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    Post Mortem: “Just like evolution”

    Posted by (twitter: @http://twitter.com/McDaan)
    September 2nd, 2012 5:11 pm

    The Concept: What to make?

    SimEvo was going to be  (or might still become) a game that tries to simulate actual evolution, from a species point of view – with the player directing focus, travelling with the evolving species, and trying to find the most successful branch.
    Why go for simulation, and not some more easy to grasp 1-2-3 upgrade system? I guess it is sort of the educational side that I like. Try to get some of the common misconceptions about evolution out of the way. That, and it makes the game feel more real, based on actual concepts that you can look up, instead of some made up ruleset.

    The Process: How it got made

    For this, my first Ludum Dare, I had a whole weekend free. And I got off to a pretty good start. The tools were working, I liked my concept, had a good grasp on how to do the visuals of the game, and some good mechanics put down on paper.

    Over halfway through the weekend though, I realised that my concept was too much, so I dedicated the rest  to making the parts that I did have work. That took most of the Sunday. In the last four hours, I tacked some things I should have started earlier, like how to score the player, or a way to start a new game from within the game. (restarting is not really a nice option)

    I read later that one great way to plan this is to tale one day to make the game, and then take another to tweak/balance it.  And I now understand why that is a good idea.

    The programming was a bit messy here and there, with some small bugs in the final version I knew of. But the one major bug I found later on is that the ‘new game’ button was broken! I rushed it in the end – it does not reset the state properly, so all tries after the first one will result in very quick death because of starvation. Fixed that a few days afterwards, but it kinda killed any early reviews.

    The Reality: What got Made

    Yup, some critical ‘game’ features were unfinished – I should just say: the game is half-finished. Oh woe me time :/ Too ambitious, in hindsight. But I got enthusiastic about the concept, and that counts too.

    One of the mayor things I did not have time to finish was a`prey & predators` system, which would give you more things to do as a player. (most current stats involve predation, so also of things in the DNA pool are useless atm)

    Also wanted to do more feedback for the user on the stats, as one comment on the game points out, without understanding what they mean, the simulation is a mystery system.

    In game (partial):

    • Migration - Follow your species to another biome, and see if they thrive better there (partial: migrating is free atm, and species capabilities are not enforced: you can live in the deep sea as a winged bird)
    • Mutation - Select new DNA from the gene pool to be better suited for the environment (in game) resets every time the mutation counter hits 100% (in game)

    Not in game:

    • Natural selection - If more than % of your species dies in a short time, you can select new dna from the pool for free
    • Point-mutation - Option to promote random evolution of current DNA stat (+1, -1 on semi-random stats)
    • Vestigiality - Option in gene-pool to remove DNA parts from your species
    • Flee from predator - Don’t like your current predator species? Try to get another one… (might be better, might be worse)
    • Find new prey - Your prey getting low on stock? Try finding a new prey species
    Other things, that would love to have put in there, but were already out of the original scope:
    • More visuals for the species body – you can already drag the body parts around (hidden feature almost, no hint that you can do it) – Like special colors / iconic glyphs for certain types of DNA parts
    • Would have loved to make a picture for the background for each biome (12ish) only got 3 done.
    • Other species being simulated, just like your species
    • Events! Make lots of things happen to the environment – from comets to droughts and more. Would have been a good point to introduce more humor into the game.
    If you would like more details of what got cut / the stats & details, look at my comments here:
    http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-24/?action=preview&uid=15925

    The Gritty: Technical Details and Tools

    Making stuff is almost as much about the tools as about the concept. Without them, you will not get there, and what they can do guides what is possible in a short timespan.

    I used Moai (http://getmoai.com), as I have been following its progress for a while, and liked their base game loop and Lua scripting focus. I had tried out the engine a little bit before, and it looked good for a go, even if Windows support was not tip-top (Moai is mainly a mobile focused engine). It also was picked up by two hot kickstarter projects: Double Fine Adventure, and Shadowrun Returns.

    Yet during the two days of the Dare, I encountered some serious but not game-stopping bugs in the engine, and could not find if they had fixed it. To my astonishment they had moved their issue handling away from Github, to a closed third party system. That sucked. It moved from a free source game engine with open development, where outsiders can contribute, to a closed system. Issues reported by others were largely ignored, and no clear path of progress.
    I pretty much decided after seeing that - if they keep it that way -, that this will be my last project with the engine.

    Aside from its change in direction, I did like the lua environment – it was very flexible. Still loved the simple but fps independent game loop. GUI creation was ok, but a bit clunky, a GUI system in the engine would have saved me quite a bit of time.

    TL;DR Version

    Had an ambitious concept, learned that 48h is really 24h + polish, and found out some useful things about my toolchain: that I probably want to change it. Ludum Learning Experience +3, Ludum Fun +1

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