Post-Mortem on Minotaur

Posted by
August 28th, 2015 1:35 pm

Part of the preparation for the next Ludum Dare (because, hey, it’ll be here rather sooner than later) is looking into the past at how the previous entries worked and how they didn’t. First, let’s recap how our time was roughly spent during the three days of the jam, while working on Minotaur:

 

Saturday:

We met at 9 o’clock, six hours after the theme was announced. I don’t think there is any way to improve this, since a good night’s sleep is crucial for doing anything. After an hour or so of smalltalk, setting up the project/workstations and deciding which engine we were using (Phaser), we were ready for brainstorming.

We had a few ideas what kind of game we wanted to do. Some ideas were really just other themes or settings, but in the end we had two ideas in competition. The one that didn’t make the cut was “You are the (Flying Spaghetti) Monster, converting people with your noodly appendages and meatballs, while Zeus throws lightning at you”. Hey, we can’t all be genious writers. As far as time goes, the brainstorming was done reasonably quick, without rushing things.

After we settled on the Minotaur theme, we split into three groups doing stuff. I can’t comment much on how my coworkers faired, since I was doing the graphics. I’m really a programmer, but Ludum Dare is perfect for dabbling here and there and I know how to use gimp somewhat effectively. The others were working on extending the game skeleton with the actual game logic, some basic AI and implementing procedural level generation. Unfortunately, we had to scrap that last one.

Graphics-wise I should probably look up how to improve the workflow. A lot of the time was spent creating mirrored and rotated versions of tiles. Since I was doing a bit of shadows and working exclusively with bitmaps, I had to fix the highlighting after mirroring/rotating the tiles. Maybe I can improve that aspect. I also would love to work more with higher levels of abstractions than pure bitmaps. I kinda did so with using copious amounts of layers (Achievement unlocked – “Layer Madness: Create a meaningful gimp file with more than 200 layers”), but there has to be a better way to work, possibly using vector graphics, texture editors/generators and specific programms for working with spritesheets/tilesets. Other than that, I think doing graphics simply takes a lot practice. Doubly so, creating them efficiently.

The big I-wish-we-could-have-done-this thing was animation. With my crappy workflow, animation would have required drawing each frame manually. The horror! It’s certainly possible and how a lot of people do it, but a programmer doing animation during LD? You gotta “cheat”. Again, with vector graphics you can draw key frames and let the computer interpolate the frames in between, but that is hardly possible with bitmaps. Something to research for next time.

My coworkers made better progress, but hit a bump in the road with pathfinding. Sure, everyone and their mother knows of A*, but it’s not like a language construct you can write down with a few keystrokes. First, you need a data structure, that actually supports the algorithm. Second, you have to implement and use it. Third, your actors need to decide where they want to go before they can calculate a path. In the end, the game didn’t end up using A* pathfinding, but a simple state-based movement, that worked well in the purely orthogonal maze, by cleverly choosing angles to deflect when hitting a wall.

We have plans to vastly improve working with simple state machines and pathfinding for the next LD, should we decide to use Phaser again. Now we know.

 

Sunday:

The second day is the day for the actual game logic. Having the mobs and the player move around is nice, but not exactly a game. Again I can’t say where the chokepoints for the programming side were, but I gathered, that a more systematic approach using OOP patterns (even if javascript is often called a functional programming language) right from the start would have saved a lot of time. Evil, global vars! Fight the monolithic functions! Say no to god objects! And for the love of Elune, don’t repeat yourself!

On the graphics side, I was busy doing some decoration objects, that later were reused as different sprites for the same game object to provide some variety. The only decorative thing in the level were some fountains, and those were the worst sprites I made. Oh well.

A big time waster was doing a big spritesheet for the mob groups. We decided that mobs could band together to form a group. Since collective behaviour and movement was basically impossible with the crude AI and movement we had, two or more mobs would simply fuse to one object with the sprite of a group. This time I had no shadows to worry about, so could copy+paste and rotate to my heart’s content, but it still took some time to create the spritesheet. If we have our better AI for the next game, I’ll be able to save on that side, since grouping can be done a more abstract level and the mobs simply stand close together (if we even need grouping).

At the end of the day, we had our game almost complete. However, from my previous entries I knew that instructions and tutorials are absolutely crucial for LD. People just don’t have time to figure out the game. So I decided to do a tutorial. For that I created a very small level and added a page-through collections of short texts, like “Strange creatures have invaded your labyrinth […] and if they band together, they get stronger.” They don’t outright tell you what to do in meta terms like mobs and highscore, but should still provide a quick introduction to the game. I really hope this solves the problem. Ludum Dare is not the time to create elaborate tutorials, that are longer than the main game.

At that point I also discovered a really annoying engine limitation: Reseting the game is not as easy as it should. The solution was to reload the page to reset the game. Ugh!

 

Monday:

We all had to work on Monday, so not much development was done on the game. In the evening, I extended the main level for some additional gameplay (still short though) and fixed a bug. After that, an unfortunately very short round of playtesting to check the winning/losing conditions and browser support, then it was already submission time (actually sleepy time). Even though the jam has a day more, the third day is not the day to do any heavy work, since most people have to work on mondays.

 

Conclusion:

Better preparation for common patterns in game development goes a loooong way. It’s not just that you can do stuff faster, but also more is possible because a reasonably well constructed program enables more features with a few lines of code than a horrible mess of spaghetti madness. Also, for graphics proper workflow and tooling is crucial. I don’t know much about audio, but maybe it’s the same. We chose external music and sound effects, because programmers make for horrible musicians (for us anyway).

 

Tags: ,


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

[cache: storing page]