The Planning (or Lack Thereof)
It’s funny the way things turn out. Every time the contest comes around, I hope that I have honed my game-making skills so I’ll really be ready to make something great. The reality is that I only make games as a hobby and I don’t have that much time to spend on it, so I’m always ill prepared when the time comes. I think I know what language and framework I’m going to use, but I’m always watching the board to find that Magic Bullet to help allow me to spend more time making the game and less time on all the other crap.
So this time the Magic Bullet that would save me was Stencyl (at least I was praying), which I noticed in posts on here a few times. It is a tool that lets you make games without coding. It is one of those, do-it-all game making environments like GameMaker, Multimedia Fusion and Unity. Out of those three I only really like Unity, but I don’t think it’s ideal for contests like this one because 3D tends to add a lot of complexity that can keep you from making a great game in the time frame allotted.
Stencyl is a java based IDE that generates flash games. Internally, It uses many popular frameworks such as flixel and box2d. I guess the idea of it is based on some sort of MIT project. Basically it lets you code your game with “lego-like” blocks that you drag and drop around. Here’s the funny thing. It actually works. It saves time. And it’s fun. It lets you visualize all of your code in one page, which is pretty amazing.
Wait, there was no coding actually. I wrote not a single line of code. Now you can do that with GameMaker and such, but I always found them limiting. Building your game with Blocks in Stencyl did not feel nearly so limiting to me. Here’s the thing. When I started I knew nothing about Stencyl. The first thing I did when the contest started was build the 15 minute game which allowed me to create a few actors and behaviors and create a scene. I had something working immediately.
But I had no idea of what kind of game to make. All I knew was that I wanted to make something that looked like a classic arcade game. I was tired with doing experiments and weird stuff and wanted to try making a platformer for the first time ever.
Scratchy Get Out actually just came about through playing with the actors, deciding to try something, creating an actor or behavior, and seeing how it turned out. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to add AI details that I never would have had time to do if I were just coding this in FlashPunk. Every actor has multiple AI behaviors. All of the behaviors are simple but there were so many, that the game started to develop into something I had not comprehended before. I was very simply able to lay out accurate collision boxes (or other shapes) and control what actors interacted with what. For example, the crane was probably the most complex AI. It could catch boulders or players showing different animations for each action. When it was loaded, you could control it. It passed messages to tell the player to halt all movement. Then you could release the object the crane was holding (actually the crane created the object) and it would reset itself and reactivate everything. I know from my past experiences, that I’ve never had time in one of these contests to delve into such AI details and polish things as much as I was able to.
The thing is I didn’t have that much time so I was only able to do one level. I had to do all the graphics (including animations) and I barely had time to create some sound effects with SFXR. But later I made another level. A totally cool indiana jones style levels with falling boulders that would shake the screen when they hit the ground. I think I could easily pump out ten more fun levels today if I set my mind to it because stencyl makes level design so ridiculously easy.
And even though Stencyl was easy to learn, I did learn a ton over that 48 hours. If I was to redo it, I know some things that could probably cut my work time in half. I’m now aware of some things I was doing the hard way or incorrectly that should be much easier now.
I am really crappy with graphics. Stencyl really helped for this though. What I did was just design my game by picking out placeholder graphics provided by the Stencyl community. I think this has a big advantage to just making quick temporary graphics. I was able to pick out images that I actually liked and enjoyed playing with during development. I think it helped with the actual development because I was inspired by how cool things looked. Then when the game was completely done and I was running out of time, I fired up the Stencyl graphic editor and created my own likenesses of the graphics that were in placeholder. Because I kind of knew what I wanted, it was really easy and I actually think some of my art turned out better than the fine placeholder art (like the cannon for example).
I was determined to get sounds in. Usually I try to do something ambitious with my synths and effects machines, but I just didn’t have time on this one. I only spent about an hour on sound, generating a few sound effects with SFXR which is a wonderful time saving tool. Ok, it’s a classic must have for when you only have ten minutes left in a contest and you want sound! I mean what else is there for that?
What Went Right
Well, everything went right this time. I’ve done this enough to know every time the contest starts, the experience is going to be different. Sometimes it’s going to be easy as smooth sailing and somethings things are going to go so badly that I will want to kill myself (or at least just give up, which I have done more than once). This time I felt very calm the whole time because when using stencyl I was spending about 95% of time actually making the high-level AI for the game. I knew that at any point, I could just add a couple more actors and behaviors and whip up a game of some sort. So the whole time I could just work with total confidence and spend the time adding more and more cool game AI like fun death scenes and little animation details like the player’s head stuck in the crane.
What Went Wrong
I wish I had had another few hours because I really didn’t get to utilize one aspect of Stencyl which is its great level designing tools. Once I had the first level done and the art and the sound and all those actors and behaviors, I could have easily built ten more cool levels in a matter of a couple of hours. I mean, just with the actors and behaviors I created, I left so much on the table that the player will never see that it is kinda sad. Because of that, I’m going to work up about 40 levels or so and release a new version later on. Hopefully it will have the things I didn’t have time for like a menu screen and all the features a game should have.
As always, it was a wonderful experience. I look forward to trying everyone’s games. I hope all of you got what you wanted out of this contest as well. In the end, we aren’t competing against each other, but against ourselves and if there’s one thing I learned is that doing as many of these contests as you can, will only make you better and better at making games.