Tag «Game Jam»

TRI Post Mortem

TRI is a game with a long story, so I won't even attempt to remember every detail. Instead, I will write down what comes into my mind. This way the following article might be a bit inconsistent; I hope it's still an interesting read.


The story begins in April 2011, when I participate for the first time in a big Ludum Dare event. It was the 20th Ludum Dare, with the theme "It's dangerous to go alone! Take this!" (a quote from Zelda) – but the theme didn't really matter, as I got the idea for my entry the evening before. I was inspired by working with 3D modeling software, where you create and manipulate polygons, and I thought: how could I use that for a game? Good thing the eventual Ludum Dare theme kinda fit – I just equipped the player with a "Tri Force Field Gun" (the "this" for the theme), and TRI was born, where all you do is creating triangles to walk and jump on them, and solve a few puzzles.

The Olde TRI

My entry was kinda successful: I submitted it to the Compo, but eventually switched to Jam, because I copied a character controller from the Unify wiki (as Unity's inbuilt one was too wonky). The Jam worked a bit differently back then, so my entry didn't receive any ratings. But PoV featured TRI in the results announcement post, and people who played the game (the community of Ludum Dare, and players on Kongregate) liked it well and some even asked for more levels.
A few months later, in October 2011, we were searching for a cool new project. Somehow we convinced ourselves that we could create a full version of TRI within a few months, which of course was very naive. We actually already made two commercial games back then, but as those were done in a much shorter timeframe and were for mobile only we still underestimated how hard it is to make a full-blown game with individually designed levels, somewhat complex gameplay, physics and a story-line. Also – and this was the worst part – a lack of clear direction (due to missing experience) hindered a straight development, and so we changed the design several times before TRI became the game you can see and play nowadays. Of course, we learned a lot during these three years, but I often wish we would have learned this stuff faster.


TRI was made by Jana and me, Friedrich. Jana created the visuals and most 3D models, while I programmed in Unity/C# and also made the GUI. We both created the levels and searched for and worked on the sounds. The music was composed by my brother Ludwig.

It is still funny for me how each department is received extremely differently by different people: some love the graphics, some find them bland. Some adore the gameplay, some think it's clunky or just headache-inducing. Some bought the soundtrack, some just found it repetitive. I know that tastes differ, but as most feedback nowadays comes from official reviews, it's just silly how one piece of opinion claims that our levels are "not convincing" while the other describes them as highly genius.


But yeah. A lot of reviews miss the "polish of Portal" in TRI, and I can't do anything else than concur. We are a two-man team, still learning, with a fraction of the budget of Portal. I guess the secret of success is to hide such facts as well as possible, but I don't know how. So the biggest learning for us: we won't do anything this big again soon. At least we shouldn't.

We even had to take breaks during the years, because of interfering contract work, or just because we had to take some time off. Both didn't make development any shorter, and if Rising Star wouldn't have approached us to give us some funding and a deadline to kick our asses, we probably would still work on TRI (or having a break from it).

In reality, TRI was a good project for a small team, as the game has a narrow scope: the main gameplay is about creating triangles, and almost all of the other mechanics somehow work with this mechanic. For example, there are light rays, and you can reflect them – with the triangles. And you can walk on the walls and the ceilings – thanks to the triangles. There are also some basic physics puzzles (dropping crates on platforms and so on), but the physics are built into Unity. So how did TRI become a "too big game"?

By not being absolutely clear about the game's direction.


One indication for this is the game's story. We wanted a background story from the beginning; the original TRI has one, although fairly simple and only communicated via texts on walls. And yet it added a big portion to the package – so we still think some kind of narrative is necessary as a hook. Just think of how showing triangles would be boring for reviewers and YouTubers. This is why we needed some characters in the game. Unfortunately our story changed a lot during the development, or rather: the whole design and with it the story. From a sci-fi setting with a mad professor and a fantasy story with an alchemist, to the now present fable about a Monk and a Fox. This last iteration of TRI's plot feels a bit tackled on sometimes, and really you can still complete the game (hopefully) even when you skip all story bits (hopefully not). So it's there to entertain, but the narrative sadly isn't an integral part of TRI.


