– Agents –
I’ve been considering what I would have to say about Agents in a ‘post-mortem.’ I find that I’m beginning to really dislike the term ‘post-mortem’ in this context, as it implies that the project is dead when it is anything but.
I think this theme brought out the best in a lot of us as designers, and I know I was thrilled when I saw it end up as the selection, even despite the recent tragedy that had occurred only days prior. I had thought to do an audio-only game for a while, but was not settled on a concept or a storyline. After the theme was announced, and after spending a couple of hours formulating (and disposing of) some very dark concepts that I ultimately wasn’t comfortable with, I came across the idea of commanding field agents on a clearly nefarious infiltration mission. I feel this concept was much stronger than any of the others that came to me, so the theme really worked to my advantage.
The sound designer I worked with did an incredible job with the ambient sound effects, and as the voice of Agent 1. HE ALSO SIMULTANEOUSLY DID THE SOUND DESIGN FOR THE GAME “The Fall of Mr. Wily” (Which won 3rd place Overall in the Jam). He managed to keep this a secret from both teams until the contest ended. Neither I nor Stone Monkey Studio had any idea that our audio guy was double-jamming.
Also, I had way too much fun doing the voice for Agent 2.
Drawing a map :
Yes, a game with no graphics actually has a world map. I found it impossible to arrange in my mind the world or its features without drawing it out on paper first. Once I did that, I was able to place guards, lay out a sensible building, and weave a scenario that at least makes some sense.
This is not my first time making a game, or even my first Ludum Dare. My old blog handle and contestant name was “dr_soda” if you’re curious. The change to “recursive frog” reflects a newfound sense of inspiration and outlook.
Some of you remember from my older LD entries that the little froggy has been my mascot for a while, and you might also notice the endless sequence of frogs drinking coffee, posing in front of computer screens with wallpapers of frogs drinking coffee, posing in front of… (ad infinitum). I call it “Looking down the ribbit hole” It is also reflective of how I approach most things these days.
You probably guessed by now that I am in fact a reasonably experienced Android developer. Normally I don’t call out fragmentation as being particularly troublesome, as I find that for most applications and games it’s an overblown concern, and that people normally think only of screen dimensions when they express fears about it.
But this… this time it was pretty awful.
It wasn’t lost on me that a lot of users had trouble running the game. There were a number of reasons for this, some of which were easily fixed by just handling audio playback differently, but others were much more insidious and in fact endemic to the particular devices or OS versions. I’ll say it right out : Speech recognition in Android is fragmented and it’s a real challenge to compensate.
You might wonder “How did you get around the classic Zork problem in which people hit a situation and they don’t know what to say to get out of it?” And the answer is that I didn’t! I ran face-first into that problem and got clobbered for it. My biggest failing here, I think, was to properly set up the situation such that players can know what to do, or at the very least know how to ask for help. It’s not a technical issue, but rather one of design.
Breaking the “rules” :
No, not cheating at the rules of the competition. Rather, defying conventional wisdom. The two biggest rules broken were…
- Only use toolchains and APIs you’re familiar with
- A game requires visuals
These factors all were double-edged swords. While I always choose a language I’m familiar with when I make an LD game, I almost always use some API or toolchain that is completely unfamiliar to me. Prior to this LD, I had never before touched speech recognition. Because I had not, and did not know the dangers and limitations, I actually tried this concept, and that was clearly a good choice based on the first place Innovation award, and with a 4.74 total score at that! Were I aware ahead of time the issues that Jellybean presents, I might have passed the idea over… and that would have been bad. This sense of bravery in terms of tackling unfamiliar concepts has served me well not just in Ludum Dare, but outside as well.
Likewise, a game with such a minimal UI takes incredibly poor screenshots, so I had to be creative in how I expressed the progress of the game and “advertised” it (because of course, what are our screenshots other than advertisements). The YouTube video was a great success, and I’m happy that you all enjoyed it. I honestly was very reticent about posting video of myself for this project, but ultimately I think it was the right decision to show the game in action for the benefit of those who could not experience it for themselves.
Every one of you who played these games, left feedback about them, told me what was right and what was wrong about them have helped me more than I can express adequately. Thank you all for your feedback, and for helping a little froggy to find the fun hiding under his little lillypad.