Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ludum Dare 25 Postmortem

This past weekend I took part in the 25th Ludum Dare 48 hour game making competition! The theme this time was "You are the villain", so I googled "villain" and then just made a puzzle game about a railway tycoon using trains to rid the world of damsels. The game "Cruel Cruel Dastard" can be found here and it's competition page is over here

In traditional game jam fashion, here's a postmortem listing three things that went well and three things that didn't go so well while making the game. 

Things that went well

Recording my own sounds: 

Usually when I'm working on jam games I tend to make heavy use of free sound libraries (such as freesound.org) and content generators (such as bfxr). Since the main Ludum Dare Compo disallows use of sound libraries, I decided to give recording my own sounds a try. It turns out recording sounds was actually a lot easier than I imagined (and also a ton of fun). 

Under normal circumstances, I might have spent ages searching through a free sound library for a train sound. While recording my own sounds, all I had to do was record myself blowing into paper and then tweak the result in Audacity to get what I wanted. Everyone who plays the game seems to love the evil laugh I included as a victory noise. That thing is basically just my own voice sped-up and it only took me about a minute to make, so I'll definitely be recording my own sounds more in the future. 

Re-doing the controls halfway through:  

When I started making the game, the idea was that it had a simple "click to place things on screen" control scheme. To build a large amount of train tracks, the player would have to place each piece of the track individually and switch to a different shape every time the track turned. To illustrate, here's a screenshot from the game on day one:

Notice how each shape has its own menu item

If this sounds like a terrible and tedious control scheme to you, well you're right! About halfway through the competition, I decided to scrap this scheme and make a much more intelligent track building system that allows the player to lay tracks or re-route existing tracks just by dragging their mouse across the screen. Even though it took a good chunk of time to implement, I think it was a pretty good idea, particularly since it's now much easier to build tracks in the game than in my level editor. 

Still have to choose pieces by hand

Practicing Art Beforehand: 

As I mentioned in this post, I was practicing making art really fast this week. What I didn't mention was that I was using the Make Pixel Art web app. I like this program because it's really simple and it has super useful "lighten" and "darken" tools that I can't seem to find anywhere else (if you know how to get the same thing in photoshop or gimp, please tell me).

Of course, it's simplicity has some drawbacks, such as not being able to easily constrain the size of your drawings. Fortunately, with a week of practice, I was able to get past these problems via silly solutions such as creating "frame" templates.  

Things that didn't go so well

No Time for Levels: 

Hey look at that! I kind of mismanaged my time for this jam. My original intention for the last day was to do some basic polish, make a few designed levels to introduce the mechanics (complete with tutorial text), and then build a procedural generation system for making the game more of an arcade style puzzle game (like tetris) rather than a deterministic puzzle game (like a rubiks cube). 

If that sounds kind of over-scoped to you, you're correct! I was still adding polish on Sunday when I looked at the clock and realized I only had one hour left and no levels to speak of yet. It didn't help that my level editor wasn't fully set up yet either. 

In the end, I had to scramble all ten of the levels together in less than 20 minutes, which basically meant I got the tutorial levels in and not much else. Whoops!

Poor Prioritization: 

Part of the reason I ran out of time on Sunday was definitely due to poor prioritization. There are a bunch of mechanics in the game that are either not explored fully or not properly implemented at all (such as the rope mechanic). I think if I had done a better job pruning these ideas down to only about two or three basic mechanics (say, laying railroad tracks and dynamite), I wouldn't have run out of time towards the end. 

Also, certain pieces of polish that would be essential for a larger release--The "undo" button in particular--might not have been really necessary for a 48 hour game, particularly one as short as this one, so I might have benefitted from focusing more on the core gameplay. 

Playing it "Safe":

One of my goals for this weekend was to create something fairly polished that I could easily expand upon for a bigger release. In practice, this meant that I discarded a bunch of ideas during the planning phase that were a lot more experimental or interesting because I wasn't sure I could expand them into something worthwhile in only 48 hours. 

Of course, this means I ended up designing a game that was distressingly similar to games I've made in the past. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing (plenty of people riff on the similar concepts several times before moving on), I think I could have benefited from going with one of my wilder ideas. 

Another game with 3x3 explosions

I think I still might be able to differentiate this game from some of my previous work by implementing the "arcade mode" which I didn't get around to, so I'll keep updating as I do post-competition work on it. 

That's about it. Thanks for reading!

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