Douglas’ Escape – Post Mortem

Posted by
April 23rd, 2016 5:08 am

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So the past weekend I created a game for LD called Douglas’ Escape. In this (short) post I will attempt to do a little self analysis of this project and how it came to be.

So as usual the theme was announced at 4 AM for me so I figured the best course of action would be to go to sleep and look at the theme in the morning, rather than stay up, get swarmed by ideas and fall asleep hours later because of that. I had checked out the final voting list of themes and was quite worried that “Shapeshift” would come out on top. That was exactly what ended up happening. At first I was quite miffed by this because I figured there would be no way of me coming up with an idea that is original and doable for this theme. This is the first time my past LD experience came in handy: rather than rush into a dumb idea out of panic, I started browsing the site and looking at what other people were going for to get some inspiration for my project as well.

After about half an hour or so I had already gotten a pretty solid idea in my head: Rather than controlling a character who shapeshifts themselves, you control a character that shapeshifts their environment. The inspiration for this came from two things:

A) I saw a lot of people doing shapeshifting characters, which I guessed would have been everyone’s immediate idea.
B) I saw this interesting gif of a game where you were controlling a shaman character. It didn’t have anything to do with how my game would play out but the idea of a shaman immediately brought to mind the idea of nature, which in turn combined with the theme gave me the inspiration for shapeshifting the environment rather than the player. I would quite like to play that game, so if you know it and you’re reading this, please do post it down below!

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Anyway, I knew that shapeshifting the environment in any complex or grand way would be way too ambitious to fit in the time limit of the jam, so I went to work simplifying my idea. Almost immediately I had figured out that the environment would be made of blocks, and that the player could extrude them up and down to their liking. This very simple mechanic was also the reason why the game has grid based movement and roguelike mechanics. With such and focus on blocks, grid based movement was almost a given and since grid based movement is often used in dungeon crawler roguelikes/roguelites, I figured why not make the enemies in my game function similarly. I also wanted puzzle like combat, where the most efficient way of killing enemies would be extruding the blocks below them, rather than fighting them with melee. Since the enemies also moved when you extruded blocks, you had to plan ahead and extrude where they would be going, rather than where they are now.

This set of mechanics and ideas immediately sounded like something that could be really good, so I decided to stick with them. Obviously quite a bit was changed for the final product, but the core concept remained the same. I also had a bunch more ideas that never made in, such as horizontal block shifting, elemental enemies that could only be killed if you extrude the right block type below them (such as lava for the ice enemies, ice for the fire enemies etc.) and many more that if this becomes a real game, I’ll be sure to add.

With a solid mechanics list (on paper) behind me, I went to work actually programming them. The first thing was the grid movement, which was quite easy to get working, surprisingly. Only took me a couple of hours to work, if memory serves. Then I started adding enemies and things got…complicated…to say the least. I had the hardest of times trying  to get the enemy AI to work how I wanted it to. A lot of that, I figure, was because I had not thought it out well enough before jumping into code, which is a habit I need to start killing. Anyway, with about a day and a half of nothing but placeholders and programming, I had them functional. The artist in me called and I started working on some sprites to cool off from all the coding.

Most people seem to praise my art style and the graphics in my game, but surprisingly enough, they were some of the simplest work I’ve done in quite a long time. I purposefully made the graphics faster to produce by making them smaller and simpler in design (just look at Douglas himself even, he doesn’t reallly have a face lol). I tried my best to keep my style in them, however, which is why they all have these very bouncey animations and my usual pastel like coloring. For the most part I think I made all the right decisions when it came to the art. With that ended day 2 and I knew there was no way to make it for the compo, so I had to settle for the jam.

Monday, before heading for school, I created a quick tileset to use for the game, or at least started work on it. Then I headed to school and after coming back, I had the most chaotic set of seven hours in my life since the last time I did this in the summer. In those seven hours I created all the levels, all the tutorial text and all the other things that make this a game, including sound effects and music which is something I am proud to have in my game since I didn’t last time. A lot of the decisions made here were probably not the right ones because of how short I was on time, but I knew I couldn’t make this a real game with the time I had left, so I just made it a mechanics showcase piece and tried to polish that. With how short I was on time, I believe this was the right decision, but I am still a bit bummed because of it.

With about an hour left on the clock, I quickly uploaded it and went to pass out in my bed. With that concluded my second Ludum Dare.

Here is what I think went right with it:
-The art. I loved it and so did a lot of other people it seems.
-The core set of mechanics. While I may not have used it as effectively as I could have, I still like it a lot and I want to make it a real game in the future.
-The motivation. I had a lot of points where I would have given up, but I kept my morale up and made it thorugh.

Here is what I think went wrong with it:
-The levels. While I enjoy them, they amount to nothing much but simple mechanic showcases that aren’t really that particularly clever. I could have used the concepts a lot more and a lot better. This is something I will keep in mind if I continue this project.
-The lack of certain things. A titlescreen, a proper ending, a tutorial etc. A lot of things could have been added.
-The title. I do not like it, but I drew a blank right before uploading it so I went with something quite generic sounding.

In conclusion, this Ludum Dare has been my best yet. I finished a game that in my opinion is much better than my last attempt and came to be with fewer issues. This mechanics set is one I enjoy a lot and I think I can take way further than in my entry. I think I may continue work on this even after the LD and even potentially turn it into a real thing, which is something I could never say about my last entry. If you’d like to give my game a shot, please do so!


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