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The One Room Dungeon Post-Mortem

Posted by
Monday, December 12th, 2016 9:45 am

Now that I’ve had a nice long sleep, it’s time for a little postmortem for my game, and the events that led up to its conception.

Surprisingly, this could be the most effort I have put into a game jam, despite my limitations at the time. I had Christmas-related responsibilities to take care of, and knew I would have as little as 12 hours to actually make a game if I wanted to go for the Compo, which I always did.

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CIRCUMSTANCES

I arrived home at about 8 pm, with the deadline being 13 hours away. I had woken up at 9 am on Sunday morning as well, which meant 24 hours of no sleep. I had a sneaking suspicion I was just going to keel over and fall asleep halfway through. But, either through some misplaced pride or an act of defiance, I got started anyway.

During the theme-voting period, since I knew I was going to be busy, I purposely voted for all the themes that implied small and simple, like Small World, Only 5 Minutes, Simplicity, etc. Thankfully, One Room got chosen, so I had an excuse to scope the game down and make it more manageable.

When you’re not a programmer, you’re bound by some pretty weird limits when making a game. Since I use drag-and-drop code almost exclusively, a physics-based game was actually far easier to do than a turn- and grid-based one. At the time, feeling rather pessimistic about my chances of success, I decided to use this as a stepping stone. I’ve always wanted to make a dungeon dungeon crawler, especially for mobile. For someone at my skill level, that was a tall order, but I figured that even if I didn’t finish it, I still would have built a framework I could use in the future.

GAME DESIGN

There were a few reasons why I chose a dungeon-crawler, besides the fact that I had a fascination with them. One big factor was that I could skimp out on the art and sound, since they weren’t that important. I mean, I still needed some sprites, but having animation was something that was entirely optional. Sound was also not much of a factor, seeing as the encounters and stuff were going to be heavily text-based. Randomly generating the background music took me about an hour, which I could afford.

Most of my efforts went into the ‘programming’, so to speak, abusing the crap out of the engine’s drag-and-drop limitations to come up with fast solutions that worked. The grid-based movement and random generation were actually the easiest to do, especially the random map generation. Me and an old friend came up with this technique years ago, which I’m still using to this day due to how bloody simple it was. Below is an illustration.

Each wall spawner creates one wall right next to itself

Each wall spawner creates one wall right next to itself.

It’s not the most perfect system; sometimes it would generate squares that the player couldn’t access. And the pathways are all over the place. Still, if your objective is simply to get from one corner of the room to the next, it worked.

The meat of the programming was poured into the so-called turn-based system. Seeing as I didn’t know how to even begin something like that, I just… hardcoded every turn, and slowly carved out a framework along the way. If I found myself doing something over and over, I’d create a new variable to hold that data, or changed the code into something more efficient. What I came up with certainly would be difficult to be used and understood by outsiders, but at least I could make a dungeon crawler much faster by myself if I ever needed to.

The most important aspect, for me, was that it was mobile-friendly as well. After scratching my head over the sort of UI that would be used, I experimented a little and found a nice way to make a choose-your-own-adventure style encounter system with unobtrusive UI. From there, I could probably branch out in to an actual combat system, and maybe into an inventory system as well. Time will tell.

Even though I’m quite happy to have more or less leveled up in terms of ‘programming’ logic and systems design, the inner game designer in me feels that the game experience still fell short. The game is pretty easy once you figure out what to do against each encounter, and the randomization doesn’t add too much. Even though it’s a good thing I learnt a lot of new things, the fun factor of the game was compromised in the process. I really do want to improve on this, make a more robust system that has real choices that the player has to make. Right now, the whole thing feels like a tech demo of sorts. Works, but not necessarily the most engaging.

Conclusion

Honestly, at the end of the day, I’m very relieved to have been able to submit something for the compo, given the sort of time frame I had and the scope of the game I was attempting to do. What’s more, I have a (relatively) solid base to lean on if I wanted to make more mobile dungeon crawlers. I would love to continue working on this, but right now, the Stencyl Jam is going on, and I can’t resist going for it.

Still, that doesn’t mean I won’t spend some time playing all the amazing games submitted (or are going to be submitted) for the jam. If you do decide to try out The One Room Dungeon, make sure to leave a comment so I can give some love to your games as well!

Ready to Start!

Posted by
Sunday, December 11th, 2016 7:03 am

Just got back from work, and now I can officially start, with 13 hours left on the clock. I knew I was going to be short on time this LD, and voted for all the easy themes like One Room and Simplicity… Hopefully that will be enough.

