For LD entries, 2015 was not a particularly successful year for me, so I decided switch to the Jam this time, to give myself that extra bit of freedom.
Theme Announcement: With the new theme voting system, we had no insights as to which themes were favourites, and I didn’t like this very much. When we have 4-5 “favourite” themes in mind, we can familiarise ourselves with each of them, and think about what each allows. But we couldn’t do that this time.
The idea: My first idea was a character who changed form, from man to bird, like in the ZX Spectrum game Alchemist. But then I felt that mechanic would be very commonly seen this LD, so I rejected the idea. My second idea was something with literal shapes, like block sliding puzzles, or pegs through holes, but I feared those too would be commonplace, and they’re not the kinds of games I make for LD either. My third idea involved a world of shape people, and you had to change shape to ‘fit in’ with different groups. Some kind of story driven adventure game. That was the idea I went with.
Day One: Day one for me is generally a day where I draw all the graphics+animations, get an environment on the screen, with character controller, then compose music before bed time. And that was pretty much what I did this time. I decided to make a game with Game Boy styled graphics, because I felt that big pixels and a small colour palette would complement the drawing of this Shape city. After googling for some gameboy images, I found screenshots of Link’s Awakening, and this became a mild inspiration for me, graphics-wise.
Other tasks for day one included: 1) Making a simple map editor, so that I could test the environment, collision detection, etc. 2) I decided that humour would form a big part of the text. So creating a list of shape related humour was something which happened throughout the weekend.
Day Two: Day two would normally be my last day, but with this being the Jam I had an extra day. I decided that today I would focus not on the story, but on designing the game world, and the regions within it. Also build the remaining parts of the game engine – 1) the AI for the cpu controlled characters, 2) the quest system, with (optional) arrows to guide the player to unlocked quests. 3) the examine button. 4) the chat button and how that would trigger responses with chat bubbles, and advance the story if chatting with a quest bearer. 5) the vignette and fade-in when the game starts, and the title screen.
Day Three: More-or-less I had finished the game code on day two, and the vast majority of day Three was spent writing all the quests and text for the game. This was done with text files now – no code! I didn’t really know how the story would unfold when I began writing it. I kind of made it up as I went along, which you can maybe tell as it does feel a little rushed towards the end, as the deadline loomed.
I did make sure that none of the quests were hard to discover. Either:
1) There would be arrows guiding you.
2) You’d be given information earlier that you needed later (eg, “Return here when you’ve done X.”, or “Return to X later.”, or “X is found at Y”)
3) You’d stumble upon a new quest as you’re following another, because it’s along the path.
Lessons Learned: Doing the Jam instead of the Compo was a difficult decision for me. I don’t really want to compete with teams who have dedicated artists and musicians. Nor do I want to compete with people who use premade art or music. But at the same time, the Jam grants me freedoms that I do want. For instance, two days used to be enough, but as my skills and ambitions have grown, I feel I need extra time to make the kinds of games I want to make for LD. So I may choose the Jam in future LDs, even though it pains me to do so.
Another thing I did different this time around was deciding that I would go to sleep at a sensible hour on saturday+sunday night. There is a temptation to stay up late, getting an extra 2-3 hours of work done. But being tired *that* night, and being tired the next day from staying up late, we probably lose at least 2-3 hours in productivity, as we’re not working at peak performance when we are tired. I don’t feel I lost any productivity, and I had the added benefit of not *feeling* tired, so all in all it was a more positive experience. I will remember to do this again in future jams.
I have made a variety of tools over the years to assist me with game jams, which do come in useful. But one thing I keep intending to do but not getting around to doing, is creating a proper framework/engine to serve as a base for my jam games. There are some common coding tasks which crop up in nearly all games I make, and this jam was no exception. It’s only when you have made loads of games that you start to get a feel for what parts really are common, and could be abstracted out somehow. It would be nice to not have to waste time on those things every game jam. But at the same time, there are limits on what can go into an engine without turning it into bloatware. There are certainly lots of things which could go into an engine. So a modular approach might be best. It’s something I’ll think about for next time.