My LD47 Post Mortem

My 11th Ludum Dare was once again filled with ups and downs, but I did manage to put out a game. This is the story my LD47 Jam entry, The Pongs. This blog contains an overview of my development weekend and some technical details.

Day 1

There’s not much to talk about for this day. Once the theme was announced (“Stuck In A Loop”), I do what I always do… come up with no ideas. Usually, I like to review the themes before they are announced and come up with some basic ideas, but I did not get that opportunity this time. After a few hours coming up with nothing, it was now early Saturday morning (EST) and I decided to call it a night.

Day 2

Saturday morning, and still no good idea. I had a couple of ideas, but nothing I wanted to really work on. It was at this point I decided that LD47 may not be for me, and I shut it down… discouraged as always.

Not one to totally give up, I decided to give it another try and put out something rather simple. I played around a bit, and got a pong-like game working where you try to shoot the squares out of the loop they are stuck in. Progress was slow, and the game was not all that interesting to me.

I used some basic Photoshop skills to create the loop. Using Unity, I rotated the loop, and added basic square and triangle shapes to create the pongs and the center firing mechanism. I was going for a retro look, so the white shapes seem to fit well. Physics added to everything.

By the end of the day, I had pongs bouncing around inside a rotating loop, and I can fire bullets at the pongs. I’m still not loving this concept, and considered giving up so many times, but I kept going.

End of Day 2… Nothing Special

Day 3

It wasn’t until I decided to add faces to the Pongs that the game started to interest me. Back to Photoshop to add eyes and several mouth styles. The face script is pretty basic, but here is where the pong’s character is created. The eyes will blink randomly every 4 to 6 seconds. The mouth will change shape depending on what happens. The default is a smile, and will change to a frown if it hits a wall. It will change to a surprised look when a bullet collides with it.

Keeping with the retro look, I added some blips and a chiptune soundtrack. At this point, I found myself laughing at the reactions of the pongs while I was play testing and I began to think I may have a game here after all.

I added some additional sounds for when a pong finally escapes. I recorded myself doing some “Yay!” sounds, loaded them up in Audacity and raised the pitch. I think it came out well, and really adds to the game.

Day 4

Since I didn’t really get a good pace on development until Day 3, I of course missed submitting for the Compo, but there’s still time for the Jam, and now I’m “all in”. I no longer had time to put together a way to increase level difficulty as the game progresses, so I decided to create the options screen where you can choose the number of pongs, the speed of the loop rotation, and (if you are daring), the option for a second loop.

Technical Things

  • I used the following tools to create The Pongs: Unity, Photoshop, Paint.Net, Audacity.
  • I originally started using Unity’s new Input System, and it worked well while playing the game, but I just could not control the UI correctly… maybe it’s because I am new to it or it is still a work in progress, but I just could not get it to work. I finally decided to scrap it and try Rewired (I used it before and I like it a lot), and I had a similar issue when trying to navigate UI. I guess that problem was me indeed! Finally, I pulled out all controller libraries and used the old-fashioned KeyDown commands since there is basically only 3 keys used in the game anyway.
  • I used my open sourced pooling library to pool the pongs and bullets… you can use it too!
  • I created different eyes and mouths for the pongs. Eyes blink at random intervals. Mouths change based on what the pongs hit.

What Went Well

  • Again, I submitted a game! Always a good thing.
  • My motivation increased once I made some simple changes like changing the sprites and adding some basic sound effects.
  • I think adding the options menu worked better than trying to figure out a way to add levels to increase the difficulty of the game, and some of the people who played/rated the game agreed.

What Could Have Gone Better

  • Maybe I should learn how to use a controller library before using it in a game jam? Figuring out the complexity, failing, and then removing everything took a lot of time.
  • Lack of motivation was strong in this LD. It wasn’t until the end of Day 3 that I really felt that I had a workable game and that did have an affect on the overall submission.
  • I decided on a “lower the score, the better” scoring system, but I think perhaps a “fastest time to clear” may have been a better system to implement (or maybe some combination). It is possible to wait around to see if some of the pongs leave the loop on their own which definitely impacts the current scoring system.