Work had totally consumed my mind for the past few days, so I couldn’t even think up of an idea during the past 36 hours or so. Wish me luck, because I’ll definitely need it.

Top 5 Picks for Ludum Dare!

Posted by
Monday, January 4th, 2016 10:17 am

Intro

12-ish hours remains for voting at the time of this post. Normally, this would be an opportune moment to showcase my game (which I still will), I think it’s also the perfect time to jump the bandwagon and list down my favourite games for others to try and vote on as well. I feel these entries deserve more attention, so without further ado, and in no particular order…

1 Button Wizard X2 by BoxedMeatRevolution

This game can be summed up as “1 Button Magicka”. It has a surprising amount of depth for a one button game, and the bots are actually rather decent. Some people might not dig the art, but it has a certain charm to it that I like. And it’s consistent. Try playing it with a friend. It’s extra impressive that the dev used one button for each mage, actually limiting the number of buttons used at any time to two.

SlimeCraft by jacklehamster

If you told me an RTS existed that only used two buttons, I would’ve scoffed at your face at the notion. I mean, how is it possible to condense resource management, logistics and strategy down to TWO BUTTONS? And yet, here I sit, flabbergasted that something like SlimeCraft exists. It’s actually reasonably easy to pick up and get used to, and can support up to 4 players! Splitscreen! What other RTS can do THAT?

2 button metroidvania by JaJ

Another very interesting entry! I’m a sucker for Metroidvanias, so the concept of a two-button one definitely sparked my interest. Don’t expect any story here, but the game does follow the formula correctly. You can learn new skills, as well as go back to previous places once inaccessible to you. With two buttons, the controls are understandably complex and difficult sometimes, but the whole game is rather polished otherwise.

Frogtale by rzuf

If you loved Undertale, you may enjoy this game. Comparing ANY LD game to Undertale is probably rather hard to believe, but it does come close. The mechanics aren’t the most original, sure, but the humor is top-notch. At least, I found it hilarious. It starts off a little slow, but after gaining a few levels, talking to the quirky NPCs and beating the game, you’ll be left wanting more.

become a game developer in 60 seconds by unprompted

Another entry that totally blew my mind. If you think playing RTS with 2 buttons was difficult and complicated, what about making a functional game using only 2 buttons? I couldn’t believe it when I tried it out, but it works rather well indeed. Sure, the engine is limited, since you only have 2 buttons, but damn is it cool to see the product of your ‘hard work’ actually playing before your eyes.

Final Words

Of course, this is where I’d showcase my game to play. Remember to play the regular version, not the post-compo one, if you intend to vote. I hope you all had a wonderful Ludum Dare. I know I did. Here’s to the next LD jam!

Garden Grow Post-Jam Update 1.2

Posted by
Wednesday, December 30th, 2015 1:31 am

Hohoho! Merry Christmas, Ludum Dare!

That's totally snow, and not clouds

That’s totally snow, and not clouds

It’s that time of year when we get together and- Wait, Christmas is over? How long ago?

Well, damn.

Anyway, with the holidays out of the way, I managed to get some work done and updated the game! Unfortunately, no Christmas-themed art. The changelog can be found here, at my game page. Basically, new NPCs were added, which allow you to trade flowers, birds and magic for bonuses! If you think their prices are unbalanced, or you don’t like how the economy works or something, do let me know.

From left to right: Bird Feeder, Hunter, Wizard.

From left to right: Bird Feeder, Hunter, Wizard.

Buying gardens at 10,000 flowers hasn’t been implemented yet, there’ll be an NPC for that. I’m considering adding mini-games as well, something to do on the side if hopping on clouds somehow becomes too much. They’ll mostly be to farm magic and birds quickly, but at a price. Right now it’s just an idea, but we’ll see.

As for releasing it on mobile… I’m still fumbling my way in the dark on that one. Nothing a few Google searches can’t fix, I bet!

Anyway, thanks so much for all your support, I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) have done it without you guys. If you haven’t tried the game yet, go ahead and play the original version here, and the updated version here. Any bugs or suggestions, do let me know! Have a very happy New Year, Ludum Dare!

…I’m not too late to wish you guys a happy New Year, right?

Garden Grow Post-Compo Update!

Posted by
Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015 1:51 pm

Intro
Under most circumstances, I’m the kind of guy who moves on to the next project once the first is completed. But thanks to the overwhelming support and feedback from the LD community, I’ve decided to try and polish this game and make it a little more enjoyable! And thus, I present to you… Garden Grow 1.1! The changelog is available on the entry page, but I’ll take this time to explain them a little more in depth.

