Hey all! We made a game called “The Valley Rule” for the LD29 Jam which was an insane, but amazing experience for us. This was my 3rd time participating in Ludum Dare and 2nd time in the Jam. I’ll just talk about the design process I took during the making, experiences, and intial vision for it. This is my first post-mortem, bear with me.
Tools: Stencyl, Graphicsgale.
We had a pretty solid idea of what we were going for. The idea was an exploration platformer set in a temple underneath a valley. I’m a huge fan of Knytt Stories and I love having that freedom of verticality, so wall climbing was a plus. Atmosphere and vibe was also very crucial. We wanted the place to feel alive; to present the lore through creatures, landmarks, and background.
Other than typical power-ups (double-jump / climb) We had an idea for a “clone” ability. The player would throw a seed on the ground and “poof” out grows a plant doll. This “doll” would push blocks around and possibly act like a jump spring to reach inaccessible areas. Yeah, that sounded really cool and would be a perfect fit for the theme. Unfortunately this didn’t make it in the final version and I’ll get to it in abit.
♦ Movement ♦
Since this was essentially a precision platformer, we needed tight controls.
I added a slight inertia to the character to get that smooth feel. I’ve also added a delay when walking off a platform so you could still jump. This is probably something I’d recommend almost all platformers do. This compensates for pixel-perfect jumping; but of course, you have to take in account players with more skill that take advantage of this( like me, hehe ). I did the same for wall-climbing, because it would suck if you had to be directly on the wall to jump, so this was absolutely necessary.
Alright, now it was getting somewhere. The slopes still felt a bit weird, though. To get a more natural feel I decreased the players speed while on a slope. I think it worked out pretty well in the end. The controls felt smooth, jumping was tight, and wall-climbing was fun. I sent Bill the prototype and he loved it. Me.. especially, spent a considerable amount of time in the testing scene jumping around and climbing up stuff. Yeah! It was awesome.
♦ Heavy Blocks / Clone Ability ♦
In my head I thought, well.. this is easy. I mean.. how hard is it to implement pushable blocks?
In Stencyl I exclusively use Simple Physics for everything. I love it, but it doesn’t play kindly when it comes to multiple objects colliding at the same time. Atleast in my case, they started glitching out when two objects with gravity collided with eachother.
What usually happened with the blocks is that they would go through tiles or fall through eachother on multiple collisions; this took out a lot of possibilities for puzzles. This was a huge hit, but it’s what we got to work with. Our best option was to minimize the amount of puzzles involving heavy blocks and keep it very basic.
With the issues stated above, it became apparent; the same problem will arise with the clone ability. With what little time we had, we decided to just focus on gameplay and sacrifice the main focus of the theme. There is no point in making a buggy, unplayable game when our goal was to make a game that felt “polished” and “complete”.
♦ Camera ♦
If you played the game you might notice that at certain locations the camera pans. If this wasn’t there, I don’t think the game would feel the same. It added a really nice sense of awareness and I was able to highlight important areas. Just take a look at this.
What’s the point of having juicy effects on gates if you wouldn’t be able to see it?
The purple square is the “Actual Cam” and the orange square is the “Cam Origin”. I manipulated the “Cam Origin” at certain locations whether it follows the player at an offset or not. To take it to another level I also manipulated the speed of the “Actual Cam”. This way I could control exactly how fast it goes at what location.
Yeah, it took a bit more extra work, but the end result is worth it. Here’s another example:
Normally you wouldn’t see the water below, but I move the camera just enough so you could see the bottom.
♦ Level Design ♦
Ok. I was about to take a pic of my level design notes, but they look absolutely horrid since I was half-asleep lying down on my couch when I drew them. Here’s a digital recreation of the main layout from my notes.
This was the toughest of the bunch. I didn’t want the game to feel too linear, and I needed areas to place those heavy block puzzles. It was already nearing the 20 hour mark, so if I wanted to finish in time, I needed to use that full 20 hours. There was just no time to sleep.
To be honest, most of the level design was thought up of when I was lying down on the couch trying to nap. Napping failed miserably, but I was able to get a basic idea of how I wanted the levels to look. I don’t like games that spoon-feed me especially when I like to explore and figure out things on my own, so after you get all the power-ups you have the freedom to get whatever key you wish. The game is still fairly linear since it’s so small, but it still felt good to choose which path to take.
The place above is the area where you obtain the “will to air-jump”. When you gain special abilities, it’s always awesome to breeze pass areas with newly found powers. This is exactly what I had on my mind when I made this place. Trying to reach the double-jump power would be moderately difficult, but coming back would be like nothing.
Oh no.. the dreaded reverse cliff climb! O_O
Now this place is what most people had trouble on. I thought it would be slightly hard at most, but it seems like it started driving peoples blood pressure up. But hey.. I like a challenge in my games. I’m someone who loves hardcore twitch platformers, so something like this is nothing to me.
It’s all about mastering the controls and you’ll be hopping up that wall in less than 10 seconds. You could even reach the bushes above the main door.
Besides all that, I thought it would be cool to add a special area after you successfully climb the “Reverse Cliff”. I felt the player needed a change of pace, so I added the “noiseless” room as a little reward after scaling the cliff.
Polish / Immersion
Making the game feel good was something that was worked on throughout development. From the camera movement, running, and button pressing; it’s always awesome to have small little effects everywhere. That’s the icing on the cake.
One of my favorite bits is the heavy blocks. I wanted this to be a freakin’ heavy block while you push it. So when you push it off a ledge, BAM! I just added a few smoke particles and a screenshake. Bill did the awesome sounds, and if there was anything wrong I’d just tell him to make it more crunchy. It was perfect.
You might also notice that if you move away from the waterfalls the sound fades away. That really helped bring out the immersion. Every little bit is what, imo, truly makes the game shine.
Cutting it close
Alright, so we were getting toward the final hours. By this time I’ve already been up for more than 35+ hours ( VERY unhealthy ) and there’s only a few hours on the clock. I was rushing to get the final touches of level design done.
We had an awesome idea to add an elevator scene as the ending with elevator music reaching out toward the surface. Unfortunately, we were running out of time and both of us had IRL stuff to take care of. So the ending is pretty abrupt, but at least the game was finished.
Overall, it was an amazing and fun experience this LD. This was the best Ludum Dare I’ve had so far. Bill was the awesome guy that made the amazing music and sounds. Now I’ll wrap this up here.
Thanks for reading!
Programming, Art, Design: Ryan Carag
Music and Sounds: Bill Kiley