Síofra: A Post-Mortem

April 20th, 2016 8:12 am


Ludum Dare 34 was my first ever gamejam and in-turn my first ever completed game; working with all of the members of Questionable Quality (four at the time) we made something fun, addictive, and different to the LD35 project: a game. However this time around- Ludum Dare 35- we only had two of our members: myself (the artist) and Matt (the co-director). We had less manpower to get more done. So the question was: what could we do?

P.S. I would recommend playing the game here, as this contains spoilers.

Honestly I probably shouldn’t have been doing the Jam in the first place considering how much work I had to do for my final degree projects. Luckily one of my final projects was meant to be done with the studio at a later date: to make an experience/world made for VR, which to me basically meant ‘let’s play god’. I pitched we work on that and Matt agreed. To be honest I had zero idea on what I wanted to do with the piece anyway and being thrown a theme made for a great starting point, especially when it turned out to be one of my favourite subjects: Shapeshifting.

Our LudumDare adventure was- as usual- a part of Plymouth GameDev Soc, and so we were all gathered in a little room somewhere in the university, locked away from the world whilst we cackled away like the deities we had become, living on snacks from the nearby Tesco. Matt- being one of the heads of the society- had to be around for the evening previous, so when I arrived Saturday morning, fresh and feeling great… Matt was ready to sleep. Before he left for the day we discussed ideas on what we wanted to do, what the capabilities were and- well, actually it turned out he couldn’t do anything without knowing what I actually wanted. I told him to head home and by the time he returned I had written up a script, designed and illustrated most of the world, and figured out what I was doing with the character.

Shapeshifting is a topic I overly enjoy, having found myself almost obsessed in the past with the idea of doppelgängers and changing forms, even down to subjects like being a cosplayer and changing faces/identities. There was just so much that could count as shapeshifting, and it made my mind race with ideas. What could I do? Where could I start? What atmosphere could I go for? I knew for certain that what I was creating here was a world and although it may not be living and breathing, I was bringing a new world into existence none-the-less. It needed personality, a core, it needed emotions. With what I had in mind, for starters, it needed to be confined, claustrophobic even; that could work for the atmosphere, I thought.

At first I decided to go for a shapeshifting world theme, jumping from one world to the next (I had been playing a lot of Mickey Mouse & the Enchanted Castle recently and the idea of multiple worlds had rubbed off on me), following a figure perhaps? Or were you the adventurer? You wouldn’t move in this world for sure; I wanted it to happen around the player. The idea of being stuck had reminded me of Sleep Paralysis and how terrifying a subject it was. I had read a long time ago about multiple accounts where the dreamer ‘woke up’ in their own bed, only to be unable to move and for a shadowy woman to crawl on top of them and maul them, and that it felt so terribly real. Being a ‘sufferer’ of vivid and lucid dreams, the next night I had a similar dream out of fear of having the dream. I realized on this thought that that this could make for a very good creepy game without having to hit tropes of jump scares and running away from things. I feel you don’t have to stick to the trends to make something interesting, and sticking out can be refreshing.

In the end I decided on a forest that shapeshifted into a crystal cave, a shadowy creature darting from one tree or a rock to another, hidden yet visible enough to be aware that it’s there and you don’t know what it is or what it wants. I started on the forest designs and illustrations, deciding to go from an earlier take of a ‘sketch’ style (everything in moving lines) and make a fully illustrated world with an animated character, etc. By the time Matt returned I had the whole thing up and ready for him to start on it in unity and perform his gamedev wizardry. Looking over the script he pointed out that the crystal caves felt a bit disjointed and so we left that out, making a slightly longer part in the middle instead.

The ‘monster’ was next. All I knew was I wanted it to be a shadowy figure with no real features, to be small and then shift into a larger creature at the end. I tried a few creature-like designs before I got to the idea of ‘ghost children’ or at least the idea of a lurking child that was not quite human. I found myself inspired by old folklore and the animation studio ‘CartoonSaloon’s movies based on Irish lore (even whilst writing this I find myself listening to the Song of the Sea soundtrack). Suddenly a Changling child came to be.‘Síofra’ was born.

Eventually I fixed up all of the sprites and passed them over and we ended up with something close to finished by leaving on Sunday night. I knew I wanted to change some parts but I wasn’t going to force my perfectionism on Matt as I was pretty sure he was dead inside by this point.


What went well:

• Unity. I now have a better understanding of what can be done in Unity without worrying that I’m being a bit too over-zealous. To finish this project I’ll need to learn how to do things myself and am more eager to learn the software

• World-design. The world turned out gorgeous and the atmosphere was just as I wanted: Something relaxing yet not-quite-right. Not too scary, but a little bit magical and uneasy.

• Character Design. Síofra herself was my favourite part, her magical whispy being coming off as I wanted it to. I’ve become quite fond of her.

• Teamwork. I definitely feel like Matt and I worked well together and I gained some good feedback from him along the way.

What went wrong:

• My own anxieties took over at times and I felt like I was being a bit too bossy with Matt or being too over-the-top with ideas. Yet in the same way I also felt like I wanted to go into more, only for my mind to go ‘no, you’re making the poor guy do enough’. Directing is not something I’m very good at.

• SFX. Although background music and some effects I managed to pin through either editing or a lot of searching, there were a few I didn’t like. The monster’s roar and Síofra’s growl came to mind, and other than timing placement that I gave, I didn’t like how they sounded at all.
• Sprites. I got some sprites down well (the skipping animation was tough but I cracked it) yet there were sections I disliked a lot. The whole monster section from when she stops in front of you needs to be better thought out, to have a few frames switched around and generally re-drawn (especially with the monster design itself). The lines need to be thicker on the further away sprites too, the whole thing too thin and messing with the image’s quality.

• Framerate. On the rare occasion we got to test it on VR we were having big performance issues. We had to drop moonlight from an earlier point and have it manually drawn in; this only helped a little. Upon revisions I plan to make the sky one entity at least, and perhaps the leaves on the ground. I may be entirely wrong on this but I imagine the less sprites the better performance.

• UI. We didn’t even have time for a UI. We actually didn’t finish it until Monday because we’d lost all steam by the end of the GDC weekend. I’d love to put in a start button eventually, or at least some way to close it without alt+tabbing out and manually doing it.

One Response to “Síofra: A Post-Mortem”

  1. Millefey says:

    Very interesting read on the background of your game! :)

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