S.I.L. Design Post-Mortem

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December 16th, 2015 10:54 pm

Hi everyone!

Well, Ludum Dare is over again and I felt like doing a quick design-side post-mortem for our game S.I.L. – Synthetic Intelligent Lifeform.

If you are interested in playing our game then you can do so here.

INTRO
So, this is my second Ludum Dare and my first as the sole designer. My first LD was LD31 (link here) where I was the team artist, animator and composer. This time, I was largely the designer, as well as the writer and artist and, whilst I know that my last entry (Black Drop) was more fun to play and was much more polished upon release, I have to say that I am very pleased with the sheer scope of this entry (S.I.L.) and am happy with how much of it we got done in only three days.

That being said, of course, we aimed too high and ultimately paid the price for our hubris, but hey, what’s Ludum Dare for if not a bit of fun and an excellent learning experience?
As the designer, I do feel largely responsible for the overscoping and will endeavour to think much more carefully about it as a potential issue in future.
However, despite my failure to comprehend the true meaning of “three days”, my partner Michael made a beyond-valiant effort to program my design into existence and, ultimately, only fell short by a surprisingly small margin.

Somehow, S.I.L. was released on time (just) and we’ve spent the last two days bug-squashing (and will probably be spending even more time doing so in days to come). Despite this, S.I.L. isn’t quite what we had naively envisioned at the innocent beginning of Ludum Dare, but it is in a playable state, has a certain, strange fun-factor and is, thematically, rather slick (if I do say so myself). At the end of the day, what better could an overambitious pair of devs have possibly hoped for? :)

THE BAD
As my major role in the project, I feel like my design was, at its core, solid, although the execution was lacking. Whilst I am confident that S.I.L. held the premise of an interesting and enjoyable game, I know that I fell short at one particularly key hurdle: scope.
Other aspects could have been improved upon with a short amount of testing but because of the poor scoping, we did not have any time to refine the design and had to submit without any testing.

Were I given the opportunity to refine my design now, I would firstly drastically reduce the number of machines on one network. Whilst infecting a large network of unique machine was bizarrely fun in and of itself, the core gameplay suffered from the sheer dilution brought on by networks of 40+ machines. A smaller network of about 10-30 machines would, I believe, have significantly improved the gameplay.

Additionally, I would have reworked some of the Scripts mechanics to make them more useful, although that might not have been such a large issue on a smaller network. Either way, this issue would only have become apparent through testing which, unfortunately, is something that we did not end up with time to do!

THE GOOD
So, it’s not all bad! Despite the overall overreach of the project, I am genuinely proud of S.I.L. for several reasons. As my first chance to lead the design of a game in a team (even a small one!), I felt that I did a good job of balancing the roles and stats of each of the powers in the game, even if a couple of them needed some tweaking that they sadly never received! In addition, I think that the mechanics and overall structure of the game work quite well and I am proud of that.

My favourite contribution to the game was probably the script, which I wrote during the first day and appears through the in-game console cutscenes. Although writing is my field of interest anyway, I was particularly happy with how the character of S.I.L. was portrayed through the unusual medium of console logs and how it, as a character, smoothly grew over the course of the short story.
As a subject of philosophy, I find morality in artificial intelligence particularly interesting and, through the story of S.I.L., I feel that I successfully explored several of my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

Finally, I was pleased with the UI that I designed in the style of old command-line interfaces, as well as the animations on the programs as they travel across the network.

CONCLUSION
From a player’s perspective (ultimately the most important one) I believe that my last LD entry was much more appealing. However, my last entry didn’t come close to the ambition of S.I.L. and I am proud–from a designer’s perspective–of what we have accomplished. In future projects, I will endeavour to build upon what I have learned from this experience to make my designs even better for the player, and not just the designer.

Of course, without my partner Michael, S.I.L. would just be a bunch of design notes, some art assets and a script, so I’m incredibly grateful for all of the hard work that he put into the project to make this Ludum Dare an enjoyable, educational and productive experience! (Although I think I’ll let him write his own port-mortem from the programmer’s perspective!)
Thank you for reading, I hope you had as good an LD as I did and, if you have a spare moment, please give S.I.L. a look! I hope you have fun!

-Nathan

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One Response to “S.I.L. Design Post-Mortem”

  1. oz2mura says:

    Looking forward to playing it, I bet you’re next LD entry will even be better with these lessons learned. Over reaching seems to be a thing that can only be learned from experiencing doing it.

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