Last week was ProcJam 2015, and as I hinted earlier, I took last month’s Pool game and added procedural generated rules to it! The theory is that it’ll invent new and exciting billiards games, but in practice it mostly just makes a mess. I’ve called it B!lliards and you can play it from the comfort of your web browser for free. A bit of a post-mortem after the break.
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.
Last night I submitted my Ludum Dare 33 entry, Frankenstein’s Monsters, Inc. which besides being a bit of a mouthful, is a fairly minimal management game about running a monster-building business. The theme was ‘You Are the Monster’, and I think you’ll agree that digging-up bodies and sewing them together is pretty monstrous. I say it’s minimal because your controls are only to drag monsters and job applicants to assign them to a department, drag monsters to sell them, and click on buttons to spend money.
It was a lot of fun to work on! I’m happy with how it’s turned-out too – the only thing I didn’t get time for is more art, especially some animations for when each department is working, and more variety for monsters. It started out overambitious, but I managed to simplify the design a lot before I started. I even had time to do some music:
As with any jam game, there are things I’d like to add to it. My original idea gave the monsters statistics which affect how much money they’re worth and how effective they are at different jobs. In that way, you’d be able to gradually level-up your production quality as well as its speed. You’d have a PR department which would slowly reduce outrage over time, which would allow outrage to ramp up without being unbalanced. I also have some ideas about selling monsters – that they’d be sold automatically but only when there was demand, and you would increase demand by assigning workers to a marketing/sales department. I’d like to change how human workers behave too – at the moment, they’re 4 times as effective as monsters and 4 times the cost, so there’s no reason not to hire them as soon as they’re available. So, two different directions it could go in, really! Either more of an “idle game” that runs by itself, or a more detailed business simulation.
The Ludum Dare page is here, or you can go play it here.
The past week and a half, between other things, I’ve made a silly little browser game for the 4th GameBoy Jam. It’s a 3D maze game about healthy eating, called 5-A-Day Fun Maze, which is kind of a joke about terrible educational games, and kind of just a terrible game, but there you go.
This is a good example of what happens when I don’t have a plan. I wanted to do a ray-tracer (Old-school 3D rendering where you fire an imaginary ray through the screen until it hits a wall, then draw a vertical line there based on the distance. It’s what early 3D games used.) so I did so, and then realised I had no idea what the game would be. I arbitrarily drew a strawberry so I could have entities as well as walls, still had no idea, and so it became about collecting fruit. The whole healthy-eating thing grew from there.
The game itself is just a maze, so not that interesting. It’s a ‘perfect maze’ in that there are no loops, so you can follow the left (or right) wall and eventually find all the fruit without difficulty. There is a compass in the corner to help you orient yourself if you do get lost though.
One thing I do quite like is the eating animation: simple, but it works! It also begs the question “Why are we looking out of the player’s mouth?” to which the answer is “Because.”
This weekend is going to be Ludum Dare 33! I hope to take part, but there’s less pressure now that I already have a game for August. Been feeling pretty burnt-out lately, so we’ll see.
So, the results for Ludum Dare 30 are in! Lorries in SPAAAAACE! did well enough, though nowhere close to the top 100. (Though being #68 in the Humour(Jam) category is nice.) Considering it’s not a very original game, and lacks polish, I’m pretty pleased.
The two big take-aways for me are 1) I can actually make games that people enjoy! (Judging by the positive comments I received.) This was so important, as after F!shing flopped I was wondering if I’m even any good at this game development lark. 2) Unity really is as quick and easy as I’d hoped! This is also encouraging, as the games I want to make (strategy/management/city-building) are quite large, so I need to be able to work quickly if I have a hope of finishing one. I’m not yet ready to embark on an epic, multi-year project.
As for Lorries in SPAAAAACE! itself, I do have some plans to expand it into a full game, but as always I have other projects to finish first. 😉 If only I had infinite time, maybe all the games in my head would get made and released.
So, it’s been a couple of weeks since the last dev log. Firstly, I spent the week after F!shing was released attempting marketing things, and relaxing a bit. I’ve also been playing around with Unity, preparing to work on Mycronation. However! There are two projects that you’ll see before I continue with that.
