Perils abound down the Ribbit Hole.
This was by far the craziest of my three Ludum Dare experiences, and the first time I’ve jammed with a team. On the one hand, we’re all ridiculously happy with what we’ve managed to do, in terms of the game mechanic and the quality of the art production, and the potential for a much larger game built on top of what we’ve got here.
On the other hand, there’s no getting around the fact that the amount of content and story in the actual official jam build is painfully small… just one scenario. It’s really short, and it doesn’t even really have an “ending” screen.
What went right?
The theme :
I admit that I didn’t like the theme when it was announced. We all struggled to come up with an idea that wouldn’t be derivative or play into the whole eat-or-be-eaten trope. After spending two hours brainstorming we felt like we’d hit a brilliant twist by making a game about the evolution of a relationship, or rather correcting the de-evolution of one via time-manipulation.
The team :
The textures are gorgeous. Jordan rocks scene lighting and ambience like nobody’s business. You see how alive the scenery in that apartment looks? It’s all in the lighting. Ray on the modeling and the UI took one look at the little frog pictures I’d taken during LD23 and decided to just run with them. The scenery and the model have a certain charm and warmth that there’s no way I alone could capture.
The tooling :
I’m no stranger to using Unity, but the tool really made the job of rapidly testing and building very easy.
What went wrong?
Everything that went wrong in this project, and the reason why the game really isn’t very complete, is all down to how ambitious we were in our ideas. In order to really sell our take on the theme, here’s a short list of things we had to build out, in ascending order of OMG levels of work:
- A fake smartphone operating system
- Translation of raycasting from the user’s physical screen to the virtual “phone” screen
- A convincing script with relatable characters
- A conversation engine that ranks your responses to questions, including timeouts that are interpreted as you ignoring the questioner
Did I mention we didn’t have any of that stuff just laying around?
And how much time did it take us to concept out these ideas? I feel confident in saying that we spent almost a total of 10 – 15 hours doing nothing but writing up scenarios, playing with dialog options, running through things you could pick up and use in the phone world.
All this is to say that the idea was big. It was really big. It’s way bigger than a game jam game should be, but it felt like too good an idea not to pursue. It’s still astonishing to me just how much we did accomplish even with a game idea that required such heavy investment in nothing more than script writing and screenplay.
One thing I think I as the programmer really should have done was to actually flesh out why that force close screen happens. It’s actually part of the story and intended to signify that you’ve completed the scenario… but without some messaging or apparent effect after it happens, it just leaves people confused. It didn’t have to be that way. I could have diverted some effort away from things like making the textures all import at the best quality level, or fiddling around with dialogue during the encounter, or adding in the pickup items, and I could have used that time to just give the player a clue that “hey, you did it! But there’s a mystery afoot.”
To finish this story. The idea is too good not to follow through on, and it deserves more than what it’s got as of 6pm Monday evening.