The Monster Files

Posted by (twitter: @literalgames)
September 12th, 2015 5:45 pm

With the judging period closing in a couple of days and having had loads of great feedback on our game, I thought I’d write a bit about our game. More specifically, the half that has really split opinion in our comments section.

Click the image to play!

The Monster Files is a detective game, inspired by the likes of Ace Attorney and dialogue-driven games. As the artist, I actually took inspiration from a previous Ludum Dare entry, The Lion’s Song. Although the result is less artsy than LeafThief’s fantastic work, the limited sepia palette came directly from playing that in a previous Ludum Dare.

The gameplay involves talking to four suspects surrounding a corpse, any of whom might be a horrible monster! It’s focused on narrative and the (hopefully) funny characters, and is very silly, but we think it’s pretty fun. It’s more polished than our previous efforts, and we we’re definitely pleased with that section of the game.

However, there is a second part to our game. Once you accuse someone of being the monster, there needs to be some kind of closure. Again we were inspired by an ingenious previous Ludum Dare entry, Bear Pong. It was a fantastically funny entry in the 27th Ludum Dare, in which you play Pong before having to run away from a bear for 10 seconds. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. So our idea for closing each case was simple: switch genres completely, and make it a really, really startling change.

From this point on there are spoilers that kind of spoil the experience, so if you haven’t played it and don’t want to get spoiled, play it here.

If you don’t mind being spoiled or have already played, read on.

 

 

RoundoIsMonster

In the first case, as the player progresses it becomes apparent that the clown is the monster. And upon accusing him, this happens:

Monster1Fight

 

It’s a complete and hopefully really surprising change for the player. However, it is also the weakest aspect of our game.

We’ve had a number of people comment on the difficulty of the fights, many people found them hard, and a proportion of people found that “the battle sequence is so hard and useless for me”. Others found them a fun addition, but I think the majority opinion was that they weren’t as strong as the narrative sections. We considered making them easier in development, and deciding not to was probably a mistake. It’s difficult to judge, as some people said that they enjoyed the fighting sections, but even some people who found them easy thought they were unnecessary:

“The fighting parts were a bit weak however, you can easily beat all three monsters with just one technique over and over again.”

So, what went wrong? Well firstly, we set a standard in the first half of each case that the fighting parts don’t match in terms of polish, as hitchh1k3r said, “I found the controls (mostly hit detection) to be off putting, I think it’s important to have a well polished second part when you pull a switcheroo like that”. There are so many Ludum Dare entries that understandably struggle to achieve precise character control that feels good, even if they’re fantastic otherwise and only have one form of gameplay. We spread ourselves a little thin with the two different modes, which meant we didn’t put enough effort into the fighting sections’ feel. It was our first attempt as a group at direct character control; if we had spent all of our resources on the fights then it’s possible that they would have been more successful.

Monster2

The fight sequences lacked punch, which was due to a combination of the hitboxes, movement, sound and graphics. The hitboxes were a little tricky, sometimes you get hit when it feels like you shouldn’t, and you can score hits on the monster without the sprites touching. The movement ought to have had more thought put into it rather than something so simple, as the player character’s movement was set up and then (once the speed had been adjusted) hardly touched. Once it was working and the bugs were fixed, we really didn’t reassess it at all. The sound could have been more layered as well, although our sound guys did a fantastic job with sound effects, there isn’t a sound for connecting a punch, nor a sound for getting hurt. Graphically, I didn’t have enough time to add to the animations, which are limited and could be more effective. There is also a disconnect between the narrative sections and the fighting in terms of graphics, which I think brings the player out of the game somewhat. Hits lack impact, which could have been fixed by a combination of sound effects and new graphical effects.

User richardjs said something which we all found really interesting:“The fights were frustrating at first, but after I approached it as solving the puzzle of their movement patterns vs. viewing it as a pure action sequence, I enjoyed them more”, which is something that we didn’t realise. While I’ve been referring to them as fights, they are closer to boss fights than Street Fighter, as it’s all about figuring out the enemy’s attack pattern and how to avoid its attacks. In the first two fights in particular, it is about dodging the attack and then throwing a single punch, then dodging again. The last boss is slightly more complex, as the best tactic is to get in close, hit once, then run away from its swing. It will then follow the player and once you’re backed up against the edge then the player needs to forgo a hit in order to jump over the enemy.

GIF

Another suggestion from a couple of users was to change the fights to something more inline with the main game, such as a mouse-based puzzle. It’s a strong argument, but I think it goes against the principle of switching the game completely. I think the actual solution is to change them to something similarly different from a dialogue point-and-click, but make it far simpler. The fight is overly tricky and requires the user to learn something completely different from the core gamepley, as David Yates put it in his comment, “this was like if I spent a term studying underwater basket weaving and then got to the exam and it asked me to write an essay on Shakespeare” and he’s right. Making the user learn a relatively complex set of controls for the fight sequence after five minutes of playing the game means that their patience is pretty likely to run out. If it were something simpler, like a single button minigame, I think it still could have been a successful part of our entry.

You can play our entry here, we’d love to hear any thoughts you’ve got on it! (the last case is still spoiler-free!)


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