Tag: post-mortem

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.

Spacelunky Post-mortem

As previously mentioned, I’m attempting 1GAM again in 2015. My attempt for January is Spacelunky. Download it free from Itch.io.

Spacelunky

Spacelunky came from my admiration of Spelunky, and the fact I’ve not really made a platformer before. So at the beginning of the month I outlined my plans for what I thought was ambitious for my 1-week time limit, but felt I’d be able to complete a decent chunk of it. However… I barely finished anything. It feels like a 48-hour game jam’s worth of work.

What went well

Let’s start with the good! I tried to put into practice what Casey Muratori calls “compression-oriented programming“, where you don’t design the code in advance, but write it as simply as possible, and see what structure naturally emerges. The result is that I’ve written much less code than I normally would, but with the same effects. It’s quite liberating, but does take some practice.

I wrote music! It’s mutated a little as I converted it from in-my-head to on-the-computer, so it doesn’t really feel appropriate to the game, but it’s not actually painful for me to listen to, so I’m making progress from my previous attempts. Still very rough though, I hope to be much better by December.

I’m also pleased with the art. OK, the tiles are a bit horrible, but whereas I usually don’t animate things, this time I put some effort into doing so. The player and aliens have walk and death animations which I’m really pleased with.

Finally, and this will make more sense in a minute, I kept going, and made sure I had a playable game now, even if it’s not a very good one. I was really worried about meeting the deadline, and nearly just gave up on the whole thing, but I’m glad I finished something.

What went poorly

The first problem was over-scoping: the game design was too big. I knew this before I started, and hoped that as most of the design was optional, it wouldn’t be a problem. It wouldn’t have been as much of a problem as it was if it wasn’t for…

Having a terrible week! Many of you will be aware that I suffer from depression, and this week was not a good week. I don’t know why, but I just felt rubbish. I would sit down, intending to work, and just stare at the code with no idea of what I was doing. Not great.

I’m not at all happy with the generated levels. The algorithm I think is fine: it creates a 5×5 array of chunks, with connections between them, then slots in a pre-defined tile layout that matches the connections. (e.g. a chunk connects up, down and left, so it finds a layout for it with those connections.) The problem is the levels are dull and repetitive. Partly this is from the lack of available things to put in them, but also because of a poor decision I made early on that the layouts should be 10×10. This is much too small to fit anything interesting in, once the appropriate corridors are added.

What I would do differently

Definitely next time I will shrink the scope of the game significantly. In February I’ll aim for the sort of game I would attempt for Ludum Dare, and see how that goes. I’ll try to look after myself better and hopefully avoid feeling so low.

Anyway, if you want to check it out you can do so on Itch.io. It’s a free download, but does require Java.