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Hello everyone,

I would like to introduce you to SPACEd out,  the game that me and Michelle released for the Ludum Dare Jam.


NOTE: I would advise you guys to play SPACEd out before reading this article in which I explain the meaning of the game and the ideas that brought us to its creation.


When we started brainstorming about the theme, I immediately tried to focus on a one-button gaming experience. I wanted the theme to be reflected mainly on the mechanics more than the aesthetics. Michelle immediately supported the idea, and we started thinking about what kind of game to make, and how to approach the jam.


Pen and paper, first of all!

I don’t really know how it worked, but the first thing that I wrote on paper became the game that all of you can now play: a rhythm game in which the player increases the size of a white character in order to match the one of colored bars that move towards her. At this point, we decided that we had to make game mechanics, narratives, music and aesthetics fit together in a coherent minimalistic experience. This is when we decided to try and address a message in order to make all these elements work together for a common goal.

A game about giving the best, failing, and getting stuck in the routine

The only thing the player does in SPACEd out is basically holding and releasing the spacebar in order to stretch the square-shaped game character. For us, this mechanic symbolizes the attempt of people to adapt to different situations for solving problems in life.

Problems, deadlines and tasks are the things that could make us lose track of what is surrounding us. We are constantly aiming at giving the best, at performing good, which ultimately bring us in a certain routine. These events are symbolized by the colored bars that move towards the player. Family, work, opportunities, tasks: they all fill our lives without letting us take a break, they increase our stress and make us become unaware of what’s happening around us.


More brainstorming, and structure of the colored bars sequence system

Music to reflect the message

Michelle took care of finding music capable of putting the player in an exciting mood. At the same time this track needed to give a monotonous and nonstop feel to the game, supporting the idea that the player is stuck in a routine.  After hours of research, she found a great track by Carf, called Walk Through The Forest, that perfectly fit our needs. Without this track and the sound effects, we think that SPACEd out wouldn’t have worked out so nicely.

Gameplay to reflect the message

The main gameplay elements that support our message are the scoring system, the combo system, and the colored bar sequences.
The scoring system is self explanatory: it leads the player to be the best, to perform well. Like in real life, we always try to give our best and to succeed.

The combo system is something that me and Michelle implemented in order to enforce the message, after the main structure of SPACEd out was set. We wanted to push the player into collecting as many consecutive bars as possible, but we also wanted to create situations in which this is not possible, and the combo will be inevitably broken. That’s because we cannot always succeed, we need to make choices, and accept failures, even when they feel unfair.

We wanted to immediately teach to the player what to do, without too much text. Michelle came up with the clever title, supporting our message.

We wanted to immediately teach to the player what to do, without too much text. Michelle came up with the clever title, supporting our message.

We put additional effort into creating a specific difficulty curve. We wanted to make the player feel stuck in the routine. We wanted to avoid instant gameover, and provide instant replaybility: this is reflected in the fact that, once the mechanics get mastered it is almost difficult to lose (therefore getting out of the game). In addition to this, the ending screen pushes the player into immediately playing again.

Text to reflect the message

At the beginning, me and Michelle wanted to put different quotes about out theme at the beginning of the game. Michelle and me, though, agreed on the fact that such an introduction would have felt a bit heavy, cliché, and exaggerated. Michelle found a walking song extracted from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, that supported our message:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.


It’s quite difficult to follow the text while playing the game

Follow the routine, or find a different path? Finding a different path is very difficult once you are in the routine: this is another concept that we tried to enforce both with gameplay and aesthetics, as explained in the following paragraph. We placed the text at the top of the screen, only visible to the player while the game has started. This was an intentional decision, to support the idea that, while you’re stuck in the routine, it is very difficult to pay attention at what is surrounding you.

Aesthetics to reflect the message

Me and Michelle quickly started working on a mockup of the aesthetics. After deciding the direction on paper, we started imagining a very simple layout, and flat colors. While we kept the simple layout from the beginning to the end, Michelle decided to give more life to the game by assigning gradients to the different elements.

To support the idea that – as already mentioned – while you’re stuck in the routine, it is very difficult to pay attention at what is happening around you, I implemented a gradient that gradually appears on screen if the player performs well and chains good combos. This gradient will obscure Tolkien’s walking song, but will not cover the score: once again, the performance is the only thing that matters once you’re stuck in the routine.

The gradient, covering almost everything but the score

The gradient, covering almost everything but the score

The outcome

SPACEd out is possibly easier to play than to understand, but we were aware of this during the development. We wanted to address a message in such a minimalistic way that, in the end, it became very cryptic. We are still very happy about it, and we are glad to know that some people understood the message hidden in the game. It was personally one of the best game jams I have ever had, thanks to the great synergy between me and Michelle. Moments of tension helped us taking specific directions and create a game experience we are very proud of.

Thanks for reading this article and for playing SPACEd out!

P.S. if you get addicted to SPACEd out, make sure you look away from the screen after a long gaming session: we are sure you will enjoy spacing out!

I’m in!

Posted by (twitter: @AlexColorblind)
Thursday, December 15th, 2011 7:58 pm

Even if I partecipated to GPCv10 just a week ago, I’m in!

I will work with:

Engine: GameMaker Pro 8.1

Graphics: Adobe Photoshop CS5

Audio: PXTone

Good luck everyone!

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