JOHN – Postmortem

Posted by (twitter: @LPGhatguy)
May 16th, 2013 1:07 pm

This is a postmortem about my lövely game, JOHN, which you can play right here. If you haven’t played the game yet, this contains spoilers and the game takes around 2 minutes to complete, so go play it.

I’m rather happy with my game overall my third time around, though it is by no means a happy game.

JOHN is a game about being in a perpetual nightmare, and for being a game about eternity, it is exceptionally short. I was in a very similar mood as I was when I made my Ludum Dare #24 game, UNBOUND. The mechanics are very similar, the tile loading scheme is nearly the same, and the aesthetic is obviously from the same mind.

I began Ludum Dare on a stream on TwitchTV for the first while with my friend Brandon, known by lots of different aliases in lots of different places. It was fun, but I eventually turned off the stream on the second day because I wasn’t feeling great. That’s when I got most of my progress done.

Walkthrough of Authoring

Day 1/3 — A Plan? No.

On my first day, I got nothing done. I was still on stream throwing ideas out with Brandon, but none of them felt like they were any good. With the theme of minimalism, you could make anything, but I didn’t want to make anything, I wanted to make something special. I patched up a couple pieces of my game engine and went to bed early with nothing in mind to make.

It was then that I had a lovely nightmare-type dream that gave me the idea for the basis of the game. You would play as a character named John, and you would be trapped in a world that was inherently hostile, yet resembled something you once knew. I was excited to get working on it when I woke up really early, but I needed more sleep, so I went back to bed and woke up a little while later.

Day 2/3 — It begins.

This was the day where everything began to click. I developed a character with rather bright colors who resembled very heavily first version of the character from UNBOUND — you were top-down and were wearing a hat. I dropped the hat in UNBOUND, but kept it for some amount of depth in the character for JOHN. I made a couple animation frames and rigged together an animation system with some amount of character movement. This time around, I’d be rooting the sound engine within each of my game components so that I didn’t have to make too much artificial ambiance.

The character ended up something like this:

Character Progress (video)

By this time, I had figured out that I wanted the world to be a dream. You would then wake up into foreign world that would be revealed to be a dream. I implemented collision, a finalized map format, and a couple triggers in a special system. I drafted out the early version of the early “prologue” level which would span around 15 seconds on a standard playthrough, made another video, and published it.

Super Early Gameplay Video (video)

After the first level, I took a little bit more time and put together a bunch of tiles and sounds. I made title music, experimented with directional sound a bit, and finished a fader queue system that never did work right, which got some complaints in the reviews. I drew some sort of title screen too!


I made something hostile in this game, which was something many people were complaining about in UNBOUND — there was tension, but nothing actually out to get you. I ended up with my lovely shadow demon:

Shadow Demon (Rough) (video)

After making that good gameplay element (which would only appear twice in the whole game) I decided to hit the hay for the second time.

Day 3/3 — Finish! Polish! Publish!

The third day consisted of finishing up the game, adding an ending, and fixing a couple sounds. My TODO list from the day reads the following:

  • Make Shadow Demon pretty
  • shadow_scream.ogg
  • Third Level
  • Fourth Level
  • tunnel_ambient.ogg
  • tunnel_cue.ogg
  • Atmospheric glow
  • Make wall scratching scary

And so I did everything on that list (though I changed the shadow scream to more of a non-human screech thing) and made existing assets a little bit prettier, about as well as I could given my lack of art skills.

I uploaded a video of my third level before moving onto the fourth and final level to demonstrate to some friends what sort of progress I had made with everything.

JOHN – Progress! (video)

I sent the game to a few good friends for a little bit of testing. The feedback was mostly positive, except that the game was really short. It was really short. I fixed a couple game-breaking bugs, and uploaded my entry with a couple hours to spare.

I went to bed some hours later after playing a few games and promoting my game on a couple of those streams.

General reflection

Unlike Ludum Dare #25, I’m not sure I had what I’d call “fun” with Ludum Dare 26. I’m happy with what I produced, certainly, and it was a great relief to pour my emotions into a game like this. Going into the competition, I felt depressed and terrible, but coming out of it, I felt quite a bit better. It didn’t last, but it was still a great break from the bleakness I had been living in.

My biggest issue in the ratings is going to be the length of the game. I personally feel like it is a “Ludum Dare size” game, as people must remember that there are over a thousand other games left to rate after my game, and I’d rather not take up all that time with a long story of pure anguish.

I’d love to do a write-up of the level format I wrote specifically for JOHN, so keep a lookout for that, as it’s a rather efficient format overall with relatively good results.

Thanks for your time.

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