ORIGINAL BLOG-POST (with fancy quotes)
Greeting my dear friends! Nice to see you again. One week has passed after Ludum Dare 30 deadline. I had enough sleep, played a lot of (300 actually) LD’s entries and also I’ve got a lot of feedbacks about my game “the Beginning”. I think it’s a good time to write a postmortem and share some thoughts about competition. Here we go!
Following post contains spoilers!
PLAY THE GAME BEFORE READING!
First of all I would like to tell you about some circumstances that preceded the competition. A couple weeks before LD weekend my boss told me that I will have a short business trip exactly the same weekend. I was pissed off. But then I checked flight tickets and realised that I will come back Saturday evening. So I would have a couple hours on Saturday and whole Sunday to participate in competition.
Another thing that should be mentioned is that I’m living in Shanghai and the competition started at 9am Saturday morning and deadline was at 9am Monday morning in my time-zone. This circumstance gave me some advantage in my situation.
So, Saturday 9am, theme has been announced and the competition officially has been started.
Honestly, I don’t like the theme. I believe that there were some more original and more interesting themes, but… whatever. When I read the theme first time it was like “Oh, there will be a lot of games about literally connecting planets, controlling twins and swapping dimensions… boring“. And after several hundreds of entries been played and watched I can say that I was right. Anyway, I had no choice. I started thinking about my game and how I can stand out from crowd.
Idea and concept
I spend about an hour thinking about an idea. I rejected 4 ideas that came to my head and then I ended up with “the Beginning”. This is the game about baby who lives in 2 worlds at the same time – our world and a world inside his mother’s womb. These two worlds are obviously connected – mother can feel when baby moves and baby can hear and feel what happens in “outer” world.
I decided it should be a journey from the moment of conceiving to the moment of birth. My initial idea was to make 9 levels, each represents 1 month of life inside the womb. I also wanted to show how baby growth – appearance changes each level, the character obtains new abilities (eating, grabbing things, rotating, etc.). I made some short research regarding a process of growing inside the womb. After all this activities I was able to plot basic storyline and key-milestones.
Art style & mood
There are 2 main reasons why I picked minimalism as a visual style for my game:
- I didn’t have enough time to produce quality pixel-art.
- I wanted to keep things abstract to maintain mystery about what happens in the game.
I really wanted to show process of growing but keep it as abstract as possible so player won’t be able to figure out who is the main character and where he is until the very end of the game. Since game supposed to contain only 9 levels I’ve made 9 “stages of growth” of main character:
To set up some tension I came with the idea that there won’t be any music. Player can hear only heartbeat (of main character’s mother) and each level it becomes louder and faster. Players who have managed to complete the game say that it’s really cool and contribute to the mood very well.
Speaking about mystery it worth to mention that it became the best and the worst feature of the game at the same time. This is the game about story. About mysterious story. A lot of players mentioned that they really liked the mood of the game. Another feature that helps to set up mysterious mood is the dialog between a mother and a father of the main character. At the very beginning players don’t know who are these MAN and WOMAN, and why they’re watching him. Some player wrote in comments that he was convinced that he was playing some creature in lab.
So, players get hooked from the very beginning and its really cool. But to figure out what this game is about, to experience this “Wow!” moment and understand why it’s about connected worlds players must complete the game… And this is the worst thing because the game appeared to be so difficult and hard to complete for most of the players. I managed to fix it only in post-compo version of the game.
In a first day after deadline some players complained about difficulty of the game. Levels are very long and there are no checkpoints. A first solution was to make a walkthrough video. It was better than nothing, but still not enough. I started to think about simplified version of the game. I decided that making checkpoints logic from scratch would be time consuming so it was better to fix the existing levels without changing gameplay.
I started working on this version Tuesday afternoon. I uploaded simplified version Tuesday evening and it was really worth it. I’ve got a lot of positive feedbacks, because most of the players were able to complete new simplified version. Since that moment I could spend all my time playing other entries and working on promotion of my entry (twitter, twitch, postmortem, etc.).
What went right
- Idea. I spend a couple hours on brainstorming and detalization, so I started developing process with strong and clear concept in my head.
- Development. I didn’t encounter any significant problems during development process except some minor issues with physics and camera jitter.
- Controls appeared to be very smooth and responsive.
- Minimalist art-style and mood.
- Walkthrough video.
- Simplified version.
- Twitter and Twitch activity.
What went wrong
- Prioritization. I spend whole Sunday working on levels. I ended up with 8 level out of 9. Most of these levels appeared to be very long and difficult, so I had to spend even more time to make simplified version. It would be better if I made less levels and spent some time to implement checkpoints in the game.
- QA. Since I spent all Sunday working on levels I didn’t have time for proper playtest. Initially I was thinking that my wife and some my friend would play it and give me some feedbacks. Unfortunately, deadline time was 9am Monday (Shanghai local time). I built my game about 7am so it was impossible to ask someone to play it. I just tested it by myself, prepared some description and screenshots and uploaded all the stuff to LD website.
I don’t want to rush with this project. I need time to rest, to clear my mind. Also I want to collect more feedback from players. Then I gonna look at this project again with more self-criticism. There is a chance that I will continue working on this project, but I’m still not sure about it.
It was a great experience for me. It was tough, but definitely worth it. I can’t wait to participate next LD or other game jam.
Thank you for reading. If you like “The Beginning” let’s stay in touch: follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Stay cool, stay indie! I’ll come back soon!