Hit The Button Post-mortem

Posted by
April 30th, 2013 3:33 pm

Woke up last Friday as someone who has never made a game and did not know about Ludum Dare. A crazy 3 days later, I have released my first game.

I wanted to explore the theme restricting the game to a single specific way to interact with the game, which was to click a big button in the center of the screen. I was inspired by the generally horrible Zynga-like games that had little quality interaction with the game, in large part due to the artificial “energy” bars that don’t let you continue until some time had gone by. My thought was to take that mechanic into the most simplest (minimal) form possible:

  • Click something
  • Some seemingly inconsequential random event happens
  • Some annoying time restriction before you could continue
  • No completion to the game

So the “game” idea became partial commentary, but I wanted to challenge myself to see if there was anyway possible to make something fun in that framework. So it turned into a game where you click a button and you either gain or lose a random amount of gold or hearts. If you went broke or lost all your hearts, game over. Here are some of the things I tried to add into the mix to attempt something mildly fun:

  • It’s essentially a super dumb slot machine, so I wanted to crib from Vegas by making the button pushes big epic noisy visual events. I did manage to fit in a little animation after the button push, but it wasn’t close to the amount I wanted to do. I also ran out of time to implement any sound.
  • I added a combo mechanic where clicking the button quickly (under 320 milliseconds) would earn you combos. If you got to 5 combos, you got to see some feedback after your button press about how quick you managed to push the button, as well as your current combo. As you got higher and higher combos, the time between button pushes would decrease and the button shrinks. For example, if you get your combo to 25x, the break between button being active was random between 0.8 and 1.2 seconds, which provides a decent challenge. I wanted to take this further by moving the button around but did not get to it.
  • There are 5 trophies you can obtain. The game keeps a running tally of a number of metrics, and trophies can be earned by getting enough deaths, bankruptcies, high combos, overall clicks, and bad clicks. The thresholds to get the base trophy were somewhat small (relatively: you needed over 1000 clicks to get the click one), and they were upgradable all the way up to 1 billion for some of them.
  • I cheated a little and added some messages that would be shown after clicking anywhere but the button. There’s about 20 random messages that are shown to the user which are meant to be insults because it’s really hard to miss the huge button in the center. I was hoping that people would stumble onto these and find a little humor in them, and continue to try and trigger all the messages. Examples of these messages include “Juuusssstttt a bit outside….” and “It says Hit Me. I can’t make it any easier.”

Other things I wanted to implement but didn’t:

  • Many more different events that happened when you hit the button. I wanted to randomly give (and take away) a bunch of pointless gifts like the ones Zynga has you spam send to your friends. I wrote out a framework of a narrative that would slowly evolve by chaining together combos. The idea was that the button was this miserable character who lived this horrible life of people always beating on him. It would eventually lead you to gain sympathy for him and (somehow) ends in you destroying the button, thus freeing him from his misery. I also like the idea of giving an ending being a screw you to the types of games I discussed above.
  • Lots more random visual things that would happen. Moving the button, changing colors, making some background things happen. I also liked the idea of making some “glitches” happen.
  • Sound. I even started to conceptualize a song and lyrics that I would record and sing to go along with the story mode

What went right:

  • I shipped something. :)

What went wrong:

  • It’s not a fun game: You can chalk this up to poor game design. As I stated above, I wanted to experiment to see if I could create something fun with a very strict rules on interaction. Turns out, I couldn’t. Looking back, I should have known this immediately, because the games I was inspired by bored me to tears. I think I was kind of onto something with the combo system which gave it a little play depth, but even that only holds your attention for 1-2 minutes at most. The extra carrot of the trophies ended up not being worth it because players were super bored well before those were achieved.
  • Time: Since this was a last minute decision, I already had a bunch of other commitments. During the 72 hours, I went out for meals 4 times, went golfing, went shopping for a bed (one of the most relaxing and frustrating experience you can enjoy with your wife), watched 2 baseball games, and got distracted by the UFC event. Oh, and I worked a long day Monday so the final 24 hours was shot. Combine this with trying to learn very basic things (did I mention this was my first time already?), l just ran out of time on almost every area, whether it was graphics, features, play tuning, etc.
  • Graphics: I am a non-game programmer in real life, and I deal with graphics very little. This was a huge challenge for me, and I was not happy with the visual style. I especially did not like the button graphic. Looking back, I would have made it look exactly like a Facebook game, maybe even with a fake frame that looked like Facebook. Since the game was doomed to not be fun, I could have done more with being explicit with my commentary.
  • No web installer: I used monogame, which meant I wasn’t able to ship a web version of the game. Next time, I’m going to switch to Unity so I can ship a web version. I also had issues because monogame has dependencies on .Net 4.0 and OpenAL. I quickly put together a release that included the dependencies (how I did this and the horrible hacks I used could be a separate article) so thankfully most people I talked with were able to get that working.

In all, I’m glad I did it despite the outcome. I learned a TON, and it’s inspired me to continue learning about game development. I am also stunned at how good some of the games I’ve been playing. Can’t wait for #27!

Link to game: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-26/?action=preview&uid=22624

Tools Used: Visual Studio 2012, monogame, Photoshop, Illustrator

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