Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Garage Zombie* (Game Jam Version) Postmortem

Garage Zombie* (including the asterisk where it's possible to use one in game titles) is the first game jam title I ever made with someone aside from Angel who helps with design and massively supports me throughout the experiences. Ariel Marsh did every bit of the art herself, all I had to do was line things up and place them! It was also the first game that I've made that had a person instead of a critter!

And, since I'm setting this up like a standard postmortem, let's kick it off!

Code: Charlie Jackson (me!)
Art: Ariel Marsh
Design: Charlie Jackson, Ariel Marsh and Angelique Drummond

Developed: February 22nd-24th, 2013 for #1GAMCRUNCH (Hidden Surprises) and Mini-LD 40 (The Real World)

What Went Right

1. The Game's Art 
Somehow, the art for the main character made it really easy to add some personality to her  through the tutorial...

Normally for a game jam I make the basic art, get to work making the game, fix up the art and finally balance it as much as I can (which is usually very little by then.). This time, however, I collaborated with Ariel Marsh for development. She's a fantastic artist who I've worked with in the past on games, and as always she came through even better than expected!

The art in the game is not only of a great quality, it's bright and fits the game perfectly. With a garage sale, the items for sale are the star of the show, and they really are in this game as well. The main character worked out awesomely as well, it was just by chance that it ended up a she, but I love that it was (not because the game is about shopping, but because there really aren't enough female lead characters in games if you ask me!).
Some deals are likely to lose money, but you KNOW you want this thing!
2. An Awesome Title That Draws Attention
This is one of the main issues I face when coming up with a game name - making it both make sense AND draw eyes to the game. Early in development, Ariel Googled terms for people who do garage sales and found "Garage Zombie"! She joked that it should have an asterisk then say "*May or may not contain real zombies". This made it word-for-word into the game and gave the game a great base for humor from the start.
See? It even says it on the main menu!

And I KNOW the title works because I've already had numerous people jump on the game based on simply saying the name of it!

3. Working with Others Adds (Good) Pressure
Before it even began, I was really paranoid that Ariel would finish far before me, or that I wouldn't finish at all and she would. The nervousness of failure is always there with a game jam, but when working with someone else there's someone to let down if it happens. This was also Ariel's first game jam and I wanted to make sure she had something awesome to show for it.

Ariel had suggested getting on Skype (messaging) when it started so we could discuss ideas and then we simply left it on to chat the entire time, including sending each other work as we finished something up ("Check this out!", "How's this?"). Having someone you're working with frequently updated this way is not only fun, it adds to one's productivity: you want to have something awesome to show off!
Both of us having Flash made it super easy for me to set up art requests!

4. The Game Felt "Alive"!
One of my biggest issues as a game developer is that I get it functional and then I call it done. I've only made one "big" game, so while I've got about 25 done/partially done titles, they rarely contain all the things that a game should: sound and graphical effects especially. This time around, one of the first suggestions was having "special" items around the room that sparkle to show they're extra valuable or great money makers. It didn't make it in, but it really got me thinking about how to make it feel more alive, more fun.

She made an awesome main menu where you can interact with the boxes (they open when you mouse over them) and when items are purchased, they move toward the top where it shows how many items you've purchased (whereas 99% of the time previously, I'd just have made them disappear).

Box opens, box closes, box opens, box closes... WHEEEEE!!!!
Ariel even animated the girl with walk animations! It was her first time animating a character like that, and mine to that extent (even just the four frames in each direction!). It took some time to do, especially making her move around fluidly against the tables and such, but was very well worth it.

5. Sometimes Less is More...
When I started coding the game, the player lost $10 per day and the game's goal was to make some arbitrary amount. There was also a lose state if you you ran out of money. This was just a LOT of extra rules and effort in the long run, though, and deciding to make the game simpler (just gain as much as you can in five days) makes the game much more simple, easy to get into and replayable (trying to earn more each time)

I'll admit that I made the "game over" popup quickly :P
Also, the game originally allowed for two minutes per round, and I was considering adding to it even... But after trying different lengths of time, we went with 1:30. It makes the game much more hectic, non-stop and fun!

5b. ... Sometimes More is More!
On the flip side, I originally wanted the player to begin with $50 or $100, then as they played they'd earn enough to buy the more expensive things... I ended up going with $200 because it allowed for a good 10-20 purchases right from the beginning if the player shops carefully so that one can just dive right in right away.

