Talking to Myself About My Ludum Dare Games

As I am writing this, it is two weeks to Ludum Dare 41. This will be my 7th LD, and I’ve enjoyed them all, despite the mounting stress and lack of sleep!

My game entries seem to rate somewhere in the middle of the pack, but I am making small improvements in my scores. I like all of my games, and during the 2 – 3 weeks of rating games, I always think I should continue development. After all, the comments are pretty positive… then the ratings come out and I am a bit disappointed.

In other blog posts here and on the LD site and Twitter, I always ask if I should continue development, and I also ask if there are any suggestions to make my game better. I usually hear crickets, and that furthers the disappointment. What little feedback I do get is appreciated and does goes far in motivation to continue developing games.

Looking at the Ludum Dare games I have developed, I still have thoughts of continuing development on many of them (with the exception of Shape Shifter Match Maker, which is definitely my weakest entry). I really like my last 2 entries… ANTagonist and Inefficient Plasma Weapon.

Is it worth continuing development on any of these? Would people play it? Would people buy it?

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SMS:Next Mission – February 2018 Status

Another six months gone by! Here’s a quick update on the development of Space Mission Survival: The Next Mission.

I am pleased to state that the Classic 70 Arcade, 80s Home Computer, and 90s Console versions of Space Mission Survival have been completed! They are basically one game, with appropriate graphics of the defined decade. I utilized a lot of the code and graphics from “Iteration 5” of the project, and I finished Iteration 6 within 3 months.

What have I done with SMS:TNM since I completed Iteration 6 in July 2017? Basically nothing. As I previously stated, I have been having difficulty working on a theme for the Shmup mode, so the game has been sitting on the back burner. I think I have decided recently on a preliminary theme for the Shmup mode, so I am again enthusiastic about picking up development again in the very near future.

I think we all know where this is going… I am planning to not use Iteration 6 as the basis of the game, and instead will focus on an all-new “Iteration 7” for the Shmup mode. With some minor tweaks, all the code from Iteration 6 will be folded in, so there should be no new development required for the classic modes.

The development of this game is very strange to me. It seems like a project that has no ending. I have stopped and started more times than I can remember. As history has shown, there may be several rounds of dev/nodev coming as well for various reasons including discouragement, momentary lapse of interest, and other side projects like my recently completed Tappy Easter, and some Ludum Dare fun along the way.

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My First (Upcoming) Unity Release

All of my previous game releases were written with CoronaSDK, but about two years ago, I decided to learn Unity. Since that time, I have used Unity for several game jams, but I have not officially released anything. Since September 2017, I have been working on a mobile game using Unity and I am planning on releasing it in the next couple of months.

I have three “Tappy” games released on mobile: Tappy Holidays, Tappy Valentines, and Pumpkin Patch Match (ie: Tappy Halloween). These are very basic games written in Corona, and I decided to create another simple Tappy game with Unity as a good first attempt. I present to you: Tappy Easter.

Tappy Easter will be my first new game in almost two years. It’s also my first released Unity game. I decided to try something “simple”  (although it became more complicated that I expected) so that I can learn what it takes to publish a mobile game with Unity. I already had a good understanding of C# coding, UI, graphics, etc. It was all of the additional “stuff” that makes a game that I had to learn. I decided to buy a couple of assets (in addition to the assets I already owned) to make it easier on myself. Here’s some detail around the new and additional things I encountered:

  • Mobile UI. I started working on swipe code myself, and decided to bite the bullet and buy an asset that helps with this. I purchased Fingers Touch Gestures, and decided to use that for my swipe code, as well as all the other tap code. What a time saver! Swipe, tap, gestures all included, and you can simulate it in the editor with your mouse.
  • Achievements. I purchased the Easy Mobile asset to help with integrating Google Play and Apple Game Center. Again, a great time saver. One call, and Easy Mobile takes care of everything. This asset has a lot of cool features to help with Achievements, Leaderboards, Advertisements, Ratings, and more.
  • Admob. Easy Mobile to the rescue again… so easy to configure and use.

Unrelated to Easy Mobile, I did have a hell of a time integrating Google Play and Admob on the Android version of Tappy Easter.  It took a couple of days to figure out and fix the issue. Turns out Google includes libraries in each asset that are incompatible with each other, so you have to be sure you are only importing the latest version of the libraries. A lot of time was spent looking up the problem and figuring it out. The solution is so simple but is not documented adequately enough.

Other assets I bought previously were DoTween and Text Mesh Pro… both are fantastic. Both are free, although there is an enhanced paid version of DOTween I recommend. DoTween is a very powerful and fast tweening library, and I use this in everything I develop. Text Mesh Pro is unbelievable for enhancing your text. I purchased it prior to Unity making this a free asset.

