Heart Star Post-Mortem

Posted by (twitter: @@AdventIslands)
August 27th, 2014 1:55 pm

Heart Star title

Check out the game here: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-30/?action=preview&uid=11391

It was pretty close call, but I managed to finish my game for the 48 hour compo and I am really glad how the game turned out. In my opinion, it might be my best usage of Theme so far. The development was off a rough start though:

While I woke up for the compo’s start, it took me the first 12 or so hours to just come up with and idea. This was really difficult theme, and my first idea for a game was rather uninspired: It was going to be a small metroidvania like adventure, where the boy and girl lived on small floating islands next to each other. They would be looking out for each other, sending paper plane messages, and one day deciding they want to meet, so they start to plan and build a bridge in between the islands. You could swap between the heroes and search their island for collectable junk that could be brough to the bridge to make it longer. The islands would have had their own settings and puzzles, and some things like flipping certain switches could cause something happen to other’s island, allowing them to move forward.

However after starting drawing the character sprites, I realized the idea would simply be way too ambitious for such a short time, and remembering how badly I failed with my previous (unreleased) LD entry Ikan the Little Fisher, I decided to scrap the idea and go back to the drawing board. I had to go with something much simpler. My previous games like Duke Dashington and Shine were level based games, so I decided to make a game like them, but how could I use the theme in the gameplay itself?

The original designs the heroes of Heart Star were based on.

The original designs the characters the heroes of Heart Star were based on.

After brainstorming for couple more hours I remembered how I had once participated in pixel art challenge by Darkest Kale long time ago, where I had drawn couple of robot characters. I recalled how I was once planning to make a puzzle platformer about them, where the bots had to teamwork their way through the levels, but I had scrapped the idea because I couldn’t figure out how to make the game interesting enough. Then it hit me: What if both characters lived in separate worlds, and you had to switch between them so they could help each other to reach a goal of every stage? I got a huge boost of inspiration and started to work on new designs for the characters, this time more human-like.

The final designs for the player characters of Heart Star

The final designs for the player characters of Heart Star

What Went Right:

While making the sprites I was filled with doubt if the game would turn out so well after all. The failure of my previous LD entry was a huge blow to my trust in my own skills. However,  the development was surprisingly painless overall, and against all my expectations, I didn’t have any major troubles adding in the dual world mechanic.

There are several big gambles I took with making this game: First, I was going to use Stencyl 3.2 beta nightly build, because it had recently added feature of altering background speeds in run-time. I have had pretty bad experiences using nightly beta builds in previous Ludum Dares like when making Duke Dashington, where stuff kept mysteriously breaking for no reason. However, for my delighted surprise, this version of Stencyl stayed stable and working during the whole time.

The second big gamble was the character animations. I usually aim for very simple couple of frame animations for my characters so I can finish them faster, but for this game, I decided to give the characters way more animation frames with bouncing hair, different poses when not in use or when carrying their partner. I think the gamble paid off, because while it took me valuable development time, the improved animations added cute charm to the otherwise static game.

Since last Ludum Dare I’ve been part of Skype chat group full of awesome and talented indie game developers, I got lots of help with playtesting plus feedback on difficulty and improvement suggestions. The game wouldn’t have ended up being anywhere as good and polished if it wasn’t for my game dev pals.

Carrying your partner over spikes

Carrying your partner over spikes

What Went Wrong:

– The actual development of the finished game idea started quite late. There were surprisingly many little issues that had sneaked past my radar, and it took me a while to fix everything. There were tiny issues like when carrying your partner, you could hit jump repeatedly to fly! Fortunately that was quickly fixed by just disabling jumping when carrying other.

– Short length: I had originally planned there to be around 20 levels, but starting development so late and fixing all the small issues took so much time that I managed to rush in only 10 levels. They are pretty fun and showcase the swapping pretty well, but if I had just started working earlier and had not doubted my ideas so much perhaps I could have finished many more levels.

– Poor tutorial: The game does only a quick off-hand mention that it’s possible to carry your partner over spikes. lots of folks get stumped on level 7 where you meet spikes for the first time. I didn’t realize it wasn’t obvious until it was too late, I blame rush and tiredness. I don’t know if anyone has actually stopped playing on that level but I know many who have said it took them a while to figure out what to do. For the post-compo version, I’m adding improved tutorial levels. Also with less engrish.

– Name: This wasn’t so bad, but I didn’t come up with a name for the game until the final hours. I wanted something clever that could also explain what you do in the game, like my previous LD entry Shine. However, I lack imagination in these things and just decided to settle with Heart Star.


This Ludum Dare was very fun and I am overwhelmed by the positive reaction the game has gotten disregard that it’s little rushed. I’ve been rating entries and working on Post-Compo version of the game, with plenty of improvements, readjusted levels and many more completely new ones. At the moment the current Post-Compo build has whopping 20 levels, and there is more coming. So stay tuned! And thanks for the fun Ludum Dare.


New level from Post-Compo version of Heart Star

New level from Post-Compo version of Heart Star

One Response to “Heart Star Post-Mortem”

  1. bazld says:

    Those pixel graphics/anims are AMAZING! I am off to play your game now…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

[cache: storing page]