Frankenstein’s Monsters, Inc. Post-Mortem

The Ludum Dare 33 results came out earlier this week, and it went really well for me. I beat my previous bests in 5 of 8 categories. I placed 87th in the Theme category, with 4.04/5 – my first score over 4. So yeah, I’m pretty happy. 😀 You can still play Frankenstein’s Monsters, Inc. on Itch.io.

I’m far from an expert on game jams, but I thought I’d do a post-mortem to share my experiences:

What went well

  • I spent some time before the jam considering each of the 20 possible themes and writing down ideas for them. I do this every LD if I have time – it’s a fun game-design exercise, but also means that I can get started right away and not stress about having no ideas. (Except when the winning theme is one I had no ideas for, which has happened before.)
  • I recognised that my idea was too big, and simplified it before I began. The biggest change was reducing the game down to a single screen. Had I divided things up into multiple windows or screens that you switched between, it would have taken longer to make and been more confusing to play.
  • I got things working quickly. The game was essentially complete by the end of Saturday, leaving Sunday for balance and polish. Much of the art was still rough stick-figures, and the balance was off, but the game fundamentally worked, and I could have submitted it then. I’ve found this is really important for motivation – I’ve given up in previous game jams when it’s Saturday evening and my game isn’t coming together (even though I probably could have completed it).
  • I prioritised what needed doing. I can’t remember where I got this from, but I always make a TODO list with a ‘Need’ column and a ‘Want’ column. (Sometimes also a ‘Like’ column for really unnecessary but cool ideas.) Working through the Need list first really helps me to focus. Even after I’d simplified the game as I mentioned above, there were still big features that didn’t make it in – if I’d not prioritised the really important tasks, I would not have produced a finished game.
  • I used familiar tools. I know it’s not fashionable to use Java, but I’m now familiar enough with it and the library I use (libGDX) that I can work quickly without spending a lot of time reading documentation. As for software tools – IntelliJ, GIMP, and to a lesser extent FL Studio – I’ve used enough that I could concentrate on making the game, not learning to use them.
  • I actually made some music! I still don’t know what I’m doing music-wise, but spent half an hour or so cobbling-together some notes in a reasonable-sounding order. It’s something I’m trying to get better at, didn’t take that much time, and greatly improves the overall feel of the game. Certainly better than silence.

What went wrong

  • No sound effects. I find sound effects quite difficult to do, and so kept putting off recording them. There’s also the issue of how to make them work in a game where you can be producing several monsters per second – how can I have sound effects without them overlapping and just becoming a horrible mess of distortion? So I made excuses, and audio was the lowest rating.
  • Last-minute checking. The last thing I did to the game was add detail to the background, and in doing so I made the text really difficult to read in some places. If I’d paid more attention it could have been clearer.
  • Odd balance. The monsters and human workers are almost equally effective in terms of work-per-cost, so the choice between them is a bit meaningless. The public outrage also scales in a way I’m not fully happy with – to decrease it costs money, which means selling monsters, but selling monsters increases it – but at the time I was just happy that the game was winnable but still challenging. If I was to spend more time developing it, I’d definitely need to reconsider how everything interacts.
  • No animations. Entirely a time issue. I wanted to have animate the departments that are working, for visual feedback and to make things more lively. Ran out of time, which means that the Jacob’s Ladder in the top-right looks like unfinished knitting.