Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ten Seconds Alive - A "Failed" Ludum Dare Postmortem

Note: "Failed" is in quotes because, while the game wasn't completed in time for Ludum Dare, it was far from a failure.

Ten Seconds Alive was my attempt at something very different in this Ludum Dare challenge. Typically I go for something that I already had an idea for long ago, and simply wanted to give it a quick little feasibility play test, or else I simply put a little twist on another game *AHEM*CLONE *AHEM*.

The space around your hiding spot. You come out of the hatch and have a few items to collect right away to help your next attempts - the rectangle is a battery and makes your lantern last longer; the glass bottle is for glass that helps the light expand further, and the crystal ball lets you see any single map square you want in your hiding spot. The lightpost is functional from the start, so you don't have to use your lantern in this spot, and the timer doesn't run.

For those of you who don't know, my games are always kid safe. By that I mean they don't have violence, they are easy to pick up and play, they're fun but funny as well and lean toward the cute side of graphics. Ten Seconds Alive is the exact opposite of all of that: you take on the role of a survivor after mysterious creatures attack town. Hiding in an underground bunker, you must choose which fellow survivor to send out to die. You have 10 seconds of light in your lantern, and your goal is to go around fixing lamp posts, recharging power stations and hunting down supplies (like batteries to give you extra light time, glass to make your light circle bigger, etc.) so that the next survivor will have a better chance. Once you find the bigger, lit-up civilization, all of the remaining survivors make it to safety and you win (for now!)

The goal of the game was to truly make you feel stressed over making each survivor count, so that you'd lose as few as possible. Selecting which survivor to die next was meant to be a challenge too - each has their own back story, and most have a strength and/or a weakness. For example, some can move faster, some can ransack houses more quickly, others don't map out newly found screens for your map.

Oh, and hey, you can play the game right here!

What Went Right

1. Planning Ahead

When the final round of voting was started, I'd come up with the idea. I've always loved games where you play the same thing over and over, gaining money to upgrade yourself to get further, and I wanted a unique, dark twist on it... A real reason to want to succeed as quickly as possible. I usually come up with an idea for a theme, but then that theme isn't selected; this time, however, the game fit into 25% of the possible themes, most of which were the top-voted ones from rounds before. There was very  little chance that it wouldn't be selected. And, despite having the general idea, I vowed to not write a single detail down until the challenge began so that I wasn't technically cheating.

2. Preparation

Yes, this is the second "what went right" that doesn't even have to do with the development itself. I spent Friday night after the theme was announced writing out everything about the game: steps for development, things that would need to be done, screen layouts, pseudocoding, you name it! I ended up changing the steps for coding later, sure, but it was awesome to have a good idea of exactly what needed to be done. It's always nice to be able to say "15 steps til it's a game!" "3 steps down, 12 steps til it's a game!"

3. A Unique Idea

To me, the best Ludum Dare games are always the really unique ones... The ones where I'd say "hey, this was an awesome idea, I wish I would have thought of it!" And that's exactly what Ten Seconds Alive was. It was something I never would have done otherwise; heck, it's so far away from a game I ever would have done that I couldn't have even put it on my website because it isn't kid safe! Even though I didn't finish it, I was able to "create" it in a short period of time, so that it didn't take away from my real development time on other, bigger (hopefully profitable) projects.

4. It's Done (Enough)

As I said before, for most game jams, I typically make a short, playable trial of a much bigger idea I've had to see if it could be any fun. The problem with this is that, even if I "finish" in time, the game is incomplete and gets tossed onto the pile of partially finished games that I'll have to complete sometime. With Ten Seconds Alone, even though the game wasn't finished and isn't even fully playable, it reached a stage that's "done enough" to me. I got all of the experience out of it that I could possibly want.

5. Aimed Low Enough for Success

One of the biggest challenges for Ludum Dare, or any game jam, is to come up with an idea quickly that not only fits the theme, but is also doable within such a short time period while still being a challenge and a learning experience. I strongly believe that if I hadn't felt sick, I could have finished the game in time. It certainly wouldn't have looked great, and probably wouldn't have had SFX or music, but it would have been done!

What Went Wrong

1. Sickness

A large part of Sunday, and a decent part of Monday, were taken by sickness. My nausea prevented me from being able to work during those times, and that prevented me from completely finishing in time. Shortly after, unrelated to the jam itself, I ended up with a really bad fever, and I'm just now over it *fingers crossed* as I write this!

2. Atmospheric Games Are Demanding!

To make a game truly atmospheric and dark, it needs to have some good sound effects and art! You can't simply get away with a static single unanimated stick figure for nearly 40 different characters. One of the main goals of the game was to cause emotion, and with my lack of artistic ability, I was unable to accomplish that.

3. The Map Took WAY Too Long

One of the main pieces to the game is the map itself. The player has to be able to reach and obtain new goods, light up paths and keep moving onward. I felt that it would take too long to randomly generate a map, so I wrote one out by hand. It took me a couple hours to sketch it all out - I had to fill in a 15x15 grid with just the right number of each item - and then hours more to code it all into the game. All in all, I think the map alone took about 5 hours of work, and that's not even including writing the code to actually bring up the proper map screens or place the items. That's not really a bad amount of time on a normal project, but when you only have 48 non-sleep hours max, it hurts.

4. Backstory and Characters are Time Consuming!

It's been a long time since I wrote anything fiction other than a few paragraphs here and there for games, and honestly it's one of the things I miss the most... I was into writing and poetry long before actually developing games, and now I was excited to do it again. Maybe too excited... I dove into the story and backstories pretty deep with Ten Seconds Alive. There were 37 survivors that made it into the game, and each survivor is connected to others that become depressed if they die. An example:
CreateSurvivor(30, "Becky Wheeler", 31, "Artist at Dark Blade Games", "Dating Ryan Morrison", 1, null, "Becky is a master of both art and leading others, and she was the one to save the others when the monsters attacked.", 31, 32, 33);
Which coverts in-game to this:

Of course, the game still needed to be proofread, but each survivor has their own page pre-game with (maybe) a strength [Tech Savvy means she can fix light posts], a weakness, a name and age, relationship status, a brief history/likes/etc notes, and up to three people they'll depress when they die [depression causes them to move more slowly]. All of this led to a lot of information being created, and in all reality it was probably much more than necessary, especially in such a short amount of time. It was necessary to go for that "feel guilty about sending them to their death", but took a long time to come up with.

5. Didn't Get Enough Done to Make it Work

It has to be said - one of the failings of the game was simply that not enough of it was completed to even make it fully playable. Players cannot fix lamp posts or enter power plants to fix them, and these incomplete parts make it impossible to get far in the game. In the near future, I'll have to complete those couple things, so that people can at least get a sense of what I was going for :)

1 comment:

  1. I tried it and with some work, this would be a great deal of fun. So far.... So good!