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Cat Tidying: the post-mortem

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Thursday, May 5th, 2016 8:03 am

Neko Katadzukeru is a puzzle game where you take delivery of an endless assortment of contortionist cats and must package them neatly to send them on their way. It’s my fourth compo entry (see the previous ones here), and the first one where I actually had the whole weekend to work on it; here are some tales of its development and bits of advice.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 6.14 p

Things what went good

  • Sleep. Seriously, I know the jam tradition is to grind late into the night and hypercaffeinate and so on, but in my experience that results in making sillier and sillier mistakes as the weekend goes on, and being totally burned out in the last couple of hours which are the most critical for finishing things up. I aimed for ~7 hours a night, and while I did have to keep working down to the last few minutes of the deadline, I spent way less time staring blankly at weird bugs and wondering where my life’d gone wrong than I would have otherwise.
  • Early ideas. It’s really important not to spend too much time agonizing over finding the Perfect Idea that is Definitely Better Than All The Other Ideas. Think of as much as you can as quickly as you can, pick one, and go. I typically look over the list of theme finalists on Friday and try to brainstorm at least one or two possibilities for each one. Another thing that’s helpful for this: not just staring at your computer trying to think of something. Go outside; take half an hour to wander around and mull things over. Brains are really good at taking random stimuli and building ideas out of them; the more stimuli you’re exposed to, the better your chances of finding a good idea.
  • Hand-drawn art. A lot of people go for a pixel-art style in the compo. When that’s done well, it can look really cool, but it’s hard to stand out unless you are a pixel wizard (in which case I hope you are enjoying Pixel Hogwarts—bet it’s rad). Somewhat less common is a hand-drawn look, which, even if you’re not great at drawing, instantly gives your game a unique character. You don’t need a scanner—take as straight-on a photo with your phone as you can, then use Photoshop or similar to make the image grayscale and adjust the levels so you have a pure-black-and-white image, as in the image below. This time, I made most of the art using a Pencil, but the principle is the same if you’re working with a pencil of the lowercase variety.
    • levels example
  • Mouth sounds. Again, lots of games use tools like sfxr to generate old-school beeps and boops, and that’s fine, but you very likely have a way more flexible sound-effect generator at your disposal. Every sound effect in Neko came from me standing in my closet with a towel over the door (to muffle outside sound and echoes) making noises into the Voice Memos app in my phone. Record a bunch of variants on the same sound in a row, then get the file onto your computer, chop it up in something like Audacity, and you’re good to go. It’s quick, efficient, and it makes your game stand out; the only downside is feeling kinda silly standing in your closet trying to do cat noises.

Things what didn’t go so good

  • Difficulty. This has been a perennial problem for me, and I’ve seen it in a number of other games too: when you’ve spent all weekend playing and replaying the same game, it becomes much easier for you than for someone approaching it for the first time. Neko is really hard; a number of people have told me they couldn’t even finish a single box. It’s critical to have other people play your game while you’re building it, or at least early enough that you can tweak it before you submit it—if the game’s too hard, people miss out on the fun of succeeding at it.
  • Tutorials. Think you’ve taught players your mechanics? You probably haven’t. People will misunderstand things you tell them, or forget about them, or not even notice your instructions at all. Games I’ve seen that do this well will show you prompts that don’t go away, or don’t get out of your way, until you’ve successfully done the thing they’re trying to teach you—there’s a reason basically every AAA game makes you go through a “press X to jump over this thing, press Y to crouch under that” section at the beginning. In Neko, I put instructions on the title screen, which is an incredibly easy place to not see them. Don’t do that, and really don’t put the instructions on the download page (at least not as the only place they’re available). Make sure your players always know what they’re doing.

This has run on longer than it was meant to, so I guess I’ll wrap it up here—I hope some of this proves useful for your next jam. If you haven’t played Neko Katadzukeru yet, please do; I think it turned out pretty well. Thanks for reading!

Neko Katadzukeru: complete!

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Sunday, April 17th, 2016 10:07 pm

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 6.15 p

I was polishing this until the very last minute—the cats were all white until about an hour before the deadline, when I started reworking all the assets so I could colorize them in a shader. The new assets look like this:


With a couple of lines of GLSL, red areas get the “base” color, purple areas get the lighter version of that color, and green areas become pink. This way I could make arbitrary colors of cat without having to make a bunch of different versions of the same asset. I’ll go into more detail about that and some other fun tricks that went into this in a more detailed postmortem later on. For now, check out the game!

