Back in April, Ludum Dare 26 was not so great, as I couldn't participate. It was right after the AMAZE IndieConnect, and this convention drowned my energy so much that I got sick. All I made was some visual experiment, which I couldn't develop much further because the headaches got too strong – partly because of my chosen art style. :-P
So, last week's Ludum Dare 27 was much better in this regard! And after kernel exception, this is the second Ludum Dare we entered together (thus being a Jam entry, not a Compo entry). We had a lot of fun, but also some problems, of course.
Our entry is a first-person shooter, with a little twist: you have five weapons, and every 10 seconds your current weapon switches automatically to another one, randomly selected. And there are "floating devices" all over the world (= a medium-sized planet) which you have to stand near for 10 seconds, so a bunch of power-ups get spawned (ammo and health packs). Enemies spawn in waves every 10 seconds. And when you collect ammo, you basically get an additional 10 seconds of shooting time.
As you might have guessed, this Ludum Dare's theme was "10 Seconds", and we called the game BLAM BLAM PLANET.
After some minutes of playing the game becomes quite intense, because more and more enemies spawn. If you just run and shoot around instead of waiting at a device now and then for a while, you will soon run out of power-ups, and thus health and ammunition. So it's even a bit tactical, one might say.
The development of the game had its ups and downs, but it went well in most cases.
On Saturday, we thought of the game idea by talking about different possibilities and going for a walk. Ludum Dare starts 3 am here in Germany, and if I remember correctly, it already was afternoon when we agreed on making a first-person shooter, because we never did one really. To make it more interesting we decided that the setting should be on a round surface, which meant the game would need spherical gravity for all entities.
At the beginning we named the game "GLITCHIG", because we wanted a broken look and have destructible environment, so lots of triangles are flying around. Jana started building a neat planet surface with some asteroids around it in 3dsmax, while I started to let my character controller be influenced by gravity pointing to the level origin. Shooting little spheroids was also a priority.
So both Saturday and Sunday were all about getting this right: a planet, a player, a weapon, some enemies walking around. Mostly I tried to get it all working smoothly, by getting the physics of the character and the weapon right. But the hardest part were the enemies and their AI on the round planet. For this, I searched for some code for creating the vertices of a geosphere, mapped this via raycasts on the planet geometry and connected the resulting points – those were then the nodes for the enemies' path-finding. Just letting the enemies walk directly towards the player probably would have been much easier, but less fun to create. ;-)
Another nice part of development was inventing the different weapon effects – two weapons in the final game deform the geometry, so I can push the vertices of the planet around a bit when the bullets hit something. It looks quite ace. As "glitches" was our personal theme from the start we knew the geometry would look strange and broken the more you use this weapon and we embraced that. In fact, when I last played the game, I fell through the level and I could attack all the enemies from below while they couldn't see me – but that also meant I didn't get any new ammo, so it was okay.
Jana was mostly busy with modeling the three types of enemies and animating them. They look kind of deformed, emphasizing their low-poly nature, and it really looked well. Especially when she added the walk/fly animations, which are really hilarious. When the enemies spawn in masses it becomes a really cool effect.
In order to tie the look together, she also created a color code in Photoshop. After that, the game looked "right", as the colors of most assets didn't need much tweaking afterwards. Having only very few placeholder art from early on really helped the motivation somehow.
Sunday evening Jana also started to make some sounds for walking and shooting by using our laptop's inbuilt microphone. High tech! All the sound effects you hear in the game are actually Jana's voice. :-) Adding sounds instantly made the game more alive; in the end, you can't have enough of them – that's why she made more on Monday, along with the art for the bullets and particle effects.
On the third day the theme of "10 Seconds" still wasn't in the game, and I thought long and hard about how to implement it. I weighed the pros and cons inside my head of different game mechanics, like "every 10 seconds, you have to collect new ammo" or "activate 10 bases, 10 seconds each, and then you won (whatever that means)" – and only when I finally began to create the five different weapons and let the enemies spawn in waves, the probably best restrictions (automatic weapon switching, time-limited ammo, etc.) came naturally. So there's that: sometimes tinkering too long can be bad, and you should just "do it", I guess.
