Priorities Postmortem

Posted by
May 18th, 2013 5:32 pm

This postmortem is a little late because I’ve had company over, but I’d like to take a look back on my entry, Priorities.

Priorities title screen

Priorities turned out a lot more thoughtful and meaningful than what I usually make. One player described it as “exceedingly artsy,” which I though you had to be deliberately trying to do to achieve, but here we are. Let’s see what went right and wrong:

Priorities

The Good:
-The metaphor seems to resonate with people. When the theme was announced, I didn’t want to make something that just looked simple. Minimalism is a movement for communicating ideas, so I wanted to make a game that communicated SOMETHING. I’ve done a lot of reading about stress, success and perseverance lately, so after about two hours of thought, I decided to try to combine minimalism in the artistic sense (simplistic elements) with minimalism in more of a zen-living sense. I know I’m not the only person out there who would love to cut a whole bunch of crap out of their life!

-Discovering while developing. I learned some new things, but I was especially pleased with some of the deductions I was able to make while prototyping and playtesting. Originally, the squares would have been five different colours, and looking at the labels would tell you which things you want to get rid of. After a run at this, I found that the action ground to a halt. The reading sucked the energy out of the game, so I replaced some of the colors with black squares that were obviously time-sucking stuff like Farmville and Internet trolls, so players could tell at a glance what absolutely HAD to go, and then could examine the other things more closely later. Bigger squares originally also took more clicks to destroy, but I scrapped that to speed up the gameplay and give players fingers a break.

-The music. This was my first time composing music, and I’m pleased with the results. I used Milkytracker and some free piano samples, and tried to mimic Philip Glass, a minimalist composer. To the person in the IRC channel who encouraged me to keep going when I was discouraged: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

-Low-stress development. Last time, when I made Build-a-Bandit for LD25, it was my first original game ever. I was up until wee hours in the morning trying to cram in interface bits, figure out the intricacies of my spriting program, and wrestling with packaging the whole thing up in an exe file. This time, with about ten other small projects under my belt, (including my warm-up game, Gotta Groove!), I was able to get things up and running much more quickly.

Priorities

The Bad:

-The scoring system. With so many players getting negative scores (often six or seven digits!), I wish I had changed the scoring system to something like a stress percentage. Then the goal would be to reduce your stress to 10% or less, instead of playing for three minutes only to discover you have negative 800000 points.

-Fun. I swore that this time, if nothing else, I would try to make something fun, after a somewhat dismal Fun ranking for Build-a-Bandit. At least it has some other redeeming qualities, but I don’t think Priorities is very fun, when everything is said and done. I definitely made it more fun throughout the course of development, but ultimately, I don’t expect people to have a blast playing it. Maybe that’s OK?

-The balance. I spent the last six hours of my development time begging for playtesters on IRC and didn’t really get the sample size that I wanted. I was acing the game every time, but a lot of testers first said they wound up with solid walls of black, and then found it easier on subsequent tries. Come deadline time, I cut all the spawn rates by about 10% and prayed it would work out.

Priorities is set up in such a way that it is either laughably easy, or hopelessly difficult. The way that the total number of squares influences how fast squares grow and spawn made it possible to completely screw yourself by taking care of too many big things while neglecting small things, or by taking lots of time deciding what to get rid of instead of ruthlessly triaging. Since it is all metaphorical for the stress we cart around via our to-do-lists and bad habits, and succeeding depends on doing something true to real life, I don’t know if I would change the mechanics given the chance, but I do wish that the balance wouldn’t tip so extremely to either side.

There are a few other changes I would make. I want to put a border around the squares so they don’t all fuse into a big blob as they get larger, and though you could argue that this too is metaphorical, it would be nice if squares didn’t spawn under other squares.

Overall, I’m happy with how Priorities turned out, and I hope you give it a try!
I’m also very proud of my warmup entry, Gotta Groove!, so if you want to smash your keyboard a bit, check that out too.


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