A PostMortem for Maze Explorers — or how I finally sat on my ass and completed my first computer game EVER.
Since the weekend forced me to take a break on my review series, I have decided to take this chance to sit back and think about how the LD22 weekend worked out for me.
Maze Explorers was not the first time that I tried to make a computer game, but it was the first time I managed to ¨complete¨ my effort. I can thank the 48 hour deadline for that. I feel that after completing this LD, something clicked on me, and game making is not something as mysterious and arcane as I thought it was. I hope this means I can turn my ideas into real games more often in the future.
Now for the obligatory ¨what worked¨ and ¨what did not work¨ lists:
- Having friends test my prototypes mid game: I had some very awesome friends test my prototypes as I submitted them, and provide me feedback. Some of the most important suggestions included: A highscore feature, zooming in the game area when the light radius was limited, and making sure my tiles were colorblind friendly (<3 colorblind friends).
- Having a Ludum Dare ¨partner¨: In terms of motivation, I was lucky to have entered the LD with a friend of mine. We were constantly IM´ing each other, talking about bugs and landmarks, and just ranting. It gave me a sense of duty — he was putting effort on it, so I´d better put some effort too! I´m sure I would have procrastinated a LOT if not for him.
- Deciding my theme/game design quickly: After the theme was announced, I sat on my sofa and did not leave until I had the complete game on my head. I found a kinda interesting, not too ambitious idea. Years of programming/Dungeon Mastering helped me keep the scope of my game reined in. I managed to complete about 90% of the planned features for my game, and even to sneak a few more in. Even when it looked like a stupid idea, I stuck to my guns and kept going on.
- Familiarity with the Language/Environment: I have been working with Java and Eclipse for a few years (although only in the realm of scientific computing), and even though I did learn a new thing or two, this familiarity helped a lot.
Thanks for reading so far! I hid the kitten easter egg pretty well, so here is a hint: there is one control key in the game that apparently is not useful for anything. You need that key to find the easter egg!
What did not work
- Unfamiliarity with Game Programming: This goes without saying, but I spent too much time figuring out things like “which class I should store my resources in”, “where to call transitions”, “how to properly program my tile engine”, etc. I was reinventing the wheel way too many times.
- Unfamiliarity with the game library: Related to the previous one, even though slick2D is a pretty simple and straightforward library, I think I spend the majority of my time peering through its class documentation. Finding out how to change the size/color of a font was a pain. Luckly, this means that next LD I should have more time to spend on the game itself.
- Making Levels: A large part of the theme tie-in in my game depended on level design. Levels should have at least two solutions — an “alone” solution and a “with company” solution. Unfortunately this means that designing levels took quite a while for me, and I only managed to complete 5 levels before the deadline. Fortunately, having the player try for the best score increased playability a bit beyond just beating the 5 levels.
- Sound: Sound and Music were always my weak point. I know nothing about sound terminology and technical aspects, and I wouldn’t even know where to begin to try and make some music for my game. sfxr helped me a bit with the sound effects, but I ended up botching the synth voice effects: its volume is too low, and either you can’t hear them, or the stepping sound effect gets too annoyingly high. I need to practice this a bit before the next LD. Suggestions for programs to make music out of thin air appreciated.
- Environment: My environment was far from optimal. I didn’t get enough good food, and ended up eating too much junk food (I had enough water, though). Also, even though I divided my 4 virtual desktops well (net/docs/programming/resource-terminals), a second display was sorely missed.
What now? There are many things that I didn’t manage to finish in my game: Transitions, a few more levels, music, something to fill the bottom of the screen, background screens. There are also some things that the reviewers (thanks!) asked for: better sounds, not getting stuck with a companion on your back (thinking about it, we don’t really need this for the game to be hard).
I might make a post-compo version with the above, for the sake of completeness. On the other hand, I might keep the game as is, for archiving sake, and move on with trying to make some new games to get more practice with the gaming library and with game coding in general.
Thanks for reading, and make sure to try out Maze Explorers and tell me what you think about it