I also decided to learn Unity Analytics, especially for the Remote Settings feature. I can see this being valuable… once I understand it a bit more.

All in all, it was a great learning experience, and I expect Tappy Easter to be available some time in mid to late February.

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ANTagonist Results

I am writing this almost 24 hours after the release of Ludum Dare 40 results, and my rating, as always, is somewhat surprising to me. I’m going to try to break it down a bit.

The raw numbers do not tell the full story, so I’ve created a chart that shows where I placed in each LD, along with my finishing percentage. What it shows is that I consistently place above the middle of the pack (40 – 50%), with some results as high as top 30%.

With the exception of Audio (always my weak spot), my results are equal or slightly better than LD39, and that’s good! I know that the rating results are highly subjective, but my expectations were that I would place a little higher.


Looking back at my last 3 LDs, I believe that I have greatly improved my game development skills, even though the scores do not really show that. My first 3 LDs are somewhat of an experiment in Game Jams. Starting with LD38, I started to really focus on bells, whistles, and polish, in addition to game play. More sounds, more graphics (even though my graphics talent is severely limited), more effects. The chart above does seems to show that, and I am glad.

In Summary

I am both very critical and very defensive about my games, and my expectations never match what the results show.  That’s a “me” problem.

I’ve always thought that several of the LD games would make a good stand-alone game if I continued development, but the scores seem to discourage me from doing so. I have had an idea I have been working on several times over the years and ANTagonist may fit that theme. Regardless of the results, I may continue development. I am just not sure at this point.

In Closing

LD40 was a blast, even though the stress level was a bit high.

Thanks to all that played and rated ANTagonist.

On to Ludum Dare 41…

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ANTagonist – Post Mortem

Another Ludum Dare, and another game submitted… that makes six for me, but this LD was one that I will remember for a long time.  So many highs and lows. Of course, we should begin at the beginning, but I will begin before the beginning if that makes sense.

The Week Prior To The Dare

I saw that the theme “The More You Have, the Worse It Gets” was listed in Round 3 of Theme Selection. Where did I see that before… oh, yes, that was mine! I suggested that! I entered that one and one other, and was surprised to see it make it that far, but there was no way it was going to make the finals, right?

It made the finals, but no way was it going to win, right? When I saw the theme announced I was floored! I felt pride, and nervousness because even though I suggested the theme, I have absolutely no idea what game to make.  

Friday Evening

After about an hour working through some ideas in my head, I decided on a game where ants try to steal your food. My original thought was you go to a supermarket to bring food to your house and the ants steal it from there. I put together a basic game screen, some player and insect AI code, and called it a night at 02:00 Saturday morning.

Saturday’s Sinking Feeling

Not much sleep… I got up around 05:30 Saturday morning, got a coffee, and hit the computer. I decided that the house and supermarket concept was not good, and decided on a picnic theme… seems to make more sense. I fired up Photoshop and created a picnic blanket, ants, food plates, and a player.

Animation and gameplay was working, but I was just not happy with the game… it just didn’t seem fun to play. Also, for some reason, I spent way too long trying to get joystick movement and firing to work properly, so I am now far behind where I wanted to be at this point. It’s now late in the afternoon, and I have very basic game that is not fun to play.

The combination of feeling incredibly tired and frustrated was a major demotivation factor. Somewhere around 17:00 Saturday afternoon, it hit me hard. I was so close to just shutting down Unity, grabbing a beer, and watching some television. It was so hard to motivate myself to continue, but I know that if I decided to bail out, I would feel even worse. I would rather submit a low rated game than give up and not submit anything.  I took a bit of a break to regroup, and sat back down and worked on it for another 5 hours that evening hoping to put something together that was playable.

Sunday’s Revelation

I woke up Sunday still very discouraged. I sat down to start and all of a sudden, I was hit with a wave of creativity.

“A health meter! Yes!”
“Power-ups that attract the ants! Right!”
“Anthills! Highlights! A better playfield! Incredibly horrible music!”

I spent the rest of Sunday implementing these features, and after every one that I finished, I saw that the game was becoming more and more fun.

Submission time. It’s later than I like to do this (about 2 hours to the end), and of course Unity is giving me build errors! I rebuild and import everything and get it out with less than one hour to spare.

Development Details

I used Photoshop and Paint.Net to create the graphics. I am not a good artist, but I tried to create something that I felt was at least usable. The animation of the ants is very basic, but I think they work in this situation. I swap back and forth between two sprites. For the player, I created a few levels (head, body, and arm) and I animated each one through three arm positions. If you look closely, you will see a bit of a head bob effect when running.

I created the bug zapper and bug bomb using Photoshop and placed a particle object behind it. For the bomb, I used a smoke effect, and for the bug zapper, the kept the particles tight for a glow effect.