Ooooh, pretty!

Ooooh, pretty!

Changelog
Art
First major thing that was addressed was the art! I’ve seen many comments on how the graphics feel disjointed, since the background is far more detailed and higher res than the characters. After doing a bit of research on how to make fluffy pixel clouds and do pixel dithering, I finally managed to unify the aesthetics of the game! This was what took up the most of my time, seeing as I had to redo most of the art from scratch.

Side by side comparison

Side by side comparison

Saving
The player can now save progress! Every flower you earn is kept in your browser’s cache, so you can return to collecting flowers later and actually grow the garden! What’s more, a few different things are being saved as well, namely Birds and Magic. Birds records the number of birds you jumped on. Magic records the combined number of boxes you collected and the number of times the player has jumped on a thundercloud. What’s the point of recording these information down, you ask? We’ll get to that later.

Garden
Flowers now bloom according to your score! Small flowers are worth one point, medium are worth 10, and large are worth 100. Simple! Right now there are no 1000-point flowers, though, so the game won’t reflect your score properly in the garden if you manage to exceed 1000 flowers. Right now, this feature is a tad buggy, with the larger flowers spawning in front of the smaller ones. This will get rectified in the next version.

Balancing
Birds now give 3 flowers instead of 5. Thunderclouds give -7 flowers instead of -3. So all in all, it’s harder to gather flowers now.

Moving Forward
Right now, the game is being set up for at least one more iteration. The Magic variable is a clue already. So, what can you expect in the next build?

– Garden support. Flowers worth 1000, and the option to buy a NEW garden and start from scratch when you reach 10,000 flowers. Old gardens will turn into floating islands and float in the background.
– NPCs. More NPCs are going to make an appearance, and they’ll do a bit of talking as well. But the main reason they’re there is mainly for….
– Economy. Trade flowers, birds and magic with NPCs to grow your garden more effectively!
– Mobile version. MAYBE. I’ve never done anything like this before, but it’s worth a shot! The game was made with mobile in mind, after all…
– New soundtrack. Not very likely, but I might give composing another go! We’ll see how it goes.
Microtransactions! Nah, just messing with ya.

Before I sign off, I’d like to thank everybody that played, commented and rated on my game. Your support is what drove me to make these improvements, and hopefully you’ll come back to play a second time! And if you haven’t played my game yet, well, give it a go! If you plan on rating the game, though, be sure to play the original one.

Garden Grow Post-Mortem

Posted by
Friday, December 18th, 2015 1:17 pm
Welcome to Garden Grow!

Welcome to Garden Grow!

Hello! Justin here, bringing a post-mortem nobody asked for. But it’s probably good practice to do so anyway. Garden Grow is one of the games I’m proudest of that was made in a game jam. Admittedly, not my best, but it was a step forward from the LAST Ludum Dare. Fun, accessible, complete! Let’s see if I can keep this breakdown short and sweet.

The Highs
– The music. Never had I imagined that I would be able to compose something that people would actually comment on as being a strong point! Most times, I composed simple melodies using ‘shortcuts’ of sorts; playing only with black keys was one of them. This time, though, I took a few hours out of my time to study different chiptunes by different artists and try to emulate certain aspects of it that I never thought of trying before. The end result was a melody that paved the way to what the mood of my game was going to be. A shoutout to Jason Reed (@jcreed on Twitter) for his songs that inspired me.

– Time. On Ludum Dare 33, I had to scrap 48 hours worth of work and ideas, and made a game from scratch in the remaining 24 hour jam period. While the end result was rather pleasant, it hurt my pride to know that I botched up, that I failed to hit that deadline. I made it a vow to make up for it on this one, and I managed to get it done with plenty of sleep to spare for work on Monday!

– Polish. Since I managed to finish early, I took the time to add what I would call ‘LOVE’ into the game. The little details that give a tiny bit more fun factor, but may take more effort than it’s worth. Things like particle effects, obscure conditions and secrets, anticipating player behaviour, etc. Pizzazz, magic, chrome. Granted, more could’ve be done, but this is one of the more ‘livelier’ games I have made. Baby steps. I think I’ll stick to this trend a little more!

The Lows
– Art. There were some comments on how the artstyles didn’t really jive together, and I was painfully aware of that. But time wasn’t on my side this time, and making a detailed 32×32 sprite with full animations was out of the question. I defaulted to my old style of making 16×16 sprites and increasing their size, instead. The end result is the slight dissonance of the other objects in the game and the characters.

