7 Pro for this (with Snow Leopard, this must be specially installed from the Snow Leopard DVD).
  4. Sort the over 3000 resulting images by room. This doesn’t take all that long but is very tedious and boring since there’s really no way to automate it. I listened to podcasts while I did it.
  5. Copy one of the images and erase the little blue man. This is our base.
  6. Create a Photoshop action that composites the images by:
    1. Copy the base onto the target image (into a new layer).
    2. Set the blend mode of this new layer to “Difference’. This erases everything but the little blue man, leaving him on a black field.
    3. Copy this onto the base (into a new layer).
    4. Use the Select > Color Range… command to select all black.
    5. Delete the black. Now you’ve got the little blue man isolated in his own layer on top of the room base.
    6. Set the little blue man’s transparency to 17%.
  7. Batch-run this action on every image file for every room.
  8. Combine the resulting individual room composites into one very tall image.

Sadly, by the time I actually got the trinket, the timing had drifted enough so the motion trail depicting Captain Viridian (that’s the little blue man’s name) swooping down to collect his prize looks a bit strange.

I thought this was an interesting sight. Perhaps more interesting would be a recording of someone learning to do things the hard way for the first time…but, then again, such a beast would probably be impossibly thick with little blue men. Most first-timers (myself included) die literally hundreds of times on their first attempt at this.

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