Ancient Tech To Return – Postmortem

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August 31st, 2016 1:29 am

Nearly two days have passed since I submitted my entry and I’ve had some time to reflect over the experience.

This was my first Ludum Dare and the first jam I’ve participated in. I have created a few games in the past (http://games.imphenzia.com) but making games have always came after most of the other priorities I have. In addition to working as an IT consultant by day, I have a wife and 3 kids and I have a small company called “Imphenzia” where I mainly create games assets for sale (music, sound effects, and space related graphics.)

Since mid-2016 I’ve wanted to participate in LD but for every event up until now I’ve either been abroad or occupied in other ways (my worst excuse is my mother-in-law coming over from England for a visit – that would have been a perfect time to participate if you ask me, but my wife had other plans =)

So then, finally I was able to participate in LD36, but I didn’t decide until the night before the event. I was somewhat reluctant to enter because normally I try to stay away from the computer room on weekends, at least while the kids are awake, but I figured one weekend would be OK in the end.

Expectations

I expected that I would finish a game in time for the deadline as long as I set a realistic bar for myself. I still had plans for the weekend that I was going ahead with – my nephew’s birthday party, riding motocross, and visiting a friend for a dinner.

Preparations

  • I did a brief check of my environment (Unity, Blender, Photoshop, Cubase, Sound Forge) – all was working as expected.
  • I set up OBS for screen and webcam recording to create a timelapse of the entire event
  • I ensured that the sound card mixer settings and OBS recording captured Desktop Audio, Mic Audio, and ASIO Audio separate should I decide to break out parts of the timelapse
  • I tidied up my computer desktop and folder structure.
  • I started up Blender and realized I have no memory of even the most basic of commands, workflows, or UI (I have more of a 3DSMax background and want to switch over for licensing reasons)
  • I told my wife and kids that I would be focused and probably had to do a lot of “fun work” during the weekend (the kids are 2, 5, 6, so they don’t really grasp what it means =)
  • Refreshed myself on the rules of LD compo
  • I live in Sweden so LD starts at 3AM. I went to bed at 20:00 with the kids and set my alarm for 02:00.
  • I woke up at 01:00 in excitement and couldn’t sleep again so I went to doublecheck my computer etc… Turns out it was running at 100% CPU (Windows Problem Reporting) – I rebooted and the computer came back WITHOUT a mouse cursor. Panicked. Unplugged my Wacom Tablet and Mouse. Restarted. Sorted. Phew.

Breakdown of acts

I sat in 5 sessions

  • Session 1: 6 hours
    • Planning (20 minutes)
    • Outlining project in Unity
    • Creating player character in Blender (Model, Unwrap, Armature/Rig, Skinning, Animations)
    • Relearning Blender + watching tutorials on bones, rigging, animation, etc =)
  • Session 2: 3 hours
    • Importing character and controlling/animating it in Unity
  • Session 3: 7 hours
    • Creating guard character in Blender (Model, Unwrap, Armature/Rig, Skinning, Animations)
    • Importing guard character and controlling/animating it in Unity
    • Modeling technology artifacts, chests in Blender and importing to Unity
    • Implementing game mechanics of the game in Unity
    • Implementing random spawning of level
  • Session 4: 7 hours
    • Created GUI, and menu screens
    • Created GUI graphics in Photoshop
    • Created game state machine to control Menu, Play, Win, Lose, Pause, Resume, states etc.
    • Play testing
    • Created the first sound effects (recorded with mic at desk and modified in Sound Forge
    • Started on the first music track of the game in Cubase
  • Session 5: 9 hours
    • Completed composing the first music track and implemented it in the game.
    • Created the bulk of sound effects (recorded at the desk) – bird tweets, guard responses, chest open/close, UI clicks, etc.
    • Implementing Music/SFX volume controls and storing user configuration
    • More play testing
    • Time left – bonus activities:
      • Updated main title graphics
      • Composed an alternative music track and implemented music toggle in menu
      • Added tree variations and tweaked lighting and colors
    • Build (with multiple tests) packaging the game and Unity project for download – uploading it to my site
    • Submitted everything to LD36
    • Panicked – did I miss anything? Did I submit correctly?
  • Everything was submitted and finalized at 02:30 Swedish time, 30 minutes before the deadline.

All in all I used 32 out of the 48 hours to make the game.

