Arks of Mercy: the future

Posted by
May 20th, 2010 1:17 am

My game got 15th place on 204 entries. “Yay”, mesays.

And 4th in Innovation, Community and Theme.

So close to a medal! Thank you so much for your votes, and comments.

About the comments, they are very very positive, and this is extremmely rewarding. You all point out very clear downsides, that I am going to list here.

You big enthousiasm gave me the will to rewrite the game. Take your comments in account, try to make it better. More optimised, more fun, more functionnal, more beautiful. It might become my first full fledged game. And that would be nice.

Controls are awkward

True. As I wrote, I designed them with a gamepad in mind, and that was probably a bad idea. First because everyone doesn’t have a gamepad, and second because as it’s been pointed out, mouse controls would be a lot better.

Also, there are far too many controls. Moving, rotating, zooming camera is already 8 buttons. Could be reduced by suppressing the “strafe” left and right controls and probably still be functionnal. Given the height of the hills, we certainly need camera rotation, to reach “behind” them.

In the same vein, the “beacon” and “boat” shortcuts might be removed. They allow for faster play, but are confusing at first.

However, mouse controls were a lot harder to implement (I’m still not sure how to do the inverse transformation to get from screen to heightfield cell), so I went for buttons.

Solution: go for mouse control, as in classic RTS. Mouse to select buildings, mouse buttons to bring up menus, mouse at the edge of the screen to scroll. Mouse wheel to zoom. Maybe mouse in the top corners to rotate?

With of course keyboard equivalents for the poor chaps who still one one button mouses… Wink wink nudge nudge. And good old RTS keyboard shortcuts.

Gameplay is a bit confusing

Some of you mentionned this, and the fact that 3 pages of manual is too long. I can understand that, especially when you have 204 games to grade. Guilty as charged. When I decided to make a strategy game — with different types of buildings, each with its specificities — the game became inherently complex. And not “casual” anymore like many of the LD entries. That’s a choice that probably rebuked many players, and a risk to take. On the other hand, the only remaining ones were the most perseverent, and they seemed to find the game worth the effort. And graded well. Thanks again!

Solution: as suggested, inside help could be useful, as well as tooltips, maybe even tutorials. And pictures in the external manual.


Shading is a bit off at night time, menus sometimes disappear under water, aiming precision is not great, beacon rings should be visible at all times, colors didn’t get unanimity, etc.

Obviously, in a limited time competition, some polish gets left out. Especially since the technical part was quite challenging to me. All that would be corrected/improved in a post compo version. Notably, I would like to:

  • replace my lousy 3D icons by 2D, maybe have a HUD à la Warcraft, or just a bring-up menu.
  • use 2D sprites as well for the dezoomed view, instead of OpenGL square dots.
  • more eye candy. My lightnings are a bit lame, the uniform water is not that nice. could use a sky in zoomed views. Maybe more gimmicks on the land so that it doesn’t look so empty.
  • sound effects.
  • longer music, maybe different themes.
  • different environments, colors themes, etc.

More gameplay

No one commented on that, but I was thinking about it in my postmortem. Although many of you found the game enjoyable as it is, my intention was in fact to make it multiplayer.

  • cooperative mode. 2+ players share the same ressources (max number of stuff) on the same map, and try to save as many people possible, together. Allows for more micromanagment and interesting strategic interaction.
  • competitive mode. 2+ players share the map and people, but have their own ressources/buildings. In the end, the winner is the one who saved the biggest number of people.
  • versus mode. 2+ players play on totally independent games but with an identical starting point. Other players can be displayed as “shadows”. There is no interaction at all between players, the point is to see how many people is saved by each player, given the same map.

Now I’m not sure a solo campain would be interesting. There are few types of buildings, one type of guys, and the point of the game is to control them indirectly. There wouldn’t be heros, or real stories behind.

Of course, there could a be a series of tutorials, introducing the buildings one by one. Or I could radically change the whole thing and add lots of unit/building types, and make it a full fledged RTS with military and bloodbaths and whatnot. But that wouldn’t really uphold the original concept.

I could, later, make a wargame out of this, in a sequel. But for now I’d just like to remake *this* game, since you seemed to like it so much.

Technical notes

I’m not really sure what i mean by “rewrite”. Of course, the LD code is pretty much unusable. Globals everywhere, fake OOP with ugly shortcuts, last minute patches that became core functions, etc. Also, it’s written entirely in Lua, and performance is probably not excellent. That means I should probably move the computation intensive parts to C (or a C based language such as Objective-C that I happen to know): heightfield generation and altitude interpolation, drawing calls, etc.

Sadly I don’t really know where to put the limit, and I haven’t really experimented yet with C-Lua communication and design. For now my library is mainly a wrapper that makes low-level functions available to Lua, and everything from low-level to logic is in Lua.

Might be an interesting challenge. Might also be one of these things I get sucked into and in which I roam around for ages in technical desperation.

The good things

You mentionned awesome, fun, damn cool, interesting, great visual style, atmosphere, “perfect” music, great feeling of doom.

Mission accomplished. Thank you a billion times.

Stay tuned for a possible remake, and see you during the next LD!

2 Responses to “Arks of Mercy: the future”

  1. snowyowl says:

    A remake, huh? That would be brilliant.
    Of the 30 or so games I played on LD17, this was probably the best. Certainly it was the only one with enough replay value to keep me hooked for three playthroughs, and that’s without any sort of secrets or extras that I wasn’t able to get the first time (which is usually what makes me play an LD game twice :P)

    I’m not sure whether a visual overhaul would be easy to pull off. The game as it is has a certain style; other than adjusting the day/night cycle (the lack of shading at night makes it difficult to see), any graphical changes you make would need a new style to fit into.

    A multiplayer version would be great. I suggest not distinguishing between two-player cooperative and two-player competitive, instead making an adjustable difficulty level (that controls the speed of the water). It is up to the players whether they try to save more people than the other person, or try to cooperate (possibly earning a rank on some online scoreboard, or unlocking new gameplay options, if their combined score is high enough). I saw this style of multiplayer in the New Super Mario Bros gameplay video, and I like it.

    I figured out the control scheme eventually, but I had to refer back to the readme while I was playing, which is not good.

    Oh, and don’t feel obliged to listen to anything I wrote in this post. This is the game I want to play; other people will disagree with me.

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