It’s war! A Tiny World War postmortem

Posted by (twitter: @jimmypaulin)
May 6th, 2012 11:40 am

Link to my game – (ratings and feeback very much appreciated!)

@BigDaveIsCheap’s LD23 video roundup featuring Tiny World War (at 3:40)

Timelapse of the creation of Tiny World War

Preparing For War

Having followed LD for yonks it was finally time to bite the bullet and jump in with both feet. I was so excited to spend the weekend entirely devoted to the hobby I love, I couldn’t wait to get started, so preparation was no problem whatsoever. The first thing I did was

Tip #1 – Buy McFunkypants “The Game Jam Survival Guide”

And from this flowed forth much insight and timesaving! So I decided on Flash and Fllixel since I was familiar with the tools and could easily share the game – and I got my toolchain all setup and ready with a HelloWorld app that built and ran. I won’t reiterate all the great tips in McFunkypants’ book, I recommend you buy it! However, as a happily married chappy one of the most important tips I will add here is

Tip #2 – Plan the weekend around your loved ones

I can’t overemphasise how important this was. With my lovely wife on board (and guaranteed a place in the credits 😉 ) I not only felt free to indulge gratuitously in my hobby, but I had a superbly supportive playtester, motivator, and carer on hand making sure I ate, drank and slept in appropriate proportions! Going out for dinner on Saturday night not only helped me chill out and come down from the intense day, I woke up after a great night sleep full of ideas for day 2! Speaking of ideas:

Tip #3 – Have some rough game outlines in the back of your mind, pre-jam

Restored German trench near Ypres, Belgium

Controversial, perhaps, but I found great inspiration from a recent trip visiting World War 1 battlefields near Ypres in Belgium, and I knew I fancied making a WW1 themed game. I felt WW1 was under-represented in games, so I figured I’d have something niche. Fitting this with the Tiny World theme took some creative thinking, but hey that’s the whole point!

It’s War!

Tip #4 – Have a battle plan

Since this was my first LD I really had no idea how much I’d be able to achieve in the time available. I knew I’d have all day Saturday and all day Sunday and that would be it (EU timezone thing). So my plan was to have the game basically “finished”, and then spend all Sunday polishing it. This definitely paid off as I’m happy with the level of polish the game has. I’m not so happy with the very simple gameplay but it’s finished, and without the text boxes, menu screens, music and sounds it would not be a complete game. Of course ideas and features popped up in my mind throughout, but I had to discard loads of these and hopefully just keep the best ones, so

Tip #5 – Make bold decisions and stick with them

There’s no time to restart in a different direction. A highly polished turd still has artistic merit, that’s the risk you take. At least your experience will be a “something” rather than a mashup of nonsense. The same principle applies to tweaking and balancing. There’s no point making tiny adjustments to the game; it’s going to be rough but as long as all the parts are there you have something you can call a game at the end, so concretely:

Tip #6 – If you tweak a variable in-game, double or half it, don’t micro-adjust

This tip, from Jesse Schell’s excellent “The Art of Game Design – A book of lenses” saved me so much time and helped to pin down things like: player move speed, enemy firing rate, map size, the interval between random explosions, the number of enemies… the list is endless, pretty much every tuneable parameter in the game got to where it is by doubling and halving until it felt right. It’s a binary search logarithmic complexity thing (I guess). It relates to a general principle:

Tip #7 – Get into “the zone” and get over “the wall”

That flow state where you are deploying your skills to their fullest and the challenge is worthy of your ability. In a jam you set your own level of challenge, so know yourself and know your limits. Know what you need to keep you flowing (quiet, breaks, food, sunshine, IRC, feedback, whatever). The “Wall” was an interesting one. I genuinely didn’t expect to hit it because I really do love this hobby so much – wrong! After spending an hour on player controls I felt my love for the game waning. Time to stop that path. I pushed on and finished that nasty section, then did something fun and “easy” – generated a ton of sound effects in BFXR! What a juicy tool, that was great. I finished day 1 with a game that looked and sounded more or less the finished product. For keeping motivation high, nothing beats

Tip #8 – Go directly to final art

Programmer art being what it is, front-loading the art creation task seems sensible. The art is hard, the code is easy (relatively). Now I may have to revise this because I think the main problem with my game is that it is too simplistic, and the only thing harder than art is that holy grail:

Tip #9 – But don’t forget the fun

A sad fact is that in a competition with 1400 entries, no-one is going to play anywhere near all of them. You have to stand out and your main channel for this is graphical screenshots. A pretty game *will* get more plays, initially. However as time passes and word of mouth comes to dominate ratings, a fun game will eventually outshine a boring pretty one. A game that is well balanced, full of game-y pleasures and surprises will always win the day, just not initially. However if a game jam is the nursery from which games grow, the real world is where games that stand the test of time will flourish. Tiny World War is fun, but not for as long as I’d have liked. I’d like to know what you think in that regard… Which brings me onto the final point

Tip #10 – Share the joy

It’s perhaps obvious, almost too obvious, but the point of this competition as far as I see it is not to make money or have glory (for most), it is quite simply the opportunity to dive right into an enormous bubbling conversation about the fantastic experience of satisfying the highest of creative urges under extraordinary conditions with hundreds, indeed, thousands of like-minded individuals. It’s a celebration of gaming, creativity, humour and perseverance. If you create your game in a bunker, release it on the quiet, tell no one, post nothing on the blog, ignore irc and don’t bother to play anyone else’s games, wow that is some crazy behaviour. Community and feedback is what this is about. I just wish I’d spent time on IRC as I feel I really missed out there. I’m trying to make up for it now by leaving the most useful ratings I can and keeping the conversation going.

The Aftermath

In a nutshell, that was one of the most intense 48 hours periods of my life. It was an emotional rollercoaster, and at the end of it I have a game I’m proud of, despite its problems. There are highs and lows in an escapade like this, but wow, what an unforgettable experience! I can’t wait to do it all again for LD24 ;D


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2 Responses to “It’s war! A Tiny World War postmortem”

  1. Casino Jack says:

    High five from another first-time LDer! Really useful tips by the way – most of which I learnt the hard way over that 48 hours, but some I’ll definitely take on board for next time.
    The one I keep seeing thrown around but can’t wrap my head around is diving straight into the final art rather than iterating. Perhaps it’s because it’s my weakest area, but I would have thought it would be better to see if the concept is actually fun with placeholder art (e.g. coloured rectangles) before settling on the art style? Maybe I’ll try it next time anyway and see how I get on.

    Keep working on Tiny World War – it’s a gem!

  2. jimmypaulin says:

    @Casino Jack – Thanks for the great feedback on the postmortem! It was a bit rambling but I wanted to get everything down so I remember it next time. It’s the community that makes this even I think, thanks for the high fives haha 😉

    Yeah it’s a controversial one re the finalised art. I think there are two factors really – 1) there is not really enough time to iterate on art so its coloured rectangles or final art, nothing in between. 2) if you are being experimental with the mechanic then I think this is the time to prototype with placeholder art. Arguably the best thing about the likes of ludum dare is the freedom to innovate – Tiny World War is guilty of not being too innovative I feel, so going to final art was right for this game. Next time it might be a totally different story. That said, it helps my motivation hugely looking at nice graphics and getting it out the way early as I find it really hard! Each to their own I guess. I can imaging 90’s hacker required more iteration due to the complex gameplay 😉

    Thanks again for comments and support!

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