Conclusion

It was a difficult Ludum Dare for me, but I have a submitted game that I liked playing and developing. I am happy with the way my game turned out, and I am considering enhancing the game and doing a full release… there are a lot of features I would like to add.

Ludum Dare 44: Post Mortem

Another Ludum Dare completed (my ninth!). This one was my toughest one yet for me. Lots of highs, lows, frustration, failures, and success. All of this, and more, will be discussed as I detail the development of my entry, The Wizard of Worth.

Day 1

I had a hard time with this theme. In the days before theme selection, I looked at the possible candidates and wrote down some ideas for each one… except this one. Of course, “Your Life Is Currency” was selected and I spent almost 3 hours thinking of an idea.

Once I got a working idea (my son helped with some suggestions), I decided to create some graphics first, which is something I normally do not do. I knew I had to create graphics at some point, and I wanted to give Aseprite a shot to see if I can handle it.

At this point, its about 2:00am, five hours into the Compo, so I decided to call it a night. At the end of Day 1, I had some graphics created, and a basic game where the enemies chase down the player.

Day 2

I got about 5 hours of sleep, got up, and went back to work. I added some particles, a coin retrieval system, and a player shooting system. After a few rounds of playing this game, I came to the conclusion that its terrible! So discouraging.

I had about 10 hours of solid development time and the game was horrible. I took a couple of breaks during the day and came back to tweak and add/change features, and every time I played my game, I hated it more. No matter what I tried, it was just not fun, and I was so discouraged that I decided to take an extended break.

Day 3

I said I was taking an extended break… how about a 24 hour break? That’s what I did. During that time, I thought about whether I should continue, give up completely, or start with a new idea. After speaking with my wife and son, I got some pretty decent ideas on how to improve the game, and that started the drive to finish and submit this game.

I wanted to add a lot of things… more minions to chase you, different types of minions, multiple weapon types, and more. The problem is that it is now very late on Sunday, and I only have a few hours left.

I improved the player shooting (shooting towards the mouse pointer), added a back-story, sound effects, some additional graphics, and the title and game over screens, and submitted later than usual, but before the deadline. These changes really improved the game, and its much more fun to play.

What Went Well

  • Despite the ups and downs during the event, I did submit an entry.
  • Even though I had very limited experience with Aseprite, I managed to create some graphics (and some crude animation) using that tool.

What Could Have Gone Better

  • The 24 hour period where I “gave up” really put a dent in the time left when I decided to re-enter the compo. I wanted to add different minions and demons, each with a unique strength and weakness, but I ran out of time.

Conclusion

Looking through several of my other LD Post-Mortem posts, it looks like I fall into the same pattern where Day 2 is a bit discouraging, but I always manage to find a way to improve and finish.

This Ludum Dare was no different, but the lows were unprecedented for me; to a point where I walked away knowing I would not come back. If it were not for some encouragement from family, I would of packed it in and regretted the lack of submitting a game for the first time. I am glad I went back and continued.

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My LD42 Results

Well, the results for LD42 are in, and this time, I am extremely surprised and pleased…

  • I placed in the top 100 in 7 out of 8 categories!
  • I placed in the top 10 in 2 categories!

I felt Johnny’s Flipbook Space Adventure was good, but I had no idea how it would rate.  Many thanks to those that played and rated.

As I mentioned in a previous Post-Mortem blog and video, this was a LD I almost sat out, but decided to jump in about 12 hours late. I am glad I did!

Looking at the graph, I normally rate somewhere in the middle of the pack, so the LD42 results really stand out. Some things that I find interesting, looking at the scores:

  • All audio was done by speaking into a microphone, and changing the pitch to make it sound more like a child. No computerized bleeps, bloops or tools to create sound effects. The results were obviously favorable.
  • Top 5 in Humor! I did try sprinkling in some funny things, so I am glad that it was noticed and appreciated.
  • Mood.  I always score very low here, and I guess it was because I am not sure what this is exactly… until now. Did the player feel like they were playing a flipbook game? Answer is “Yes”!