The most problematic thing was that Jana and I never fought over what TRI actually should be – at least there never was a clear winner. Jana was all for making a game about atmosphere and looking at nice architecture. I on the other side was totally focused on the gameplay, and how there should be a lot of puzzles, because I feared people would be bored otherwise.
This way TRI became a game with two souls – there are parts that are mostly about the design, and parts that contain a lot of riddles and obstacles. Thankfully it doesn't feel too much like a game with multiple personalities because Jana added her personal touch to each level after they were done by adding the textures and decorations. And fortunately the Monk and Fox also help to string them together, at least in my opinion.


Nobody ever complained about the sound design – apart from our very own voices for the climbing. Still, this fact is kinda great because although we actually tried to hire someone to make sound effects, the deal didn't come to place and we found our best partner in freesound.org – really a great resource for indie developers. Most of the sounds actually were done within a few days. Sound design may be something that we still neglect, but TRI didn't focus on sounds anyway, even though we wish we had time to create atmospheric "sound carpets" for each level, because sometimes everything is silent and nothing happens, and it then feels a bit too lifeless.

Screenshot 1

Although we normally tell everyone that the game was released on 9th October 2014, we actually put TRI online for the first time in June 2012, as a "pre-alpha", which was a stupid description. We renamed it quickly to "alpha", and a bit later I also tried to get rid off the version numbers (like 0.3.0) which always were low and unattractive, by replacing them with something cooler: code names! The next version was then "MagicalMonk", which sounds much more confident.
These early-access versions (purchasable via our website and Desura) were not very successful in terms of sales, but we actually never did much marketing for them. We rather tried to get feedback from people interested in the concept and art style, by pre-selling the game for a low price and adding a survey at the end of the game. The later versions even included the possibility to give direct feedback via an inbuilt form. (Thanks to Jedi for the idea!) This was great, because people could send us bug reports or suggestions together with a game save. And it was a solution for our QA problem – every game needs testers, and this way everybody can be one!


In October 2013 we submitted TRI to Steam Greenlight, and some months later it was finally approved by Valve. It also made a lot more people aware of our game. But unfortunately Greenlight was a better marketing tool when it started in 2012. While the first batches of greenlit games were celebrated by the press, this effect became non-existent, thanks to the countless, bi-monthly batches with 100 titles approved at once – and TRI was part of one of these, in February 2014.

It was like winning $20 – nice, but absolutely underwhelming. On the other hand we're a bit proud of being greenlit before TRI even reached the Top 100, although I am not sure what exactly that means.

Thank you!

Anyway, at least we're on Steam – and as the saying goes: “be on Steam, or don't be”. A little anecdote: to be visible to curators (the new thing on Steam) we had to rename TRI, as the name was too common (think “Counterstrike”) for the search form to work, as it relied on auto-completion only. This is why TRI is now called “TRI: Of Friendship and Madness” (Jana's idea) almost everywhere.

Thanks to Rising Star Games we're also on GOG. GOG was great regarding the release, as they wrote a very cool release article. And you can also get our game directly on the HumbleStore, too!

Overall we are happy with the reception of TRI: more reviewers than I would have expected like or even love the game, and our Steam user score is pretty high – as of writing we have 30 positive and only 2 negative reviews, resulting in 93%. Yet, the game is still missing visibility – Steam, Greenlight and reviews alone don't do that for you (anymore). We need more YouTubers with a high amount of subscribers, playing the game on their channels. And probably some sensible discounts, as it seems a lot of potential buyers are just waiting for the inevitable XY% off sale. I can't even blame them: with so many games on my backlog, I do the same with most new titles.


What can TRI offer you? It has 16 levels created by our hands, 5 different "worlds" each with a different background music and a new look, two animated NPCs, all degrees of freedom, and unlimited triangles. You conjure these to overcome abysses, to block and reflect light rays and lasers, and to walk on the walls and the ceilings. A lot of areas can be approached differently, depending on your own play style. Even some of the puzzles have more than one solution, and I sometimes see people solving them in a new, unique way. There are very open levels where you can fall into the void, and levels with a lot of narrow hallways. You can jump, crouch, climb, run, carry crates around and use levers.

TRI is a bit about celebrating freedom and possibilities, and we hoped that a lot of people would love that. For now, we still have to find out how to reach them.


