Category «Contest»

Ludum Dare 35: Wood for the Trees – Post Mortem

Wood for the Trees is my entry for the 35th Ludum Dare game jam which took place in April 2016. For now I don't know how the other participants will rate the game, as the voting is still going on. Yet it's maybe time for a small post-mortem, especially as my last few entries were not really worthy for one of those.

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The theme of this Ludum Dare was "Shapeshifting", which was a good theme, or at least I heard far less complaints about it than usual. For my part I didn't have an idea from the beginning - or rather I prepared several in advance, but none of them actually motivated me when the weekend began. For some time I just ignored the theme anyway and did some physics-based experiments, but everything of that was scrapped in the end. Semi-inspired by the theme I then went on with an environmental experiment, which would be about looping and changing level tiles. A bit like our 7DRL Me against the Mutants, but this time in 3D. As usual I did all this in Unity.

My base idea was to have tiles as parts for the level map, and each tile would be 10x10m (conveniently the size of Unity's standard plane), and instead of connecting the tiles in a linear fashion or even in a grid, I would define the connections manually so they can loop or have "impossible" connections. This way, a tile could be connected to itself (this actually happens in the game)! A lot of time went into developing the system of instantiating and destroying the needed game assets on the fly.

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With this representation of the game world it's possible for the player to see things that won't be there when they move. Thus I added smooth scaling to all objects when they get spawned or removed, just to make it more appealing and let people accept this strange environment. This system also imposed some limitations which actually turned out to make the game tighter and more focused:

WoodForTheTrees_MakingOfMovement

1) The player is allowed to move only from a tile's center to the next, in cardinal directions. At first I had free movement, but this imposed problems with the tiles that lie diagonal to the current one. It would just feel alien. Restricting the movement was the only solution, and it also made the gameplay (adventure game) much more clear.

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2) With my system it only made sense to display 3x3 tiles at once, thus I had to limit the view distance to 10 meters. This made me a bit depressed in the beginning, because it meant a pretty big, boring wall of fog in front of the player. But then I invented the "fog trees" - trees that would exist only in the fog, vanishing when the player comes near. In the end, they really helped making the distance fog less boring and even gave the game its name.

As usual I experimented only regarding gameplay mechanics, but as soon as I added the fog I naturally began to design the game's appearance. The fog had to have a colour, so I chose one I actually liked. Everything else had to look (more or less) good from now on, which helped tons with not having to do that later. If I remember correctly the pixelation post-effect shader was added at the same time, and I just liked it - I don't really have a justification for it. But it also helps to hide the fact that my 3D models are all very low-poly and have no textures.

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By the way, this is the first time that I used Blender for a game jam; I like it more and more. It fits my style quite well I guess. For the trees I utilized a tool called HappyTree by Sol_HSA, which made it easy for me to generate four different trees and reuse them all the time. I only changed the materials.

The narrative structure of the game also developed more or less naturally: due to the fact I played some "walking simulators" beforehand I was okay with incorporating a personal story. So all content grew out of certain relationships that occupy my mind often enough. As a result it didn't become a straight story really, but more like a set of emotions I wanted to share.

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I didn't plan to do a full puzzle game, but somehow I actually added enough elements like finding typical items and having to combine them, so I can now call it an adventure game without shame. Overall it's a simple game in the sense that I didn't even add a visible inventory (as it wasn't needed), but thanks to the shifting environment and the somewhat allegorical hints the game should be longer than just a few minutes.

You could say the background story and the adventure game mechanics are somewhat contradicting or at least exist in parallel only. But whenever I think of my childhood (which the story is touching), I have certain games in my mind which I played back then, and Wood in the Trees actually recreates them in an abstract way. Furthermore, the seemingly mundane tasks represent the protagonists quest for absolution somehow. The mechanics and plot combined with the fog trees, the game's name, the colors and some of the objects in the game, it all is symbolic and it's okay that only a small percent of players understand them fully.

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Right next to creating the world system in Unity the hardest part of the game was actually planning it. I'm never big with story (something I really have to train), so I just wrote down a lot of things I'd like to say. Not everything made it into the game. And I laid out the puzzle progress on paper as soon as I decided that I would actually have puzzles. But only by actually implementing them I'd see if an item would make sense or not and from time to time a whole path was changed - thankfully always for the better.

Unfortunately I was not able to follow my initial plan to make the game within 48 hours ("Compo") and had to extend to 72 hours ("Jam"). I never felt that I would actually be able to finish it, which send me to a rollercoaster of emotions during the game jam - either I was relaxed and had a "it's okay, I don't care" attitude, or I was angry at myself that I would fail at Ludum Dare yet again. I'm still surprised I actually finished - and it sure helped that for the Jam I didn't have to create my own music. I suck at this still, and don't stop hoping this will change some day. Instead I used a track by my brothers, which they composed many years ago for a game prototype Jana and I made in university. It fits the game well enough and actually adds to the symbolism of Wood for the Trees.

A monster?

After several days between me and the development I can now think about the game again. In hindsight I would change a few things, especially as players rightfully complained about those. Being able to re-read the notes and texts would be a great addition, and probably easy to do. Not removing the notes in the game would be a good start for that. Moreover, the hit boxes for the clickable objects are sometimes to small, and generally it's not clear enough if you can interact with something or not. I would add a few more descriptions to some elements in the game, and also tweak the controls so they would be easier to understand. And I would take extra-care that players find the solution to the first puzzle easily. Last but not least I'm disappointed I couldn't add any sound effects - not even some step sounds!

If I find time and motivation, I might do these changes and upload a post-jam version.

