First of all, I wanted to thank each and every person who’s taken the time out of their schedule to play through my ridiculous math adventure. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and I can’t explain to you how happy it makes me to hear how much you guys have enjoyed the game!
Before reading, if you haven’t had a chance to do so, I would definitely appreciate you giving my entry a play-through! You can find it and rate it here!
Anyhow, now that I’ve had some distance from the weekend and I have a free evening, let’s tear this sucker down, shall we?
Coming up with a simple and solid concept is, in my opinion, the most absolutely crucial part of any jam entry. I’ve been told that you should never run with the first idea you have, and indeed, the idea for Billy McMath falls in at idea number five or six. Some of my earlier ideas involved using the microphone in some way to interact with the game (dropped for being extremely impractical to implement) and an idea involving the use of entire mountains as weapons to defeat your enemies.
Another day, Mountain Man.
The problem with this idea and a lot of the ideas I was coming up with was the inability to develop the game play beyond “kill x number of enemies”. Even with something as big and ridiculous as mountains, you’re still just sort of hitting things a lot. Coming up dry, I decided to try and focus less on action-heavy concepts, even though the theme seems to heavily favor such ideas.
I’m not sure the exact moment that the idea for Billy McMath popped into my head, but I think I’d reached a point where I was simply going for the stupidest weapon I could think of. And that lead to the concept of a nerdy little kid using his superior academic abilities to overcome his problems. I think drawing the initial sketches and realizing the potential of the concept was what won me over on the idea.
Thankfully I eventually decided to make Billy look less like a disgusting goblin.
The idea of telling a story about a dweeby kid through shoddy drawings and stupid voice over was perfect to me. As soon as I had this idea, I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like and I knew it was the one I was using.
Only the best games stop drawing a backpack halfway through a strap.
I can say with great confidence that the final result wound up exceeding even my own expectations. As soon as I started drawing panels and thinking about the dialogue, the ideas just flooded in and wouldn’t stop. Borrowing heavily from the style of Homestar Runner’s legendary web series, Teen Girl Squad, I hit a style that let me get away with whatever ridiculous nonsense I could possibly conceive. Billy McMath is, in essence, a very direct look into that inner workings of my own brain and my own absurd style of humor.
Coding the game proved to be extremely easy. I can mostly chalk this up to finally caving in and using Unity to make the game, as opposed to my own HTML5 framework I usually employ. Most of the game’s logic involves listening for audio clips and timers to finish and firing off events when they do. The panel progression, including music changes and math problems, were all built with a giant array of objects specifying that information.
78 of these suckers is all it takes to make a game!
This made the process of adding new panels as simple as dragging, dropping, and checking some boxes. Easy!
The long of the short of it is that the game wound up being entirely functional by the end of day one, giving me the entirity of the second day just to draw and do crazy voices and basically just have a gay old time telling this story.
Doing math at a moment’s noticed proved to be surprisingly engaging.
I feel the interface of the game also successfully explained everything you needed to know about what your job is. I feel like we, as designers, should do everything in our power to avoid prefacing our game with walls of text explaining what to do (though sometimes it ends up being inevitable with the time constraints). The moment the timer starts going off and a math problem appears in your face, it’s immediately obvious that you should type in the answer. Every streamer I’ve seen play the game has been able to figure out what to do without any complicated explanation of the controls. I’m extremely proud that I managed to pull this off!
I think, however, the most important thing about this game is that it wound up being a very personal tale despite all of its wacky hijinx. Perhaps because it reminded me of TGS so much, Billy McMath took me back to my experiences in Middle School and how weird and out of place I felt. Crindy’s speech at the end of the game is, essentially, what I would tell my Middle School self if I could sit down and talk to him now. I’m not sure why I decided to make the ending as sincere as I did, but when I started thinking about how to conclude this thing, nothing else made nearly as much sense to me. I think I was successful in conveying that even though Billy is awkward, lacks confidence, and struggles through his life, none of the characters in the game actively dislike him (except for maybe the bully in the first scene? Nah, he likes Billy too). Most of Billy’s struggles aren’t from people hating him, they’re just a result of him being in an awkward part of his life, and that’s something I think a lot of portrayals of awkward teenagers fail to grasp.
The stupid jokes also seemed to land well so that’s cool too!
As I said before, I consider Billy McMath to be a huge success. So the problems I have with how it turned out are surprisingly few, and I’m the worst there is at being overly self-critical.
I guess the biggest problem with the game is in its core concept, namely that Billy McMath is really little more than a glorified webcomic. There’s nothing to really distinguish it from a well-done Flash animation other than some superficial interactive bits involving quicktime events, and in that sense it almost feels like I’m cheating the system by calling it a game in the first place. If somebody spent the whole time making stellar gameplay that lasts five minutes, is it really fair to pit that against a game driven almost entirely by my abilities as a storyteller?
Also, the Football problem is way too difficult. I’m sorry for that.
Besides the simplicity of the gameplay, the interface also had a couple of nitpicks. The heart system wound up being mostly arbitrary due to there being relatively few opportunities to lose them, and throwing out the word “OK” confused some players who thought they were supposed to do something to confirm their solution. A simple check mark would have served the same purpose without any of the confusion. Whoops.
I also should have spent more time balancing the math problems and bringing in other people to test them. I’m pretty good at math myself and the difficulty of the game seems to be slightly biased towards “soul-crushingly hard”. My sincerest apologies go out to those of you who came to realize their own arithmetical shortcomings as a result of playing my game.
Ultimately, Billy McMath Solves Problems wound up being an extremely silly yet personal story about my own experiences through Middle School, and I couldn’t really ask for it to be anything more than that. I’ve watched people play the game and I feel it successfully conveys all of the humor and emotion that I’d intended, so I’m happy. Honestly, I don’t feel any pressing need to release a proper Post-Compo of this one!
So what’s gonna happen with this world and these characters? Who knows! If there’s enough widespread interest, I’d love to revisit this universe, though that will definitely be a very different game entirely than what this one was. Maybe I can even give Crindy a proper female voice instead of my own terrible impression of Lumpy Space Princess.
That’s all there really is to say about the game! Again, I’m extremely humbled by the overwhelmingly-positive feedback I’ve received so far and I want to thank you for enjoying my game.
I gotta give a shout out to the Eastern Kentucky University Gaming Institute for hosting Ludum Dare this year. You should also check out the games my fellow Kentucky devs have made!
You can follow me on a bunch of social media if you want to keep up with my current and future gamedev adventures! I’ve got a lot of cool stuff coming!