Rise of the Meebas Dev Diary

Posted by (twitter: @jemmiwinks)
September 3rd, 2012 12:05 pm

I thought I’d get into the spirit of Ludum Dare and write about my entry, Rise of the Meebas. This is actually more of a rough development diary, peppered with some insights and cool, EXCLUSIVE behind-the-scenes goodness!

In South Africa, Ludum Dare begins at 3 in the morning. This leaves 2 choices: to power through and see the theme announcement, hoping to go to sleep and lucid dream oneself a mind-blowing game idea, or to wake up really early.

I chose the latter, which really would’ve worked if I had woken up early. By the time I had a brunch in me, I was still entirely at a loss for ideas. “Evolution” was a great theme, but sometimes one tends to get obsessed with trying to design something too clever. I had something similar happen to me for my LD#22 game, and like Rise of the Meebas, I ended up with a game that contained the initial sparks of a good idea, but was left lacking good, solid, fun gameplay.

I spent a majority of the Saturday getting the basic movement mechanics and a few graphical elements into Unity. I’d settled on an idea in which you had to move a number of amoeba-like balls around a level, and the more you moved each one the closer you got to evolving the movement of the group as a whole, after which you could overcome obstacles and reach the exit. I wanted this to have a similar feel to those levels in Braid where moving left rewinds time, and moving right progresses it. In other words, having the player carefully evaluate where and when to move around the level, with some reflex-based platforming gameplay.

With this in mind, I spent the end of the day designing some levels on paper, which helped lock in something of the puzzling aspect to the level design. I also very quickly hacked together an amoeba model, which in its froggy/fishy/impy look, made me decide that these were “‘Meebas”.

Sunday morning began with something that totally sums up the strange creative spirit of Ludum Dare. About 2 hours before I woke up, the bells from the church across the street started chiming. As I lay in bed half asleep, I thought “this would be kinda cool to have as eerie cave music”, followed by the realization that my laptop was sitting next to my bed, and “hell yes, I can do this!”. So I flipped it open, fired up Garage Band, and managed to capture the last 30 seconds or so of the bells.

I felt like a game-making McGuyver. It was moments like these that made me really appreciate the rule that says all assets should be created by hand. In some way this forces us to attempt a number of unfamiliar disciplines, and more often than not, discover that we aren’t bad at them! That being said, my spacey, ravey church bells song was not a hit, but it was good fun having a go at putting a track together.

I also completed the rest of the modeling, texturing and animation of the Meeba character. I was happy with the way the animations turned out in the end, but again, the process of getting them in was bizarre and fueled by desperation. Firstly I tried using 3ds Max bones, but as something went wrong when I imported the animation into Unity, I made the wise decision to go with what I knew worked: A full biped. This has some strange results when you realize biped is generally designed for animating people:

What they don’t teach you in animation school

So after this creative misuse of biped, I moved onto making levels. This was another one of the areas of development that went well, simply because I gave myself enough time for it. Although my idea wasn’t really developed fully enough to be an intriguing puzzler, I was still able to convey the gist of the gameplay through the levels and tutorials. I also had time to put some detail into the levels, including various colored lights to indicate exits (green/blueish) and dangerous areas (red). I’d made a stalactite prefab and discovered that by tweaking its mesh colliders, I was able to turn it into a fun level obstacle. I probably got carried away positioning the stalactites so that your Meeba could fall – flailing and grunting – and crash into them on its way down.

Ultimately, this was an exhausting, fun and successful Ludum Dare! Although it sorta goes against one of the fundamental tips for making a great LD game, I found it useful to work on what I could art- and code-wise while I let my very vague initial gameplay idea develop. There came a point where I was running out of time, so had to go for what I though might be halfway decent, but if I hadn’t, I simply wouldn’t have had enough time to finish.

What went right:

– The art and graphics. I tried to create a really interesting, colorful and funny mood while working quickly on each asset, and I think it worked well.

– Leaving enough time to design levels, add tutorials, and bookend the game with a menu and game over screen.

What went wrong:

– Initially having an idea that didn’t hold too much promise of fun and interest. It’s still in need of an overhaul, and I think a post- post- post- post- compo version might start blending into something of an arcade or even RTS-flavoured platformer.

– Church bells, apparently 😛

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