  

Continue Development?

After every LD, I feel that I should continue development on my game, but I never do for various reasons. With this game, I am still undecided. The high score is motivating me to continue development, and I feel that this may be a good Nintendo Switch game. I do have some enhancement ideas, like adding additional enemy types, but I also have an idea to add this style to the game I am currently developing, SMS: The Next Mission as a bonus level for early adopters. I would be interested in any comments around future plans.

In Conclusion

For a game that was almost never written, it scored beyond any expectations I had, and I am seriously considering continuing development as a stand-alone game as well as a mode in the game I am currently developing.

I also hope to keep the momentum going for LD43!

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Post-Mortem – Johnny’s Flipbook Space Adventure

Another Ludum Dare, another Post-Mortem.  This one is about the recent Ludum Dare 42 events and the development of my game Johnny’s Flipbook Space Adventure.

The Days Up To Theme Announcement

I was looking forward to LD42 for months, until about a week before the start. For some reason, I was not hit with the normal excitement, and decided that it may be time to take a break… after all, I did 5 LDs in a row and I am currently working on my pet project. I decided to press on and go through voting for themes.

Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of most of the themes to make the finals and when the theme was announced, I decided that its probably a good idea to take a break. Even though I was “out”, I was still thinking of a game, and about 6 hours later my game just came to me and I was in! At this time it was well after midnight so I decided to go get some rest and start early the next morning. By the time I got started, I was over 12 hours behind, but I was determined to ramp up and get to work.

Day 1

Day 1 for me was actually Day 2 of Ludum Dare. I decided for the theme I was going to use hand drawn images and animate them in a flip book style.  I used Adobe Photoshop Sketch (which I never used before) on my iPad to draw 5 images for each sprite, and animate them in a loop. It came out very nice.

I scanned some graph paper as a background image. I also scanned a piece of paper that I tore a hole into. Originally, this was going to be used when the player’s ship shoots an alien ship… I wanted the hole to appear at the spot where the alien ship was destroyed, but this was becoming quite a challenge. There was a lot of overlap with other holes and existing alien ships, and that was causing a lot of physics issues that I just could not work around. It also made the game a bit frustrating to play.

I decided instead to “tear” a hole in the paper between levels. That seem to work and made game play fun and challenging.

By the end of the day, I had a pretty solid space shooter with some audio in place. Since I was pretty far into development at this point, I decided to call it for the day, and pick it up again the next day.

Day 2

It’s not Sunday 8:00am EST. There is 10 hours of Ludum Dare left, but I was in a good position. I completed the audio, using Audacity and Adobe Audition (another tool I never used before) to make my voice more child-like, created the title screen, and back story, and after a bit of play-testing, it was time to submit.

What Went Well

  • Normally, it is a bit of a task to come up with something I want to develop and is fun to play. This time, the game idea just came to me so easily. This was a game I really wanted to make! That was an incredible motivator.
  • During development, I actually learned how to use 2 applications I never used before (Adobe Audition and Adobe Photoshop Sketch). I’m not a pro with them, but they are 2 more tools in the tool belt.
  • I made all the audio with my voice, and it was fun!

What Could Have Gone Better

  • I’m not really sure… this is a tough one. My original ideal of ripping holes when alien ships were destroyed was costing me a lot of time. Same with my lack of enthusiasm during the start. I did turn these into positives and I think it helped me create a game I really enjoyed programming and playing.

 

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Bullet Hell Breakout: A Post-Mortem and My Results

I normally publish a Post-Mortem of my Ludum Dare game while the review phase is still underway, but this time I purposely decided to post this after judging is over. I didn’t want to influence the ratings given to me by people playing my game (in fact, I didn’t post a “play my game” message either). Since voting is now over, this post will be a combination Post-Mortem and review of my results.

Post-Mortem

This LD was probably the most difficult one for me… so much discouragement. I had a very difficult time deciding on an game to develop. Once I decided on my game, the development was such a chore.

