Kids these days: post mortem

Posted by
April 24th, 2015 3:49 pm

This edition I’ve had a lot of fun, and I’m proud of the amount of work done, even if the game could use a lot of improvements. My unconventional weapon of choice was words, either to hurt or stun foes.


Play it and rate it here 😉

 

Tools

  • Engine: Unity3D
  • Coding: Visual Studio 2013 community edition
  • Art: Graphics Gale, Photoshop
  • Audio/Music: Bosca Ceoil, Audacity

What went right

Early start

This time I chose to wake up earlier in the morning in order to earn some more hours than in other jams. As a result (in addition to the obvious: increased time), it helped me come up with a core idea and decide on the technology really soon. The tradeoff was that I chose to do the same on Sunday, although I’d gone to bed awfully late. I’ve paid for that during the week at work, but here comes the weekend again to relax a bit :)

Clear tasks

This helped a lot with development and, to a lesser, more painful, extent, to cutting out features once the “LAST HOURS” bell rang.

Familiarity with the engine

I’m currently using Unity3D at work, so I’m pretty used to it these days for 2D. Visual Studio in its Community Ed. is also an amazing tool for coding, so both programs helped me develop a more or less solid code base quicker than I’d expected.

Improvements on art

I’ve tried to pay more attention to art in terms of colour, character and environment art plus animations, and I think the end result is better than in earlier compos. There’s still a lot of improvement on this area, but feeling that you’re becoming better with time feels immensely rewarding.

Late hour change in setting

The game was born with a sci-fi setting in mind. Rather than a grumpy teacher in a high school, I first had an agent infiltrating a building where the main antagonist, a Blade Runner’s replicant-alike character, was taking hostages with the help of some buggy androids. Her demand was for the Government / Big corporation to completely disable a module that made it possible to entirely shut an AI down with a special word or passphrase.

As for the bugs on the enemy AIs, they made them extremely faulty in the Language Processing modules, thus the “damage” and stun effects taken from the speech-related protagonist skills.

Quite different from the final result, isn’t it? I gave up on the idea while I was drawing the enemy sprites. I realised that I had no clear, consistent art style on how the rooms or characters should look like, so they were coming off as very generic, and the deadline was too close for a complete overhaul. As a consequence, I decided to ditch all this and go with a way simpler plot and theme.

Initially I’d put this in the “what went wrong” section, as in a way it feels a bit like sacrificing the original idea which in my mind was very promising. However, I’ve realised that the high-school setting may be better fitting to the current art style and tone than the original idea, even more so considering that the MacGuffin feature (the “death passphrase”) for the original plot, plus a couple of interesting gameplay features that would have complemented a shocky-but-unoriginal revelation, was never close to reaching implementation stage.

What went wrong

No level progression / design

In LD31 I had defined in paper the basic level layout, and I found that pretty useful back then. Here, however, it was way more vague, which was damaging in terms of scoping, art and a tiny little detail…FUN.

Still more effort on art required

Although the graphics look better IMHO this time than in previous editions that I’ve participated in, they’re still average at best. For example, I should have given some early thoughts to the art style in terms of colours, lighting, drawing style, etc, etc (and this is heavily dependent on having a better defined level design).

And, of course, the game is lacking a lot of animations. I created basic sprite templates for the four walking directions, but only the frontal one is showing up in the submitted entry. Also, there’s no feedback on when characters are using their skills or receiving their effects other than a text that shows up too fast. The “boring speech” skill text effect could help some more polish as well in terms of timing, spacing and so on.

Asset creation time badly scoped

Again, I underestimated the time it would take me to prepare a set of animated characters, plus several backgrounds, plus the HUD/UI (I’m not too concerned with the latter, though, as I can get some functional UI graphics pretty quick, but that’s still larger than 0). This was also a result of not having the general visual style or levels defined beforehand.

Last, my lack of experience using Graphics Gale also contributed to the sluggish pace at the beginning.

Unclear / buggy combat

Some glitches in detection ranges, timing and so on, coupled with the lack of art, made disabling enemies bland, which is an awful mistake when the player’s skills were the core of the game. This, again, took away points from…how was that called? oh, yes…FUN

Having a tutorial (even better, embedding it into the game itself) could have helped, but as always…Time.

Music / audio

4 hours before submission I was close to exhausted and lacked all the menu and game over functionality. Still I decided to get some music in. While I don’t think this is a mistake at all, I devoted too little time to get only some bass and percussion sequence which didn’t even properly loop. Also, I decided to cut on sound effects if I only had time to randomly pick a barely fitting sound on Bfxr.

What I learned

  • Prepare stubs for basic animations & different visual styles.
  • Clearer level/goal design: focusing 100% on feature development is all nice when you’re under no time constraints or working with other people. With so little time as 48h it’s probably best to have in mind the whole set of features to have a more iterative development cycle, and this includes having a vision of where the game entities will be, how they’re expected to interact in a basic playthrough and so on.
  • Art: Practise, practise, practise.
  • Improvements in tasking have helped especially in the coding area, but I still need to incorporate the remaining fields into the equation. A generic “animations” task card in Trello is worthless if you don’t know if you’re going to need 10 10-frame animations for each character or 4 frames to cover all movement and that’s it.
  • Don’t fall too much in love with your idea and don’t fear cutting stuff out or even sacrificing things such as the plot if it’ll help you finish your game or have it more fun.
  • Keep working on some set of useful code toolbox. This time I haven’t had the opportunity to use the libraries I’d prepared to support tile mapping, but I did reuse some tiny progress bar script for the health and eloquence bars. Not much, but…

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