Wellbeing Postmortem + Timelapse

Posted by
April 27th, 2015 10:23 am

This is my 7th Ludum Dare compo entry but my first postmortem and timelapse.

title

wellbeing2

In Wellbeing, you are an agent in the Global Wellbeing Ops, tasked with using your treatment emitters to cure sufferers of The Rot. It’s a logic puzzler that aims to appeal to people who like Nikoli-style puzzles (think: Slitherlink, Nurikabe). The game features fully voiced dialogue, and a branching storyline.

Almost everyone who has played the game has either thoroughly enjoyed it or been thoroughly confused by it. I think that people who like logic puzzles are often prepared to push through that initial stage of rule confusion in the expectation of some fun puzzles, so the game has a niche but solid target audience.

Read on for how I spent my time, what went well, what didn’t, and a timelapse.

I’ve made puzzle games before but I’ve usually tried to make a random puzzle generator. That’s good for replayability but depending on the rules, it’s generally hard to make a generator that produces interesting levels. This time I hand-designed all the puzzles, and concentrated on making puzzles that can be solved piece-by-piece which leads to a satisfying feeling for the player.

In previous LDs, I spent almost all of my time on programming, but this time there was much less code to write (partly because I didn’t make a level generator, and partly because I reused some boilerplate code from my previous entry) so I spent more time doing art, and designing levels. I also spent a fair bit of my time writing and recording the script. In total I spent about 14 hours on Saturday and 18 hours on Sunday working on Wellbeing. A lot of that time was not at the computer – I was sitting on the couch writing the script or designing the puzzles. For the final 5 hours I’m sure I was operating at only about 25% capacity, trying to fix little bugs (mainly audio bugs that always seem to come up for an HTML5 game).

What went well:

  • The puzzles. The rules are kind of complex (and the explanation is not so clear – see “what went badly”). However, once you learn them, the puzzles are quite interesting and satisfying to solve.
  • The story. I thought it would be interesting to have the plot interrupt the game as it’s explaining the rules. Also, the storyline branches based on the way you solve one of the puzzles. I won’t say any more than that. I think it turned out alright – some reviewers have mentioned that they found it entertaining and enjoyed the branching aspect.

What went OK

Final art

The art in the final product.

Placeholder art

The placeholder art that I worked with for most of the first day.

  • The art. I used Krita (for Windows) and a cheap Wacom to draw everything. I made some bad placeholder art to work with until I got the rules working, before taking a proper go at the art. Originally I drew outlines for everything. My plan was to draw all the outlines several times, and randomly choose one each frame, to achieve a “squigglevision” effect. However, I realised that it looked alright when I just turned the outline layer off altogether, and that saved a lot of work. Krita bugged out a few times and eventually my mouse cursor got really big for the rest of the weekend. By my standards, I’ve done a good job. The good thing about programmer art is that I can do programmer things with it. The board moves on a Lissajous figure, and each individual tile is offset from its original position by another Lissajous figure with a random period. This gives the board a kind of floaty elastic feeling while avoiding having to draw multiple frames for anything.
  • The music. I did the music in FL Studio. I’ve been learning to use Miroslav Philharmonik for orchestral sounds. I think it is capable of nice-but-not-always-so-realistic sounds. My style in past LD entries is to pick a 4 or 8 bar chord progression and jam over the top of it with a bunch of electronic sounds. This time I tried to do something a little more complex, with harmony that changes as the music develops. I wrote two tracks – maybe the music ended up a little syrupy, but overall OK.
  • The speech. My wife contributed to the voice acting. The recording and audio processing (all in Audacity) went pretty smoothly. I tried to use an equalizer to make everything sound like it is over a radio, but I think it just sounds like it’s recorded in low quality. Reviewers enjoyed the speech but some found that it was too quiet compared to the music. That’s something that could have been fixed with volume sliders but making UI elements like that (and making them look nice) can really dig into your development time.
FL Studio screenshot

Each of the two tracks consists of a single, large pattern with all of the string instruments on one piano roll.

 

What went badly:

  • Complex rules with possibly not-so-thorough explanation. The rules didn’t seem so complex in my head as I designed the puzzles on paper. But when it came time to explain them in the in-game dialogue, it was tricky. Almost all of my LD games is under-explained. LD games are only normally meant to be played for a few minutes, so players get frustrated when the controls/rules aren’t clear. This is a lesson I keep failing to learn. In my LD31 entry I did a better job of it, largely because the puzzle had simpler rules that were easier to explain.

    discrepancy

    My LD31 entry, discrepancy, had simpler rules and spelled them out more clearly. As a result, it made a better first impression on players.

  • The look of the numbered tiles: I wish I’d made them a different shape from the regular tiles, to make it clearer that you can’t activate them. They should also light up more strongly to make it more obvious when you get it right.
  • Neglecting, yet again, to freeze the features early and test with people. This is the real reason for the above things going badly. A short, properly playtested game is better than something with lots of content that many people never see because they don’t know how to proceed through the game.

And, finally, the timelapse:


2 Responses to “Wellbeing Postmortem + Timelapse”

  1. Chaoseed says:

    WAIT I THINK I GOT IT! You have to light up a path to get to each person…and the paths have to be contiguous leading back to the emitter. AND the path has to light up exactly the amount of squares next to the numbers, as that number is!

    See, when the game introduced the numbers, it said something about “activating the generators”…and it made me think that when you lit up a number, it gave you more power, i.e. it let you light up more spaces. Like, I had to get to each generator and light it up, then I could add more paths. But then I couldn’t light up the generators directly, and ultimately it just didn’t make sense at all.

    What if you did a thing where…I’m stealing this idea from some other puzzle game, though I don’t remember which one…okay, let me describe what I’m envisioning:

    -You light up the puzzle as usual.
    -When you arrive at the correct solution, the game goes into a sort of cutscene-ish state; the player has no input at this point.
    -All the lights disappear.
    -Glowing lines stretch out from the emitter following the paths the player defined.
    -The lines light up each generator when the number is ‘met’. Each little person raises their arms when the line reaches them.
    -After a moment or two a button or something appears saying “Next” or “Continue”.

    This shows the player that what they’re doing is attempting to define the correct path.

    …Well anyway, it’s an idea. Use it or don’t, it’s up to you. 😉

    • reheated says:

      Exactly – the power tiles were not clear. Maybe the wording of the in-game explanation could have been clearer and I could have made a simpler level 3 where there’s nothing to think about but lighting up a power tile. But the main thing is that the graphics for the power tiles was not clear. What you suggest would have been very good, but might have added an extra day to the dev time :). The bare minimum would have been to make the power “tiles” a completely different shape, and make them light up more strongly when you get it right. I could also have written “0/3”, “1/3” etc as you activate the neighbouring tiles.

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