PORTHOLE Post-mortem

Posted by (twitter: @Ragzouken)
May 1st, 2014 2:35 pm

This was my first time doing the jam instead of compo, and Claire’s first time doing the full Ludum Dare at all! We had a lot of fun making our claymation exploration game, PORTHOLE, and here’s a post-mortem of how things went from both our perspectives:



Day 1

Saturday was pretty much all planning for me, I had to fit the jam around work on the first day so we began with a pub lunch to get some ideas together. We started talking about spaceships, black holes, and planetary exploration, which got me thinking about some cool spacescape clay textures I’d made previously. I’m always a fan of games that use claymation, papercraft, etc., and this seemed like a great opportunity to try and make a new one! I had plenty of time during the day to think about what kind of creatures the player would encounter, and sketched them out in the evening. I based a lot of them on prehistoric life forms, which often do have a bit of an alien feel to them.

Day 2

Sunday was when the clay came out! I started off by making the porthole itself, and after that it was essentially just creatures, as I had the background textures pre-made from a couple of months ago. I got a little carried away with the first creature (the green and yellow worm), and then had to speed up a little after I realised how long the first one had taken! The most challenging one by far was the monster that destroys your ship, the psychedelic octopus. I knew exactly how I wanted it to look, with its skin pulsing rainbow colours, but after the third hour of adding tiny amounts of clay to each limb for each frame I began to wonder if it would be worth it (I think it turned out pretty well though).



These photos were taken about half-way through the octopus animation, and show my fairly amateur set-up!

Day 3

Monday began optimistically and turned into a rush to get as many creatures as I could moulded, photographed and animated. A few that I had planned smooth, reasonably complex movement patterns for had to be cut down to save on time, and an interesting ending scene involving the octopus opening up and devouring the ship never made it into the game…

What went well

I ended up with around 12 fully animated creatures, which was pretty good for 2 days work! They ended up looking really great on the backgrounds I had made, along with some awesome blend modes and colour changing from Mark. The octopus went particularly well, and I kept it simpler than my original plan due to the time constraint, which was definitely a good move. The idea to use clay worked really well with the atmosphere of the game, which ultimately became very creepy.

What went badly

My set-up limited me somewhat, in that I could have really used a proper light-box, which probably would have reduced my editing time in Photoshop hugely! I was a little unsatisfied with some of the creature movement, and should really have taken the time to plan it out better beforehand rather than jumping straight in to the modelling.

Stuff I learnt

Claymation takes ages if you want to do it properly, and that’s why more people don’t do it. Don’t try and use a laptop and model clay at the same time, clay gets everywhere.


We joined some other local indies at the Force of Habit studio to jam!


Day 1

Not used to working in a team, and Claire had to work all day so we had limited time to discuss what I’d be doing that day. We had plans to meet on Claire’s lunch break to hash some ideas out, but until then I was on my own and decided to prototype some interesting vortex effect inspired by the dark rift in Skies of Arcadia – had been thinking about it a lot recently and thought it might be an interesting direction to try. Ended up with some sweet spinning cloud effect that looks ominous, but didn’t really lend itself to a game at all.

I showed Claire some vines of the cloud effect over lunch and she showed some awesome clay textures she had done recently. At this point I think we settled on some kind of diving or immersion in an alien atmosphere with those textures as backgrounds. I knew what I was working on and headed back to the office!


I started with this initial visual prototype – inspired by the dark rift in Skies of Arcadia

Back at the office I loaded the background in and started playing around and seeing what I could come up with. Initially I tried to use some old code I had to wrap an image around a cylinder, but it really didn’t work and you could hardly tell I was doing it because of the detailed and irregular background. I switched to making sounds because I couldn’t work out anything useful to do with the implementation, mostly killing time until Claire got off work and could help provide some direction.

Once Claire was in the office we managed to iron out the ideas we had and the work I had already done into something usable; we switched my cloud texture for some post processed clay texture, and I started turning it into the portal affect that made it into the final game – the idea was it was supposed to be the atmospheric gasses thinning. I mocked out a porthole stencil for what we had and we decided it’d be great to have a clay one framing the game, Claire would make that, and lots of creatures on day 2, and I would start implementing some kind of movement and get ready to accept creatures.

Day 2

Claire spent the day at home making the various clay graphics, though later joined us for dinner. I got into the office about lunchtime and soon after the porthole graphic made its way into the game, which was great to see and upped my motivation. I started work on having multiple layers to the game and a few hours later the first creature came over and I was really impressed – the aesthetic was really coming together! Over the rest of the afternoon I pulled in more creatures and put in the lens effect.

After dinner I was re-energised and the game was looking great so I jumped into getting the perspective (simple scaling) working for the multiple layers. I always find the kind of stuff fiddly, but by the end of the night I had implemented the effect for transition between layers. I went home and waited up whilst Claire finished off the awesome octopus she was making for the ending.

Day 3

The day got off to a very slow start for me – I had lunch at the studio but by this time everyone else was back to their usual as the compo had ended and we were the only ones doing the jam. After lunch I headed over to Claire’s place to make communication easier. We solved a few problems such as “the player doesn’t do anything” and “how we make sure you ever encounter any creatures” and it seemed like the game might actually turn out alright! Claire worked tirelessly on miscellaneous assets and painstakingly cutting out photos of the creature frames whilst I moaned that my code wasn’t doing what I wanted. Didn’t have dinner until I left for home with just a few small things to add. So drained, but so worth it!


The notes I made through the jam; mostly visual ideas and thankfully no hard problems to solve!

What went well

Surprisingly, the audio turned out really well! I’ve been experimenting a little with audio for a while now and it seems I am more capable than my last two ludum dare entries (many complaints about uncomfortable ears). I supposed it’s a lot easier to create sounds for an eerie submersed environment, but there’s no shame in playing to your strengths! The game itself turned out pretty frickin’ awesome too, despite how thin on the ground any actual ideas were – it was very much designed on the basis of an aesthetic and mood with little consideration to interaction!

What went badly

My motivation waned a lot, mostly because I doubted the idea was going to work out, but sometimes because I wasn’t really sure what I should do next and couldn’t just indulge myself, because it was a team project. Definitely didn’t treat myself well during the jam, stayed up too late and had dinner three hours late on the final day!

Stuff I learnt

Working in a team is great! Although I couldn’t just run free with my own ideas, and had to try hard to be less precious about them, it was great to have Claire’s input to steer the game into the final piece. It’s also really helpful to have someone to tell you the game is awesome when you’re getting down about it.

We should probably have fleshed out the idea earlier – going with the flow is great, but not knowing if it’s going to come together can be really demotivating!

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