Ludum Dare 23 was a huge success for me with Zunzanda, and I said that I would not return to do another LD until my commercial game is done. But I guess I lied. It’s just too much fun to pass up! This marks my 7th LD (I think) and I think I did OK.
With the list of available themes, I picked the top three that I thought would win and began to brainstorm. I had some great ideas for END OF THE WORLD, and I was sure that it would win. Then, when the theme was announced, I just kind of stared at the screen in amazement. I honestly did not even think about YOU ARE THE VILLAIN. I should have, but for some reason it just didn’t pop up. I immediately stood up and began doing random things around the house while my mind raced with ideas. I usually go through this process. Instead of sitting down at the computer and drawing sketches, I just do some mindless task so my brain can sling crazy ideas around.
After enough thought, I decided to do something that I said I’d never do. I made a ‘Zelda clone’ with unoriginal slime creatures as the main enemy. This style of game is very unoriginal and the enemy is ‘easy’ to draw and is a total copy of about a million other games… but in that familiarity I crafted my overall design purpose: to use the player’s own history and tendencies against them. I will explain more about this design approach in the “THEME ANALYSIS” section. Reading that before playing the game will basically spoil the entire purpose of the game… SO GO PLAY IT!
Time, as usual, was the main enemy.
Features that got dropped after day one:
Features / tweaks that got dropped on the last day:
WHAT WENT RIGHT?
- The music. Cure 48 features two songs… the main theme and the ‘escape’ theme. I used the same instruments for both songs and kept them similar so the change wasn’t jarring. I think it works very well and the main theme is pretty rad.
- The spriting. I was able to get a fully animated main character that’s generic but somehow not generic at the same time. Enemies are decently animated and have three palette variations. The world tiles are also pretty snazzy except for the walls.
- The overall ‘purpose’ of the game seems to have been a great success based on the comments I’m getting. More on this will be revealed in the “THEME ANALYSIS” section below.
- Graphical overlays and special filters. These make the game feel like it’s being viewed inside of an old, crappy monitor. Scan lines and static included.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
- CRASHES! My computer kept crashing on the first night and it put me behind by a considerable amount. It ended up being a hardware conflict related to my audio setup. BARF.
- Much of the mood that I wanted to set got scrapped due to time. This included detailed intro and outro sequences with voice acting to help frame the actual game.
- Screen transitions are harsh.
- The sound effects are pretty standard. I wanted to do more unique sounds but I guess it fits.
- Porting to HTML5. I was hoping this would be simpler but there were just far too many tiny errors that kept piling up. Things like world tiles flickering, audio not being triggered on time, objects and sprites changing at random, and AI not behaving correctly. It just wasn’t worth ironing out all of these bugs, especially when there are just so many other games to play and rate.
So here’s the part that you shouldn’t read unless you want to be spoiled. If you haven’t played the game… GO PLAY IT NOW! If you’ve already played it, don’t want to, or CAN’T… then feel free to keep reading —->
The theme “You Are The Villain” immediately painted an image in my head of playing as the bad guy. Role reversals start popping into my head. What would be the most interesting to attempt? I thought about it for a while but eventually decided I was thinking about it all wrong. The YOU in YOU ARE THE VILLAIN is the player, not the character. This means that the player has to play the game in a villainous way. That is, if the game is designed to lock the player into a role, then the player will obviously have to act within those rules. With my game, I wanted to make the player the villain without actually telling them to be the villain. I wanted them to be the villain by default while also giving them plenty of chances to be the hero. By using a familiar type of gameplay and introducing a familiar game enemy, I was able to manipulate the player into acting a certain way without ever asking or forcing them.
Cure 48 puts the player in the role of a ‘spaceman’ of sorts that is tasked with saving Earth. A plague has swept across the globe and the only cure is found on another planet far away. This cure grows on a plant, and the player is asked to harvest as much of the cure as possible… and that’s it. The gameplay is very similar to The Legend of Zelda, in that you have a sword (in this case, a light saber kind of thing) and can swing it in four directions. The first screen consists of the player and his ship. You can only go right. Once you go right, you start to see some plant life. These plants do not contain any cure but can be cut down. Curious players may test swiping these plants just like the grass in many of the Zelda games. Going on the next screen presents the player with an interesting grass layout that draws the attention to the plant in the center. This plant has a white ball on top of it. Cutting this plant makes the ‘cure’ drop to the ground. Picking this up makes a sound and the cure count goes up by one. The player now knows to look out for these plants. So right away the player is used to moving around and using the sword to cut plants and gather the cure. In these first two screens, the player has already learned everything they need to know to ‘complete’ the game.
The next area introduces the mini slimes. These green creates are familiar to most gamers. You’ve seen this guy before in other games. He’s a grunt. He’s an easy to kill enemy. But in Cure 48, he can’t hurt you. He doesn’t even follow you or try to get in your way. Up until now, the game hasn’t mentioned anything about being a villain. The game has never asked you to kill anything. Killing these slimes gives you nothing, but maybe it’s satisfying to be able to cut down something other than a plant. Maybe gamers are just curious to see what happens. My guess was that a combination of the game genre and the slime itself would immediately prompt a violent response from the player. In this moment, the player becomes the villain, not the character in the game. A creature from Earth that is trying to save his species from an attacker (the plague/virus) is now on another planet acting AS the plague/virus to another species. And this is all done voluntarily by the player.
