Hell Fortress Postmortem

Posted by
August 23rd, 2011 1:30 pm

Well, this was a harrowing weekend. As usual, I decided to shoot for the moon and make yet another adventure platformer type dealie — and I’m happy to say that not only did I finish more or less on schedule, it was the biggest LD48 I’ve done so far (75 whole rooms!). The last time I did this, the result was a paltry dozen rooms or so. What was different this time? The simple answer is: better tools.

One of the biggest hurdles during LD19 (Grand Mystic Quest of Discovery) for me was making all those rooms. At the time I used Tiled; a fine editor with a file format that’s easily parsed in AS3, but being limited to a single tilemap at a time (thus a single room at a time) and a clunky entity editing system made making all those rooms very, very time-consuming. This time, I had a secret weapon; Unimap, a personal tile editor project of mine, built specially for my needs. (The screenshot below contains spoilers, by the way, so don’t look too closely if you want to explore the game yourself.)

A screenshot of Unimap with the Hell Fortress world file open.

I’m not going to harp on about why Unimap is awesome; my point is to say that having a tool customized for you personally really helps in time-constrained situations like this. Every minute spent fighting against your own tools is a minute wasted. So here’s a lesson to be learned: The rules allow you to use any tools at your disposal without restriction; take advantage of that. Don’t limit the kind of technology you allow yourself to use for no good reason. Use whatever tools you are comfortable with that offer the least amount of resistance. And don’t be afraid to repurpose an existing tool if it will help you reach your goal more easily.

The missing Ring item.

Originally, I had planned for a lot more than actually shows up in the game. The place where this is most obvious is the unsightly hole in the inventory between the Dagger and Flute items; there was originally a Ring item that was supposed to increase the number of Talisman projectiles you could fire at one time. If you’ve played the game, you might be confused, since there is no limit to the number of projectiles you can fire anyway.

The plan at the start was to have a lot more combat situations than made it into the final game. My opinion is that any game needs a variety of elements to be successful; even though puzzle-solving is fun, if you make the player spend all his time solving puzzles, he will be burned out. The same can be said for dexterity sections (“jumping puzzles” as some strangely call it) and combat. In short: too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Unfortunately, around Sunday noon I realized there was no time left for me to implement more features (as opposed to producing more world map content).

No new features meant no new combat mechanics and no new enemies, and at that time there was really only the Knight enemy that could be killed at all. In the end, I decided that finishing the game with strong puzzle and dexterity sections was more important than spending effort on rounding out the combat sections. The downside of this was that the Dagger is practically useless and the Ring never got made at all. The upside, however, was important, and that’s lesson two: Don’t be afraid to jettison features if you risk overextending your game design. If I had attempted to finish the combat sections as originally planned, the world layout and puzzles would surely have suffered. If your choice is between two mediocre solutions on the one hand, and one great solution and one kinda lacking solution on the other, choose the latter.

That being said, combat is the part of Hell Fortress that is lacking the most. If I revisit it for a post-competition version (and I might!), that is the first thing that will be remedied for sure.

Hell Fortress has no sound. I have a tendency to skip out on that. If I had another chance, would I go back and make audio a higher priority? Maybe. But it’s a big maybe. This comes back to what I said above; would I rather have some mediocre audio (I have no talent in this area at all!) and risk the rest of the game suffer, or focus on a polished visual experience? I chose the latter, but I don’t know if this is the right choice for everyone.

Somewhat complicating the question is the lack of good tools for generating MSX-style audio, at least that I’m aware. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, I guess it is that if you are unsure of how a feature will come out, it is best to cut it and focus on the things you know will have a strong impact. Again, though, I’m not entirely sure my choice was correct, in the end; the final product absolutely did suffer from its silence. If you feel confident that you can deliver a compelling audio experience, great! Make that your strong feature.

All in all, though, I am very happy with my entry this time around. I hope you all have had a fun time, and made some great games, too! Good luck in the voting!


P. S. My personal record for beating the game with 100% item collection is 77 deaths in just under 20 minutes. See if you can beat it!


One Response to “Hell Fortress Postmortem”

  1. none says:

    “Don’t be afraid to jettison features if you risk overextending your game design.”

    A very valuable lesson that I think some people forget. I felt the same way when making my game. However, I instead decided to go with the “what is something simple that I know I can do” approach so I finished with time to spare and only jettisoned featured that I either didn’t feel like implementing or thought wouldn’t work in the game after I got to a certain point in development.

    Also, as far as sound goes. SFXR (http://www.drpetter.se/project_sfxr.html) has been a very valuable tool in helping me make game sounds.

    There is a newer version called BXFR (http://www.bfxr.net/) that I have switched over to using.

    They are really great at making quick sounds.

    Great blog post!

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