First off this was the first Ludum Dare that my team and I have competed in. We decided to enter the 72 hour jam as a team so that we could create a more complete game than if we had entered the 48 hour compo. Initially we had a large team planned but a few people dropped out last minute which left us with 3: Myself and my friend Paul from University as the programmers, and our housemate Leela, who has never created any animations before or been involved in creating video games at all, as our artist and animator. So how did it go?
What Went Right
A lot went right to be honest. Like a few others we were expecting ‘End Of The World’ to win the theme vote. As such we’d started having a cheeky think about what we’d do if that came up the day before. ‘You Are The Villain’ took us by surprise a bit. We were a bit stumped for a bit but Paul came up with the main idea and we had decided on the sort of game and rough features we wanted after a few hours. I feel that the game fitted in with the theme quite well. We didn’t want to create the obvious you are a thief/bandit/zombie/vampire type of thing because we knew that many people would be going for that. As such Mother Nature as the villain was a little more left of field but we felt it was justified. After all she is trying to take down the entire human race in the game. Interestingly some of the criticisms we have had from the game is that people can’t see how Mother Nature is the villain and therefore how it fits in with the theme – If exterminating an entire species doesn’t make you a villain I don’t know what does
We got a lot of the features we wanted into the game. When we were first discussing the game we were talking about upgrades, different types of enemies, different landscapes and all sorts of different features. We were realistic about what we could achieve in 72 hours though and we managed to whittle this down to the core features, leaving other ideas as things we would add on if we had time (which we didn’t J) The game’s features are therefore fairly Spartan but they are the core mechanics and any other features would be built off of them. So we feel they enable the game to be played out as we had envisaged it.
Gameplay is one of the areas where we could have done a bit better. However I believe it is still enjoyable, if a bit short. We wanted to lock down our features on the Sunday So that we could focus on refining the gameplay and building levels on the Monday. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way. We had a discussion on Monday morning about whether to hard code in our levels or to build a simple level editor to streamline the development. Paul was in favour of hard coding as he believed it would take too long to get a working level editor up and running AND then to create the levels. I believed I could knock up a level editor in a couple of hours and that it would save us time in the long run. I also thought that hardcoding would mean creating less interesting levels and more problems if we wanted to move things around after testing how it played. As it turned out it took me almost twice as long as I’d thought to create the level editor. Nevertheless by around 4pm we had a working level editor which could place our tiles and objects, set tile passability and so forth. It took Paul a short amount of time to create the level he had designed with it after that so I believe this is something that worked out well. I also believe that if we decide to enhance the game post-compo then this decision will pay off.
A few criticisms have been aimed at the need to invest early on or be swarmed by enemies in later levels. But this was a design choice. You can spam comets for the first couple of waves and get by but after that it becomes very hard to make it to the end. If you look at RTS’ such as AOE you will see a similar design pattern. You can build a barracks, spam the militiamen and send them over to the enemy. Whilst you might do damage initially you won’t do enough to finish the enemy off and they will be investing in their units. When they have better units they will destroy your militiamen then come and destroy you! Our game requires you to think a little and make an investment in the early waves to help you out in the later waves. Waiting and buying a volcano early on helps you out enormously!
I was particularly impressed with the artwork. As I’ve mentioned Leela had never made any sort of animations before or created graphics on the pc. On top of this she could only take part for about 2 days due to coursework commitments. So I was very impressed with what she produced for us in such a short space of time. The graphics fit in with what we had envisaged. They are bright with a good amount of contrast. The artwork she produced for the menus was my personal favourite.
The sound is something that only made it in at the last moment. I had created a simple sound manager on the first day but we didn’t have any sounds to really test it with until the last day. As it wasn’t central to gameplay it was left until the end as a less important feature. Nevertheless we all knew how important getting good sound into the game would be for setting the right mood and atmosphere. Once we had sourced some sound effects from online suddenly our comet impacts and lightning and so forth came to life. Our other housemate David, who couldn’t take part until the Monday night created the main theme and in-game music for us in a couple of hours and that really made the difference as well. Overall I am satisfied with how the sound turned out given the limited time we were able to spend on it.
What Went Wrong
Our biggest problem with the theme was that we didn’t realise that there was a bonus goat theme! All through the jam we were wondering why everyone was making games with goats in it but we’d just completely missed this extra aspect of the theme!
As I’ve said we would have liked to have added more features into the game. In particular a couple more weapons would have been good to have in. A hurricane/tornado was one we wanted to do but thought it would be a bit tricky on the art in the time we had so it was dropped. An upgrade system was something we really wanted to get in as well. This would have meant being able to upgrade the radius of attack for different weapons or their damage and so on as a trade for resources. We were hopeful that by limiting the number of weapons we had we could still keep the upgrade feature but it had to be dropped due to time constraints.
Whilst I like the gameplay it is also the area we are most disappointed with. Not so much in terms of how the weapons work and so on but more in terms of the levels themselves and this is all due to time constraints. The biggest issue is there is only one level with 5 waves. These waves are all too predictable. What I mean by that is that when the level starts all the humans spawn at a fixed time interval and all together. When we originally envisaged the game I wanted the waves to come down in groups. So rather than a continuous stream of people running to the spaceship you’d have little groups running together. I also wanted these groups to be separated a bit rather than all coming down at a fixed interval. Again this was all a case of running out of time. Another aspect that never really materialised was the points system. Although you earn points for kills this doesn’t actually mean anything to the game. We wanted to add in a highscore screen or something so that the points had a purpose but never had the time.
My biggest issue with the artwork was a lack of content. Again this is all about the limited time our artist had. We are missing animations in places which had to be replaced with static images instead. For example our volcanoes are static when idle when we really wanted them to be gently puffing out some smoke and ash. Our comets don’t animate when they fly just when they land. I don’t feel this has a huge effect on the gameplay but it would still have been good to have those animations in the game.
A lack of sound and music was the key problem although I think we managed to scrape in an acceptable amount at the end. Sound is a key component in games (amazingly I’ve played some ludum games without sound at all) which was demonstrated for us when we started putting the effects in the game. The game really came alive with the sound of comets exploding and volcanoes erupting and so on. There were other issues as well though. Some of the sound effects aren’t as loud as others, some go on too long or not long enough. When the music repeats in the menu it is not seamless as it should be. I would also have liked for you to only hear the sound effects emanating from the part of the game world you’re looking at, with all others either faded out
Most importantly though was the game ultimately fun to play? I believe that it is. One of our biggest criticisms was that the game does not last long enough which I will agree with. But that was a result of lack of time rather than design. I think that had we managed to create a few more levels the game would have entertained a bit more. Nevertheless I believe that it is still a fun game as it is. Whilst I have a few regrets over some of the features lacking in the game I am on the whole very pleased with how our game turned out. None of us had ever actually completed a full (largely bug-free) game before. The entry for our last game was riddled with bugs and almost unplayable. It left us very frustrated at the end with the time we had invested into it. But that was 2 years ago when we were starting out as programmers. This time I believe we have created a full game which is fun to play and looks and sounds good. It has also left me excited and looking forward to the next ludum dare. Can’t wait!
Play it here or check out my blog here