What Went Wrong

  • I should have trained myself in Blender before so I would have been comfortable with what I was doing
  • I ran into a bone rigging/armature problem in Blender, especially using pole target for leg IK which I decided to dump and not use after 2 hours.
  • I ran into another problem in blender when the bones were affecting unweighted vertices which warped the mesh incorrectly. I decided to redo everything again and I started to regret going down the path of a platformer.
  • Quite a few bugs appeared that took time to solve, e.g. coming to an empty chest the player would get an item from a previous chest. Solving bugs took longer than expected.
  • Sitting in a room where I have 3 kids (aged 2,5,6) coming in to play, chat, hug, cry, fight, etc. is in many ways great – but it’s not the way to do it for something like LD. As I had to crunch I grew bored of myself telling them that I can’t do this or can’t do that. I prioritized playing with them for a few hours every day, reading bed time stories, and eating together etc. Still, I felt that I was pushing them away or staying focused “in my zone” a lot of the time to stay on track.
  • Our youngest daughter fell ill with fever and pains on the sunday.
  • I didn’t go ride motocross on the Sunday as I had planned.
  • I didn’t go to the friends dinner party (this was due to the daughter being ill since we were committed to this earlier)
  • I started to feel pressure about 3 hours before the deadline. Not that the game wasn’t complete – but that I’d mess up something during last bits of tweaking to break the game, or that I would lose internet connection for the submisson etc. =)

What Went Well

  • The game was completed as planned
  • I was happy with the visual and overall appearance of the game
  • I felt the game lives up to some of the undocumented design goals I had in mind:
    • The game can be completed in less than 10 minutes
    • One can aim to beat their own best time of the game and it remembers the best time (for replayability)
    • It should be a pleasant and peaceful environment
    • Non-violent (I like violent games too, but I didn’t want this to be one =)
    • The game trains your memory – you need to remember where you placed items in which chests when you need them
    • The game has sound effects and multiple music tracks in it
    • The characters are animated to a reasonable level
  • I did get to spend time with my family despite committing to this for such an intense event
  • I faithfully stuck to all the rules and completing everything from absolute 0.
  • I submitted the game in time (and the submission process was not problematic)

Key Takeaways

  • I need to refresh my skills, especially in Blender, well ahead of time
  • I will avoid having any other commitments during the LD weekend.
  • It was a fun experience while it lasted
  • I don’t want to do it again with my wife and kids home, I want them to have a plan for the weekend for multiple reasons:
    • I want to be able to focus,
    • and more importantly I don’t want to push them away when I’m in my focus zone.
  • My son told me once during the LD “Dad, I don’t like it when you are so focused on something” – and that hit home with me. I also watched the timelapse and realize what they see a lot of the time – me starring at the computer and my mind is really dedicated to solving problems or with creative tasks. This is why I say that it was a fun experience “while it lasted” because then I was so focused on it. Afterwards I had time to reflect. At the same time, it taught me a lot so on the Monday I dedicated a lot of play time with the kids and made myself not look at a phone or a computer during their awake time. I did the same on Tuesday and I will do the same today! =)

Would I do it again?

  • Yes, but only with the key takeaways strongly in mind – especially the social aspects.

The Game

If you’re still reading… thanks =) I should probably show the game as well.

It’s called “Ancient Tech To Return” (can’t say I was thrilled about the theme)  and it’s a top down isometric platform game. You spawn on a patch of land among trees and chests as someone who traveled back in time. Your goal is to get to a time teleport but in your way stands 5 guards on a path from the floating island. The guards each want a ancient technology artifacts that are hidden in the chests. You can only carry one item at a time so when you search a chest it’ll put whatever you had in that chest once you get something else. You have to train your memory to remember where you saw/placed items when the next guard may need it. Try to beat your own time!

I welcome you to play the game:

PLAY ANCIENT TECH TO RETURN (WEB + WINDOWS)

Gameplay Footage:

Screenshots:

Ancient Tech To Return

Ancient Tech To Return

Ancient Tech To Return

Timelaps of the entire making-of with session and act descriptions:

 

 

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One Response to “Ancient Tech To Return – Postmortem”

  1. Narkhos says:

    It’s my first participation too. My experience were quiet similar to yours (except our kid is unborn lol).
    It’s difficult to have the weekend free for the Ludum Dare. And it’s hard to stay focused despite solicitations of family and friends.
    Thank you for the sharing of experience.
    Your game looks good. I will give it a try this afternoon.

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