A Story of Hearbreak

Posted by
November 29th, 2013 1:34 pm

As mentioned in my previous journal entry, I will be remaking my first game, Heartbreak. It’s a bit of a strange tale, however, since Heartbreak wasn’t originally “made” by me at all, at least in the sense of programming. It was my baby design-wise and in the limited capacity of “art,” but I relied on another programmer to do all the actual creation. Still, I think that it will count fine for the sake of this mini-Dare. It’s either that, or Ping.

The game was originally made for the 2013 Game Jam (the same one that produced Surgeon Simulator 2013). It was my first time ever attempting to make a game, and I was nervous of the possibility of having no ideas. There were about 200 students packed into a lecture hall (which very much surprised me, as our university isn’t particularly large) when we were all given the theme for the Game Jam: the sound of a beating heart. We broke off into 15-20 person groups and went into separate classrooms to brainstorm.

This was my first experience with brainstorming, and I loved it. There were dozens of great ideas thrown around, my contribution being an idea for a point and click adventure game set inside a dystopian, film-noir crumbling city that was located in someone’s body, with a large, pulsating heart looming in the background. It was supposed to be a story about survival and dealing with impeding death, etc. Not a very good idea for a 3-day game jam.

Then, someone in our brainstorming group suggested a game consisting of a number of arcade-style mini-games. Although I cannot guess why, for some reason Heartbreak–a mix-up of the classic arcade game Breakout where the player controls the blocks instead of a ball, with the blocks arranged in a circle around a beating heart that serves as the player’s life counter–sprung immediately to mind. I abandoned the over-complicated concept of a point-and-click adventure game and clung to this new concept.

When we returned to the lecture hall and game creators began separating to work on individual games, I found myself almost working alone, since my concept of an arcade game about moving colorful blocks around a heart sprite didn’t quite grab attention in the same way that some of the other concepts did, but I managed to hook a couple people who claimed to be experienced with programming in GameMaker. With that, we all broke up again into different classrooms to begin constructing the games we’d gone with. My group was, by far, the smallest, with most groups having 6 to 10 people on a team, and I with just 3.

The two programmers set to work surfing the Internet and half-heartedly (forgive the pun) looking up tutorials while I fiddled with some sprite art and designed the game in my head. That’s how most of the first evening was spent–simply thinking while I worked. By the next day, after a short sleep and a lot of fitful half-awakedness, the game, simple as it was, was fully-formed in my mind.

The only remaining problem was that the two programmers claimed that the concept couldn’t be done in GameMaker (something I intend to prove wrong during this mini-LD), and so our little team was stalled for a few hours until a very nice and quite talented Unity3D programmer stepped in to join our group and get us on the right track. Said programmer made the game in Unity entirely on his own, with me hovering over his shoulder like a fussy mother, directing every aspect of the game’s design.

To cut an already too-long story short, our little four-person team (the two GM programmers were delegated to sound work, which meant searching Newgrounds for some music tracks and finding a few arcade-like sound effects) ended up winning “best designed game” for the Game Jam at our university, as well as “most popular” among all those students at our university who participated. A humble honor that was all thanks to the nice programmer who stepped in to make the game for me. It fired off a brand new interest in game development that I’d not really had before, and I’m still waiting to see exactly how far it will take me.

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