Continuing forward, a large slime is introduced. Again, this green slime will not hurt you or try to attack you. UNLESS you attack it first. It then becomes red and starts to defend itself. Hitting it twice more will kill it, and it will drop a cure. The player has just learned that the cure can be found in two places: on plants and in large slimes. This causes the player to now seek out the large slimes in order to get more cure. So now the player is committed to being a villain without even knowing it. Killing a green slime out of curiosity is bad enough, but now the player is slaughtering a peaceful creature in order to obtain something that is easily obtainable in a non-violent way. The next screen is much larger and has a mixture of large and small slimes and plenty of plants that contain the cure. Many of these plants contain two or three ‘cures’, whereas the large slimes only hold one cure each.
Let me jump ahead a bit and talk about some of the comments I got about the enemies. Several players felt as though the large slimes are frustrating because they attack from an angle that can’t be hit by the sword. This was done on purpose. For one, it makes it more challenging as a game, but the most important reason is that it further supports the idea that attacking the slimes is not only a villainous thing, but it’s a stupid and dangerous thing. The game can be complete without ever attacking a single slime. There is literally no reason to ever have to deal with this ‘frustrating’ aspect of fighting the slimes. The player has personally chosen to pick a fight with an innocent creature and now the player is complaining that the angle at which the slime defends itself is less than optimal. WHAT A VILLAIN! “How dare you attack my weak spot!” I was hoping that somebody would fall into this trap that I set, and it seems like more than a few did. I couldn’t be happier. By acting like a villain, the player is making the game exceptionally harder than it has to be.
So back to the game progression… you go to the next area and large blue slimes are introduced. These slimes don’t immediately defend themselves if you attack them. Instead, they will bounce backwards a bit. This is yet another test for the player. These creatures won’t even come after you if you accidentally swipe them while trying to get the cure. But if you hit them enough, which means you WANT to kill them, then they break into two small red slimes. These slimes will drop one cure each, yielding two cures for each blue slime killed. Introducing yet another reason for the greed of the player to kick in. This room also contains plenty of plants that contain cures.
The next room is the final area. This room contains no enemies. This area has a TON of plants with many cures to collect, but it also has a curious object in the middle of the screen that looks like it may be the source of the cure. In fact, it is. I was unable to really describe this area in full detail because I ran out of time, but the idea is that the plants feed off of this power source and the slimes feed off of the plants. If you let a mini slime grab a fallen cure, then it will grow into a large slime. This was to show that the cure you are seeking is also the source of life for these slimes. This also explains why cures fall out of large slimes when you kill them. This object in the middle of the room flashes red when you hit it to show the player that it can, in fact, be damaged. Striking it five times will result in your light sword breaking (which was unfortunately not described as well as I had wanted due to time). The music stops and the ‘escape’ theme begins to play as slimes start to flood out of the back of the room toward the player. These slimes are red just like the defending slimes from earlier. You cannot attack them because your sword is broken, so you can only flee. They are simply defending the power source that gives them life, so their response can be seen as defensive and not aggressive. They will chase you all the way back to the start of the game, where you get into your ship and leave with the cures that you have collected. If the player attacks any slimes, then there will be aggression. If the player does not attack any slimes, then the only time a red slime is seen is after the player has already lost the ability to attack. So there is literally no way for a non-villainous player to kill any slimes as a method of “defense”. This ensures that all slimes killed are because of VILLAINY.
At this point, the game rates your performance and gives you an overall rank and awards you with medals. By killing just ONE of the slimes on this planet, you are branded as the villain. To reach the rank of a hero, you have to collect a certain number of cures and kill zero slimes. To get the rank of a perfect hero , you have to get the Collector medal, the Defender medal, and the Feeder medal, and of course not kill any slimes. There is an award for killing a large amount of slimes, but that’s to show that bad behavior can also be rewarded in our society. You may also notice that when the ship is shown flying away, a green slime crawls around the back of the ship and sticks his little face up on the left side. This only happens when you get the villain rank. This is to show that the slimes follow the player back to Earth. I was unfortunately unable to create the ending sequence that I wanted, which would’ve shown the spaceship returning safely. Upon opening the ship, slimes flood out of it and attack everyone waiting to greet the spaceman. The slimes prevent the cure from being delivered and all life on Earth ceases to exist. The hero ending would’ve shown the spaceman step out and deliver the cure to save Earth. So here once again we see that by being a villain, the player not only made the game much harder, but they actually sabotaged their own mission. The humans see the plague as the villain so they send a hero to get the cure. Upon reaching the planet, a majority of players see the slimes as enemies(villains) keeping them from obtaining the cure. The slimes see the human as the villain trying to destroy their life source so they send slimes back to earth to prevent any more spacemen from endangering their planet. And of course the humans then view the slimes as the villains that are invading Earth. It’s a cycle of perceived villainy.
So there you have it. That’s how my game approached the theme, and I’m so very glad that 99 % of players have proven that we are all very capable of being the villain without even realizing it. The difference between a hero and a villain often depends on what side of the battle you’re on, and I think that’s what has really stuck with me the most after this Ludum Dare. Thanks for reading!