Post Mortem: Fireman vs Fire vs Snowman

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December 10th, 2014 11:50 pm

Fireman vs Fire vs Snowmaninstructions is an avoid-the-bouncing-obstacles game with a rock/paper/scissors twist.  The game takes place on three TV screens, each only showing the same picture but with the objects all different (e.g., whereas one TV shows a fireman, the second shows a fire, and the third a snowman).  You control which one screen is active. On the inactive screens objects blissfully ignore each other, but on the active one you control one of these objects and if it confronts another object something violent happens: either the object kills you (the object’s predator), the object stuns you (a matching object), or you kill the object (the object’s prey). To know what the interaction will be you need to be aware of which screen you’re on (which determines which object you control) and which objects are predator or prey. Killing something causes two new things to spawn, so it can get hard quick! But there are some tricks to make it easier.

This game was written in Haxe 3 using Flaxen, which combines an entity component system (Ash) with a game library (HaxePunk).

playerTiles

What went wrong

So … some things went wrong.

Ran out of time

My usual #1 item from “what went wrong” is running out of time. I fancy some day might occur where everything I put together works perfectly the first time out. I’d be done in four hours that way. Partially it’s caused from rustiness, partly from not having a clear architecture in mind and trying to use agile development. Iterative coding is a great way to focus and reduce bugs, but continuous refactoring is possibly a luxury in a game jam.  Also to blame is trying to take shortcuts that I eventually have to undo anyway, along the way these shortcuts introduce bugs during development that eat up an enormous amount of time. Also, frankly, I’m old and slow. I used to be young and slow, but I’ve never been a fast developer. I was told by an employer once, “You’re slow, but your work is ten times better than anyone else’s.” That’s what I call an affectionate slap. How do I get faster? Reuse of methodology. I’m always coding in different languages with different toolkits in different industries. If I just focused on one way of doing things since I started coding, by know I’d be the fastest coder on the planet. It’d be in TRS-80 Color Computer extended basic, but I’d be the fastest in it…

Lack of animations and special effects

Are these things important? Honestly having sound effects and a musical queue for the titling and between levels was far more vital, but how much better would this have looked with some more graphics? The fireman could actually hose the fire and leave rising steam. The fire could spread over to the snowman who falls apart before melting. And the snowman could freeze the fireman, blowing a cold wind and turning the fireman into crackling ice that then shatters. How lovely that would have been. Ah well. NEXT.

Not a pixel artist

Some of the pixel art from LDJAM participants is freakin’ amazing. I’m very envious. I’m not one of those people who believes you can’t learn, and I’ve done some pixel art tutorials in the past, but I have not practiced. I’m fairly bad at it. I’m better with non-retro art, where I can just go crazy with boxes and circles and photoshop filters, but in this game the main characters were so small there was no way around it. As such the fireman looks more like a hunter, making his relations obscure. (Hunter shoots fire?? Snowman beats hunter with own rifle??) I should practice it more, as it would help my programmer art all over.

Lack of final gameplay tweaking

Although the game was playable at the end of Saturday, it was hard to visualize what the experience would finally be like. On Sunday, I never really got to a point where I said, “Okay, here’s the completed game. Play it for 30 minutes, see what needs changing.” I had an idea that the game would be improved with wave system, bringing out a certain number of enemies at a certain rate, and giving a pause for the next wave while you feel a sense of achievement. But I had this idea too late, and if I got to play it as much as I did in the past couple days, I would have had tested a lot of changes to the difficulty ramping.

tiles

What went right

You know, I submitted a game to the compo in 48 hours, so by that very notion my game was a great success. :) But there were some things that stood out.

The right idea

As usual, I drum up three ideas for a jam before I start developing. I rejected the one that was easiest to develop because it bored me, and after conferring with my significant other also rejected the most exciting one because it would have been hardest to develop. Yay for mediocre? Nah, instead I look at it as a simple balancing issue. The idea has to be interesting, and realistically achievable in the time frame. And this was both. I can always go back to developing the “exciting but difficult” one on my own, later. In retrospect, the idea I chose was also the one I understood the most, mechanically. Those kinds of ideas are easier to prototype.

Focus on playability

I set my goal as having a playable game by the end of Saturday.  As a consequence, I stopped designing even though I didn’t have a fleshed out thematic layer for my idea. I had a list of 15 possible rock/paper/scissor replacements but didn’t like any of them. So I delayed that decision and focused on the mechanics. This meant I could go straight to coding, and it also meant I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on art, and would spend no time on animations, sounds, or special effects until the game was playable. I put together some crappy R/P/S icons and a dull, lifeless game frame, and got to the core gameplay by my self-imposed deadline.

I also was better with my time management. I kept a prioritized checklist on Sunday of things I needed to do and what could be eliminated. I came down to decisions like “do I need two distinct sound effects for these two variant events, or just one?” and “what’s more important, trying to throw together a short music track in 20 minutes or adding a rumble to the screen whenever you’re stunned?” (I chose the former, and barely snuck the tune in.)

Honing my tools before the comp

I moved this May and we sort of took an extended vacation to settle into the Charleston area. We were hosting visitors every other week for a while there! I stopped developing for all that time, and could sense the rust on me.  I updated all of my Haxe libraries. I forgot how much of my library Flaxen works, so I some time to improve the documentation while reminding myself of this toolkit. I fired up Renoise, which I hadn’t used in a year, to discover it was no longer operable. Redownloaded the latest version, found the license key, and then stared at the screen and blink while I tried to recall my workflow and any of the shortcut keys. I throw together some basic tunes just to stretch my old muscles. I should have spent some time putting together a practice game, but this was the next best thing.

Making the theme my bitch

I did not like the Ludum Dare theme “Game Entirely On One Screen” all that much.  It seemed like a very polarizing theme. I generally vote against themes that imply any sort of design limitation, as that can lead to too many games exploring similar ideas or implementing the same mechanics. Also I look to the theme to inspire, much like a writing prompt. Some folks said you shouldn’t let the theme stop you, but you do get rated on theme. I did not realize that this year you’d be able to exempt yourself from categories, although I’d probably feel dirty for not meeting the theme. To cover my bases, I met the theme in three ways:

  1. My game does not scroll, have separate backgrounds, does not have ancillary pages. My instructions are right on the screen the whole time. There is no main menu. The title, like the instructions and the UI, is made up of wooden signs that sit in the upper-right quadrant. Even the start button and “you died horribly” message are signs that peek out from under the pile and slide out when needed.
  2. The game actually contains three TV screens, but because only one is active, the game is entirely on one screen at a time. Some folks felt the need to point out that 3 > 1, as if that feat of mathematical comparison had slipped my attention. I think the three screens was my way of meeting the theme while simultaneously thumbing my nose at it. And I have a considerable proboscis to thumb.
  3. I added a snowman. Many Ludum Dares have a mascot, or some recurring popular secondary theme (potato, for example, in LD #26), and unofficially snowman was it for LD #31. Some might see this as me expressly NOT meeting the theme, but I see it as just another way in which I’m awesome. (YMMV)

It felt really good to complete a Ludum Dare. I hadn’t done so in a year, since LD #28. I failed to complete my game for #29 and I was unable to participate in #30. Thanks Mike.

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