The Incredible Vending Machine – Post Mortem

Posted by (twitter: @AlphishCreature)
April 24th, 2016 11:55 am

The Incredible Vending Machine, in its Jam state

Guess I might write some post-mortem this time, as I actually have something to write about. Please refer to this game, thank you very much. ^^
(also, um, if you actually took your time to write feedback, especially for post-Jam version, instead of just rating the Jam version, I’d really appreciate it; I usually return the favour, too)

What went right?

I managed to make a somewhat self-contained game. That is, it has some objective (hoarding every possible item available in the machine) that can be reached (I made sure of that). Plus, as far as I know, mechanics are sound and don’t cause crashes. Not only that, there’s relatively much content to get, even if it uses mostly crude placeholders, or even generic placeholders (i.e. missing-in-action sprites). Given it’s not unusual for me to end up with more or less pretty half-finished core engine that doesn’t really work as a game (and even otherwise, I end up with little content), I can consider this a success.

Also, it seems that people liked the general idea and humour in the game, even though they didn’t quite understand the game itself. I guess it might be a bit early to call this one, though. ^^’

In relation to time-management: leave making the HTML5 build for the day after LD. If not for that, I’d had to squeeze in time for some wild debugging and reinventing string sorting in GameMaker just so that I could deliver an online version right after the Jam. That certainly wouldn’t be a pleasant experience…

GameMaker's HTML5 sorting (above) vs Windows (below); the HTML5 version makes lots of sense, but is not what I need, sorry.

GameMaker’s HTML5 sorting (above) vs Windows (below); the HTML5 version makes lots of sense, but is not what I need, sorry.

What went wrong?

Well, I think that illustrates the biggest issue I faced during this LD:

It's fabulous, though.

It’s fabulous, though.

You’ll see nothing of that sort in my entry. And that’s because, at the very beginning, I had completely different shapeshifting in mind. As in, moving shapes around to create another shape (flipping and rotating included), as well as removing/duplicating shapes, splitting and joining them, that sort of stuff. I think it would make a pretty sweet puzzle game if done right, but I didn’t quite had the energy to follow through with it; especially since I had to make levels clearly understandable. Maybe I’ll get back to that idea at some point…
Either way, Sunday evening I kinda had a burnout and needed to procrastinate a little, and only then I came up with the idea of vending machine. Alright, full disclosure, I wanted to make a game involving vending machine giving random items for a while (and considered it for shapeshifting, as in turning inserted items into other items that would be then returned; that sort of processing). However, only at that time I actually realised what sort of mechanics I could use so that the vending machine actually works in a way that makes sense. Knowing that, the rest of game mechanics, the rooms to make etc. kinda came to me naturally (though I had to make sure that every returned item I could think of would be actually available). At that time, however, I’ve been already half the Jam behind, and I already had spent some time and energy on another project. Due to lack of time, I couldn’t make proper menus, assets, display etc. In fact, it’s a miracle I even got the core mechanics working in the first place (and made Newton’s picture and floating motion, at that).

But Alice, I don't see what's wrong with those graphics!

But Alice, I don’t see what’s wrong with those graphics!

Also, I guess I didn’t quite strike the right balance between the known and unknown. Generally, I intended the vending machine mechanics to be figured out by the player rather than explained, since having that known from the very beginning would leave out some joy of discovering it on one’s own. I still believe it shouldn’t be provided straight, but I guess there wasn’t enough indication about what’s going on in there. The most recent post-Jam version hopefully fixes it at least a bit, as it introduces a bunch of indicators of not-quite-known purposes that reflect some part of machine’s internal state. Then again, some people might not even reach the point where they get FUN, which would imply they haven’t even realised the basics of the gameplay. I might include a “tutorial” of sorts in one of post-Jam updates, which should make the core gameplay clearer… I hope?

Furthermore, when I was playing a game just after LD, I found the gameplay kinda too slow; especially due to frequent switching between Newton’s and machine’s room (and I didn’t even visisted hoard that often). With that in mind, I reduced the transition time a bit. Also, according to some helpful comment I made it so that selecting a synonym in Newton’s room makes the item collectible, and added buttons for quick switches. Kinda against that speeding-up, I added some little animation to inserting and receiving items from machine. I hope it won’t make the game too sluggish. ^^’ The lack of game saving doesn’t really help, either; it seems that sort of gameplay encourages a few relaxed, casual sessions rather than discovering everything in one go (even less so when I add more items).

Additionally, there is an item that, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have included, as these sort of items open up quite a can of worms. Some references are fine, but some are just way too unnecessary, I’m afraid… *whistling*

Finally, I forgot to include randomize() call at the beginning (GameMaker, pls, who in their right mind wants RNG with preset seed?! ^^’), so the vending machine items queue always starts the same. And that’s terrible. Thankfully, that gross oversight on my part has been fixed in the most recent version.

What’s next?

If it wasn’t clear enough from earlier part of the post-mortem, I’m still working on the post-Jam version, making updates every two days or so. Since I kinda neglected the polish in the Jam version, the changes so far involve prettifying the game, without really changing the core mechanics. Maybe that’s because I find graphics/UI to be usually the more difficult part and want them out of the way, or maybe I’d just like to see more than a bare skeleton…?

Meh, I just really wanted to finally have Richelle in the game because she's too adorable! ♥

Meh, I just really wanted to finally have Richelle in the game because she’s too adorable! ♥

There’s still quite a lot of work to do, but if I keep working steadily between one session of Dare playthroughs and another, hopefully I should have a fully functional demo by the time voting finishes. Some of the features I’d like to finally implement:

  • menus and options
  • SAVES! (I was kinda putting that off because any change in items’ list could basically break the previous saves; but I realised I probably won’t be changing the list for now, anyway, so it might be in the next update)
  • introduction/tutorial (I hope I will be able to make it non-intrusive, and especially without insulting the intelligence of player)
  • more or less casual dialogues
  • proper Richelle’s hoarding when it comes to shiny items (they are already marked as such in the game)
  • additional degree of prettification (a helpful artist I know will be helping me with that)
  • audio (whether it’s about feedback sounds or soundtrack
  • whatever else I think of or will arise in tests/feedback

Hope you’ll like the end result. :3
(and if you feel too lazy to scroll back up and haven’t checked the link to my game yet, here it is again; now you have no excuse)

One Response to “The Incredible Vending Machine – Post Mortem”

  1. fin_nolimit says:

    Wow, this is a really cool game! It is different yet the mouse controls are very natural and easy to understand! I hope you continue on this project! Nice work

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