Mar 31, 2014

Super Rocket Shootout - Advanced gameplay


I've made a small video explaining more in depths the whole combo mecanics and super attacks behind Super Rocket Shootout gameplay. Feel free to watch!

Next Super Rocket Shootout video will be a live session so stay tuned!


Mar 29, 2014

A Logical Dive: A post-mortem attempt

It's been a long time since my last post and it's mostly due to the fact that I'm working hard on Super Rocket Shootout, but there isn't anything really showable or worth mentioning right now, although the global quality will definitely depend on this work.

To keep this blog running I'll write today about a game I made during the Cyberpunk Gamejam, a jam that took place from March 1st to March 11th. The idea was to make a game with a theme related to cyberpunk and more specifically to this image by Filipe Andrade.

The game is called A Logical Dive and you can play it here.

Until then I had never released something and never completed a game project but I had read several times that attending game jams was a unique and rewarding experience. Besides, I was not in a big motivation phase regarding the Super Rocket Shootout dev so I decided to hop on.

1- The making

For the game idea, I mostly focused on the image and the whole design stemmed from my interpretation of it. For what I could see, I decided that there should be two characters, one falling from/between buildings, and the other one watching for him from "above". Aside from that, since I was already making Super Rocket Shootout and was a bit afraid of leaving my comfort zone for my first jam, I decided to stick to the 2d  platformer genre.

Nevertheless, since I wanted to experiment a bit, I decided that the game should revolve around 3 axis:
  •  the platformer part
  •  a puzzle aspect
  •  a quite strong narrative
Although my first idea was initially to make a faster paced game in the vein of the Rayman Legends levels where you have to fall through a level as fast as you can, I ended up mixing a platformer style with a mini game based on boolean logic. To fit the story and the background, one character is in charge of exploring the level (a younger more agile one) and the other one (older but wiser) is in charge of hacking some device in order to let the first one reach the end of the level. From there came the title, A Logical Dive.

At first I wanted to make some 10 levels and to build a complete story around them but I soon realized that 11 days and one person was not enough. So I ended up with 4 levels, which is not a lot, clearly, but implemented at the end a "best time" scoring system to maintain a bit of interest. As for the story, 4 levels was not enough to write something really deep and decent so I just decided to leave the game with an unfinished plot but tried to end it on a climax. For those who went through the 4 levels, I guess (hope) it left them with a need for more :)

I coded the game with Unity and the 2dToolkit framework, the same tools I use for SRS and that I'm now quite familiar with. Apart from the parallax scrolling manager and a few coding tricks, I decided to made it all from scratch. On the one hand, it was rewarding and taught me new ways of coding stuffs (and correcting some SRS bugs as well) but on the other hand, I spent most of these 11 days re-designing the wheel and had to sacrifice other aspects of the game for that.

For those familiar with game jams, it's something normal cause you're normally not allowed to re-use bits of your own code (unless they're open source and available to others, time before the jam). Except that for this jam, there was no such clause so I guess I could have re-use a lot more code but hey, I wanted to do it the hard way!

The art and music were also created during these 11 days and even if they're nothing incredible, I'm quite happy with the result and the global atmosphere it gives to the game.

2- What went ok

Well, first of all, the jam itself went ok, cause the game ended 4th place, which I really couldn't believe since some really great entries were submitted, entries that even scored lower than A Logical Dive (better said, were rated lower by the participants).

If you watch closely the ratings, you'll see that the game ended 1st place for the Relevance, which is really rewarding, and also in accordance with my design process since, like I said before, I based the whole idea on an intense brainstorming session when interpretating the theme image.

On an other level, I think the global art direction/atmosphere was ok, and I got a few comments saying that they liked it and found it immersive.

The dialogs and the global story went also pretty good and I'm happy with the way the interactions between the characters seem natural.

3- What went wrong

If the art, relevance and atmosphere went ok, the gameplay and basically the whole level design is what went wrong, and really wrong!
Not long after submitting my entry, I got a message from Jordi de Paco, my fellow indie dev from Deconstructeam, that the game was way to frustrating:
  • first, the boolean mini game was not that clear
  • second, he often ended stuck in the levels and had to restart and redo everything from the beginning

For the first point, although I managed to develop a tutorial through the introduction part, I realized that indeed, the mini game wasn't really well explained. Since I didn't want to deeply change the game and the dialogs, I went for a detailed explanation outside the game. It's definitely not the best way to do it, but at least it helped the players understand the hacking part (those who read it, clearly) and I hadn't had any comment on this aspect after that.

For the second point, it was a bit of a slap in the face, but totally deserved. Indeed, I decided, as a game design rule, that since the player was moving in some kind of maze, he HAD to get stuck and HAD to restart the level to find the correct path. HUGE MISTAKE! Because what appeared from by point of view as a coherent level design choice, from the player position, it was definitely a flaw in the game design and the "PRESS R TO RESTART LEVEL" mechanic was the laziest way to go around bad level design.

And it's totally true.

When a player dies in a game, he (most of the time) can only blame himself or his skills. That creates frustration but with the feeling that he has to get better. It's a good kind of frustration, a motivating one. Take Super Meat Boy for instance. It may be one of the most frustrating game for an inconsistent player. But the frustration you get makes you want to get better and if you stick at it and you finally clear a stage, the rewarding feeling is just incredibly satisfactory. Whereas if you get frustrated by getting stuck, and have to re-do a level 3 or 4 times to get the right path, you may have achieved the level, but it's not because you've improved your skills, it's just because you ended up finding the only way (or one of the only ways) a bad level designer gave you to complete the level.

This flaw is directly related to my lack of experience, clearly, but it's not an excuse and I may have see that one coming if I had playtested the game with other players. It's a bit of a problem when you're making a game alone cause if nobody tries your game and gives you an objective feedback, how are you going to say by yourself what is feasible, what is not, what is good and what definitely needs a change.

Getting back to the game jam and after Jordi's and other players comments, I patched the game by putting more "elevators" so that players don't get stuck (although it's still lacking one or two and you still can get stuck...) and by leaving the computers and cameras hacked after restarting a level. It's now a better game that it was when I first uploaded it, but it will definitely need a lifting on the level design side.

On the whole, I think I gave to much focus on the art and the ambiance and to little on the game design and the overall gameplay. Game jams are made for experimenting and in this way, I learned some valuable lessons from all these errors, but game jams are also made, in my opinion, to get you out of your comfort zone and to make you rethink/reshape your whole game creation process. And that, I'll try to keep in mind for my next one(s).

4- What from there?

Well, as I had read so far, participating in a game jam is indeed a unique and rewarding experience. I encourage every game/indie developer to try it a least once, even if it's with an unfinished game or even if the result is not what was expected. I've spent 11 days sleeping 4 hours a night, eating the bare minimum and going to my daily work looking as an extra from the Walking Dead but damn, it felt so good completing a game, seeing people play it and connecting and exchanging with other developers.

Besides, when you're involved in a mid/long term project, it really gives you fresh eyes and brings you new ideas, new ways of doing or not doing things.

The only drawback I can see to game jams is that it's so addictive that one can easily spend his whole dev time game jamming. There are so many game jams getting organized every months, each one more appealing than the other, that I could easily occupy all of my free time only with jams, and although I'm currently trying to get something done for the Mini Ludum Dare 50, I think it will be my last game jam for a while if I want to advance on Super Rocket Shoutout dev and to maintain a minimum of social life!