6. Kept Track of Notes for the Future
I'm awful with thinking of the future when it comes to development... If I go back to a game, I have to search all over to find all the ideas I had for it, people's comments about it and so on. This time around, I have a text file with every idea for the game that didn't make it in, as well as an Evernote journal page for people's comments. I may have listed this last, but it's vital for any kind of future for a title if you want to stay sane, trust me.

What Went Wrong

I swear I almost fainted at this point. First thought? "Screw this, whatever!"

With about two hours left the game was shared a bit for bug testing. When a few were pointed out and I went to fix them, I clicked on the section of my code with all of the functions and it was blank. I thought maybe Flash had messed up, so I closed it and reopened it, but it was GONE!!!! Luckily, I had done very little work since I'd sent the file to Ariel to show her the latest version, so she was able to send it back to me. I was VERY close to having 800 lines of code gone forever, though, and it was only the first or second time in years that I didn't save the game under multiple names as I went "just in case."

My strategy, by the way, is to save with a new name every time the game is fully functional and changed. For example:

  • Garage Zombie
  • Garage Zombie Movement Fixed
  • Garage Zombie Added More Items

This assures that if something goes wrong, the file spontaneously explodes, or you COMPLETELY screw things up when trying to change something, you'll have a version to go back to :) It's not a new idea, and I certainly didn't invent it, but it's so insanely important that I just had to go in depth!

2. The Game Wasn't as Alive as it Could Have Been...
While the game does have quite a bit of life to it, the #1 complaint is that it has no sound whatsoever. Angel and I got to talking about it after the jam ended, and she came up with the genius idea to have the main character whistle as the music and make small little comments on items when they're viewed, as well as a little noise when purchased or not. I really think that would have given the game, and the character, a lot more life in a unique, fun way.

The game also could have used a way to mix it up - different locations, goals and a story primarily. All of these things would have kept the game more interesting while giving it some more life at the same time.

3. Other Missing Features
There were a LOT of features that the game didn't have in addition to sound, story, goals and additional locales. I won't go into them all here, partially to keep the surprise alive when the game is finished, but it's easy to see how they would have kept the game more entertaining and added a lot more play time to for the average player!

4. It Requires Mouse AND Keyboard
As a person who plays a lot of Flash games, I've gotten used to using the WASD keys with my left hand and the mouse with my right, so I didn't even consider that there are a LOT of people out there who don't! Angel pointed this one out to me when she first played it, telling me that she was having to get used to moving around with the arrow keys and then moving her hand over to the mouse to either buy or not buy an item, then go back to move again. It not only gets annoying I'm sure, it's also tiring and time consuming in a game where you don't have much time to decide or look around.

Why should I have to click you?! I don't have enough time for this!

It wouldn't be difficult at all to allow for pressing ESC to say "don't buy" and ENTER/SPACE to buy. The same is true of the main menu - it'd be super easy to allow the player to use the arrows and the SPACE/ENTER keys to select. This way, the mouse wouldn't be required at all!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Adventures of Rubberkid Backer Cards are Complete!

One of the levels from The Adventures of Rubberkid: help
the "too fat" and "too skinny" cheerleaders out as they cheer!
While the Kickstarter has ended, The Adventures of Rubberkid is still raising funds to help promote it to schools and libraries, as well as get it translated into additional languages. You can contribute with Paypal and still get all the awesome rewards for doing so here!

As for progress on the game, seven of the eight levels are now complete and the final one should be done tomorrow! You can always play the latest version of the game for free here :) Also, I'm starting to send out the backer rewards. Today, in fact, I finished the printable "Backer Cards".

Penny's Backer Card!
What are backer cards, you ask? There are 15 cards - one for each of the kids in the game, plus one for Rubberkid, one for Mrs. Bookworm and one for the bullies - each with a little info about each of them. There are also three "printing pages" with five of the cards each for easy printing and cutting out! They end up slightly bigger than playing cards and are colorful and fun, as well as excellent tools for bullying education!

Anyone who contributes at least $10 gets you a signed postcard, 5 signed certificate pledges (if you're in the continental US) AND all of the images! Plus, now that they're complete I'll make sure you get them the same day that you contribute!
Page three of the printing pages!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In the First Half of February this Developer Gave to Me...