If you enjoyed reading this, you might want to have a look at our Making-of video series, our the rest of our blog.

Screenshot 2

Artgame Weekend #4 in Lille

I've never been to France before. Home is where my desktop is and I like to stay at home, to work on my games. The only things that are luring me out of the cave are festivals, exhibitions or game jams. Last weekend I got my reason to visit Lille, France. I was invited to be in the jury for a game jam.

TL,DR: It was amazing! Scroll down to see all the jam results immediately.

The theme of the Artgame Weekend 4 already sounded awesome: Instead of selecting a theme the organizers chose to let the participants think up new ways to interact with a game. “Think art, Use controllers, Make a game, Play with us!” is the claim of their event. So here is my blog post to everybody who missed it or didn't realize the amazing French indie scene.

The first moment of an ongoing chain of enthusiasm about the Artgame Weekend was made by the building the jam took place at. The former textile manufactory was rebuilt to an inspiring, modern work space with an amazing area to work, enjoy and to display projects (in the form of a huge Gameboy!).


Seventy people worked together in twelve groups. When we arrived the attendees already teamed up after pitching their ideas. With this method no ideas or controllers were used twice!
The second moment of excitement took me when I arrived in this room full of creative energy. There were guitars to control characters, pianos to create objects, buttons attached to human bodies, chalk for blackboards to draw on or even ten mice attached for one game. A group of people was building a bomb. Someone was wearing an Oculus Rift. Two participants connected their smartphones to the laptop to control their game ... Breath in, breath out. Wow!

If you want great games to be made, bring together talented people from different backgrounds in the right place.

The whole event was assembled by Marc Lavigne (game industry north) and Simon Bachelier (One Life Remains). All the people they brought together for technology, exhibition, cooking and organization worked together so well! If I learned one thing in Lille it is how to really make the perfect game jam. If you want great games to be made, bring together talented people from different backgrounds in the right place. I'm not sure if I could copy this event easily. But I think I should care more about the participants well-being next time I organize a jam.

So did the organizers of this jam: To make sure everybody can face technical issues they engaged talents to help out, like Armel Gibson, one of the coaches for design and technique, who was helping with getting the PS Move controllers working in Unity. While Sosowski was whirling around to help a team whose game was called 'Yetis with machetes' (made with the UDK), I met Nicolas Tilly (Ecriture Videoludique Magazine), who was the third coach in this mad mayhem of handicraft work.

photo by Leon Denise, http://poly.gonum.free.fr/
photo by Leon Denise, http://poly.gonum.free.fr/

And they engaged us, a jury to judge the jam's work. A fact that puzzled me, but I guess with competing against each other and a jury to show their stuff to, you get these kind of excellent projects and getting really motivated.
After a while the jury was complete, consisting of Jon Bro (Lucky Frame, GB), Chris Priestman (Indiestatik, GB), Cara Ellison (Rockpaper,etc. GB), Thorsten Storno (Amaze Festival, D) and me (Rat King, D). In the end I was glad we didn't really judge the projects, especially because people could switch between groups. So we grouped up, checked out the projects, talked to people, asked critical questions, got impressed and ate delicious freshly-made food they served at the jam.

And instead of working the night through we did have a party with DJ and nice Belgian beer. And a party after the jam, with J.S. Jousting and a couple of other multiplayer games.

The biggest shame: I didn't bring my laptop, because I feared to have too much package for the flight. Next year I want to take part in game-making myself. Bring my own Arduino and build awesome stuff! Be part of this creative madness.


To make sure you understand why the results of this jam where so inspiring that I really missed taking part myself, here is the complete list:


1. Chirac If we would have to judge this game would have gotten the WTF?!-Award! I knew some of the team from Bokida before, which is a clean, well-designed sand-box game I first saw at the Notgames Fest. It seems too much artsyness needed to be destroyed with a mad story about people dressing like horses and horses dressing like men. And only six-legged Chirac is able to save the world. Color. Penis-tentacle action. Shooting. Button-smashing. Music! artgame_location_03

photo by Leon Denise, http://poly.gonum.free.fr/
photo by Leon Denise, http://poly.gonum.free.fr/

