Press “Z”: A Postmortem

Posted by (twitter: @netguy204)
May 4th, 2013 7:18 pm

My Game

Screen Shot 2013-04-28 at 9.46.46 PM

Press “Z” is simple. You’re a square and ever-increasing waves of rectangles are assaulting your position. Smash them by pressing and releasing the “Z” button.

This is the first game I’ve made that really centered around and focused on a single mechanic. All you can do is jump. But, strangely, reasonably interesting game-play emerges from that simplicity.

For example: The enemy rectangles can push you around as you try to squash them and if you get to the edge of the screen, you’ll die. Since all you can do is jump (you can’t directly control your drift towards the screen edges) you occasionally have to sacrifice some health so that a rectangle can push you back in the direction you want to go. This health/position tradeoff becomes increasingly important as the speed of the enemies increases.

My frequent co-conspirator Chris Wellons suggested adding a camera shake to emphasize the weight of the player. That simple camera shake and the enemy “pop” particle system really make the game feel solid and crunchy in spite of the simple graphics.

The game does lack “spice”. All that happens as you progress is that the enemies come increasingly faster. This, as shown above, leads to interesting game-play but it also starts to feel repetitive. Introducing more enemy types as the player progresses would help with this. Those new enemy types should also force the player into interesting choices. For example, I could add a flying enemy type that has the potential to block your jumps which would force you to make a tradeoff between taking damage in your jump or taking damage from the enemy that you were jumping to crush (or scheming to avoid both.)

I’m glad I didn’t spend any time on graphics during the compo but I’ve had a little time to experiment post-compo and I think that enemy animations and graphics can also serve to provide some of the missing “spice”.

The Process

Press “Z” wasn’t the game I started the contest with. My first game was a word association game that would ask the player to convert a given sentence into a goal sentence by replacing words with related words from a list. The theme “minimalism” would be captured with a strong contrasting aesthetic and clean typography. It sounded interesting in the planning stages but the prototype (that I spent most of Saturday building) turned out to be terribly boring.

Sunday I began again. This time “minimalism” meant “cut to the essence”. I was thinking about platformers and boss fights and thought it would be interesting to build a platformer that was only about the boss fight. As I was discussing the idea with my wife, we began talking about how the boss-fight would unfold and how the player would deal damage. I used “jumping on their heads” as an example. That got me thinking that a single button game about jumping on things’ heads might be fun.

I was able to prototype the fundamental jump-n-crunch in about 30 minutes. Even though the fundamental parameters (enemy speed, jump height, control loop) made it to the final version unchanged, this prototype also wasn’t fun. The crushing didn’t feel good. It wasn’t satisfying. I added a particle system and it felt a lot better. Then, I felt good enough about the prototype to show it to Chris. He suggested the camera shake and suddenly the game felt fun. I was surprised that pure aesthetics could take a game from dull to enjoyable.

 

What Went Well

  • I picked a simple mechanic and built a game around it.
  • The game isn’t content driven so I don’t have to make a ton of levels.
  • The game _feels_ good and crunchy.
  • Mac / Linux / Windows release process went smoothly

What Went Poorly

  • Focus. The entirety of LD26 (including the failure) received about 10 hours. I had other duties to attend to for the rest of the weekend.
  • The game loses novelty after a few levels. Needs some unique content introduced over time to “spice” things up.
  • A minority of Windows users reported difficulties starting the game.

This Ludum Dare was a wonderful experience and I want to participate again next time.

Play and rate my game if you’re interested!

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