Further Cat Tidying

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Saturday, April 16th, 2016 11:54 pm

Lots of progress—there’s more logic around where you can place the cats, some of the graphics are in (though wow do they look bad with GIF compression), and they now spawn endlessly in the tube until you run out of places to put ‘em. Onward!


Cat Tidying Continues

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Saturday, April 16th, 2016 8:55 pm

Taking a break from code to figure out the scene layout. Cats arrive via the pneumatic tube on the left (because where else would they come from?), you poke them into the shape you want on the table in the middle, then you place them in the box on the right. Once the box is full, a lid—with a bow on it, natch—drops on, the box moves off, and a new one appears. Thoughts?


Neko Katadzukeru: Cat Tidying

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Saturday, April 16th, 2016 6:38 pm

Things seem to be going well, so I figured I’d pause for a minute to post some progress. Got the basic interactions working last night and this morning, then put together some preliminary art and probably-final music. The premise of the game is that you have a box and an assortment of very flexible cats, and have to arrange the latter to fit into the former before time runs out. Here’s what it looks like (and sounds like) so far:

Art! Music!

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Sunday, December 13th, 2015 3:07 am

Spent the morning getting some background music together and the rest of the day working on art. The music I think turned out pretty well, though it’d be easy to spend ages more tinkering with it; the art’s looking all right, but there’s still a lot of visual flourishes and whatnot I plan to add if there’s time. Onward!

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 11.57 p


Growing up

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Saturday, December 12th, 2015 1:27 am

Ain’t got much time this weekend, so I’m going with the smallest fun thing I can think of: you are a buried seedling, trying to reach bits of food underground so you can blossom at the surface. Got the basic mechanics up and running this evening—there’s a time limit roughly based on the shortest distance between the food-bits, and you have to get all of them then get to the surface before that time runs out.

Lots more work to do tomorrow, especially on the art—haven’t figured out a style there yet, but I’ll see what I can come up with in the morning.

growth 1

Music and houses!

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Sunday, August 23rd, 2015 10:55 am

Made some dramatic sea-monster-y background music. First time trying to compose anything for a game jam, but I like how it turned out:

Also, the shore is now populated—when boats land, rejoicing people will appear around them.



Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Sunday, August 23rd, 2015 3:23 am

Now you know what’s in the boats you’re sinking. Ain’t being a monster grand?


Shaders, tentacles, and sinking!

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 10:36 pm

Made the happy discovery that LÖVE supports pixel shaders now; used that to make the character’s tentacles more tentacley and to make a simple sinking effect for the boats.

tentacles and sinking

Tentacles and hearts!

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 8:38 pm

Finally got around to drawing your character. It has tentacles, of course. Also, replaced the dull health bars on the boats with little bouncing hearts. Aww.


Crashing boats!

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 7:21 pm

Got a ton of gameplay done. It’s kinda fun already, though the dragging-boats-around doesn’t quite feel right yet. I might have to make the player bounce out of collisions as well—passing through the boats is kind of unsatisfying. Still, progress!



Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 4:52 pm

You are a sea monster, working tirelessly to scuttle the supply ships bringing vital things to the village on the shore. Latch onto boats with your many tentacles, drag them into each other, and send their crew and cargo to a watery grave.


Each boat will be labeled with what it’s carrying, for instance “reading-lamp oil”, “bunny medicine”, and “orphan food”. You’re really not a nice creature.


Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 2:52 pm

Got the player movement feeling good—it’s just an approach function with upper and lower bounds on the effective speed. The background looks nicer without 256-color GIF compression. :)

working movement

I’m in

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Friday, August 21st, 2015 12:13 pm

Excited for this one—some of the themes look like a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see what people come up with. I’m going to have even less time free this weekend than I did last time around (though that turned out pretty well), so… aggressive scoping ahoy!

Still using LÖVE as the engine, either Paper like last time or Photoshop / Cinema4D for art, whatever I have lying around in my apartment for sound effects, and GarageBand for music if I have time.

Eight hours to go—let’s do this!

Last-minute telekinesis beam

Posted by (twitter: @mahalis)
Sunday, December 7th, 2014 7:08 pm

The line-thing Wanda’s swinging from was a black line most of the way through this, which looked okay but was kind of boring. Took the last half-hour or so to make it a cool funky purple wave thing instead.

Anyway: ’tis done! The entry page is here.

Telekinesis is purple.

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