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Back To Your Room – Postmortem

Posted by
Thursday, December 29th, 2016 1:54 pm

My first Ludum Dare was pretty fun! I started wanting to create something meaningful, maybe share some kind of important message with the player, but ended up creating a platformer about you wanting to go back to your room. I participated to gain some practice for the Global Game Jam 2017 and I more than achieved said goal.

Now, as an attempt to make the most of it and help anyone else doing something similar, I’ll analyze what went right, what went wrong, and conclude about what I must improve for my next project. Before I start, I suggest you play the game to understand better what I’ll be talking about.

 

Context

Back To Your Room is a short platformer developed solo for the Ludum Dare 37. It is comprised by a single playable level which is about two minutes long. It was developed with Unity, using Tiled for level creation and Tiled2Unity for import.

 

What went right

1. Art

Art seems to have worked, as most players have complimented it so far. I obtained all graphic assets from opengameart.org, and tried to use as few different artists as possible to keep the style consistent. However, good comments about the art usually are only about the art. This means that there are not a lot of positive comments about anything else, which I’ve taken into account when writing the rest of this post.

 

yr_scr01

 

2. Sound

According to feedback, sound effects and background music were fitting in most cases.  At the main menu, at the credits and at the introduction. Even though, I received several comments suggesting this was not the case with the actual game level; they are probably right, as it was the last one I added and the one I spent the least amount of time searching for. This was a big mistake because it is probably the most important to get right.

To get the background music that did work, however, I searched for playlists full of royalty free music at the start of my working session and listened to them for the entirety of it. When I found one that caught my attention, I saved the link to check it out later and decide whether or not I was putting it in the game. The first song that I found this way was Wolf by Jeremy Lelis, Back To Your Room’s main menu theme. Check it out!

 

 

Further, all sound effects were created using bfxr. I added those I thought were the most important for the player’s feedback from the world: jumping, killing an enemy and obtaining a pickup.

 

3. Introduction to core mechanics

The actual game level that is played in the game was poorly designed, a result of most of it being created in the last few hours of the jam, which I’ll address later in this article. In spite of this, it seems the part of the level meant to teach the player core mechanics served its purpose well enough. By “core mechanics” I mean jumping and pushing dead enemies around, even though the latter is not used as extensively throughout the level.

First, I had to teach the player how to jump. To do so, I put a tall obstacle only surmountable by jumping. Until now, not a single player expressed confusion as to what they were supposed to do there. However, I think this is because I taught the player that jumping was a core mechanic of the game rather than how to jump. They had already acquired this knowledge thanks to other platformers.

 

first_obstacle

The obstacle that teaches the player about jumping

 

Then, to teach the pushing dead enemies mechanic I did two things: put an enemy in such a way that the player would kill it whether they tried to jump over it or not, and force them into a narrow passage where the only way to advance was by pushing this dead enemy. I achieved the former by having the enemy be in the position where the player would fall over it if they just walked right, while making sure it was still easy to jump on it in case the player tried to do so.

 

second_obstacle1

Scenario that teaches the pushing dead enemies mechanic

 

For the latter, I made sure the space did not allow the player to move the now dead enemy out of the way and the decision to try to keep moving right happened naturally amongst all the players I’ve seen play and hopefully in the vast majority of those whom I haven’t. Also, by having the player avoid direct contact with another enemy at the same time, I also communicated one possible way to use this new mechanic.

 

second_obstacle_gif (4)

Jupiter Hadley playing this part of the game for the first time

 

Finally, it’s worth noting that I tried to make sure the player was aware of the existence of the second enemy by having it not do anything unless the player had entered within a certain range at least once. Whether this worked or not is uncertain at the moment, because the player would still find out about this enemy in a safe environment soon enough.

 

What went wrong

1. Level Design

As stated before, level design was not very good, mainly because I didn’t put enough time into it. Everything in the level aside from the mechanics’ introduction was created in the last 5 hours of the jam. Throughout the level, I tried to encourage the player to dominate better the controls by introducing sections where you had to jump precisely to avoid falling in pits, something a lot of other platformers do.