In my first tracking of self-awarded work points, I'm just under 70% of my full potential for getting work done. Not too shabby for a beginning, especially with still not feeling 100% well anyway :)

As for what's been accomplished, in under 9 full work days I got back into Rubberkid (which was a heck of a task on its own after almost four months!), made 2 1/2 levels of the game (leaving just half of one and the extra stuff) and have hit my goals with social network growth, newsletter subscriptions and so on.

The only area that (still) needs work is earning some income. I did make a sale this month, which is awesome!

And for the rest of the month, I've got rewards to send out for the Kickstarter pledgers, Rubberkid should be complete this month (but won't be released since I'll still be looking for sponsors) and there's the #1GAMCRUNCH next weekend (the 22nd-24th).

Still a lot of excitement coming up, and in all honesty, I'm probably the most excited of anyone about it! I'm really having some fun working on Rubberkid, and last month's #1GAMCRUNCH resulted in quite a game... This time around, Ariel Marsh will be helping out (she's the one who has done a LOT of art for The Critterverse).

And one last thing: The Adventures of Rubberkid has been updated on the web as well! All of the levels but one (Chris, the Critter Crusher) are playable now.

The cheerleader level - featuring Jane and Jenny - is now functional! They do a little cheer as the bullies hurl their insults.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Newgrounds Five: Dragon Platforming, Turn-Based Strategy with Cute Animals

*Note: The Newgrounds Five is a summary of all the awesome games I find playing five Newgrounds games most days. I don't play with the audio on, so you won't find any comments regarding it!*

Rated Everyone!
Genre: Platforming
Play Time: About 45-60 mins

I love when I can find a game in the "Under Judgement" that I want to rate well, it makes me feel good about myself! Dragoniada is a platforming game where you play as a dragon who fell from his/her mother's nest and has to climb back up. You jump, shoot fireballs and move; no power-ups, no leveling up, just simple fun that does what it does well!

The game sure starts out simple enough, but as you progress through levels they get much more challenging, but it never feels cheap (except those bats, although I think that's more because I'm not good at being patient with enemies!). There's also a boss to battle about half-way through, and although there are no power-ups, you definitely have to keep an eye out for green potions (extra lives) and blue potions (fireballs, 10 each) and, about half-way in, red potions (extra-powerful fireballs, 10 each as well).

Oh, and by the way... You'll be VERY happy to know that, if you happen to lose all of your lives, you'll restart the current level with 5 lives again. It's very smooth (trust me, I'd know!)

"Monster Tap Proto"
Rated Everyone!
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Play Time: 5-30 mins, depending on luck and how good you are ;)

From what I gather, this is a playable prototype for a bigger game called Somebody Help Me (in fact, if you check the game out, at the time of writing they're looking for possible beta testers for the future!)

There are no instructions whatsoever, but after a couple plays I've figured out the following:

  • All four of the animals on the screen at first are on the same team.
  • Enemies appear from the buildings around the outside.
  • If you hit an enemy and it doesn't die, it goes back a space (if it can). If you kill it, it turns into a tombstone that you can "attack" again to get EXP, which is very very vital for later enemies!
  • STAY TOGETHER!! You can heal each other, and even revive!
  • If you can kill an enemy and leave a tombstone in front of one of the areas the enemies come from, they'll be stuck!
The game really is a blast, and if you can last through enough rounds you get... "Bronze, Silver or Gold", but I have no idea what that is because around 40 or so all the enemies were defeated and nothing else appeared. A fun little prototype play experience, though!

Newgrounds Five: Bouncy Kitties, Fish and Evolution, Oh My!

To kick off my reviewing of indie games in addition to making them, I'm going to do something I plan to do a bunch of: The Newgrounds Five. If you play five games on Newgrounds, you get to deposit your experience and level up, which makes your votes worth more. When I play those five games (or more), I'll write a bit about the really fun, awesome ones!

Note that I DO NOT play with audio on for the most part, so I won't be discussing the sound. I also won't be reviewing any Mature/Adult games whatsoever.

Rated Everyone! :)

The concept of this game is simple enough: get the cat to the box of fish! There are fish that are optional on each level as well; they don't give you any special bonuses or anything, but they're a good challenge to get!

What makes the game unique is how you do it - your mouse becomes a bouncy pad that angles toward the kitty automatically! You have to aim it to make sure that the cat won't go off the screen, and of course the faster you move your mouse, the harder the cat will get hit.

