‘Guru’ Postmortem

Posted by
May 13th, 2013 6:52 pm

 

title

 

dog

 

Our mission statement:

To create an idea that would only take 1 day to complete, so that we would have what we’ve been lacking for the LAST 3 Ludum Jams.. Time.

What actually happened:

We chose an idea that would take 5 days to complete and shortened it so it would take 3, working down to the last seconds of the competition. Just like every other time.

But the story – the path we took is more interesting than that, which is what has inspired me to write this ‘Post Mortem’ for the first time in 4 jams. Let me explain:

I think what I fear most as an artist is not only creating something that everyone has created already, but creating something that everyone has created already including myself. It’s very easy to look at something pretty, pick it apart and put it back together in a way that looks appealing, and I think that’s why I’ve unconsciously steered away from pixel art in every competition. Though I love and admire all the nicely made pixel art I see and while I know that the true pixel-masters are still somehow doing things with those 36-odd squares that nobody has ever done before, I feel whatever character I make, even if I were to somehow create a video-game idol, would still be awash in a sea of constantly borrowed, rearranged and reconstituted pixels. Even though I know they are there, I like to not be able to see the pixels in our games, and I’m especially happy if what I do see is nothing like the game we made before it.

I think that the same can be said for our style of game-making. When it comes to games, Joseph and I admire new ideas. Every idea we’ve ever come up with has been to challenge our own perception of game design. If you look at Portal, it would be simple to pick apart what makes it work.. what makes it good even and put a disguise on it.. maybe bash a few dents in it and plonk another game on top too, but to have been the ones to have created it in the first place.. to actually conceive of something that hasn’t existed before.. it’s bloody hard. And due in part (I think) to our competitive natures, all we want is to be the first to do something.

With our first game, Agorobophobia, we created puzzles with a Bomberman style that looped infinitely at the edges and made use of your ability to erase segments of the universe itself from existence, not only in the space you occupied in but for every iteration of that space in the infinitely wide universe.

agorobophobia

Second was Revolution; arguably our most successful game, where we inverted gravity. Not from down to up, but from in to out, and pitted the player against infinite past versions of themselves in a looping gladiatorial style circular arena.

revolution

Third was Lumberjack, where we took on the challenge of combining platforming and puzzle solving, not that it hasn’t been done before, but the style of puzzle solving we created is something that would only make sense in that exact situation: jumping from tree to tree in a specific pattern, chopping wildly and throwing your mighty axes. We dare you to show us something like it anyway.

JackTurn

Strange then that we should choose to create a point and click adventure, as the laws of game design when it comes to this genre are fairly non-negotiable. Stranger still that we knew that and had talked about the possibility of doing it before we had even started. The idea to do a point-and-click was born more out of admiration for the games we had played and the desire to try something new than anything else.  The originality in point and click adventure games (and despite what I’ve said, it’s there in spades) is always in the design of the puzzles. Usually you are given little more than a mouse to use on objects in the environment – a set of tools that you can open, tools you can pick up, tools you can combine, and more often than not – tools you can talk to. But despite seeing the same set of commands that you’ve seen in dozens of games before it, even when you’ve completed a thousand of these puzzles, if it’s a well designed one you will be no closer to finding the solution than if it had been the first you’d ever tried.

guru

Having said that – it was never going to be that simple. We had to go deeper.

When the theme of ‘Minimalism’ was announced it was like a sign from above that everything we said before about creating a game in a day and keeping it down to it’s bare bones was exactly what was needed. It was also a massive knife in the back from above, because we knew that was exactly how everyone else would have interpreted the theme, and like I said, we don’t like doing what everyone else is doing.

Our saving grace then, was this idea of making a point and click adventure, because all the time we were talking of creating something simple, not once did we stop to consider that point and click puzzles are actually quite complicated. A good puzzle will have outcomes designed to throw you off, outcomes designed to guide you and combinations of combinations to try that are consistently leading you nowhere and at the same time deflecting you in the general direction of the right answer.

fly

So how to make a point and click adventure minimalist? The real answer is something that we only realized once we had essentially finished all 3 of the levels that you see in the final game. Through intending to design levels that both looked minimalist and required doing only one thing to complete, each of our puzzles ended up allowing you use of only one method of input. With the dog, you can click on any point on the screen. With the fly you can move the mouse, and with the fish you can only click and it doesn’t matter where. By stripping away all of the clutter that usually comes with point and clicks, designed to add misdirection, humour and play time, and by making ABSOLUTELY sure that it didn’t become a case of pixel-hunting, we were then naturally unable to do what most point and click games do to create great puzzles: add layers of complexity. We had to design at least five puzzles (five sounded like a good amount) that had conclusions that were difficult to reach yet required you to do only one thing, that weren’t at all easy or obvious but which could be comfortably solved by just observing the patterns of the game and paying very close attention to the puzzles’ design themselves, and which could not be solved by applying the cardinal point and click game sin of pixel hunting. I’ll let you judge for yourself but I am proud to say that we did it, and actually we were still able to infuse our game with those things that the layers of complexity we took away were designed to add: misdirection, humour, and according to people’s experiences of the game so far, especially in the infamous ‘Fish one’ – play time.

fish

Unfortunately due to only having one puzzle completed after the first day, and two on the second, we were unable to reach our planned goal of five levels, and instead of trying to squeeze out a third and fourth level in the final day, we took our past selves’ advice and sacrificed two levels in order to add polish like sound and menu art. And by the sounds of it those two ideas we had, while we loved the concepts, will not be missed.

There’s not much more that can be said without risking spoilers, but long story short, we are great at delivering the bulk of the product but bad at ending, as can probably be said of this piece of writing. But I’ll give it a go anyway.

Most of the games we’ve had the privilege of playing and reading about throughout this competition have taken the theme of minimalism to heart, and it’s not only inspired more people to set realistic goals for themselves, with a 77% increase in the number of games submitted, but it’s inspired many of the most original games this competition has seen since its inception. What we hope sets our game apart is that we quite unwittingly did what many games forgot to. Instead of just creating a simple idea, we took a concept that was complicated in its nature and tried to expose the essence of it through eliminating all non-essential forms, features and concepts. And after all, that’s what minimalism is all about.


Play Guru


5 Responses to “‘Guru’ Postmortem”

  1. BrothersT says:

    Fun fact – putting this: without the / will make the font size of the entire front page go huge. Someone should probably fix that 😛

  2. BrothersT says:

    That was meant to say [font size =”10″] [/font] but with html brackets

  3. BrothersT says:

    Haha, thanks! We saw that too! I googled our game earlier but I wasn’t expecting to see that! 8|

    – Rob

  4. chobopeon says:

    Great game guys.

    I’m trying to find a way to contact you guys but I’m coming up short. I’d like to send an interview request your way. If you’re interested, shoot me an email at apexcp at gmail dot com.

    Congrats on the great game!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

[cache: storing page]