 

yr_scr04

Section that requires precision jumping

 

I also added collectibles that rewarded many points to appeal to the player’s completionism and tried to place them in a way that tested the player’s understanding of the game mechanics and encouraged them to explore the level. However, something curious happened with one of them. I meant this collectible to test the player’s understanding of the pushing dead enemies mechanic, so I placed it like this:

 

collectible_01

First collectible’s location as seen from the Editor. Lizard enemies rush towards the player. Beer enemy guards the collectible.

 

It might remind you of the scenario where the player learned about pushing dead enemies. This is intentional (but I’m not sure if it worked that way, so please tell me in the comments if it did for you!). I wanted players to use the dead lizard-like enemies in the vicinity to push the enemy away from the collectible and then defeat it safely. Despite my intentions, most players used an easier method I did not foresee. See what I mean with the GIFs below.

 

hoping_would_happen

What I thought the player would do

 

what_happens

What they usually do

 

This was probably a consequence of barely playtesting this part before turning it in, but there was no time left to playtest anway.

 

In the end, what little feedback I have on Back To Your Room’s level design is purely negative. This, together with the reactions I’ve observed from several players, has lead me to believe they feel there’s nothing noteworthy about the level. It does not excel at anything but it’s not that terrible at anything either, which makes them feel it lacks something but unable to point out what. This evidences my weak level design skills, whose improvement must be my number one priority in my next project.

 

2. Time management

Time management was absolutely terrible. Well, the lack of it. I simply designed and changed parts of the game in my head until they were good enough and then implemented them at full speed. Added to this, I spent too much time settling on an idea and took a few too many breaks. No tools for time management or control were used.

The results of this naive approach to time management were catastrophic: I ended up submitting my entry for the Jam instead of the Compo. It might have been a decent entry for the Compo, but for the Jam it’s just not good enough. This encouraged me to do some research on the subject of time maganement.

 

ld22_cut_results

Summary of results from a Ludum Dare 22 Post-Mortem Survey. I cut out some results and left those related to time management.

After reading through quite a few articles exploring time management strategies both in general and in game jams, I realized a lot of other jammers experience similar issues. It appears to be kind of a rookie mistake, one that I must endeavor to avoid the next time. Luckily, I found an interesting post with a lot of time management tools to experiment with in the future. I suggest you check it out if you’re interested in this topic as well.

 

Conclusions

Participating in this Ludum Dare was a valuable experience. I learned a lot of things faster than I would have otherwise. Also, writing this post mortem helped me understand better my weaknesses. Specifically, what I conclude from this project is:

 

  • My foremost priority for my next project should be to learn more about level design, both in theory and in practice.
  • Time management is an important skill whose mastering I should focus on after level design

 

I hope this analysis was helpful to you. See you in the next Ludum Dare!

 

Sources

1. Jupiter Hadley. (2016, December 17). Jupi Plays Indie Games: ALL THE INDIE GAMES [Ludum Dare 37] [Part 5]. Retrieved December 27, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiLAPTz00w0#t=333

2. . (2011, December 28). INFOGRAPHIC: Game Jam Survey. Retrieved December 27, 2016, from http://mcfunkypants.com/2011/game-jam-survey/

3. myfirstgamejam. (2016, July 8). Resources: Time Task Management – My First Game Jam: Summer Edition community. Retrieved December 27, 2016, from https://itch.io/jam/my-first-game-jam-summer-2016/topic/29905/resources-time-task-management

I’m in!

Posted by
Friday, December 9th, 2016 3:57 am

I’m in Ludum Dare! I have not participated in anything similar before, don’t have a team to participate with, and will be busy half of the first day of LD, but I’m in. I probably won’t submit anything exceptional, but it’ll be precious experience for me. You can check out my modest portfolio here.

 

I Dare! (see what I did there?)

 

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