Day Prior to Theme Announcement

I like to review the possible themes and put together a short list of games I would develop if that theme were chosen. I was dreading this theme, Combine 2 Incompatible Genres, because I could not think of anything I really wanted to develop.

Day 1

Of course, this theme is announced and looking at my sheet of ideas, there are none. I usually give myself about an hour to put together something before I start developing, but this time I am into Hour 3 and I haven’t put together any ideas that I like.

Bullet Hell Breakout Screenshot
Bullet Hell Breakout Screenshot

I hacked together a few ideas and a combination Missile Command / Financial Management game is my best bet. I start putting ideas together, and quickly realize that the financial management part would be a bit too difficult, but more importantly, I do not feel excited about this genre. It’s not a genre I enjoy.

I’m about 4 hours into LD, and I don’t have an idea. I finally decide on a bullet hell game, and a bit later, I decide to mash it with a breakout/pong clone. I do enjoy both of these genres and decided to finally start coding. It already 1:00am Saturday morning, my time.

I put about 2 hours into designing my game and laying it out in Unity. Around 3:00am (6 hours after the theme was announced), I decide that what I have is utter crap, and I scrap just about everything, and decide to get some sleep and try again in the morning.

Day 2

I get only about 4 hours of sleep and I am back at it. I put together a breakout style game where the player hits moving space invaders. I add an enemy that puts the player into bullet hell mode when hit.

Around midday, I am ready to gave up. The game just isn’t fun. I come back a few hours later and add some features. It’s better but I am giving up again. I do this “code/quit” routine most of the afternoon. I hate the theme, I hate my game, I’m not having fun, but I am not going to give up. I decide to finish today, get something completed, and enjoy my Sunday.

I’m coding late into the evening, and after playing a few rounds of my game, I decide that it’s not that bad, so I will polish it up tomorrow.

Day 3

Sunday is spent adding audio, graphic improvements, instructions, and some effects. It’s not great, but I like it.  It’s pretty close to submission time and I don’t think it is worth trying to cram any more features into the game at this point, so I do my final compile, and submit it.

What Went Well

So little went well in this LD, but looking back:

  • I do like the work I did on the pixel enemies, and the graphics and layout of the game screen.
  • The mash-up between Breakout mode and Bullet Hell mode is interesting.
  • Despite a constant feeling of discouragement, anger and sadness, I finished this game!

What Did Not Go Well

  • The switch to Bullet Hell mode needs improvement. I do like the sudden switch, but maybe a visual or audio clue would be helpful.
  • The ball/paddle movement and collisions can be improved. The “floaty” control of the paddle is something I don’t really notice, but it was a comment made by just about everyone who played.
  • Due to the time it took to decide on a game, and the Saturday discouragement, I felt a bit time-constrained.

Voting Results

The comments around the float-y controls, the paddle, and the bullet hell mode discouraged me even more than normal, so I was expecting a dismal result. It turns out there are some positives.

Overall, I finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, and pretty close to the results of my LD40 game, ANTagonist, which I actually liked better. I’m not sure what to think about this.

What was a pleasant surprise was that the results of the audio and graphics categories were the best out of all 7 Ludum Dares I took part in. These always seem to be weak categories for me, so this is a great news and hopefully a step in the right direction. As I mentioned before, I am very happy with the look of my game.

Conclusion

Despite an absolutely terrible Day 2, I managed to submit a game, and the rating is somewhat better than I expected. I guess the take-away here is to never give up no matter what you are up against.

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LD41 – Update 2

It’s about 24 hours into Ludum Dare 41, and after a lot of thinking, prototyping, getting and getting frustrated, I decided to create a Bullet Hell Pong game. Here is a very short video.

It was so difficult to work on this all day… I do not really like it, and I hate the theme (Combine 2 Incompatible Genres). I think it’s getting better slowly, but. I do not think it will rate very high when I submit it.

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LD41 – Update #1

Almost 4 hours of idea hunting and some quick prototyping, I have nothing to show.

I *think* I have finally an idea but I am going to sleep on it, and get an early start tomorrow. Hopefully this idea is still something I like tomorrow.

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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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