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    Ab-Alone Post Mortem

    Posted by (twitter: @Phantom_Green)
    December 20th, 2011 4:45 pm


    Ludum Dare 22 marks my fifth entry into the 48 hour game design competition of the GODS. My most critically successful competition thus far … was my first. Way back with LD 16 and the “EXPLORATION” theme, I created a Wall-e meets Fallout sidescrolling adventure that didn’t even have 75% of my planned features. Maybe it was because there were only 121 entries that time, but my game somehow ranked 8th in graphics and 20th overall. I was pleased with the warm reception, but I knew I could do better.

    Fast forward to NOW… with Ludum Dare 22 and over 800 entries… wow. There are some AMAZING games floating around out there, and I can’t wait to dive in and try them out.

    So what happened during this LD? The most important thing that happened is… I LOST MY MIND. I have never really been able to take a game from idea to completion in 48 hours. It haunts me. Even when I scaled back my idea for the “ISLANDS” theme with Savory Sea Hoss, I still ended up with a game that just felt incomplete. I decided that I would do whatever it took to release a ‘finished’ game this time, and it nearly killed me. I didn’t sleep during LD22.

    Did it work? Sort of. I ended up with a much more ‘complete’ game, but I felt horrible throughout the entire competition. I flooded my body with worthless snacks and energy drinks to stay awake, and I made some stupid errors that wouldn’t have existed with a WELL RESTED perk.

    I was desperately hoping that the theme would include an actual GAME MECHANIC and not a setting or ‘idea’ theme like before. I wanted RANDOM GENERATION, as that’s one area that I don’t have much experience in. I wanted to learn how to do that. I certainly could’ve incorporated that into the “ALONE” theme, but I ultimately decided against it.

    WHAT IS AB-ALONE
    Ab-Alone is a hybrid adventure/survival/crafting/puzzle game that combines BEING ALONE with BEING IN A STRANGE/NEW PLACE.

    From the official page:
    “An alien creature crash lands on an unknown planet and ends up on a remote island. With no way to repair the spacecraft and no way to call for help, the stranded alien is forced to survive while attempting to find a way home. The small island is covered with sand, grass, rocks, and trees… but no other life forms can be found. A startling discovery reveals that there may be more to this world than originally thought…”

    FORMING THE IDEA
    The “ALONE” theme immediately made me think of a deserted island. I knew right away that there would probably be MANY, MANY games based on this basic idea, but I decided to go ahead with the brainstorming phase. I knew that the core of my game would be based around being trapped on an island, and the overall goal would be to escape. I decided very early on that I would take the theme literally. I didn’t want there to be any other characters in the story, and I wanted to create a sense of desperation by making the player as clueless as possible without creating a complete TRIAL AND ERROR experience. That’s when I decided that the main character should not only be alone… but alone on an unknown planet. Instead of a space marine with guns and gadgets… it’s an alien with NOTHING. The player is just as clueless as the alien, as there is no tutorial or extensive explanations/labels. This is a design decision that I made early on, and I stuck through with it even after realizing that it had the potential to create an incredibly frustrating game.

      WHAT WENT RIGHT

    • A Beginning / Middle / End – I wanted the game to start and end with a story sequence to frame the action. I did it, and I’m happy with how it turned out.
    • SOUND – Thanks to the beauty of SFXR, I was able to create a large amount of custom sounds in a very short time. I even had time to make two songs that really add to the feel of the game. The ‘main theme’ that plays during gameplay is a mixture of island ambience and breezy melodies that work with one another without feeling too repetitive.
    • Pretty Lights – I wanted a day/night system. I also wanted the ability to make a fire. I knew that this would require lighting, so I spent a large portion of my Saturday designing the day cycle/fire lighting. This eventually led me to experiment with particle creation for the fire. I decided against the particle fire, but I kept working with the particles for other effects.
    • HUD Creation – I knew that I had to come up with an inventory/crafting HUD system that wasn’t too invasive. I didn’t want there to be any sort of PAUSE or pop up menu, so I decided to design a HUD along the bottom of the game window. The HUD can be switched between an INVENTORY and a CRAFT view. It isn’t the most intuitive or beautiful system, but it does what I wanted it to do, and that’s a victory in my book.
    • Crafting/Building – I wasn’t convinced at first, but I really dig the ability to craft ‘structures’ and such. It isn’t much, but I think that it really adds a nice touch to the game.
    • Water / Waves / Tide – I knew that I wouldn’t be able to create a fully-functional tide system in this amount of time. I designed the island as if it only had one beach… with the rest of the coasts being covered in rocks. The beach features a wave that carries in new collectibles every morning. I originally toyed with the idea of a moving sun that creates a reflection in the water but I stopped being stupid and immediately stopped thinking about it.

      WHAT WENT WRONG

    • Sprite / Color Cohesion – I never really stayed true with any specific art style or color palette, and I deeply regret it. The shades of yellow and green that I used to form the island tiles are just plain UGLY. There are some sprites, like the crashed space craft, that are very well done. Then there are others, like the rocks and trees, that just look out of place in comparison.
    • Forgotten Features – I wanted too much. I wanted more items, more crafting combinations, more food, more EVERYTHING. I have a very small collection of items that can be found/crafted, but there just wasn’t enough time to do more. I have an entire document drawn up that shows fish, a fishing pole, and a way to grill fish over a fire. None of this was included in the final game.
      Bad art – Some stuff is just badly/sloppily drawn. The rocks are ugly. The dried leaves look like bananas. The seashell look like a jelly fish. The axe, which is made out of a seashell tied to a rock and a stick… looks like a jelly fish tied to a rock and a stick. ETC. Not too thrilled with a lot of the aesthetics this time around.
    • Controls – I’m not too happy with the way the character moves, and some of the ways that you have to interract with the cursor are confusing/nonsensical. I just didn’t have enough time to iron out these details to perfect the interface.
    • Delivery – I was so tired after not sleeping that I completely bombed the LD 22 entry page process. I posted a link to my game site without making the page public. I could see the page, but nobody else could. I lost several plays because people couldn’t get to my game. With over 800 entries, I may NEVER get those plays back, and that sucks.
    • CONCLUSION
      In the end, I feel as though this is my greatest LD triumph. It may not be reflected in the voting, but I think that this is the best ‘overall’ game I have made since I started these crazy things. I took an idea that has been played to death (crafting / survival) in recent years, but I was able to put a new spin on it. The game includes a bit of humor, which is always good, IMO. It’s very hard for me to be SUPER SERIOUS in life, and this should be reflected in the games that I make.

      I’m working on a guide/walkthrough for the game… as I’m sure that there will be questions. The game is meant to be a bit of a puzzle, so you won’t be able to plow through it without some experimentation and careful studying of the slight clues.

      SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? GO PLAY AB-ALONE!

      Ludum Dare Entry Page
      Direct Download (Windows)
      Direct Download Mirror (Windows)
      Official Game Page (under construction)

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