Firstly, it’s Ludum Dare #30 right now! LD is a regular game jam that takes place over a weekend, where the goal is to make a game from scratch that fits a given theme. The theme this time is “Connected Worlds”, and I decided to make a game about managing a haulage company IN SPAAAAAAAAACE! So far, I have some randomly-generated planets with goods they want to buy or sell. It’s giving me a proper Unity workout too!
Then after this weekend, I’ll be working on a business-focussed Android app. Someone suggested it to me a year or two ago, and twice I’ve attempted to develop it and ended-up sidetracked, but this time I will complete it! 😉
I’m thinking of weekly development livestreams for F!shing, as I’ve got a big list of things to add to the game still, and it might help get the game more publicity. They won’t begin until September, but I’m hoping to do them every Friday. If you want to get an email when I start streaming, you can follow me on Twitch.tv.
This week I made a game for the Monster Mash game jam, the theme being that the games had to have non-human protagonists. For whatever reason, I decided to make a football/soccer game where the players only have one leg, and can only hop about. It’s called K!cking, because apparently I name everything with exclamat!on marks in the t!tle! It’s got local multiplayer, which I would recommend as the computer AI is basically non-existent! 😉 You can download the Java version here, or play it in a browser here.
I almost gave-up early on in the week, as I felt I was making poor progress. I persevered, and it really came together yesterday (Friday), and though it’s still glitchy in places, I’m pleased with it. I played K!cking against my brother earlier, and it was hilarious. I’m putting it to one side now, except for any minor fixes I might do tomorrow. I might come back to it in the future though, which I say for pretty much every game jam project!
Last week I was in a bit of a slump. In the end, I took the week off from F!shing to just relax. Next week, I’ll be getting back to it, smoothing some rough edges and adding more game modes. Local multiplayer is something I’d like to add to that too at some point, but it’s a more long-term goal.
Over the weekend, I participated in Ludum Dare 29, the 48-hour game jam. The theme was Beneath the Surface, and I was inspired by the saying that a swan looks elegant above the water, but underneath is paddling madly. The result is SWAN QWOP – guide a one-legged swan across a lake by manually controlling the leg. (QWOP, if you don’t know, is a game about falling over while trying to run the 100m at the Olympics. You should play it! It’s much better.)
The weekend went pretty well! I was a little nervous about doing a physics-based game, as while I’ve used box2d before, I’m not too familiar with it. Still, I got a working prototype done in the first day, so Sunday was purely a case of polishing it up. I usually really struggle with scope, so I’m happy that it’s as complete as it is. That said, the water is a bit rubbish – I thought a bunch of balls would be a decent approximation, but not really! If I’d had a week rather than a weekend, maybe it would be better – I have a couple of ideas for improvements. Never mind!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy playing it! It is possible to win, though very difficult. If you manage it, post your time here or on the Ludum Dare page. Now to get back to my week off!
So, it’s been a while since I posted an update. Somehow, the time flies by!
My main project is still F!shing. It’s come a long way since I last mentioned it, but it’s very true when they say that the last 20% of the work takes 80% of the time! I had hoped for a March release, but now I’m just aiming to get the website and trailer done, and then just release the game when it’s done. I expect that will be April, but it’s hard to tell. Currently I’m working on adding sound and music. After that, the two remaining tasks are the tutorial, and online high scores. Getting so close!
With F!shing feeling so close for so long, I was getting a bit burned-out. The Procedural Death Jam gave me an opportunity to take a break from it for a week, and it was a lot of fun. I used it as an opportunity to try again at making a “racing roguelike“, my previous attempt being Turn By Turn Racing. TBTR didn’t really work, with the controls being too fiddly and unpredictable. This time, I took some inspiration from the board game Formula D and made movement tile-based: each turn, you have a series of available tiles you can move to, based on your current speed and turning ability. If you’re not careful, you might be forced to crash, which damages your car’s abilities and will eventually cause it to explode. You can download it from the PDJ site here. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to add opponents, but I’m pleased with the mechanic, and hope to develop it further when I’m less busy.
Looking to next month, there’s going to be a 10-day gaming festival in my home city of Norwich. I’m pretty excited about it – the Game Expo in October was great, and this promises to be much larger, featuring talks as well as a game jam. It’s not GDC, but it should be a good week and a half.