For sounds and music, I used bfxr and Otomata. Since I lost a lot of time before, I really didn’t have time to create and tweak the sounds and music much, so when I found something that worked, I used it. Given more time, I think I would have replaced some of that. I’ve been told that the music is a bit on the crazy side, and I am ok with that, since I wanted the music to reflect a high level of stress as the ants attack.

There are a couple of things that need some improvement. Some of the ant AI could be tweaked (although I do like the intensity). For joystick mode, I used 8 directional firing, but I think a full 360 degree fire range would be better.

Conclusion

It is incredibly difficult to continue working on a game you feel is not up to your standard, but once Sunday arrived, and I had a decent amount of rest, things started moving in the positive direction. I really enjoy ANTagonist in its current form, and I hope you do too. It definitely did not start out that way, and Sunday was the turning point for me. As always, I am considering continuing development, but I want to give myself a bit of time before I decide either way. I guess it depends on my final rating and user comments.

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Ludum Dare 40 – Day 1 Status

Well, 24 hours in and I do have a playable game. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I am not sure how I feel about it at this point. I guess the work I do tomorrow will make or break it. Either way, I am going to submit it at the end of the Dare.

The basic idea is that ants are stealing your food, and you must kill the ants and return the food to your picnic blanket.

Tomorrow will be LOTS of polish, sounds, music, and game play improvement.

Pumpkin Patch Match Update Released

Version 2.0 of Pumpkin Patch Patch, our classic audio pattern matching game, has been released on the iOS and Android platforms, and is now available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Version 2.0 improves a bit on the user interface, and adds support for in-app purchases. Video ads are now sourced from Admob and the ads pushed to the game are family friendly as determined by Google. In-app purchases also allow you to remove ads either temporarily or permanently for those that wish to continue play without advertisements.

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Inefficient Plasma Weapon – Ludum Dare 39 Post Mortem

My Ludum Dare 39 entry is called Inefficient Plasma Weapon and your objective is to keep providing fuel to your plasma weapon so that it will continue to rotate the killer plasma balls that are used to destroy alien ships. I feel this way after every LD, but I think that this is my best entry out of the five Compos I entered. I’ll get into why I feel that way in a bit.

Pre-Theme Announcement

I spent a couple of days looking at the final list of themes and trying to determine what I would develop if that theme was chosen. I was not a fan of most of these themes, to be honest, and that made it difficult for me to plan something I really wanted to create. Out of all the ideas I thought of, I really liked the basic idea that became this game, and I tried to make it fit into multiple categories, just in case they were chosen.

Friday Status
Friday Night’s Prototype

As usual, the theme was announced and with a little extra planning I started. I spent about an hour trying to create a concept of trying to shoot the path that the plasma balls are travelling to expand them out into space, but I just could no get that to work, and decided to scrap it… I can’t waste any more time on that, so I decided that the balls would travel in a defined circular pattern.

I worked about 6 hours Friday, into the wee hours of Saturday, and  put together a simple concept of rotating balls, moving a player, and having enemies track the player… all using simple Unity objects.

Saturday
Saturday Prototype

Man, I spent a lot of time working in Blender… that UI just eats me alive. I think I exhausted my limit in 3D modeling, but the models in my game are the best I have ever done. Notice the models are solid colors? That’s my limit and actually getting a model to have 2 or more different colors is an amazing achievement for me!

I substituted my new models for the primitive shapes and everything was working nicely.  It’s now Saturday afternoon, and I still do not have any game play developed, other than enemies tracking the player. Added pressure, but time to step it up… I spent the rest of the day and late night on game play.

Sunday

I always like to have game play finished by Saturday, and spend Sunday working on the UI, sounds, music, tweaking, testing, and visual enhancements… and that is exactly what I did. I spent most of Sunday working out the game play, and the afternoon was spent adding effects, sounds, and other cool things.

What Went Well
  • My Blender modeling. I have a long way to go, but I can successfully create “simple” objects, export them to Unity, and script them to add/remove/change colors. I listed my Blender skills as a weakness in my previous LD entry for Contamination, so it’s good to see some progress here.
  • I’ve improved in sound (better sound effects, and no one said “Your sounds are too loud!”).
  • I improved in UI and in-game notification. Plasma balls and explosions look like plasma balls and explosions. Visual and audio cues tell the player to do something. I generally forget about these extra things, but the plasma effect and the multiplier effect, along with the inventory panel really helps the game… and those things were added very close to the submission deadline.
  • I scrapped ideas that were taking too long. I could not create a way to expand the rotation, and I could not get a cool border effect going, so after about 30 – 60 minutes, I just moved on.
What Could Go Better
  • Again, my Blender skills.  Need to improve a bit more. It’s taking a lot of time and frustration to get any output.
Final
Some Links:

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