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In any case I'm happy that Wood for the Trees already got some media attention - AlphaBetaGamer made the start (with a title optimized for SEO a bit too much), followed by WarpDoor, PC Gamer and Killscreen. Wow! It shows once more that pixel games - even fake ones - are the way to go I guess. And I visited the A MAZE (a festival for indie games in Berlin) a few days after Ludum Dare, so I even made an Android build of my game. It ran very laggy and the controls weren't working correctly, but it was cool to actually being able to show something when talking about it. Even though I didn't show it around that much I had a lot of fun - the fruits of productivity.

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If you're a participant of Ludum Dare 35, you can rate Wood for the Trees here. In any case, the downloads can be found on itch.io - have fun!

And here's a video - be aware, it's the full walkthrough, so of course it contains spoilers:


Ludum Dare #35: Wood for the Trees (Full Walkthrough)

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Making-of video 5, Artbook, Honorable Mention

Yes, updates seem to become rarer and rarer. The main reason for this is that we still do not have a new project. Yes, we do have plans, but as usual nothing is set in stone yet, and nothing drove us into a development frenzy. Since the release of TRI we created a few internal prototypes and game jam games, some of them I wrote about on my personal blog. We also update our Facebook page more often than this blog, as some news are tiny.

And while we planned and created ideas and abandoned them every month, we were also giving interviews for local radio and TV broadcasts and local newspapers - so it's all in German. Press came when they heard that we won "Best Youth Game" at the German Computer Game Award 2015, so this is a nice side effect. Jana also created a booklet for German indies, which you can grab at the upcoming Gamescom 2015, or just read it online thanks to Martin Nerurkar. (Yes, we will be at the Gamescom, but mostly as visitors only.)

Another thing we did was filming my brother Ludwig Hanisch in his basement, where he created the music for TRI. It's an interview of around 15 minutes about family, inspirations and instruments. Watch it now - it even has English subtitles!


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In order to create a more extensive, more interesting post-mortem of TRI, we made a digital artbook. Even though I already wrote a short retrospective about TRI's development, I felt it was necessary to close this chapter in a much cooler way. Thus there is the artbook now, which exists in two versions:

  • The full edition (94 pages) contains it all, background information, WIP screenshots, concept art, scribbles, etc. - everybody who bought the deluxe edition of TRI has it.
  • The lite edition is free to download for everybody - it contains the first 51 pages of the full edition and is only missing the transcript of the developers' commentary; the very same commentary you can also unlock in the game.
tri artbook cover tri artbook example page

Oh, and one last thing: to our surprise TRI got an Honorable Mention at the 2015 Geekie Awards, which is pretty crazy if you consider the high-quality competitors. Thanks to the judges for the mention!

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That's it for today. Hopefully we have more news sooner next time!

TRI – Award and Update

Exciting news AND great news ahead!

I still can't believe it myself, but our game TRI won an award just yesterday. So it's now officially the Best Youth Game according to the German Computer Game Award 2015! The award in this category comes with a prize money of around 50,000 Euros - which hopefully helps us to finance our next project.

\o/ CELEBRATION \o/

Dear judges of the Computerspielpreis: thank you very much for this honor. And also a big thanks to all the congratulators!

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Onwards to the other news. We took the time to update TRI. The latest release "PythagoreanBeauty" mainly contains a few minor bug-fixes and changes to the game which hopefully improve the overall experience. Some of the levels improvements and additions are:

  • Added an object force field in "Glimpse of Light" to prevent players getting stuck (minor fix)
  • Added some stepping stones to "A Temple on the Mountain"
  • Added a force field wall to "Overcoming Limitations" to prevent players from getting stuck without the wall-walk TRI (minor fix)
  • Replaced a few of the deadly light rays with less deadly light rays (orange color) to make them easier
  • Added a lever for a gate in front of an idol in "Out of the Box"
  • Added minor visual hints in "The Foxes' Playground", "Glimpse of Light" and "Red Means Dangerous"
  • Changed bottom puzzle in "Glimpse of Light" a bit to prevent glitches

A partial list of bugs removed:

  • Fixed a rare, scale related bug with the elevator in "Wings in the Void"
  • Fixed Monk not talking anymore after collecting the first TRI when moving away from him (minor fix)
  • Fixed subtitles not being shown anymore after pressing Escape
  • Fixed end statistics (played chapters and such)
  • Fixed a bug which caused resetting the statistics when restarting a level
  • Fixed a minor bug in "Out of Space and Time" by replacing an invisible triangle-destroying box with a visible one
  • Fixed an idol in "Wings in the Void" (regression from v1.0.1), should count now for the bonus content when collected again

Other changes include:

  • Improved black border and skip button for cutscenes
  • Added option to deactivate the voice of the Monk
  • Added a text in pause menu screen indicating how many chapters were played in the current playthrough
  • Changed auto-statify (of current triangle) slightly - moving the current corner beneath the player won't make the triangle immediately static anymore (min distance is 1m)

A complete list can be found in the Steam announcement. We tried to listen to what players said in the forums and via mail as much as we could, and especially the less deadly light rays might be very welcome to some of our players! Sadly, some things reported we didn't fix because we just could not reproduce the behaviour. So, in case you found a bug, it would be great if you could send a relevant save game and the last log to us, together with a description of the bug. (The Steam announcements also contains the folders where to find the save games and the log file.)

Last but not least, if you happen to attend the Lange Nacht der Computerspiele in Leipzig this Saturday - Friedrich will be there from 3:00pm, interviewed by the famous René Meyer for 20 minutes.