Okay, first off, I’m going to say this shouldn’t really be a postmortem as such. Why? Because I’m going to develop my game from here into something much better! So it’s not really dead yet
Mind Control Monster Madness
Anyway, the final game, in my opinion, was pretty ropey. Mostly the controls were horrible, with the camera zooming off from here to there whenever you click on something. But also the game lacked a lot of clarity. The gameplay isn’t explained very well at all, and it’s very hard to tell when you’re clicking on a monster and when you’re clicking on land. This is all stuff I fixed up for the Jam version, as best as I could. I still think it’s hooribly awkward to play though.
I thought it was a disaster when I submitted it on Monday morning (or Sunday night depending on where you are!), but playing it again now I can see a lot of value in it. The rock-paper-scissors mechanic on the monsters works a treat, and because they differ in other attributes (most notably speed), it makes it weighted in a way that’s quite interesting to play.
For example, dragons are the fastest monsters, so you normally want to get them first. You can use them to beat up the Godzillas. But you need a certain number of Godzillas on your side to beat up the turtles, otherwise you’ll get screwed by turtles. You can’t mind-control every enemy fast enough, so you need to start fights to defent your control tower. This means that you need to think on your feet at all times, and judge what’s the most pressing issue on the fly.
That, to me, is nice gameplay, and it’s a shame the concept doesn’t really shine through because of all the other issues with the game. That’s why I’m going to work on it more and make a decent game out of it.
So what went wrong?
Time. Time is the enemy of us all! I think I suffered a dent to my productivity due to travel. I spent 8 hours travelling on the Saturday, to Cambridge and back, to spend time with the Cambridge Friendship Club, who were jamming for the weekend. And, of course, while I was there, I spent a lot of time chinwagging. But I do not regret that at all! It was great to meet everyone, I had good fun getting to know other developers, and it was motivating to be in the same place as a bunch of other people working on their own projects. Without other people around to chat to I would have gone stale very quickly!
The train journey wasn’t too bad. Instead of starting programming right away, I planned out my ideas on the train, thinking through each aspect until I was happy with my ideas. But other than that it is hard to program while on a train or metro. I managed a bit, but didn’t really get stuck into it.
Was I too ambitious? To be honest, I don’t think this was a massively ambitious project. It was fairly simple, and there weren’t many gameplay elements to consider. The problem is the indirect control style. You don’t move your guy by pressing a button and he moves. You have to choose a monster monster, and click on something to tell him to do some command, and he’ll work out the rest himself. All the elements, the user interface, the AI, the camera controls, and so forth, were very much intertwined. If I’d made a platformer and the enemies’ pathfinding didn’t work it would be fine, but if the pathfinding were bust in this game then the whole thing would be unplayable.
The pathfinding, simple as it was, was buggered for so much of development, mostly because of silly typos of single forgotten lines.
So I think in that respect, I wasn’t overambitious on the amount of content required, but having so many elements that needed to intertwine and work together meant that it was only very late on when I had some thing that was playable at all. I spent a lot of time wrestling with some nasty bugs, some of them caused by tiny little things (like forgetting to put a “break” in a “switch” condition), and by the time it all came together I was too tired to really make it all user-friendly, making the whole game look awful.
But I don’t regret doing it like that, because at the end of the day, had it all come together then it would have been great fun. Maybe I just needed a couple more hours earlier in the day, or maybe a shorter train journey. But ultimately I took a gamble. I knew I was making a game that would either work great or not work at all. The gameplay was self-generating and didn’t need a lot of content (graphics, dialogue trees etc.) to make it work. And this time it didn’t work. The game was fine, but the interface makes the whole thing a struggle to play.
I’m glad I gambled, because now I have a game that could be developed into something really cool. Looking back I’m much happier than I was about it when I submitted it. I thought it was complete tosh and was actually quite depressed about it! I’m glad I don’t feel that way about it now
The game was a failure, sure, but a failure I’m very happy with, because it was so close to being a resounding success.