It's a great concept with some fun art and 30 total levels! I played through the first 10 completely, and this is a shot of #11. :)

Evolvo Plus
Rated Everyone, but it has some blood in the form of red circles and stuff

Evolvo Plus is all about eating fish! Your goal is to move around with the arrow keys and eat the number of fish required to level up. After each level up you'll get bigger and able to eat more fish, and every so many levels up you can evolve and do fun stuff like go all the way to the surface, turn invisible temporarily, get a shield to stop a hit and even the ability to use your whole body to eat fish (MASSIVELY helpful when you become so huge that you take up the whole screen!).

What's amazing about this game is the art and the amount of fish. It's a really simple game concept, one that's been made a lot, but it's really been expanded upon - there are 100 types of sea life and some are poisonous (they glow and have a little biohazard symbol on them) that make you go slow for a moment - plus other hazards like red tide, oil spills, hazardous waste spills and mines. There are also multiple difficulty levels for those who would rather relax, or who want a challenge. I started on regular and then tried again on the most difficult, and it seemed to make everything move much faster (as well as add new types of sea life!)

As your little fish gets bigger and bigger, it really morphs into an awesome beast (complete with a spiky tail!) and can take up the ENTIRE screen. A little bit after that, there's the "boss battle". Oh, and there are also cheats that can be used, Newgrounds achievements to get and the challenge to try to get all 100 kinds of fish.

Friday, February 1, 2013

February Goals

With January done, February gives me a clean slate, but with a whole bunch of awesomeness to work with.

Now, while I'm still only about half done with my Hangman game, the fact that it's taking so long makes me realize that I need to shift my focus. One of my worst habits in the past was finding a "more important" project in the middle of working on one, therefore never really finishing anything... Because of that, I always feel awful and resist as much as possible with shifting focus, and do it only when it's really important. I shifted to Hangman because I was still sick and needed a project I wouldn't ruin, and could easily work on... And now I need to shift back to Rubberkid because I ran a Kickstarter campaign (which was successful) and the estimated release was in February. I also need to get back to it because it's a much more important project, and it's quite close to done development-wise, really!

February Goals (Games to Develop)

  1. Finish Rubberkid and start seeking sponsors for the game.
  2. Complete the Hangman game as well, have it out seeking sponsors.
  3. Complete the #1GAMCRUNCH February challenge (22nd-24th) and have a game to show for that as well. Use it for the "one game a month"
February Goals (Other)
  1. When Rubberkid is done and seeking sponsors, send out the pledge rewards for the people that pledged on Kickstarter.
  2. Break even on the month (expenses/earnings)
  3. 300 Work Points (1 point is given per half hour of work... I am for 7.5 hours per day (15), times 20 days this month = 300)
  4. 1125 Critterverse Likes (+40)
  5. 950 followers on @TheCritterverse (+113)
  6. 850 followers on @CataclysmGames (+170)
  7. 185 Critterville Times Newsletter Subscribers (+13)
  8. 110 Minion Inquirer Newsletter Subscribers (+10)

January 2013 Recap

So, January is down, and there are still 11 more awesome months in the year. Jan 2013 was the first year I really tracked some very important things... So, how did it go?


I spent half of the month sick, and as I was getting better I got to working on a Hangman game, since I wasn't up to working on Rubberkid yet. I figured I could do the Hangman game quickly, but it ended up becoming a lot more than expected... 100 movies with over 1,000 total phrases, each with a hint and a fun fact, takes a LOT of time to do!!!

The 25th - 27th were the #1GAMCRUNCH, for which I made Escape from the Afterlife, which I was very proud of! It's another game that I want to do more work on, though, so we'll see how that goes when I do. :)

After that, I got back to working on Hangman, which still has an estimated week and a half to two and a half weeks of work left.

Goal Results

Weight Loss: Six pounds lost out of my goal of 12. Pretty good for not exercising yet and being sick most of the month, though!

Social Media (Twitter/FB): Did WAY better than I was aiming for with Twitter, but failed with Facebook. Facebook is WAY harder to get new fans with than Twitter is to get new followers...

Email Newsletter Subscribers: I managed to get my goal with the Minion Inquirer, didn't miss the Critterville Times (the main one) by much :)

Website Visitors: Not too good, but then, I wasn't doing much to drive visitors either (outside of making Escape from the Afterlife)