Ghoul Rush post-mortem

Posted by
December 23rd, 2014 4:18 pm

Let me tell you a story about making of Ghoul Rush. It might not be the most enticing story in the world, but I need to write it, and hopefully some people would find it useful.

Everything started with #GamesJamMicrosoft here in Moscow. It’s a local competition, organized by Microsoft, that was specifically timed to coinside with Ludum Dare. Contrary to LD, this event was offline, with everybody working in one place; it also had a number of prizes. The moment we heard of it, we decided to try taking part. Where “we” are Chaos Cult games – a group of like-minded people all working in gamedev, and goofing around with indie development.

When we arrived at the event, we had not a slightest idea about what kind of game we wanted to make. Just that we wanted to work on Ludum Dare theme – and the theme was pretty unexpected. The day before, I’ve been basically sure that ☃ would win; but it did not. To find a good idea, we started a formal brainstorm; complete with a designated facilitator, writing down ideas and formal voting. I’m pretty sure we were looking extremely professional there! While doing that, we were joined by two new people – a programmer and a 2D artist. The latter was especially fortunate, since we had not had any 2D skills in the “core” team.

We created a whole list of nice ideas; some of those I still hope to implement, or at least prototype someday. It’ fun now to see a lot of games on LD use ideas that we had and rejected; often, these games take these ideas to new, unexpected places, making us go “Oh, why didn’t we think of that!” In the end, we settled on a final design: make a game about zombies, where player controls all zombies on-screen simultaneously, and the goal is to zombify everyone. It was almost perfect – interesting gameplay, easy to demo, easy to explain, and simple enough to make in just 2 days (the games jam event was limited to 2 days, unlike LD.) The only actual drawback was pretty tenuous connection to the theme – yeah, the game was technically single screen, but that’s not enough… we still decided to run with it, though.

The first problem we had was with internet. More than a hundred people in the same coworking space, all furiously hacking away… the wifi coverage was spotty at best. We had troubles accessing source control, and using Unity Asset Store was downright impossible. And the store was a vital part of our strategy! We had to send one person back home, where connection was good, and work with assets there. Meanwhile, the rest were battling with poor connection and quirky human AI that wouldn’t behave properly. Our would-be-zombies were either spinning around like crazy, or stopping entirely, content with being eaten. My own memory goes a bit spotty at this moment too – while I was coding all the game mechanics, the other programmer hacked at AI, and everyone else seemed to be producing content somehow. I went home late at night, to try and find us some sound – which required good internet connection. Our new team members actually stayed, and were hacking the whole night through – that’s some dedication!

The next day was pretty short – all teams had to build a playable version and prepare a presentaion demoing their game to the judges. We’ve added sounds, more-or-less fixed the AI, and fleshed out a single game level – the one that is now the last. Doing the actual presentation was hard. I have basically no experience with public speaking, and going out there before the audience was quite scary. It’s good to go out of one’s comfort zone and aquire new skills – that’s why I did it – but it’s does not make a very good impression. In addition to my own ineptitude, we somehow managed to botch audio – it seemed to work on windows sounds, but our game was silent. That was kinda discouraging – if you played Ghoul Rush, you know that sound add a lot to it! All in all, our demo was not the best… but not the worst, too.

We did not win any prizes, however. Maybe because of bungled demo, maybe because the judges were confused (and they were – you try looking through 60 projects in a couple of hours, and judging in several nominations!). Maybe the others were plain better, although personally I think we were the best! ((-8

The project did not end there, however. There was still time for Ludum Dare’s third day!

Even though monday is a work day and everyone had their jobs to attend (everyone except me. I only work part-time, so I had monday for myself), we still went on improving the game. Most work was spent on putting level content in place – after the weekend, all levels but the last were made of simple gray boxes. And LD version required all four levels, in order to have some learning curve. I’ve also rewrote all AI code from scratch… a couple of times. It became better, but I can’t say it’s “fixed” – AI behaviour is hard, no matter how you put it. By the way, that’s why the end boss is so mercilessly hard: we added him on monday morning, and he was more-or-less balanced then. Hard, but fair. However, I changed his (and others) behaviours at the last minute, and difficulty increased indirectly – the boss aquired the ability to back off from your zombies, and became much harder to kill. Game design is tricky like that – change one thing, and everything changes. Late on monday night (technically, it was tuesday already) we finally built and uploaded the game, and submitted to LD, with fingers crossed. Until now, it’s been doing pretty great!

Now, as is expected of post-mortems, a few things that went (especially) right or wrong.

The good:

The formal brainstorm in the beginning. We’ve generated loads of great ideas, and chose the best (or at least one of the best.) We did pretty good estimation of how much we can do over 2-3 days, and scoped the project right.

Using Unity Asset Store. We’ve opted out of “Graphics” category, because we used tons of asstes from there; and the game looks positively gorgeous; especially for a weekend project. There are certainly better-looking games on this Ludum Dare, but Ghoul Rush is a solid competitor… and we had no professional game artists on the team! (Our 3D artist actual job is in QA, and 2D artist is designer/illustrator, not a game developer at all)

Going to local Games Jam event. That’s where we met two new people to expand the team, and their help was invaluable. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we did.

The bad:

Messing up game balance at the last minute. We really should’ve played through a couple of times more before submission (-8

Mixing up two different events. On the weekend, we were making a 2-day project (even less, actually) aimed at impressing the judges. On monday, we switched to 3-day project aimed at Ludum Dare developers. I think that sticking to one of those (preferably the latter) would’ve been better for the project.

 

…I feel the need to add “The ugly” caption here, but can’t really think of anything (-8

Anyway, please play our game if you haven’t yet; it’s here:

http://ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-31/?action=preview&uid=47349

 

 


And, if you’re interested, check out our competitors from the #GamesJamMicrosoft event – many of them submitted projects to Ludum Date too!

The Mosquito Effect

(http://ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-31/?action=preview&uid=11984) – best Unity game, best VR game

Houston, we’ve got a problem!

(http://ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-31/?action=preview&uid=44988) – special prize from the coworking space

TV-Show

(http://ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-31/?action=preview&uid=44958) – gran-prix

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