Friday, February 24, 2017

Global Game Jam Postmortem - "Wavapillar"

Last month, Bounder Games created a game for the 2017 Global Game Jam. The theme was "waves", and what we finally decided on was a game about being a caterpillar, due to their "wave-like" motion. The game is called Wavapillar, and you can play it over at itchio: https://boundergames.itch.io/wavapillar

A Wavapillar match

Overall, the game was a big success - first of all, we finished something, which for me is a huge bonus. Secondly, it was well received by players, netting us quite a few votes at the play party for the jam, but not enough to win. However, there were a lot of places in development of the game where I personally felt I needed a lot of work, and where I learned a lot of lessons.

Brainstorming

The first issue we ran in to was very early, while brainstorming ideas. In the past, I have faced two problems in this area - one, that it took too long, and two, that it resulted in a game idea I was not excited about and which was therefore hard to motivate myself to work on.

In this jam, at first no one had any break out ideas. One designer was pushing us to make light wave physics puzzles, which would probably have been fun to design for but felt very boring to me looking at it from a player perspective. I just couldn't get excited about the idea, but couldn't think of anything better.

Then I came across the idea of a caterpillar's movement. From there, we started building on ideas for control schemes, the sources of fun, and game types. But the same designed just wasn't in to that idea, probably for the valid reason that he couldn't think of a fun way to design puzzles and environments for the idea. This caused us to butt heads a bit. I really struggled between trying to be firm about what I wanted and how I felt, but not being overbearing. In the end, the rest of the team seemed to like the caterpillar idea so that's where we went.

I really struggled in this jam to keep my comments constructive and to not take design decisions and criticisms personally. Part of that was my mental health condition at the time, but it's something I always have to work towards. I plan to look in to effective brainstorming techniques for future jams and concentrate on making sure we have a process for everyone to feel heard and to ensure the final idea is one everyone can run with.

Pixel Art

We decided to go with a pixel art style for Wavapillar, mostly because I wanted to - in my mind, I had this idea that it would match all the gorgeous pixel art games I see on my Twitter feed. However, I'd never really made a pixel art game before, myself working in vector art primarily. I underestimated all the bits and pieces of "getting it right" for pixel art: no scaling, since pixels wouldn't all be the same size; no rotation, since pixels shouldn't be rotated; etc. In the end we broke some of these rules, and should have just dispensed with them for the jam. It was an unnecessary source of stress that I should have let go of early on.

Programming Priorities

On to some things that went well. Despite my emotional and interpersonal issues, I think for once I did a good job with my programming prioritisation for this jam. I concentrated first on getting the caterpillar movement right, since that was the core of the game and the designers would need to test it out and tweak things. It was also the part of this idea's programming which I would be least familiar, since it was heavily physics based and I had not much used the physics system of the engine we were using (Unity). I had to try a few different types of joints to get the effect I wanted for the caterpillar's movement, but in the end I had something that worked pretty well.

Time Management

Our time management for Wavapillar was pretty good compared to my previous few jams. We actually got something finished and uploaded in time, for one thing, though it was a desperate scramble at the end mostly due to internet issues. I still think this is an area that I can improve in, but it's nice to see some progress being made.

Multiplayer

Making a local multiplayer game was amazingly fun. It was so wonderful to see groups of people jostling and shouting good naturedly at eachother. Wavapillar focuses on a deliberately awkward two player control scheme where two players share a controller and control one side of a caterpillar, and compete against another team doing the same. The result is a lot of silly physics fun. The thing we most regret is not having time to properly implement "caterpillar wrestling" as this would have added even more to the final races in close games.

Overall, the jam was a great learning experience and creative break from the norm. I'm looking forward to the next one!

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