In the final hours I was able to quickly implement the main menu and a death screen, which always is satisfying as it ties the game together and makes it look complete. Jana made the logo and the button graphics, and also captured a video of the game.
So, that's how it went. Let's take a look on some quick facts about ...
... what went wrong!
- Finding the idea was hard for us, as we couldn't agree on most things. In the end, the game we created isn't as innovative as I would have liked, but at least it's superfun to play this time!
- As we struggled with the idea, it's clear the theme didn't help much. Although "10 Seconds" is in the game more than once now, it feels a bit off.
- On Monday I nearly lost the will to finish the game, because of the lack of a clear direction regarding the gameplay, caused by the theme.
- Jana had some severe problems with the CAT animation system in 3dsmax. It seems to be buggy as hell, and I heard her cursing a lot. ;-)
- There are no game-breaking bugs in the game, phew – only some small stuff, like resetting the option settings when you open the "Options" menu. The bigger problem might be that the game is "broken by design", because of the Glitcher (the weapon that deforms the planet's geometry) – we should have used this feature more often, so it doesn't feel strange when you fall through the geometry.
- A lot of feedback is missing, like some kind of visual hint when you got hit, or a sound and animation when the ammo is depleted. Also, the "story" isn't communicated in the game: you don't know what you're doing here, why your weapon system is defective, and why you have to stand near the floating devices. (Some people didn't understand that the enemies only start to spawn when you do that for the first time.)
... what went right!
- It's always great to work together with Jana, because we know exactly what each of us can do, and how. While I do the scripting, she does the modeling, texturing and sounds. Perfect team work – all in the same room!
- I set up an SVN repository, which sped up the work flow incredibly, and also saved my ass at least once when I accidentally deleted some files in the Unity project folder.
- I prepared some basecode a day before Ludum Dare, by skimming through my former projects and picking useful helper code snippets. Having a basic character controller, path-finding, simplex noise and other functions ready before you even have to think about where to find them is wonderful!
- Jana recorded the sounds with her own voice and distorted them in Audacity, which was much faster (and cooler) than trying to find sound effects on freesound.org with the right license.
- The abstract, low-poly, somewhat "broken" graphics style looks quite well and gets very positive feedback, even without textures – AND it also was done very quickly.
- The five weapons are fun and pretty diverse. This way, the whole game is fun enough for a few minutes, and that's the most satisfying part of this Ludum Dare for me.
- Before we started I thought the spherical gravity might not work at all, neither as a gameplay mechanic nor as a visual style. I especially was concerned with this style the player would see too much sky and not enough ground surface. In the end, with the recoil of some weapons (so you fly away, looking down) and the high amount of flying enemies, this wasn't any problem.
... what we learned!
- Due to the lack of time at the end, the balancing is kind of subpar. Good thing the game just is an endless shooter, and thus it is good enough. It's also cool that you can "learn" the game, as using the floating power-ip devices is important, but not obvious. Always try to add stuff like that.
- "Crappy" graphics often look awesome when animated and with a nice shader. ;-) Coherence is very important though – that's why creating a color code sheet early in the process is a must.
- Try to not make any placeholder art, because it either means you will have to make an asset twice – or it will be in the final game.
- Even if you lose motivation near the end, at least try to give the game an ending. Sometimes, it helps to finish the game nonetheless, because this, this and, oh, that too, has to be done before the game can have an ending and be called "done" ...
- Three days are still too long for me, because it automatically makes the project too ambitious.
- Every time I see a Unity project with the standard Unity button graphics I get the urge to close it instantly. Really, it's easier than most things in Unity to add some custom button graphics and a downloaded font to the GUI skin. Give your game some love!
As much as I'd want to extend the game a bit, like adding more levels, I don't think it will get much bigger than now. The feedback of players and Ludum Dare ratings is really nice so far, but I don't know if having more enemy types and whatnot would increase its popularity. An online highscore would be nice, though, so maybe I will add that.
Thanks for reading this post-mortem, and I hope you had as much fun with this Ludum Dare as we had. If you want you can play BLAM BLAM PLANET here! :-)