– Engine limitations. I’m no programmer, so I rely a lot on visual coding. By extension, that means I’m at the mercy of the engine’s whims. Simple mechanics that sound easy to implement on paper become huge hassles when you have to jump through the hoops set by the engine so you can make them a reality. A few features had to be cut because of some time lost from figuring out the engine, but I may add them in on a later date.

– Balancing. In my haste to finish the game, I did lose sight of a few core principles in design that I shouldn’t have. The powerups were added on a ‘difficulty-of-implementation’ basis. If it was easy to put in, I’ll chuck it in without second thought to pad out some gameplay. Even though they were nice and welcome additions, they didn’t contribute much to the overall experience curve of the game. There are some things I wish I could’ve done better, like actually having the difficulty ramp up slowly somehow, since the game’s difficulty stays stagnant for quite some time.

Conclusion
This Ludum Dare, I decided to bump my coolness up and play as many games that I got my grubby hands on. And boy, was that a fun experience. I learned a lot from playing different games, comparing them with mine and seeing where I could improve. And, as always, I found many games that humbled me as a developer. Such polish, such finesse, such wonderful design that I can only hope to emulate in the future… I still have much to learn, and perhaps one day, I’ll sit amongst the greats with a game I can be truly proud of.

But for now, I’d like to thank all the people who’ve played my game so far. Those that have given me reassuring words, and those that have criticized me for me to learn and better myself. The response has been overwhelming (more than I would dream to get, anyway), and perhaps I may continue with this project and see it to the end. Add more features, spruce up the sound and graphics, maybe even port it over to mobile.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, if you did. It’s time to go back to rating all these awesome games, and also return back to working life. Here’s a little sneak peek of Garden Grow’s death scene, just to break the monotony of this huge wall of text.

Wheeee!

Also, play Garden Grow here! If I have the time, I’ll definitely try to play yours, too!

Reflections

Posted by
Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 12:27 am

What an interesting experience this has been.

This isn’t the first game jam I’ve been to, so I was rather disappointed in myself when I missed the compo deadline. First time that has happened.

I knew I had only a limited time to do the jam, and would have to sacrifice about 12+ hours for sleep, since I still had work on Monday. That hasn’t stopped me before, but this jam’s theme particularly had my knickers in a knot. I’ll admit it, not the theme I was hoping for. It wasn’t a BAD theme by any stretch of the word; if I had more time, I would’ve loved to explore it further. Unfortunately, time was of the essence, and I had personal goals I had set myself.

On the last Ludum Dare, I submitted a HTML5 game that forced the player to use the mouse to click on a virtual gamepad. Then I found out that touch-screen devices could play it as well, although the buttons were too small to be effective on anything smaller than an iPad. So this Ludum Dare, I set a goal: Make a one-touch game that can be played both on computers and mobile devices. This time, I would take UI into account properly.

My initial idea was… a bit too ambitious. It would’ve been a turned-based-ish system where you had to kill the hero by sending enemies up against him, complete with different attacks and strategies. As time went on during the compo, I realized what I was up against. Making the UI one-touch friendly required a lot of work on my end, and I got barely anything done, even after the compo ended. Nothing playable. Needless to say I was rather disappointed in myself.

After a good night’s rest, and the compo behind me, I decided I’d tackle the problem again. Problem is, I had to go to work, which would eat up 9-10 hours from my 24 hour jam period. Not to mention having to sleep for work the next day, which would be another 8 gone, give or take. That left me with a grand total of six hours. 8 times less than I’m used to. And I was starting from scratch, using none of the previous assets.

And somehow… I pulled through. Maybe it was my stubborn pride as a jammer, maybe it was the exhilaration of such an insurmountable task, maybe I got enough rest to step back from the problem and re-evaluate everything. Whatever it was, I powered through it, taking some ideas from a brain-storming session during lunch break with a co-worker. A game simple enough to play, but got the message across, and was reasonably easy to execute. Even managed to get my personal goals in. I cut in a little bit into my sleeping time to get it done, but it was DONE. Art, programming, even music and sound effects.

No, I don’t think this is the greatest game I’ve ever made. But damn if I’m not proud of it anyway. Now, I’ll just prepare myself for the next game jam that comes my way, and hope I don’t mess up again.

Edit: TL;DR: Never give up, even if all the odds are against you. Don’t let that huge failure stop you from finishing what you started.

Enjoy the fruits of my labor, and I’ll make sure to take a sample from yours as well!

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