2. Adsono This game caught my interest from the beginning. The team crafted with Arduino, physical buttons, Xbox-controller and Kinder eggs. The idea: Two people attach the buttons to their body. When one button is pressed, the other player feels a vibration. Both create a sequence dance with pushing the buttons in turns. Although they couldn't finish the game like intended, this game was the perfect essence of a good jamming: Try hard, find new stuff that wasn't made before and learn. I hope you guys finish it! artgame_bomb_02 artgame_bomb 3. Prepare to meet thy god When the last Ludum Dare asked for games themed “10 seconds” how many bomb defusing games did we see? This team had the same idea for the controller, but believe me: Defusing a bomb on a screen and actually sitting fully dressed with glasses, gas mask and suit in front of a box with cables, bottles and blinking lights alone in a room with just a tool to cut these cables: such a difference! From outside we could watch the contestants via webcam, which added an extra creepy real-life level to the game. Guys, your game was a blast! artgame_piano artgame_piano_02 4. Keyboard Mandala In this two-player game you start in an empty, lifeless desert. One player has a controller to move around, while the other does magic with a keyboard. With every key played you can create a huge variety of objects from huge buildings, bridges, fountains to tiny groups of ants. And stones, stones, stones to irritate the other player. I could have played this one for hours! Either you play it to create worlds with your songs or to find out what the creators did hide behind every key. This game is pure magic! artgame_demon 5. Necronomicon Forget Harry Potter! You can be a witch (or witcher ;)) in this game yourself! Just take the Necronomicon and draw the ancient ritual signs on the black board to summon powerful creatures that fight against the other player's demons. What made this game especially atmospheric was the dark cellar vault where it took place at. One of the team members sat in the corner, dressed black with red-stained hands (of course it was blood!). Red lights and the foul-smelling sponge added an extra dark flavour.

6. Space Ship
Imagine combining Space Team with the scenario of FTL. Imagine people running around to find the right computers. Imagine people getting mad to fulfill the right procedure to stop the alien invasion on the space ship. And imagine that all the people that tried to watch you playing to run with you in order to find out what this game is about. Ahh, people should run more often in games!


7. Holy Shit
Holy Shit is just like the name implicates: a game about shit and not getting hugged by it with holy-awesome looking characters. Play it with ten players that click ten mice at once and try to find out what your character is. It's as silly as it is fun.

photo by Pierre Corbinouze, http://oujevipo.fr
photo by Pierre Corbinouze, http://oujevipo.fr

8. Live
In this Kinect game you are the conductor of an orchestra of light and kaleidoscope colours. Just raise your hand and be creative: Dance, jump, draw.


9. Cerebro
In X-Men Cerebro is used by Professor Xavier to detect mutants by amplifying the brain waves of the user. In this game I didn't detect mutants, but felt as bad ass by controlling a game with my brain by relaxing and stressing behavior. What I saw were beautifully composed spaces with weird structures that I could manipulate with pure mind control. Not only the game was interesting, but especially the technology they used and improved by building their own devices.


10. Monkey vs. Cake
In this multiplayer game every contestant gets a smartphone to tap the enemy to death. Cute muffins and cute monkeys! But you don't really know where exactly the buttons lies, so you have find out while tapping. Funny and fast game.

11. Rock'n'Dolls
One player is getting a bass to move the bike with two girls forward. The other player is moving the guitar in front of a camera and so is the weapon of one of the girls on the bike. By playing the guitar you shoot a thunderbolt. You don't really know how to play a guitar, but I felt more bad ass than with guitar hero. Cool idea!


12. Shooting yetis with machetes
Why didn't anybody come up with that scenario before: You walk through Doom-like corridors to kill undead yetis with a rocket-empowered machete sling-shot gun. Also, this game brought light effects to the test. Mad.

Okay, ladies and gentleman. Lille did rock! Great people, great conversations, great games. Make sure to follow these guys to get a notification for the next Artgame Weekend! I think you already realized it, by reading this article, but woohoo, Viva la Lille, I highly enjoyed this!

Ludum Dare 27: BLAM BLAM PLANET – Post Mortem


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.

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.

spherical gravity

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.

glitchcannon in action

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! :-)

blam blam planet device